TOROKSZENTMIKLOS, Hungary (Reuters) - Several hundred radical nationalists, including hard-line extremists, protested in a small town in eastern Hungary on Tuesday against what they call “Roma crime”.
In the town of Torokszentmiklos, east of Budapest, a few hundred Roma, mostly men, held a counter-protest commemorating the killing of innocent Roma in a series of shootings a decade ago that traumatized the country and helped give rise to the political far right.
Although no violence ensued on Tuesday, the groups faced off in a way that has been largely unseen in recent years after a turbulent and sometimes violent period shook Roma-Hungarian ties about a decade ago.
A new political group named Our Homeland Movement, an offshoot of the former far-right party Jobbik, called for the radicals' protest, which unnerved the town's large and mostly impoverished Roma community.
The root cause was a fight last month between a Roma man and non-Roma locals in a bar that was captured on video by someone and spread via social media by Our Homeland Chairman Laszlo Toroczkai. It had more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.
Facebook shut down Toroczkai’s page in response to his call for the protest, saying it had violated a protected minority.
The extremist movement was founded last year by former members of Jobbik, a party that rose to prominence a decade ago on a hard-line anti-Roma message.
"The allegedly fearful Roma threaten all of us," Toroczkai told the protesters, including hundreds of shaven, tattooed men in uniform black clothes. “What I see are thousands of Hungarian compatriots living in fear of these criminals.”
After Jobbik failed to weaken the ruling Fidesz party's lock on power in elections last year, Toroczkai quit and formed Our Homeland, which allies itself with openly Nazi and ultra-radical fringe groups and calls on the government to step up against “Gypsy crime” - a term once coined by Jobbik.
Roma residents in Torokszentmiklos rejected the wholesale criminalisation of all because of the transgressions of a few.
They said they suspected politicking behind Toroczkai’s presence, as Our Homeland is one of nine parties running for representation in the European Parliament in elections on Sunday. The ruling Fidesz party is expected to score a major win in the vote.
"For Toroczkai to enlarge personal crimes is just a political move," said Roma activist Lajos Balogh. "There are no collective crimes. But Toroczkai wants to attract former Jobbik voters."
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Dan Grebler)