By Veronika Gulyas
PHOTO AFP/Getty Images Roma women and children leaving the village at Easter
A Hungarian far-right paramilitary group and local Roma clashed Tuesday night in Gyongyospata, a village in eastern Hungary, in the latest display of tensions over the ethnic minority that the group accuses of criminal behavior.
The uniformed members of Vedero, or “Protection Force,” organized a training camp in the village over the Easter weekend and patrolled it for days in what they called an attempt to “restore order.” Nearly 300 Roma women and children left their homes soon after the far-right group entered the village, with the Hungarian Red Cross calling it “an evacuation” it organized. It’s a term the government rejected as “provocation,” saying the Roma were taken to an Easter campout arranged earlier by the Red Cross.
Police Friday arrested the paramilitary group’s members, including its chief Tamas Eszes. The individuals were then released because authorities couldn’t find a legal basis for prosecution.
Police and ambulances are present in the village in high numbers after the latest clashes, and the situation is tense between the locals and the vigilantes, Hungarian state news agency MTI said.
In response to the events, the government will submit a proposal to parliament to amend the criminal code, imposing a prison sentence of up to two years for unauthorized patrolling or attempts to restore order. A prison sentence of up to three years will be set for the intimidation of any communities by groups dressed up in unauthorized uniforms, Peter Szijjarto, spokesman of the prime minister, said at a press conference Wednesday.
“There’s a new form of criminality in Hungary, namely delinquency in a uniform,” Mr. Szijjarto said, adding the change of the criminal code will be discussed by parliament as early as Wednesday. The governing Fidesz party has an overwhelming majority in parliament. It’s therefore possible that the amendment will be approved the same day.
The government last week changed another piece of legislation, making it possible to fine groupings for unauthorized patrolling in uniforms with 100,000 Hungarian forints ($556).
Hungary’s ombudsman for minority rights, Erno Kallay, has initiated a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday saying the state should immediately bring the situation back into normal in Gyongyospata. State Secretary Karoly Kontrat vowed the interior ministry will take steps to keep the public safe.
“We cannot hope the situation will end after the Tuesday night clash,” Mr. Kallay said, adding “everybody knows” the clash was a result of continuous provocation by the far-right groupings, and the feeling of intimidation and fear of local Roma inhabitants.
“We don’t know whose interest it is to provoke a civil war-like situation,” Mr. Kallay added.
The local police refused to intervene earlier, even though the Roma community was complaining of an atmosphere of intimidation, AFP said. Gyongyospata has a total population of around 2,800, with the Roma population numbering around 450. Some 60 Roma have decided to move to relatives from the village after the Tuesday night clashes, MTI said.
Many in Hungary link the far-right groupings patrolling Gyongyospata to the Jobbik party, also present in parliament. The party denies involvement, although it puts the blame on the ethnic minority.
“There’s terror by gypsies in Hungary, and it’s not Jobbik’s responsibility, but a direct consequence of the past 20 years,” MTI cited Jobbik MP Gyula Gyorgy Zagyva, also a member of far-right youth group Hatvannegy Varmegye.
Government official Laszlo Horvath said provocations from either side should stop.
“There’s an intention to blow up this event into an international scandal to ruin the reputation of the country and the government,” MTI cited Mr. Horvath as saying.
Amnesty International requested the Hungarian state to take measures and fend off what it called racist aggression. The non-governmental organization is calling a demonstration for Wednesday afternoon in front of the Ministry of the Interior to protest against social exclusion and racism.