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Nov 22, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Look who’s got their stamp of approval now

As Hungarian government and law enforcement fight to counter extremism, well-known left-wing figures have been proposing some strange alliances. Their latest ideas should be condemned, especially in light of the recent attack on Hungarian police.

Recently, family and friends laid to rest the 46 year-old Hungarian policeman who was killed in the line of duty on October 26th. The officer was allegedly shot by a 76 year-old man, a leader of a right-wing extremist organization that celebrated Hungary’s World War II-era government that collaborated with the Nazis. It is the same organization that had plotted to assassin Prime Minister Orbán in 2015, resulting in the arrest of two of its members.

Earlier this week, at dawn on Tuesday, the police and counter-terrorism forces confiscated a supply of illegal weapons and explosives from nine locations, warehouses associated with extreme right wing organizations, and arrested twelve people.

The brave officer lost his life while carrying out a police action that was an earlier stage of a coordinated crackdown on a number of right-wing paramilitary organizations that were suspected of hiding illegal weapons. The 76 year-old suspect in the murder case is reported to have engaged in a firefight with law enforcement and barricaded himself in his own home before counter-terrorist units captured him.  

This is not the first time that Hungary’s laws and law enforcement have clashed with right-wing extremist, paramilitary groups.

Under the previous Orbán Government (2010-2014), the prime minister called for a zero-tolerance plan against right wing extremism. Hungary’s new Fundamental Law includes some of the most far-reaching sanctions, banning hate speech and defamation against groups of people, a move that saw much criticism at the time.

Paramilitary organizations were banned by the Penal Code in 2011, making “uniformed crime” – that is, marching in uniforms with the intent of causing fear or acting like an official uniformed body without authorization – punishable for up to two years. When the measure was accepted, then Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics explained that it was needed because the number of these groups were rising and causing “reasonable fear in members of certain national, ethnic, racial or religious groups and thus sparking ethnic tensions.”

Hungary’s first well-known, apparently paramilitary group was Magyar Gárda – the Hungarian Guard – founded and supported by Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party. Hungarian courts ruled that the organization would have to be dissolved, but the group reappeared, sometimes under other names, and continued their marches in uniform, campaigning against what they called “Gypsy crimes” and intimidating ethnic minorities. This came to an end with that modification to the Penal Code.

The Hungarian Guard is not the only paramilitary group to which Jobbik has had or still has ties. A member of the extremist group implicated in the killing of the police officer was photographed with a member of parliament from Jobbik. That MP, Márton Gyöngyösi, made a name for himself a few years ago when he called for the listing of “people of Jewish origin” in the Hungarian Parliament and Hungarian government.

Furthermore, Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, was photographed with the son of the man who killed the police officer, an individual considered, according to reports, to be the de facto leader of the group. Jobbik has also had “cooperation agreements” with other notorious, paramilitary groups.

For many years, detractors and critics here at home and internationally have insisted on “secret ties” between the governing party Fidesz and the far-right, particularly Jobbik. Never mind that it was Fidesz that outlawed extremists organizations and implemented strong sanctions against hate speech. The charges never had any serious evidence and the sophisticated observer could see through them. But in some circles, the smear campaign found a receptive audience.

So it came as a surprise to hear proposals from the same so-called intellectuals for cooperation of a different kind. Jobbik, it seems, would be a terrific ally for the left-wing opposition.

A staunch, left-wing critic of the Orbán Government, Eva S. Balogh, published a post on her blog recently entitled, “A possible opposition election strategy for 2018.” She wrote, “Today I can imagine temporary cooperation with Gábor Vona’s Jobbik because I’m more and more convinced that without them there is no way to remove the Fidesz regime. I think that Gábor Vona is a great deal less dangerous.”

She is not alone. Ferenc Kőszeg, an ideological voice of Hungary’s defunct liberal party, SZDSZ, wrote in the left-wing weekly Élet és irodalom that “against Orbán, one could even vote for Vona.”

So as the Hungarian government is busy fighting extremism, the voices of the opposition are working against this fight. A coalition with a party associated with paramilitary groups is suddenly okay. The far-right Jobbik now has the left-wing intellectuals’ stamp of approval.

(Cover image: Counter Terrrorism Center - TEK captures guns at secret extremist storage. Source: police.hu)