Tom Lantos and the “ignorant guard” (Magyar Gárda)

Tom Lantos, U.S. representative from California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, visits Budapest, his birthplace, every year about this time. His appearance always adds some excitement to the somewhat sluggish Hungarian August. This time he really created quite a stir. He gave a press conference where, as usual, he spoke in English. However, when he talked about the Magyar Gárda he exhibited his mastery of the Hungarian language. He seems to be familiar with slang expressions and knows how to use them well. As I already mentioned, the uniform of the Jobbik’s paramilitary organization will be black shirts, black pants, and black boots. Lantos rather cleverly called it the "Dark Guard." Dark because of the black uniform, but "dark" (sötét) also means "ignorant." To make clear what he meant, he translated the word "dark" into Hungarian.

Lantos is of the opinion that by themselves these extreme right-wing groups are not dangerous. There are only a few hundred, maybe a few thousand individuals who would join such an organization. However, he emphasized that all Hungarian parties must distance themselves from such extreme groups. He rather bluntly added that as far as he knows the government parties and the MDF had already condemned the Jobbik’s paramilitary organization, and he "hoped that the other parties will do the same if they want to be accepted by the international community." It is quite clear which two parliamentary parties Lantos had in mind. He also announced that he himself will make sure that none of the members of this "ignorant guard" will ever get a visa to the United States.

Well, one can imagine the reaction. The Magyar Gárda announced that they will sue Lantos for calling them a terrorist group. They asked the ambassador of the United States to distance herself from Lantos’s "extremist statement." The Jobbik is waiting for the reaction of the U.S. embassy. I have the feeling they can wait for a while. In the name of the government, Zoltán J. Gál, one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office and a close associate of Ferenc Gyurcsány, announced that as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Lantos certainly has every right to make such a statement. The Hungarian ombudsman responsible for privacy issues reacted by saying that, according to Hungarian law, membership in an organization is a private matter and therefore information about membership cannot be released unless it is of vital importance to national security. He added that of course the United States can decide whose visa application it refuses. No reason is necessary.

The spokesman of Fidesz gave a lecture about the freedom of association and the constitution. In case an organization violates the law or the constitution it is the duty of the office of national security, the courts, the police, and the prosecutor’s office to take action. Let me add that in the last couple of days we learned that the Jobbik is not the only party behind this Magyar Gárda; among the ten people who applied for a permit to establish the guard were several Fidesz members who play fairly prominent roles in the party.

Gábor Vona, the head of Jobbik, immediately announced that Lantos’s announcement was received with dismay in certain circles. As a result the guard’s membership jumped to 900. Maybe yes, maybe no.