Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 05:06:55 AM EST
Sajóbábony is a town of 3,000 in Hungary's impoverished Northeast. Over the weekend, far-right party Jobbik (currently polling double-digits) held a gathering there -- which resulted in a major upheaval.
Participants' reports differ wildly on what happened next, but there was a confrontation between much of the city's 800 Roma on one side, and hundreds of Jobbik supporters on the other side, many of the latter in the uniform of the banned Hungarian Guard paramilitary. After some scuffles and a smashed car window, a large police force separated the sides; but a number of Gypsies kept watch at campfires and a hundred Jobbik/Hungarian Guard kept waiting just outside the town limits until Sunday evening.
According to the on-ground investigation by the reporters of e-zine Index.hu, this big row looks like a planned provocation, ahead of the visit of Jobbik's boss in town today. The provocation seems a successful one.
Promoted by afew
The course of events, according to Index.hu's reconstruction:
The regional leader of Jobbik wanted to recruit new members in the town under the guise of a local forum (town hall meeting in American). He got permission from the mayor only after threatening to organise a march of the Hungarian Guard across town instead (note: Jobbik maintains that the Hungarian Guard is organisationally independent from them, but it was banned anyway recently).
On Saturday, local Romas came to the 'local forum', too, but people in Hungarian Guard uniforms refused to let them in and started to insult them, resulting in a shouting match. A local grocery owner [according to rumours, the one who invited Jobbik in the first place] joined the uniformed idiots, too.
Local police stepped in for the first time. However, later an angry Roma woman slapped the grocery owner in her shop, and someone issued threats to the regional Jobbik leader. So the latter called for supporters from all across the region to gather in town the next day.
On Sunday, hundreds of additional Jobbik supporters arrived, and the shouting matches resumed. Some Jobbik newcomers started a threatening excursion in cars across the streets inhabited by Roma. However, they were chased back, and when one of the cars tried to flee, it hit a teenager. In a reaction reminding of the lynching at Olaszliszka, the car was trashed and its passengers attacked.
Finally large police forces arrived from out of town, and separated the two sides. They did not disperse crowds (which gathered at campfires resp. the edge of town), but called on the Roma to go home, and tried to filter out everyone not from the town.
By that time, the far-right media, especially on-line, was spreading their version of events (poor innocent Hungarians attacked by wild hordes of Gypsies without provocation). Which will just be the perfect setting when Jobbik leader Gábor Vona holds his press conference in town today.
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So, as the Index.hu reporters say, the situation in parts of Hungary looks like in a dark post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
But I don't see who would counter-act the fascists here.
- One of the disturbing moments of the Index.hu report is when the journalists embark to visit the Roma watchmen at the campfires, the policemen tell them: "Only at your own risk - we don't advise to go", and then look perplexed when they do go. The views of the average rural policeman are probably not that different from the average Hungarian Guard...
Indeed there is an order from the interior minister to disperse any gathering of people in the uniform of the banned paramilitary, but many rural police captains flat-out ignored that during the 1956 Revolution anniversary events. When asked, they maintained that "there were no incidents to warrant intervention". The uniform fetishists weren't dispersed in Sajóbábony, either, it seems focus was on controlling Roma anger.
- It doesn't help of course that the notional centre-left totally discredited themselves over the past seven years in government, and focus on the economy and the petty scandal of the day anyway.
Not to mention that both the mayor of Sajóbábony and that grocery owner (who also sits on the local council) are Socialists. The former caused a row a year ago when calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in the wake of a murder, claiming that 90% of crime is perpetrated by Roma (both are positions of Jobbik).
- You can't except anything from the notional centre-right. From 1998, main right-wing party Fidesz attempted to integrate the entire Right under its wings, from urban yuppies to atavistic anti-semites. While Jobbik slipped from their control, there are plenty of other far-right figures still within, and the policy of never criticising extremists on your side (or at least not without a forked tongue, like presenting Jobbik and the Socialists and two extremes just last week) still holds.
For example, there is the Fidesz mayor of the town of Edelény. He first got the media's attention two years ago, visioning a foreign program to purposefully reduce the population of Hungarians. But that's just obscure. This year however, he first claimed that local Roma women beat their stomach with hammers to make their unborn children retards, and thus eligible for social supports; later he railed against selling the country off to Jewish businessmen. The reaction of Fidesz leaders? He was called in for a closed-door meeting, but remained in the party and he was even defended in public (a Fidesz leader declared that he would feel worse being a comrade of a certain Socialist politician accused of corruption).
- The best and most effective weapon against fascists is civic resistance, with placards and counter-rallies and such. In Hungary, there are only occasional flare-ups (see my reports here, here and here). But nothing like the widespread, sustained, and confrontation-risking grass-roots effort that I know from West Germany, or what In Wales describes for example here.
When I talk to (remaining) supporters of the notional center-left, they say it's awful, but spend much more time getting outraged at the latest displays of hypocrisy, partisanship and bad diplomacy on the part of Hungary's figurehead President. Official anti-fascist organisations seem to be in a lethargic state, and don't even reply to emails. If I talk to some of the hippie-ish, green-ish urban youth, they prefer to keep away from trouble, and focus their public activism on the Critical Mass biker protests, for example.
- Roma self-government and cultural organisations are in a mess. They always were in a mess, because (as I explained here) "the Roma" or "the Gypsies" is in fact a misnomer for people who are viewed as one (ethnic) group only from the outside. There are parallel competing organisations, often discrediting themselves with party-political ties, and now the leaders of some face corruption/embezzlement trials.
So self-defense takes the form of ad-hoc minutemen, who are disorganised and threatening and illegal. (Then again, I doubt their chances to get a permit would equal that of non-Gypsies, like the ones put on trial recently for fire-bombing a Roma house.)
- It would be nice if EU institutions would step in. But, EU leaders have even less sense of the problem and even less inclined to intervene than in the Hungary vs. Slovakia conflict.
I wish I could tell of a silver lining here.