Hungarian Roma women, kids flee vigilantes

Hundreds of Roma women and children leave their homes in the Hungarian village of Gyongyospata in fear of a vigilante group setting up a training camp nearby.

Defense Force commander calls evacuation 'unnecessary scaremongering'

Villagers in Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, are evacuated by Roma leaders Friday because a far-right vigilante group is setting up a training camp near their homes. (Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press)

Roma leaders in the Hungarian village of Gyongyospata ordered 277  women and children to leave their homes Friday in fear of a vigilante group that has been setting up a nearby training camp. 

The evacuees were taken by bus to other parts of Hungary because the local Roma are concerned about potential confrontations with members of Vedero, or Defense Force.

"We are afraid and we have reason to be," said Janos Farkas, chair of the local Roma council. "For the past nearly two months, Gyongyospata has been practically a battlefield."

Several far-right vigilante groups, usually dressed in camouflage gear and heavy boots, have been patrolling the village, and others in eastern Hungary that have large Roma populations, with the stated purpose of defending the non-Roma residents from "Gypsy crime."

Farkas said members of Vedero who went to the village last week to scout a location for their training camp had shouted violent threats at the Roma.

"They want to intimidate the Roma here," Farkas said. "Their presence is extremely upsetting and will achieve nothing."

Farkas said the five buses had taken the evacuees to "somewhere around Lake Balaton" but would not reveal the exact location because of fears the extremists would go after them.

At least 10 police vans could be seen entering the village after the buses had gone.

Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe and Hungary's most popular summer resort, is around 180 kilometres from Gyongyospata.

Council chair denies racism

Farkas said the women and children would return to Gyongyospata after the end of Vedero's three-day camp.

Tamas Eszes, Vedero's commander, said his group was not racist, had not taken part in anti-Roma village patrols and had no connection to any political party.

"This is unnecessary scaremongering and they want to put the 'extremist' tag on us," Eszes said of the Roma evacuation.

 "We met earlier with Gypsy leaders and reassured them about our activities."

Eszes said Vedero had recently purchased the plot in Gyongyospata because of its low price, and planned to hold training activities there every month from now on.

"We've held many camps in several locations because until now we didn't have our own base," Eszes, a 47-year-old karate instructor, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Eszes said his group wanted to improve the physical condition of Hungarian youths, blaming its decline partly on the elimination of the military draft, abolished by lawmakers in 2004.

"Hungary's youth are in bad physical shape, sitting in front of a computer all day," Eszes said. "We are continuing the old Hungarian tradition of military-style training."

At the same time, Eszes said, crime was an "existing problem which can't be denied," pointing to the high percentage of Roma among Hungary's prison population.

"But that is not our problem," Eszes said, adding that recent verbal confrontations in the village were started by the Roma, and that Vedero has called for police protection.

Camp for youths, adults 'who love their country'

According to Vedero's website, the training camp starting Friday is open to "all youths and adults who love their country and who are interested in learning military and self-defence basics."

Trainees are also encouraged to bring Airsoft weapons — realistic-looking pellet rifles and guns — and boxing gloves.

"Military disciplinary rules will be in effect on the campsite during the three days," the advertisement says.

Citizens' security, especially in the countryside, which has been especially hard hit by recession and rising unemployment, was a central theme of the 2010 elections.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose Fidesz party won an unassailable two-thirds majority in parliament, vowed to increase the police presence in remote locations and said his government would quickly solve the issue.