An outlandish wardrobe and a talent for self-promotion have got Mihlály Orosz, the radical right-wing village mayor of Érpatak, significant national and even international press coverage. Recently Orosz claimed Nazi collaborator, Hungarian Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi was the “last legally elected Hungarian leader in 1944″. Earlier this month he hanged two Israeli leaders in effigy in a PR stunt that received international coverage.
Orosz is known for the so-called “Érpatak model” of zero tolerance when it comes to law enforcement and sentencing those convicted of crimes to hard physical labor. Fidesz-linked daily Magyar Nemzet praised the mayor for “exceptional work” in cutting crime rates, even referring to the north-eastern village as “the Érpatak Miracle”.
However a study of the village conducted by the ethnographist and Roma studies expert Pál Nagy paints a very different picture, depicting a deep and frightening culture. Having originally returned to his home village to carry out extensive research about Érpatak’s 200-year-old Roma community, Nagy soon changed its focus after several local Gypsies were attacked and arrested. According to Nagy, Orosz’s “far-right utopia” merely means stricter Roma segregation combined with intimidation and violence against political opponents. Orosz, who has been mayor since 2005, is an omnipotent figure who intimidates his subjects, disseminates global conspiracy theories and far-right ideology, and metes out punishment on any dissenters, Nagy found.
Although Orosz often claimed that his model “does not differentiate on the basis of race or ethnicity”, according to Nagy it is almost exclusively Roma people who suffer from the increased level of administrational violence and humiliation.
“Orosz has abused his legislative framework, often engaging in vigilantism, consciously following a peculiar ideological mix of anti-democratic beliefs and strong influence of Arrow Cross,” Nagy adds.
“This was not the life of bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 21st Century, but rather the many misuses of power characteristic of the 17th century,” writes Nagy, adding that “most of the widespread abuses in Érpatak have gone unreported.” By way of example he cites “the police chief of nearby Újfehértó, who is a personal friend of Orosz, who made Érpatak public works employees scrub the stairs of the police station with toothbrushes”.
Another case study comes from 2011, when local police arrested two elderly Roma men for living in small shacks in a forest near the village. In their absence their living quarters and most of their personal belongings were set on fire and destroyed. Nagy suspects the arson was committed by the mayor’s men, to prevent the arrested men from returning home. On another occasion, Orosz told the local social workers to introduce compulsory IUDs for all of the Roma women in Érpatak.
In 2004 Érpatak was a poor village with a 20% unemployment rate. After taking power as an independent the following year Orosz positioned himself alongside the far-right and started patrolling the streets and collecting payment for utility bills by force. According to Orosz, his drastic methods resulted in a rapid increase in payments.
After the series of racially motivated murders of Roma people that took place in Hungary in 2008-09, many right-wingers began to talk of Érpatak as a successful model of establishing law and order, not least Orosz himself.
The foundational thought of this model was the separation of “constructive” and destructive” elements within society: he changed the local welfare distribution system to serve only those he had listed as “constructive” elements of the village and “declared war” on the rest.
According to Nagy, Orosz borrows most of his views from a philosopher named András László, publishing two of his books through his own church Sofia Perennis, and even awarding himself a “doctorate” through one of these churches. “These are signs of the twisted self-image he promotes,” according to Nagy.
Civil Liberties Union’s Roma Program sent its representative Gábor Szöllősi to write a report on the developments at Érpatak. It spoke about Orosz establishing his own “field guards”, founding his own “knightly order” and beginning to use the self-acclaimed titles of “PhD” and “Knight”. Szöllősi claims Orosz harassed him regularly and even ordered his beating last year.
Local resident Ferenc Polyák originally supported the mayor, but after turning against his “model society” suffered an attack on his house that involved a lit Molotov cocktail being thrown through his window. Polyák said he suspects that Orosz had a role in the attack.
Érpatak’s official webpage also offers a window on Orosz’s worldview, especially in a separate section on his favored conspiracy theories, such as 9/11 being “an inside job” on the part of the US government and the existence and global influence of the secret society The Illuminati.
Nagy says the combination of Orosz’s far-right ideology and his need for the spotlight have merely helped to “preserve extreme poverty” and destroy individual rights.