The ruling conservative party Fidesz has brushed off a Sunday protest calling for action over an incendiary anti-Roma article by one of its founder members. Spokeswoman Gabriella Selmeczy accused left-wing and liberal opposition parties of “siding with murderers” by attacking Zsolt Bayer’s column in the right-wing Magyar Hírlap newspaper.
Bayer, a party member who holds no political office, had asserted that a “significant” part of Hungary’s Roma population consisted of “animals” who should be excluded from society.
His diatribe, published the previous weekend, was a reaction to the stabbing on New Year’s Eve of two young men in the toilets of a bar in Szigethalom, a small town on the southern fringe of the capital. Subsequent media reports identified one of two assailants, who was arrested, as a 17-year-old Roma man. “This part of the Gypsy population are animals, and behave as animals… Let there be no more animals… A solution must be found – immediately and by any means,” Bayer wrote.
Message to protesters
The protest outside Fidesz headquarters in District VI (see main photo) was called by the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK), a breakaway party led by former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyucsány. The several hundred protesters arrived to find a large banner across the front of the building exhorting “Don’t stand with the murderers’ party. Don’t listen to Ron Werber!” This was a reference to the US-Israeli campaign strategist who worked with the Socialist Party in its narrow defeat of Fidesz in 2002, and has recently been hired again with an eye on the 2014 election.
Gyurcsány, one of many opposition politicians present at the demonstration, wore a card round his neck reading “I am a gypsy too”. DK deputy chairman Ágnes Vadai criticised Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for remaining silent over the actions of his friend and Fidesz co-founder. She again challenged Orbán to publicly distance himself from Bayer in a television interview later in the day.
Groups represented at the protest besides the Socialist Party (MSZP) itself included the Roma organisation Lasso Drom and Hungarian Solidarity, part of former premier Gordon Bajnai’s Together 2014, a rainbow alliance of left-wing and liberal groups aiming to unseat Orbán’s government at the next election. A letter from green LMP’s president András Schiffer was read out, prompting jeers from those unhappy with the party’s refusal to formally participate in the protest.
The extreme-right party Jobbik staged a torch-lit protest on Saturday in Szigethalom, the scene of a New Year’s Eve stabbing in a bar of two young athletes, reportedly by Roma youths. “The issue of Gypsy crime can only be resolved by Jobbik once the party is in power,” party deputy chairman János Volner told several hundred supporters, state news agency MTI reported. In a statement issued the following day as opposition groups prepared to protest in front of Fidesz headquarters, Jobbik said Bayer had been right to compare Roma criminals to animals.
Deflect and redirect
Fidesz, meanwhile, appeared determined to present the outrage over Bayer’s writing as mere political theatre. “Those who instead of condemning the perpetrators of a brutal crime organise a street circus are unfit to hold political office,” Selmeczi wrote in her statement to state news agency MTI. “The left wing is encouraging criminals by blaming not the killers but those who are outraged [by their crimes],” she said. Fidesz would be looking into ways to tackle violent crime, Selmeczi said while calling on the opposition to stop its own “hate campaign”.Deputy PM waters down criticism
Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, the only member of the governing alliance to have gone on record condemning Zsolt Bayer’s anti-Roma article, this week watered down his criticism. “I know Zsolt Bayer and I cannot presume that he really believed what he wrote,” Navracsics said in an interview on pro-government news channel HírTV.
In a follow-up article, Bayer declared that his words had been deliberately misinterpreted and he never advocated “liquidating” Hungary’s Roma population. Navracsics accepted this as evidence that the right-wing polemicist and pro-government activist had recognised he had overstepped the mark.
In an interview on independent channel ATV a week earlier the deputy prime minister had condemned Bayer’s article, saying there was “no room in Fidesz for people who consider groups of people to be animals”.
Horror in Brussels
EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes slammed the anti-Roma article by a founder member of the ruling Fidesz party in a tweet on Monday. “I am horrified by the words of Zsolt Bayer about Hungary’s Roma community (‘animals’ etc.). This is not what I call freedom of speech/media,” Kroes told her 59,000 Twitter followers, whom she directed to this newspaper.
With media regulation falling within her purview, the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda has often found herself at loggerheads with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s conservative administration. “If someone calls Roma community ‘not human’ – I’m talking about Zsolt Bayer of Fidesz in Hungary – that is a sign they’re not a worthy ally,” she said on the micro-blogging site. This came the week after Justice and Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding said Bayer’s article was unacceptable.