By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Supporters of a far-right party known for its antisemitic rhetoric and threats against Gypsies, or Roma, have demonstrated against Hungary’s European Union membership.
Up to 2,000 people, many of them waving flags used by Hungary’s pro-Nazi regime during World War Two, called for the country to leave the EU at a rally of the Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) party.
Saturday’s protest came just days after the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said European subsidies destined for Hungary could be suspended starting next year if the government doesn’t rework plans to cut its budget deficit.
Additionally, the Commission has expressed concerns about a new constitution and related laws it says threaten the independence of the Central Bank, the judiciary, media and even religious life.
BURNING EU FLAG
At Saturday’s rally, however, organizers said the EU undermined the country’s sovereignty, just as the Soviet Union did when Hungary was still a Soviet-satellite state.
After several attempts, two Jobbik parliamentarians eventually managed to set a European Union flag on fire during the protest in front of the European Commission offices in Budapest.
There were “too many stars on the EU flag to just cut a hole” as was done during Hungary’s 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination, when fighters ripped out the Communist red star and hammer from the middle of Hungarian flags, a speaker said explaining the action.
A man was seen waving the torched flag on the stage, encouraged by an angry crowd shouting “Ria, Ria, Hungaria!” and “down with Trianon” a reference to the treaty under which Hungary lost two-third of its territory following World War One.
“WAR ON HUNGARY”
“This week the EU declared war on Hungary in a very harsh and open way,” Csanád Szegedi, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament told the flags waving crowd.
Jobbik President Gábor Vona suggested to reporters there was an EU-led-conspiracy against Hungary.
“What the Hungarian government got from Brussels and the European Commission…is not a little knock or a smack, but a kick in the head, while we are on the ground,” he said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who was criticized for his perceived autocratic and nationalistic style, said that he is ready for a dialogue with the European Commission “about arguments, not political opinions.”
CENTRAL BANK CONTROVERSY
Analysts have warned it may not be enough to avoid sanctions. Last week, Orbán’s chief negotiator was already told by the International Monetary Fund it would not yet start talks on requested financial aid by Hungary of as much as $26 billion.
The European Commission, another partner in the requested assistance, says Hungary should first change contested legislation related to the Central Bank and financial stability.
All major credit ranking agencies have downgraded Hungary’s debt to “junk” status, prompting an angry response from Hungary’s embattled center-right government.
There is international concern that euro-skeptic extremists will use Hungary’s tensions with Brussels to increase their popularity. Some opinion polls already suggest that Jobbik is now the second largest political force in the country.
The party has been linked to several paramilitary groups marching through Roma villages to demonstrate against “Gypsy crime.” Several Roma were killed in recent years and there have been dozens of fire bomb incidents against their homes.
REVIVING DARK MEMORIES
Jobbik President Vona, a former history teacher, is a founding member of the Magyar Gárda, an association whose uniforms are reminiscent of those worn by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s wartime Nazi party.
The group, which was outlawed but whose members were clearly present during Saturday’s rally, has revived dark memories among survivors of the Second World War, when Jews and Roma were deported to concentration camps, often by enthusiastic Hungarians. An estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews and tens of thousands of Roma died in the Holocaust.
Hungary’s Jewish population of roughly 100,000, the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe outside Russia, has also been Jobbik’s target.
The party has said that that “foreign speculators,” including Israel, want to take-over the Hungarian nation.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals, especially but not limited to (former) Communist nations and other (former) autocratic nations. Hungary is also the country where BosNewsLife News Agency has its headquarters).