On March 3 I wrote about a self-appointed neo-Nazi militia that appeared in Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2,800 in the county of Heves. On that day, I certainly didn't think that the so-called "civilian guardists" would be spending three weeks in the village frightening the local Roma to death. After all, Viktor Orbán promised before he was elected that he will take care of these extremist groups. A couple of slaps on the face and they will go home, not be seen again.
The original Hungarian Guard, Jobbik's paramilitary organization, was banned at least a year ago but every month there was a new organization with a different name. They changed the uniform a bit, they changed their leaders, and they claimed that they have absolutely nothing to do with the original Hungarian Guard.
This latest group is called "For a Better Future Civilian Guard," and it is in some way connected to a splinter group of the Hungarian Guard. The guard was summoned to duty by Oszkár Juhász, who is the local chairman of Jobbik. According to the first version of the story, which turned out to be cock-eyed, an old non-Roma man committed suicide because a couple of Gypsy families wanted to move close to his house. By March 4 the story had changed considerably. Lately the number of crimes has multiplied in Gyöngyöspata where 450 Roma live. As it turned out later, this wasn't true either. The number of petty crimes wasn't any higher than earlier or than elsewhere in the county. The independent mayor of the village admitted that the local Jobbik chairman had called in the guardists, but he believed that their presence was justified due to the unsafe situation in the village.
When journalists inquired at the police headquarters of Heves County, they were told that For a Better Future Civilian Guard is a registered organization and that, although it wasn't really necessary for the leaders of the guard to inform the police of their plans to patrol the streets of Gyöngyöspata, they did. It remains unclear to me how it is possible to legally register a paramilitary organization when law enforcement is the prerogative of the police. And these guys had uniforms and brought pit bulls, axes, and whips along for good measure. The Roma population was petrified and the authorities did nothing.
By March 6 Gábor Vona decided that the events in Gyöngyöspata could be used to the benefit of his party. He decided to hold a mass demonstration in Gyöngyöspata that would not be anti-Roma but pro-Magyar. Vona reminded people that Fidesz had promised that there will be perfect law and order in the country within two weeks after the elections. And yet, he continued, the new government is unable to keep order after almost a year. The demonstration is a cry for government action. He argued that the guardists must stay because the Roma threatened the non-Roma with violence once they leave the village.
A day later MSZP reacted to the events in Gyöngyöspata. László Teleki, himself a Gypsy, wanted to know how long the government will allow the guardists to patrol the streets of the village. The government had been in no hurry to act. It allowed this situation to fester for about two weeks in spite of the constant harrassment of the Roma population. The members of the militia threatened not only the Gypsy population but even the non-Roma mayor, saying "we will cut your throat, you will all die."
The police of Heves County still did nothing. As the spokesman told the reporters of MTI, they can act only if there is an official complaint. And, although it seems rather strange to me, the police claimed that no complaint had come from Gyöngyöspata. Three more days went by and nothing happened. The Roma population was terrified. Some of them didn't dare leave their houses. They were afraid to let their children go to school.
Then came March 15 when legal advocates of minorities went to Gyöngyöspata to protest: Gypsies and non-Gypsies marched together to celebrate the national holiday. By that time there was a police escort. On the same day the Hungarian Democratic Charta called on the government to get rid of the illegally patrolling guardists. Even though the police had appeared in the village, the charge was that "they were silently assisting" the guardists.
On March 16, the local non-Roma held a town meeting where ten or twelve people rose to speak. They announced that the situation in the village had improved greatly since the arrival of the guardists and said that half of the local population had already signed a petition asking the guardists to stay.
However, it seems that the government finally decided to put an end to the situation in Gyöngyöspata and somehow they managed to convince the guardists to leave the village. Whatever method they used, the police and the guardists seemed to be on amicable terms to the very end. The spokesman of the police of Heves County reported that the leader of the guardists told the police that they are organizing a local chapter of For a Better Future Civil Guard whose members will patrol the streets of Gyöngyöspata in the future. It seems that the police didn't deem it necessary to tell them that organizing paramilitary organizations is illegal.
I put the above story together with the help of reports from MTI, which is by now under complete government control. I was therefore greatly surprised when I heard Viktor Orbán say that "it was the forceful deterrence shown by the police that prevented much greater trouble in Gyöngyöspata." According to the prime minister the police came into the village with great force and used all legal means to restore order.
Most observers have a different take on the events. For three weeks the Hungarian government didn't move a finger to put an end to the activities of an illegal paramilitary group. Although Fidesz politicians, for example George Schöpflin (MEP) only a couple of days ago, complain that the opposition blurs the distinction between Fidesz and the far right, Paul Lendvai to whom the accusation was addressed answered that the recent events in Gyöngyöspata prove that Fidesz doesn't stand up against the far right. In fact, at times it lends these extreme right groups a helping hand. The inaction of the police was outrageous and clearly the decision not to intervene has a great deal to do with Fidesz's relations with Jobbik, which seem to be quite cozy.