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A photo and a story

by DoDo Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 04:57:11 AM EST

The photo:

A 4-5,000-strong funeral march for a dead sporter yesterday. The bilingual (Hungarian-Romanian) banner reads: "We will never forget you". (Photo from Index.hu.)

The story:

On 8 February in a nightclub in Veszprém/Hungary, for reasons still not entirely clear, a newly arrived group attacked another. At the end of it, two of the attackers, said to be heavyweight felons, drew their knives. End result: two seriously hurt, one dead. One attacker was arrested with an accomplice by Austrian highway police the next day, the other surrendered a few days later.

I don't know how frequent such disco fights are. But this one was special for a number of reasons:

  1. the attacked party was prominent: seven players of the top-notch local handball club (which competes in the EHF Champions League);
  2. the one killed, Marian Cozma, was Romanian, the seriously injured were Croatian and Serbian;
  3. the stabbers were ethnic Roma, and this happened just after the row over a police captain, who claimed that 100% of violent crime committed in his city last year was perpetrated by Gypsies.

There was massive public reaction in both Hungary and Romania. This was the number one theme in the media for a week, with breaking news and live TV coverage of the burial. But I found it hard to write anything on it, as things got (stayed) ugly, there aint' any silver lining, only the far-right stands to benefit. Still, some background below the fold.

Updated with some photos and an English match report link

The association of Gypsies with crime is one of the strongest negative stereotypes about Roma throughout Central and Southeastern Europe. There are some crime types traditionally thought to be monopolised by Roma - stealing food and animals, cable theft, lynch-mobbing intruders - apparently supported by police statistics, though even those are discredited by low crime solvency rates, signs that f.e. cable theft is now an international business, and the prejudices of denouncers, witnesses, police and judges.

As for the bigger picture, though one would expect a higher crime rate just from the fact that the majority of Roma in the region live impoverished, a sociologist study of police records a few years back found a different pattern: regions with a high ratio of Gypsies in the population had a somewhat lower crime rate, but a significantly higher crime solvency rate... which leads us back to the prejudices of denouncers, witnesses, police and judges.

However, perceptions of crime don't have to have statistics as basis. The ethnic focus of the current public discourse on crime is the result of a successful far-right campaign, which set the frame of the debate by mainstreaming catchphrases and pushing their line after every spectacular crime event: a moving of the Overton Window, applying all the lessons from the US Right.

A few years back, a notorious far-right propaganda site hosted on (changing) servers in the USA coined the term "Gypsycrime". By now talking heads are discussing it in he-said-she-said manner. The same website headlined every major crime involving a Roma perpetrator, or assumed a Roma perpetrator where none were known (example I reported earlier: cause of a train acident); with far-right posters linking to the article in virtually every political forum soon -- with the result that now violent crime and murder are also under the "Gypsycrime" umbrella. Quite a feat even in the field of perceptions, given that no Roma were involved in the most spectacular crimes of recent years (e.g. the Massacre of Mór or a mafia hit job also killing bystanders).

And now we had a top policeman reinforcing it. And the real tragedy of it: he could keep his job. The rumour is that the governing Socialists feared voter loss in one of the most faithfully Socialist-voting provinces...

:: :: :: :: ::

After the Marian Cozma murder, sympathy protests erupted across the country (as well as Romania). Every politician offered condolences. The Veszprém handball club retired Cozma's shirt number. Cozma's father offered one of his kidneys for the also stabbed Croatian teammate. The Romanian and Hungarian handball associations agreed an annual commemoration match on the day Cozma died.

Candles for Marian Cozma at the entrance of the premises of Cozma's former club, Dinamo Bucureşti, in Bucharest. Photo from Napló.

But the outbreak of genuine sympathy and outrage was mixed up with underhand and not-so-underhand racism from the start. For, the very first protests were part initiated, part seized upon by the uniform-donning, Árpád-stripes-flag-waving far-right -- above all, far-right youth party JOBBIK.

JOBBIK's roots are among men who were students in the nineties just when I was, centred in a few pockets, including ones at the Budapest Technical University. (Incidentally, I am visiting a course there this semester, and the extremism and amount -- and lack of removal -- of far-right graffiti propaganda in toilets is incredible.) JOBBIK's extremism was intellectual and postmodern (as opposed to the stale pre-war anti-semitism of older far-right parties or the working-class physicalism of skinheads). For long, they were a fraction-percent dwarf that attempted alliances both with the center-right (Fidesz) and other far-right (MIÉP).

JOBBIK gained a higher public (and media) profile via the internet (the above mentioned site is also aligned with them), and the creation of the notorious Hungarian Guard paramilitary. For long, this meant more that they could affect public discourse than that they could gain a significant following, especially when the news on them was dominated by internal conflict and various scandals in the Hungarian Guard, and finally the ban of it as officially recognised civic association.

However, in recent months, other far-right groups faltered, while JOBBIK profiled themselves enough with the "Gypsycrime" theme, so that they managed to establish themselves as leading far-right force, and there are serious concerns that they may pass 5% in the next elections.

:: :: :: :: ::

For his part, the leader of the main opposition party (right-populist Fidesz) declared that "there is no Gypsycrime, but there are ever more Gypsy criminals". Whatever that is supposed to follow from (no police statistics for sure) and lead to. Meanwhile, one member of a small cabal of far-right journalists (still) aligned with Fidesz wrote an openly racist column in a major paper declaring that the 'killers aren't Hungarian citizens because they aren't people, they are animals'.

The Right is also discussing an 'underlying need' for better public security in rural areas, and want to bring back the gendarmerie.

Now, on one hand, the 'need' part is ridiculous and a nice example of perceptions determining everything: crime rates are actually at or below the EU average, below that of even many EU-15 countries, and say murders were tending down over the last decade. On the other hand, as for proud traditions to be continued, the historical Hungarian gendarmerie first excelled in crushing rural movements, then in doing most of the dirty work for the Nazis by collecting Jews in Hungary and delivering them in trains at the border. (They were disbanded after WWII.)

Above: gendarmes stop a protest march of hungering miner families in 1928. At other instances, they had no scruples drawing bayonets or shooting into crowds - or teach defeated strikers a lesson. (Photo and drawing from Partizaninfo.)
Below: Hungarian gendarmes with a German soldier; gendarmes putting Jews they rounded up in Soltvadkert on a train. (Photos from Holocaust in Hungary.)

:: :: :: :: ::

Given all of the above, even a silent march without far-right flags and uniforms, one that is a symbol of overcoming the strongest national animosity for both Hungarian and Romanian nationalism: that against one another; leaves a bad aftertaste in my mouth.

:: :: :: :: ::

(In English, though it doesn't mention the controversy about the killers' ethnicity at all, also see EHF's match report of Sunday's home match against Reale Ademar, which was directly preceded by that funeral march and marked by salutes to Cozma throughout the match. Photo from there.)

Again bilingual: "Good-bye Birdie".

From what I read, anti-Gypsy sentiments were whipped up in the Romanian media, too, but maybe someone 'closer to the fire' can report on coverage there.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 16th, 2009 at 03:13:03 PM EST
I was reminded of your diary today when listening to a speaker at a conference on religion and belief.  He was recounting a conversation he'd had with a colleague, discussing the different equality groups and the tensions that can arise where the practice of certain groups (eg some religions) breaches the right to equality for other groups (women, gay people etc).

Their conversation was overheard by a man who then decided to make the point that his rights were being breached at work and when asked to explain he stated his view that people in society who are weak should accept that and accept their place as submissives to the more dominant people (such as himself I assume).  He viewed it as a breach of his rights that he was not allowed to dominate over others who he considered to be 'weak' - this includes women not knowing their place, disabled people who should have no right to be in a workplace...

Then he was asked if he thought that Adolf Hitler got it right and his answer was yes, but he went a bit too far.

The speaker was cautioning us around how we use the word fascism, and how ill-use and over-use dilutes the meaning (as we've discussed on ET with 'genocide' or 'socialism', for example) but in his view this was an absolute example of a fascist.

And it is shocking to think that people hold these attitudes and truly believe that they should have every right to discriminate against others as they please, and are quite blatant in stating that view.  In the right environment, they will act on these views and this is what we see each time you report on the latest racist or fascist incident or protest.  

It would be pure fallacy to sit here and think, this wouldn't happen in my country, because if allowed to, it would and stark reminders such as this conversation that the conference speaker had point to how fragile a state we are in and the importance of bringing these things to attention of others.  Fascism by no means stopped with Hitler, even if the form of expression may differ somewhat.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 02:13:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fascism did, of course, have a lot of supporters in the UK and the US in the 1930s. I saw on TV, ONCE, film of a large meeting in NY of American fascists, some in Nazi-style uniforms. Here's an interesting piece on American Jewish gangsters' attacks on such meetings:

Jewish Gangsters of the 1920's & 30's

There are few excuses for the behaviour of Jewish gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s. The best known Jewish gangsters -- Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Longy Zwillman, Moe Dalitz -- were involved in the numbers rackets, illegal drug dealing, prostitution, gambling and loan sharking. They were not nice men.

During the rise of American Nazism in the 1930s and when Israel was being founded between 1945 and 1948, however, they proved staunch defenders of the Jewish people.

The roots of Jewish gangsterism lay in the ethnic neighborhoods of the Lower East Side: Brownsville, Brooklyn; Maxwell Street in Chicago; and Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Like other newly arrived groups in American history, a few Jews who considered themselves blocked from respectable professions used crime as a means to "make good" economically. The market for vice flourished during Prohibition and Jews joined with others to exploit the artificial market created by the legal bans on alcohol, gambling, paid sex and narcotics.

Few of these men were religiously observant. They rarely attended services, although they did support congregations financially. They did not keep kosher or send their children to day schools. However, at crucial moments they protected other Jews, in America and around the world.

The 1930s were a period of rampant anti-Semitism in America, particularly in the Midwest. Father Charles Coughlin, the Radio Priest in Detroit, and William Pelley of Minneapolis, among others, openly called for Jews to be driven from positions of responsibility, if not from the country itself.

Organized Brown Shirts in New York and Silver Shirts in Minneapolis outraged and terrorized American Jewry. While the older and more respectable Jewish organizations pondered a response that would not alienate non-Jewish supporters, others - including a few rabbis - asked the gangsters to break up American Nazi rallies.

Historian Robert Rockaway, writing in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, notes that German-American Bund rallies in the New York City area posed a dilemma for mainstream Jewish leaders. They wanted the rallies stopped, but had no legal grounds on which to do so. New York State Judge Nathan Perlman personally contacted Meyer Lansky to ask him to disrupt the Bund rallies, with the proviso that Lansky's henchmen stop short of killing any Bundists. Enthusiastic for the assignment, if disappointed by the restraints, Lansky accepted all of Perlman's terms except one: he would take no money for the work. Lansky later observed, "I was a Jew and felt for those Jews in Europe who were suffering. They were my brothers."

For months Lansky's workmen effectively broke up one Nazi rally after another. As Rockaway notes, "Nazi arms, legs and ribs were broken and skulls were cracked, but no one died."

Lansky recalled breaking up a Brown Shirt rally in the Yorkville section of Manhattan: "The stage was decorated with a swastika and a picture of Hitler. The speakers started ranting. There were only fifteen of us, but we went into action. We threw some of them out the windows. Most of the Nazis panicked and ran out. We chased them and beat them up. We wanted to show them that Jews would not always sit back and accept insults."

In Minneapolis, William Dudley Pelley organized a Silver Shirt Legion to "rescue" America from an imaginary Jewish-Communist conspiracy. In Pelle's own words, just as "Mussolini and his Black Shirts saved Italy and as Hitler and his Brown Shirts saved Germany," he would save America from Jewish communists. Minneapolis Gambling Czar David Berman confronted Pelley's Silver Shirts on behalf of the Minneapolis Jewish community.

Berman learned that Silver Shirts were mounting a rally at Lodge. When the Nazi leader called for all the "Jew bastards" in the city to be expelled, or worse, Berman and his associates burst in to the room and started cracking heads. After ten minutes, they had emptied the hall. His suit covered in blood, Berman took the microphone and announced, "This is a warning. Anybody who says anything against Jews gets the same treatment. Only next time it will be worse." After Berman broke up two more rallies, there were no more public Silver Shirt meetings in Minneapolis.

Jewish gangsters also helped establish Israel after the war. One famous example is a meeting between Bugsy Siegel and Reuven Dafne, a Haganah emissary, in 1945. Dafne was seeking funds and guns to help liberate Palestine from British rule. A mutual friend arranged for the two men to meet.

"You mean to tell me Jews are fighting?" Siegel asked. "You mean fighting as in killing?" Dafne answered in the affirmative.

Siegel replied, "I'm with you."

For weeks, Dafne received suitcases filled with $5 and $10 bills -- $50,000 in all -- from Siegel.

No one should paint gangsters as heroes. They committed acts of great evil. But historian Rockaway has presented a textured version of Jewish gangster history in a book ironically titled, "But They Were Good to their Mothers."

Some have observed that despite their disreputable behavior they could be good to their people too.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Feb 18th, 2009 at 01:32:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for reasons still not entirely clear, a newly arrived group attacked another

By my count, there are at least three versions now.

  1. The first version told: the stabbers' group got in conflict with and attacked the barmaid, the hndballers came for defense - but this was denied later.

  2. A guy claiming to be an ex-member of the stabbers' mafia said that this must have been intended as raising ruckus in advance of demanding protection money from the nightclub.

  3. Someone else claims that the stabbers' group got into a conflict with a third group in another nightclub the previous day, and they were looking for that group to settle a score, with the handballers getting in their way accidentally at the wrong moment.

What is similar in all versions is that apparently, the guys ran a well-known small mafia based in a village but with international connections, yet local police heeded them little.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 16th, 2009 at 05:28:06 PM EST
What a world.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 03:40:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah. Sad.

Here's an intetesting site for those interested in Roma.
"Dosta" is a Romani word meaning "Enough!"link takes you to a Romanti-prejudice site, with interesting cultural stuff.
Incredibly rich musical culture, the Roma.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 04:35:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
apparently, the guys ran a well-known small mafia based in a village but with international connections
So the fact that cable stealing is an international business cannot be evidence that local gangs are not involvd in it?

A photo and a story

apparently supported by police statistics, though even those are discredited by low crime solvency rates, signs that f.e. cable theft is now an international business

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 04:18:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the fact that cable stealing is an international business cannot be evidence that local gangs are not involvd in it?

I did not say that that local mafia was specialised in cable theft. (In fact, I wouldn't call a mere cable-ripping gang a 'mafia'.) The rumours (because for lack of trials and convictions, it's all hearsay) are of expropiating homes, protection money extortion, drug trafficking, and running prostitution rings as far as Italy. (The pair who was snatched by Austrian highway police was on its way to a hiding in Italy, according to another rumour.)

As for what I alluded to regarding international cable theft, I referred to cases of cable-ripping gangs from Romania caught in the act in Western Hungary or Austria. Cable-theft certainly exists locally, but no one knows what are the relative levels, given the low solvency rate. (Not to mention the crucial issue of who buys the stolen metal.)

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

by DoDo on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 06:20:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, for the heck of it, I conducted a cursory scan of recent news of caught cable thiefs. The overwhelming majority were local or regional (ethnicity not reported); though, again, I surmise it's the less professional who tend to be caught.

BTW, I forgot to mention another 'funny' rumour.

One of the seriously hurt, Žarko Šešum, is from Serbia. It was alleged by a paper in ROmania that his father fought in the infamous Serbian paramilitary led by Arkan, and that he'll come with 300 former comrades. After the news spread across every web forum into the (Hungarian) MSM, Šešum's father denied it personally, declaring that he is just the director of an agricultural company and has full trust in law enforcement...

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

by DoDo on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 07:01:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can add one more story as well, to demonstrate why I can't trust anything I hear.

The major of Siófok, a city on the shore of the Balaton, also raised his voice, claiming that the alleged Gypsie mafia from Enying (the village the stabbers are from) was also active in his town: they tried to take over control over night life, but failed, after which over a hundred marched menancingly through town with swords and knifes, which was ignored by police. Supposedly.

Now, given that this mayor is from Fidesz, and given how his party boss managed to claim ever more Roma criminals without any evidence, forgive me my automatic scepticism. And indeed I found a political motive in the old news real soon: back then he also claimed that police was absent because many were re-grouped to confront 'political protests' (speak: riots) in Budapest and some of the rest was busy dismantling an illegal Fidesz protest nearby... But, it gets better: I found how police responded back then.

  • They said they did send a patrol after a telephone call, but no one was around by the time it arrived,
  • security camera tapes do show a large group of Roma men walking along the lakeshore, but no weapon is visible,
  • there was no sign of any illegal action, nor any complaints to the police from locals and shop owners (indeed apart from the mayor, there are only a few vague claims by anonymous sources talking to blogs and media),
  • no well-known criminals were identified in the crowd based on the tapes, either. (It's not even certain they were all or in part from Enying.)

:: :: :: :: ::

As for the other rumours about the 'Enying mafia': who knows how much of it is true, while police denies that they were serious organized criminals; but here is my own speculation: methinks the 'Enying mafia' is probably more a gang of simple robbers and burglars mostly active in their own village, and police heeded them little because most of their victims were Gypsies too, and/or did not report it to the police.

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

by DoDo on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 10:00:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After analysing all security camera tapes and witness reports, police said today that only three men participated in the entire assault on the handballers, after separating from that large newly arrived group.

The public was still not told about the reason for the tussle, though now even one of the defense lawiers claims knowledge. His defendant, the one who surrendered days later, denies participation. The piquancy is that he was arrested for murder once before and held for two months until his innocence was proved. It's interesting then that yesterday, police detained a fourth suspect.

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

by DoDo on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 09:00:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"round up the usual suspects"

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 09:14:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To be fair, maybe the second guy arrested by Austrian police was not involved in the attack, only in the escape.

I see I forgot the one news I most wanted to give as update: the latest twist from right-populist main opposition party Fidesz turned out to be another copy of the US right-wing 'anti-crime' campaign. They drafted a three strikes law, submitted to parliament today...

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

by DoDo on Tue Feb 17th, 2009 at 10:05:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and today, the PM presented his latest newest boldest 'reform' package. Do I have lust to write about it? No.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 16th, 2009 at 05:39:57 PM EST

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