Disappointed Eastern Europe Confronts Its Neo-Nazis

Article excerpt

JUST TWO decades ago, Hungary became the hope of the democratic world when a reform-minded government here tore down the hated Iron Curtain and opened the way to the peaceful reunification of Europe.

Today, the neo-Nazi paramilitary Hungarian Guard regularly terrifies isolated Gypsy settlements by staging provocative high-profile power demonstrations there. The same communities are exposed to nightly visits by hooded death-squads torching homes and firing at their fleeing residents. What has gone wrong?

'We must share the blame', admits Miklos Gaspar Tamas, the first opposition deputy to win a parliamentary seat during the heady days of regime change. Within another decade, he fears, Hungary's existing 'capitalist system with all its democratic trappings' will be replaced by naked tyranny, chaos or barbarity. 'I feel deep remorse over this', he declares. 'My generation must do its part to correct the faults that we incorporated in the political system--out of foolishness and anti-Communist zeal--that have made this possible. In this respect, the transition started badly and it has deteriorated further. We must institute basic corrections. Our big debates should address their directions'.

A dramatic manifestation of social disintegration is the rise of the Hungarian Guard, which is modelled on the notoriously undisciplined Arrow-Cross movement that murdered many Jews and Gypsies during the Holocaust. Similar bands are also on the march elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It has been created here as a private army by the extreme-right Jobbik party that has deftly exploited the economic insecurity and social tensions generated by the recession. Post-Communist Europe is particularly vulnerable to racist demagoguery now because its populations have been unprepared for the inherent risks of capitalism.

Jobbik has moved from the fringes of politics to grab 14.8 per cent of the national vote in the elections for the European Union (EU) Parliament on June 7. It has emerged as the third most powerful political party in Hungary certain to win a significant parliamentary presence at the next national elections within a year. Tamas describes the party as disgusting, dangerous and entirely consistent with the traditional aspirations of the Hungarian far-Right.

Tamas is a hugely influential, bearded philosopher aged sixty, with an air of physical fragility. He is often recognized in public, sometimes engaged in serious discussion with his enchanting six-year-old daughter. In my experience, he is always approachable and respectful to strangers. He is occasionally insulted, but never provoked, by uniformed neo-Nazi thugs.

He was a founding member of the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats, which he subsequently quit. 'Two decades ago we were too absorbed in the creation of the institutions of democratic public order', he recalls. 'But in the meanwhile, some two million jobs have been lost. The political elite has allowed the transition to deprive a fifth of our people of a livelihood and social participation without public notice or debate. The country is facing a mighty moral and social crisis that the elite cannot resolve or manage'.

Hungary and its post-Communist East European neighbours have witnessed since the onset of the global recession a phenomenal intensification of Rightist violence. Recent outrages include the apparently random racist murder and attempted murder of Gypsies, a severe beating meted out to at least one Hungarian parliamentary deputy at his home and arson attacks on the properties of several other prominent politicians.

Even Fidesz, the dominant and frequently populist Hungarian parliamentary opposition, has demanded tough legal sanctions against the neo-Nazis. Notorious Western antisemites are busy exploiting the legal loophole. Hungarian neo-Nazis often welcome to their demonstrations such controversial figures as the discredited British historian David Irving, as their guests of honour. …