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Officials Warn: Extremist Parties Threaten Eastern Europe's Stability

Several Roma, including children, killed in past year in violence in Hungary involving firearms, gasoline bombs, grenades

Human rights activists and government officials from Central and Eastern European countries have warned that rising far right parties are threatening the stability in several former Communist nations. They discussed the issue at an international meeting in Budapest on Friday ahead of several key elections in Eastern Europe.

Human rights officials and social experts from Central and Eastern European countries said the new wave of attacks on Gypsies, or Roma, as well as Jews and other minority groups by the new extremist parties are threatening the fragile democracies in several Eastern European nations.

They said the fast growing strength of far right political extremism and their discrimination activities aimed at national minorities in the region are alarming.

Several Roma, including children, have been killed in the past year in violence in Hungary involving firearms, gasoline bombs and hand grenades. There have also been anti-Roma and anti-Jewish incidents in other countries in the region.

Friday's meeting came as opinion polls in the region show that the far right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) will likely become a major political force in Hungarian parliamentary elections in April.

It already captured three of 22 seats designated to Hungary in the European Parliament election last year.

Jobbik campaigns against what it calls 'Gypsy crime' and its leaders have been linked to anti-Semitic rhetoric by the Hungarian officials and are viewed as intensely eurosceptic.

Since 2007, members of the party's paramilitary wing, the Hungarian Guard, or Magyar Garda, had marched through several Roma villages and settlements in uniforms that resemble those of the Nazi-era.

Jobbik's success has been linked to Hungary's continuing economic crisis and widespread disappointment in the current Socialist-backed government.

Sociologist Andras Toth of the influential Institute for Political Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences told VOA News he fears Jobbik would change the political landscape in Hungary and its success would impact on nearby countries.

"I am very concerned, because it is likely that in Hungary the Jobbik, which is the leading far right party, will have at least 10 percent of the votes in the next election. It might happen that it will be the second biggest party in parliament or the third one," said Toth. "If the economic crisis will go on, unemployment will increase, it might happen that Jobbik will receive even 20 or 30 percent in 2014. And this is a real concern not only for Hungary but for the whole European project."

There are concerns that Jobbik's success will further boost far-right parties in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where elections will be held later this year.

Author Peter Huncik, a former adviser of then Czech President Vaclav Havel, has been involved in the new party Most-Hid (Bridge), which works across ethnic lines to counter extremism in Slovakia and the region. He explains the strength of his party.

"About 60-65 percent of the members [of my party] is from the [ethnic minority] Hungarian society and about 35-40 percent from the Slovak society," he said. "Which is a very, very important message to the world and the neighboring countries of Slovakia. The other alternative is a bloody conflict. And who needs this bloody conflict. Yugoslavia was enough for us."

The rising power of the far right is also an issue in Serbia, which is facing economic hardship because of Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Civil rights activist Sonja Biserko, who chairs the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia expressed concern about the new development.

"We have become an ethnic state," said Biserko. "Really not a national state, which reflects on the position of the minorities whether it be ethnic, religious, sexual or political, whatever. So this is why this topic is so important to address in all this societies, especially because minorities are always suffering."

Friday's gathering in Budapest was part of a wider attempt to tackle extremism across the region.