Day of Honour: The far-right kicks off 2020 in Central and Eastern Europe
In Hungary, far-right organisations have been organising the so-called Day of Honour commemorations and marches since the 1990s to remember the Nazi German and collaborating Hungarian troops who attempted to break through the lines of the Soviet Red Army on 11 February 1945 during the siege of Budapest.
The events have been attracting more and more radical right-wing movements from all over Europe in the past years and 2020 was no different. The event was first banned by the Hungarian police, nevertheless, the court overruled the police’s decision giving green light to far-right organisers.
The commemoration was first organised by István Győrkös in 1997. Győrkös was the founder of the far-right paramilitary movement Hungarian National Front that dominated the headlines in 2016 as reportedly it transpired that the paramilitary organisation was alleged to have been training together with Russian GRU officers, and its founder, Győrkös, was sentenced to life imprisonment last year for killing a police officer during a raid at his home in 2016.
The 2020 commemoration was held on 8th February. Legio Hungary, a paramilitary extreme-right movement, and Betyarsereg (Army of Outlaws) were the main organisers of the event that attracted around 500-600 neo-Nazi and far-right participants.
Legio Hungary became infamous after they harassed a liberal community centre in Budapest, Hungary on various occasions last year. Despite being a relatively new movement, they managed to establish and maintain good relations with far-right parties from other countries, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, France, and the Czech Republic.
The participants of the commemoration included representatives from the Fortress Europe (Festung Europa) alliance established last year with the aim of protecting their interpretation of conservative Christian values and preventing the “Islamization” of Europe. These organisations include the German Die Rechte, members of the Czech neo-nazi National and Social Front (Národní a sociální fronta, NSF), the Bulgarian National Union, the French Les Nationalistes.
Apart from members of the Fortress Europe alliance, other far-right and neo-Nazi movements participated in the commemoration as well including the Hungarian branch of the white supremacist Hammerskins and Crew38, Blood and Honour, Ukrainian supporters of the far-right The Third Path (Der Dritte Weg) who also have close ties to the Azov movement, and a Russian far-right group who were waving the flag of the Russian Liberation Army.
Some participants of the commemoration were also wearing the patches of Blood and Honour, an international neo-Nazi network that is banned in various countries including Spain, Russia, and Germany while Canada has designated it as a terrorist group in 2019. Also, insignias of Combat 18 could be seen at the event, which is the armed branch of the Blood and Honour network.
The Canadian and German wings of Combat18 were also banned just recently, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has attributed violent actions to Combat 18, including murders or the firebombing of family houses of Romani people in the Czech Republic in 2012.
Counterdemonstrations were also organized and around 200-300 anti-fascist protesters attended them, including antifa groups such as the Autonome Antifa, a radical left-wing group from Vienna, or the Rhytms of Resistance band.
The location of the counter-demonstrations were quite far from the Day of Honor march, thus the events passed without significant incidents or clashes between the demonstrators. A large number of policemen and riot police were also present to prevent any potential violence and increase general security.
After the commemoration, a 60km long, so-called outbreak march takes place during the night in the surrounding hills of Buda almost every year. The march has been organised by an association called Hazajáró Egylet for years, and its board members include, among others, Zoltan Moys whose company, Dextramedia, reportedly had its IP address linked to various other Hungarian far-right groups’ websites in the past, including the 64 Counties Youth Movement (HVIM), the Hungarian National Front, and that of László Toroczkai, a prominent anti-immigration politician from Hungary. During the march, numerous participants were wearing uniforms or badges of the Waffen SS, and several checkpoints of the march were decorated with the portrait of Hitler or with swastika flags. Organisers claimed that they do not intend to promote certain political ideologies, rather, the event aims to inform people about Hungarian history.
The overnight march has attracted around 2000 participants according to the event’s official website which lists the name of participants who completed the 60 km march. The list includes names like that of Maik Schmidt and Remo Kudwien, who are both members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany’s (NPD) youth movement, the Young Nationalists (Junge Nationalisten, JN), Tobias Maczewski, a neo-Nazi from Wuppertal renowned for his violent actions, or Richard Pfingstl, a well-known Austrian neo-Nazi who is a former administrator of the banned Alpen Donau Info website and forum of the Austrian far-right.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the march was also attended by people who are not necessarily sympathizers of far-right ideologies and have limited interest in the historical background of the march but joined the event solely because of their interest in long-distance hikes.
The gathering of the European far-right in Hungary was just one of the first of such events in Europe in February 2020. Next week, a high-profile international far-right rally will take place in Dresden, Germany, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Allied bombing of the city.
At the end of the month, neo-Nazi organizations are expected to gather again in Bulgaria’s capital at the so-called Lukov march that remembers Bulgaria’s pro-Nazi general and politician who was assassinated by communist forces in 1943. In the meantime, parliamentary elections will be taking place in Slovakia where the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia is expected to come second or third at the polls on 29th February 2020.
In the Central and East European region, the level of threat posed by right-wing extremist groups remains limited with occasional incidents occurring between protestors, especially in Germany where both the far-right and the antifa have significant mobilising force compared to other countries in the region.
It's likely that far-right groups will increase their activity in the coming months with enhanced cross-border cooperation. Nevertheless, far-right organisations have so far failed to significantly increase their popular support partly due to them having to compete with more mainstream yet far-right parties like the Hungarian Fidesz, the Polish Law and Justice (PiS), the Alternative for Germany (Afd), or the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).
At Intelligence Fusion, the team actively monitors groups of all ideological beliefs and one of the main channels for monitoring these groups is via the encrypted messaging app Telegram. In a recent report, IF's CEO investigated the channels used by right-wing groups to find out just how extreme things get online.
WARNING: Some content is highly inflammatory and may be disturbing.
Guest Blogger: Zsofia Wolford
Zsofia is currently completing her MSc degree in Global Security at the University of Glasgow. Prior to that, she completed a 12-months traineeship at NATO SHAPE as a junior analyst during which she provided horizon scanning and analyses on political, social, economic and security developments in various regions. In addition, she also has experience in online monitoring as she researched the online discourse and activities of far-right groups at an independent Hungarian think tank in 2016 and 2017.