The fresh months of the spring are upon us – traditionally these have been the best time for Hungarian far-right party Jobbik to recruit new members. According to Zoltán Balczó, vice-president of the party, Jobbik will focus its political energies on two political campaigns during the current political season. On the one hand, the party promises action on the government’s anti-EU rhetoric by stepping up its campaign for quitting the European Union. On the other hand, on March 8 Jobbik proclaimed a program of “civil activist strolls,” which is an evasive way of saying that the activities of their banned paramilitaries will continue.
The “civil activist walks” were described as such by another vice-president of the party, Tamás Sneider. Sneider – who is also named as “Roy the skinhead” in a criminal conviction for an assault of a Roma man in 1992 – personally volunteered for some regularly performed “strolling” during the spring months.
The party’s new recruitment strategy has changed considerably compared to Jobbik’s approach to party-building last year. In 2011, Jobbik’s support surged in the wake of their extended occupation of Gyöngyöspata. At that time, the uniformed paramilitary troops of the For a Better Future Civic Guard displayed paramilitary might in the small town: carrying weapons and ganging up against the local residents, they offered a politically charged outlet for the violent fantasies of the most extreme supporters of the party.
This year, the new strategy calls for face-to-face engagement with the local population, and the roles to be assumed by the guard members volunteering to visit the small towns of the country are much less belligerent. Instead of creating terror, guard members are given an opportunity to control. Active membership in the party organization is now open to those less militant in spirit: they are invited to act in more “benevolent” yet superior roles, as supervisors and protectors of the population.
The so-called “civil activist strolls” are in fact semi-legal neighborhood patrols. Because acting as a civic guard is highly regulated since the passing of a law last year, no longer can the guards exert any power through their menacing presence only. Yet the patrolling goes on in towns where resident have complained to the party about “gypsy crimes,” though this year the emphasis is on sticking to the word of the law – and in making sure that the criminal population, as the Roma are referred to, also comply with every requirement of the local ordinances.
One of the towns chosen for “civil activist strolls” is Kerecsend, a small town close to Gyöngyöspata, where the party held a rally in early March– a “demonstration for public security,” as they called it – and where they claims “strolls” are necessary in order to maintain the public order. As many as 50 guard members may be strolling in the town at any one point during the spring, promised Sneider at a Jobbik press conference.
The town is also close to Eger, where Sneider was convicted as a skinhead twenty years ago. The vice-president of Jobbik does not only participate in the patrols but he also reports on his experiences to the party’s radical publication Barikád.
The following are excerpts from his report on what takes place during a “stroll”:
“After covering the locality on foot, it can be said that, as a result of programs to the tune of 100 million to bring them up to par, 10% of the gypsy people cultivate their garden and approximately 15% live amidst heaps of rubbish. During our stroll, I asked a woman who was sitting in the door of her house staring at heaps of rubbish why she did not clean up the trash in front of her. As some kind of an answer, she was pointing toward far-away houses, explaining that this trash is not hers, but that people on the other side of the brook bring it to her house. I of course do not need to mention how outraged I was over the fact that such evil persons are allowed to live in the village – people who are capable of wheelbarrowing trash hundreds of yards away into another’s yard.
In any case I mentioned that according to a new ordinance of the local municipality, any family that does not keep order in its surroundings could lose its eligibility for social aid. ….
The ensuing conversation gathers about 50 “minorities” around Sneider.
“In the meantime, one or two muscle man also arrived and one among them asked with palpable arrogance whether I am a policeman, because I look like one. To my luck I said the truth, namely that I am a member of parliament, so neither hoes nor scythes were drawn. Two weeks after the attack on the policemen, I could feel that it is no life insurance around here to be the Hungarian state’s armed guard of order. …
We also did a walk-through of the northern areas of the town. A sad sight awaited: an enormous, uncultivated planting of grapes … One could find here work for the gypsy for a long stretch of time. Perhaps it would have been more self-evident to spend the hundreds of millions for integration and the aids doled out in addition on the restoration of this immense area. Then, every family receiving aid could have rented a 1-2 hectare plot here for the symbolic sum of 1 forint, and then, if they did not cultivate it, they would have lost their aid.”
By the time Sneider is about to leave, he notices “dark, oily strips of dust” from the Roma neighborhoods of the town.
“It looks like news of losing aid eligibility travels fast. … To be honest, this is not how I imagined the disappearance of the rubbish. But at least now I know what the goal of my next visit is going to be: I am going to examine the fulfillment of the mandate, independent of ethnic belonging, to transport one’s trash.”
On the same weekend on which Jobbik’s “strolling” neighborhood guards reached Kerecsend, the For a Better Future Civic Guard – which among the many splinter groups of the banned Hungarian Guard is the closest to Jobbik’s leadership – also held a rally in Jászjákóhalma.
As a clip prepared by the internet news portal index.hu shows (video in Hungarian), only a small number of uniformed guard members “demonstrated,” but the event gathered a considerable number of local residents to the town’s main square.
The residents on the scene did complain about public security. Break-ins and street mugging are frequent, they told the journalists filming the event, and at nights the regulars in the pub, mostly gypsies, get rowdy and uncontrollable.
Dressed in the guard’s uniform, one of the speakers of the rally, Lajos Csákvári, asked those gathered on the streets about who truly terrorizes the country-side (at around 1:38 in the clip). Everybody present knew that he meant the Roma, of whom he provided the following characterization:
“They are the ones who kill for a liter of schnapps, for a few pieces of sausage, for a cell phone, for a few hundred forints. And for a street accident.” This last addition, pronounced in a foreboding voice, insinuated that the Roma prefer to make a living out of compensation they might receive for getting hurt in street accidents.
They “are those who have never seen their parents work, who are not touched by the national anthem, those whom we have never seen read a book in their free time… who do not know morality, their responsibilities, only their rights – and among those, only minority rights – and who will be rescued from their sh*t by the race activists” Csákvári continued according to the written report of index.hu (link in Hungarian).
“We must protest. Protest against the gypsy crimes … against the Minister of the Interior, against the Minister of Rural Development, against every minister and state secretary. …
The destruction of the Hungarian people is taking place under this system called democracy. They have cut down on the police and the military, and in the meantime, they harass those who straighten up and defend themselves [the reference is to the banning of the guard]. Of course then there is police presence, but when old people call them, they just say, why don’t you lock your doors.”
After the demonstration, the uniformed guards mingled with the local population and the crowd broke into smaller discussion groups. The guards were not allowed to walk anywhere from the town’s square – a group “stroll” of uniformed persons would have resulted in their arrest – so they turned their demonstration into a residential forum instead.
Such are the loopholes in the Hungarian ban against guard activities: a mass gathering of uniformed persons who stand around is nowhere prohibited in Hungarian law, nor is there anything illegal about wearing a uniform – as long as it’s not identical to the uniform of the Hungarian Guard. The combination of the two, wearing a uniform and moving around in it could result in fines, though only after a lengthy court process: Jobbik’s lawyers pursue appeals for most of the citations issued.
Which leaves the far-right group with one of two options: they are free to stroll without a uniform, or to wear the uniform but stand around instead of “strolling.” The first of these options is being pursued in Kerecsend, while the latter was tested for its potential in Jászjákóhalma.
With the demonstration over, the guard’s visit to Jászjákóhalma quickly morphed into a recruitment event. The crowd proceeded to voice concerns and draw up political plans in the discussion groups. It was as if witnessing an exercise in “base democracy,” the journalist of the liberal internet portal noted with cynicism.
There is far more truth to this than one is willing to admit at first. Jobbik is not merely a representative of an outdated and repressive ideology of hate. Often overlooked are its keen use of modern technology, such as the internet, and the fact that the party approaches recruitment through such “grassroots” means: by visiting small towns in order to convince their sympathizers that a radically new order in the future requires active participation in the movement right now.
A recent poll published by Tárki reported a drop in the far-right party’s support from December 2011 to March 2012. But a similar drop is typical for the party during the winter months, and another poll by Nézőpont points out Jobbik’s overwhelming appeal in the rural areas. While all other Hungarian parties tend to attract voters in the capital city of Budapest or in larger towns, 70% of Jobbik’s supporters live in small villages. No other party has a comparable base in the Hungarian country-side.
Jobbik is well aware of the value of their foot-work, and its politicians are diligent about their country tours. In the meantime, the For a Better Future Civic Guard also sticks to its schedule of rural demonstrations.
Recently they announced plans to hold another demonstration against a “violent minority” in Konyár, in Hajdú-Bihar county. With a population under 2000 and rising ethnic tensions, which led more than 300 to sign a petition protesting the lack of public safety in the town, Konyár promises to be the perfect venue for gaining active members for both the party and its paramilitary troops.