On Sunday afternoon outside Holborn tube station, supporters of Jobbik – Hungary's third largest political party – assembled to hold a rally in honour of their leader, Gabor Vona. With parliamentary elections scheduled for April, Vona was doing some electioneering among London's sizeable Hungarian expat community. However, as soon as the ceremonial flags had been unfurled, Jobbik and their fans were met with an angry swarm of demonstrators, screaming, "Nazi scum off our streets!" and, "Kill yourself like Adolf Hitler!"
Given all the recent alarm over Eastern European migration to the UK, it was comforting that people could finally settle on one type of migrant they definitely didn't want to see here: neo-Nazis fishing for votes. Vona is the leader of what some have called “the most successful fascist party in Europe” – Jobbik have 47 seats in parliament and are represented at EU level. Many of their policies wouldn't have seemed out of place in Munich in 1939, such as the proposal that all Jewish Hungarians should be put on a list in the name of national security. Their hatred of the country’s Roma community is even worse – they want them to live in “public order protection camps”, AKA ghettoes, from which they would need permission to leave.
Vona arrived the day before Holocaust Memorial Day. At best, you could say this was crass and ill timed, at worst, it was a provocation that demonstrators – hailing from all manner of groups to unite as anti-fascists – were more than willing to rise to.
Such was their presence, Jobbik's supporters were forced back behind ranks of police for their own safety, effectively kettled inside the tube station as everyone outside in the rain bombarded them with insults.
The number of demonstrators outside Holborn tube station spilled out onto the pavement, forcing employees of Camden Council to erect a humanitarian corridor for the trapped Jobbikers out of metal fences. Faced with thunderous accusations of "defending the fascists" by an animated protester, one employee claimed that he was just doing his job. “That's exactly what the Nazis said!” came the booming reply. The council worker frowned. “Fucking hell mate, chill out,” he said. To be fair, I'm not sure the herding of confused expat-fascists towards a rally is quite the same as enacting the final solution, but I guess every slippery slope has its starting point.
I approached a girl in a leather jacket who'd just been heckled for supporting Jobbik. “Where is the tolerance, where is the freedom of speech?" she complained. "If they are so tolerant of Islam, why not the Hungarian people? Jobbik sometimes say things that are not politically correct. You can say you are proud because you are black or gay, but when you say you are white and Hungarian, you are not allowed.”
Of course, if Jobbik was just a Hungarian cultural appreciation society, people might have less of a problem with them, but they have a habit of doing things that suggest they are neo-Nazis. Things like erecting a statue of the dictator who made an alliance with Hitler during the Second World War, protesting against the World Jewish Congress and holding alarmist rallies against “Gypsy terror” – when terror seems to come more readily from groups of far-right blackshirt thugs.
Vona is also the founder of the Hungarian guard, who regularly make torch lit marches through Roma neighbourhoods. Though they are now banned, they still operate relatively freely in the towns and villages, and are umbilically linked to the Jobbik movement.
Nearby, Naomi and Peter held up a note written in the impenetrable Hungarian language. “It means get lost. They are very dangerous but covertly, not overtly. You still see people roaming around wearing Hungarian Guard uniform. Because of them, [the governing party] Fidesz feels the need to lurch to the right to get their votes. I feel this like an insult, I left Hungary largely because of people like this in the political system and now they chase me here!”
Over on the other side of the street, a small clutch of Orthodox Jewish gentlemen stood outside Sainsbury's displaying a sign condemning “Zionist aggression”. A regular fixture at Palestinian Solidarity events, these Jews hate the state of Israel so much that they end up as ideological bedmates of some unlikely people. Rabbi Weiss told me that they were here to show support for those criticising Israel.
“We are not politically involved, we are just saying that people that are accused of being anti-semitic simply because they speak out against the state of Israel – that is not acceptable. The growing of anti-semitism is directly because of Israel, they have hijacked our identity by confusing Judaism and Zionism.”
The rabbi didn't say he was supportive of Jobbik, but he didn't exactly fall over himself to condemn them either. I went over to speak to Daniel Gardonyi, an activist wearing a fetching Mongolian hat, who was pleased at the turnout but questioned the good that it would achieve.
“They are here to scavenge votes from miserable people who had to flee their country because it's so bad over there. I think we just created more popularity for Jobbik with this, we are just giving them power now. Usually I just ignore them because they are populist clowns, and we have enough of them in the government already.”
When we returned to the tube station, the gaggle of Jobbik supporters had vanished. Rumour spread and soon we were off to Marble Arch. The crowd had reassembled in the driving rain and wind at Speakers' Corner, that hallowed site reserved for nutters to go nuts in so that we can all assure ourselves that we still live in a democracy. The elusive Mr Vona had finally turned up and – cocooned in a smart trench coat that made him look like a cultured football manager – he was quickly mobbed by joyous hooligans. Then he begun speechifying to his compatriots and taking questions on issues about crime, globalisation and economic woes.
I reckon you can probably guess his thoughts on all three of those subjects.
Among the green, red and white Hungarian flags fluttered overhead, a blue and orange one was also visible. I asked its owner who told me it was the flag of Transylvania, once part of Hungary but reallocated to Romania after the Trianon treaty of 1920. This remains a point of annoyance for many Hungarians as it significantly reduced the country's size. "Greater Hungary" T-shirts sell like hot cakes on the streets of Budapest and it is common to hear Jobbik supporters talk about these areas being reunited with the motherland one day, though questions as to how this may be achieved are met with shrugs.
Midway through my chat, I was shushed by a member of the crowd so instead struck up a conversation with Levent, a student studying English who was shaking his head at the masked and jeering antifascist scamps gathered at the periphery of the rally. Holding a rose, which he said was a symbol of peace, he dismissed claims that Jobbik are racist as “bullshit”.
“People overeact. We are just the Hungarian community taking an interest in what's going on back home and discussing the future. The EU framework is as wobbly as a jelly. We just want to live free, have economic freedom like you,” he said.
Then I spoke to Ferenc Deda as the crowd sang the Hungarian national anthem. He trotted out a familiar view. “You need to understand that the economy in Eastern Europe is in ruins and we the workers are forced to migrate all around Europe. Multinational companies were implicated in this damage and when you look around you always find a lot of people, perhaps accidentally, who are dual Hungarian-Israeli citizens linked to these companies.”
Jobbik, the Jew-hating blackshirts, are clearly the fascists in this story. But while it's important to point that out, it's equally important to mention the grinding rural poverty that has afflicted parts of Hungary ever since Soviet-era factories were shut down. This, combined with the nation's failure to adequately address their role in World War II, has laid fertile ground for Jobbik's brand of ugly populism.
As the events began to wrap up, in true Speakers' Corner style, the voices of both Jobbik and the antifascists were drowned out by the bellowing of a fanatical woman reminding everyone that they were sinners and perverts and no doubt would be going to hell for all of this. Vona made his way to the car amid the media scrum. He wasn't taking any questions and just as he was about to drive away, a man dropped his pants and proudly displayed his buttocks. Everyone was relieved that someone had finally given an unambiguous political statement.
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