Summary and Forecast
However, prohibition does not automatically stop the activities of such organisations or eliminate the political risk they generate. The banned organisations may continue to operate in a legal limbo or underground. Without the need to adhere to legal standards and a partial escape from public scrutiny may lead to the further radicalisation of the membership. Following the court decision the Hungarian Guard is expected to increase its activity to demonstrate the continued viability of the movement, just as the Slovak Brotherhood has held rallies following its banning. The activities of these extremist groups also aggravate relations among countries of the region undermining regional stability – as demonstrated by the Hungarian/Slovak conflict.
The guard-like organizations can bring political support for the parties behind them, thus some of them have a chance to strengthen and enter the European Parliament. The fact that the Jobbik party in Hungary got the third place (with 8.5% of the votes) in the interim elections in Ferencváros district held last weekend, signicantly increases the chance for the party to get into the EP, as the party can permanently refer to this result as an evidence of political success.
However, extremist organisations are not the primary moving force behind rising and more visible ethnic tensions. The social roots of the problem are seen in the poor integration of the Roma population, public security concerns and shaken public confidence in state organisations (e.g., the police, the courts and the army). These sentiments prevalent in East- and Central-European countries create and perpetuate demand for political organisations and ideologies offering quick and radical solutions for issues described above.
The global economic crisis may acerbate ethnic tensions in the region:
- The crisis hits the hardest sectors where typically under-skilled Roma could find jobs in the past (e.g., construction and processing industries). As a result, an already extremely high Roma unemployment rate (70 percent in Hungary and an estimated 90 percent in the Czech Republic) could increase even further, deepening their social deprivation and segregation, while intensifying tensions between the Roma and the majority populations.
- Existential fears may render extremist rhetoric blaming the minority for current difficulties more convincing. In many cases debate over redistribution generated by the crisis is given an ethnic slant and turned against the Roma in need of state assistance.
- In a time of crisis a potential rise in crime may increase prejudice against the Roma population. A large majority of the population in the region automatically associates crime with the Roma minority (“Roma crime”), while at a time of plummeting living standards some members of the Roma community may indeed resort to crime for survival.
- The activities of extremist organisations may intensify anti-EU sentiment in the region. In the eyes of these nationalist and anti-globalisation groups EU membership carries the threat of losing national sovereignty. For instance, in the words of the president of the Hungarian Guard Society, Gábor Vona, “In the disguise of a helping hand, the EU is in fact a murderous embrace”. General opinion of the EU may decline in the wake of an economic crisis, and these organisations could articulate popular
disappointment and use it to increase their support base.
- To date the activities of extremists on the whole have not had a signficant and lasting impact on the economy. At the same time, radical actions may affect and shape some aspects of regional economic processes, as well as the general investment environment:
- Street violence. Violent actions by extremists (typically tied to national holidays and symbolic dates) and ethnic violence may have a negative impact on tourism to the region. According to some estimates, the 2006 turmoil in Hungary resulted in a loss of HUF 1.5 billion (around EUR 600 billion) in revenues.
- Global anti-capitalism. Representatives of “international capital”, foreign investors and major retail chains are the favourite targets of extremist organisations. In this context, Hospinvest Zrt. (a company engaged in hospital management making a private investment in a hospital in Eger) and owned in part by EBRD, has become a favourite extremist target.
- Anti-Chinese prejudice. Some extreme-right parties of the region have held demonstrations against Chinese and other far-eastern merchant on several occasions, calling for the boycott of these goods and stores. So far these calls have been largely ignored, although on the long run they can strengthen the anti-immigrant sentiments.
- Nationalism and the undermining of international relations. The activism of nationalist and Chauvinist organisations could significantly undermine relations among regional countries, clearly illustrated by the recent conflict between Hungary and Slovakia. And deteriorating diplomatic ties could be reflected in shrinking commercial and tourist activities.
Radicals: in lock step
Roughly at the same time and with similar objectives, in the summer of 2007 so-called “self-defence guards” were established in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary. First a National Guard was founded in Bulgaria, followed by the Hungarian Guard in Hungary and the National Guard in the Czech Republic.
These groups, often branded incorrectly as “neo-Nazi”, share the following features: militant posturing in uniforms, anti-Roma and authoritarian ideology, the promise of improved public security, as well as anti-Semitism, anti-globalisation, segregation and Chauvinist nationalism.
Their all but simultaneous emergence suggests that the region's radical parties and organisations, while far from having developed close ties (their potential cooperation is ruled out by their rabid nationalism) watch each other closely and successfully adopt in their own strategy “know-how” applied elsewhere.
For these organisations violence and a threatening and provocative confrontation with minorities is not an end in itself, even as movements of this kind often hold out the promise of offering effective protection for citizens in the face of incompetent state law-enforcement bodies (e.g. the police and the army).
Instead, these guards and similar organisations pursue party policy objectives, i.e., are used as fronts by radical parties standing behind them. The Hungarian Guard was established by the “Movement for a Better Hungary” (Jobbik), the Czech National Guard (not identical with the banned Czech Workers Party) by the Czech National Party and the Bulgarian National Guard by the Bulgarian National Union. These organisations promise to bring a number of political benefits to their sponsoring party:
- Provide media coverage: organisations marching in uniform can always count on heightened public attention.
- Outsourcing extremist activities: instead of political parties participating in democratic competition, political actions testing the limits of the constitutional framework are left to organisations they help to spawn.
- Increase the efficiency of party organisation: the campaign built on deteriorating public security expands the party's rural base and its organisation-building efforts; a presence in small communities helps the party to maintain regular contact with the local population.
- Mobilisation of young people: anti-establishment youth disappointed with party politics may be attracted to radical organisations disguised as civic groups.
From the point of party politics the activities of these guards are effective. As a result, despite legal proscription and often apparent disorganisation, their organisational structures and ideologies may serve as a model for the radical right in the region, i.e., similar organisations may surface in additional East- and Central-European countries.
Guards in East- and Central-Europe
- Slovakia: The Slovak Brotherhood organisation was established back in 2003. The Slovak government recently banned the anti-Hungarian, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic organisation (with a uniform reminiscent of Slovak Fascists active during WW II). Two years ago a court ruling banned the operation of a party using the same name.
- Hungary: The Hungarian Guard, established by the “Movement for a Better Hungary” in August 2007, was accompanied by intense media interest. In the summer and fall of 2007 a number of self-defence guards emerged, although today only Jobbik's organisation represents a considerable force attracting regular public attention, while the National Militia is a close ally. Due to Jobbik's political ambitions, party representatives never attend (at least officially) public events organised by the Hungarian Guard. Major organisers include György Budaházy and László Toroczkai gaining public attention in the fall of 2006, as well as the 64-Counties Youth Movement. In December 2008 the first “Roma Guard” was established in Baranya County to prevent violent attacks against the Roma population.
- Czech Republic: The far-right National Party announced the establishment of the National Guard in the summer of 2007. According to the party's platform the organisation would provide security for party events, assist the population in case of a natural disaster and, at the request of oppressed Moravians and Czechs, perform security services. At the time, National Party president Petra Edelmannová justified the need for the Guard by claiming that the police cannot guarantee public security and the majority population lives in fear of the minority. In 2007 the party proposed a “final solution” for the Roma issue, recommending the resettlement of the Roma population to India. A similar organisation, the ultra right Workers Party was banned the same year after the militia-type militant organisation protesting “Roma terror” clashed with the police mobilised to protect residents of Litvínov, a Roma neighbourhood.
- Bulgaria: The far-right Bulgarian National Union (BNU) established its voluntary guard in the summer of 2007, claiming the Bulgarian society “suffered under Roma terror over the past 17 years”, while successive governments and police chiefs did not move a finger. The establishment of the Bulgarian Guard followed mass Roma riots in Kraszna Poljana, a district in Soa. The National Guard is blamed for a number of violent assaults against the Roma population of the district. In response, some Bulgarian Roma organisations announced plans to establish their own self-defence organisations followed by violent clashes between anti-Roma and Roma guard units.
- Romania: While no organisations similar to those in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria were established in Romania, on a number of occasions the radical right played a prominent role in Romania's domestic politics. Ever since its establishment, the anti-Hungarian Greater Romania Party has always crossed the parliamentary threshold until the most recent general election held a few weeks ago. Today's succession organisation of a legionnaire movement active in WW II, the Noua Dreapta (New Right – ND) plays an increasingly prominent role. It focuses almost exclusively on the Roma and the gay population and its members often display their uniform in public.
- Poland: Although the radical right has a strong political representation, so far no guard organisations similar to those seen in countries of the region have emerged.
Modernising far right
In East- and Central-Europe the radical right has undergone significant change: in contrast to earlier neo-Nazi groups promoting anachronistic political objectives, today's far-right parties and organisations have been more successful in the political arena. Typically, following the regime change in Eastern Europe these groups dusted o past issues and returned to ideologies represented by the far right between the two world wars and during WW II. As opposed to mainly long held historic grievances and anti-Semitism (or along with these), confrontation with minorities, most often the Roma population, came into focus. In the past a similar process was seen among West European extremist parties: groups initially preoccupied with historic grievances gradually shifted their attention to immigrants. As most countries in Eastern Europe have no sizeable immigrant populations, “their role” is filled with the Roma.
At the same time, it cannot be stated unequivocally that in East- and Central-Europe a changing and, in respect to both its aims at methods, and increasingly modern far right has gained significant political clout. However, the political environment defined by the coming economic crisis and the upcoming European Parliamentary election clearly boost the political chances of these organisations. Based on international experience, the EP election (typically characterised by low turnout, lack of domestic policy issues and serving as a lighting rod for dissatisfaction with the government and the political elite) definitely favour extremists.
The political future of these organisations greatly depends on the response given to this phenomenon by democratic parties and constitutional institutions. It is to be seen, for instance, to what extent the issue of Roma integration under increasing social pressure (one of the largest failures of the entire region so far) is moved to the top of the political agenda. If the region's parliamentary parties can take action to solve wider social problems placed into an ethnic context by various national guards (e.g., deteriorating public security or anomalies of the welfare system), this could significantly reduce these organisations’ scope for action.
Socio/political factors playing in the hands of extremists
Intensifying conflict between the Roma and the majority population
The regime change in East- and Central-Europe resulted in declining living standards for the Roma population. While the Roma faced difficulties even before the regime change, the system of state Socialism provided jobs for the majority of the Roma population, especially in areas of the economy not requiring advanced skills. Following the regime change the Roma were unable to adjust to a competitive environment, explained primarily by strong segregation in many areas (e.g., education) and the Roma population's traditional educational and cultural decit. This is the major reason for extremely high unemployment, leaving a large part of the Roma population in severe poverty. In addition, strong social stigmatisation and segregation has relegated the Roma to a kind of “pariah-status”, which, in turn, significantly reduces their chances for advancement, increases the incidence of deviancy in the community and generates strong alienation from the majority population.
The integration policies pursued by regional countries so far failed without exception. At the same time it also became clear that a policy based on direct assistance cannot be sustained as it increases the Roma population’s dependence on the state, undermines their chances of adjusting to the free-market economy and reinforces social attitudes describing all Roma as “parasites”, which, along with the stereotype of Roma predisposition for crime, is one of the most intractable prejudices in the region.
While anti-Roma sentiment is not new to the region, already existing stereotypes were moved to the fore by the resurgent activism of far-right organisations. Instead of creating it, extremist organisations serve an existing social need. At the same time, with their symbolically aggressive actions against the Roma (e.g., marching through Roma-populated areas to sow fear) they have significantly contributed to the manifestation of prejudices in the form of ethnic violence. Moreover, in response to provocation by the guards the Roma established their own defence organisations in a number of countries and clashes between the two sides further deteriorate the relationship between the Roma and the majority populations.
Dissatisfaction with constitutional institutions and public security concerns
The rising prominence of authoritarian far-right parties in the region is also tied to a general dissatisfaction with constitutional bodies and state institutions. Following the regime change the role of the state has been rolled back significantly in these countries, while simultaneously with the disappearance of authoritarian regimes public security deteriorated. In the meantime, the population's unrealistically high expectations of the state, the legacy of state-socialism, continue to persist.
As a result of dissatisfaction with the state, some part of the population looks to non-state organisations to perform state responsibilities. Far-right movements respond precisely to these demands when they promise to take over from the government some aspects of poorly-run public services, like security, judiciary, national defence and welfare. The Hungarian Guard and similar organisations try to implement the “state-within-a-state” model not in a centralised fashion, but rather at the local community level. This is explained in part by strategic factors: as on the whole these organisations do not have adequate resources to run nationwide campaigns, they try to build from the bottom up, and small communities can be mobilised with the promise of solving locally relevant problems through direct and personal contact – thereby offering an alternative to the services of “distant” and “faceless” bureaucratic state institutions. In short, trust in self-defence guards is boosted (primarily outside urban centres) by deteriorating public security and a general discontent with democratic institutions and democracy itself.
Banning of the hungarian guard: legal and political fallout
The guard phenomenon is not unique to Hungary and the far-right's appeal to society in most country's of the region is at least as strong as in this country. However, lately Hungary has received special attention due in part to the actions of extremists in Budapest in the fall of 2006. Thanks to the heightened attention (from within and outside the region) concerning the Hungarian Guard it will be important to see the effect of a recent unbinding court ruling on the Hungarian Guard itself and other extremist organisations in the region.
- Since the fall of 2006 no ruling of this firmness and magnitude has been passed related to the legal framework regarding the political activism of extremists.
- However, the dissolution of the Hungarian Guard by the Metropolitan Court of Budapest has not yet created a legally unequivocal situation.
- The ruling is not final and the organisation decided to lodge an appeal. As a result, the legal process could be prolonged for quite some time.
- The recently dissolved organisation, the Hungarian Guard Cultural and Heritage Society, is not identical, according to its leaders, to the Hungarian Guard Movement, which organises marches in rural areas. By making that legal distinction leaders of the Guard tried to avert the possibility of the dissolution. As a result, further legal arguments may be raised concerning the future of the movement and related police/national security measures even if the initial decision is upheld on appeal.
- While the court may ban the operation of the Guard in a binding decision and the Hungarian Guard may cease to exist as an officially registered organisation (i.e., it may not collect membership fees, keep an account or own property) it may continue to hold marches as its members have the option to report these to the police as private individuals.
- The first instance ruling to dissolve the Hungarian Guard may in the short term mobilise radical organisations and the Hungarian Guard itself, which may try to demonstrate its continued viability through imposing marches (e.g., a rally against the Hanukkah celebration and the “Advent Show of Force” in Budapest).
- In the longer term, with the conclusion of the judicial procedure one of the major outside forces controlling the Hungarian Guard will have been removed: the judicial procedure itself. If the Guard becomes illegal, the legal barrier will no longer apply. This leaves Jobbik, the party creating the organisation, in a conundrum, for gaining a seat in Parliament is essential for the party, an objective incompatible with running an illegal organisation. Members’ increasing readiness to engage in illegal action makes the control of a recently consolidated organisation rather dificult. The movement's increasingly independent cells released of legal, political and public control carry the risk of further radicalisation.
- Following the dissolution of the Hungarian Guard, Parliamentary parties have no choice but to take up the issues hitherto monopolised by the radicals. So far extremists managed to link prejudices against the Roma and the issue of public security with hardly anyone challenging their position, a situation that only strengthened the Hungarian Guard.