In light of Hungary’s remarkable successes at the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship so far – which saw the national team score a spectacular 3-3 draw with Portugal yesterday –, it’s baffling that a number of British media outlets have resorted to labelling Hungarian fans “Nazi-saluting ultras” and “fascist thugs”, barely a week after British and Russian fans went on the rampage in Marseilles.
There were, of course, scenes of chaos as Hungary held Iceland 1-1 at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseilles, as a group of Hungarian ultras ended up in a distant sector and made an attempt to rejoin he bulk of Hungary fans, jumping over cordons separating the various sectors. Stewards reacted as harshly as one may expect, going after the fans with truncheons and tear gas. UEFA also launched an enquiry into the case after it was reported that Hungary supporters also used pyrotechnics in the brawl.
Following the incident, British media outlets didn’t hesitate to worry for England fans clashing with who they called violent Hungary supporters flashing pro-Nazi salutes as the country’s team was expected to face Hungary if Roy Hodgson’s team failed to win their final Euro 2016 group team.
The Daily Mail newspaper went as far as claiming that “Hungarian football thugs were caught making Nazi salutes”, while the left-wing Daily Mirror suggested that the over 1000 “Nazi-saluting” Hungarian ultras had previous been involved in violence in Hungary and Romania, where they attacked Syrian refugees. In turn, the Daily Record claimed in an article headline that “ Fascist thugs await England if they come up against Hungary and their hooligan fans at Euro 2016”.
There were also comparisons with Hungary’sb radical nationalist Jobbik party, alluding to a connection between the ultras and the allegedly “openly anti-Semitic” opposition group.
At the centre of negative coverage was a heavily-built tattooed Hungarian man waving his arm in what was interpreted as doing a Nazi salute. He has since been revealed as bodybuilder and university lecturer Attila Bana, a resident of Spain for 18 years. Contacted by a Hungarian sport website, he revealed that he is a fan of neither Nazis nor homophobes and expressed his outrage at the European media’s efforts to portray Hungarian, Albanian and Croatian fans as the “most ruthless” hooligans. Arguing that there is necessarily a “negligible number” of extremists among the 25 000 Hungary fans in France for the Euro 2016 games, he called repots a “saddening” attempt to divert attention from violent England fans, who have been causing trouble in many locations since the games began.
Mr. Bana also said that he is taking legal action against all media outlets who portrayed him in a negative light without reason.
On Tuesday, Sándor Csányi, President of the Hungarian Football Federation, also reacted to the European football federation’s disciplinary decision, claiming that “While other teams have unfortunately experienced their hooligans arriving in France and fighting each other, the Hungarian supporters prepared for the games together with their Austrian and Icelandic counterparts on the streets of Bordeaux and Marseille in good-natured camaraderie and in the absence of any atrocities or violence”.
“It is not in doubt that Hungarian football faces many problems but it also cannot be denied that in the past few years serious efforts have been made to banish violence from our stadia”, the president continued. “It is of course unacceptable to me should supporters act in a disorderly manner, fight, throw objects onto the pitch or use Nazi symbols and if such instances occur, the UEFA punishment is justified”. I do, however, consider it outrageous that some sections of the international press are attempting to scare people around the world using a photo of a Hungarian living in Spain whose ‘crime’ is that he is muscular and regularly wins body-building competitions. I emphatically declare that we stand up for every respectable Hungarian supporter and offer the federation’s legal protection to those who may be accused, without foundation, by anyone of unacceptable and extremist views and behaviour”, Mr. Csányi said.
Perhaps instead of worrying for England fans’ safety at the hands of Hungary supporters wrongly accused of far-right anti-Semitism, the British press would do better affording a page or two to the 73 England ultras who remain sought after by police after Marseilles violence against Russia.