27 May 2013

On the streets with Hungary’s far-right

In Hungary an extremist nationalist party linked to paramilitary-style militias is making huge gains. Channel 4 News travelled to Budapest to meet the men behind the Jobbik campaign.

The far-right Jobbik party is hoping to become Hungary’s second biggest political party at next year’s elections but their manifesto is filled with vitriolic references to gypsies and Jews.

Jobbik currently holds 43 seats in the Hungarian parliament and two in the European parliament. In Hungary it has become a legitimate political force – although its anti-Semitic message has raised concerns across the globe.

The party is allied with the BNP through the Alliance of European National Movements, but is considerably more successful. One key difference is its ties to vigilante militias – think English Defence League, but sober and in military uniforms.

The nationalist militias descend on gypsy towns to intimidate and sow division – when banned, they simply re-form with new names and similar structures.

At a Jobbik protest against “Zionism and communism” a few hundred metres from the World Jewish Congress, Channel 4 News watched Jobbik’s leader address a crowd containing uniformed members of the Magyar Nemzeti Garda and the more extreme Betyarsereg (Army of Outlaws). The groups took part in military-style drills, and members of Betyarsereg carried helmets and gas masks.

The gathering went almost completely unopposed, with a very light police presence – in Hungary paramilitary-style far-right rallies have been normalised.

Although he Jewish Congress is usually held in Jerusalem, it came to Budapest to draw attention to the rise of anti-Semitism and to send a message to Jobbik that they would not be intimidated.

Jewish leaders told me that Prime Minister Victor Orban assured them he had dealt with the problem of militias

Nevertheless, those who came to view the rally were shocked by what they saw. At a training session for the Magyar Nemzeti Garda (Hungarian National Guard) militia, the group wore full military uniforms, displayed a clear military-style structure, but claimed it was not a violent organisation. It has taken part in distributing food and clothes to the homeless and given blood en masse to the Red Cross.

Its leader, Joseph, laid out the group’s ideas to us: “We have a domestic problem that is the gypsy criminality and an external problem that is the Jew expansion.”

When asked about the past suffering of Hungarian Jews, he replied: “If we want to remember victims, in my mind the holocaust is not the biggest tragedy. This has nothing to do with me. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t deny it, I’m just not interested.”

Less than a century after Hungarian Jews were shot and their bodies dumped in the Danube by the Arrow Guard, fascist groups now openly wear the Arrow Guard logo, and statues of Hungarian nazi-Collaborator Miklós Horthy have been re-erected in parts of the country.

The militias play an important role for Jobbik, as we learned in small town of Gyongyospata, where a Jobbik mayor is now in charge.

Tensions in the town exploded in 2011. Nationalists blamed the small Roma population for the suicide of a local, and thousands of black-shirted militia members arrived to patrol the streets. Jobbik held rallies outside the homes of gypsies and there were violent clashes. In the aftermath the village became a party stronghold.

The Roma say they played no role in the man’s death, and even brought us to meet his son, who confirmed their side of the story. They said over 2,000 journalists have been to the town but never sought to clarify the truth behind Jobbik’s claim.

The difference in the Roma side of town is astonishing: the roads are unpaved and homes are run-down.

The difference in the Roma side of town is astonishing: the roads are unpaved and homes are run-down. The mayor says he is helping the Roma by providing work but many have already fled the town.

Across Europe, far-right organisations have been enjoying increased success on the streets or in the ballot boxes. Greece’s Golden Dawn holds 18 seats in parliament and Bulgaria’s extremist Ataka have 23 seats.

The deputy leader of Jobbik told Channel 4 News of his admiration for Ukip. The parties have little in common but share their opposition to the EU, and both have made rapid gains off the issue.

Unlike Ukip, Jobbik plans to strengthen its ties to places the near East and, more specifically, Iran. The town of Tiszavasvari, the “Jobbik capital” has been twinned with the Iranian city of Ardabil. The partnership has been called an “anti-Semitic alliance”.

In Budapest, the real-world effects of the party’s extremist rhetoric is clear. A report prepared for the World Jewish Congress showed how spontaneous anti-Semitic attacks are growing.

Jobbik told Channel 4 News it now wants the secret service to start investigating Jewish people involved in public life in the country.

A simple shout goes up from one drunken reveller: ‘What are these Jews doing here?’ And then a glass of beer is poured over me.

At the party’s May day festival, Nazi-tattoo-wearing skinheads rubbed shoulders with ordinary Hungarians. The crowd swells to over 7,000 people, all gathered under the Jobbik flag to watch rock bands and listen to speeches.

While shooting our report, a simple shout goes up from one drunken reveller: “What are these Jews doing here?” And then a glass of beer is poured over me. I’m slapped in the head and the crew is forced to leave.

A small example of how speeches from a stage can translate into action on the ground. The worst violence came in 2009, though, when six gypsies were murdered in attacks involving guns, hand grenades and homemade explosives. Four nationalists currently remain on trial for these crimes.