Curiously, there is little to no coverage to be found in the Hungarian media of the racist hate groups’ violent behavior – in the light of day and in front of cameras – in a Hungarian village last weekend.
The following story, therefore, is not simply about a demonstration organized by the third biggest parliamentary party in Hungary, during which, yet again, they managed to make it crystal-clear how close their alliances are with violent far-right militias which habitually incite to racist violence.
This story, however, is also about the media’s lack of coverage of the most outragous agitation of the Hungarian extreme right, and the task to which this puts anyone not personally present to witness the disconcerting rise in the audacity with which these political groups stir up ethnic conflict in the villages of the country. Increasingly it becomes true that the Hungarian media shies away from giving proper reports on the criminal behavior of Jobbik politicians and their paramilitary allies. One of the recent developments in the rhetoric of the far-right, as a result, is their quite liberal application of the word “self-defense” in justification of their intimidating, racist – and is the case here – violent attacks on minorities. In the meantime, the police and the legal establishment is idly standing by.But to the story now. The Hungarian town of Devecser has already received international attention during the red sludge disaster of 2010, when, along with Kolontár, it was one of several unfortunate towns flooded with caustic waste from the nearby toxic material reservoir of teh Ajka alumina plant.
Now, two years later, the far-right is focused on the town not because the clean-up the environment remains incomplete, but because they wanted a demonstration of force against what they claim is the mistreatment – or lack of action – of the police of their local supporters in an argument with their Roma neighbors. Violence seems to have ensued during the course of this argument, which precipitated a warning, in the form of a party-sponsored demonstration, of the far-right’s collective force against all Roma residents of the town.
Jobbik, the official organizing force behind the event, included in the event well-known violent extremist organizations and paramilitaries. Together, they brought a considerable number of far-right sympathizers to the small town: approximately 1000 demonstrators arrived to the town of roughly 5000 residents. The New Hungarian Guard (Új Magyar Gárda), the For a Better Future Civil Guard Association (Szebb Jövőért Polgárőr Egyesület) , Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye), Defense Force (Véderő), Guard Motorcyclists (Gárda Motorosok), and Betyársereg (Outlaw Army) each brought its own supporters. (As it was clarified by a Hungarian court recently, legally speaking, this type of lose co-operation is the most advantageous for them: collectively, they cannot be held responsible for specific criminal acts during the protests, individual responsibility, however, is hard to establish with so many groups present).
Jobbik was represented by three members of parliament: Gábor Ferenczi, Szilvia Bertha and Balázs Lenhardt.
The most complete report of what took place comes from an eye-witness account prepared by a contributor to the Hungarian blog Kettős Mérce (Double Standard):
“The speeches began with Jobbik MP Gábor Ferenczi’s. Ferenczi said that they want peace, order and safety in Devecser, and that this demonstration is about rightful Hungarian self-defense, so that the Hungarian could defend themselves and the gypsies would assume their obligations.
Ferenczi addressed the mayor of Devecser in particular, since he had previously told the press that the Jobbik demonstration in the town was unnecessary. Ferenczi “urged the mayor not to direct his words against ‘normal’ Hungarians but to stand up against the ‘criminals’ instead. Ferenczi also said that he wants to hear no more complaints, and especially nothing further about the gypsies of Devecser stealing and cheating. In case there were any trouble, he instructed people to call in the Defense Force [Véderő, a paramilitary organization also involved in the occupation of Gyöngyöspata last year]. He emphasized that capital punishment needs to be reintroduced in Hungary, and he finished his speech by saying that if the problems do not cease, they are going to return.
Next up was László Toroczkai of Sixty-Four Counties [a person many times alleged with, though never convicted of, terrorist acts]. He started out his speech by saying that Hungarians have three possibilities. One is to immigrate, another is to become slaves – ‘of the gypsies’ – or to stay here and fight, in which case those who are bothered by Hungarianness must leave. He said that there are gypsies and gypsy criminality all over the country, and ‘wherever this ethnic group is present, destruction and devastation shows up.’ According to him, the gypsies want to exterminate the Hungarians and if they want to fight, then one must take up the fight against them, there is no other possibility. He also added that Hungarians either become victims or they fight back.
After this, Attila László of the For a Better Future Civil Guard Association [a demonstration by this group marked the start of a lengthy period of ethnic tensions in Gyöngyöspata last year] was given the microphone. “All the trash must be swept out of the country,” he said in opening.
According to him, one must rebel and chase away all the criminals and one must organize in every community – for this task, every “militant Hungarian” will be needed. In conclusion, he defined self-defense as “an instinct that comes to formulation during emergencies and which is then followed up by conscious action.”
After the speeches, the marching portion of the demonstration took place: the protestors proceeded to the house of the family they had come here to protect. By the time the reporter arrived to the house of the family – who are most likely Jobbik supporters and local organizers of the party – the marchers were chanting:
“You are no-ones!” “You are going to die, gypsies, you are going to die here!”
At this point, another series of speeches began, first by Zsolt Tyirityán of Betyársereg (Outlaw Army), who spoke of racial warfare and ethnic cleansings. “The gypsy is coded in such a way that criminality is in him,” he said. For proper effect, he also added that it is the “zionists” who direct them to go up against the laws. “I consider myself a racist,” Tyirityán said, “and I am going to stand up for the cause of not letting our life-space over to an ulterior race.” “The genetically coded trash must be exterminated from public life.” “We are going to stamp out this phenomenon, it must be extirpated from our lives.”
Next, the author of the blog post proceeded to a house of friends.
The house happened to line by the marching route of the demonstration, which did arrive shortly. “They were shouting various racist and intimidating slogans, then first a waterbottle, and within a few seconds a greater piece of concrete hit my right upper arm. The reason why it didn’t hit my head is that I drew it out of the way… We then started for the house from the yard. In the meantime, more pieces of concrete and water bottles landed around us. By the time we reached the house, we had to roll down the blinds, because they were aiming for the windows as well. There were several children in the house.
“Once they left and we ventured outside of the house, we found out they have done this to many other houses inhabited by gypsies.” Jobbik MP Ferenczi was also among the injured. “There were multiple police standing by the houses, and this still happened.”
The following footage is available about the incident outside of the house in which the Roma family lives. On Monday, I was able to watch a longer version of this footage – a report prepared by one of the extreme right’s video-producing branches – but their full footage of the event (about 6 minutes long) has since been removed from the internet. Thanks to Egyenlítő Blog, however, the 25-second part of the video showing this throwing incident can still be viewed on the internet:
The above report was later confirmed by a media outlet operated by the extreme right. When compared to the actual footage of what the speakers said at the event, it does not even contain some of the worst quotes. If one were to file a criminal case for instigating to ethnic conflict, they might want to go with this interaction, available on a video made by ATV. Though this report fails to show the actual size of the crowd, the speech starting at 1:08 translates as follows:
“What do you think, according to you, are there signs of a racial war in this country?” – asks the speaker from the crowd (Zsolt Tyirityánof the Outlaw Army).
“Yes!” yells the crowd back at him.
“According to you, based on race or ethnicity, is there going to be an escalation to a conflict?”
“So then let’s send a message to them!”
And the facts are not disputed by the participants of the demonstration either! They are proud of the “success” of their unified protest. As they write in the title of one of their reports: “It was us who attacked the gypsies, and we are proud of it.”
This is what took place in Devecser in the words of the far-right media:
“The march was lead by the wild fighters of Betyársereg, who know no fear, with their impressive black flags, which never fail to arise fear in the enemy. Behind them followed the disciplined lines of [Sixty-Four] Counties. The main corps were comprised of Jobbik members and civilians, while the march ended with the Better Future and the Guardists. The Hungarians drove the gypsies staring at them to run several times. First, at the house where the brawl took place [previously, in late July]. There was a line of police guarding the street of the gypsies, behind it, 5-6 gypsies were staring at the Hungarians, but when the Outlaws started at them – breaking away through the police line – the gypsies went on the lam. The emergency police vehicle held up the Hungarians who penetrated into the street of the gypsies. The march proceeded, but in another street with many gypsies, there were further clashes.
“The [racial epithet used in the plural] were peeking out from behind the stone fence of a house inhabited by gypsies. They were recording the marching crowd with a camera they have stolen from who knows whom. Then, an argument ensued between the marchers and them. Finally, a water bottle was flown, which hit the [racial epithet] in the head, after which there was a stone thrown from behind the fence into the crowd. This was followed by a storm of brick and concrete pieces and stones which chased the 15-20 gypsies into the house from their previous hiding place behind the stone wall. Gábor Ferenczi, a member of parliament for Jobbik was wounded during the incident – he was likely hit in the head by a gypsy (he required care in the nearby Ajka hospital).
“The police were not on top of the situation, they arrived there late, they could not handle the situation at all, in most of them one could see fear. It was not because of them that the pogrom did not yet take place. At this time, the Hungarians were absolutely superior.”
The issue of self-defense and Ferenczi’s injury is important for media reports: as a member of parliament, he has enough status to command the attention of news organization (with his wounded head, he is the perfect image for a catchy report). According to the far-right, he was hit by a water bottle. Also according to the far-rights’ reporting, there was a stone thrown out of the house in which, previously, the inhabitants behind the stone fence were attacked. When one views the video that has since disappeared from the internet, save the excerpt as salvaged above, there are no stones being thrown from the inside. But the incident, all in all, is an act of self-defense: an instinctual act which is followed through by conscious and coordinated acion. What is there to defend against: the genetically-coded criminality of the gypsies, of course. Trying kncking a hole into this solid argument.
One would think that the above is plenty to ponder for a self-respecting news organization. The story ends, however, on the sad note of what becomes of the events that took place on August 5 in Devecser in the interpretation of major newspapers both on the government’s and the opposition’s side.
What follows next, then, is a word-for-word translation of the entirety of the report published about this “incident” in the largest circulation left-wing daily in Hungary:
“Gábor Ferenczi, Jobbik parliamentary representative of Veszprém County demanded the restoration of the death penalty at a Sunday event of the party in Devecser, where, according to the MP’s estimates, about one thousand were present.
The demonstration, by the name of ‘Live and let live: demonstration for the rightful Hungarian self-defense,’ was held with the participation of Jobbik and several right-wing radical organizations. It started on the square in front of the Catholic church, after which the demonstrators marched in streets where they thought gypsies lived.
In Devecser, a town that has become famous during the red-sludge disaster and which has merely 5,000 inhabitants, Gábor Ferenczi stated that their aim is not discrimination on the basis of ethnicity: what they want in Devecser is peace, order and safety. ‘Live and let live in this municipality: this is what we are asking from our gypsy compatriots.’
The member of parliament asked for the fortification of the police station in Devecser, after which he emphasized that there are more and more brutal criminal acts taking place in the country. He stated that they demand the restoration of the death penalty, ‘so that there are requisite deterrents to push back against and prevent these crimes.’
László Toroczkai, the president of the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement urged the participants not to leave the country and their native soil and to not let themselves be chased away.
Marching after the speeches the participants of the demonstration passed by a house where the argument and brawl that has prompted the demonstration had taken place at the end of July.
The police secured the route of the rally with a cordon, which the demonstrators did try to break through several times. On one occassion, they engaged in throwing objects with the locals, during which Gábor Ferenczi was injured on his temple. Imre Orbán, the vice president of Jobbik’s Veszprém county organization informed the Hungarian News Agency that Gábor Ferenczi’s wound was treated in the local hospital of Ajka; the stone that hit him, according to them, was hurled from the yard of one of the houses.”
The left-wing daily took the story off of the Hungarian news wire: not one journalist was assigned to the story (increasingly this seems to be the strategy of the print media in Hungary: to go with the Hungarian News Agency story). Word for word, the above report is found over and over in other media outlets.
With the exception of some of the pro-government print media, which relied on the disputed reporting of Hír TV. In its reporting, the conservative television channel claimed that Ferenczi’s head was wounded by friendly fire of sorts: that the water bottle that hit him came from his own. But since this occassioned a huge uproar from far-right news portals, they retracted their original report. This is the print version of the story in the end, in its entirety:
“The demonstration held by Jobbik and extreme right organizations close to Jobbik ended without serious disorderly conduct. Two people fainted from the heat while marching.
The crowd proceeded to the house where in the last few weeks a mass brawl took place between two families, one Hungarian, another gypsy, who have been locked in a long-standing feud. Some threw water bottles on houses from which Roma had come out on the streets, but the police fast put an end to this. Gábor Ferenczi of Jobbik was hit with a piece of concrete. Prior to that, the member of parliament held a speech in which he stated that they came with peaceful intentions, but if public safety does not improve in the municipality, they are going to return. The politician demanded a fortified police station for the town previously hit by the red sludge catastrophe. The authorities secured the event with significant forces.”
It would be beyond the scope of this already lengthy post, unfortunately, to comment on the issue at hand: that what took place in Devecser is incitement to racially and ethnically based warfare.
Which is exactly the point, which is exactly how and why the Hungarian far right is gaining ground in Hungary. If you go only by the newspapers and the official media outlets, this story hardly exists at all. When it is made mention of, it is a story distorted to its core: far from the free rampage of hate groups in a far-away Hungarian town, it is about a gathering of “peaceful intentions.”
The task has just got this much more difficult: no longer is this only about the legal, the political and the social fight against extremism, but about the fight against misinformation and silence as well.