(ADDS COMMENTS JOBBIK, AND SPEAKERS)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungarian police raided a gathering in Budapest of an extremist U.S.-based group, detaining its leader and interrogating other participants, BosNewsLife learned.
The overnight raid in a pub near Budapest’s Southern railway station came after the government banned a congress of the National Policy Institute (NPI), which promotes white race supremacy and has called for immigrants to return home.
NPI leader Richard Spencer had earlier warned in a video message that the gathering “on the future of Europe” would be a “private event” as the official venue cancelled its contract following the ban.
Pictures seen by BosNewsLife and posted on the YouTube website show about two dozen policemen standing outside the pub, while other police apparently question participants inside the building.
Several persons can be seen in a police bus.
In the same video an unidentified NPI supporter, who claims he was detained at a similar meeting in Sweden, says the way Hungarian police handled the situation “was nothing compare to the methods they used in Sweden”.
Another participant, who is not named, expresses concern. “We are ultimately a group of intellectuals, people who have intellectual curiosity. The authorities feel threatened, and because of that we have specifically been targeted.”
Police said the participants, including Spencer, were held because they did not had proper identification documents, but delegates claimed they were not informed about these requirements.
It was not immediately clear Sunday, October 5, what charges Spencer would face. Others on the list of speakers included Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian nationalist political scientist with close ties to the Kremlin. Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party was also mentioned, but denied to BosNewsLife that it would attend the gathering.
The overnight raid came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán ordered his interior minister to ban the gathering and not allow participants into the country, in a decision supported by the leftist opposition and Jewish representatives.
However the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) questioned the decision. “While we totally disagree with the NPI ideas, we do not support a ban,” said Szabolcs Hegyi, who supervises the group’s Right and Freedom of Conscience Program. “We do believe in freedom of expression and there is no evidence that they are violent,” he told BosNewsLife.
Yet his group participated in a demonstration against the NPI meeting. Late Friday, October 3, some 150 people gathered in front of a controversial monument remembering the Nazi Germany’s occupation of Hungary to express concern about the “racist” and “white supremacist” congress.
Among those attending was Imre Mécs , an elderly Hungarian politician who was once sentenced to death for his role in the Hungarian 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination. He expressed concern about the state of affairs in Hungary.
“I think Prime Minister Orbán was very late with the ban,” Mécs told BosNewsLife. Orbán has been accused by critics of flirting with the far-right at a time when his country prepares for key local elections later this month. “Twenty-five years after the collapse of Communism, Hungary is turning into an autocratic state,” Mécs said.
Activist Péter Molnár said the government had created an atmosphere in which “an international racist conference could take place.”
Shortly before sunset Molnár showed the recently unveiled monument depicting Hungary as the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial eagle. “It attempts to take away Hungary’s responsibility in the Holocaust. Besides 600,000 Hungarian Jews also thousands of Roma perished. Organizers of the conference must have thought that in such a nation it must be easy to gather.”
The Montana-based NPI has denied wrongdoing. “The “conservative” Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, declared that he will use “all legal means at his disposal” to ban our conference,” complained Spencer in a recent video message. “I guess we should be happy that illegal means are off the table. It’s important to remember that neither Orbán nor anyone else has accused us of actually breaking any laws, because we haven’t.”
Ironically, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest seemed to agree. “As much as we deplore the views of any group that promotes this type of racism or ethnic discord, under U.S. law their right to express their views would be protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Charge d’Affaires André Goodfriend in an interview.
However, “We’re glad to see that the government of Hungary shares our concerns that messages that a group like this promotes are abhorrent,” he stressed. “We’re pleased to see that the government of Hungary is speaking out to reaffirm that it does not support those who promote racial or ethnic intolerance.”
Tensions have risen between Washington and Budapest over a perceived crackdown on non-governmental organizations and press freedom, charges Hungary’s government denies.