A local by-election normally doesn't exactly make headlines. But the election of a new mayor in Gyöngyöspata yesterday was no ordinary local affair. You may recall that it was in the village of Gyöngyöspata that a couple of neo-Nazi militias decided to put the fear of God into the local Gypsy population in March and April. I wrote about the events in this village in the northeastern corner of Hungary earlier.
For a good couple of weeks the Hungarian police did nothing to put an end to the situation. Therefore, an American businessman, Richard Field, with the help of the Hungarian Red Cross arranged the evacuation of Roma women and children from the beleaguered village. The neo-Nazi Jobbik party took advantage of the situation and organized a "pro-Magyar" mass demonstration.
By that time the mayor, who had enjoyed the trust of the Gypsy community, had had enough. Claiming ill health, he resigned. Thus came yesterday's by-election. Originally eight people announced their candidacy: seven "independents" and one who was the official candidate of Jobbik. Among the "independents" was Tamás Esze, the commander of Véderő (Defense Force), one of the two paramilitary organizations that invaded the village last April. Another independent was Mrs. Ferenc Matalik, the deputy mayor of Gyöngyöspata, who, as everybody in the village knew, was Fidesz's favorite. The third independent was a young Roma man, János Farkas, Jr., who the night before the elections announced his withdrawal from the race.
There are 300 eligible Gypsy voters in the village and even if all 300 had voted for János Farkas he couldn't have won the elections. Thus, the Roma community made the decision to support Mrs. Matalik, whom everybody in the village liked. They hoped that with this move they could prevent Jobbik's candidate from winning the race. The Gypsies interviewed before the elections were all certain that Matalik would win. Well, it didn't work out that way.
Normally very few people vote at by-elections, but in Gyöngyöspata most people, Roma and non-Roma, seemed to have realized the importance of this election. More than 60% of the eligible voters turned up. Oszkár Juhász, the Jobbik candidate, won with 33.8% of the votes, which meant 433 votes. Mrs. Matalik ended up second with 333 votes (26%), and Tamás Esze, the commander of Véderő, received 134 votes (10.5%). Thus the far-right actually received 567 votes (44.3%). This is very high indeed.
How did Jobbik achieve this victory over the allegedly independent Fidesz candidate? First of all, Oszkár Juhász conducted an effective and well organized campaign. Yet the local Gypsy community didn't think he had a chance because, as it turned out, people who had already decided to vote for Jobbik's candidate didn't share their secret with anyone. The word in the village was that Mrs. Matalik would be the winner. According to some observers even Juhász seemed to be surprised at his success.
Most likely the Roma population supported Mrs. Matalik, but then what happened? The Gypsy leaders in town claim that out of the 300 eligible voters 217 went and voted. Does this mean that only 116 non-Roma cast their votes for Mrs. Matalik? Magdolna Bernáth, another independent candidate, who ended up third, garnered 274 votes (21.4%).
It is interesting to compare the results of yesterday's by-election with last October's local election results. Actually more people voted this time than in October when only 55.43% of the eligible voters participated. Then, the same Oszkár Juhász, as a Jobbik candidate, received only 68 votes! No wonder that he was somewhat surprised at the stunning results yesterday.
Gábor Vona, the chairman of Jobbik, is ecstatic. According to him, "Jobbik defeated Fidesz and terror." He predicted that the Jobbik mayor of Gyöngyöspata will make a model village out of the place. Vona talked about the arrogance of Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, the unconcern of Viktor Orbán, the primitiveness of the Defense Force, and the stomach-turning American behavior. This last reference is to Richard Field, who has done a lot to help the Hungarian Roma community.
The new mayor promised to follow the example of Tiszavasvár, where a Jobbik candidate won the race in last fall's local elections. He promised the creation of new jobs in the village, but he didn't want to elaborate on the subject for the time being. Index, the on-line newspaper, seems to know that Jobbik and Oszkár Juhász are thinking in terms of Turkish and Iranian investors. There has been some talk about a factory producing adobe bricks. Not too original. Hungarian Gypsies were known for their skills in making these bricks (téglavető cigányok) in the past. As for the Iranian investors, the news might actually be more than idle talk. Not long ago I read on the Fars News Agency's website that Tehran is ready to further expand its ties with Budapest. This is most likely a response to a letter sent by János Martonyi to the foreign minister of Iran in which he expressed his appreciation for Tehran's cooperation with the European Union during Hungary's presidency.
MSZP's reaction to the outcome of the Gyöngyöspata election was an announcement that it resulted from Fidesz's overly cozy relations with Jobbik. I don't think that this is the real problem. Instead, I believe that the economic situation, especially in this part of the country, is such that the people in these villages are really desperate. A majority of them voted for Fidesz, like everywhere in the country, and hoped that practically overnight, just as Fidesz promised before the elections, all their problems would be over. The situation, if possible, is worse today than it was a year and a half ago.
Although one shouldn't generalize from one by-election, especially not in a place like Gyöngyöspata, the results there are a warning sign. And not only to Fidesz.