Tag Archives: paramilitary groups

Openly racist opinion of a Hungarian judge

Every time there is a verdict indicating that the independence of Hungarian judges is still more or less intact (as opposed to, for example, that of prosecutors) we are inclined to praise the high quality of Hungarian judges. Critics of the Hungarian judiciary, however, argue that it was not the best and the brightest of law school graduates who ended up as judges and prosecutors. The smartest, especially in the last two decades of the Kádár regime, opted for a more lucrative path: joining burgeoning law firms. They also point to the declining prestige of the profession–one sign, unfortunately, being the number of women on the bench. In the county courts women often make up 70% of the judges. The situation is a little better in the newly created appellate courts and in the Kúria, but even there only 47-48% of the judges are men.

Here is a case that lends some credence to the critics’ argument. It unequivocally demonstrates that among the 2,800 sitting judges at least one doesn’t belong there. The outcry is not over this particular judge’s incompetence but rather over her overt racism. I will certainly address the racist aspect of the story, but I would also like to emphasize something others failed to do: her incompetence and obtuseness.

Let’s start with her professional incompetence. Way back in 2011 the Prosecutor’s Office of Békés County asked the court to dissolve a paramilitary organization called the Association for a Better Future (SZJE). The same organization also bears the name Better Future Hungarian Self-Defense. It was in April 2010 that the group was established by former members of the already dissolved Hungarian Guard, whose activities threatened the rights and freedom of others. So, on the face of it, the case seemed simple enough. If the Hungarian Guard was deemed to be an illegal organization, then this new organization, born out of it and having the same goals, should have been illegal too.

Nothing much happened between 2011 and now. At least not in the Hungarian justice system. But if you take a look at the Better Future website, you will see that the members of this paramilitary organization have been busy all over the country. They target the Roma exclusively. Their members patrol the streets of heavily Roma villages and small towns. They march in military formation and wear uniforms, intimidating the Roma population of these villages and towns. Surely, this is their goal. Among other places, the members of the group were present in Gyöngyöspata in 2011, an event that attracted worldwide attention. I wrote about it in May 2011.

So, let’s see what Erika Mucsi, the judge in the case, had to say about this paramilitary organization and its possible effect on the Roma population in Gyöngyöspata. According to this intellectual giant, “the frightening activities of SZJE cannot be proven because at the time other organizations were also present: Véderő, Betyársereg, and Csendőrség.” Although the official civil patrols who work hand in hand with the police themselves pressed charges against the SZJE because of its illegal and threatening activities, Mucsi didn’t find anything wrong with SZJE members marching in military columns and following military commands, both of which are against the law. Mucsi admitted that “such activities may cause distress in the local community, but public marching itself is guaranteed by the right of assembly.” And “walking around with the purpose of preempting crime is the right of every citizen (állampolgári jog).” It should be noted that the Court of Human Rights confirmed the judgment of the Hungarian court that dissolved the Hungarian Guard on precisely the charges Erika Mucsi found lawful. So much for the woman’s professional expertise.

Mucsi Erika

And then there is her open, unabashed racism. According to her, “the Roma as a category should not be characterized primarily on the basis of race, but rather as a group separated from the majority by its disregard of the traditional values cherished by the majority. They follow a work-shy existence, they don’t respect private property and accepted morality.” This kind of generalization would be unacceptable in general, but that it was written in an opinion of a judge is truly outlandish. Especially since Erika Mucsi must have visited the website of SZJE and therefore had to know that this paramilitary organization has only one aim: the harassment of the Roma. And not just in villages but everywhere. For example, they seem to be active, without any interference by the authorities, in Pécs. SZJE is elated by its successful defense. And it is not alone. The websites of the best-known extremist groups praise Erika Mucsi to the skies.

The prosecutors are obviously stunned, and they are appealing the case. Even the spokesman of the Békés County Court (Gyula Törvényszék), expressed the court’s total disapproval of Mucsi’s unacceptable racist opinions. The spokesman indicated that there might be consequences of Erika Mucsi’s injudicious handling of the case.

While the extreme right is rejoicing, the legal defense groups are up in arms: the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, TASZ, the Károly Eötvös Intézet, just to mention a few. The spokesman of the Kúria diplomatically called attention to the fact that the verdict is not final and therefore the case is not closed. The extremists’  joy might be short-lived. It is very unlikely that the Szeged Appellate Court will give its blessing to such an absurd verdict.

Testimony on the situation of Roma in Hungary by the European Roma Rights Centre

For consideration by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, U.S. Helsinki Commission

The situation of Roma in Hungary

Human rights NGOs have consistently reported that Roma in Hungary are discriminated against in almost all fields of life, particularly in employment, education, housing, health care, and access to public places. Yet government representatives maintain that the problems faced by Roma relate to their economic and social difficulties, rather than racism and prejudice against Roma in Hungary. A similar view of the Hungarian authorities has been noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in its report following a mission to Hungary.

In January 2013, following a complaint initiated in 2005 by two Romani people represented by the Chance for Children Foundation and the ERRC, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary violated the European Convention on Human Rights in a case challenging the segregated education of Romani children in a special school. The Court underlined that there was a long history of wrongful placement of Romani children in special schools in Hungary and that the State must change this practice. The Court concluded that ‘positive obligations incumbent on the State in a situation where there is a history of discrimination against ethnic minority children’ would have required Hungary to provide necessary safeguards to avoid the perpetuation of past discrimination or discrimination practices.

State response to violence against Roma

In Hungary the European Roma Rights Centre examined the progress in 22 known cases of violence against Roma. In these incidents seven people died, including a five-year old boy, and a number of individuals were seriously injured. Ten Romani homes were set on fire with various levels of destruction. Guns were involved in 10 of the examined cases and in two cases hand- grenades were used. Out of the 22 attacks, nine, resulting in six deaths, are believed by police to have been committed by the same four suspects who are currently on trial.

Police misconduct and procedural errors were documented during the investigation of one of the violent crimes against Roma, as raised by NGOs and later confirmed by the Independent Police  Complaints Committee and by the Head of Police. Misconduct by the National Security Service was also found.

In the majority of the cases examined, the information provided by State authorities was inadequate. Where information was provided, limited results of investigation and prosecution were revealed. In several cases information was not provided by the authorities, who cited data protection and criminal procedure laws.

The Hungarian government does not systematically monitor racist violence. Police, prosecutors and court officials are reluctant to consider racial bias motivation as an aggravating circumstance to crimes: it is not explicitly included in the Criminal Code (only “base” motivation is included). Hate crimes are dealt with as a separate legal provision but are not linked to other crimes.

In Hungary, there are no specific protocols or guidelines developed for police and prosecutors on how to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. In addition, there is no systematic monitoring of racist violence, or the collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity about the victims of crimes. There are no reliable statistics on the real number of racially-motivated crimes in Hungary: according to available statistics the number of cases investigated under the hate crime provision of Hungary’s Criminal Code is extremely low.

Law enforcement abuse against Roma

Following an incident in 2010, the ERRC and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union represented a Romani woman in domestic procedures and before the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary had violated the European Convention of Human Rights in a case of police violence against a Romani woman.

In its judgment, the European Court found that there had been a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The Court concluded that the police used excessive force during the incident, and that such use of force resulted in injuries and suffering of the applicant, amounting to degrading treatment. The Court also noted that no internal investigation or disciplinary procedure appeared to have been carried out within the police force concerning the appropriateness of the police action. The Court also found that no adequate investigation had been carried out into Ms Kiss’ allegations. However it rejected the claim of discrimination (under article 14), finding there was no evidence of discriminatory conduct by the police. Anti-Roma demonstrations and statements Romani individuals and communities continued to be victims of intimidation, hate speech and various violent physical attacks throughout the last two years. The ERRC’s non-exhaustive list on Hungary includes eight attacks in 2012.

Paramilitary groups have been marching and organising demonstrations in Hungarian villages since 2006. In spring 2011, paramilitary groups marched and patrolled, particularly in the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata, harassing and intimidating Romani communities. Members of the organisation patrolled the town, where they prevented the Romani residents from sleeping by shouting during the night, threatened Roma with weapons and dogs and followed them every  time they left their houses, unimpeded by local police. Human rights NGOs raised concerns and called on State authorities to take immediate action. During these unlawful actions Romani women and children were relocated due to the threat of violence. As a result of racial harassment, and due to stress, a Romani woman in her eighth month of pregnancy delivered her baby early and needed to be hospitalised. The incidents have been reported by the US State Department in its Hungary Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 alongside other incidents.

Similar far-right movement activities continued in 2012, when several demonstrations were organised in Devecser, Cegléd and Miskolc. In Devecser pieces of concrete and other missiles were thrown at Roma houses, and one female activist was injured. In an open letter to the Hungarian Minister of Interior and the National Chief of Police, three Hungarian NGOs expressed their concern about the violence in Devecser, stating that by not dispersing the demonstration, the police failed to ensure the rights to freedom, equality and security of the local inhabitants. The Ministry and the police responded by saying they considered the police intervention in Devecser had been adequate.

Incitement to hatred is a common occurrence in Hungary. One of the latest examples was the publication of an op-ed in the Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap on 5 January 2013 by a leading journalist and co-founder of the ruling FIDESZ party, calling Roma “animals” that “need to be eliminated” “right now by any means”.   This kind of inflammatory language is especially dangerous in Hungary. Bayer was initially criticised by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tibor Navracsics; Navracsics later defended Bayer, saying that he could not imagine that Bayer seriously thought what he said in his article. Key senior figures in the government, e.g. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the Minister with responsibility for Roma issues, Zoltán Balog, did not officially condemn the racist article by Bayer on behalf of the Hungarian Government.

In response to the incident, the ERRC joined with a coalition of Hungarian NGOs in asking domestic companies and Hungarian divisions of multinationals to take a stand against racist commentary in Hungary. The NGOs have asked, among others, Vodafone, T-Com, FedEx, IKEA and Procter and Gamble to reconsider advertising in Magyar Hírlap.

To date seven companies have said they will no longer place advertising in the Hungarian newspaper that published the extreme anti-Roma statements. Erste Bank blacklisted Magyar Hírlap after the NGOs’ call, and expressly brought it to their media agency’s attention to “act more prudently next time” when dealing with the publication of their advertisements. They also emphasised that the bank will not advertise in any media whose content “hurts the dignity of others, or uses an inflammatory tone regarding any minority, ethnicity, or religious group”. The leaders of CIB Bank said that the CIB Group will refrain from advertising in Magyar Hírlap and its portal “until the editorial staff categorically condemns Zsolt Bayer’s writing and ensures that both publications are free from writings that include hate speech”. IKEA, FedEx, and GDF Suez also distanced themselves from the article, and stated they do not plan to advertise in the online version of the newspaper in the future.

On March 15, 2013, a national holiday in Hungary which is also the “Day of Hungarian Freedom  of Press” the Hungarian Government awarded the journalist Ferenc Szaniszló the “Táncsics Mihály” award and honoured him as the “journalist of the year in Hungary”.  Mr Szaniszló is infamous for spreading Jewish conspiracy theories and describing the country’s Roma minority as “human monkeys.”

The award was given for “extraordinary journalistic achievements” and was presented by the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, who is also in charge of integration of Roma. Balog claimed that he did not know who had received the award, but still handed it over to Szaniszló. Balog later distanced himself from the views of Szaniszló.

Recently, Canadian authorities launched a billboard campaign in Miskolc, Hungary, to deter Romani asylum seekers. The majority of Hungarian Romani asylum-seekers to Canada originate from this town. The billboards around the city stated that “Canada’s refugee system has changed” and that “Asylum claims are evaluated within weeks instead of years”. The billboards further cautioned the public that “Applicants with unjustified immigration claims are sent home faster”.

A side effect of the billboard campaign in Miskolc has been the aggravation of the hostile atmosphere that Romani people have to face every day. The Mayor of Miskolc Ákos Kriza (member of the governing party FIDESZ) stated that, “Miskolc will not welcome back repatriated Roma refugee claimants arriving from Canada”.  A couple of days after his appearance on national television, Mr Kriza announced that he will “keep the criminal elements out of Miskolc by checking whether any of the people who left for Canada also took advantage of social assistance from the city or the central government.” He claimed that he had already found five people who were ineligible and who thereby committed a crime. He got in touch with the police. He will do everything to prevent “these criminals from settling in the city. Moreover, criminals currently residing in Miskolc will be driven out by the authorities.” He even threatened returning Romani parents that the authorities would take their children away and place them under state supervision.

After the campaign in Forró (near Miskolc) anonymous anti-Roma graffiti appeared on houses calling on the Roma to “go to Canada”.

Suggested questions to the Hungarian Government:

Does the Hungarian Government keep detailed data on the number and type of racially motivated crimes committed against Roma, and in particular Romani women, as well as information on prosecutions? Please supply detailed information.

  • What measures have been adopted to bring the Hungarian criminal legislation in line with international standards on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes?
  • What professional training and capacity-building activities have been implemented for law-enforcement, prosecution and judicial officials dealing with hate crimes?
  • What measures have been adopted to ensure that access to counselling, legal assistance and justice for victims of hate crimes is explored, in co-operation with relevant actors?

 

The Orbán government and the Roma issue

In the last six weeks I wrote twice about the renewed activities of the Hungarian far right in villages with a large Roma population and the government’s lack of any meaningful response to the clearly illegal activities of these groups. I was pretty prompt on March 3, 2011 when I reported on the appearance of an until then unknown organization called “For A Better Future Civic Guard” which on that day decided to descend on Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2,800.

Almost three weeks went by and, although many liberal organizations and the two democratic parties urged the government to do something, nothing happened. It was at this point that on March 24, 2011, I wrote another piece entitled “The far-right is active and the government is silent.” Since then a whole month went by and the Orbán government refused to do anything. In fact, they often tried to minimize the problem or act as if the police did a splendid job and thanks to their presence there were no clashes or disturbances.

Most likely if these paramilitary organizations had decided to suspend their activities, at least for a few months, the government wouldn’t have done anything to put an end to vigilante “order.” I’m pretty sure that the Fidesz leadership expected that the groups’ enthusiasm for patrolling streets and asking for Gypsies’ IDs would peter out. Here and there a few policemen appeared in the villages where these groups showed up, but the encounter between the police and the vigilantes was cozy. I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the police force, perhaps even the great majority, harbor very similar feelings toward the Roma as the overwhelming majority of the population at large.

But the far-right members of these paramilitary organizations didn’t stop. On the contrary, their activities became increasingly threatening. Another group called Véderő (Defense Force) appeared in Gyöngyöspata on April 18 where the group “purchased” for one forint a 1.5 acre lot with a run-down house where they planned to have “military exercises.” Their headquarters could be approached only through the Gypsy section of town. In fact, within a few days they established a “military camp.”

Meanwhile these events in Hungary didn’t go unnoticed abroad. The American ambassador, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, urged the Hungarian government to act: “instead of talk, concrete steps must be taken.” She reminded Viktor Orbán that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had announced that they are committed to the human rights of the Roma.

Then came the news reported by the Associated Press and published in practically all major English-language newspapers that “hundreds of frightened Roma women and children were bused” out of Gyöngyöspata. As usual, in Hungary there are two versions that circulate about this flight of over two hundred people from the village where the Defense Force set up camp. The non-governmental version is that Richard Field, an American businessman living in Hungary, realizing the plight of the local Gypsies, turned to the Hungarian Red Cross on April 19 and asked them to find accommodations for the women and children for the Easter weekend. The government version is that the “weekend camping” had been organized much earlier and had absolutely nothing to do with the presence of the Defense Force or the fright of the Roma in Gyöngyöspata. I leave it to my readers to decide which explanation is more plausible.

While about half of the village’s Gypsy population was evacuated or went on a weekend vacation, take your pick, the Hungarian government decided that it could no longer sit on the fence. After all, Hungary, which came up with the idea of a European-wide Roma strategy, can’t possibly allow paramilitary organizations to terrorize the local Roma population. As it is, Hungary is not offering the best model for handling the Roma problem. Just as Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, argued, while one of the thirteen main issues tackled by the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union was creating a European Roma policy, it was practically looking the other way when on its own land Roma were being maltreated. He rightly pointed out that Hungarian Gypsies face blatant discrimination, living in shanty towns, facing an atmosphere of hostility, unemployment, lower life expectancy, prejudice, school segregation. According an estimate, less than one percent of Roma earn college degrees.

In any case, perhaps because of the evacuation of the Gypsy women and children, Sándor Pintér, minister of interior in charge of the police, decided to move. Or, probably more precisely, he got the green light from Viktor Orbán to put an end to the activities of the paramilitary groups. Their first move was against the Defense Force. They arrested eight members, including Tamás Eszes, the head of the organization, shown being led away on the photo. Moreover, the government published an ordinance: from here on any person who appears in uniform will be fined 100,000 forints.

Zoltán Balog, protestant minister and spiritual advisor to Viktor Orbán, is in charge of Hungary’s Roma policy. Until now I haven’t seen any concrete proposals concerning his plans to solve this huge human and social problem. Earlier I had the distinct feeling that Balog would love to drop the whole problem in the laps of the churches. After all, he said, the churches are really better equipped to handle the problem than the government. Lately I have heard less of this brilliant idea. Perhaps the churches resisted Balog’s plan.

Every time Balog opens his mouth he says something outrageous. He seems to look upon the problem simply as a burden on the non-Gypsy population. If the country doesn’t do something within a few years, he says, it will be stranded with an ever-growing Roma population that must be supported. More Roma, more money. But surely, the blatant discrimination, the indescribable poverty, lack of education, unemployment must be remedied quite independently of our pocketbooks.

Viktor Orbán wanted to save himself from openly turning against these paramilitary organizations that are closely connected to the neo-Nazi party, Jobbik. According to some estimates 30% of Fidesz voters sympathize with Jobbik and, as it is, Fidesz has lost about 600,000 voters since last April. There is a fear that if the government turns against the Jobbik-sponsored vigilantes Fidesz will lose a large portion of those who have difficulty deciding whether they belong to Fidesz or Jobbik.

Just to give you an idea of the intricate connections between the two right-wing parties, here is a family story. Sándor Lezsák is an important Fidesz member of parliament. In fact, he is one of Fidesz’s deputy speakers of the House. Lezsák’s son-in-law, a filmmaker, is a Jobbik party member whose name only recently surfaced in the media. Apparently, he is the one who was responsible for “celebrating” Hitler’s birthday on Jobbik’s N1TV, an Internet television station. It’s often difficult to decide where one party starts and the other ends. Right now my Hungarian friends worry that it will be Jobbik that will benefit from the decline of Fidesz.

April 23, 2011