Hungary's anti-Roma militia grows
Targeting the criminal activity of the country's minority Roma population, the Magyar Garda style themselves protectors of ethnic Hungarians.
The far right is on the march in Hungary, literally.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent months, hardly a week has gone by without a rally being held by the Magyar Garda or "Hungarian Guard," their members decked out in black boots and uniforms bearing nationalist symbols last employed by Hungarian fascists during World War II.
Their target: Romani (gypsy) criminals and those who want to integrate Romani children into the country's schools. Their rallies usually take place in communities with a large Roma population, where they style themselves as protectors of ethnic Hungarians.
"Roma criminality is a huge problem in Hungary that's been swept under the carpet," says Zoltan Fuzessy, a spokesman for Jobbik, a far-right political party whose leader, Gabor Vona, is also the leader of Magyar Garda. "The number of our supporters is growing day by day."
Their opponents are growing as well. Budapest's public prosecutor has called for the group to be banned, while Mayor Gabor Demszky has called on municipal officials across the country not to attend its events. Hungary's president, Laszlo Solyom, has described its rallies as "immensely damaging," while Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany calls it "the shame of Hungary."
"It is really Nazism and it is serious and becoming more and more so," says Viktoria Mohacsi, a Roma leader and a Hungarian representative in the European Parliament. "Many [Romani] organizations are calling on me to join secret meetings to organize ourselves the way the Hungarian Guard has. If this happens, there will be killing; there could be civil war."
Istvan Rev, a historian at Central European University, agrees. "The Roma are the open target and they have a basis to be frightened," he says. "If they have no other choice than to react, then everybody has a firm basis for being concerned."
Others take Hungary's center-left government to task for failing to address the root cause of the tensions Magyar Garda exploits: the appalling social and economic situation of the Roma, who account for between 8 and 10 percent of Hungary's 10 million people.
Although Hungary is part of the European Union, many of its Roma live in conditions comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa. Romani activists estimate adult unemployment at 70 percent, and official figures show that fewer than 5 percent of Romani children complete high school.