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Everybody’s fault but ours

May 2nd, 2011

Another battlefield of the twenty year old clash of two opposing world outlooks in Hungary is the plight of the six hundred thousand strong Roma/Gypsy minority. In March Jobbik, the radical right wing party held a march at Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2,800 inhabitants in northern Hungary, blaming the local Roma (who make up about a quarter of the population) for the suicide of an elderly resident.

A ‘civil guard’ unit supported by Jobbik remained on the spot for two weeks patrolling the streets and was joined by two other extreme right wing vigilante  groups. The Roma complained that they were threatened and intimidated by the patrols, which even prevented them sending their children to school. A radically different version of events was backed by a majority of local residents, who signed a petition asking the patrols not to leave. The patrols only ended on 17 March, after new police units were brought in from outside, to rectify what was seen as a tendency of local police to fraternise with the vigilantes.

One of the far right wing paramilitary groups, Véderő, or ‘Defense Force’  then announced its intention to stage a field training course outside the village over the Easter weekend. With the financial support of  Richard Field, a Budapest-based American real estate developer and philanthropist, the Hungarian Red Cross organised a holiday for 277 Roma women and children the same weekend – initially portrayed by Mr Field and local Roma activists as an ‘evacuation’ necessitated by the training course. Upon their return to Gyöngyöspata, a late-night brawl developed between several Véderő activists and local Roma, during which the finger of a drunk activist was so badly cut it had to be sewn back at the nearby hospital. His attackers are under arrest. The government submitted a bill threatening anyone policing without proper authorization with up to two years imprisonment.

The moderate conservative weekly Heti Válasz published a letter by a local resident explaining why the majority of the population had welcomed the extremist patrols. “Groups of deviant teenagers openly insult and even spit at old people on their way home from church, try to grab their bags, throw stones at them, then sneak into their gardens at night and steal whatever they find.”

Editor in chief Gábor Borókai blamed left wing civil rights activists as well as Mr Field for encouraging the sense of victimhood among the Gypsies, “which makes them forget that they are also responsible for what happens around them. They should realise that whether we are Gypsies or not, it is equally bad to live in fear”.

The left liberal webmagazine Hírszerző  says it is understandable that the local Roma felt threatened, as Jobbik’s Hungarian Guard (an earlier far-right organisation) used to stage regular marches in several locations across the country, until they were banned. The ‘Civic Guard For a Better Future’ which launched patrols in Gyöngyöspata and another town, Hajduhadhaza, are just their latest incarnations. And we should not forget, writes Hírszerző, that in 2008-9 a group of serial killers attacked Gypsy homes in eight villages, killing six people. (Four people are now on trial for those murders.) “You can write a thousand times that …. it is high time for Gypsies to pull themselves together….. But that’s mere empty hate speech which won’t bring us any nearer to a solution”.

“The government is just scraping the surface when threatening to send the so-called ‘criminals in uniform’ to jail, instead of presenting a comprehensive programme aimed at an immediate improvement of public order and at Gypsy integration” – writes György Zsombor in Magyar Nemzet.

Véleményvezér (Opinion Leader), a moderately conservative blog criticizes the government for tardiness, by only placing a ban on unauthorized policing after blood had been shed.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explained the timing in a televised interview: “Strict measures have to be taken when the whole country believes it is time to act. Otherwise people would blame us for interfering needlessly.”

Véleményvezér says it may be a self-destructive strategy to follow the day-to-day desires of the population instead of trying to be popular – in four years’ time.

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