Stone-throwing, harassment, incitement to violence and the beating of an anti-fascist activist. None of these are spectacular acts of violence. All of them did take place in Hungary: all of them were committed by members of Hungary’s ultra-rightist movement in the month of August, 2012. As far as the police is concerned, none of them resulted in serious criminal investigation. Is Hungary becoming too dangerous for staging protests against the country’s capitulation to ideologies of hate and destruction?
Early this summer, a spontaneous demonstration gathered on the bank of the Danube in Budapest. The flashmob was organized in response to a streak of vandalism defacing memorials raised to victims of the Second World War. In response to a photo of the event posted on Facebook, some in the international audience wondered why only a few dozen were available to take a stand on this important issue.
Fast-forward to the current month – to last Saturday, August 25 – for one possible answer. Hundreds belonging to far-right paramilitary organizations marched on this day in uniforms to Heroes’ Square, one of the most famous tourist attractions of the Hungarian capital city. The occasion: to celebrate the fifth anniversary of an ultra-rightist party militia, one of the most important recruitment tools for Hungary’s far-right parliamentary party Jobbik.
The party militia in question is banned, illegal, participation in it is criminal; yet its celebration was secured by the police and officially authorized by the courts. Only upon appeal, one must add: citing that the Hungarian courts summarily banned the Hungarian Guard in a decision dating back to 2009, the police at first rejected the far-right’s protest permit application. In their appeal, the organizers of the event argued that their guard was a guard completely different from the one officially banned. To be even more precise, the event was sponsored not by the banned Hungarian Guard but by the New Hungarian Guard. Though the organizers were still quite open about their intention to celebrate five years in existence – of the old guard, obviously – the court bought their argument.
Many in Hungary still find the political gains of the far-right disconcerting. Among them, a small group of anti-fascist protesters did manage to organize themselves into a small crowd in counterpoint to the paramilitary’s annual show of force. The treatment they received is translated from an eyewitness report of a journalist at the scene:
“You are still here, you, Jew?” pointed one among those marching in line to one of the counter-protesters, Péter Dániel, a lawyer who has become infamous for his protests against the government and the far-right and who came to the protest wearing his kippah. The black-clad militia members broke out in laughter. “Didn’t you say that you were going to Israel? So why don’t you get lost in that direction, faster than lightning?”
Seeing the “bravery” of the provocateur, his peers also gathered their courage. They immediately followed suit rabidly abusing the counter-protesters with anti-semitic slurs, taking pictures of them, threatening their personal safety. […]
In the meantime, the marching “troops” reached Heroes’ Square. Chanting “enough of this,” the counter-protesters wanted to enter the square as well, but they found themselves held up by a wall comprised of police as well as the organizers of the far-right’s event.
“Stop, you Jews!” yelled one of the organizers of the march standing right in front of the counter-protesters. “Only Hungarians are allowed to enter here!” At this point, the situation morphed into a standing war: the counter-protesters did not move a bit, but the organizers of the protest were not willing to concede either. Someone in the far-right’s camp was the first to get bored from the relatively peaceful stalemate. He picked a Roma counter-protesters to step in front of. “What up, Gipsy?” he started. The far-right protester was wearing sunglasses and was small in statute. For minutes he went on with a tirade of some of the dirtiest and most abominable vulgarities.
He succeeded. The person he picked on lost his patience and moved to tower over him; he would have attacked him had his peers not held him back. The provocateur was waiting exactly for this moment. Mockingly he called for police protection. “I request intervention by the authorities, this gypsy attacked me.” He continued to laugh even as, at the orders of the police, the participants of the far-right event moved back into the square, giving way to the counter-protesters.
(The account was taken from a journalist reporting from the site of the demonstration for a leftist daily – link in Hungarian)
But the verbal abuse is hardly all that needs mentioning. Yesterday (on August 29), on his way from another impromptu protest, long-time anti-fascist activist Vilmos Hanti suffered head injuries after being surrounded and beaten by 15-20 far-right thugs. Hanti suffered injuries to his eye and skull and was treated in the hospital after the incident. Prior to the protest, a far-right portal posted his photo and identified him as one of four persons to be targeted for organizing the anti-fascist demonstration. Today, the far-right’s news portals countered Hanti’s complaints of physical violence by saying that he was drunk and hit himself violently upon seeing the group of far-right supporters heading in his direction.
The targeting of well-known anti-fascist activists and the use of publicity against them in the considerable media organization under the Hungarian far-right’s control is emphatically on the rise. In July, a small group of protesters gathered outside the residence of László Csatáry, the most wanted Nazi criminal of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to demand legal prosecution of war crimes committed by the former commander of the Kassa ghetto. It had just been revealed in a British tabloid that Csatáry had been hiding in plain sight in Hungary – with the knowledge of the Hungarian authorities, as we later found out – for the last 15 years (an indictment has yet to be seen against Csatáry though he remains under house arrest in Budapest).
Only hours after the protest outside Csatáry’s apartment, photographs of the event were posted on far-right portals with a call for identifying information about the anti-fascist protesters. A person named Béla Varga, a known supporter of the Hungarian far-right from Healdsburg, CA even offered “blood money” for those who came forward with private information about them. Names, e-mails, facebook IDs were published over the internet. Messages full of abusive language and harassments flooded to those who showed up to reject the presence of a war criminal in Budapest, ostensibly as due reprisal for their political views.
The police idly stands by. Just a few weeks ago at a demonstration forecasting ethnic warfare in Devecser, a small village in Hungary, stones were hurled into the garden of a house occupied by Roma inhabitants. In response to inquires about why hundreds of police stood by without taking action against the perpetrators, the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior issued a statement of explanation. They claim that the stone-throwing was “largely peaceful in nature” (link in Hungarian).
And even only a small sample of the speeches delivered in connection with the stone-throwing supports this interpretation. “Today, gypsy criminality and the gypsies have appeared everywhere,” told one of the speakers to the crowd in Devecser. “There are only two possibilities, my brothers. One of them is a government, political leadership that catches them and throws them out of the country… And there is another possibility, the kind used against them in Arabic states, where they generally end up in death-wells, or on the gallows. They want to exterminate us, and we stand around being sophisticated about it, that we are Europeans and what not. Folks, let’s make up our minds. If they want to fight, we must take up a fight against them.”
And as another clarified the above spoken strikingly peaceful intentions (which, according to the Hungarian Ministry of Interior, failed to provoke a response from the police because they were only “in part” what took place at the protest – apparently not in an important part): “everybody knows that these worms multiply like rats. … The solution is not easy, even if it’s straightforward: we must revolt. We must chase away from the Carpathian basin this parasitic criminal gang, which serves the interests of the crooked nosed, who destroy Hungarianness and who tear down and betray the country!”
The participants of the far-right’s march on Saturday also engaged in several unambiguously illegal acts. Approximately 200 of them wore the banned uniform of the guard, an illegal act by Hungarian law. Violence during a political gathering is cause for dispersing the crowd as per Hungarian regulations related to protest-permitting. So are illegal acts, which the police should prevent rather than protect in its unfolding, such as the harassment and threatening of others, especially when these are accompanied by discriminatory, hate-driven speech or incitement to violence.
It is certainly not the case that the Hungarian police lacks thoroughly nuanced familiarity with the rules pertaining to public gatherings. They initiated proceedings against five counter-protesters for wearing a Pussy Riot-style balaklavas. These five individuals were duly arrested and removed from the protest site since: as it is well-known, covering one’s face during a protest is illegal in Hungary.
Can the Orbán government’s police still be trusted to protect peaceful citizens standing united against racism, intimidation and far-right violence?
Many more need to turn out in Hungary for the protests against the political gains of ultra-rights ideologies. Even though – or precisely because – in Budapest in the year 2012, it is less and less safe to be openly opposed to hate and its political representatives.
(For more on how hundreds celebrated in paramilitary uniforms on Heroes’ Square in Budapest, follow this link to Andrei Stavila’s blog for an excellent photo report).
Final note: This post does not make mention of the events unfolding in the Hungarian town of Cegléd, where hundreds of far-right supporters staged a siege of houses populated by Roma in retaliation of a family dispute. Though many have criticized the police’s handling of the situation, violence was averted. The events in Cegléd, immediately prior to Hungary’s national holiday on August 20, were the closest a Hungarian town has come to ethnic violence since last year’s occupation of Gyöngyöspata by the far-right militias seen on the pictures above.