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.
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"After [the end of Communism], Roma were the first who lost their jobs," says Roma activist Agnes Daroczi, a sociologist at the Hungarian Institute for Culture and Art. "To be frank, there are many of us who are stealing. But when you deeply analyze the situation you see that there aren't any jobs, any possibilities for these people."Skip to next paragraph
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"The gypsies are living worse than 10 or 20 years ago because of unemployment and lack of education," adds Janos Simon of the Hungarian Institute of Political Science. As a result, crime increases – and with it, support for Magyar Garda, with their promise to defend Hungarians. "The government doesn't want to resolve these social problems; they'd rather wait for Magyar Garda to march and then say, 'Look at the primitive antigypsy chauvinists,' and try to use it to their political advantage. It's a dirty game."
Magyar Garda was founded last August with a ceremony at the gates of Buda Castle which was attended by Lajos Fur, who was defense minister in Hungary's first post-Communist government. Fifty-six uniformed members were inducted in that ceremony, and another 600 at a gathering at Budapest's Heroes' Square in October.
The group has held dozens of rallies to "defend Hungary," most in villages with large Roma populations. Its members wear shields and carry flags with the red-and-white Arpad stripes, a symbol of medieval Hungary used by the notorious Arrow Cross Party, which deported or executed a half million Jews and over 50,000 Roma during World War II.
Its political agenda isn't limited to confronting Roma crime. The group's declared aims include revising the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which stripped Hungary of two-thirds of its pre-World War I territory and set its current borders. Any effort to do so is anathema to Hungary's neighbors, particularly Slovakia, whose entire territory was ruled from Budapest prior to Trianon.
Magyar Garda also seeks to build itself into a military force, an army outside the control of the government. "Basically there is no army in Hungary at the moment," explains Mr. Fuzessy, who says force reductions have left it impotent. "If the worst happens and there was no one to defend Hungary, it is the aim of the Hungarian Guard to be the foundation of our national defense."
For her part, Ms. Mohacsi says that if the courts banned Magyar Garda, it would send a constructive signal. "There are many people who ... felt that maybe it wasn't good to say publicly that they don't like gypsies, but now with Magyar Garda maybe they feel it's OK for them to do it," she says."
"An official decision would show to the public that this is not acceptable," she adds. "Such decisions always make people change their minds. If they like or don't like Romani people, maybe they'll keep their opinion to themselves."