Athena Institute

Magyar

Domestic Extremism in Hungary - a U.S. Perception

2011-09-05
After the highly controversial release of US Embassy Budapest diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, an initial analysis of US perceptions on the domestic extremism field in Hungary makes clear that while providing mostly accurate factual information about developments, the Embassy - just as Hungarian governmental and non-governmental actors - were neither able to provide context, nor capable of realizing the shift in the threat environment.

An Initial Analysis

 

The release of US Embassy Budapest diplomatic cables by Wikileaks - while a highly controversial move - allows an initial analysis of US perceptions on the domestic extremism field in Hungary.


The Cables in General

To assess how US diplomats perceived the evolving threat environment in Hungary, Athena Institute analysts reviewed all relevant diplomatic cables available dated between 2008 April and 2010 February.

Almost all cables were unclassified suggesting that Embassy personnel assessed the situation mainly on the basis of open source and/or press information as well as open discussions with Hungarian citizens.

More interestingly, most cables were labeled - tagged, to indicate subject - as political: most used tags are internal political affairs, external political relations, human rights and social conditions. This reflects Embassy personnel’s view - while also offers a perception to decision-makers in Washington - that the issue should be understood in terms of politics or party politics. Only in four cases were cables labeled by tags like security, national security or terrorism.


Cables Reporting on Specific Groups

Most Embassy cables detail developments concerning the banned Hungarian Guard. These reports provides detailed information about the goals, symbols - “associated with the WWII fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross Party” -, membership numbers, political links, public support of the extremist group as well as actions carried out by the extremist group while they also details law-enforcement operations against the group and the process of banning the organization by the Hungarian courts. Diplomats usually describe the organization as a ‘far-right’, ‘paramilitary’, ‘extremist’ group and contextualize its operations mainly in terms of party politics and human rights.

One released cable provide information about the group of Roma serial killers, describing the extremist group as the ‘Gang of Four’. While describing the effort of Hungarian law-enforcement and the contribution of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify the perpetrators in detail, the cable give an account of members of the group, a participant’s previous KFOR tour in Kosovo and the perpetrators previous contacts with extremist groups while also reporting about the group’s political aims (to incite violence between Hungarian Roma and non-Roma communities). Once again, the report falls short in providing broader context as well as possible consequences of the domestic terrorism acts carried out by the group.

Another report details developments related to the Hungarian Arrows National Liberation Army / Hunnia Movement. Describing their activities as terrorism, the Embassy qualified the group as a ‘far-right extremist group’. Diplomats mention that ‘Hungary's legal code does not provide for the designation of domestic terrorist organizations, Hungarian authorities nonetheless carefully monitor potential extremist groups and closely cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and other agencies.’ However, they neither reflect on possible linkages with other extremist organizations, nor raise any perspective in terms of the group’s ability to further radicalize others.

The Embassy mentions the kuruc.info group only once without providing context.

Cables sporadically report on other incidents - Molotov-cocktail attacks against parliamentary party offices, etc -, but this reporting remains very scarce and unsystematic.


An Assessment

In an early 2009 cable, the Embassy assessed that

‘Small, fractional fringe element groups of Neo-Nazis and a similarly small skinhead presence are present in Hungarian society but rarely adversely impact foreigners. Their activities, particularly rallies, are strictly limited and monitored by police.’

This - just as several other qualifications - makes clear that while providing mostly accurate factual information about developments, the Embassy - just as Hungarian governmental and non-governmental actors - were neither able to provide context, nor capable of realizing the shift in the threat environment.

On the other hand, one may also consider the fact that as extremist groups active in Hungary have no specific anti-American character, domestic extremism was not a serious cause for concern from the point of view of important US interests. Still, Embassy cables reporting about domestic extremism in Hungary reflects a limited understanding: they fall short on establishing a connection with the 2006 Fall riots - the ‘birth’ of organized extremist groups in the country -, the Hungarian Guard phenomena and the Roma serial killers that put together represented the shift in the environment.

As the last available cable was sent to Washington in February, 2010, the year that brought some relative calm since the country - and active extremist groups operating in it - were awaiting the general elections, then the first steps of the new government, it is highly likely that the Embassy’s perception did not change - until the spring of 2011 and the developments taking place in Gyöngyöspata.