Hungary: Dark secret of town's anti-Roma attacks

18 August 2009
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Frankfurt

Burial of Robert Csorba and his son, in Tatarszentgyörgy, 3 march 2009 (AFP)
Burial of Robert Csorba and his son, in Tatarszentgyörgy, 3 march 2009 (AFP)

In the seemingly law abiding town of Tatarszentgyörgy, prejuduces against the Roma communinty have spilled over into violence. It would seem that even the local police are complicit in attacks on families, which has prompted the national government to collaborate with the FBI to catch the perpetrators. But this is not an isolated example, the political trend suggests that anti-Roma racism is on the increase.

A passing tourist, might come away with quite a good impression of Tatarszentgyörgy. Like their fellow citizens in many other Hungarian towns and villages, the locals here have launched an extensive renovation programme, aided by grants from Brussels. It also appears to be a law-abiding place with a sign to remind visitors that a "citizens' watch" operates in the town, but the trouble in Tatarszentgyörgy stems from the fact that the community patrols are apparently unable to do anything to halt a tide of anti-Roma violence, nor were they capable of intervening on 23 February when an attack on a Roma family claimed the lives of two victims, a father and his five-year-old child.

"They always attack the poorest ones, who live on the outskirts of the village on the edge of the woods, " explains a spokesman for the Roma community in Budapest. In one street, where ethnic Hungarian and Roma families live side by side, a local man showed us the charred shell of a yellow-walled house – all that remains of the home of Robert Csorba, who lived there with his wife and three children. At one o'clock in the morning on 23 February, the Csorba's home went up in flames. The family fled from the house and tried escape into the woods, but they were shot down by bursts of gunfire. Robert, aged 27, and his son were killed instantly. His wife and two daughters suffered serious burns. An investigation conducted by the town's police concluded that the fire was caused by a short circuit, and that the victims had died from their burns. The government had to intervene, and turn the case over to a group of detectives from Budapest for an impartial investigation, which from the outset focused on extreme-right fanatics and "gypsy loan sharks".

The day before we visited the friends and family of Robert Csorba, we met with Andras Kisgergely, a 33-year-old "vice commander" in the "Magyar Garda" (Hungarian Guard) paramilitary group, which has been banned for "inciting hatred, and the local section leader of the extreme-right party Jobbik. According to Kisgergely, Jobbik's success – the party obtained 15% of votes and three seats in recent European elections – has been fueled by the "disturbing lack of security" in Hungary. He goes on to explain that robbery and burglary are daily occurrences, and that the Roma have taken to crime "as a way of life and a means of subsistence," which supplements their abuse of welfare benefits. Naturally, Kisgergely and his fellow party members feel that the state should respond to this problem with a catalogue of repressive measures, including the death penalty, to put the country back on the right track.

It is a feeling that is shared by the perpetrators of the double murder in Tatarszentgyörgy, and by a significant percentage of the town's population which, as the investigators from Budapest discovered, is very receptive to Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard's law and order message. This might explain why, in spite of assistance FBI profilers, police still have not made any progress in finding the perpetrators of the Tatarszentgyörgy murders.

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