In the Hungarian town of Tiszavasvári, members of the far-right Jobbik party have taken it upon themselves to combat what they call “gypsy crime.” Mayor Erik Fülöp has formed a “gendarmerie”—a band of 10 unarmed vigilantes, half of them paid by the city council, who patrol Roma areas and can detain suspects until the police arrive. Fülöp has defended the “gypsy crime” term: “[There are] certain types of criminality which are unfortunately especially prevalent among the Roma—extortion by loan sharks, and robberies from homes and gardens.”
Jobbik’s support is rising just as tensions between the country’s Roma and non-Roma communities are also escalating. Nine people, including two children, were killed in 49 attacks on Roma communities in Hungary between January 2008 and April 2011, according to the European Roma Rights Centre. And the historical allusions are troubling—the original Hungarian gendarmerie was a nationwide force that played a key role in rounding up Hungarian Jews for the Nazis before being disbanded in 1945. Hungary’s conservative Fidesz government has discredited the new gendarmerie as rogue vigilantes who are violating laws prohibiting citizen-led paramilitary groups from targeting ethnic or religious communities.