Series of racist murders of Roma in Hungary unparalleled in present-day Europe
“Cowardly racist murders” – that’s what Romani Rose has called the recent attacks by neo-Nazis on Roma in Hungary. Rose was speaking on 2 August at the annual international commemoration at the site of the former extermination camp at Auschwitz. He went on to say the murders represented “a new dimension of the violence committed against this minority” and called on European governments to recognize Roma organizations as equal partners and to intensify cooperation with them.
One week later, the Hungarian Police completed their investigation into the series of attacks and handed the file over to the state attorney. Media report that three men are to be charged with murder and a fourth, allegedly the driver, will be charged as an accomplice to one incident. Over the course of more than a year, six Roma people died as a result of the nine criminal acts under indictment.
At a commemoration of the Roma victims of the Holocaust held at the start of August in Hungary, János Bogdán, Jr. of the Party for Roma Unity (MCF) spoke of a “new Roma Holocaust” and pointed out that as a result of the recent parliamentary elections, numerous representatives of the “fascist party” Jobbik now sit in the Hungarian Parliament. According to Mária Silkó Szurmainé, a department head at the Hungarian National Resources Ministry, the recent economic crisis has brought citizens’ prejudices against minorities to the surface: “These problems, which were swept under the carpet for years, must be resolved. The Hungarians and the Roma do not face separate futures: Their future must be a joint one, and they must share responsibility for it.”
After one of the most brutal of the attacks in Hungary last August, then-Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimír Špidla said: “The Roma have become the target of an organized racist violence which feeds on political populism, verbal expressions of hatred, and media hogwash, making Roma the scapegoats for larger social problems.” Due to its previous governments’ unthrifty budget policies and its state debt, Hungary is one of the main victims of the global economic crisis, which has affected the daily life of a large number of its inhabitants.
Murder modeled on The Turner Diaries
The attacks featured a shocking brutality. The perpetrators selected Roma residences located on the outskirts of towns, specifically the very last house from which their escape route could be covered by a forest, or the last house on a street which could not be seen from the town. They then threw more than one Molotov cocktail at the targeted home and shot the Roma as they fled the ensuing fire. In one case they killed a five-year-old boy by shooting him in the head.
These “executions” were performed with the same kind of felonious brutality that is described in detail in a book that has been called the neo-Nazi Bible: The Turner Diaries, a novel by US neo-Nazi William Pierce in which the main character has a good time shooting randomly selected Afro-Americans in the streets of the USA. The main aim of his efforts is to influence white-skinned people to either deport citizens of other skin colors from the USA or segregate them. At the start of August 2010, police in the US arrested a man at an airport in Atlanta suspected of committing a series of similar attempted murders against dark-skinned people in recent weeks there. The perpetrator injured or stabbed his victims using either a hammer or a knife. Police say the attacks were racially motivated.
A lengthy, desperate, and costly investigation
The investigation of these murderous attacks in Hungary was accompanied by partial inaction and numerous police mistakes similar to those committed during the investigation of arson attacks against Roma in the Silesian area of the Czech Republic. It often took a long time before police released any information whatsoever about the cases, and when they did release information, it was very vague, indicating that the probable motivation for the murders was revenge by loan sharks who had not received payment. For months the hypothesis that this was a series of racist attacks committed by the same group of perpetrators was rejected, even though the various attacks were very similar to one another in terms of how they were performed. The most brutal attack was responded to by an ambulance that did not arrive until almost an hour after the crime - without medical staff on board. One victim of the shooting was still alive when it arrived, but the crew did not succeed in saving his life. Local police said the fire had occurred due to an electrical short even though bullets were found at the scene, and the investigation of the case did not even begin until 10 hours after the crime had been committed. The police officers responsible were eventually disciplined in response to public pressure over a long period of time.
Eventually police increased the amount of the reward being offered for information about the perpetrators, which in the end reached the previously unseen amount of EUR 380 000 (that is not a typo). This breathtaking amount of money testifies to the amount of pressure being placed on police by the government, which primarily faced harsh criticism from the international community over the inability of the Hungarian authorities to investigate and halt this series of violent murders. FBI profilers even flew in from the US to assist Hungarian police in compiling profiles of the perpetrators and identifying them.
No one ever got the reward. Police say they managed to track down the alleged perpetrators by wire-tapping a total of 4.5 million telephone calls. Experts estimate the investigation could not have cost taxpayers anything less than dozens of millions of euro. In mid-August of last year, a team of 120 detectives arrested the suspects at two night clubs in the eastern Hungarian town of Debrecín, where they were working as private security. Police allegedly also discovered the weapon used in the crimes at one of the clubs, a hunting rifle hidden in a secret space behind a wall in one of the rooms. A map was also found, marked with the sites of the previous attacks and three planned for the future. The day of the arrest was chosen in order to prevent the next attack. Of the six men arrested, two were released after interrogation and entered a witness protection program.
Charges filed two years after the first crime occurred
Zoltán Csizner, director of the Hungarian State Bureau of Investigation (NNI), took advantage of the closing of the investigation to present the results of the detectives’ work. The Slovak Press Agency TASR quoted him as saying members of the gang could be proven to have attacked nine sites, murdering six people and injuring dozens (five severely). They used approximately 80 rounds of ammunition total; at seven of the sites they also threw a total of 11 Molotov cocktails at residences. As if wanting to explain why the investigation had taken so long, Csizner said a series of such killings has never been seen anywhere in Europe. In his view, the suspects selected sites for attack where recent events had caused social unrest related to Roma. Another criterion was the possibility for a rapid escape from the crime scene. The motivation of the attacks was said to have been revenge for alleged wrongdoing committed by the Roma long ago (not, however, committed by the victims of the attacks) and an effort to spark fear in society. There was no personal connection between the victims and the perpetrators.
András Dócs, head of the detective division at NNI, said at the press conference that three of the four men detained were suspected of having shot the Roma. The fourth detainee, according to police, was the driver during two of the anti-Roma attacks. NNI said the attacks were exceptional in terms of their motivation, which unlike other cases was neither financial nor sexual, but purely racist. Media reported that three of the attackers had publicly endorsed racist opinions and two had previously been connected with the Hungarian branch of the neo-Nazi organization Blood and Honor. During the 1990s, this organization also had a chapter in the Czech Republic which led to the establishment of the main Czech neo-Nazi group, National Resistance (Národní odpor). One of those charged in Hungary had worked as a professional soldier and served with a foreign mission in Kosovo. The group carefully rehearsed their attacks. Investigators say their attack on a refugee camp in Debrecín was their first test with live ammunition.
The media report that some of the attorneys for those indicted deny their clients’ guilt. Even though the suspects are said to have admitted to having been present at several crime scenes, they have denied taking part in the crimes which injured people. The expectation is that it will not at all be easy to convict the suspects of participating in specific crimes. Only one witness ever looked any of the perpetrators in the eyes: A 13-year-old Roma girl who survived the attack with serious injuries (her mother did not survive). Police are refusing to report the names of those detained and have not revealed which of the 15 total attacks from that time period they have managed to solve.
An international construction brigade helps the victims
Reconstruction of one of the burned-out homes is currently taking place in Hungary at the instigation of representatives of the German Football Union. During preparations for a match between Germany and Hungary, Theo Zwanziger, head of the German Football Union (DFB), asked representatives of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg how the union might help the victims of this racism. The Council turned to a branch of the International Building Camps (Internationaler Bauorden) in the nearby town of Ludwigshafen, which has been organizing building camps for years. In collaboration with Hungarian Roma organizations, they contacted the victims’ families to ask whether they would be interested in assistance. Three towns in which Roma homes had been burned down were eventually selected. In the town of Tatárszentgyörgy, approximately 80 km south of Budapest, the most brutal attack of all took place last February. Those shot were a father and his five-year-old son. The mother of the family hid herself and an infant from the assailants’ gunfire by staying in the burning house. One year after the attack, the survivors had nowhere to live and their insurance company was refusing to pay compensation for the damages so they could buy a new apartment.
This past May, a delegation of representatives of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the football unions of both countries visited the family along with Petra Pau, Vice-Chair of the German Parliament, in order to negotiate how construction would proceed. The mother of the murdered five-year-old boy had moved into a relative’s home with her other children, but in the end she decided to return to her own home if it would be reconstructed. During the visit, the guests gave the local elementary school gifts of football t-shirts and footballs. The DFB reported about this visit on its website, but the published text does not mention the racist attacks.
This summer, volunteers from Germany, Poland and Romania as well as members of the surviving family transformed the ruined house into a new home. Volunteers received tickets and air travel to the Germany-Hungary match at the end of May as a reward for their work.
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