Hundreds of Roma held a peaceful march in the eastern city of Miskolc on Wednesday afternoon in protest against the extreme-right party Jobbik, which planned to hold a rally against “Gypsy crime” that evening. Although supporters of Jobbik regularly assemble to rant against their favourite scapegoat for all of Hungary’s ills, it is unusual for the Roma community to mount such a large-scale response. Roma rights activist Aladár Horváth had promised the largest mobilisation of Roma against racism in years; organisers later said many had stayed away out of fear.
The marchers proceeded from the run-down Avas housing estate, population over 10,000, to the centre of Miskolc, which has been blighted by unemployment since the closure of communist-era industrial plants. Mayor Ákos Kriza (of the ruling Fidesz party) had spoken to reporters in the morning of hundreds of families that had “criminalised” the estate after being encouraged to move in by policies of the previous Socialist government.
“I was living in the Avas when he (Kriza) was still a Romanian citizen,” Horváth told the protesters, according to local news website Borsod Online. “No, he doesn’t have to go back but he should uphold the rights of Hungarian Gypsies.”
On Thursday, Kriza issued a statement condemning “certain parties” for using the housing estate as a “political playground”.
The previous evening, thousands of Jobbik supporters poured in, many in militaristic costume (a court ruling outlawing the paramilitary Hungarian Guard and a government decree last year banning uniformed vigilante groups notwithstanding). They marched into the Avas estate chanting anti-Gypsy slogans. The extremist party played on local antipathy towards Roma families who had moved into the estate, calling them “nest builders” after a now-defunct state subsidy scheme for first-home buyers.
Jobbik leader Gábor Vona kicked off proceedings. “We will put an end to the era of Gypsies driving Mercs,” he said (the majority of Hungary’s Roma live in abject poverty). Other highlights: “Those who don’t work should not have children”, and “Yes, Jobbik is for segregation, but of decent people and those who are not decent”. The biggest applause came after a call to bring back the death penalty, index.hu reported.
Opposition party Democratic Coalition – whose founder, former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, has spent time living on the Avas estate in recent years – also held a counter demonstration to Jobbik’s rally. The party’s deputy leader, Csaba Molnár, said he saw the roots of the current springtime for Hungary’s extreme right in a grassroots patriotism movement set up by now-Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after an election defeat in 2002. One of its most famous alumni is Jobbik founder and leader Gábor Vona.
“I accuse Viktor Orbán,” Molnár said. “If he had not set up the citizens’ circles, then today there would be no Jobbik and no Hungarian Guard… strutting around the streets.”