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Hill Dispatches: Hungarian thugs who intimidate Roma -- can they be stopped?

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Hungarian extreme right leader Gabor Vona: 47 seats in Parliament

Without meaning to, a representative of the Hungarian Government confessed to a Canadian Parliamentary Committee, on Wednesday, that his government has had a great deal of trouble controlling extreme right "militias" that persecute and intimidate the Hungarian Roma people.

The Hungarian official is Imre Helyes, head of the consular section at the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa, and he was testifying before the Commons Immigration Committee that is considering the new refugee reform, Bill C-31.

Mr. Helyes made that remarkable admission in response to a question from a Conservative member who asked if there was "discrimination against the Roma in Hungary."

Mr. Helyes was visibly ill at ease with the question but, after a fairly long pause, managed to squeeze out an uncomfortable "no" in response.

He then went on to talk a bit about how "complex and multiple" this "problem" is.

The MP asked a follow-up question: "How do you protect the Roma?"

That made the Hungarian diplomat even more uncomfortable.

In fact, at first Helyes acted as though he did not understand the question.

Then, with some prodding and encouragement, he offered that Hungarian law "does not allow" discrimination and that there is a sort of "ombudsman" for the "protection of minority rights."

Obfuscations to hide that the subject was extremist, right-wing  thugs

Helyes then went on to talk, in a tortured and deliberately vague and indirect way, about "different kinds of institutions," "criminal institutions" and "particular phenomena."

The Hungarian official was not referring to so-called "Roma criminal organizations" -- though after being treated to a detailed account of one such group by Hamilton prosecutor Toni Skarica, on Monday, the Committee members might have assumed that.

In conversation after his testimony, Helyes confirmed that he was, in fact, referring to quasi-military, extreme right Hungarian militia groups, which dress up in Nazi-style uniforms and intimidate, harass, threaten, and sometimes cause actual violence to the Roma.

Helyes wanted the Committee to know that not too long ago the Hungarian government passed a new law giving the "State the monopoly to institute coercion."

In other words, until this new law existed the Hungarian official admits that "the State" had been having some difficulty controlling these well-organized and well-financed para-military militia groups.

A pretty damning admission of impotence in controlling extremist thugs

Helyes is not sure, but he believes the new law passed about six months ago.

Helyes wanted the Committee to believe that the Hungarian government now has the situation of organized anti-Roma violence well in hand.

Many observers of the current Hungarian scene would question that claim.

But regardless of what we might believe about the efficacy of the new law, Helyes' avowal of his government's previous impotence to deal with extremist intimidation and violence is, in reality, a pretty damning self-condemnation, especially coming from a Hungarian government official.

Happily for Hungary and those who support Bill C-31, Helyes used such obfuscating and indirect language that none of the Committee members seemed to grasp the full import of what he said.

Of course, the Conservative Committee members are not too interested in hearing the brutal truth about present-day Hungary, a country that sadly seems to be sliding into a pit of authoritarianism and racism.

The Conservative narrative is that Hungary is an upstanding, model democracy, and that Roma have nothing to fear there. If Hungarian Roma choose to come to Canada it is because they are attracted by generous welfare, not terrorized by Hitler-admiring politicians and their skinhead street thug allies.

We know the Conservatives don't want any of that on the table, as Parliament considers Bill C-31.

What, however, is the NDP's excuse?

Quite frankly, up to this point the Official Opposition members on this Committee seem to be a bit out of their league.

Why did they not challenge Imre Helyes and ask him to make himself clear on the issue of anti-Roma violence and harassment -- when the facts are so readily available?

Much information available about Hungary and its Roma minority

Anna Porter has written about the current Hungarian situation (as has Hill Dispatches, more than once).

Amnesty International has reported on it.

There are Roma human rights organizations in Europe which report regularly on the rise of the extreme right in Hungary and elsewhere.

And there is a new Canadian film, Never Come Back, that graphically shows cases of extreme right persecution of Roma, including torchlight parades in Roma neighbourhoods, and the case of Gyöngyöspata, a village occupied for two weeks, a year ago, by organized anti-Roma "guardists."

That new film has been shown in Ottawa and Montreal, in public screenings, and will be broadcast on OMNI-1 TV this Sunday (9:00 p.m. in Ontario and 10:00 p.m. in British Columbia).

The Committee goes all weird when dealing with Roma

To anyone who knows anything about present-day Hungary, the Immigration Committee proceedings have an Alice-in-Wonderland quality whenever they deal with the subject of Hungarian Roma refugees.

The Government members, naturally, stick to their line about "bogus refugees" who cost Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars.

But why do the NDP members engage in a conspiracy of near-silence on this subject?

Do the Committee members not know that scores of Roma have been the victims of violent hate crimes over the past few years, and a number have been murdered?

Do the Committee members not know that Roma -- in Hungary and in other nearby countries of Eastern and Central Europe -- experience systematic discrimination in housing, education and employment?

Do the Committee members not know that the proudly racist Jobbik Party has 47 seats in Hungary's Parliament, and that its support is growing, especially among the young?

Do they not know that Jobbik has openly embraced Iran's Ahmadinejad, because they share the Iranian leader's Holocaust denial and hatred of the Jews? And, do the Committee members not know, in addition, that a number of prominent members of the governing Fidesz Party have expressed similar solidarity with the Iranian regime?

Were the Committee members sleeping when refugee lawyer and Bill C-31 supporter Julie Taub testified that Hungary is becoming an "anti-Semitic country?" (With friends like Julie Taub do either Hungary or Bill C-31 need enemies?)

Are the Committee members unaware of the fact that Jobbik runs a television commercial in which the Roma are portrayed as mosquitoes, and which culminates in Jobbik leader Gabor Vona slapping a bothersome insect? (Experts say that it is almost certain such a commercial would be banned as hate speech in Canada.)

Conservative motives clear; what about the NDP?

The Conservative members may or may not know any of this, and they may or may not care a whit. They have their story and they know what they are trying to accomplish.

The Minister of Immigration's Parliamentary Secretary, Rick Dykstra, made that very clear when he alluded, a few days ago, to the Canada-EU trade negotiations.

Dykstra pointed out that his Government does not want to jeopardize those negotiations by imposing a visa requirement on Hungarian visitors. 

A subtext of that rather candid avowal is that, for "economic" reasons, Canada does not want to offend any EU country by recognizing that a whole class of its citizens might be victims of human rights abuses.

It is easy to understand the motives for the Government's indifference to the plight of the Roma in Hungary and its lack of interest in exploring what is really going on in that country.

In fact, the Conservatives are quite explicit about that lack of interest.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler reports that he and NDP members on the Foreign Affairs Committee have tried to get it to look into the current situation in Hungary, but the Government members always block their efforts.

Be that as it may, when it  comes to the Immigration Committee now considering C-31, if we know what the Conservatives are up to -- and they are very focused, determined and disciplined in their approach -- why the near silence on the "Roma issue" from the NDP?

Is it a case of lack of interest, or lack of preparation, or a bit of both?

It ain't over till it's over, of course.

One can always hope that the Official Opposition members of this Committee will awaken from their somnambulant state, before it's too late.

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