|Some non-Roma residents of the village say they support the vigilante group that has been patrolling their streets[Credit: Phil Cain]
The Hungarian far right looks set to roll out a campaign of Roma intimidation after meeting little resistance to its vigilante "law and order" mission in Gyongyospata, a Hungarian village of 2,800 people 80km north-east of Budapest.
For A Better Future, a paramilitary organisation deriving its name from a Nazi youth movement slogan, entered the village at the start of the month. It conducted foot and car patrols, followed Roma around and stopped them from entering shops.
On March 10, the intimidation reached its peak when 1,000 black-uniformed neo-Nazis marched through the village, some reportedly armed with dogs, whips and chains.
Many Roma were afraid to leave their homes or take their children to school. The local mayor, Laszlo Tabi, who is not officially allied to a political party, allegedly offered his seal of approval, while the police sat on their hands.
"I cried when I saw them marching," says Janos Farkas, the spokesman for the village's 450-strong Roma community which centres around a dirt road in a shallow valley at the edge of the village. Many of the dilapidated homes do not have mains water and few of their occupants jobs.
"I can't see how this could happen in a democratic country? The police are now present, but why did they let it go on for three weeks?" asks Farkas.
Nothing has been done to stop the vigilantes from restarting their activities here or to prevent them springing up elsewhere.
A national 'example'
"This looks like a local conflict, but it is a national one," says Kristof Szombati of Politics Can Be Different, a liberal green party. On this, if nothing else, the far right agrees with him.
Gyongyospata provides an "example for future situations" says Gabor Vona, the leader of the extreme-right Jobbik party, which is behind the uniformed intervention, at a press conference in the village council chamber. His party hopes to use the vigilante campaign to mark the first anniversary of its entry into parliament, with 17 per cent of the vote, next month.
Among those areas targeted for vigilante takeover is Hajduhadhaz, a town of 13,000 in the east.
"The police do not have enough power to handle the situation," says Gabor Kovacs, a Gyongyospata-born vigilante volunteer in full black uniform, fumbling with his black baseball cap.
"The Roma have stolen vegetables and grapevines," he says, although he explains that the identity of culprits is rarely known because thefts often happen at night when victims are asleep.
"We have a good working relationship with the police. I also have criticisms, but I do not want to talk about them publicly," says Vona. The county police are reported to be aware of the formation of a permanent local branch of the vigilante movement.
"I feel better with For A Better Future patrolling here than with the police," says a non-Roma villager, unwilling to give her name, for fear that her Roma neighbours will find out. She says Roma have scaled her fence and stolen two hens, one this year, one last.
"I can't let my hands rest in my lap for a second while Roma might come along and burn my house down." The best solution, she says, would be to "take them away".
Her middle-aged neighbour, Sandor Torok, prefers far less drastic action. He had a chainsaw stolen from his yard in late January but got it back after three hours after offering a Roma boy a 5,000 forint ($26) reward for its return.
Allegations of more serious Roma-misdeeds are doing the rounds among non-Roma villagers too, none of which can be confirmed. One elderly non-Roma man is even said to have killed himself because he thought Roma neighbours might move in. According to a clerk in the council offices, some Roma beat a young female school teacher, although a fellow teacher said she had not heard of the incident.
"Roma have lived here for 500 years and have always stuck to the law. Only one or two youngsters have done anything wrong," says Farkas.
There is no evidence that even petty crime has risen in Gyongyospata, but the financial crisis has driven up the significance of people's everyday possessions and the far right is only too happy for the chance to profit from the heightened sensitivity.