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London: Visit by Hungarian Far-Right Leader Sparks Tensions

Leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party to address London rally on eve of Holocaust Memorial Day; anti-fascists plan protest.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 1/26/2014, 11:32 AM

Neo-Nazi at Jobbik party rally (2009)
Neo-Nazi at Jobbik party rally (2009)
Reuters

A Hungarian far-right politician is sounding a defiant tone on the eve of a visit to London Sunday, where he will address members of the UK's sizable Hungarian immigrant community at a rally just one day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

Gábor Vona leads Hungary's Jobbik party, which has been branded anti-Semitic and xenophobic for its views targeting the country's Jewish and Roma minorities. In 2012 a party official called on the government to "draw up a list of Jews" serving in the government and parliament "for security reasons", and the party has been blamed for stoking racial tensions which have led to an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Roma attacks.

The party's "paramilitary" branch, the "Hungarian Guard", was notable for its resemblance to the Nazi brownshirts, and has been banned in the country. Vona both founded and led the Guards until its dissolution in 2009.

Politicians and anti-fascism campaigners have called for Vona to be banned from the UK, and a petition circulated last week garnered 14,000 signatures demanding British Home Secretary Theresa May prevent him from entering the country, particularly at such a sensitive time.

Andrew Dinsmore - a London Assembly member for the Barnet and Camden constituency, which includes Holborn tube station where Vona is scheduled to speak - noted the "frightening parallels" between the Jobbik party head and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and criticized the Home Office for not taking concerns about his visit seriously.

"We produced our petition in 24 hours and there has been silence from the Home Office," he told the Guardian. "From what I understand, this lot are even worse than Golden Dawn in Greece."

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust voiced her disgust at the timing of the visit.

"The visit to the UK of a man who has become the face of far-right and antisemitic sentiment in Hungary on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day is deplorable.

"Jobbik, the party which Vona leads, have expressed explicitly antisemitic views, including calling for a list of Jews in Hungary to be drawn up due to their 'national security risk'. How can such views be welcome in this country, on this day of all days?"

There are also concerns that the radical Unite Against Fascism (UAF) protest group will attempt to disrupt the rally, in a move which could trigger clashes with Jobbik supporters.

But Vona says the opposition to his visit simply makes him more determined to travel to London.

In a Facebook post, he refuted claims of "racism" by pointing to his party's recent connection with Muslim groups in Turkey, and claimed to have contacted the Turkish embassy to help oppose anti-fascist demonstrators who have threatened protests. Those links will hardly sway the more informed observers however: Jobbik's recent (and somewhat successful) attempts to woo Islamist groups have been based on a shared hatred of Israel, as opposed to a rejection of anti-Semitism and racism.

"If you ask me whether I will leave for London at all in these circumstances, my answer is this: I wish to be there more than ever," he stated in the rambling post to his followers, which was shared on the Jobbik party's official page.

He also hinted his had enlisted the support of Polish supporters in London, citing unnamed "Polish groups living in England" as declaring that "if anyone tries to attack Hungarians, they will be there and they will step up."