Can Europe Make It?

On Roma murders in Hungary

Why did the police not take the investigation seriously at first? Why did the political elite need six victims to admit that these people were murdered because of their Roma identity, to acknowledge the neo-Nazi terrorist nature of their acts?

András B. Vágvölgyi
5 September 2014
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Remembrance Day of the Roma Holocaust is commemorated in Budapest, 2013. David Ferenczy/Demotix. All rights reserved.

In 2008-09 a shocking series of terrorist killings happened in the eastern part of Hungary. The victims all belonged to the Roma minority, and the murderers’ method seemed like the KKK’s in the American Deep South in the 1950s-60s. For a long time, the Hungarian authorities were haplessly incapable of performing their duty as these murders took place.

It all began on July 20, 2008 in a village called Galgagyörk. According to the arraignment, Istvan Kiss aimed shots at the house at 48 Rákóczi Street, where a five-year old boy and his parents stayed at that time. Zsolt Pető also fired at another house on the opposite side of the street, where there were three children and their parents sleeping. After this their boss, Arpad Kiss – while changing magazines as well – shot some rounds targeting a third house. Nobody was injured there.
They killed in Nagycsécs first. 

They felt their deeds were justified by the reactions of the media and the authorities, or more – by the lack of it. They needed to kill only to reach their goal: the intimidation of the Roma population. The motivation of their attacks was to force a violent reaction from the Roma minority. As the prosecutor’s report says: “their aim was to set up a private army and initiate a civil war”.

After the double assassination in Nagycsécs, the Neo-Nazi commander raised the stakes. On February 22, 2009 they dropped Molotov cocktails on the roof of a Roma house, the last one in the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, firing off shotguns at the escaping family, killing a father, Robert Csorba (27 years old) and his young son Robert Csorba Jr (5 years old), and injuring his sister, Bianka (7 years old). Though a new investigation was immediately launched, the commander had time for yet two more attacks, in April in Tiszalök where they killed a worker just leaving home to catch the night shift, and a mother sleeping in her bed on the night of August 2 in a place called Kisléta.

On August 3, 2009, the 65th anniversary of the Roma Holocaust, the same criminals also murdered a woman and injured her 13-year-old daughter in their own house. Maria Balogh was the last victim of the series of attacks targeting Romas. Less than three weeks later the police caught four men in a club in Debrecen on August 21, 2009: the prime defendant Árpád Kiss, the second István Kiss, the third Zsolt Pető and the fourth István Csontos. The weapons used in the killings were found in the night club, “Perényi 1”.

The accusations against the first, the second, and the third defendant were premeditated murder, felony concerning a number of people, while endangering multiple lives, armed attack committed against a group, injury of a minor, armed robbery,  and misuse of firearms and ammunition. In the case of the first defendant, deliberate endangerment can also be found in the arraignment. The Pest County Court has also accused the fourth defendant of premeditated felony murder committed with multiple people as accomplice. Arpád Kiss was a sound technician; István Kiss and Zsolt Pető were bouncers in a music club in Debrecen and István Csontos, a former soldier and member of the KFOR in Kosovo, worked there as well.

What has happened since 2008? The trial started on March 25, 2010 and lasted 167 trial days. Hundreds of victims, witnesses, experts and cops took part in hearings. The first level verdict was announced August 6, 2013. Three of them got the maximum sentence in Hungary – the so called “real” life sentence (no chance for parole). Csontos, who was the driver of the getaway car in the last two cases, received 13 years’ jail. All of the charged turned to the Appeal Court. The written form of the verdict was delivered only in June 2014. In August 2013 the government started a new investigation regarding the failures of the secret services. No news on this investigation yet. The Appeal Court’s procedure could take place in early 2015.

Why did the police not take the investigation seriously at first? Why did the political elite need six victims to admit that these people were murdered because of their Roma identity, to acknowledge the neo-Nazi terrorist nature of their acts? What mistakes did the Secret Service (NBH) and the military secret service (KBH) make in investigating the case? Could the murders have been prevented in any way? What was the motivation of the accused? Are there any of them or any instigators still at large? 

Timeline:

July 21, 2008, Galgagyörk: They fire at three inhabited homes

August 8, 2008, Piricse: They fire and throw Molotov cocktails at inhabited buildings, injuring Magdolna Getyinás.

September 5, 2008, Nyíradony-Tamásipuszta: They fire multiple aimed shots at an inhabited house.

September 29, 2008, Tarnabod: They set five inhabited houses on fire; they throw Molotov cocktails at some of them.

November 3, 2008, Nagycsécs: They throw Molotov cocktails at the house of Tibor Nagy. They kill the wife of Tibor Nagy and his brother József Nagy with a gunshot through the window, while injuring Tibor Nagy.

December 15, 2008, Alsózsolca: They shoot Krisztián Rontó in his own garden, causing permanent  incapacity.

February 23, 2009, Tatárszentgyörgy: They throw Molotov cocktails at the house of Róbert Csorba, and when he tries to escape with his child from the burning building, they shoot both of them: him and his four-year-old son at point-blank range.  In the attack his daughter Bianka Csorba was seriously injured, too.

April 22, 2009, Tiszalök: They shoot and kill Jenő Kóka in his own garden, while he was en route to his workplace.

August 3, 2009, Kisléta: They execute Maria Balogh while entering her house, respectively shooting at her daughter Timea P. at close range, endangering her a life, and causing permanent injury to her health.

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