“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to process what was happening, only by going on living my life and being afraid of gypsies” explained Péter*, who had been bullied and beaten as a child for being an excellent student. So his story goes, Péter didn’t understand why these Roma children were so aggressive, why Roma people (allegedly) stole from the elderly in the next village in his native Hungary; he only wanted to help, which is why he joined the ‘For a Better Future’ movement in 2013.
The Hungarian ‘For a Better Future Hungarian Self-Defence’ (Szebb Jövőert Magyar Önvédelem, SzJMÖ) movement eventually grew into the ‘Hungarian Defence Movement’ (Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom, MÖM) in October of 2014; the SzJMÖ movement was disbanded in that same year for anti-Roma activities around Hungary. They became particularly well-known in 2011 for incidents in the village of Gyöngyöspata, where the group patrolled the village for several weeks terrorising Roma residents. The movement was accused of threatening the rights and safety of people in Cegléd and at events in Kunhegyes and Devecser their leader likened Roma to criminals, using terms like “vermin, spawn of Satan, and rats.” MÖM is part of the network of radical right street-movements in Hungary, along with groups like the ‘Outlaw Army’ and ‘Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement’, among others. MÖM prides itself on being a volunteer organisation helping local communities, even organising local food and clothing drives, and also organising an annual summer camp for children. The organisation is very much paramilitary, with regular combat training for members as well as vigilante patrols of streets in areas with high Roma populations.
From SzJMÖ to MÖM: Péter’s Journey
In his fifties (and with adult children), Péter was polite, charming, and well-spoken; he explained that he only developed his political views in his forties, after attending an event where he was introduced to recreations of ancient Magyar culture and lectures by revisionist Hungarian scholars. After Péter joined the movement, he began attending meetings and helping the group with organising events and other activities. Eventually he was asked to officially join the SzJMÖ movement, and remained a member after the organisation was disbanded and reformed as MÖM. What struck Péter the most about these organisations is how much they are like a family; he had met members of other Hungarian radical right organisations, such as the ‘Hungarian Guard’ and the ‘Outlaw Army’, but never quite felt this familial quality. Péter spoke a lot about the importance of this feeling: “It’s as though we’re living in a family, just a national family” and “we stand up for each other, we help, and if anyone has a problem, we solve it.”
Life in MÖM: Márk’s Journey
Márk* was in his mid-twenties, single, and worked for a security company; put colloquially, ‘he was a man of few words’. He joined MÖM in 2014, shortly after the Hungarian Defence Movement was created. Márk tied his attitudes and radical right values to his childhood; he started to have strong beliefs in Christianity at six-years-old, completely independent of his family. He also remembered learning about the ancient Hungarians in school: “In school…in school we learned about the ancient Magyars, our ancestors: Lehel, Emese, Attila, Árpád, and it filled me with pride that we have a one-thousand-year old past, and I have these types of ancestors.” Márk had met a member of the Hungarian Defence Movement while in a men’s choir, who told him stories about the organisation and eventually encouraged him to join; Márk had never even heard of these types of organisations before this point. Then, when the organisation was doing some volunteer work a few villages over from where he lived, Márk went with this friend and helped out. The rest, as they say, is history: he then went to more and more organised events, until he moved to a bigger city and finally decided to become a member.
In particular, Márk – when interviewed – was at pains to describe how much the Hungarian Defence Movement had helped the Hungarian community, explaining: “sometimes, for example, if the authorities for whatever political reason don’t do their jobs in a given community, then we go out with X number of people, patrol the area, sorry, go for health-care walks.” This, of course, immediately reminds one of the anti-Roma vigilante activities that eventually led to the disbanding of the organisation’s previous incarnation, the SzJMÖ.
Márk also described: “For example, last year in [redacted] county there was a city, where certain types of people umm, were in public areas and during the day, doing drugs, selling drugs, and throwing these drug remnants in the public area. The police did nothing about this. So we, with our presence, showed that yes, there really is a problem here, and the problem was solved quite quickly.” Like Péter, Márk also described the organisation as a family and as a community of friends. While he spoke carefully, when asked what he would lose if he left the organisation he, without any hesitation, replied: “a community. A community of friends. Family.”
These conversations provide some small insight into what lead individuals to join a radical right organisation in Hungary. These drivers include feelings of national pride and resentment toward Roma people; keeping them in the organisation, however, seems to be the feeling of family and brotherhood. Below the surface it’s clear to see people in search of community, people who may be lost, and people who in some way need to feel powerful as demonstrated in their vigilantism. Though these are a small part of the gamut of factors leading people to radical right street movements, political parties, and hate groups, they are something crucial to watch, especially in today’s times of health crisis and further polarisation fostered by online ‘echo chambers’. In Hungary, ethno-nationalist, xenophobic, and homophobic narratives propagated by ruling Fidesz party have served to normalise these attitudes, leading radical right organisations like MÖM to feel a sense of significance.
Dr Katherine Kondor is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Research Associate on the ‘Illiberal Turn’ project at Loughborough University. See her profile here.
© Katherine Kondor. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).