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Hungary heading right

Keno Verseck / jsMay 13, 2015

Xenophobia, racism, and right-wing radicalism: Hungary's Jobbik party is only three percentage points behind the ruling Fidesz in recent polls. And the killing of Roma is greeted with indifference.

Elod Novak Vizepräsident der nationalistischen PArtei Jobbik in Ungarn
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Even right-wing media outlets were upset when the leading conservative news platform mandiner.hu ran the headline: "We have never hated foreigners this much."

The impetus for the headline was a new poll on xenophobia and racism published by Tarki, an opinion research institute in Budapest. Both of these issues are more prevalent in Hungary than at any time in its post-communist history. Beyond their dislike of Arabs, Hungarians tend to despise Roma even more. Over 80 percent of respondents had a negative opinion of the them.

The end of Hungary's so-called "Roma murders" trial a few days earlier seemed to underline the poll's conclusions. On May 8, the Budapest Court of Appeals upheld the original guilty verdict against the murderers.

Parallels to the NSU scandal

The case, like that of the NSU murder series in Germany, represents the most serious crime series in Hungarian post-war history. In 2008 and 2009, a group of right-wing terrorists shot six Roma dead, and injured, some severely, another 55 people, most of whom were also Roma.

In a lower court decision, three perpetrators were sentenced to life in prison without parole in August 2013, and an accomplice was given 13 years inprisonment. The appeals court has now upheld those rulings; however, that fact was barely acknowledged by a wholly disinterested Hungarian public.

So far, the only verdict that is legally binding is the one against Istvan Csontos, who acted as chauffeur in the last two murders in April and August of 2009. The three alleged murderers filed objections with the Curia, Hungary's highest court, immediately after the original judgements were handed down. The Curia will not change the verdict, but will investigate the trial for technical flaws. It is thought to be unlikely that they will grant the objections.

Ungarn Viktor Orban erwägt Einführung der Todesstrafe
Prime Minister Orban is moving to the rightImage: picture alliance/dpa/S. Koszticsak

Moving farther to the right

Lack of interest in the Roma murder cases fits to Hungary's general political development, in which the right-wing Jobbik party has a 28 percent approval rating, just a few points behind Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party. He has been attempting to stave off his own party's decline and the rise of Jobbik by taking up issues popular with right-wing extremists - apparently to no avail. Most Hungarian political analysts agree that Orban has only succeeded in strengthening right-wing extremism with this tactic.

The government's ruling majority has also contributed to the spreading indifference towards the victims of the Roma murders. To date, the government has yet to participate in any public commemoration for the victims, and the minor compensations that victims and their families finally received this spring only came about thanks to sustained pressure from civil rights activists.

And that, despite the fact that the Hungarian state bears a substantial amount of responsibility for at least some of the Roma murders - much like the situation with the NSU murders in Germany. If investigators hadn't been sloppy, and passed their knowledge of the Roma murders along to the intelligence agency, the last two murders in April and August 2009 could most likely have been prevented. Survivors have also yet to hear an apology from Ferenc Gyurcsany, the former socialist prime minister on whose watch most of the murders took place.

Nobody is interested in victims

At the same time, there are still a lot of open questions surrounding the Roma murders, according to the liberal politician, Jozsef Gulyas. He was a member of the parliamentary commission investigating the murder series in 2008 and 2009, and now works with civil rights activists to care for survivors. "There is at least one accomplice, and very possibly supporters that we don't know anything about," says Gulyas. "The authorities have yet to provide answers to a lot questions."

Rechtsextreme demonstrieren in Budapest
Right-wing extremists have held numerous demonstrations, like here in BudapestImage: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Almost all of the survivors and their relatives live in utter poverty and therefore could not afford to travel to the capitol last Friday to hear the judgment announced. The Hungarian state also offered no transport assistance to the survivors.

Not even to Krisztian Ronto. He was 19-years-old when one of the murderers shot him in the pelvis with a high-powered rifle from a distance of 70 meters on December 15, 2008. Ronto barely survived the attack, and will remain handicapped for the rest of his life.

Ronto hopes that the tough verdict against the Roma murderers will be upheld. Although he thinks that the chauffeur should have gotten at least 20 years. He says that he'll never be able to understand what the murderers did to him: "What right did they have to judge the lives of others," he asks. "What right to decide who is a Roma, and who should therefore die?"