Sajóbábony, a small town of 2,000 inhabitants 13 km from the city of Miskolc, has been in the news off and on since 2009, shortly after the random murders of Gypsies in several towns and villages. In the aftermath of these murders the Hungarian Roma population was not surprisingly jumpy and fearful. Intensifying their fear was the activity of Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, its paramilitary unit. Guardists often appeared in towns with a large Roma population, almost as if they wanted to provoke some kind of conflict with the Gypsies.
In November 2009 the Hungarian Guard decided to move about 600 of their members to Sajóbábony, and Jobbik organized a political gathering in the town. The local Roma community felt threatened and unprotected by the police. Some of them decided to defend themselves, apparently armed with axes, swords, and canes. When they saw a dark car going through their neighborhood, at least nine people attacked it. The two people in the car, who were members of the Hungarian Guard, received minor injuries.
As a result of this incident the nine people involved in the incident were arrested. Last May the Miskolc court found them guilty. According to the prosecutors, in the course of attacking the car the Roma threatened to kill “the stinking Hungarians.” All of the accused denied the charges and claimed that they simply sent “the filthy guards back to where they came from.” Notwithstanding their protestations, all nine were found guilty of a hate crime directed against a distinct community, in this case against the Hungarians. Each received between two years and six months and four years in jail.
This was not the first time that a law designed to protect members of a minority against the aggression of the majority was invoked by Hungarian judges to rule in favor of the majority. There were two very similar cases to that of Sajóbábony, one in 2010 and another in 2011, in which the defendants were found guilty of committing a hate crime against the Hungarian community.
In the wake of the verdict TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), the equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a communiqué in which they stated that the verdict is based on entirely wrong premises. Serious legal mistakes were committed. Yes, the defendants should have been charged with disorderly conduct or breach of the peace, but they should not have been convicted of a crime motivated by racism. After all, they attacked the car because they thought that members of the Hungarian Guard were inside, whom they suspected of intending to harm them and their community. They didn’t attack them because they were Hungarians. TASZ actually accused the court of racism.
As soon as the verdict was handed down the nine Gypsies decided to appeal, right then and there. They made the wrong decision. The appellate court (ítélőtábla) in this particular district is in Debrecen. There, on September 30, the court decided that the lower court’s verdict was not harsh enough. What these nine people did was so heinous that longer sentences were warranted. Instead of sentences ranging from two years and six months to four years, their jail time was extended to between three years and six months and five years and four months.
TASZ released another communiqué in which they reiterated that the motivation was not anti-Hungarian prejudice but fear of an attack by the Hungarian Guard members. Moreover, the court did not consider the background leading up to the encounter. The judge neglected to give reasons for considering the attack on the two people in the car a hate crime directed against the Hungarians. Moreover, “the essence of violence against a given community is that the perpetrator is prejudiced toward a group which he considers to be inferior.” From the testimony of the accused it is clear that it was not “anti-Hungarian prejudice” that motivated them.
It often happens that racist attacks on Gypsies go unpunished while Gypsies are convicted on charges of racism. “All that makes it look as if in Hungary the Roma were responsible for racism and not that the Roma are the ones who are fearful because of their ethnic origin.” Clearly, the communiqué continued, the members of both the Miskolc district court and the Debrecen appellate court are racists themselves since they declared the Gypsies to be racists because they got embroiled with members of the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, ultranationalist, irredentist Hungarian Guard. There is no appeal. The verdict is final.