Tag Archives: Hungarian National Front

A fanciful government story on international terrorism and Jobbik

Yesterday a newly revived internet news site, zoom.hu, published a “sensational” news item. Information received from an unnamed person with close government ties revealed that Salah Abdeslam, the man behind the Paris terrorist attack of November 13, 2015, in addition to the three trips he made to Budapest between August 30 and September 17, 2015, visited Hungary a fourth time in the middle of January 2016, two months before his arrest in Brussels. During this visit Abdeslam allegedly conducted negotiations with members of a far-right Hungarist group called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front/MNA). I covered the October 2016 shooting incident connected to MNA that took a Hungarian police officer’s life. The head of the group, István Győrkös, wanting to prevent the policeman’s entry into his house, shot him dead. As you can well imagine, a story that connects “migrant terrorism” with a home-grown group that allegedly had ties to Jobbik is hot stuff, especially for pro-government media outlets.

In December 2015, when Belgian authorities discovered that Abdeslam had visited Hungary, it was clear to me that the Hungarian secret services knew nothing first-hand about his presence in Hungary. He came and left three times without anyone noticing it. Most of what the Hungarian police, the anti-terrorist organization, and the national security offices subsequently learned about his movements in Hungary came from Belgian and later French sources.

Abdeslam’s first trip on August 30 was uneventful. His two comrades arrived in Hungary and phoned him to come pick them up. He arrived with legal Belgian papers and brought two fake Belgian IDs for the new arrivals. They got into a car and headed west without any trouble. Practically nothing is known about his second trip. But the Hungarians unearthed quite a bit of information about his third trip, in September 2o15, for the simple reason that the three newly arrived terrorists, who later all died in the Bataclan terrorist attack, had to wait at least a week in Budapest for Abdeslam to pick them up.

In October 2016 Népszabadság reported that Hungarian authorities, working together with Belgian and French counterterrorist units and police forces, were seeking locals who had helped ten ISIS-trained terrorists hide in Hungary and who assisted them in reaching Belgium. The paper claimed that a number of people were actually arrested. Nothing was known about their number or their citizenship, and we learned nothing about them afterward. It may have been “fake news.”

Abdeslam’s name also came up a couple of days after he was arrested on March 18, 2016 in the Molenbeek area of Brussels. On March 23 the Austrian tabloid Kronen Zeitung published an article about a woman who claimed that she had seen Abdeslam with another Arabic-looking man in Café Harrer, a famous confectionary in Sopron. The Austrian woman reported this sighting to the Eisenstadt police station, but it seems that the Austrian police were not impressed. It is likely, however, that the Austrians did get in touch with the Hungarians, who also ignored the case.

The mysterious appearance of Abdeslam in Sopron is at the center of zoom.hu’s story. From the article an incredibly professional Hungarian national security service emerges, which was watching Abdeslam’s every move in close cooperation with its Austrian, German, Belgian, and French counterparts. The clever cops “didn’t even try to arrest Abdeslam, they only followed and watched him. They tried to find out the reason for his visit to Hungary. They documented all his meetings.”

Where Salah Abdeslam was allegedly spotted in Sopron

This excellent police work brought “staggering results.” Hungarian right-radicals had and perhaps still have contacts with international terrorists. An investigation is ongoing with the assistance of the other countries’ national security services. According to zoom.hu’s informant, while Abdeslam was talking with the leaders of Győrkös’s Hungarian National Front, “the Hungarian, Austrian, French, and Belgian authorities had time to organize and follow the French-Belgian terrorist’s every move.” But then, we must ask, why didn’t these national security services arrest him right there on the spot at the Café Harrer in Sopron? Gy. Attila Fekete, formerly of Népszabadság, who wrote the article, could find only one possible explanation for the delay. Perhaps they were hoping to find more associates by allowing Abdeslam to remain free. I must say that, given the danger a man like Abdeslam posed, such a strategy is pretty unimaginable.

But that’s not all. At the end of October 2016 the Hungarian police tried to enter István Győrkös’s house looking for weapons but, as the article points out, the police investigation into the Hungarian National Front had actually begun ten months before the fatal encounter between Győrkös and the police officer. How convenient. The article suggests that there is a direct relationship between Abdeslam’s fourth visit to Hungary on or around January 19 and the beginning of the investigation into Győrkös’s clandestine activities.

With this we arrive at cast-off Slovak weapons that had been legally deactivated but could easily be made usable again. Such weapons were used during the attack against Charlie Hebdo and in other terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. They also found their way to Hungary. For example, such weapons were found in the possession of the two older men who allegedly wanted to assassinate Viktor Orbán. Even Gy. Fekete calls their organization, Magyar Nemzeti Hadsereg (Hungarian National Army), a joke. At the time, in 2015, I even doubted that they wanted to kill Orbán. Their targets seemed to be Jews. In any case, the theory is that Abdeslam came to Hungary to negotiate the purchase of these deactivated but readily reusable weapons for his terrorist activities.

Of course, pro-government organs like Origo love the story. One of their journalists pointed out that Márton Gyöngyösi, an important Jobbik politician, was seen in the company of an MNA member and that Gábor Vona attended a public event in the company of Győrkös’s son. Moreover, the kind of weaponry used in the terrorist attacks, which was also in the possession of a Hungarian right-wing organization, is proof that there is a connection between international terrorism and Jobbik.

Pestisrácok.hu, however, seems to have more sense and suggests that the story someone dropped into Gy. Fekete’s lap may be nothing but a hoax.

One wonders what is behind this leaked material, which surely comes from government and/or national security sources. Gy. Fekete is a responsible journalist who must have gotten his information from a source that he considered to be credible. Is this part of Fidesz’s attempt to further discredit Jobbik by coupling its name with international terrorism? This is what the Origo article suggests. The story might get further embellished or it might be dropped, depending on its reception. For the time being there are skeptics even on the right of the political spectrum.

November 14, 2017

Jobbik’s checkered past and present

Even a cursory look at the recent Hungarian media reveals Fidesz’s anxiety over every political move Jobbik makes. Fidesz uses every opportunity to discredit the party, to portray it as a duplicitous formation whose turn to the center is nothing more than a sham. Indeed, it is difficult to take the party’s official portrayal of itself as being moderate right-of-center at face value when one of its deputy chairmen, László Toroczkai, at the height of the government’s attack on Central European University, declared that “it should be banned, shuttered, and its ruins should be dusted with salt.” Toroczkai shared these lofty thoughts at roughly the same time that his superior, the chairman of his party, Gábor Vona, in an interview asserted that Jobbik stands for the freedom of education and that the party will not vote for the amended higher education law that was designed to make the university’s continued existence in Budapest impossible. Yet László Toroczkai is still deputy chairman of Jobbik.

It is time to reacquaint readers with Toroczkai’s career because it’s been four years since I wrote about him. At that time I described him as “an infamous neo-Nazi who has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia because of his openly irredentist views and illegal activities.” I wrote these words at the time that Toroczkai was elected mayor of Ásotthalom, a large village near Szeged, adjacent to the Serbian-Hungarian border.

Toroczkai was born László Tóth but changed his name to something more Hungarian sounding. After all, a great Hungarian patriot cannot be called Mr. Slovak (“Tót” means Slovak in Hungarian). He is the founder of the irredentist Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (HIVM/Youth Movement of the Sixty-four Counties), a reference to the number of counties in Greater Hungary. The high point of his career was leading the mob in September 2006 from Kossuth Square to the building of MTV, the public television station, which the crowd stormed, burned, and eventually occupied. During the siege almost 200 policemen were injured. He made a name for himself again in 2015 when, on his own, he began the “defense of the country from the modern-day migration.” It was his idea of erecting a fence along the border that inspired Viktor Orbán, who put the idea into practice.

And yet Gábor Vona, while ostensibly trying to reorient Jobbik along more moderate lines, asked Toroczkai, who at that time wasn’t even a party member, to become one of his deputies. Naturally, Vona was showered with questions about the incongruity of having the radical Toroczkai as a member of his team. His answer at the time was that “there are issues that need radical solutions and there are others that require moderate ones,” which was a pretty lame explanation for his action.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Vona has since regretted his decision, because on almost every issue Toroczkai has taken a position contrary to the party’s official stand, including such an important issue as the government’s refugee quota referendum, which Jobbik didn’t support. A month later Toroczkai was in the news again. This time his town council passed a number of ordinances that forbade building mosques, wearing the burka, all activities of muezzins and, for good measure, the “propagation of gay marriage” and any publicity given to “opinions about the family different from the definition in the constitution of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.” Vona paid a personal visit to Ásotthalom, where he apparently gave Toroczkai a piece of his mind. Toroczkai at that time considered leaving Jobbik, but it seems that the serious differences of opinion between Toroczkai and the more moderate leadership were patched up. At least they were until now.

On October 31 the Toroczkai-led HVIM covered a full-size statue of Gyula Horn (1932-2013), prime minister of Hungary between 1994 and 1998, with a black sack and hung a sign on his neck reading “PUFAJKÁS GYILKOS.” “Gyilkos” means murderer and “pufajka” is a quilted jacket that was part of the Soviet military uniform worn by the paramilitary force that was set up by the new Kádár government in November 1956. Gyula Horn is highly regarded abroad, especially in Germany, because when Hungary let the East German refugees cross over to Austria, Horn was the country’s foreign minister. He is also considered by many to have been the best Hungarian prime minister since 1990. MSZP’s leadership was outraged, but as a Jobbik politician rightly pointed out, László Kövér, the Fidesz president of parliament, refused to name a parliamentary chamber for Horn because of his role in the 1956 revolution. President László Sólyom also refused to give an award to the former prime minister because of Horn’s role in the revolution and because he allegedly didn’t change his views on 1956. Still, considering that it was only a couple of weeks ago that Gábor Vona delivered a speech in which he made overtures to the left, Toroczkai’s assault on Horn’s statue again cast a shadow on Vona’s sincerity.

The pro-government media has been salivating over the possibility of an open split between the moderates and the radicals in Jobbik, which in Fidesz’s opinion would greatly weaken the party. All of the articles I read in 888.hu and pestrisrácok.hu predicted that, even if not now, after the election Jobbik will surely fall apart. Today  pestisrácok.hu heralded the fact that within days the Army of Outlaws and the Association of Identitarianist University Students will organize a new party “where the disappointed Jobbik followers will find their true voice, for which they joined Jobbik in the first place.” The hope in the pro-Fidesz right-wing press is that, as a result of the radical right’s departure from the party, Jobbik will collapse.

But this may not happen. B. György Nagy wrote an article titled “Arabs, Greens, Jobbik” in which he called attention to the fact that when a party embarks on a major shift in political direction its popularity can drop precipitously. A good example is Fidesz’s own experience in 1993, when the party had a commanding lead with 30% of the votes, which by the 1994 election shrank to 7%. But Jobbik hasn’t lost much support. It is holding onto its usual 20% share of committed voters. Moreover, there is a fascinating dynamic to this support. One-third of Jobbik supporters are new recruits, while 30% left the party, most likely heading to Fidesz. This means that Jobbik has a reserve among currently uncommitted voters.

A Fidesz caricature of Jobbik’s anti-Semitism / 888.hu

And so Fidesz has to weaken Jobbik in some other way. One line of attack is establishing a connection between ISIS and some far-right groups, like the Hungarian National Front (Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal/MNA) and the Army of Outlaws, who are now being investigated by the parliamentary committee on national security as well as the prosecutor’s office. The reason for the investigation is that a Hungarian version of a video promoting ISIS, its cause, fighting methods, etc. was found among the documents of MNA. The problem for Jobbik is that at one point Jobbik had a loose organizational connection to the Army of Outlaws, and Toroczkai to this day has close ties with Zsolt Tyirityán, its leader. Apparently Jobbik no longer supports Toroczkai’s HVIM financially, but Toroczkai is still deputy chairman of the party. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee, instructed the national security people to investigate and report in two weeks on their findings. If a link between these extremist groups and Jobbik can be established, Vona’s party will have to weather some very hard times between now and the election.

November 10, 2017

Russian military intelligence and the Hungarian National Front

I’d wager to say that not too many people are familiar with a far-right paramilitary organization called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front or MNA), although it is perhaps the most important group of its kind today. It espouses the tenets of Hungarism, the brainchild of Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrowcross party which, in the late 1930s, had, for a short while, one million followers. The current leader of MNA, István Györkös, who just killed a Hungarian policeman, is the anointed successor of Szálasi.

Szálasi was captured in Germany by the Americans and was sent back to Hungary, where he was executed in 1946. While still in Germany, he passed his mantle to Árpád Henney, a military officer who was a member of his cabinet. Henney served as head of the Hungarist movement abroad until his death in 1980, when he appointed Imre Tatár, a former member of the Koronatanács (Crown Council). Tatár was singularly unsuccessful in holding together the warring Hungarists. He went to Hungary in 1989, hoping to revive the movement on Hungarian soil. It was here that he found István Györkös.

Despite the fact that a whole institute was created to study extremist organizations in Hungary, we still know relatively little about the 76-year-old Györkös. It seems that he was arrested and jailed after the 1956 revolution. In jail he became acquainted with the Hungarist movement through former leaders of the Arrowcross party who were serving time. Until about ten years ago he lived in Győr. He then moved to Bőny, a small village about 20 km from the city. This is where he killed one of the two policemen who came looking for illegal weapons. In the shoot-out he was injured.

Györkös had to be well known to the Hungarian authorities. He was arrested several times in the last 25 years. At one point he even received a suspended jail sentence. The Hungarian police force and the national security establishment had to know that every year Györkös and his group hold a military camp for youngsters in a secluded area, apparently owned by Györkös himself. It is enough to look at a list of their activities between January 2012 and June 2014 compiled by the now defunct Athena Institute. They also had to know that the man might be dangerous. To send two lightly armed policemen against somebody who, as it turned out, was waiting for them with a machine gun shows recklessness on the part of the Hungarian national security forces.

István Györkös in his usual attire

István Györkös in his usual attire

Several small extremist groups are active in Hungary, but MNA is unique in that it has extensive ties with Russian military intelligence. I dealt with this extremist group only once, in September 2014. It was in connection with a lesser-known right-wing portal called Hídfő (Bridgehead), which broke the story that Hungary was secretly supplying tanks to the Ukrainian army. Soon enough the Russian foreign ministry published an official statement stating that “weapons supplied to Ukraine by the EU-member countries … violate legally binding obligations—the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Russian foreign ministry was well-informed on the details: “Hungary’s Defense Ministry is supplying Ukraine with armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks, through a ‘proxy agency.’” It turned out that Hídfő was the official website of Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal. For some time it has served as a vehicle of Russian disinformation, a growing concern in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, by now, at least according to national security officials, Hídfő is entirely under Russian direction, either directly or indirectly. The best summary of the history of MNA and its activities can be found in an investigative piece written by András Dezső and Veronika Munk of Index.

The news site also published an article by András Dezső and Szabolcs Panyi which claims that officials of the Russian military intelligence, Glavnoe Razvedivatelnoe Upravlenie or GRU, established contact with MNA and other right-wing groups in the last few years. Apparently Russian diplomats often come in contact with these extremists at shows of military relics. According to information received by Index, the youngsters recruited by Györkös often play airsoft, which is similar to paintball. The weapons they use look and feel real, so real that they are used for military training. Apparently Russian diplomats have been attending some of these games. As for Hídfő, by now it carries practically no news on MNA but only serves Russian political interests.

Index also reported back in February 2015 that the reason for a split between the Hungarist groups was Györkös’s overly friendly relations with Gyula Thürmer’s Munkáspárt (Labor party; actually the tiny Hungarian Communist party), something that Thürmer didn’t want to talk about. But at least one photo exists showing that already in 2012 the Communist party and Györkös were on a common platform. I may add here that Gyula Thürmer’s son, who calls himself Gyula T. Máthé, is one of the important columnists at Magyar Hírlap. Here is his latest. What grows together belongs together, as the Hungarian saying goes.

And let’s return to the village of Bőny. HVG’s reporter visited the village and asked inhabitants their opinion of Györkös and what was going on in their village. They didn’t know the head of MNA well because he wasn’t the outgoing type, they said, but he looked “normal and respectful.” The military camps he organized for youngsters didn’t bother them. Since it was forbidden to drink in the camp, there were no signs of drunken marching militarists. According to one woman, “they were 20-25 years old and behaved very well. They looked like young commandos.”

A reporter from the pro-government Magyar Idők also paid a visit to Bőny. He gained an entirely different impression of the mood of the inhabitants, who are “relieved” because they have been “living in dread.” His informants agreed that Györkös was unsociable, so “everybody thought he was strange and many were afraid of him.” Everybody knew that he had guns. Apparently one could occasionally hear gunshots coming from his place. Magyar Ik’s reporter learned from a woman living in the village that several times a year Györkös organized military camps, which on occasion several hundred extremists attended. Their presence raised fear in the locals. But if that was the case, how is it possible that no one went to the police to report that Györkös had illegal weapons and that the youngsters carried flags with forbidden symbols?

Origo, which in the last few months has become just another mouthpiece of the government, published an article about MNA with the title: “Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal: Several ties to Jobbik.” The title is misleading. There is no question that Jobbik had connections to some of the extremist groups, but MNA was not among them. I guess Fidesz wants to drown out all the information that is coming from independent sources about the connection between Putin’s Russia and István Györkös’s MNA.

October 27, 2016