Sympathizers of the extreme right are outraged. György Budaházy and 15 of his co-conspirators were found guilty of terrorist activities committed during 2006 and 2007. Yes, ten years ago, and this is not the final verdict. Both sides are appealing. The prosecution claims the sentences were too lenient. The defense wants the case dismissed.
The judicial history of cases against Budaházy is so complicated that it would take days to trace their course up and down the legal system for more than a decade. The courts just don’t know what to do with terrorists/heroes. Thus I can’t be as confident as Ágnes Vadai of the Demokratikus Koalíció when she expressed her satisfaction with the first and only verdict against far-right terrorists in Hungary. It’s quite possible that within a year all the members of the Arrows of Hungarians, the movement established by Budaházy, will be acquitted.
Budaházy is the offspring of a family whose roots go back to the thirteenth century. By now, however, he has little else but his name to distinguish him. The stories of his renowned ancestors fighting for the homeland might have been his justification for exulting tradition and having a mission to restore Hungary to its former greatness.
He became first known in 2002 when a disappointed Viktor Orbán made remarks insinuating that the election had been stolen by the socialist/liberal parties. The electoral law stipulated the destruction of the ballots after a certain period of time after which Budaházy, claiming fraud, organized a blockade of the Elizabeth Bridge across the Danube. The inexperienced police force must have spent at least four hours trying to remove Budaházy and his handful of followers. Nothing happened to him then.
From that point on, Budaházy continued to taunt the authorities. He was arrested and let go several times until, in January 2008, he was charged with incitement against the democratic order as a result of letters published in the infamous kuruc.info, a website associated with Jobbik. In them, he outlined how to build barricades and argued how important it is to have bullet-proof vests. He asserted that “a patriotic dictatorship is much better than a democracy that squanders the future,” among many other equally compelling slogans. He envisaged “commando units that will destroy the enemies,” he urged people to blockade the capital, he talked about the stones and Molotov cocktails that would ensure the patriots’ victory over the people’s enemies. He told the democratically elected politicians and officials “to vanish if they want to save their lives.” Parliament, he wrote, should be forcibly dissolved. Once the democratic regime collapsed, a “sacred leadership,” whatever that means, would be established. At that point the presiding judge admitted that Budaházy overstepped the boundaries of what is acceptable as free speech, but, after all, he said, his calls for the overthrow of the government remained unanswered. As I said at the time, “that to me means that he is not guilty because he wasn’t successful.”
The appellate court judge agreed with me. He overruled the verdict and ordered the proceedings to begin anew. This time a different judge found Budaházy guilty and sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence. Another appeal followed, which upheld the lower court’s decision. Budaházy’s lawyer at this point requested a review of the case from Hungary’s highest court, the Kúria, which in June 2012 acquitted him.
But Budaházy’s verbal calls to action were soon enough followed by deeds. He and his associates used Molotov cocktails against the party headquarters of the socialist and liberal parties and the homes of several members of the government. The Arrows of Hungarians also set fire to a club called Red Csepel, the Broadway ticket office, and two bars frequented by gays. They blew up an ATM in Székesfehérvár to get money for their endeavors. They also severely beat Sándor Csintalan, a former MSZP politician, who at the time worked for HírTV. The attackers kept yelling: “you damned filthy Jew.” They did all that to raise the level of fear and force the government to resign.
Because of these criminal acts the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) in September 2010 charged Budaházy and 16 others with terrorism, causing bodily harm, and coercion. Today’s verdict was in connection with this case. Of the 17 defendants two received suspended sentences. The sentences for the other 15 were harsh. Budaházy himself got 13 years without the possibility of parole, of which he will have to serve 11 years since he has already spent two years, on different occasions, in custody.
The severity of the punishment stunned the spectators, mostly extreme right-wing sympathizers. When Budaházy appeared in the courtroom, he was greeted with frenetic applause. In turn, he greeted his sympathizers with “Szabadság” (Freedom). (Ironically, that was the greeting used by the members of the communist party in the early years of the Rákosi regime.) After the verdict was announced several people cried.
During the trial the accused men denied their guilt, but some made self-incriminating statements or gave accusatory testimony against others. Budaházy’s defense lawyer, István Szikinger, in his statement, downplayed the actions of his defendant, claiming that “happy is the country which has such terrorists.” He charged that during the investigative phase several instances of malfeasance occurred, and he wants Budaházy acquitted of all charges. The prosecution, which is appealing for a harsher sentence, sees the situation very differently. According to the prosecutor, a strict military hierarchy existed within the movement in which the members followed the orders of Budaházy.
Jobbik, several of whose politicians were present at the reading of the verdict, is outraged. The official Jobbik statement claims that the verdict is the greatest shame of the last 26 years. Budaházy is convicted, but “none of communist leaders of the Biszku-type,* the culprits of the robber privatization, corrupt politicians, or Ferenc Gyurcsány and his friends who are responsible for the police terror of 2006 ended up behind bars.”
In its accusation of Ferenc Gyurcsány Jobbik was not alone. András Schiffer, former co-chairman of LMP, wrote on his Facebook page: “Budaházy 13 years. How many for shooting out eyes?” This accusation of “shooting out eyes” became Fidesz’s battle cry, repeated over and over until it finally stuck. The “shooting out eyes” supposedly happened when the police “attacked peaceful demonstrators” with rubber bullets. The “battle” that was fought on the streets of Budapest was anything but peaceful. More inexperienced policemen were injured than so-called peaceful demonstrators. And yes, at one point the police used rubber bullets, but only one person suffered an eye injury as a result.
A terrorist, a poster child for injustice, a hero. Is it any wonder that the Hungarian courts can’t find their way in the Budaházy case?
*Béla Biszku was a hardline communist who, after the failed revolution of 1956, served as minister of interior. In 2011 he was charged with war crimes. He was accused of failing to protect civilians in wartime. In addition, he was held responsible for ordering the security forces to open fire on crowds. He died in 2014 while his lawyer was appealing his sentence in the first instance. I wrote in more detail about Biszku’s case earlier.