Long hot summer: Hungary’s fascists target Roma communities

22 06 19

By Bernard Rorke

The latest stirrings from the far-right in Hungary make it clear that anti-Roma racism is back on the agenda – not least because the government long-ago monopolised anti-migrant Islamophobia, and traction is beginning to stall on that particular front. The growing pains of the neo-fascist Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland Movement) and its putative paramilitary offshoot, the Nemzeti Légió (National Legion), beg a fundamental question: how does an extremist far right party find a niche for itself when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – memorably described as a delusional racist –  and his authoritarian regime commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament?  One hopeful sign is the determination of Roma activists and other anti-fascists to confront the racists on the streets.

“We are the storm”

About 50 people turned out for the somewhat inauspicious official launch of the neo-fascist Nemzeti Legio (National Legion) in Szeged on the first of June, to mark the centenary of dictator Admiral Horthy’s founding in the same city of the National Army (Nemzeti Hadsereg) with the objective of “cleansing Budapest of communism” back in 1919.

Storming Szeged. Photo credit: merce.hu

A handful of flag-bearing men in uniforms stood to attention while a succession of speakers, stood beneath a dainty white mini-canopy, droned and rambled about the buzi lobbi (gay lobby, pejorative), liberal cultural degeneracy, migrant crime, the ‘Gypsy’ mafia, a Europe overrun by ‘Arabs and Negroes’, and a society ‘infected by tolerance’.

The small gathering – half the size of the anti-fascist counter protest – heard that the warriors of the Legion cared little what the liberal hordes think of them; as protectors of order and normality against anarchy, the Legion would stem the tide of ‘materialistic atheism’ and, among other things, ‘revive Hungarian cuisine.’ When one speaker called on the crowd to repeat after him the rousing chant, ‘We are the storm! (Mi vagyunk a vihar!)’, so feeble was the response that the hapless legionnaire had to ask them to try it again, one more time.

However, the elements of farce should not obscure the toxic intent of Lászlo Toroczkai, head of Mi Hazánk. This party, its militia and its skinhead fellow-travellers aim to harass and intimidate Roma under the pretext of fighting ‘Gypsy crime’. It seeks to revive the climate of fear in Roma communities that peaked during the serial killings by neo-Nazis in 2008-2009 and continued with the riotous assemblies by the Magyar Gárda and other far-right paramilitary groups in towns such as Gyöngyöspata and Devecser up until 2012.

Romani woman confronts the fascists in Törökszentmiklós. Photo credit: merce.hu

The small town of Törökszentmiklós witnessed the National Legion’s first flexing of paramilitary muscle in May, just before the European elections. Toroczkai told several hundred supporters, including members of vigilante groups, that the event was a “demonstration for order” and that Hungarians must be defended from “gypsy terrorists” and blasted other political parties for their “political correctness”. Riot police separated the far-right gangs from hundreds of local Roma and other anti-fascist counter demonstrators who loudly protested against this attempt to intimidate the Roma community.

Our Homeland in the white island of Europe and other racist delusions  

Following his unsuccessful bid to lead Jobbik in the aftermath of the 2018 elections, Toroczkai together with hard-line MP Dóra Dúró broke away from the party to form the hardcore racist Mi Hazánk Mozgalom. Toroczkai, who garnered some international media notoriety as the mayor of the border village of Ásotthalom with his paramilitary unit of “migrant hunters”, has proclaimed that Hungary should remain a “white island” in Europe. Three of the MPs who broke away from Jobbik now sit in parliament as independents and generally support the ruling Fidesz.

The Toroczkai-Dúró duo was disgruntled with Jobbik’s mendacious rebrand as a ‘normal’ patriotic party and its outward shedding of the racism, fascism and homophobia that made it such a hit among 20%-plus of Hungarian voters. In contrast to its earlier predilection for burning EU flags in the streets, Jobbik’s election manifesto ‘Safe Europe, Free Hungary!’ called for a European Union with more fairness and solidarity and the courage “to embrace our Christian heritage, humanism, respect for democracy and real freedom and to appreciate individual responsibilities.” Its vote dropped from a previous 14.6% to a measly 6.3% and they lost two of their three seats in Brussels.

Mi Hazánk ran candidates in the European Parliamentary elections with a manifesto that blended anti-migrant Islamophobia, with hostility to the ‘mixing’ that dilutes Christian culture, nonsense about “preserving values and glorious spiritedness inherited from the ancient Hungarians of the steppes” and the barking notion of the Northern Civilization, stretching from Kamchatka to Reykjavík.

As for the racist take on the so-called ‘Gypsy Question’, the Mi Hazánk manifesto stated, “It has to be declared that the integration of Gypsies, as old immigrants, has not been successful and their baby booming threatens the national budget.” Drastic interventions promised include “the need to fight against all aspects of Gypsy delinquency and the problem should be settled by strengthening the police and supporting voluntary self-defence associations … Limiting childbearing for only subsistence purposes is of key importance to the future of Hungary.” They polled 114,156 votes which amounted to 3.2%.

But the dismal showing at the polls should not allow for complacency. The threat from this far right movement and its paramilitary offshoot is extra-parliamentary, its currency is prejudice and fear, and it has Hungary’s Romani citizens in its sights. What is encouraging is the willingness of Roma, anti-fascist supporters and some left-liberal opposition politicians to take to the streets to confront the new wave of Hungarian fascism.

Orbán’s useful idiots?

Apart from the usual in-fighting, corruption and stupidity that generally afflicts far-right extremist movements, the real obstacle to growth in Hungary is to avoid being outflanked by Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party. Mere hate speech about migrants and refugees cannot hope to match the regime in terms of deliberately inflicting cruelty upon them. In March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECTHR) in Strasbourg issued its eighth emergency decision in as many months ordering the Hungarian government to desist and cease starving migrants in detention. Orbán regularly declaims multiculturalism as an illusion, has explicitly declaimed ethnic diversity as undesirable, and is bluntly Islamophobic: “We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders”.

How extreme Fidesz has become can be gauged by Orbán’s friends and foes in Europe. In February 2018, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Orbán’s racist rhetoric as ‘increasingly delusional’: he has “managed to portray Muslims and Africans as an existential menace to Hungarian culture – a threat he alleges is masterminded by the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.”

As for friends, Orbán’s illiberal, nativist brand of politics and his party’s capture of the state have won him the admiration of far-right extremists across Europe. In an open letter following Fidesz election victory in April 2018, Renaud Camus described the Prime Minister as the very embodiment of European Resistance and of a clear refusal to submit to the Great Replacement, and Hungary as a flag bearer of European Resistance.

The Mi Hazánk breakaway has greatly weakened Jobbik’s standing as the largest opposition party, and this undoubtedly has pleased Orbán no end. The three fascist MPs vote with the ruling party and see eye to eye with Fidesz on a range of issues from aggressive irredentism, to xenophobia and homophobia. As things stand, this statement from Mi Hazánk, about Hungarian national minorities could have come from either party: “The extreme liberal EU leadership tends to forget about or neglect the rights of the native national communities. The rights of the sexual deviants or immigrants or the imprisonment (sic!) conditions of the criminals are considered as more important issues.”

Where the parties diverge is on the issue of overt and confrontational anti-Roma racism; Mi Hazánk can do what Fidesz cannot – deliberately stir up inter-ethnic tension and intimidation of Roma communities. As useful idiots, and just like Jobbik and the Magyar Gárda in years past, Mi Hazánk and its legionnaires will be accorded some latitude and, some have suggested even covert support, to create mischief, which will in turn enable the regime, at an opportune moment, to present itself as the only viable bulwark against domestic extremism and lawlessness.


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