The Case of The Budapest Two

The “Day of Honour” demonstration is a yearly demonstration that takes place in Budapest, Hungary. It commemorates Nazi forces who escaped the Russian encirclement of Budapest at the end of World War II. The demonstration is attended and led by people on the furthest fringes of far-right politics.

History of the Day of Honour Rally:

Neo-Nazis and fascists from all over Europe come to Budapest every year to network and participate in this demonstration, which roughly attracts around 600 people.

Due to the far-right imagery and fiery speeches, often quoting Adolf Hitler, the march has become extremely notorious. It is common to see Swastikas and other far-right logos at these rallies, despite it being illegal to publicly display the Swastika in Hungary, as with many other EU countries. However, the police have rarely been seen to intervene.

The demo was briefly banned in 2022 by Hungarian authorities, with the reason cited being the appearance of far-right extremists. However, the Hungarian Supreme Court was concerned over the legality of banning demonstrations, so it was mostly unenforced. The ban was then overturned in time for the 2023 demonstration to go ahead.

Counter Protests and Resistance Against the Rally:

In 2023, a large counter-protest consisting of around 150 anti-fascist demonstrators was organised. Protesters gathered around the far-right groups, which were already heavily monitored by police, and began trying to drown out the Day of Honour march with drums, megaphones, and chanting. Many members of Hungary’s Roma community, who are a big target of the far-right, were involved in organising this alongside many anti-fascist activists who had travelled from across Europe.

The Day of Honour demo and counter-demo often have European police forces on high alert as clashes are very likely. A group of neo-Nazis were stopped by authorities in German airports from flying out to attend this rally, while a busload of anti-fascists coming from Austria were stopped on the border by Hungarian police. They all had their photos and fingerprints taken, as well as the police photographing their banners and stickers, and allegedly, one person on the bus was forced to unlock his phone for the police to search.

The 2023 Day of Honour march did not go off peacefully. Clashes occurred between the far-right demonstrators and the anti-fascist counter-demonstrators. A few participants of the Day of Honour rally were attacked by anti-fascist activists; a viral video went around Hungary of a group of anti-fascists violently beating a man who attended the pro-Nazi rally. He ended up in the hospital and sustained serious injuries.

The Budapest Two:

Arrests followed in February 2023 of a number of people, most notably Ilaria Salis, a school teacher from Italy, and Tobias E. from Berlin, whose surname has been redacted, who were arrested in Hungary. The cases put against them by the Hungarian authorities, which they will go on trial for in May, are “crimes against the community.” Originally, four allegations were put against Ilaria; two were quickly dropped as she was found to have not been in Hungary when they had occurred. The evidence for two of her remaining charges is based on a video showing a completely unidentifiable group of people wearing all black and covering their faces attacking a participant of the far-right demonstration. She is accused of being a part of this group, which she and her supporters deny. 

Ilaria’s case quickly gained notoriety across Italy and the rest of Europe when the conditions she was being held in came to light. In her first week of detention, she allegedly was not given access to toilet paper or the chance to wash herself.

Allegations of Inhumane Treatment:

In an October 2023 letter to her lawyer, Ilaria wrote, “For a total of one month, I have been with another inmate in cells that measure less than 7 square metres, excluding the bathroom … You spend 23 hours out of 24 in a completely closed cell … Besides the bedbugs, the cells and corridors are full of cockroaches and mice.”

“I found myself without toilet paper, soap, and sanitary pads,” she added.

Prison conditions in Hungary are known to be some of the worst in Europe. Many prisons have been labelled as overcrowded, dirty, and dark.

The European Court of Human Rights condemned Hungary’s prison conditions in 2015 and stated that improvements must be made and compensation be given to prisoners.

Ilaria’s story became national news in Italy when she appeared in a Hungarian court with her hands and feet shackled in January 2024. 

To treat a prisoner this way is a violation of Italian law, but not Hungarian law. Many in Italy saw this as degrading treatment, and it has since been used as a catalyst for the “Free the Budapest Two” campaign and its efforts to help push forward the release of Iliria and Tobias. Antonio Tajana, the Italian Foreign Minister, said in regards to Ilarias treatment in the Hungarian court, “This time it seems to me Hungary has gone too far…treating a prisoner in that way really seems inappropriate, not in tune with our legal culture.”

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organisation, also stepped in to say that this high-profile case has brought to light the poor treatment of prisoners in Hungary. It said the routine use of physical restraints on defendants in court was “against EU law and domestic legal standards.”

Hungary’s government spokesperson, Zoltane Kovac, responded to this outcry via X to brush off allegations of human rights abuses. “Sure, she was restrained in the courtroom, and yes, she had already spent 11 months in detention, but ‘inhumane’? Not really, no. Taken seriously due to the severity of the crime she’s charged with, more likely.”

The Divide Between Europe and Hungary:

The European Union has previously condemned Hungary for political interference in its judiciary, including the selection of judges. The current political landscape in Hungary has been a growing concern for many of the more liberal-oriented EU countries. Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have been driving the party towards authoritarianism with radical constitutional reforms. This has coincided with a crackdown on LGBT and minority communities rights – especially Hungary’s large Roma community. In January 2024, the European Parliament stated in a resolution to “express strong concern about the further erosion of democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights in Hungary.”

Italy aims to persuade Budapest to place Ilaria under house arrest in Hungary or in Italy, but her family has spoken out against this.

This situation with Iliar is a difficult political line to tow for Italy. Italy’s new right-leaning government, led by Georgia Meloni, sees itself as closely allied with Hungary on many policies, especially towards immigration and border control. Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary is desperate for friends in the European Union, following years of alienation due to Hungary’s authoritarian tendencies and anti-immigrant policies.

Far-Right Telegram group chats in Italy and Hungary have had open conversations about Ilaria being murdered, and a mural even appeared in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, depicting her being hanged. Iliria’s family worries for her safety if she is under house arrest and that it would expose her to possibly being targeted by far-right groups.

In November 2023, Viktor Orban claimed that “Italy is one of Hungary’s most important allies.” and went on to say, “Both countries are committed to stopping illegal migration, reinforcing the EU’s external borders, and developing more effective repatriation strategies.” 

There has been speculation that Hungary may be using the detained anti-fascist Iliria as a bargaining chip to gain more support from Italy in the EU. In particular, the two nations have differed on issues to do with the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Hungary has attempted to block EU monetary aid from reaching Ukraine and has claimed that EU resources are best used to try and make peace with Russia instead of arming Ukraine. This is in contrast to Melonis’ government, which has confirmed it intends to keep supporting and funding Ukraine. Orban has come under a lot of criticism and has faced difficulty within the EU Parliament when trying to veto aid packages being sent to Ukraine.

Giorgia Meloni has claimed that she has raised the issue of Ilirias treatment with Viktor Orban, but the case is seen as politically awkward for the two of them as they want to remain allies and are not willing to have a public spat over the issue of an arrested activist.

The Italian foreign ministry has requested that all of Ilaria’s legal documents be translated for her from Hungarian into Italian and that she be allowed to view the video before her trial that is being used as evidence against her. Thus far, both of these requests have been ignored. Ilaria still has not seen the video that went viral in Hungary and allegedly shows her seriously maiming a Hungarian national.

The Hungarian government still insists that Ilirias treatment is in line with the gravity of her charges, which she faces: being a member of a criminal organisation, attempted bodily harm, and endangering life.

It is a story that is not going away in Italian politics or society. Hundreds of thousands of signatures have been collected in a petition calling for Iliria’s return to Italy. 30 members of a radical left-wing youth group known as Rivolta (Rebellion) even occupied the offices of the Hungarian consulate for two hours in protest of Ilaria’s treatment. The group released a statement saying, “We are here because we want her freedom, because this trial is a farce that intends only to punish antifascism in a state where anti-migrant border patrols are not only tolerated but promoted.”

The Other Arrested Anti-Facists:

The same cannot be said for Tobias E. He has been in prison for the same amount of time as Iliria, but his case has garnered a lot less public attention and almost zero government intervention.

A campaign in Germany by anti-fascist groups has also called for his release and repatriation but has been widely ignored by the German government. Berlin’s Minister of Culture and Innovation, Janos Csak, made it clear that the state of Berlin had no intention of intervening in Hungary’s legal process. He said “assaulting someone or attacking an institution because of their opinion is incompatible with European culture.”

Large protests took place across German and Italian cities on Monday, March 18th, under the banner of “Free the Budapest Two”, calling for the immediate release of Tobias and Iliria. The protests also brought attention to others who are implicated in this case. Gabriele Marchesi is currently under house arrest in Milan following a European arrest warrant issued by Hungary. For now, the Italian government has ruled that the 23-year-old will not be extradited to Hungary to stand trial. He is accused of being a member of a “left-wing extremist organisation”. The Italian government has not made a definitive long-term decision on his extradition, but if he stands trial in Hungary, he could face up to 16 years in prison. His next hearing is on the 28th of March, 2024.

Maja T. is also currently in jail in Dresden, awaiting extradition to Hungary. The German opposition party Die Linke has pleaded with the German courts not to extradite Maja to Hungary, but it seems likely that she will be. The Berlin Court of Appeal will decide on Maja’s extradition in the coming weeks. Member of Parliament for Saxony, Jules Nagel, stated that “the decision of the Milan court sets the bar high and should also be a guideline for Germany: Maja T. and other defendants must not be extradited to Hungary.”

It is also known that an Italian man was arrested in Helsinki in February 2024 in relation to the same case following another Hungarian-issued EU arrest warrant. The man is currently being held in Finnish prison while he awaits a decision on his extradition. Little else is known about this case.

The final decision on these trials and extraditions should be an interesting insight into the relationships within the EU bloc going into 2024. As more and more right-leaning governments get elected in the EU, a schism seems to be appearing within the EU parliament as different countries try to ally with each other.

Iliria’s main trial will begin on May 24th in Budapest.

This article was written by Ethan Rooney as a guest contribution to Atlas News. You can follow his work and see his full portfolio here.

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