A HUNGARIAN court has handed down life sentences to three far-right gang members convicted of murdering six gypsies, including the gunning down of a father and his four-year-old son as they fled their burning home.
Another member of the neo-Nazi gang received a 13-year sentence for his part in a string of gun and grenade attacks which occurred between 2008 and 2009, and also left five people injured.
The court also ruled that brothers Arpad and Istvan Kiss and Zsolt Peto, the recipients of the life sentences, were ineligible for parole. All four of the guilty had pleaded innocent.
Outside the Budapest court gypsies, or Roma as they are known, many wearing t-shirts with pictures of the victims with the slogan “Their Sin was Their Colour”, cheered when the verdict was announced.
Pledging to “reinstall order” and stop gypsy “crime” the gang generally carried out their attacks in rural areas at night, and in one incident shot a woman dead while she was sleeping. In their most notorious attack, the gang killed 29-year-old Robert Csorba and his young son, also called Robert, in the village of Tatarszentgyorgy as the two ran from their home which the gang had torched.
“To carry out their plans first they bought arms, then began to ‘reinstall order’, meaning armed attacks in places where Roma had committed crimes against Hungarians,” said Judge Laszlo Miszori yesterday.
Police documents showed that the authorities dragged their feet in investigating the Tatarszentgyorgy attack, although the earlier killings had already unleashed fear throughout the Roma community for months.
The attacks increased tensions between ethnic Hungarians and the Roma, which make up some seven per cent of Hungary’s 10-million population and remain confined to the margins of society, bedevilled by endemic rates of poverty and unemployment.
Many ethnic Hungarians refer to the high rates of Roma crime and illiteracy as evidence of a population that has failed to integrate since the end of Communist rule in 1989, and which has become a burden on society.
In turn the Roma complain of deep and widespread racism and discrimination, and some have attributed the length of time it took the authorities to bring the murder gang to justice as evidence of ingrained racist attitudes.
But Zoltan Balog, Hungary’s human resources minister, said the verdict “strengthens my belief that no perpetrators of racist crimes can escape the law in Hungary”.
“This is not a question of minority or majority: this is a question of human dignity,” he said in a statement issued to the Hungarian MTI news service.
Although the government and human rights campaigners will welcome the verdict and hold it up as evidence of the authorities taking a hard line on racist attacks, it may fail to narrow the at-times bitter divide between ethnic Hungarians and the Roma.
Opinion polls indicate a hardening of attitudes towards the Roma in the wider Hungarian population of late, and the far-right party Jobbik has made considerable political capital from preaching against “Roma crime”.