Lately my knowledge of Hungarian village names has been expanding greatly. I must admit that although the Hungarian school system in my days at least was enamored with geography, I was never personally enthralled with the subject. We memorized the names of rivers, mountains, and towns without learning a darned thing about them or even seeing pictures of those famous rivers, mountains, and towns. The authorities especially wanted us to know every corner of Hungary that, during my first four grades changed borders often enough. That was of course very good for Manó Kugotowicz, the cartographer whose wall maps were used in all Hungarian schools.
Even with such minute study of the geography of Hungary I don't think we ever encountered the names of villages that had no distinctive features. Here, for example, is Sajóbábony. I never heard of it although I suspected that it had to be close to the River Sajó in the northeast corner of the country. And indeed, it is a village with a population of 3,000 only 13 km. from Miskolc, a large industrial town. According to the official statistics only 6% of the population of the village described their ethnic background as Gypsy or Roma, but most likely this is not an accurate reflection of the composition of the village. In Hungary relatively few people admit that they are Gypsies. Added support for my supposition comes from a Roma woman from Sajóbábony who several times made the distinction between the "poor" and the "better off" Gypsies during an interview. I suspect that the better-off Gypsies failed to advertise their ethnic background.
So, why is Sajóbábony in the news in the last two or three days? Because the antagonism between the Jobbik/Hungarian Guard and the village's Gypsies almost escalated into a physical confrontation with hundreds of people on each side.
It all started last weekend when Jobbik held a town hall meeting (in Hungarian, lakossági fórum) in the local school building with the permission of the mayor. The mayor claimed later that when the arrangement for the meeting was made there was no mention of any participation by the Hungarian Guard in the event. (Pardon, the New Hungarian Guard! Because Jobbik insists that this is not the guard that no longer exists. Only their uniforms and the persons wearing them are the same!) I should add that at the European Parliamentary elections, Jobbik received 29.61% of the votes in Sajóbábony. So surely the meeting was jam packed.
The local Roma heard about the affair and decided that they would like to attend the meeting, but they were stopped by the guardists who were called there to defend the speaker, a young man from Jobbik's leadership in the county. A scuffle ensued, but luckily the police that had been alerted earlier appeared in full force. Forty some police cars, dogs, and hundreds of policemen arrived in Sajóbábony and almost hermetically sealed entrances to the village. The above mentioned "better-off" Gypsy woman's daughter who lives in Miskolc and was going home to visit her parents was stopped and was allowed to proceed only when she could show her ID, according to which she was registered at her parents' address.
A few people were arrested. All of them Roma because a small group attacked the car of one of the Jobbik supporters. The government is happy that no greater tragedy took place, but the mayor of Miskolc (MSZP) talked about "an impending civil war." One thing is sure: if Jobbik's provocation continues, sooner or later there will be trouble. It seems to me that Jobbik organizes these town hall meetings in villages with large Gypsy populations. The speakers and their entourage bring along members of the Hungarian Guard who arrive in civilian clothes but then change into their uniforms. In Sajóbábony there were 600 of them! With this kind of force and another large group of Roma (apparently the locals used their cell phones and soon enough several hundred outsiders arrived before the police blockade) trouble is almost unavoidable.
But Jobbik doesn't let up. Gábor Vona himself went to Sajóbábony Tuesday morning where he was supposed to give a "press conference." However, according to the mayor of the village, it was not so much a press conference as a campaign speech. According to Vona "someone" incited the Roma against the Hungarian Guard because surely there is no reason for anyone to be afraid of them. According to Vona that "someone" is the men of "the national security office." That is, the government. Jobbik is not against the Gypsies per se but only against criminal elements. When they form a government they will enlarge the police force, organize a gendarmerie, and legalize the Hungarian Guard. The Guard would serve as the party's police force. Sounds idyllic, don't you think?
Vona also announced that today's Hungarian jails resemble "wellness centers." They certainly would do something about that. In addition, the inmates will have to work to earn their keep and attend to the maintenance of the jail. Jobbik would also stop the "baby factories." I have been thinking pretty hard but I am not sure how anyone can stop families, Gypsy or not, from having children. Or, rather, there are methods, but they are not tolerated in civilized, democratic societies.
What happened in Sajóbábony was too much even for Viktor Orbán who, as we know, is afraid of Jobbik although he pretends not to be. He announced yesterday morning on TV2 that private armies cannot be tolerated and that the government must do something soon. The government felt the same way and this morning issued a decree that forbids wearing the uniform of a forbidden organization. I understand that the fine for wearing such a uniform would be 50,000 Ft. ($270.00). I'm not sure whether a fine is a severe enough punishment.
The government and its opposition might be ready to do something about Jobbik and the Guard, but Gábor Vona is not moved. He refused to shake hands with one of the Gypsy leaders, saying "I will shake hands with Gypsies when they show that they are worthy of it. At present why should I shake hands with them?"
It is clear to me that Jobbik is trying to provoke a really serious situation which, according to one "political scientist," might help their popularity. I have no opinion on that, but I'm glad that these latest events strengthened the government's resolve. After all, it was more than ridiculous that the Hungarian Guard that no longer exist could march up and down in uniform without the slightest reaction from the authorities. No wonder that a large segment of the population considers the government weak and impotent. It would help the socialists' popularity if they showed some guts.