Day: December 17, 2008

The Hungarian Guard: End game?

It's hard to believe, but the first round of court proceedings against the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda in Hungarian) is finally over. The judge agreed with the chief prosecutor's office of Budapest that the Hungarian Guard is illegal. Illegal in the sense that it is not a cultural association. The case had been dragging on and on, most likely because of the timidity of the first judge, Ágnes Öcsödi, who eventually withdrew from the case because she allegedly received a threatening telephone call. Just to give you an idea of how slow Ms Öcsödi was, here are some dates. The prosecutors sent the indictment over to the Budapest Court on December 17, 2007. Exactly one year ago. The court was in no hurry. The case initially appeared on the docket in March 2008. After a few hours and an incredible courtroom scene the judge adjourned the proceedings and postponed the case to May, then to June, and finally to September. It was in September that Ms Öcsödi announced that she could no longer handle the case. A new judge was appointed: Árpád Pataki. This fellow wasn't joking. The case began on Monday morning and by late Tuesday evening there was a verdict: the Hungarian Guard's activities don't conform to the organizers' stated aims.

The case was a little tricky because the organizers of the Magyar Gárda tried to insulate the troops from any litigation against the alleged cultural organization. They created a separate legal entity comprised of the uniformed fellows with their black boots and insignia suspiciously resembling that of the Hungarian Nazis of Ferenc Szálasi. It was legally distinct from the original organization with its self-described cultural mission. Thus we had a Magyar Gárda Mozgalom (Movement of the Hungarian Guard, the troops) and a Magyar Gárda Egyesület (Association of the Hungarian Guard, the so-called cultural association). It was with this legal separation that the lawyers working on behalf of Jobbik, the extreme right party responsible for the creation of the Hungarian Guard, tried to save at least the uniformed units that belong to the Movement. Thus, even if the Association meets its fate and is deemed illegal, the guys in uniform can continue their activities.

This court case addressed the Association, not the Movement. However, this is still a blow to the whole Hungarian Guard because the judge very rightly pointed out that the Movement and the Association are in a symbiotic relationship amply demonstrated by the changes made in the original documents, by the signed documents of cooperation between the two organizations, and by the financial interconnections that exist between them. The judge decided that the Hungarian Guard's main aim is to spread fear among Gypsies. Judge Pataki noted that the Guard is also antisemitic because in a speech a spokesman of the Guard talked about "Zionist rats, locusts, and grave diggers of the nation." The judge pointed out that all these activities are unconstitutional and not in conformity with Hungary's international obligations.

Of course, this is not the end of the story because the defendants will appeal the judgment. Hungarian skeptics are certain that on appeal the Hungarian Guard will get off scot-free. Unfortunately this skepticism is not without foundation.

In the meantime legal scholars can argue whether the uniformed guys will be able to march freely even after this verdict and whether another charge will be necessary to address the case of the Movement of the Hungarian Guard. The majority thinks that Judge Pataki's judgment will not affect the Movement, but others believe that the reasoning behind his verdict will constrain any organization whose main aim is to spread fear in certain groups. I also think that his mention of the symbiotic relationship between the two organizations will be a deterrent not only to the Guard but to other similar organizations as well.

Meanwhile Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, lawyer for the Hungarian Guard, already announced that if the appellate court's verdict also goes against the Guard, they will be heading to the European Court. This speaks volumes to their ignorance of European sentiment. I don't have the slightest doubt that the European Court of Justice would rule against them.