IS THIS THE END FOR THE MAGYAR GARDA?

IS THIS THE END FOR THE MAGYAR GARDA?

Hungarian Paramilitary Group defiant after ban upheld by ECHR

By Alastair Watt

It was with a great sense of relief that many Hungarians, especially its large Roma minority, learned of the European Court of Human Rights’ decision to uphold a ban on the neo-Nazi paramilitary group, the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard) on 9 July.

The court deemed that outlawing the group, who were set up in 2007 as the military wing of the far-right Jobbik party, was the only means available to stop its “menacing” actions. Furthermore, the attempt by the so-called Hungarian Guard Movement (a body which claims to be separate from the Hungarian Guard Association) was also subject to the prohibition.

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The movement had bizarrely claimed that because they were not an organization, and instead were a movement, that they should not be affected by any measures against the association. The court did not follow their suspicious logic, and made it clear that the ban on the Hungarian Guard covered all of its guises.

They added that permitting marches by the organization would be incitement to racial hatred and that to allow such events to take place would be the act of an “essentially racist” legal system.

In the judgment, it was stated in the opinion that the use of the term “gypsy criminality” or “gypsy crime” – a term used freely in the country when attempting to justify or defend anti-Roma agendas or beliefs – was racist in nature and designed to stir up hatred and prejudice toward the Hungary’s Roma.

It had taken over four years for the European Court to deliver its damning judgment, after the Hungarian Guard appealed a decision by the Metropolitan Court of Budapest to disband the group on the grounds of its activities infringing the human rights of minorities.

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But although the Hungarian Guard – who have been likened to Hitler’s brownshirts and Hungary’s infamous Arrow Cross which played an instrumental role in deporting Jews, Roma and other minorities to Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War – have been officially condemned and ostensibly extinguished, the Hungarian far-right remains well represented from paramilitaries to parliament.

Similar organizations – so similar in fact that it would be impossible not to suspect some real connection – to the Hungarian Guard are in precariously plentiful supply.

In 2011, the town of Gyongyospata was the epicenter of intimidating and violent acts carried out by Vedero (Defensive Strength), another of Hungary’s many far-right militia groups.

There were several injuries in anti-Roma attacks, and large police reinforcements were called in to prevent Vedero from carrying out a paramilitary training camp in the Roma part of the town.

It was another militia – Szebb Jovoert (Civil Guard Association for a Better Future) – who had started the troubles in Gyongyospata that year as they held a rally in the town against what it called “terrorizing of residents by the Roma minority.”

A parliamentary committee later claimed that tensions had been significantly exaggerated by the far-right groups, and that in fact their presence had simply served to widen and intensify ethnic division where previously there was very little.

There was also no proof whatsoever gathered to justify claims made by Jobbik that their needed to be paramilitaries patrolling the streets to protect non-Roma from Roma.

However, it took three weeks of campaigning from numerous NGOs before Szebb Jovoert finally left the town.

That spring, Gyongyospata’s Roma community was besieged by different far-right paramilitary groups for at least two months. In a drunken, zombie like state these self-proclaimed protectors invaded the streets , singing war songs and spouting all sorts of slogans towards the men, women and children of the Roma community.

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On many occasions they turned violent, including the case of one Roma woman who gave birth prematurely after incessant harassment from several “patrolmen”.

I visited Gyonygospata in February 2012 when working at Romedia. We were accompanying an American journalist who wanted to learn more about what had happened in the town, and the presence of the political far-right in the country in general.

We braved the icy and snowy winding road along the hill to Gyongyos, just a few miles short of our destination, to stop for a coffee. The bar was busy, even in these wintry conditions in the middle of the day. Spotting various pictures, posters and medals which seemed to revere the aforementioned Arrow Cross, this was an eerie and quick pit-stop.

This was, I anticipated, a sign of things to come in the now infamous Gyongyospata and when we arrived the signs of tension were still apparent. Crossing the river into the Roma part of town, there was an immediate change in the state of housing as the well-heated cottages of the town center, were replaced by makeshift, barely insulated homes in the Roma district.

More pertinently, one house at the heart of the Roma community appeared to have been the subject of a firebomb attack with a huge hole in the roof, and charcoaled debris still prominent.

One local Romani woman, who wanted to conceal her identity, claimed that the whole neighborhood was fearful of a return of the paramilitaries and that many planned to flee the town, if not the entire country.

Back in the town center, we visited two restaurants where both owners insisted they had no problems with Roma. However, when asked if they would employ a Romani person, both said no without hesitation.

It was a troubling insight into a town that had become well-known for all the wrong reasons.

The Magyar Garda may have all but perished by the end of the year, but its sympathizers and supporters have plenty of other places to go to unleash their far-right vitriol.