Friday, April 29, 2011



Far-right parties gain amid resentment over economic battering of Hungary

Tensions have escalated between Hungarians and the Roma minority and vigilantes began patrolling towns, saying the government was not doing enough to ensure safety.
Roma families left their homes on Good Friday to escape potential violence involving a far-right vigilante group.
The buses pulling out of Gyöngyöspata made grim viewing on Good Friday.

They were carrying almost 300 Roma women and children away from their village in north-eastern Hungary, which holds the European Union presidency, where a far-right vigilante group, Defence Force, had set up an Easter training camp.

The Roma wanted to escape potential violence from the vigilantes, some of whom wore full military uniform and red berets, in the latest incident to highlight the dangerous tension between Hungary’s nationalists and its large Gypsy community.

Paramilitary groups like Defence Force have appeared in several villages where they claim the local police are unable to protect white Hungarians from “Gypsy crime”.

Most of them are linked to Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, which was founded in 2003 but just six years later won its first three seats in the European Parliament and last year took almost 17 per cent of votes to come third in a general election.

Jobbik rode a surge to the right in Hungarian politics, triggered by the implosion of the Socialists after former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was heard in a leaked recording telling allies how his government had done nothing useful while in power and had lied to win re-election.

The leak triggered riots around the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s 1956 doomed uprising against Soviet domination, and fuelled not only the rise of Jobbik but the resurgence of Fidesz, the country’s main centre-right force, which had lost the previous two elections to the Socialists.

When Hungarians went to the polls again last April, the Socialists were in disarray, and barely scraped home ahead of Jobbik while Fidesz secured an unprecedented two-thirds majority in parliament.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán promised to root out corruption, crackdown on crime and restore pride and patriotism to a Hungary badly battered by the economic crisis, which forced it to seek a €20 billion international bailout and left many people in dire financial straits.

Jobbik promised to do the same in more radical terms, by focusing on the Roma as the major source of criminality and social unrest and by offering itself as an alternative to the entire post-communist political elite, including Fidesz, which had led the country into the mire.

The party appealed to many Hungarians who had failed to prosper after 1989 under a succession of centre-left and centre-right governments, who resented living in long neglected, crime-riddled districts alongside Roma, and who saw no benefits from EU membership.

As much of the working class abandoned the Socialists, a significant portion saw little prospect for improvement under Orbán, who had already served as premier from 1998 to 2002, and sought a distinct break with the political past by turning to Jobbik.

The party’s depiction of a small, brave country laid low by traitors and foreigners chimes with a popular view of national history, which centres on the 1920 Treaty of Trianon that stripped vast territories from Hungary, and on the rebels’ 1956 defeat to the Red Army and its local vassals.

Keen to distinguish itself from the “out of touch” main parties, Jobbik campaigned hard at local level on local issues, and additionally made its presence felt in the regions through the Hungarian Guard, which was founded in 2007 by Jobbik leader Gábor Vona.

While the guard called itself an innocent defender of Hungarian values and traditions, critics denounced it as an anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, homophobic paramilitary group whose uniform and symbols were reminiscent of those used by the country’s wartime fascist rulers.

Hungary banned the guard in 2009, but it has reappeared in various forms under slightly different names, and is mirrored in groups like Defence Force and other uniformed volunteer organisations that march and conduct “patrols” in Roma districts.

The Fidesz government, which sought to play down the departure of the Gyöngyöspata Roma, has vowed to prevent such patrols.

But it is also wary of driving its own “soft nationalist” supporters into the arms of Jobbik, an ally in Brussels of the British National Party which could benefit if Fidesz, currently Hungary’s only major mainstream political force, fails to revive a struggling economy and soothe social divisions.

Hungary’s slide to the right has unnerved neighbouring states, where many ethnic Hungarians live due to the carve-up of Trianon.

Budapest’s recent relations with Slovakia have been especially tense, particularly when the far-right Slovak National Party was a member of the ruling coalition from 2006 to 2010.

Party leader Ján Slota is well known for his antipathy towards Hungarians and Roma, having threatened to drive tanks into Budapest and called a “a small yard and a long whip” the best means of resolving Roma issues.

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