Hungarian “model township” run on violence and intimidation

A small town in eastern Hungary with an eccentric mayor has been making headlines for the effectiveness of its management approach within an area that is both poor and affected by ethnic tensions. Turns out the town is not as much of a fun place as it appears in the media. In fact, it is more like a micro dictatorship, where people have to watch their step and look over their shoulders.

Zoltán Mihály Orosz has been mayor of Érpatak for almost 10 years, a township in eastern Hungary with a population of 1,700, many of them of Roma ethnicity. The area is poor, and crime was an everyday concern for locals who had no effective means to protect themselves and could not count on the police.

It was because of this particular situation that Orosz launched the “Érpatak model.” The self-described core of the concept is first and foremost to establish conditions which support the maintenance of order, with everything else, including investment and development, secondary to this. As such, Orosz has made extensive efforts to crack down on the petty crime that was so prevalent in the area, and he has achieved impressive results. The approach, the “model” has since been introduced in several other locations in the country.

Orosz is an open proponent of radical policies; he is closely tied to the parliamentary Jobbik party and during his campaign he also received open support from the 64 Counties Youth Movement, a well-known far-right group with shady financing previously investigated by Atlatszo.hu.

Besides his strong-handed management of Érpatak, Orosz rose to national fame for his provocative outbursts against ethnic minorities and homosexuals, often while wearing the traditional attire that nationalists often prefer. In fact, on one occasion he  delivered a heated expose wearing full military gear.

But as it turns out, the model is not only a manifestation of “tough love,” but an ‘approach’ whereby people have come to fear for their physical well-being and even their lives. Over the past years, those that have come into conflict with Orosz, such as Ferenc Polyák who used to be a supporter of Orosz, have had a slew of slander charges filed against them whenever they have spoken up. Even worse, Polyák’s house was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and he was lucky to survive the event.

Gábor Szőllősi is a former activist with civil liberties group TASZ, and is currently a mayoral candidate in Érpatak for the opposition left-wing Egyutt-PM bloc. He told Atlatszo.hu about the constant threats against him, and specific incidents, including when he had the windows of his home broken and was physically beaten.

Atlatszo.hu’s local investigations found that these are by no means special or isolated events. Orosz has established a control structure under which ordinary people feel they have to be careful what they say among themselves, not knowing who may be listening or what the repercussions may be.

Atlatszo.hu contacted Orosz to get his side of the story. He called us one of the “liberal character assassin” media outlets, which he only talks to in person while making a video recording for his own records. As this could not be conducted as a telephone conversation, he declined to make any further comment.