László Bartus, currently owner and editor-in-chief of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava, the oldest Hungarian-language paper on the North American continent, wrote a book in 2001 entitled Jobb magyarok: A szélsőjobb útja a hatalomhoz, 1990-2000 [Better Hungarians: The Far Right's Road to Power, 1990-2000]. At that time Bartus was still a journalist in Hungary, working for such liberal papers as Magyar Hírlap and 168 Óra. Bartus was most likely considered a man prone to exaggeration in portraying the country as already in the hands of the far right. After all, when the book was published the country's prime minister was Viktor Orbán.
The political right claimed that the book was a pack of lies. However, in light of recent events it is a "must read." I bought the book shortly after it appeared and read it with great interest, flagging certain passages for future reference. But I had no way of knowing whether the often shocking details of how political parties were making deals with young skinheads were in fact true. Alas, we now know that Bartus's account was all too accurate. A chapter entitled "The Smallholders and the National Youths" is especially relevant from our point of view. As Bartus said today on József Orosz's Kontra, "Jobbik is the most successful skinhead organization to date. It is a direct descendant of the original skinhead organization sponsored by the Smallholders in the mid-1990s." Let me add to this that József Torgyán, the fallen leader of the Smallholders, only the other day said in a television interview that "the old supporters of the Smallholders' Party are today voting for Jobbik."
It's difficult to summarize the story but I will try because the events that transpired about fifteen years ago are relevant to today's headlines. First, atrocities against Gypsies were frequent even in the 1990s. Second, we talk about the popularity of the far right among the youth as something relatively new. Yet already in 1994 according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Welfare approximately 40,000 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 identified with the skinhead ideology in its entirety (although they were not necessarily active in the movement); 160,000 identified “to some extent” with skinheads. Police estimates showed that there were roughly 4,000 youths who, on the basis of some past contact with the police, could be considered skinheads. The skinheads were a mixed lot. Some of them simply believed what right-wing politicians like István Csurka and József Torgyán told them. These were kids who had no clue about right, left, liberal, conservative, or anything else but believed what adults told them. And the right-wing politicians told them that liberals were traitors, that Jews were responsible for the country's troubles, and that Gypsies were parasites on the body of the nation. Others were real vandals and hooligans who were even prepared to kill. Openly these parties never admitted any close connection with these potential murderers, but secretly their goal was to "tame them" and use them to advance the cause.
The Smallholders' Party tried to create a national organization, the Association of National Youths, out of the various skinhead groups. If people think that paramilitary organizations like Magyar Gárda or Nemzeti Őrsereg are something new, they should read Bartus. He quotes from the police confession of a young man in 1992 who admits that he was member of a "paramilitary organization … sponsored by the Smallholders' Party." It turned out that there was a whole slew of local cells of this far-right youth organization recruited from skinheads. The Association of National Youths within a few months after its foundation became an important factor in national politics. With the help of Smallholder politicians these skinheads were transported to Budapest to disrupt the official 1992 celebration of the anniversary of the October Revolution. Their effort was successful: Árpád Göncz was unable to deliver his speech. This event is especially memorable because it was the first occasion when the red and white striped flag of Ferenc Szálasi's Arrow Cross Party appeared in public.
Among the cells the Eger group became especially infamous because their leader, Tamás Sneider, who was also the head of the youth organization of the Smallholders in the county of Heves, was involved in a Roma beating on the streets of Eger. The very same Tamás Sneider today, seventeen years later, is Jobbik's representative on the city council of Eger. Or at least he was until a week ago when he was arrested by the police. Reasons for the arrest at the moment are unknown.
The Association of National Youths disappeared soon enough. Its members simply became part of the the Smallholders' Party youth organization. They grew their hair longer and tried to look respectable. But new ones arrived whom the Smallholder politicians wanted to incorporate into their ranks. Some of them came from the county of Hajdú-Bihar sponsored by Mihály Kapronczi, head of the party in the county. These were the ones who formed the Keleti Arcvonal Bajtársi Szövetség in 1995. It is somewhat surprising that the courts that granted a permit for this new organization didn't seem to pick up on the fact that the name was associated with Ferenc Szálasi and his party. It seems that they were also oblivious to the fact that the new organization's logo incorporated the old Arrow Cross emblem. As if that weren't enough, the judges didn't think that it was odd that the organization was established to "eradicate the parasites" of the country. This was the group that broke into the synagogue and burned the Torah in January 1995, four days after their "legalization," on the anniversary of Szálasi's birthday. One of the people involved in the Torah burning is among the accused in the Gypsy murders. But in 1995 the Hungarian judges after some tortuous legal reasoning decided that members of the Keleti Arcvonal Bajtársi Szövetség were not guilty. It was only a "prank."
Thus this is how after years of the courts' lackadaisical attitude toward the extreme right Jobbik ended up with an almost 15% of the votes in the European parliamentary elections. And this attitude is all persuasive. Just to give you an example. One of the accused, a certain István Cs., a former professional soldier and a great lover of motorcycles using the handle "csontrabló" (bone napper), recently wrote quite openly at www.sportmotor.hu: "I'm telling you, we Hungarians ought to kill the Gypsies, women, children, old ones, and everyone else who defends a Gypsy." What kind of list owner allows such messages to be published? Well, I guess one who follows the Hungarian Constitutional Court's reasoning. The court's position has been that words, unless they cause imminent harm, don't matter. Well, words matter as we can see, even if belatedly.