Hungarian anti-Roma marches
Aug 23rd 2012, 14:31 by P.C. | DEVECSER
FROM THE ECONOMIST
On August 5th, Devecser, a village in western Hungary, was inundated by neo-Nazis. In a village of little more than 5,000, most of the indignant mob was bused in.
Devecser is sadly notorious: two years ago it was hit by a wall of caustic red sludge when the retaining wall of a waste reservoir of a nearby aluminium plant collapsed. The disaster killed four and injured 120.
The leaders of the groups marching included Gabor Ferenczi of Jobbik, a far-right party that won 16% of the vote in the last election in 2010. The party, though no stranger to such set-piece confrontations, had previously shied away from sharing a podium with certain neo-Nazi groups.
This time was different. Zsolt Tyirityán, a leading figure in the Outlaw Army, stood in front of the village church arguing for racial warfare and the need to "exterminate Roma from public life".
Devecser's mayor, Tamas Toldi, a member of the ruling rightist Fidesz party, says he was unable to stop the gathering, which he had been told was a peace march.
Mr Toldi says he was "really angry" at the speeches, but it would have been "unwise" to try and stop proceedings in mid-flow because the police would not have been able to assert their authority. The 200 or so on duty were mustered locally and not trained or equipped to deal with an angry hoard of neo-Nazis.
Not a peep of condemnation has come from Fidesz, which controls a two-thirds majority in parliament. With an election due in early 2014, Fidesz, which has lost voters to Jobbik, knows that there are hardly any votes in standing up for the Roma. The party also doesn’t want to alienate its lunatic fringe or create a barrier to Jobbik voters who might be tempted to switch to Fidesz.
"At the time we were really scared," says Ibolya Domotor, one of four elderly Roma women sitting in the shade of a tree on a street the march passed through. Roma and Hungarians have rubbed along there for decades without serious problems, she says. A police patrol is reassuring, as long as it lasts.
It all began with a slanging match down the street when a Roma driver was blocked by a car on July 23rd. Two days later the row escalated into two bloody scuffles, allegedly involving knives, baseball bats and spades. The only previous trouble was when some of a Magyar family's nine Rottweilers—the same family whose guest had blocked the Roma driver—crawled under a fence and killed their neighbour's German shepherd. (The Roma driver also happened to be the father of the owner of the killed German shepherd.)
The precise details and motivation of the neighbourly battle after the car incident are murky. But within days a post on kuruc.info, a far-right propaganda web site, called for “real Hungarians” to come to the aid of compatriots facing oppression from Roma. "The problem is that the minority do not accept the laws of the majority," says Akos Nemeth, lawyer for the Hungarian side. "I am afraid it will become civil war."
The village's Roma population of around 30% are unrepresented on the council and struggle to secure jobs. Like anyone else those Roma who own houses have seen their value plummet. But the re-housing programme brought by the red mud disaster saw a few Roma, who previously lived in Roma-only neighbourhoods, re-housed in mixed areas. Some of them have found it hard to adapt to their new surroundings, says Alfred Kiraly, a Roma member of an initiative to coordinate the recovery effort after the sludge disaster.
The majority of the inhabitants of Devecser still supports the Roma, but no one of any note is prepared to speak up. Mr Toldi says he is privately called a "Roma-lover" for arranging for Roma to work for their welfare and in trying to reconcile differences with committees of local representatives to agree on codes of neighbourly conduct.