The leader of Hungary’s neo-Nazis went on trial this week to answer charges of inciting racial hatred.
Albert Szabo, who fled Hungary in 1956 when the country was under Communist rule but returned here five years ago, openly declares himself the direct ideological heir of the man who led the Hungarian Nazis during World War II.
Szabo’s trial, which began Wednesday, came less than two weeks after his followers joined with other right-wing groups to stage a mammoth demonstration on the streets of Budapest to mark the 39th anniversary of Hungary’s abortive uprising against Communist rule.
In addition to the changes of incitement, Szabo and six of his followers are being tried for wearing Nazi uniforms and for displaying Nazi flags and other symbols at public demonstrations.
But he is not being charged with organizing anti-Semitic demonstrations, because such gatherings are not illegal under Hungarian law.
At the opening of his trial, Szabo repeated a familiar anti-Semitic refrain, saying, “Jews are practicing economic and cultural terror against Hungarians.”
A decision in the case is expected soon.
The continued legality of anti-Semitic demonstrations here was thrown into sharp relief last month after a massive public gathering was held Oct. 22, the eve of the anniversary of the abortive 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet- backed rule. The uprising was crushed by Russian tanks and troops.
Many different political groups attempted to use the revolt, viewed as a symbol of national unity, to further their own political platforms.
The Oct. 22 demonstration in downtown Budapest was organized by the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, founded by Istvan Csurka, a former member of Parliament who has made numerous anti-Semitic speeches in the past, including one of the floor of the Hungarian Parliament.
Csurka’s party won only slightly more than 1.5 percent of the vote in last year’s general elections, but the size of the rally last month indicated that he still has a strong following.
The demonstration, according to official figures, drew an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 right-wing supporters, including neo-Nazi followers of Szabo’s.
The aim of the demonstration was not to commemorate the outbreak of the Oct. 23-Nov. 4, 1956, Hungarian revolt, but to attempt to remove the governing coalition of Prime Minister Gyula Horn from power.
Csurka used the demonstration to try to exploit growing popular discontent with the government’s harsh budget-cutting measures imposed in the wake of the country’s double-digit unemployment and more than 30 percent rate of inflation.
The anti-government rhetoric, as it often has in the past, included anti- Semitic slurs.
In addition, leaflets that were openly anti-Semitic were distributed at the demonstration. During the rally, people could be heard chanting, “Jews should leave Hungary.”
During the rally, some 100 to 150 neo-Nazis dressed in uniforms and bearing Nazi flags marched on the National Hungarian Radio building, where they gave stiff-armed salutes and sang the anthem of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, which collaborated with the Nazis during the war.
The following day, Hungarian Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze said he was “shocked by the Nazi symbols” carried by the demonstrators, but added that he was powerless to do anything until there was “legislation to prohibit these kinds of demonstrations.”
The leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community – which at about 100,000 numbers the largest in Central Europe – has written to the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Zoltan Gal, seeking the imposition of laws to criminalize openly anti-Semitic demonstrations.
Guzztav Zoltai, executive director of the Hungarian Jewish community, explained the difficulty of the current situation by referring to recent plans by Szabo’s neo-Nazi followers to hold a demonstration in front of Budapest’s Dohany Street Synagogue.
The demonstration was to be held Oct. 15 to mark the 51st anniversary of the assumption of power by Ferenc Szalasi.
Szalasi was a supporter of Hitler’s and was the fascist leader of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party during the 1940s. He was executed after World War II as a war criminal.
The police turned down the neo-Nazis’ request to hold the rally, Zoltai said, but only because “the demonstrators would tie up traffic.”