Athena Institute


Incident Report No.2.

During the first week of March, 2011, the New Hungarian Guard carried out a symbolic attack against Roma Hungarians. The operation was designed to wage a symbolic battle against the Roma community. The Guard was successful in humiliating the community. The Incident Report details facts and provides an initial analysis.

Place: Gyöngyöspata
Date: March 1 - 6, 2011
Type of incident: symbolic attack against the Hungarian Roma community
Involved hate group(s): New Hungarian Guard

The Facts

During the first week of March, 2011, members of the New Hungarian Guard set up ‘patrols’ in Gyöngyöspata, a village of an app. 2800 people in Northern-Hungary. A combination of petty crime, a personal tragedy and economic hardships of an economically deeply deprived region led to moderate ethnic tensions that local authorities were unable to handle. The New Hungarian Guard sought to exploit these tensions.

It is reasonable to assume that the campaign - including its preparation phase - was a result of a collaboration among different far-right extremist groups that can be summarized as follows (based on media reports and Athena Institute sources present).

  1. The group prepared the ground with a propaganda campaign carried out in the past few weeks envisioning a civil war resulting from high ethnic tensions on a local level. The extremist group manipulated news to provide a ‘factual’ basis for its claims.
  2. The New Hungarian Guard - probably in cooperation with other extremist organizations - set up local ‘patrols’ to ‘defend the local population against Roma terrorism’. The Guard carried out the operation under the flag of the legally registered ‘For a Better Future’ Civic Guard Association. On the association’s website, a link can be found that leads to the website of the Hungarian National Guard, another splinter group of the banned organization.
  3. During the week, leaflets depicting the logo of the banned Hungarian Guard called for participation at the rally to be held were distributed.
  4. Finally, an organized rally took place that the New Hungarian Guard used to send a clear message to Roma Hungarians (e.g. ‘that they should find another country’). After the rally, hundreds of uniformed Guard members marched to the houses of local Roma leaders and ‘asked them’ to sign an ‘agreement’ on the ‘rules of co-existence’, including how Roma Hungarians shall greet fellow villagers, what clothing it is acceptable to wear, etc.

While it remains unclear whether there was direct coordination among the groups or simply ‘everyone knew what to do’ - still, such coordinated campaigns are unknown since the original Guard was banned by the Court.

Following up the events, the National Police reacted with dispatching additional forces during the past week. Parallel patrols - carried out by the national Police and by the New Hungarian Guard - however resulted in an impression that regular ‘patrols’ set up by the Guard are legitimate actions.

The Police did not interfere with the march of the Guard.

Understanding Symbolic Aggression

The operation was designed to wage a symbolic battle against Roma Hungarians and the Guard was careful in planning the operation. It selected a weak target with moderate tensions and a divided Roma community. They laid the ground by setting up regular ‘patrols’ a week before to put pressure on their symbolic target. Then, in Sunday evening (March 6, 2011), they mounted a - symbolic - attack: hundreds of their members marched to the houses of Roma Hungarians while shouting racist slogans like ‘there is Gypsy crime!’ and ‘black monkeys!’ Finally, the Guard achieved ‘victory’ as it was successful in humiliating local Roma Hungarians by ‘asking them’ to sign the petition designed to show up that Roma Hungarians are uncivilized people (i.e. ‘what clothing it is proper to wear on the streets’).

The Aftermath

It is clear that Hungarian authorities were caught off guard: the civic association was able to acquire necessary authorization to set up its ‘patrols’. It is unclear however whether the authorities permitted the operation as they did not know the background of the civic association or they had no legal ground to block its actions.

As of now, the sole indication that the situation is understood came from the local level: after the events the Major of Gyöngyöspata signaled that they are going to withdraw the authorization of the civic association to carry out further ‘patrols’.

On a national level, major actors are yet to react. Their response will be a clear signal while it is also going to reflect whether they understood the nature of such symbolic attacks, thus the necessity to stop them. The lack of clear signals will make clear that major actors are still hope to outmaneuver far-right extremist groups by avoiding direct confrontation. The inherent risk in such a strategy is also clear: unexpected developments or dynamics among competing extremist groups can lead to a breakthrough (i.e. a serious physical attack) after which major actors will have to confront extremism from a weaker position.