Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

'War' in Sajóbábony

by DoDo 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.

:: :: :: :: ::

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.

At the end of my way home from Austria the other day, a group of skinheads boarded my train. I looked up and caught the eyes of the last one, and chose to not hide my disgust while I stared at the holder of his c. 800 cm³ brain. Before he left the compartment at the other end, he told his comrade: "Ah, there is another disgusting hook-nosed Jew here in the back, right there!"

I was taken for a Turk in West Germany, so it was no news that racists' racial typology equals seeing what you want; here the extra irony is that my nose comes just from a German lineage of my ancestors...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 17th, 2009 at 03:28:58 AM EST
So Jobbik boss Gábor Vona had his 'press conference'.

  • He refused to shake hands with local Roma, saying that they first have to prove to be worthy of it. (One has to suppose that all the thousands of others he shook hands with proved it beforehand.)

  • He thinks prisons today are like wellness centres. (He should have no problem to inhabit one with the far-right rioters he defended, I guess.)

  • He trottled out the standard threat that "only those should be afraid who don't keep the law". Then proceeded to propose laws to curb "child manufacture" [ = Gypsies will out-breed us!].

  • He claims he has no problems with Gypsies only criminals, but then proceeded to propose a registering of all Roma and the dissolution of the Roma self-government. And for those who don't like that, he suggested moving away.

  • There was one Gypsy leader present, one who sold out to Jobbik to be its show window Gypsy -- and proceeded to suggest that it's not the Roma but Jews who are the alien body in the nation...

Meanwhile, police showed its colours again: when local Roma wanted to enter the 'press conference', there were first sent home to bring their ID cards, and when they brought those, they were turned away without justification.

:: :: :: :: ::

As I implied in the diary: the state is impotent, society is impotent.

Meanwhile, the interior minister tried to counter-act some police captains' sabotage of his decree about dissolving Hungarian Guard gatherings with a new decree making the wearing of the Hungarian Guard uniform a punishable violation, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 17th, 2009 at 11:56:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Fidesz being the main opposition party, a right-populist outfit led by a narrow cabal of ideology-swapping yuppies only interested in power.)

  • The scandalous mayor of Edelény is also the MP for that region (which is near Sajóbábony in the impoverished Northeast). The one 'punishment' for [generating bad press with] the racist tirades he reportedly got behind closed doors was that he would not be the candidate next time (in 2010). This may still be the case, given that the decision is in the hands of the top leadership; however, the local Fidesz organisations expressed their opinion with an unanimous endorsement...

  • Fidesz leader, once (and future) PM Viktor Orbán said the right things when commenting the events in Sajóbábony -- but not without using the forked tongue method. He said it can't be that 'self-denfense organisations and marching paramilitary units' (in that order!) take over the role of the State.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 06:36:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A few years ago, I traveled to nearby Tiszaújváros, an industrial town a mere 25 km south from Sajóbábony.

I remember a very quiet little town, with pleasant residential areas with public parks and industrial plants at the edge of the city; difficult to imagine large scale urban violence in such a setting; still...

by Bernard on Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 09:45:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, Tiszaújváros means Tisza [that's the river] New City. Original name: Sztálinváros, for Stalin :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 10:31:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes, I remember a colleague telling me this anecdote. Still I wonder if Sajóbábony is anything like Tiszaújváros since the two cities are close...
by Bernard on Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 04:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Closeness means nothing in this case... but I don't know, I haven't been to either.

Tisza- (ex Sztálin)újváros was built anew on the fields next to a village in the early fifties as a Socialist 'model city', so it has nothing to do with regional city plan and arrchitecture traditions. On the other hand, due to WWII or bad construction or government programmes, other cities and big villages lost much of their older architecture, too, to be replaced by what I guess to be similar 'socialist' architecture, only less flashy.

Additionally, I ask: when have you been to Tiszaújváros? Because, even if I wasn't there, there is the issue that not many of the areas with concrete apartment blocks in the former Eastern Bloc have changed for the better since 1989...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 19th, 2009 at 09:40:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tisza- (ex Sztálin)újváros

Actually, I messed up completely. Sztálinváros was the other model city, called Dunaújváros today (it's on the Danube). Tiszaújváros was Leninváros ( = Lenin city), but only from 1970, until when it shared the name of the nearby village (Tiszaszederkény).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 19th, 2009 at 02:24:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right: Lenin, not Stalin; my bad :)
I suppose we both flunked our exam of great Soviet leaders...

And yes, from my recollection (only spent a couple of nights there -- days at the factory), it really looks like a planned community from the 1970's, with its checkerboard street patterns, small apartment buildings and public gardens, plus a couple of factories from multinational companies at the outskirts that provide employment to a large part of the population, I suppose.

So I guess this kind of towns may be the exception rather than the rule in the region that you described as rather impoverished.

by Bernard on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 10:53:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was kid, Sztálinváros long became Dunaújváros, while Leninváros was there -- so more a case of failing memory on my part :-)

As for the impoverishment, that is the result of the collapse of heavy industry (and Western private investors focusing their mone in the Western parts and big cities) -- Tiszaújváros was relatively lucky to keep one big industry.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 02:48:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Allowing a dangerous paramilitary organisation to continue its activities in spite of an official ban is an obvious governmental failure to defend democracy and the rule of law. The EU really should step in.

How can we put this under EU officials' noses?

This may or may not be a starting point, from the Council of Europe:

Directorate of Communication - Fighting racist violence and discrimination: ECRI round table in Hungary

Date: 16 November 2009

Location: Budapest (Hungary) - Novotel Budapest Centrum, Rákóczi út 43-45.

Organised by the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

Description: The aim of the round table is to examine the situation in Hungary with regard to racially motivated violence as well as racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in public discourse. Participants will also take stock of the implementation of anti-racial discrimination legislation and policies, and discuss the follow-up given to the recommendations contained in ECRI's fourth report on Hungary.

The meeting will be opened by Vilmos Szabó, Senior Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, and Eva Smith Asmussen, Chair of ECRI. It will bring together representatives from the Government, the Parliament, the judiciary, local and regional authorities, national human rights institutions, academics, NGOs and trade unions.

In its fourth report on Hungary, ECRI welcomed some positive developments in legislation, and the establishment of bodies and actions responsible for fighting discrimination. It also expressed its concern on the situation of the Roma minority, especially in the field of employment and education, and with regard to the rise of racist public discourse.

The round table is open to press. It will start at 9:00 and end at 17:15.

Links to Programme and Explanatory note

ECRI is an independent human rights body of the Council of Europe which monitors problems of racism and intolerance by preparing country specific reports, and issues recommendations to member states. More information on: www.coe.int/ecri


Stéphanie Marsal, ECRI's External Relations officer, tel: +33(0)3 90 21 43 28, mobile (15-16 November): + 33 (0)6 62 18 55 42, stephanie.marsal@coe.int

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 17th, 2009 at 11:19:03 AM EST
unfortunately the law cannot be upheld when the local forces of "law and order" believe that their role is preserving a "natural order" where roma are kept on a short leash. No amount of the EU telling them otherwise is gonna make any difference.

It is reminiscent of Mississippi in the 50s and 60s. They didn't co-operate with Federal orders either and the EU has no ability to send in a national guard and enforce civility.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Nov 18th, 2009 at 02:57:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to someone familiar with america's history of racial/ethnic politics.
by wu ming on Fri Nov 20th, 2009 at 10:53:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]