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Rightist Movements Stir Up Trouble In A Post-Communist Land

December 14, 1992

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ A political leader’s racist comments and attacks by neo-Nazi gangs on Gypsies and foreigners have tarnished Hungary’s image as a model democracy in formerly Communist eastern Europe.

Concern that Hungary might revert to a climate reminiscent of the 1930s arose in August when Istvan Csurka, vice president of the governing Democratic Forum, sprinkled a magazine article with racist ideas and Nazi-era terms.

Intentionally or not, Csurka’s article lent powerful psychological support to neo-Nazi groups. It also has split the governing party, an unlikely alliance of right-wing nationalists, centrists and liberals.

Premier Jozsef Antall, a centrist, failed to forcefully condemn Csurka, who leads the party’s right wing.

Since becoming party leader three years ago, Antall has sought to accommodate all of his party’s three philosopies. But the right has brought increasing pressure to bear, culminating with Csurka’s article.

Several violent incidents by right-wing groups have been reported in recent months. On Oct. 23, skinheads wearing Nazi symbols disrupted a rally marking the anniversary of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising and the 1989 proclamation of a free Hungary.

President Arpad Goencz was forced to leave the rally without speaking and the Interior Ministry was accused of ignoring the danger of right-wing violence.

Police records show 51 assaults by young neo-Nazis this year on Gypsies and foreigners and at least four right-wing youth groups have been legally registered.

Sandor Hajos, a leader of one such group, speaks of entering candidates in the next elections. His Anti-Bolshevik, Anti-Fascist Association provides what it describes as history lessons and physical training to young people.

Most political analysts feel the extremist groups are marginal and that most Hungarians remain in the political center.

There is growing concern, however, that an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent and and economic hardship could make the right more attractive. Nearly one-fourth of Hungary’s 10.7 million people live at or below the poverty line.

″It’s what you see in every (former Communist) country from the Baltic Sea to Greece,″ said Laszlo Keri, a political scientist. ″It’s because of the disappointment of people who had very high expectations of very quick changes.″

Rising nationalism has fostered extremism across eastern Europe, but only in Hungary has a leading politician espoused such ideas.

″It’s different in quality here because it is not an extremist group that voices extremist sentiments, but a representative of the governing party,″ said Tamas Raj, a rabbi and parliament member for the opposition Free Democrats.

″The real danger of Csurka’s right is that ... it’s hard for people to differentiate whether it’s Csurka or the party,″ said Antal Oerkeny, a sociologist.

In his article, published in a magazine he edits, Csurka wrote of a Jewish- liberal conspiracy and ″genetic causes″ of a perceived deterioration of the population - an apparent reference to Hungary’s 600,000 to 1 million Gypsies.

It includes such terms as ″lebensraum,″ or living space, a Nazi-era euphemism for territorial ambitions. He suggested that liberals want to reinstate Communist rule, including ″securing the influence of the Jews.″

Later, Csurka denied that he perceives an ″international Jewish plot.″

The article promoted widespread protest from the opposition, media, Democratic Forum liberals and abroad.

Although Antall described Csurka’s ideas as ″political madness and nonsense,″ the premier took no clear action to silence him. A showdown is expected at a party congress that was postponed from November to January.

Antall may be playing for time, seeking to hold the party together - or may hope Csurka forms a splinter party that seeks to contest 1994 parliamentary elections but fails.

Jozsef Debreczeni, a liberal Forum legislator who has equated the magazine article with Nazi ideology, says Csurka has no influence in government and few allies in the party’s parliament delegation.

Some analysts fear Csurka has links to right-wing groups and that their agitation is part of an effort to bring pressure on the government and cause social upheaval.

Zoltan Csorba, an local elected official whose Budapest constituents include Gypsies, says there is subtle discrimination on the local government level and intimidation on the street.

He said victims often are afraid to go to the police.

″It’s very scary,″ he said. ″People will eventually get to the point where they will think similarly whether someone is murdered for money or for race, belief or color of skin.″

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