Dressed from head to toe in black leather with a Hungarian flag and a biker’s badge pinned to his lapel, Gregory Balazs stood at the top of the escalator and marshalled followers of an ultranationalist Hungarian party as they arrived for a much-anticipated meeting with their leader.
Despite pleas from protesters to the Home Secretary to bar the head of the far-right Jobbik party from Britain, Gabor Vona –described as one of Europe’s most electorally successful fascists – had made it to London and in a message on his party’s Facebook page spoke of his determination to speak with his party’s UK-based sympathisers.
They had been told to turn up at Holborn Tube station in central London at 1.30pm today where – coralled by police and outnumbered by anti-fascist demonstrators outside – they waited for further instructions on how to get to the planned venue for the meeting.
The only problem was, they didn’t have one. “They’re not answering their phones,” explained Mr Balazs, 27. “We’re trying to organise another place.”
The reluctance of any venue to host Mr Vona’s meeting was perhaps understandable given the publicity that has surrounded the visit of the leader of the third biggest party in Hungary. It has 43 seats in the national parliament and anti-fascist groups had called for protests amid warnings of a pan-European link-up of far-right European groups.
Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, had spoken of a “common core” of shared values with Jobbik and the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, and how he planned to form an alliance with them after European elections in May.
Mr Vona’s arrival on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day was seen as an inflammatory move for a party accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma policies in Hungary. The response came with several hundred protesters waiting for them outside the station waving placards and chanting “Nazi scum, off our streets”.
“I think it’s important to send the message that we won’t have hatred spread on our streets by Jobbik,” said Andrew Dismore, a Labour London Assembly member who campaigned against Mr Vona’s visit. “We have laws against the incitement of race hatred. Jobbik is a racist party that targets Roma and wants them segregated in ghettos, and it targets Jewish people.”
Police officers lined the entrances to the station and put up barriers to keep the two sides apart – as they snapped each other over the heads of police with their mobile phone cameras. Meanwhile, Jobbik supporter Monika Szentmiklosi handed yellow roses to bemused travellers as they passed through the station.
After an hour of trying and failing to find a venue, police closed Holborn Tube station to allow around around 100 Jobbik supporters to head back down into the Underground to regroup about a mile away at Hyde Park to await the arrival of Mr Vona.
Mr Vona denies that his party is extremist and pointed detractors to his party’s manifesto. However, today he was unwilling to address any of the issues raised in it with the media such as the “potential time-bomb” posed by Roma in Hungary, or his party’s promotion of the family above any “deviant lifestyle”.
For more than an hour, with his supporters gathered around him, he spoke in his native language before they finished with a rendition of the Hungarian national anthem. A heavy police presence kept the small number of demonstrators who had followed him behind barriers.