October 13, 2014 / 7:22 PM / 5 years ago

Hungarian far-right tells town's Roma minority - conform or leave town

OZD Hungary (Reuters) - The far-right Jobbik party took control of an industrial town in northeastern Hungary after an election campaign in which it promised to issue an ultimatum to the Roma minority - follow our rules or leave town.

David Janiczak, mayor elect of the far-right Jobbik party in the northern Hungarian town Ozd, leaves a news stand in Ozd, east of Budapest, October 13, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The town of Ozd, with 35,000 people, is the biggest prize won by Jobbik in a nationwide round of municipal elections on Sunday in which it increased the numbers of City Halls it controls from three to fourteen.

The party is accused by critics of being anti-Semitic and racist. Though still a long way behind the ruling centre-right Fidesz party, in Sunday’s elections it overtook the Socialists to become the second biggest opposition force.

The new mayor of Ozd, 27-year-old David Janiczak, on Monday morning took a walk around the main square, receiving congratulatory handshakes from townspeople.

He said he would crack down on crime and poverty on behalf of all residents, whatever their ethnic background.

Yet the programme on which Janiczak ran in the election is explicit in singling out the Roma community.

The manifesto, posted on the Jobbik Internet site next to a photograph of Janiczak, states: “We think there are two ways to solve the Gypsy question...The first one is based on peaceful consent, the second on radical exclusion.”

“Our party wishes to offer one last chance to the destructive minority that lives here, so first it will consider peaceful consent. If that agreement fails, then and only then the radical solution can follow.”

The programme threatens to “chase off people who are unable to conform”.

MEASURED LANGUAGE

Jobbik has denied that it is racist or anti-Semitic. One of its members of parliament caused a storm of outrage when he proposed drawing up lists of Jews, but he later apologised and said he had been misunderstood.

The municipal elections give clues as to what Jobbik would actually do if it ever took power nationwide.

Interviewed on Monday outside his new office in City Hall, the mayor-elect of Ozd used much more measured language about the Roma than his election manifesto.

“Conditions are horrid on the outskirts of town where most Roma live,” Janiczak told Reuters. “This is not only the Roma’s fault but the leaders who wanted nothing from them but their vote - locally as well as nationally.”

“We need to create jobs and enforce order for Roma and Hungarians alike. The voters trust we will do that.”

He said he would revamp public safety using civilian law enforcement volunteers and jump start the local economy through projects including animal husbandry and growing crops in greenhouses on land around the city.

In Ozd, unemployment is endemic. Around a quarter of the city’s population are Roma, and most of them live in dire poverty, receive state welfare payments, and have frequent run-ins with the police.

Conditions are so bad that for the Roma community, fear about the persecution Jobbik might bring is mixed with hope that a radical new party might finally do something to improve their lot where all others have failed.

“Like most Roma we are afraid what might happen to us, because the news was always that some people wanted us dead and they would ship us off in trains like Hitler did with the Jews,” one local woman, Szilvia Orosz, told Reuters.

She was speaking in the centre of one of the town’s toughest Roma slums, which has no water or sewer system.

“But if this kid Janiczak can act the way he talks about work, honour and peace, and gives us long-term employment, then there won’t be racial discrimination.”

Slideshow (2 Images)

However, many of the people who voted for a Jobbik mayor said they did so at least in part because Jobbik had promised to tackle what the party describes as “Gypsy crime”.

Mihaly Balo, a 70-year-old pensioner, said he did not believe Jobbik would persecute the Roma community.

But he said: “In the 1970’s I walked from one end of the city to the other at midnight, no problem. I wouldn’t dare do that today... The problem is with not all Gypsies, but some of them.”

Editing by Christian Lowe and Angus MacSwan

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