Hungary: For Gyöngyöspata's Roma, Evacuation – or an Easter Excursion?

Northern Hungary has recently become the center of rising conflicts between the Roma and the Hungarian communities. In the community of Gyöngyöspata, for example, paramilitary organizations marched a month ago, claiming they were members of a neighborhood watch, even though their far-right stance was obvious.

A village without a mayor

On April 19, 2011, this video [hu] was posted by a Roma news site So Si? [hu], covering the rumors spreading in the Roma community of Gyöngyöspata about a paramilitary organization's plans to hold a training camp in the village. On the same day came the news of the resignation of the local mayor.

Roma in the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata. Still from video uploaded to YouTube by sosinet1.

Roma in the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata. Still from video uploaded to YouTube by sosinet1.

Piroslap blog, referring to a news agency, wrote [hu] that the mayor had explained his decision to resign by health reasons. About the training camp, Piroslap wrote this:

[…] Now the group Véderő wants to hold a military camp at the settlement. On their website they define themselves as [a group] operating far from politics but on the national side, and after the elimination of conscription they would like to offer martial type of training to those who like this kind of education but wouldn't want to be professional soldiers. […]

The Roma have left

By Friday, April 22, some 300 Roma had left Gyöngyöspata, allegedly because they were afraid of the vigilante group arriving at the village for training. According to news reports, the departure of the Roma women and children was organized by the Hungarian Red Cross and Richard Field, an American businessman who had already expressed his concerns about the situation of the Roma in Hungary and even started a non-governmental organisation to support them.

The Hungarian media used the word ‘evacuation’ for what happened, whereas government officials claimed this wasn't an evacuation: according to them, the Roma had been taken on an Easter holiday trip for the weekend.

Both Péter Szijjártó, the spokesman for the Prime Minister, and Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér have offered an explanation for what happened. This video [hu] shows Pintér at a press conference held in Gyöngyöspata on Friday. He said:

They [the members of the paramilitary group] took away the happiness which was offered by the charitable organization Red Cross. The national board of the Red Cross invited the women and children from the Gyöngyöspata families for an Easter excursion.

Gellért Rajcsányi of Mandiner wrote [hu]:

[…] Because of the threats, the Roma are afraid of atrocities. A leader for the action said the [Roma] men all stayed in the village trying to protect their valuables left at home. They are expecting members of the Parliament, representatives of embassies and international human right activists to arrive by Friday afternoon. According to János Farkas, the deputy of the Roma Hungarian Civil Rights Movement, the Red Cross contributed in moving out the people who were accommodated in different camps. A representative of the Red Cross told dpa [a German press agency] that this was the first time since World War II when the organization evacuated citizens threatened by a paramilitary group in Hungary. […]

Also on Friday, the Minister of the Interior announced that the government had designed a “decree to penalise civil guard activities conducted without prior approval by the police or feigning a right to act as a keeper of public order.”

By Friday afternoon, the police dismissed the paramilitary training of Véderő. According to news reports, the leader of the group Tamás Eszes was detained. Far-right news site re-published [hu] these reports, adding an important piece of information: Tamás Eszes is a man who was disqualified from the Hungarian Guard. (Other sources wrote that Mr. Eszes would run for the mayor position now that Gyöngyöspata has no mayor.)

Gellért Rajcsányi wrote that the biggest responsibility is that of the government:

[…] We've been keeping the state for millennia to maintain the outside and inside security. The improvident promise [hu] of making order in two weeks in those points of the country that looked hopeless was unavailing. We know it's impossible to meet close-to-perfect public security even in two-years time but at least there would be signs if we were heading that way! But today, on Good Friday, we have reached another touch bottom. Hungarian citizens fearing for their property and going about in bodily fear are longing for the presence of paramilitary organizations; [meanwhile] other citizens fearing for their property and going about in bodily fear are expecting the solution from leaders of civil rights movements and the Red Cross. The devil is raised in Gyöngyspata. In the international news [broadcasts] there will, hopefully, be good footage with crying children and vigilantes wearing uniforms among the news about Libya and Cote d'Ivoire. […]

Political action?

Photographer Levente Hernádi expressed his doubts [hu] over whether there was no interest in motivating the events. He pointed out that the result of the events have been articles like this one on a Hungarian news site [hu], illustrated with photos about the Roma leaving the village, members of Véderő, the Roma who stayed in the village and a Roma child. The article is a full report about the Roma who left Gyöngyöspata for the weekend and who applied for refugee status in the United States and Canada because of their threatened situation:

[… ] I think Gyöngyöspata was an extremely well-prepared play taking advantage of the always crying and ambiguously speaking Roma and of the national front that always acts nationalistic. It just had to be started and the rest went by itself.

Maximum respect to the one who [does stories] like this one […].

By Sunday, the Roma women and children were back in the village.


  • Richard Field

    Official statement by Richard Field

    On Friday, April 22nd, between 7:30 and 8:00 in the eastern Hungarian town of Gyöngyöspata some 276 Roma women and children boarded six buses chartered by the Hungarian Red Cross. At 8 am the buses departed for one of two holiday retreats, one in Budapest and one near the central Hungarian city of Szolnok, where they were received by Red Cross staff and volunteers.

    The extraction by the Hungarian Red Cross of Gyöngyöspata’s women and children was prompted by the resignation earlier last week of the town’s mayor and the scheduled arrival on Friday of Hungarian soldier of fortune Tamas Eszes and an unspecified number of paramilitaries. Founder of the paramilitary organization Véderő (“Defense Force”), Eszes had purchased a 1.5 hectare vineyard and rented an additional 1.5 hectares on the hill directly overlooking Gyöngyöspata’s impoverished Roma quarter.with the intention of staging military exercises Easter week-end (!!!) and “every month thereafter.”

    The Defense Force’s website (blocked shortly after news of the evacuation broke) featured pictures of intimidating looking young men in fatigues brandishing semi-automatic weapons, their faces smeared in blood. A full-page announcement on its website invited “loyal” Hungarians over the age of 14 to attend three days of military training, including training in the use of firearms, at the organization’s new training base “next to Gyöngyöspata.” In fact, the training base in question was situated next to the neighborhood where the vast majority of Gyöngyöspata’s Roma live.

    There can be no doubt that the reason Mr. Eszes chose this particular location to hold military training (including simulated nighttime combat involving the discharging of so-called airsoft weapons designed to look and sound like real weapons) was to intimidate Gyöngyöspata’s 450 strong Roma community, consisting of some 110 families crammed together in some 35 ramshackle homes, some of which were badly damaged in last year’s flooding. From a distance it is impossible to distinguish airsoft weapons from real ones. Furthermore, it is possible to modify airsoft weapons so that they can fire real bullets.

    Some of the inhabitants of Gyöngyöspata’s “Gypsy row” used to live elsewhere in Gyöngyöspata but were forced to move in with relatives after their houses were set on fire by unknown assailants. An attempt by one such family to purchase a home on higher ground over the objections of the mayor triggered Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona to ask the Civil Guard Association for a Better Future to occupy the town, claiming that concern over a Roma family moving next door was the reason an elderly resident committed suicide.

    The military training taking place just one month after the Civil Guard ended their 16 day occupation of the town (during which time members of various radical hate groups were given free reign to roam the streets brandishing whips, hand-axes, and pit-bulls), it is understandable why Gyöngyöspata’s Roma were terrified of the prospect of paramilitary exercises being staged next door.

    Learning of the situation from myself and others, including Gyöngyöspata native and Red Cross adviser István Mezei, Red Cross country director Erik Selymes ordered the removal of the women and children for the duration of the scheduled military training. For this he deserves the admiration and gratitude of Gyöngyöspata’s Roma as well as that of Europe’s 8-10 million Roma who are frequently the victims of hate crime promulgated by radical hate groups. Non-Roma Hungarians and Europeans also owe Mr. Selyes a debt of gratitude for taking appropriate steps to protect innocent women and children on the front line of the battle against political extremism that is Gyöngyöspata.

    That Mr.Selymes subsequently denied that there was a connection between sending 276 Roma women and children on holiday without their husbands for that part of the Easter weekend coinciding with the scheduled military training simply means, in my estimation, that Mr. Selymes is trying to spare the Hungarian government embarrassment in the face of justified domestic and international outrage over the treatment of Hungary’s Roma at the hands of vigilantes and paramilitary forces. Numerous interviews conducted with Gyöngyöspata’s Roma confirm that they have been living in a heightened state of fear for much of the past two months and thought it necessary to send the women and children to safety for the duration of the scheduled military training.

  • Truth Teller

    The truth is that of 2600 people (including children) living in that village more than 1000 signed FOR the civilian security team to stay in Gyöngyöspata.
    The Hungarian population lives in fear and terror for many years, especially the elder who are contiuously harrassed by Gypsies. But, I think that one must not explain to Western european how Gypsies behave everywehere. This is why the French and Italian government just recently toom severe measures of expulsing Gypsies mainly originated from Romania and Bulgaria. Everywhere these people are there is a high rate of criminality: thefts, robberies and murders.
    Let’s stop with the so-named political correctness! Enough is enough.

  • Truth Teller

    Maybe some of you know Hungarian.
    Here is what local people think about the Gypsies “terrorized” 10 days by now, who feel themselves terrorized for more than 10 years by contiuous theft, robberies and murders.

  • […] escalating in this northern Hungarian village since March. By last Friday, Véderő's show-off military training tipped the scales of the conflict against making peace between the local Roma and Hungarian […]

  • Nataly Anderson

    “Truth Teller” – I don’t know what to say about people who sign for the presence of extreme right paramilitaries in the context of a country where Roma community members have been harassed and murdered.

    You evoke the names of France and Italy in an apparent attempt to demonstrate democratic credentials without realising the irony of doing so.

    I live in “eastern Europe”, count Roma among my friends and neighbours and am in daily contact with widespread prejudice against this and other groups. It is nothing more than that – prejudice, with no excuses.

    The kind of talk in your posts is the talk that leads to violence and death.

    I have many Hungarian friends who are sickened and fearful because of what is happening to their country – a beautiful country with a history of fine and intelligent people.

    It is a devastating shame that it is being turned into a fascist mob.

  • w

    Dear Nataly, i also live in eastern Europe, to be precise, in Hungary. I am half roma, half hungarian. I cant see why Truth Teller’s posts would lead to violence and death. The truth will be truth even if you disapprove if it. I have met many people in my life and i can say theres a definite prejudice towards the romas in Hungary but believe me, roma prejudice against hungarians also exists. The difference is that roma people have earned the antipathy. Being a roma citizen here in Hungary i have once been insulted due to my ethnicity in my early childhood, but since then none happened. I studied hard, i’ve been working hard, never commited any crime, hence, (how surprising!!) i havent yet been prejudiced, at all. I wanna add that i even know, so called, “rascist” people like those from the Véderő at Gyöngyöspata and they were always respectable to me. That’s all i wanted to say, sorry for my english it’s quite poor and i’m in hurry now.

    • Nataly Anderson

      Dear W,

      Thank you for your message, and your English is excellent. I’m glad to hear that you have not suffered different treatment because of your ethnicity. However, many people who have studied and worked equally hard and been good citizens have suffered and are suffering now. They will continue to suffer until we all commit to stop tolerating racial prejudice, whether the form it takes is violence, eroded rights or disgusting remarks.

      I know, as they say, “it takes two to tango”, blame always lies on both sides: in a fight like this, in a marriage, or wherever. But we can’t as civilized citizens start taking sticks and guns to resolve our arguments.

      Whenever we have in our mind an “us” and a “them”, we have set up a mechanism that stops us seeing other human beings as individuals equally entitled to walk on this earth with us, and live in our country with us. Taking things to the logical conclusion, we are sentencing them to death. We are saying they are not as good, do not have the same rights, and once this happens it is not so difficult to close our minds to their fate, even if it means they die because of violence, hunger or whatever. This is not being extreme. This has happened many times through history. This is how pogroms and wars happen.

      These are not “racists” in inverted commas. They might be nice little old ladies and good mummy’s boys, and in general be fine upstanding citizens. But if they are prepared to see another human being as different, as having less rights, and if they are prepared to justify violence and intimidation against innocent women and children just because of their race, they are in fact fascists. Sorry. Unpleasant I know. Perhaps you don’t feel the same, but that’s my definition of what fascism means.

      Best wishes to you anyhow!

  • Lilian Black

    All I can say is that I am a UK citizen with a Hungarian Holocaust survivor as a father who was in Budapest recently and witnessed the appalling sight of hundreds of the far right in paramilitary uniforms in Erszebet Park. They wore black tousers, black boots, white shirts and red armbands – it was intimidating to say the least and the police just stood by and watched. We felt deepply hurt by the sight. This does nothing for Hungary in the eyes of people like us who suffered so much – we lost our heritage and families and it would be a terrible thing for the Roma who also persished in the Holocaust to have this repeated. I would like Hungary to recognise what is happening, acknowledge the past more fully and for ordinary men and women to stand up for the human rights of all so the past does not repeat itself.

  • […] action got big media coverage. Unfortunately, its interpretation was influenced by the political stance. Meanwhile, the media […]

  • […] re-appeared in some villages in northern Hungary (Global Voices posts about this are here and here), threatening the Roma population with their […]

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