The town that's a far right bastion

By Colin Freeman

Tiszavasvari is the stronghold of the Jobbik Party which is causing Hungarian Jews to fear for the future.

PM Viktor Orban has been criticised for not taking a firm stance against anti-Semitism.  Photo / AP
PM Viktor Orban has been criticised for not taking a firm stance against anti-Semitism. Photo / AP

As the self-declared "capital" of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party, the town of Tiszavasvari prides itself on being a showcase for how Hungary might look one day.

Since winning control of the local council three years ago on a pledge to fight "gypsy crime", the party has been on a vigorous clean-up campaign, banning prostitution, tidying the streets, and keeping a watchful eye on the shabby outer Roma districts.

It even swore in its own Jobbik "security force" to work alongside the police, only for the uniformed militia, which drew comparisons with Hitler's brownshirts, to be banned by the Government.

Yet gypsies are not the only bogeymen Jobbik has in its sights, as a sign on the green opposite the mayoralty building suggests. In Hungarian and Persian it proudly announces that Tiszavasvari is twinned with Ardabil, a town in Iran.

There is no obvious reason why a drab rust-belt town in Hungary's former mining area should seek links to a city in a hardline Islamic Republic 3220km away.

The real purpose is to show their mutual loathing of Israel. "The Persian people and their leaders are considered pariahs in the eyes of the West, which serves Israeli interests," said Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik MP.

In Hungarian towns such as Tiszavasvari anti-Semitism has seen Jews wiped from the pages of history once before. Holocaust archives show a dozen names of Jewish victims from Tiszavasvari, part of the mass extermination programme that gave Jews in the Hungarian countryside a one in 10 chance of survival in 1944. Some simply disappeared, while others were murdered in Auschwitz, with more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews.

"You can see Jobbik's true nature through this," said Peter Feldmajer, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, which represents an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews, nearly 90 per cent of whom still refuse to disclose their religion publicly. "They hate the Jewish people, and so does the Iranian Government."

Such concerns will loom large in the minds of delegates of the World Jewish Congress, which opens amid tight security today at the Soviet-era Budapest Intercontinental Hotel. The congress normally meets in Jerusalem, but this year it is convening in the Hungarian capital to highlight what its president, Ronald Lauder, the philanthropist and cosmetics heir, describes as a "dramatic" rise in anti-Semitism in the country.

Much of the blame for that is attributed to the Jobbik Party, which was founded just 10 years ago yet now represents the third-largest faction in politics, with 47 of 386 parliamentary seats.

Also in Lauder's sights is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose centre-right Fidesz Party competes for many of the votes for which Jobbik vies, and who has been criticised for not taking a firm stance against anti-Semitism. "The number of anti-Semitic and racist incidents has risen dramatically in Hungary in recent years ... The Hungarian Government must do more to fight this phenomenon."

Earlier this year, the European Union said Orban's party was placing too many curbs on the judiciary and media, measures it said could ultimately disqualify the country from membership.

While Orban insists the measures have been necessary to end decades of corruption and inefficient government under his predecessors, the fear is they are making it easier for groups such as Jobbik to gain a foothold. The party was even boosted by a court decision to allow it to hold an anti-Zionist rally yesterday near Parliament. About 500 protesters gathered in Budapest where Jobbik leader Gabor Vona told them that compensation paid to Holocaust survivors could have been better used, local television reported.

Roughly translated as "the Movement for a Better Hungary", Jobbik's success has far outstripped similar movements in neighbouring former Communist states. Its appeal has been based partly on confronting problems associated with the country's half-million-strong Roma community, which many Hungarians see as crime-prone and welfare-dependent.

But as the global banking crisis hit Hungary hard, leaving more than one in 10 jobless, Jobbik revived a folk devil - the wealthy, all-controlling Jews, who were traditionally influential in the finance world.

Jewish community leaders have been attacked in the street and cemeteries desecrated. As well as anti-Semitism rallies, far-right biker gangs have held ugly demonstrations known as "Step on the Gas" days. Gyongyosi was castigated recently for saying that a "security" register should be created of Hungarian MPs and civil servants who were of "Jewish origin".

While verbal abuse has apparently increased, incidents of actual violence are still relatively rare in Hungary: Feldmajer recollects only about 50 physical attacks in 20 years. And it is fair to say that the bootboy image by no means fits all of Jobbik's supporters, many of whom are respectable working people. The talk is of frustration with politically correct attitudes to crime and immigration, of children no longer being taught Hungarian history properly in schools, and of a loss of faith in mainstream political parties, whose economic record since communism's collapse is patchy at best.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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