Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Budapest yesterday, the anniversary of Hungary's uprising against Soviet domination, and authorities were braced for a second night of violence after 19 people were injured in clashes between police and nationalist gangs the previous evening.
Yesterday's march, on a national holiday to recall the doomed 1956 revolt against Moscow, took place as council workers were still clearing up after a night that left parts of the city strewn with gutted cars, shattered glass and tear-gas canisters.
"[The Prime Minister, Ferenc] Gyurcsany should go. It's high time, he should have gone a long time ago," one protester shouted.
The running battles on Monday night involved several hundred nationalists, many waving flags and hiding their faces with scarves as they launched petrol bombs and firecrackers. They were seen as a hangover from weeks of violent demonstrations a year ago against the Socialist government. That upheaval was sparked by the Prime Minister's swingeing cutbacks and sharp tax rises, and his admission that he had repeatedly lied about the parlous state of the economy to win re-election.
Since then, Mr Gyurcsany has refused demands from the right-wing Fidesz opposition party to resign, and vowed to implement cost-cutting reforms that he says will reduce the biggest budget deficit in Europe, stabilise the economy and prepare for adoption of the euro.
Mr Gyurcsany blames the Fidesz party for stirring up public anger and not condemning the far-right groups that he blames for the violence.
One of those is the Hungarian Guard, which last weekend welcomed 600 new members into its ranks. Critics denounce the group for using a black uniform and red-and-white striped flag reminiscent of those used by Hungary's wartime, pro-Nazi Arrow Cross regime.
When asked if violence could erupt again, Gabor Vona, the leader of the nationalist Jobbik party and founder of the Hungarian Guard, said: "I can imagine that. Gyurcsany's speech last year [when he admitted to lying] set things alight. It could happen again if there was a spark. The anger and feeling of being cheated are still there, absolutely."
Mr Vona insisted the Guard was a peaceful group whose priority was to strengthen society by increasing Hungary's pride in its history and culture.
But Mr Gyurcsany took a different view after Jewish groups and liberals accused the Guard of fomenting anti-Semitic and anti-Roma feeling. "When a group that denies the rights of others, and sometimes takes active measures to promote prejudice and fear, decides to set up a paramilitary organisation, we need to pay special attention," he said.
Speaking in Jobbik's small Budapest office, Mr Vona insisted that the Guard's controversial red-and-white flag was an ancient Hungarian banner rather than a symbol of the Arrow Cross, and that its black uniform was "not to spread fear, but to stand out, in the same way a priest wears a uniform to show he is dedicated to Christ".
Mr Vona denied that the Guard was xenophobic, but said that: "Hungary should above all be a good place for Hungarians, and they should have priority here." Of yesterday's events, he said: "Every nation needs role models, and 1956 gave us that... Those people chose to die rather than be slaves – that was a great thing, and we can relate to their example."Reuse content