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Antifascists gather in Hungary to oppose annual far-right event as Italian activist remains jailed

Hundreds of antifascist activists have gathered in Hungary’s capital to oppose an annual commemoration held by far-right groups

Justin Spike
Saturday 10 February 2024 17:23 GMT

Antifascist activists gathered in Hungary's capital on Saturday to oppose an annual commemoration held by far-right groups, underscoring diplomatic tensions between Budapest and Rome over the detention of an Italian citizen in a Hungarian jail.

Hundreds of activists marched through central Budapest alongside a heavy police presence, and called for “freedom for every antifascist." They said they sought to prevent the far-right from observing the “Day of Honor,” an annual event marking the failed attempt by Nazi and allied Hungarian soldiers to break out of Budapest during the Red Army’s siege of the city in 1945.

The demonstration came as an Italian antifascist activist is being held in a Hungarian jail for allegedly being involved in assaults against suspected participants in the Day of Honor commemoration in Budapest last year.

Images of the activist, Ilaria Salis, chained and shackled at a Budapest court hearing sparked official protests by the Italian government. Prosecutors are seeking an 11-year sentence for the woman.

Luca Kruczynski, 35, a participant at the antifascist march Saturday, said he had traveled from Berlin with friends “to protest against the neo-fascist groups that are having their events here now every year.”

He said he had concerns that Salis' prosecution would be a “political trial.”

“We see that Nazis are going to group up on different occasions and in different cities all over Europe,” he said. "There are people who say no to this, and who have a close eye on this and tell them, ‘Here and no further.’”

A separate group of activists gathered in Milan on Saturday to call attention to Salis’ case. Hungary’s government has denied that Salis is being held in inappropriate conditions.

Italy's government has called on Hungary to observe European and international law, which calls for the need to respect the dignity of prisoners, “including the way in which defendants are transferred to court and the guarantees of a fair trial.”

Last week, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni spoke about Salis’ detention with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The case is delicate for the far-right-led government of Meloni, who has forged friendly ties with the nationalist Orbán.

Italy’s foreign and justice ministers have refused a request to seek pre-trial detention at home in Italy or in the Italian embassy in Budapest for Salis, citing the sovereignty of Hungary’s court system.

Salis’ father met with Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and Justice Minister Carlo Nordio on Monday in a bid to persuade them to intervene on his daughter’s behalf, but walked away disappointed.

In a joint statement on Monday, Nordio said he suggested to the father that Salis’ Hungarian lawyer make the case in court to change the conditions of her confinement, while Tajani said that he has twice personally intervened with the Hungarian government on her behalf.

The leader of the Italian opposition, Democratic Party leader Elly Schlein, on Monday noted that Premier Giorgia Meloni’s far-right-led government only moved on behalf of Salis only after seeing “the chains and shackles.”

“It is difficult not to think that Meloni is embarrassed” in front of her European ally, Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, Schlein said.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Barry contributed from Milan, Italy.

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