Hungarian police

The fate of the Radnóti statue in Abda

The name of Miklós Radnóti has been all over the news in the last week or so. Radnóti, who lost his life in the Holocaust, is considered to be one of the great poets of Hungary. He died on November 10, 1944, during a forced march of a Jewish labor battalion from Bor, Serbia, through Hungary toward the German-Austrian border. Most of the battalion died en route in one way or the other. Radnóti was most likely shot and buried in a mass grave in a small village, Abda, adjacent to the city of Győr. In 1980 a statue was erected in his honor at the site where he was killed.

Why all this sudden interest in Radnóti? First, because on November 15 in Miskolc a neo-Nazi group called the Hungarian National Front decided to make a bonfire of books that were not to their members’ liking. Among the books journalists on the scene discovered was a volume of the complete works of Miklós Radnóti.

The statue of Miklós Radnóti before its destruction

The statue of Miklós Radnóti before its destruction

Some people found that shocking enough, but two days later the country learned the sad news that an unknown perpetrator had destroyed the statue of Radnóti in Abda. A local paper, Kisalföld, first reported the news. When MTI picked up the story, the agency decided to be extremely cautious in its wording: “The Radnóti statue broke.”  Yes, just broke. I guess by itself. The decision makers at MTI liked this description so much that they repeated it every time the fate of the statue came up. Exactly three times.

Soon enough, however, it became known that the statue didn’t just break by itself but that a car hit it with such force that the statue actually broke in half. In fact, the damage is so great that it will have to be replaced by a replica of the original.

The Hungarian left immediately assumed that the destruction of the statue was deliberate and that the motive behind it was anti-Semitism. The politician who is the district’s socialist candidate for next year’s election expressed his opinion that the “guilty ones” will soon be found and that they will get what they deserve.

Meanwhile, the police began to investigate and came to the conclusion that it was a simple car accident. However, if it was an accident, why did the driver flee the scene without reporting it? 444.hu, an investigative Internet paper, immediately raised doubts about the police’s description of the likely events. The journalist pointed out that the statue is at least 10 meters from the main road. In order to run into it one would have to break through a guard rail and drive across a ditch. Here is a picture of the spot and a Google map of the same.

The highway and the evergreens that surrounded the statue

The highway and the evergreens that surrounded the statue

Radnoti szobor2Cink.hu, on the other hand, accused the left-liberal media of manipulation, which they said began already with the local paper that first reported the incident. After all, the reporter of Kisalföld called attention to the fact that this is not the first time that Radnóti’s statue was defaced. A couple of years back someone poured red paint all over it. So, their assumption was that it was a deliberate political act. Cink.hu also found fault with ATV’s reporting of the case and complained in general that the left-liberal media had already decided the case without having any concrete information of the circumstances. The reporter also mentioned that at the time of the accident, around 2 a.m., there was dense fog in the area and it was therefore quite possible that the driver accidentally drove into the statue.

Gépnarancs, a left-wing blog, is also certain that the destruction of statue couldn’t have been accidental. It must, the blogger surmises, have something to do with the Miskolc book burning.

This is what the statue looked like after the accident

This is what the statue looked like after the accident

Within a day the police found an abandoned and badly damaged black Mercedes in Öttevény, a village west of Abda. The next day, on November 19, Szabolcs P., a twenty-five-year-old from Pápa, went to the police and told the following story of accidentally driving into Radnóti’s statue. The car was not his, it was borrowed. He and a friend of his were on their way to Győr to a bar when in the fog he lost his way and accidentally drove across the evergreen shrubs behind the statute and crashed into it. He got scared and drove away, but then he ran out of gas, which is why he abandoned the car in Öttevény. He and his companion hitched a ride to Győr from where they took a bus to Pápa.

The abandoned black Mercedes with damaged left front

The abandoned black Mercedes with damaged left front

The Győr police  seems to be satisfied with this story. However, another local online paper,  inforabakoz.huhas serious doubts about the veracity of Szabolcs P.’s story. According to the driver of the Mercedes they were traveling to Győr, but what remains of the evergreen shrubs indicates that the car hit the statue traveling from the other direction–that is, it was hit by a car traveling away from Győr. From the direction Szabolcs P. claims he hit the statue there are no tire marks. Moreover, the car was found in Öttevény, which is not on the way to Győr where the two men were allegedly heading.

I would also like to add my own observation concerning the damaged car. As one can see, it is the left side of the Mercedes that had to come into in contact with the statue. But if Szabolcs P. was driving toward Győr, it should have been the right-hand side that got damaged.

Interestingly, the website of the Győr police which, by the way, has very little useful information on the accident itself, has a small news item asking people whether the future replacement statue should be surrounded by some kind of barrier, like an iron railing. The article also says that members of the Győr police driving at 50 km/h reached the place where the statue once stood in 7 seconds. And, yes, they were driving from Győr toward Abda and not vice versa as Szabolcs P. claimed he was driving. So, perhaps the police after all know something that they haven’t bothered to share with the public.

These delaying tactics of the Hungarian police are regrettable. It would be much better to inform the public of police findings as soon as possible. Otherwise doubts remain, just as they remain in the case of the Baja video.

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A new name has surfaced in connection with the Roma serial murder case

A startling piece of news appeared yesterday in Népszabadság. A young man of dual Hungarian-Syrian citizenship with close ties to Fidesz might have been involved in one way or another in the murders of several Roma families which occurred between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. After three years of police investigation and 186 days in court, the case was closed on August 6, 2013, when three men received life imprisonment without parole and a fourth thirteen years without the possibility of early release. No one else was ever charged.

It would take far too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation that resulted in less than complete discovery. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced in August others might have been involved. We don’t even know all the pertinent information about the men who were convicted. For instance, one of the culprits had apparently worked for the Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal (Office of Military Security), but the details of his employment were never completely unearthed.

The authorities never managed to discover the source of all the weapons used in these murders. Some were stolen from the collection of a hunter by three of the accused. It was known that there was another person involved in the theft, but the police investigation failed to identify him. In addition to the stolen weapons there were other guns in the three men’s possession whose origin remained a mystery. The investigators knew that the Kiss brothers, István and Árpád, tried to purchase guns in Budapest. It was in connection with this part of the investigation that the name of Omar Ádám Sayfo surfaced.

A document recently found its way to the newsroom of Népszabadság which indicates that Sayfo was, even if not a potential suspect himself, a source of information about one of the men, István Kiss. In his testimony Sayfo told investigators that he had known Kiss for at least ten years and that they had been good friends. Sayfo knew about Kiss’s extremist political views, yet he found him surprisingly open-minded, a man who regretted the swastikas tattooed on his hand and leg. Nonetheless, Kiss was a member of an organization called Véres kard (Bloody Sword), which is a Hungarist organization, i.e. its members are followers of Ferenc Szálasi.

During Sayfo’s interrogation the investigators inquired about his views on firearms. He answered that, like all men, he is interested in them. At the time of his questioning he was thinking about signing up for a course for future hunters. Later Sayfo also testified in court and, when asked whether István Kiss had ever talked to him about acquiring weapons, he answered in the negative.

A parliamentary subcommittee comprised of three politicians, Károly Tóth (MSZP), József Gulyás (SZDSZ, today Együtt14-MP), and Ervin Demeter (Fidesz, former minister in charge of national security in the first Orbán government), had access to the testimony of “O.S.,” but they allegedly paid no attention to the man. Népszava asked Ervin Demeter about Omar Sayfo, since Demeter was a contributor to Magyar Demokrata when Sayfo was one of the paper’s editors. Demeter claims not to have known him. Magyar Demokrata, by the way, is full of anti-Semitic articles, many of them written by Omar Sayfo. The paper’s editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches.

Sayfo wore many hats in those days. In addition to being an editor of Magyar Demokrata, he was a Ph.D. candidate at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, specializing in Arabic literature, culture, and politics. He was also active in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. And he often showed up as a “political scientist” on Hír TV. Lately one can see him more often on the truly extremist Echo TV. Not long ago he welcomed Iran’s nuclear capability as a means of “keeping Israel in line.”

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau, 2009 Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau.
Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

Népszabadság found that in 2009, about the time the investigation of the Roma serial murder case uncovered Sayfo’s connection to István Kiss, he was a member of a Fidelitas delegation to Passau to attend the yearly regional congress of Bavarian parties. After Fidesz won the election, he became a civil servant for a while. He was attached to the foreign economics unit of the Ministry of National Economy in 2011. His stay there was short. Within a year the ministry no longer needed his services. The cause of his dismissal, if it was a dismissal, is not known.

One should spend time analyzing Sayfo’s articles in order to paint a richer portrait of the man, but Népszabadság came up with one rather telling quotation. “Those who belong to the dregs of society (literally “mass of lumpen proletarians,” coming from the German Lumpen meaning rags) with free beer and frankfurters in their stomach will take revenge on the government of law and order at election time. No government has dared to touch this issue. In the  last twenty years the democratic institutions have become in part the dictatorship of the parasitic masses in which the lumpen, criminal strata of society will punish not only the decision makers but also the majority of society that would like to live in a country of law and order. One must put an end to this in the interest of both parties.” Perhaps it would have been wise to investigate Sayfo’s background and his close friendship with István Kiss, after all.

I think that an article from 2010 that appeared in 168 Óra and to which “Mutt” called attention on Facebook might have some relevance here. It is a description of a speech by László Kövér, currently the president of the Hungarian parliament, delivered in Jászszentandrás on January 27, 2010. Here is what Kövér had to say. “Of course, in a democracy everybody has voting rights…. In a democracy unfortunately or not, depending on one’s inclination, this is the case. … Of course, everybody should have the right to vote, but they should be able to sell their vote to the state.” According to him, the state could purchase votes for the amount of the prevailing minimum wage. Everybody would do well: the dregs would get money and “we would get rid of those who vote differently.” Crazy yes, but Kövér’s and Sayfo’s ideas are practically identical.

But what about the exclusion of these lumpen elements? Surely, depriving certain people of voting rights is out of the question. Kövér’s idea is outright bizarre, but what about buying these people’s votes in a different way? Viktor Orbán tried to deter them from voting by introducing a system of registration. When that caused alarm both inside and outside of the country, he abandoned the idea. But purchasing votes is not far from the Fidesz leaders’ mind. Sure, they cannot do it officially, but as the Baja by-election demonstrated, it can be done unofficially and with the desired result.

It is unlikely that the investigation into the Roma serial murders will be reopened. For one thing, I don’t think the current government would be interested in the prospect of finding more people with Fidesz ties too close to the case. Because, as is clear from the career of Omar Sayfo, it is almost impossible to say where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.

“Unless blood flows”: Human Rights Watch’s report on Hungary

Lately I have been struck by the high number of incidents, often resulting in death, involving relatives or people living in the same household. A daughter kills her mother, an 85-year-old former high-ranking police officer kills his 79-year-old wife, a professional soccer player kills his partner and her son in a family dispute. These are only three cases I remember from the last two weeks or so.

In addition, it was only yesterday that the public at last learned that it was not the blind komondor that knocked over “Terike,” the domestic partner–since then wife–of József Balogh, mayor and member of parliament (Fidesz). Balogh admitted that he hit her in the face several times, grabbed her by the hair, and hit her head on the porch railing.

domestic violence2I’ve dealt with the subject of domestic violence, a very serious problem in Hungary, several times. The first reference I found on Hungarian Spectrum is from January 2009 when a bill was adopted by parliament which introduced the widely used practice outside of Hungary of a restraining or protective order. At that time President László Sólyom refused to sign it and instead sent it to the Constitutional Court. His objection was based on a section in the Constitution [58. § (1)] that guaranteed the right to choose one’s place of residence. I guess that needs no additional comment. The Constitutional Court naturally found the president’s legal opinion brilliant. After all, he was the chief justice of the court between 1990 and 1998.

In September 2012 the question came up again after Fidesz initially refused even to consider the issue. When public opinion forced the government party to act, they tried to make the law as weak as possible. Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources and in his former life a Protestant minister, was upset about the opposition’s “bluestockings attitude” and objected to talking about “violence within the family” because the family is sacred. Instead of family, the government insisted on “violence within the confines of partnership or relations.”

Eventually, after a long and rather fruitless discussion, the bill became law in July 2013, but it has serious shortcomings. For example, an assault against an intimate partner will be classified as an instance of domestic violence only if there are at least two separate occasions of abuse. Moreover, the new legislation does not cover non-cohabitating partners.

All in all, the Hungarian situation was considered to be so serious that Human Rights Watch (HRW) decided to issue its findings in a lengthy situation report. It was written by Lydia Gall, researcher on the Balkans/Eastern Europe in the Europe and Central Asia Division of the organization. Those who are interested in the details should read the report itself. Here I will concentrate on the official Hungarian reaction to it.

First, it is evident that the Hungarian government received a copy of the report before November 6, the official release date, because they were prepared to combat HRW’s “allegations” within hours after the appearance of the report. The very first reaction, a legal rebuttal, came from the Hungarian police. In my opinion it is almost certain that the author of the rebuttal is not a policeman. I rather suspect that it is the work of some government lawyer in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. In it the Hungarian government complains about “the several factual errors” and “the lack of sources.” From the document it becomes clear that the representatives of HRW did pay a visit to the Hungarian police headquarters, but it seems they were not convinced by the assurances of the policemen they met. The police’s “Communication Service” spent the rest of its document listing all the government resolutions to battle domestic violence, starting in 2003. Even this glowing report on the excellence of the Hungarian law, however, had to admit that charges against someone who commits domestic violence can be brought only by the victim.

The Hungarian police are especially sensitive about the issue of their officers’ preparedness in cases of domestic violence. The document states that there are “several forums” where a victim can complain in case the policeman refuses to act in the manner expected, but it doesn’t identify any of these forums by name.

A couple of hours after the release of the police communiqué, Zoltán Balog’s ministry also raised its voice against HRW’s claims that the Hungarian government’s system of handling domestic violence “simply doesn’t work.” The HRW report contends that because of police inaction and the lack of legal safeguards, women who are victims of domestic violence don’t get proper protection. Naturally, the Hungarian government doesn’t accept this verdict. Moreover, the ministry spokesman pointed out that too little time has passed since the law took effect and therefore no meaningful evaluation of the system can be undertaken. The ministry also said that the representatives of Human Rights Watch had assured the ministry earlier that the report would not be a comprehensive picture of the Hungarian situation but would only mention the most flagrant cases in order to inspire the Hungarian government to take further steps. I might add that throughout its reply, Balog’s ministry refused to refer to domestic violence by its common name (in Hungarian családon belüli erőszak) but instead used “kapcsolati erőszak,” a word combination cooked up by Balog in order to avoid the word “család” (family).

Then came the official spokeswoman of Fidesz, Gabriella Selmeczi, who charged that the criticism of Human Rights Watch is not really about the shortcomings of Hungary’s handling of domestic violence. In this case, as usual, Selmeczi continued, “we are witnessing an artificially generated international pressure” on Hungary. She can’t help thinking of the relationship between HRW and George Soros, the American financier with Hungarian roots. After all, last year Soros gave 20 million dollars to the organization. Selmeczi also added that the same Soros “has given millions to Gordon Bajnai’s foundation and has business dealings with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s firms.”

It doesn’t seem to matter to the Fidesz propagandists that Gyurcsány’s firms have nothing to do with the finances of the party. Moreover, the so-called millions given to Bajnai’s foundation turned out to be a small grant for a few thousand dollars from one of Soros’s foundations. The same is true about the money Gyurcsány’s firm got. Soros has been since 2010 financing projects aimed at Roma integration throughout Europe. Altus, Gyurcsány’s firm, is involved with such projects in the Balkan region and this received $13,800 toward the financing of the project.

So this was yet another Fidesz attempt to discredit a respectable NGO, this time Human Rights Watch, by claiming that it is an instrument of George Soros aimed at bolstering the political chances of the opposition. Gabriella Selmeczi most likely forgot that in 2010 George Soros and Viktor Orbán actually, after many years, met again to discuss his Roma integration project. At this meeting Soros offered one million dollars to the Hungarian government after the red sludge accident in 2010. Soros apparently also offered financial assistance for the Orbán government’s efforts at Roma integration. I don’t know what happened afterward. It is possible that Soros changed his mind once he realized that Roma integration was transformed into Roma school segregation with the active assistance of Zoltán Balog.

In brief, the Orbán government’s commitment to seriously combating domestic violence is lukewarm at best. I highly doubt that the government will try to improve the existing ineffectual laws as a result of Human Rights Watch’s indictment of their shortcomings. I also doubt that the police’s reluctance to interfere in domestic disputes will change any time soon.

Outrageous police reaction to crimes against the Hungarian Roma

Today’s topic is the Hungarian police’s decision not to investigate the attack on a Roma family in Devecser, one of the villages that earlier fell victim to the red sludge that covered acres and acres of land around a factory producing aluminum. I didn’t deal with this specific incident except as one in a series of anti-Roma attacks by far-right groups during the summer of 2012. However, here is a description of what happened on August 5, 2012 from The Economist. “You are going to die here,” shouted members of a 1,000-strong march as they stopped at houses they thought were a home to Roma, hurling their water bottles and stones to emphasize their point.” The Economist also mentioned that “not a peep of condemnation [came] from Fidesz.”

Ever since that time the Hungarian police have been investigating, taking their sweet time trying to ascertain whether a crime of incitement against the Roma minority occurred in Devecser. One would think that it shouldn’t take a year to come to the conclusion that inciting a crowd to kill people is a crime. But it seems that in Hungary it takes the police a year to decide the opposite. The police in Veszprém county announced a week ago that they found that no crime had been committed and they therefore stopped the investigation. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, it was a clear case of incitement and there was a good chance that the court would hand down a verdict against the neo-Nazi groups present in Devecser. But the Hungarian police prevented that from happening.

Before the attack on houses of Gypsies several extremist leaders gave speeches in which they called on their audience to kill the Roma. How else can one interpret such a sentence as “we must stamp out the phenomenon; we must exterminate it from our Lebensraum.” According to the Criminal Code, this kind of incitement against an ethnic group is a serious crime that may result in three years of jail time. Moreover, as a result of these speeches the crowd actually went on a rampage. The Gypsies under siege feared for their lives.

Marching toward to Roma houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

Marching toward to the Romas’ houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

How can the police explain dropping the investigation for lack of evidence? According to them, the person “who incites doesn’t address the intellect but appeals to primitive instincts which may result in possible action.” In their opinion, the utterances in this case “did not contain intemperate, antagonistic statements that may induce maleficent action.” What could be heard from the leaders of these extremist groups, according to the police, may be offensive to the Roma population and morally reprehensible, but these extremists cannot be punished by the instruments of the criminal justice system.

Organizations involved with human rights cases decided to appeal the case. One group, called Tett és Védelem Alapítvány (Action and Defense Foundation), will appeal to the Constitutional Court. The president of the Foundation told members of the media that in the last nine months he himself reported 28 cases involving incitement against minority groups but they were all ignored by the police. A day later, however, we learned that there will be an investigation into the case of a member of the far-right crowd in Devecser who, most likely unintentionally, hurled a rock at a Jobbik member of parliament, who as a result suffered a slight head injury.

Meanwhile another case emerged that sheds light on the thinking of the Hungarian police when it comes to hate speech and incitement against minorities. One of the speakers in Devecser was Zsolt Tyirityán, leader of the Army of Outlaws. On October 23, 2012, he delivered another speech in Budapest; this time the targets were the Jews. He vented his hatred of certain Jews who “should be put into freight cars and taken a good distance away and put to work.” The Tett és Védelem Foundation again demanded a police investigation of this incitement case, but the Budapest police refused to investigate. The reasons? One was that this speech is still on YouTube because not enough people complained about the speech’s content. Otherwise, YouTube would have removed it. And the second was that one cannot talk about incitement when “the whole audience shares the speaker’s ideology .” In this case we “should rather talk about agreement of the participants.” So, it seems that according to the Hungarian authorities one can speak of incitement only if not all listeners agree with the speaker. 168 Óra, which reported on the bizarre police rationalization for not investigating, gave the following title to the article: “According to the police one can deliver a Nazi speech before Nazis.”

But don’t fear, the Hungarian police are quite ready to act when it comes to members of national minorities. An organization called Roma Közösségi Hálózat and several other Roma groups staged a small demonstration in front of the Ministry of Interior after the police refused to investigate the Devecser case. The man who organized the demonstration was Jenő Setét, a Roma activist. There were only about 30 people present, who kept repeating the slogan: “The police shouldn’t assist the Nazis.” The final result was a misdemeanor charge against Setét.

It is my impression that Hungarian policemen, who were somewhat constrained during the socialist-liberal administrations, now feel empowered to act aggressively, sometimes illegally, against ordinary citizens and minorities, especially Gypsies. I have been collecting evidence to prove my point and in the near future will give some examples of what I mean.