The Budaházy case, terrorism and the state

By Searchlight Team

Martin Smith uncovers the unholy alliances between far-right and neo-nazi parties, and why they are campaigning for the release of terror gang members responsible for violent attacks on government officials and LGBT+ groups in the latter 2000s

Far-right unity: Campaigners to free Budaházy come from across the far-right spectrum. (The banner reads: ‘Freedom to Budaházy! Freedom for political prisoners’)

The Hungarian President and Fidesz member, Katalin Novák, announced in December 2022 that she was going to pardon seven of those found guilty in the infamous ‘Budaházy case’. The case centres on the Hungarian neo-nazi, György Budaházy, and 16 of his supporters.

Budaházy was the leader of a terrorist organisation, the Hungarian Arrows (Magyarok Nyilai), between 2007 and 2009. It carried out a series of violent attacks against leading social-democratic and liberal government officials and LGBT+ groups. They also physically attacked Sándor Csintalan, a former socialist politician, who today is a media personality and hosts the pro Fidesz HírTV news channel.

The case has been ongoing for over 13 years. Budaházy and his accomplices were first arrested in June 2009. After numerous complex legal manoeuvres, the trial concluded in the summer of 2016. The courts sentenced him to 13 years in prison and 15 of his accomplices received sentences of between five and 13 years.

All the defendants appealed against the verdict, which resulted in the appeals court dismissing the sentences and ordering a retrial. The retrial concluded in March 2022, and this time the court sentenced Budaházy to 17 years in prison for terrorist activities. Five other members of his organisation received sentences of ten years or more and a third group were each sentenced to five years.

The recent decision by the Hungarian President to pardon seven of the gang is the latest twist in this troubling case.

Paramilitary partners: György Budaházy (right) with László Toroczkai, leader of the nazi Our Homeland Movement

Budaházy’s far-right pals

Budaházy and his backers have also been buoyed by the support they have had from public figures, far-right politicians and groups. As well as several key Fidesz pundits, three prominent scientists have called for the release of Budaházy and his accomplices.

The ‘reformed’ neo-nazi Jobbik movement plays a prominent role in the campaign to release him. Its press office described the verdicts as ‘unjust’ and one of its prominent MEPs, Krisztina Morvai, led a group of Budaházy supporters and disrupted the final day of the hearing.

Finally, all six MPs belonging to the nazi Our Homeland Movement (Mi Hazánk/OHM) have publicly backed Budaházy. They believe supporting the campaign to ‘free Budaházy’ is attracting people to its ranks. OHM leader, László Toroczkai, and Budaházy have a long history of working together in various paramilitary and violent street gang movements over the last two decades.

The ‘Budaházy case’ has polarised public opinion along left/right lines. But it is important to understand why key figures in Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian right-wing government are prepared to overturn the rule of law and why large numbers of far-right MPs have been prepared to publicly defend right-wing terrorists. To do this, we must look at this case in the context of the connections between the Fidesz government and sections of the Hungarian state with far-right terrorism and paramilitarism.

Paramilitarism & terrorism

In the post-communist era, Hungary experienced a rapid rise in neo-nazi skinhead gangs, right-wing paramilitary groups and terrorist cells. However, up until the mass anti-government uprisings of 2006, these groups were very much confined to the fringes of society.

In 2006, the release of a transcript of a private speech by Hungary’s social democratic Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, changed the situation. In it, he admitted that he had lied to win the election and boasted that his government had achieved nothing in its four years in office. The revelations led to a wave of militant protests that rocked the Hungarian state to its foundations.

Fidesz was not only the main beneficiary of the anti-government protests, it played a central role in them. It worked closely with many far-right gangs and, more importantly Jobbik. This was a fascist party and very much on the fringes of Hungarian politics that came to national prominence by leading the most militant sections of the protests.

By 2007, the anti-government movement had petered out, but its legacy was a seismic shift of Hungarian politics to the right. One element of this shift was the rise of violent far-right terrorism and paramilitarism between 2007 and 2013.

A brief analysis of three of these groups will show how their violent actions were often ignored by sections of the Hungarian state and in some cases, even protected. The most significant group was the paramilitary Hungarian Guard Movement (Magyar Gárda Mozgalom), which was launched by Jobbik.

The Hungarian Guard Movement

Jobbik launched the Hungarian Guard Movement in 2007, claiming 1,500 members. It was a uniformed paramilitary formation attracting support from the ranks of Hungary’s far-right and skinhead gangs. It drew inspiration from the infamous Arrow Cross fascist movement and its main target was the country’s Roma community.

There were two main phases of the Guard’s development, the first between 2007 and 2009, when it focused on mass, mainly symbolic, paramilitary parades and rallies aimed at the Roma population. After a particularly violent demonstration against Roma inhabitants of the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, the authorities banned the Guard. However, the organisation openly flouted the law and Jobbik’s leader, Gábor Vona, turned up to his first day in parliament elected as an MP in full Guard regalia in 2010.

The second phase (2010-2013) involved the Guard moving from mainly symbolic parades to violent marches, often involving several thousand paramilitaries. The Guard also expanded its targets. In 2013, Jobbik supporters wearing full paramilitary uniforms protested outside the World Jewish Congress held in Budapest. The Guard also held protests outside LGBT+ events and targeted well-known anti-fascists.

The political impact of the Guard’s activities was threefold: first, it terrorised Hungary’s Roma population; second, it popularised anti-Roma racism (the Fidesz government would later adopt many of the Guards’ anti-Roma demands). Last, Jobbik used the Guard’s marches as barometers to gauge electoral support in villages and towns. My study of the movement noted that, of 21 Jobbik mayors elected between 2010 and 2018, 16 were in places where Guard protests had taken place.

One other important thing to note is how sections of the Hungarian police force at best ignored the Guard’s activities and at worst supported Jobbik and the Guard. For example, in 2010, it was reported that police officers had formed a union affiliated to Jobbik. In addition, a survey found that 60% of police officers supported Jobbik. Even more shocking was the fact that the police were found guilty of failing to protect the Roma from Guard violence in the village of Gyöngyöspata.

Hungarian Arrows

The Hungarian Arrows National Liberation Army (Magyarok Nyilai Nemzeti Felszabadító Hadsereg) was a far-right terrorist group active in Hungary between 2007 and 2009. It was founded by Budaházy and was responsible for a series of violent attacks, including assaults on social democratic politicians and fire bombings of LGBT+ clubs. These thugs attacked the annual Gay Pride rally in Budapest.

The attacks initiated by this group on Budapest Pride were supported by leading members of Jobbik and Fidesz. Despite definitive evidence of the Arrows’ violence, for nearly two years the police refused to acknowledge its activities.

The Death Squad

The so-called Death Squad (Halálbrigád) was a group of four neo-nazi terrorists: Arpád Kiss, István Kiss, Zsolt Petö and István Csontos. They were responsible for ten attacks on the country’s Roma population between 2008 and 2009, which left six Roma dead and 55 injured. In 2013, three of them were given life sentences and the fourth, Csontos, received a 13-year prison sentence.

Once again, the police refused to acknowledge that these attacks were linked or racially motivated. In an interview, conducted from his prison cell, Arpád Kiss admitted to his crimes, but also claimed that two members of the Squad remained free, even though the police knew their identities. The German newspaper Der Spiegel noted that two of those involved had been under secret surveillance and Csontos was an informant for the military service. He was released from prison last year.

Uneasy friendship

Several political commentators describe Orbán’s Fidesz government as a ‘Mafia State’ – the term far-right authoritarian government is more accurate. In public, Orbán distances himself from parties such as Jobbik and Our Homeland Movement. In reality, his rise to power was aided by Jobbik and the climate of anti-Roma racism promoted by the paramilitaries.

Novák’s decision to pardon seven of Budaházy gang is just the latest example of a state willing to protect some of Europe’s most vile right-wing terrorists.

The uneasy relationship between Orbán, Jobbik and Our Homeland Movement continues today. Orbán cynically uses these extreme right-wing groups for his own ends. They act as political outriders for the regime, help it popularise racism and provide Orbán with a sounding board for his more extreme policies. Orbán also uses these groups as a threat to Europe’s leaders: he cynically states, ‘if you think I’m bad, look what’s waiting in the wings’. l