The tragic killing of a female police psychologist in the Hungarian town of Pecs seems to have triggered a fresh onslaught against the country’s Roma from far-right groups. And social media has played a big part in rousing the anger of normally restrained sections of society toward the Romani community.

Both before and following the discovery of the body of Kata Bandy last Sunday, Roma in Pecs have been receiving death threats through outlets such as Facebook.  A climate of fear had surrounded the Romani community in Pecs since the day Kata went missing. Theories were quickly spread on social media by extreme right-wingers that “gypsies or Jews” must have been behind the woman’s disappearance.

Tragic murder victim Kata Bandy. Photo: Facebook

The case attracted massive attention on Facebook. Family and friends started a huge virtual campaign to find Kata during the three days between her disappearance and discovery of the body. On July 11, the day the body was found, 10,000 people were on the Facebook group purposely created by the Bandy family to find her; the circumstances and details of her disappearance were translated into 20 languages.

This special page was started by the Bandy family after Kata’s disappearance. Photo: Facebook.

Feelings were running high. After the arrest of a 26-year-old man on suspicion of the murder, police released his name. Those who subsequently visited the accused’s Facebook page could clearly see he was Roma.  One comment posted on Facebook reflects the anger and fear caused by the crime. “I would break his bones one by one, cut off his arms, then put salt on the wounds to make them bleed so he would bleed to death.”

In some mainstream media, the man accused of the alleged crime has been described as being Roma. Other websites followed this trend and also published his photograph.

The Barikad (Barricade) website, a mouthpiece for Jobbik, the extreme right-wing Hungarian parliamentary political party, has been particularly vocal about what it is describing as “the gypsy murder case.” In a series of commentaries, Barikad questioned why Hungarian president Janos Ader had gone on a recent visit to Israel instead of obeying their call to meet the family of the murdered girl. Using very emotive language, Barikad asked why the president was visiting those who were “buying up Hungary.”

It also promoted a demand from Jobbik for the restoration of the death penalty in Hungary. This was reinforced by a similar demand from a member of the ruling government coalition.

Barikad went on to suggest that local government, the tax authorities and the police should combine against the “continued criminal lifestyle of the Roma, who generally live in municipal housing.” Barikad described the accused man as “on drugs, with a possible criminal lifestyle and a girlfriend who is into prostitution.”

Clearly Barikad find alien the concept of waiting until an accused person goes to court and a verdict is reached before commenting on the details of a case. But they are not alone in having decided that the Roma should be vilified no matter what, or that an entire community is guilty by association with an individual who has not as yet been put on trial.

Another fiercely nationalist website, Hungarian Ambiance, carries a link on its home page entitled “Here’s Kata Bandy’s gypsy killer.” Clicking on it reveals a page with three photographs of the accused as well as his full name and a picture of the property at which he was living in Pecs.

Comments to the site are especially derogatory towards the Roma, although they have all been posted anonymously.  One contributor urges “clean up society…the parasites need to be effectively controlled-isolated. This loser’s pictorial profile speaks volumes for his attitude, he was an accident waiting for a place to happen.”

Others are more directly offensive. “Very happy they got this animal but how long will Hungarians take this behaviour from that gypsies (sic) scum.”

Some sections of the media have noted a change in the general public mood in Hungary towards the Roma minority. Writing in the liberal, left-leaning daily newspaper Nepszabadsag, Judit Kosa explained that “to express anti-gypsy feelings in Hungary is becoming just like talking about the weather in England. Here, after just three sentences the subject deviates to the thief, lazy, parasitic gypsy. The murderer.”

Kosa continued: “Words really are dangerous weapons. What so many people say has a way of seeming to be the truth. The majority cannot be wrong. The majority does not only push the Romani minority out, it burns a brand on it: guilty. And then it becomes natural that some people demand a collective “apology” from the Roma, from all Roma. Because a criminal brutally murdered a young woman.”

History appears to be repeating itself. Back in 2009, the stabbing to death by three Romani men of the handball star Marian Cozma in the Hungarian town of Veszprem brought on a wave of retribution and hate towards Roma throughout the country. Things became so serious that sociologist Janos Ladanyi believed the anti-Roma attitude reached such an irrational level as to constitute a threat of civil war.

In 2006, a teacher, Lajos Szogi, was beaten to death by a group of Roma in the north-eastern town of Olaszliszka after his car was involved in an accident with a local girl. The incident became a symbol of anti-Roma rage for far-right groups.

According to statistics released by Hungary’s National Criminal Institute in 2011, there is a clear over-representation of Roma men among the prison population at a ratio of roughly three-to-one. But while Roma tend to have high rates of conviction for theft and robbery, the reverse is true of murder; the vast majority of killers are non-Roma.

Organisations and concerned citizens will fight ferociously against the negative stereotypes being imposed on marginalised minorities by the far-right. Already the Bandy family are disassociating themselves from their daughter’s name being used to incite racial hatred and to demand the return of the death penalty. But as reaction to this terrible event has shown, it will be a long and difficult struggle against forces determined to promote a vile agenda of hate, fear and loathing.