A tale of two festivals

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This summer Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) was invited to open one of the largest European music festivals, the Sziget festival in Budapest, and I was sent along to compere the event.

The day before I arrived in Hungary, reports were coming through that gangs of young skinheads had rampaged through the village of Veroce, attacked a pregnant Roma woman and beaten up a young Roma boy.

I talked about these attacks in interviews I gave to the press. I was surprised when I was told that it was best not to talk about this, as no attacks had taken place. I was even more taken aback when the police issued a statement saying that they had not received any reports of such attacks.

If that wasn't enough, a British Embassy representative went to great lengths to track me down and assure me that there had been no reported attacks in the village. I decided to go to the village and find out what happened. Interestingly, the same people who told me that there had been no attacks warned me that "Veroce is a dangerous place".

Veroce is about 30 km from Budapest. As we drove into the village there were large numbers of skinheads wearing Nazi regalia and T-shirts. They had been attending the Nazi Magyar Sziget festival, which is held in a forest very close to Veroce. This year over 10,000 fascists from across Europe were present.

Their festival had finished the night before. Old Italian fascists, Hungarian Nazis, skinheads and BNP members were all mingling in the streets. My friend and I asked local villagers what had happened. Most were too scared to answer. But some were prepared to speak out and talked of the violence the Nazi festival brings with it.

One baker, Pekseg, told me that he didn't care much for the "gypsies" but then went on to say, "Of course the young men set about gypsies; they hate them. The police just turned a blind eye. Some of them even joined in!"

At the village's main church a pastor explained that for the Roma in the village it was "a night of terror. Gangs of skinheads ran up and down the village forcing the Roma to hide in their homes." He had personally met Roma people who had been "severely hurt".

He also told me that, on the Sunday morning while the Nazi festival was on, fascists lined up outside his church and sieg-heiled as the leader of Hungary's Nazi Jobbik party, Gabor Vona, marched in to worship. Jobbik gained 14.8 percent of the vote in the recent European elections. Vona is also the leader of the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), a uniformed militia that protects Jobbik rallies and marches through Hungarian villages terrorising the Roma.

The Roma make up about 10 percent of the population. Since July last year six Roma people have been murdered and 49 others injured in racist attacks.

As you would expect, the Nazi festival was a carnival of reaction. Only one TV film crew was allowed to film part of the event. The Nazis made the camera crew wear jackets with numbers stencilled on the back. Festival security guards dressed in German SS uniforms carrying plastic machine guns kept coming up to them demanding "Papiers Juden".

The morning after my visit to Veroce I was woken up by the receptionist at my hotel. He told me that two people wanted to speak to me. One was a young anti-racist activist and the other the young Roma woman attacked by the Nazis in Veroce. Nervously she described how for several hours skinheads rampaged through the village, smashed down her fence, beat up a young Roma boy who came to her aid and then assaulted her.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her injuries. She refused, saying, "You will leave here soon, I have to live here for the rest of my life."

In stark contrast to the Nazi event over 60,000 people attended the carnival of solidarity and anti-fascism LMHR was taking part in. Sam Duckworth from Get Cape Wear Cape Fly set up an "LMHR super-group". Drew from Babyshambles, Kid British, Lowkey, Bashy, a Hungarian horn section, Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69 and a load of other artists performed an hour-long set of anti-racist and rebel songs. It went down a storm.

A new Hungarian anti-Nazi campaign was launched called "Zene a Rasszizmus Ellen" or ZARE (Music Against Racism). I also received a wonderful email from GM Tamas, a prominent Hungarian dissident and former member of the Hungarian parliament. He told me about a successful demonstration that was held against the Nazis a week after our festival. He wrote, "It was the first event with red flags. The mainstream press was flabbergasted."

Since returning from Hungary one question keeps crossing my mind. Why was the British Embassy so keen to deny the attacks that took place? After I returned from Veroce one shamefaced embassy worker admitted that it was possible that the attacks did take place. But their hands were tied; they could only report what the police told them.