The National Legion has been founded by politicians linked to the anti-immigrant far-right Hungarian nationalist party Our Homeland Movement.
A new far-right Hungarian nationalist party has created a uniformed paramilitary group, raising concerns about anti-minority sentiment in the central European country.
The group, called the National Legion, was founded by politicians linked to the anti-immigrant Our Homeland Movement (OHM).
OHM is led by Laszlo Toroczkai, a far-right politician who was the vice president of the former neo-fascist, now populist, Jobbik party, until last year.
The National Legion will teach military skills and “guard traditions”, while continuing the “idealism and altruism” of the Hungarian Guard, an outlawed paramilitary group founded in part by former Jobbik leader Gabor Vona.
The Hungarian Guard was not armed, but wore military uniforms including armbands similar to the Arrow Cross Party, a Nazi-allied fascist group that led a “reign of terror” from 1944 to 1945 and saw the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians – many of whom were Romani and Jewish – as well as the deportation of roughly 80,000 Jewish Hungarians to concentration camps.
Hungarian courts ordered the Hungarian Guard to be dissolved as it “was involved in paramilitary parading in uniforms and military formations, intimidating the Romani population of small villages throughout Hungary”, according to the European Roma Rights Centre [ERRC].
Vona took the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming the group’s dissolution was a violation of the freedom of assembly.
The Strasbourg court determined the HG’s dissolution did not violate fundamental rights. The ERRC filed a third party intervention to the ECHR in 2012 that detailed the discrimination faced by Hungary’s Roma community.The ECHR determined that the HG’s dissolution did not violate fundamental rights, in part because the group “provided an institutional framework for expressing racial hatred against Jewish and Roma citizens”.
“The ERRC took action before which helped to dissolve the [Hungarian Guard],” said Jonathan Lee, Communications Coordinator for the European Roma Rights Centre.
“We see no reason not to pursue similar action now against the newly formed National Legion.”
Far-right in Asotthalom
Toroczkai is no stranger to controversy, nor militia groups.
He is the Mayor of Asotthalom, a Hungarian town which sits on the border with Serbia, and has been since 2013, enacting a number of contentious measures.
In 2016, Asotthalom banned the Islamic call to prayer and the building of mosques in the town with a population of roughly 4,000 – and no Muslim community - as well as banning LGBT “propaganda”.
These laws were struck down for violating the rights of minorities by Hungary’s constitutional court.
Militias in the town that police the Hungary-Serbia border and were founded by Toroczkai have photographed migrants they captured on their knees with hands above their heads.
These photos were published on the mayor’s Facebook page with the caption “Violent invaders 0 – Citizen militia 1”.
“We need to defend our culture. I respect Islam in Saudi Arabia. But Hungary is a Christian country. Our traditions are Christian,” Toroczkai said in an interview with the BBC.
Toroczkai has further stated that Asotthalom wants to remain “white”.
“Any group that founds itself on ideologies of antigypsyism and white supremacy has no place in our society, and must be challenged,” Lee of the ERRC concluded.
The OHM did not respond to requests for comment.
However, the OHM is far from the only far-right party in Hungary.
The country is increasingly seen as the EU’s far-right problem child, with the majority of its parliament comprised of political parties that have been accused of xenophobic policies.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban made controversial comments about stopping Hungary from becoming a “multicoloured country” by interacting with immigrants during a 2018 speech.
Orban’s Fidesz party, which holds a constitutional majority in the Hungarian parliament, has waged advertising campaigns against Hungarian-American liberal financier George Soros, who is Jewish, which cast him as working to dilute Hungary’s ‘Christian’ character by welcoming refugees.
These campaigns have been called “anti-Semitic” by critics.
Jobbik is the largest opposition party. While they have softened their tone in recent years, saying they support EU membership and the responsibilities this entails – including quotas on refugee resettlement, which Fidesz battles – they are still considered to be politically far-right.
The OHM is running for European Parliament (EP) elections, which will be held on May 26, positioning itself as a far-right alternative to establishment parties.
The EP participates in the formation of wide-ranging EU policies, such as budgets and the election of the president of the European Commission.
Toroczkai said he left Jobbik because it betrayed “the national cause” after softening its far-right image.
OHM billboards in Budapest call out Orban and Ferenc Gyucsany, Hungary's former socialist prime minister, stating: “Neither Gyurcsany nor Orban!”
Jobbik officials did not respond to requests for comment.
When asked for comment on the OHM and the National Legion, a government spokesperson declined to comment on the party’s prospects in the European Parliament elections.
Regarding the National Legion, the spokesperson referred to the comments of Minister Gergely Gulyas, the head of the prime minister’s office, who “pointed out that the state has a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force, and this will remain the case in the future”.