football hooligans

Football and its fans: The Romanian-Hungarian game

Today I will talk about two related topics: the Romanian-Hungarian football match in Bucharest and the group of Hungarian fans who on the way to the Romanian capital just happened to stop in a village close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The fans paid an unwelcome visit to the elementary school in Konyár (pop. 2,000).

As for the game itself, I don’t want to dwell on it. The Hungarian national team suffered a humiliating defeat that more or less precludes it from advancing in the preliminary rounds for next year’s World Cup game. Prior to the match, one of the players, Zsolt Korcsmár, who plays full time for the German Greuther Fürth, predicted that the Hungarian team would come back with three goals. Well, they did but not exactly in the manner Korcsmár imagined. They lost by three goals.

The right-wing fans who were already pretty drunk at the beginning of their journey explained to the reporters on hand that they were looking forward to the game because “for ninety minutes Transylvania will be ours.”The pre-game hype was extraordinary. Even the coach described the match as “historic.” (The original Hungarian that belies translation is something like “an event that will greatly influence our fate.”) It became practically an answer to Trianon. It was also intended to put an end to the extreme frustration of the Hungarian football fans. The last time that the Hungarian national team won against the Romanians in Bucharest was 55 years ago!

That the fans thought that by winning at soccer the Hungarian national team could somehow avenge the loss of Transylvania was one thing. But what was most likely truly injurious to the psyche of the players was that the coach himself fed this notion of a war by other means, a war of football. Sándor Egervári, the coach, kept calling the team’s attention to the “history of these two countries.” I guess he was trying to inspire a mediocre team by making the players feel as if their actions on the field would shape the destiny of the country.

Article after article assured football fans that the players were feeling optimistic and were not overwhelmed by the task. But the media also reinforced the game’s extreme importance. Almost as if Hungary’s national honor had to be defended in this one game. One of the Internet sport sites claimed that it was the most important game ever for the Hungarian national team. Egervári called the Romanians “the Hungarian team’s greatest rivals” not because of the prowess of the Romanian team but because of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. Rather, they stem from the enmity that has existed between these two nations for at least a hundred years. On the Romanian side, I’m almost certain, there were similar feelings. Some Romanian fans held up signs reading “1918,” the year the Romanian National Council declared Transylvania to be part of Romania.

Although most Hungarian football fans admit that Hungarian football is lousy and refuse to attend the games, this time they watched the match intently. More than two million people were glued to MTV’s live broadcast. Normally, serious Hungarian aficionados watch foreign matches, but this game was different. And when the devastating 3-0 loss was reported by hatharom.com, an Internet site devoted to football, the article began with a reference to “the 15 million Hungarians who have been waiting for months for this very important game.” The nation is getting bigger and bigger, it seems. Apparently this 15 million also includes the non-existent two million Hungarian-Americans.

And now a few words about the most ardent fans. All told, about 2,800 Hungarian fans traveled to Bucharest. Eleven hundred of them went by chartered train. The trip by train was organized by a group that calls itself the Carpathian Brigade. Eight hundred eighty left Budapest and 250 joined them in Brasov/Brassó in Romania. (Apparently they trashed the train’s fourteen cars on the return trip.) Others went by chartered buses. We will follow one of these that made a side trip to Konyár.

The bus whose passengers stopped in Konyár originated in Debrecen. The superhighway to the border from Debrecen is still not finished on either side, so vehicles have to travel southward on a secondary road through Sáránd, Derecske, Berettyóújfalu, and from there to Oradea/Nagyvárad in Romania. However, at Derecske, the bus left the highway and turned left onto a  small road leading to this heavily Roma inhabited village and parked in front of the local elementary school.

According to Jenő Gyöngyös, the head of the Roma community in Konyár, the twenty or so rowdy and already slightly drunk “fans” began to yell obscenities and threatened to enter the school. Some of them for good measure urinated on the wall of the building. The teachers locked the doors and the frightened staff ordered the first-graders to hide under their desks. Some of the older pupils hid in the toilets. Eventually someone called the police. The police arrived and simply asked the guys to get back on the bus and depart.

And how do the police now describe the incident? They claim there was no incident. The rowdies just stopped to relieve themselves and to have a cigarette. The only thing they did was to sing the Szekler national anthem.

Konyar

If you look at the Google map you will immediately realize that this stop in Konyár was not happenstance.  It was planned. But why? Because in January a young history teacher at the school, Szilárd Vígh, was caught talking disparagingly about his Gypsy students and boasting about how he disciplines them by beating them. By that time it was the Klebelsberg Center that was the “employer” of the school’s teachers, and after an internal investigation Vígh was fired, in spite of a demonstration organized by Jobbik in defense of the history teacher. The fired teacher was one of the passengers on that bus. Simple enough! The police and the principal can deny the facts till doomsday.

I think one day I should spend some time on the changing behavior of the police. They seem to have recognized that they can do practically anything in pursuit of their vision of law and order. The minister of the interior, the former police chief, will defend them to the very end. And the population is defenseless against their excesses.

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Football hooligans as Fidesz’s police force

This morning I decided to write more about the “interesting coincidence” that Ferenc Szabó (Feri the Blond), who was convicted for murder and spent ten years in jail, is employed by the Ferencvárosi Futball Club. This fan club is headed by Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz party manager, who is now in the process of organizing a party militia “to defend” Fidesz from future aggressors.  Feri the Blond and some of his ilk already showed up at the Fidesz party headquarters ready to remove the “aggressors,” if necessary by force.

Ready for a fight: Ferencváros Újpest, March 10, 2013 / fradimob.hu

Ready for a fight: Ferencváros – Újpest, March 10, 2013 / fradimob.hu

As I was gathering material for today’s post I discovered that “the game of the year”–as a Fradi fan called it–was scheduled to take place this afternoon. It is a “derby” between Ferencváros and Újpest, whose fans are deadly enemies of one another. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, any match between teams from the same city is called a derby. As I just learned, Ferencváros won, but even before the game started the fans of Újpest attacked the police with stones and broken glass. In turn, a couple of people were arrested for hidden weapons and firecrackers.

This, however, is most likely not the end of the story. Because, as one of the Fradi hooligans told a reporter, “they hunt the enemy.” They plot their route to the stadium in order to avoid the police and to attack the fans of the other team. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they win or lose; the important thing is to have a fight. There is so much aggression in them that they literally want to kill members of the other side. One of the “leaders” of the fans was quite frank: “We are different from others because of the immeasurable hatred in our blood.” The interviews on the following video provide a glimpse into the mindset of these people:

But let’s get back to Ferenc Szabó (Feri the Blond) and Gábor Kubatov. What is the connection over and above the fact that Kubatov is now the boss at Ferencváros and Szabó, the coordinator between the Fradi Security and Kubatov? After all, appointing a murderer to be part of the Fradi security forces would have been far too daring. According to rumors Szabó is getting a better than average salary of 400,000 a month. In June 2012 an article appeared on fradimob.hu in which the author called Szabó “Kubatov’s favorite murderer.” Szabó and Kubatov were soul mates in the notorious Section #2 of the Ferencváros Stadium where the worst hooligans gathered and from where they usually attacked the players, the coaches, or the police. Another member of the group was György Szilágyi (Sziszi), who today is a Jobbik member of parliament. It was this Section #2 that Viktor Orbán decided to visit only a few days before the same hooligans attacked the public television station on September 18, 2006.

These guys were no ordinary football hooligans but members of the underworld: extortionists, blackmailers, drug dealers, and yes, murderers. Not all of them were so unfortunate as to be caught like Feri the Blond. Some of the murders took place in broad daylight in downtown Budapest and the perpetrators were never discovered. This is the world Feri the Blond is coming from.

In August 2012 an article appeared in HVG about another member of Section # 2 who ended up in the Fidesz government. He is Bánk Levente Boros, a “political scientist” at Miskolc University, who in his spare time was deputy chairman of the Ferencváros Szurkolók Szövetsége (Association of Ferencváros Fans). His advice doesn’t come cheap: 400,000 forints a month.

Members of these football fan clubs are getting more and more involved in politics. In Debrecen the members of the fan club of the local DVSC (Debreceni Vasutas Sport Club), better known as Loki, an abbreviated version of the word “locomotive,” entered the building of the university and insulted and intimidated the students. In Budapest at the Faculty of Arts of ELTE  the same thing happened. Skinheads decided to “defend” the government.  And now Kubatov is calling on his “favorite murderer” to police Fidesz and government buildings.

Several articles appeared on the subject from which I learned a lot. Perhaps the most informative on the connection between Fidesz and the underworld was the blog of “Csehszlovák Kém.” He is the blogger who first reported on the Israeli-Hungarian “friendly match” that eventually resulted in severe punishment of the Hungarian Football Association for not being able or not being willing to keep order among the fans in Hungarian stadiums. For the details see my post, “A friendly football match: Hungary-Israel 1-1.” Another article that appeared on the subject is by László Bartus in the Amerikai-Magyar Népszava (March 10, 2013).

Finally, Vera Lánczos in a piece on Galamus entitled “Báránybőrbe bújtatott farkasok” (Wolves in sheep’s clothing) approaches her subject from more of a political angle. She is convinced that Fidesz ordered the police to withdraw in order to avoid a situation similar to the events of 2006 when the police had to handle the unruly demonstrators. They wanted to show the world that “their” police are not brutal as allegedly the socialist police were. So, instead, they got the football hooligans to do the dirty work. But they had to pretend that these people were “volunteers” worried about the fate of their party. According to Lánczos, the original plan of the protesters was to stay in the courtyard overnight, but when the murderer and his friends arrived they decided to leave on their own because “they feared for their safety.” As it was, the employees of the party headquarters not only insulted the students but used force against them. See the description of an eyewitness quoted by Some1 in her comment of August 22, at 12:02.

Kubatov’s early connection with the hardcore Fradi fans lends credence to the possible connection between Fidesz and the Fradi football hooligans in the storming of the television station in September 2006. Perhaps one day we will know exactly what happened, but I must say that in light of these latest developments one has the feeling that Fidesz involvement is more than likely.

Maiming the Hungarian constitution: Is the Orbán government willing to pay the price?

While opposition politicians are unable to agree on any meaningful joint action and the so-called intellectual class is deeply divided, the Orbán government is merrily proceeding with its plans to rewrite the new constitution. According to constitutional experts, if the latest amendments are voted into law Hungary will be without a valid constitution.

There was only one group that was ready to take things into their own hands. They decided to engage in civil disobedience. Since ordinary opposition gatherings are not even reported in the public media, tightly controlled by the government, they decided to do something that was guaranteed to get media coverage. They climbed a fence and settled in the courtyard of the Fidesz party headquarters. There they sat  for ten hours and repeated a few slogans. Mostly: “Constitution, Freedom” and “We protest the destruction of the constitutional system of the Hungarian Republic.”

The organizers of the Peace March, András Bencsik and Zsolt Bayer, immediately counterattacked. On Facebook they called on their followers to come and teach a thing or two to these little “Bolsheviks.” And they arrived. Someone described “the fruitful political dialogue” this way:

Youngsters: “We protest the destruction of the constitutional system of the Hungarian Republic.” And here are some of the answers from “the peace guardists”: “Do you want to have some acid in your face?” “Get lost and work!” “I’ll slap you on the face, you rat!” “Rotten, lousy communist stooge!” “Go to Moscow!” “Filthy f…ing Jews!” “Stupid fag!” “Come on out, if you dare, you little queers!”  That will give you an idea about the Fidesz fans who gathered in the name of Christian love and peace.

Here is our gentleman who threatened a young man with acid:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpR87Bjqe2M

Perhaps the officials inside the building no longer trust the police because they were ordered to retire after a while. “Volunteers”  arrived to save the building and those inside it from the peaceful demonstrators. Most of them came from the notorious Fradi (Ferencváros) fan club. One of the volunteers spent ten years in jail for murder and now serves as a “coordinator” for the fan club. The football hooligans physically tried to remove the protesters. Eventually the demonstrators left on their own but not before some of them climbed a wall and positioned themselves on a balcony. The clever student leaders began reciting Fidesz’s 1989 party program which was full of liberal demands. The counter-protesters naturally had no idea that what they were screaming at was really Victor Orbán, their idol.

Older women were especially vocal. They simply couldn’t understand what the protesters were complaining about. How can they be dissatisfied when at last the country has a “good government”? One woman, obviously a pensioner, claimed that it is her money that these students are wasting.

One really has to be deaf and blind to claim that the small crowd that gathered in the courtyard of the Fidesz headquarters was “rabble” as Péter Boros, prime minister of Hungary for a few months after József Antall’s death in 1993-1994, did. Interestingly enough, he had nothing to say about the behavior of the counter-protesters. One can get a vivid picture of the Fidesz crowd by watching this video:

But perhaps the most shocking and most telling example of the mindset of the peace marchers and Orbán supporters is a very professionally executed banner. On it one can see practically all the important MSZP politicians in addition to Ferenc Gyurcsány, Gordon Bajnai, Lajos Bokros, and András Simor. The banner reads: “The nation is in mourning! It suffers from the presence of traitors.”  In Hungarian it has even more punch: “Gyászol a nemzet! Hazaárulóktól szenved!”  Just think about this horrendous statement. I don’t know whether the people actually know what they are saying, because from this banner it is clear that what they want is a one-party system. The opposition has no right to exist. In fact, they should be eliminated as traitors used to be. Perhaps hanged.

The nation is in mourning! It is suffering from the presence of traitors / Népszabadság Árpád Kurucz

The nation is in mourning! It is suffering from the presence of traitors / Népszabadság Árpád Kurucz

Yesterday’s protest was laudable in many ways. Take, for instance, the poise and dignity of the protesters. As you can see on the video, the young man didn’t lose his cool despite repeated physical and verbal abuse. Second, their protest lasted over ten hours. At the beginning they were alone, but once word got out about the gathering others joined them. By the time the demonstrators decided to walk over to the building of the Constitutional Court their numbers had swelled to about 1,000. By contrast, the counter-demonstrators got tired of screaming and their numbers decreased fairly rapidly.

The football hooligans of Gábor Kubatov’s Ferencváros football team, I think we can now say with conviction, are in the employ of Fidesz. Not necessarily in the sense of having paid positions but in being ready to assist “their party”  if necessary. Certainly, someone from the building called on them. One can’t help thinking of the storming of the public television station by Fradi football hooligans.

And finally, the protesters are determined to continue their fight for democracy, the constitution, and the rule of law. Moreover, they seem to have realized that without parties they cannot be successful. At their next demonstration tomorrow parties are welcome.

And, in a critical turn of events, the European Union and the Council of Europe are also waking up to the harsh reality in Hungary. I already wrote about German Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Michael Link’s warning letter in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a few days ago. I was sure at that time that something was brewing in Germany. And, indeed, today ” in a statement reflecting deep seated anxiety at the direction Orbán is taking Hungary, Germany and three other EU countries called for Brussels to be given new power allowing it to freeze EU budget funds to a member state in breach of Europe’s ‘fundamental values.'” The three other countries are the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland. Since then we found out from the spokesman of the European Commission that José Manuel Barroso phoned Viktor Orbán this morning and warned the Hungarian prime minister that the proposed changes in the Hungarian constitution are not only incompatible with the rule of law but also might violate laws of the European Union. Following the conversation Barroso sent a letter in which he summarized the points he made during the telephone conversation.

I should also mention that today we learned that President János Ader will be in Berlin on Monday and Tuesday next week. On Monday he will meet President Joachim Gauck. Tuesday his first trip will be to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle followed by a conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some might say that this trip was arranged some time ago and has nothing to do with the current brouhaha over the Hungarian constitution. Perhaps, but I find it odd that the president of Hungary has an appointment with the German foreign minister. I doubt that this is normal protocol. My hunch is that although the trip might have been arranged earlier, the meeting with Westerwelle was added only recently. But this is only a guess on my part.

The siege of the Hungarian Television Station, September 18, 2006

For those of you who are either not familiar with the fateful events of the fall of 2006 in Hungary or don’t remember all the details I should state again that there were two distinct phases of the riots. The first took place on September 17-18 and the second at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution, an occasion attended by scores of foreign dignitaries.

Every time the topic of these riots comes up Fidesz supporters like to make a sharp distinction between the “peaceful demonstrators” of October 23 and the next few days and the criminal elements who laid siege to the Hungarian Television Station on September 18. However, immediately after that bloody night on Szabadság (Liberty) Square Fidesz politicians insisted that the siege was a spontaneous outburst of justified indignation. At the same time they accused the government of purposely sending the ill-equipped policemen into harm’s way, thereby compromising the opposition that supported them. One thing is sure: the violence that characterized the siege and the characters who took part in it didn’t rock the government. According to a Medián poll taken before the siege, 52% of those asked thought that Gyurcsány should resign. After the siege, only 45%.

First let’s examine how “spontaneous” the gathering was on Kossuth Square on the evening of September 17, right after the release of the incriminating lines from Gyurcsány’s speech. Initially the police noted only 20-30 people, but minute by minute more people came from all directions. To the police it looked as if recruiting were taking place, most likely through cell phones. Eventually there were at least 1,000 people, if not more. Soon enough they even had loudspeakers and managed to put together a podium. Speaker after speaker kept repeating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech. It began to rain and somebody distributed yellow raincoats used at Fidesz gatherings. The demonstration was peaceful at the beginning, but eventually some of the people broke the cordon the police had erected.

This “spontaneous” demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered with the police. The police leadership, especially Péter Gergényi, the police chief of Budapest, misjudged the situation by declaring it part of the campaign season for the municipal elections. During such times spontaneous gatherings indeed are permitted. Gergényi talked to József Petrétei, the minister of justice, and his deputy Ferenc Kondorosi and informed them that there was nothing to do. “Let them let off some steam.” He predicted that the demonstration planned for the following day would also be peaceful. Petrétei happily agreed. According to Debreczeni, the real culprit of this story was the incompetent Petrétei, in civilian life a professor of law at the University of Pécs who, according to his job description, is supposed to “direct” the police. Instead, he was watching the events on television at home.

Some of the crowd didn’t leave the square even during the night. Soon enough someone was serving them food and Gyula Budai, today undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the first two years of the Orbán government the commissioner in charge of “political crimes” of MSZP politicians, provided them with portable toilets. He also brought along a tractor with which he led some of the people to Jászai Mari Square in order to lay siege to the building that serves as an office building for members of parliament.

Meanwhile extremist groups came with their flags and slogans: the Honfoglalás 2000, Hatvannégy Vármegye, Magyar Nemzeti Front, and Jobbik. Football hooligans who used to fight among themselves now united in order to attack the television station the next day. Busloads of football fans arrived from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, the UTE (Újpest) fans came straight from a game in Sopron. They arrived with a police escort! Maria Wittner, the heroine of 1956 and an extremist politician, made a speech and announced that there was a new “revolutionary situation.”  By evening the word came that “Fidesz assures the demonstrators its solidarity.” Naturally, a huge ovation followed the announcement.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the siege of the building the following evening. Instead I suggest you view a video by Ádám Csillag entitled “Under  Siege” (Ostrom alatt).

The police leadership turned out to be singularly untalented and the policemen’s equipment was woefully inadequate. Hundreds of policemen were seriously injured. In 2002 the question of providing the police with proper riot gear came up after a demonstration that blocked Elizabeth Bridge, but the undersecretary in charge of police matters in the Ministry of Interior vetoed it. It was too expensive and unnecessary. Instead they bought 40 Ford Mondeos for patrolling the streets.

Not only the equipment was problematic. The Hungarian police force, especially those who can handle riots, was very small and ill-trained. On that day no more than about 850 policemen were available in the whole country who could be called to the scene. Altogether there were only 2,400 policemen on the streets nationwide, including ordinary traffic cops. In the Netherlands there are 16,000 available at any given moment.

Eventually, they came up with a twenty-five-year-old water cannon whose power was negligible. And when it was a question of getting equipment to fire tear gas, the staff couldn’t accommodate because the equipment was locked up in a room where arms were kept.

Some of those who showed  their "justified indignation" against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

Some of those who showed their “justified indignation” against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

It was an incident with this water cannon that make people very suspicious that someone was actually giving orders to the crowd. There were a number of policeman inside the water cannon which the rioters set on fire. Everybody was expecting that either these people will burn alive inside or, if they come out, they will be lynched. But no, when they came out the crowd retreated. Obviously, the organizers were careful not to go too far.

Another episode also indicates some kind of central planning. At one point a number of policemen were cornered; they were practically lying on the ground trying to defend themselves from the stones hurled at them. However, the organizers allowed another unit to rescue them.

In addition to Maria Wittner, Gábor Kubatov, currently the president of Ferencváros and right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, most likely also had a large role to play behind the scenes in the events of September 17 and 18. At least this is what József Debreczeni heard from some people in the Office of National Security.

I should also mention László Sólyom’s rather unfortunate role on September 18. He decided to talk about the “moral crisis” that had developed as a result of the Balatonőszöd speech and practically called for Gyurcsány’s resignation. That added oil to the fire. The attackers felt perfectly justified. After all, even the president thinks that they are on the right side. If Gyurcsány doesn’t resign, they will force him to do so. Standing behind this crowd, be it Viktor Orbán or László Sólyom, showed either very poor judgment or cunning. With Sólyom I suspect it was a lack of knowledge of what was going on exactly and who the actors were. With Orbán, I think one must be less forgiving. He was ready to exploit criminal elements if they served his purpose.