A far-right party in Hungary is forming a uniformed “self-defence group” akin to the vigilante Hungarian Guard which was banned a decade ago.
Laszlo Toroczkai, head of the anti-immigrant Our Homeland Movement, said the new National Legion would primarily focus on the “guarding of traditions” and teaching basic military skills.
The Hungarian Guard was formed in 2007 by a group of politicians, including Gabor Vona who led the hardline Jobbik party until last year. The group held rallies to “defend against gypsy criminality” in areas with large Roma populations before eventually being banned by the Hungarian courts in 2009.
In a 2013 judgement, the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg upheld that decision following an appeal by Mr Vona on the grounds of free assembly. The court said that while no violence occurred at the rallies “the paramilitary formation had been reminiscent of the Hungarian Nazi movement [Arrow Cross] responsible for the mass extermination of Roma in Hungary”.
Mr Toroczkai said that his new group “is not the legal successor to the Hungarian Guard” but added that it “wants to continue its idealism and altruism”.
Jobbik is currently the largest opposition party in the Hungarian parliament, having pushed to soften its image. Mr Toroczkai left Jobbik last year and has accused his former party of betraying the “national cause”.
Mr Toroczkai has claimed the new group would be available to provide help after natural disasters and to support people facing evictions from their homes.
However, Vince Szava, head of the Hungarian National Ethnic Minorities Interest Protection Association, condemned the National Legion’s formation and said he hoped it will be disbanded by the authorities.
“We have to prevent the advance of parties and organisations with neo-Nazi ideas,” said Mr Szava, who is Roma.
Mr Toroczkai said the National Legion would also serve as an umbrella organisation for similar groups and has unspecified legal strategies to use if Hungarian authorities try to break up the group.
He said his party would hold a march next week in the eastern city of Torokszentmiklos – despite a police ban. The march comes as a Roma man is suspected of injuring several people in a series of unprovoked attacks in the city.
The party has appealed the ban in court, but will try to hold it in some form even if the appeal is rejected.
The National Legion’s formal founding ceremony will take place on 1 June in the southern city of Szeged.
Mr Toroczkai’s party is running for Hungary’s 21 seats in the European parliament in elections later this month, with its manifesto calling for a parliament led by “patriotic forces”. However, current projections have them only gaining about 2 per cent of the vote – not enough to gain a seat.
Speaking to BBC’s HARDtalk in March, Mr Toroczkai said he was against migration into Hungary, using similar language to that describing the formation of the National Legion.
“We need to defend our culture. I respect the Islam in Saudi Arabia but Hungary is a Christian country. Our traditions are Christian traditions,” he said.
“The European Union is not working now, the EU cannot preserve the European culture. Who will defend the European people? The European nations?”
Hungary’s president Viktor Orban, who has also faced criticism from across Europe for his nationalist policies, including being tough on migration and calling for judicial reforms, met with President Donald Trump in Washington on Monday.
Mr Trump brushed off concerns from critics about the weakening of democracy in Hungary since Mr Orban came to power.
“He’s a respected man. And I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man,” Mr Trump said.
“He’s done the right thing, according to many people, on immigration. And you look at some of the problems that they have in Europe that are tremendous because they’ve done it a different way than the prime minister,” Mr Trump added.