The universal soldier
Herodotus was…a Greek Carian, an ethnic half-breed. Such people who grow up amid different cultures, as a blend of different bloodlines, have their worldview determined by such concepts as border, distance, difference, diversity. We encounter the widest array of human types among them, from fanatical, fierce sectarians, to passive, apathetic provincials, to open, receptive wanderers – citizens of the world. It depends on how their blood got mixed, what spirits settled in it.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels with Herodotus
I cannot remember exactly where in downtown Pest the large flat belonging to Eduardo Rózsa-Flores was located, but I do remember envying the spacious living room filled with books and sunlight, and thinking that this was why Ildikó had brought me here: she had scored not just Eduardo, but the kudos of his pad and all that went on there. A king-size bed covered in a canary-yellow bedspread was visible through an open doorway; the bedroom led to a balcony over an inner courtyard. A breeze stirred the net curtains in the tall narrow windows. Various associates moved through the main room, cast me a quick glance, and continued their business without a greeting. In the centre stood a table, spread with a map that hung over its edges like a tablecloth. Its legend was in Cyrillic lettering. Coloured pins were fanned out across a mountainous region, stuttering into clusters at points to mark out combat zones in what I presumed was some part of the former Yugoslavia. To my left, above a desk, letters and numerals were chalked up with further arrows and diagrams that represented a set of instructions indecipherable to the casual observer. A stocky man entered from the kitchen, still carrying on a conversation over his shoulder in Hungarian. Ildikó stepped nimbly around the table to greet him with a kiss. As she released him to set down her bag, Eduardo turned on me the smile of her kiss, a wide smile, all of the mouth, and invited me to sit down on one of the four metal chairs set out around the map. ‘Would you like a beer?’ he asked me in English. I nodded, and one of the guys from the kitchen rose and fetched me one.
‘Ildikó tells me you are Irish?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. His face was still creased in the smile but his eyes were waiting for my expression to register his charisma. He waited while I looked around as nonchalantly as I could at the crammed bookshelves, only for my gaze to stop short at two plaster busts, placed on pedestals either side of the window. One was of Stalin, the other of Hitler. ‘Those guys,’ he said, and he threw his head back and laughed loudly, ‘they’re just for company. What are you doing here in Budapest?’
He knew already, of course. Ildi, though a couple of years my senior, was a student of mine at the Eötvös Collégium, where I had landed a teaching fellowship for the year. She was the one who had helped me along as I floundered through my first seminars, examining her hands as I stammered into the silence that greeted any attempt to generate discussion, before looking up, her head cocked to one side, to ask combatively for clarification of whatever critical point I had been trying to make. Her English was as fluent as her boyfriend’s, learned in the States where she had spent a couple of summers with her uncle. ‘Isn’t that great?’ was the phrase that punctuated her conversation most frequently, and her large blue eyes would sparkle for a moment, as they had when she told me about Eduardo a week before in Tilos Az Á, a nightclub in Mikszáth Kálmán Tér.
Eduardo was Hungarian, or half-Hungarian, born in Bolivia to a Hungarian father and a Spanish mother. He could speak six languages fluently, Ildi boasted, and was a poet and a fighter. ‘What kind of a fighter?’ I asked, half wanting to leave the conversation and go listen to Pégé, the Gypsy musician playing double bass with his quartet in the cellar below. I knew that her brother was a wrestler, a Hungarian sporting hero, who was looking to invest his winnings in a string of bars around the city – strip bars, she had added, with a lack of concern I had struggled to match. Over the six months we had known each other, I had formed the impression that she was picked on at home – at the mercy, since her father’s death, of two elder brothers to whom her degree seemed a petulant indulgence while they and their mother worked hard, and perhaps nefariously, to earn a living at the edge of the city. The difficulty of getting home, or of being at home, meant she had stayed over most nights in my attic flat in the leafy twelfth district, until she had met Eduardo. We were coming into summer, heralded by the lengthening of the girls’ legs in Váci Útca. I had bought a long, full-skirted dress with a floral print which tied across the bust in a bow. I fancied it an ironic take on a frock for a vicar’s tea party, but it felt out of place in the clammy heat of the club and I wished I had worn something else. Ildikó was wearing her customary dark grey vest and torn denim jeans, and she had recently shaved off her bob. Eduardo liked the feel of the buzz-cut, she said, and she did too. A mural of New York brownstones stretched up behind the dance floor, towards the balcony where the guys who were writing novels and producing video art hung out. They seemed more like her natural set, I had arrogantly thought, than her brother’s friends whom I had not met, but it would take some confidence to muscle in as a woman and not be reduced to playing handmaiden to their talents at the cost of her own. Perhaps this was why she preferred her fighter who might not regard her as intellectual competition.
She seemed reluctant to answer my question, leaning forward to trace circles in the spilt beer while she weighed up whethermy interest was worth the indiscretion of a reply. Eduardo, she told me eventually, was running petrol supplies for the Croatian army, or something in that line. Her answer disappointed me, but I had not the heart to press her further on how this qualified her boyfriend as a ‘fighter’. The oblique consequences of the war could be felt everywhere in Hungary. For the past term I’d been travelling weekly to Szeged to teach a class on Beckett to a group of ethnic Hungarians who had registered with the drama department in order to avoid the draft in their native Vojvodina, tenmiles across the Serbian border. Anyonemaking seriousmoney in Budapest – where my wage was considered good at £100 a month – seemed to be making it on some illegal trade into blockaded Yugoslavia. Instead I asked how they had first met.‘Through the university,’ she replied vaguely, waving any further questions aside. ‘Why don’t you come over with me sometime next week? I’m sure that Eduardo would be interested to meet you.’
Eduardo took several phone calls during the course of our conversation. Each time he courteously excused himself, and I could hear him switching into what sounded like fluent Serbo-Croatian as he picked up the receiver in the bedroom. Ildikó was eyeing me, her head cocked to one side as if we were in class again. ‘So?’ she asked quietly, mindful of the presence of two lads about our age who were conducting a conversation off the living room through a shortwave radio set. ‘Some operation,’ I said. She shook her head, amused. This was not what she wanted. ‘Yeah, okay, I like him,’ I admitted, and it’s true, I did.With his chestnut hair, dark eyes, broad face and shoulders, he was capably male if not handsome. His manners were good, he listened with an almost unnatural intensity given the constant interruptions, and he seemed to have an easy intimacy with my friend, who, I noticed, grew skittish whenever he threw her a glance. But how could you ignore the map, the shortwave radio, the busts, for heaven’s sake, which were surely not on display for their kitsch value alone? At a time when the decommissioning of statues from the streets of Budapest was all the foreign press could write about, Stalin’s presence in Eduardo’s flat seemed even odder than Hitler’s.
What I was looking at didn’t strike me as any sort of humanitarian set-up. ‘He runs some kind of international brigade of volunteers fighting for the Croatians,’ she confided on our way home. ‘He covered the Vukovar siege for a Spanish paper, but when he saw what the Serbs were doing to civilians he decided he couldn’t just report on what was happening.’ ‘And who funds his work now?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ replied Ildi, and, pulling at my sleeve, added, ‘Hell, I’m just his girlfriend.’
Shortly after this first meeting, a friend of mine arrived to stay, and he saw more of Eduardo than I did, for I learned in time that Eduardo liked best to share Ildi’s attentions in bed with anotherman. Excited by his proximity to the underworld, my friend began to strut a little, laughing off the occasional threesome as part of his experiment in detaching sexual pleasure from bourgeois ideas of love. Ildikó looked less sure, I thought, for it seemed to me that as one girl marooned with two guys, she was reinventing the pattern of home she had sought to leave behind. Eduardo was charming whenever we met up for drinks, asking me about the Irish language, literature, and republican politics, but I had begun to notice that his smile always lasted the same length of time, no matter the quality of the joke. I wanted to avoid his eyes when I talked, for I was unnerved by just how quickly his expression could change from complete interest to total boredom. The few nights he joined us it was clear he was humouring his girlfriend while saving his attention formore important affairs. As news began to circulate of war crimes carried out by Croatian forces in the Medak pocket near Gospic, I felt Eduardo’s murky activities required an explanation that neither of my friends was willing, or able, to give.
All of this was far from my mind when, one morning this past April, I picked up the Irish Times and started to read Tom Hennigan’s report on the killing of Michael Dwyer, a twenty-four-year-old Irishman, in Bolivia nine days previously. I had been out of the country for a week and so knew little of the story beyond the first headlines: that a Tipperary man, asleep in his Santa Cruz hotel room, had been shot dead along with two other men by an armed squad of the Bolivian police, on suspicion of involvement in a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales. It seemed a preposterous allegation against a GAA fan from Ballinderry with no known history of political or criminal involvement, even when pictures of Michael Dwyer in combat gear were reprinted from the internet. It was unfair, I thought vaguely, to present a young guy’s interest in paint-balling as something sinister when the family were already devastated. And then I found myself rereading the following sentence: ‘It was around this time that he met a 49-year-old Bolivian of Hungarian descent named Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, the man killed in room 458 and named by the authorities as the group’s leader.’
Hennigan wrote that Dwyer had travelled to Santa Cruz in November 2008 with three others, two Hungarians and a Slovak, to attend a training course for bodyguards that never took place. His companions returned to Ireland early but Dwyer stayed on, hanging out with Eduardo’s group around the swimming pools of a succession of four- and five-star hotels. On Tuesday, 14 April, the five men checked in to the Hotel Las Americas, where they were assigned separate rooms on the empty fourth floor. Two nights later, at 4 a.m., armed officers crashed into the rooms of Eduardo, Dwyer and Árpád Magyarosi, a twenty-eight-year-old ethnic Hungarian from Transylvania. Each, still in his underwear, died from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. The two others, a half-Bolivian veteran of the Croatian war named Mario Tadic Astorga, and Elöd Tóásó, a twenty-nine-year-old computer expert also from Transylvania, were both arrested unscathed.
As I read, I found myself struggling to assemble scattered bits of information from fifteen years ago. In Budapest, I had discounted some of the wilder rumours about Eduardo’s activities as welcome fodder for any myth-makers who still liked to view Hungary through the gauze of the Iron Curtain. From what I had seen in his flat, I was willing to accept that he commanded a brigade attached to the Croatian army as Ildikó had disclosed. I listened supportively as she abandoned her earlier reticence on the very few occasions we met without Eduardo, sensing that the new boasts about her boyfriend’s importance were to disguise the fear that his attention had begun to drift away from her. She told me that Eduardo had been granted honorary Croatian citizenship for his heroic role in the fighting around Osijek in Eastern Slavonia. Promoted to the rank of major, Eduardo had commanded more than one hundred men. His passport had been personally handed to him by the president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman. But what I was trying to recall now was the remnant of a rumour linking Eduardo to Carlos the Jackal. It was Ildikó, I think, who had intimated that Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, then the most wanted man in the world for his taking of sixty-two hostages at an OPEC meeting, a car bomb in Paris, and other kidnappings and atrocities across Europe and the Middle East through the 1970s and ’80s, had served as a mentor to Eduardo. It would have been like her to boast that Eduardo knew exactly where Carlos was holed up in flight from the CIA and the French secret services, a claim I now remember greeting with sceptical laughter.
It turns out this claim may have had some truth to it. The two men shared similar backgrounds.1 They were born eleven years apart in South America – Carlos in Caracas, Eduardo in Santa Cruz, where his life would end. Both were the sons of Marxist fathers, becoming linguists through necessity as their families sought political exile abroad: Carlos moved to London in 1966, Eduardo to Chile in 1972 and thence to Sweden after Pinochet’s coup d’état ousted Allende the following year. In 1975, the Rózsa-Flores family resettled in Hungary.2 Both Carlos and Eduardo followed up their involvement in communist youth organizations with spells in Moscow, where it has been suggested that Eduardo received KGB training, and where Carlos spent two years at Patrice Lumumba University before his expulsion in 1970. In Moscow, it appears both men became disillusioned by the hardship of life under Soviet communism. In 1980, while Eduardo was a student at the military academy in Budapest, the Jackal spent two years living it up around the city’s bars, brothels and international hotels under the protection of Kádár’s regime. A 2007 article in a Bucharest daily claims that Eduardo acted as the Jackal’s Hungarian interpreter between 1980 and 1982, at a time when he controlled his terrorist network from Budapest.3 By the time I met Eduardo, the world’s most wanted man was living between Amman and Damascus; but his funds, which he had planned to access on a trip to Budapest in late 1990, were still locked in accounts in Hungary and Slovakia.
How had Michael Dwyer fallen in with Eduardo? Until October 2008, Dwyer was employed by Integrated Risk Management Services (I-RMS), a security firm that has been contracted by Shell to guard the construction of the controversial Corrib gas pipeline through the Erris peninsula in Mayo. A photograph posted on the Indymedia website appears to show Dwyer filming protesters alongside Tibor Révész, a thirty-two-year-old ethnic Hungarian from Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania, who travelled to Bolivia with Dwyer last November.4 The Bolivian authorities have since claimed that Révész recruited four out of the initial group of eight associates from among workers at I-RMS. In addition to Révész, the investigators are reported to be still searching for two other Hungarians alleged to be involved in the plot: Gábor Dudog and Dániel Gáspár, who, like Révész, left Bolivia before Christmas.5
It seems that what brought Eduardo and Tibor Révész together was the Székely Legion, an ultra-right paramilitary group with the declared aim of ‘defending’ Székelyföld, a region of central Romania comprising three counties where ethnic Hungarians make up the vast majority of the population. Based in the Hungarian town of Dúnaújváros, the Legion has been running combat training camps in the Ciuc Mountains of Székelyföld, where interethnic tensions run high. Révész, a former judo champion and dog handler, has been described as their chief military instructor and commander, and he also administered the Székely Legion website. Eduardo contributed regularly to its various forums, including a lengthy article on the secessionist movement in Santa Cruz, posted on 4 May 2008.6 Árpád Magyarosi, the other Santa Cruz fatality, Elöd Tóásó, one of the two arrested, and the suspect Gábor Dudog were also members.
As it happens, Tibor Révész used to advertise combat courses through a link on his own homepage to ‘The International Protective and Security Academy’.7 Floridly designed patches, to be sewn on the sleeve like boy-scout achievement badges, were issued by Révész for security operations at Glengad Beach in Co. Mayo and involvement in the Solitaire Shield – an operation to protect the boat used by Shell for pipe-laying off Erris. This last badge has at its centre a ghoulish skull-and-crossbones surrounded by Celtic knotwork. It is possible, therefore, to credit Michael Dwyer’s claim to his family that his intended purpose in Bolivia was to attend a ‘bodyguard training course’ – though Bolivia seems a long way to go for such training. Within weeks of his death, doubts were being cast on Dwyer’s role as the innocent abroad who had stumbled out of his depth. The journalist Andrew Flood has since reported that Dwyer’s loss has been mourned on the Irish neo-Nazi forum Stormfront by a contributor with the username ‘Byzantium Endures’, who signs off with the motto, ‘100% Fascist and proud of it’.8 By his own testimony, aged forty, single and ‘not bad-looking’, ‘Byzantium Endures’ calls himself a member of the International Bodyguards Association, an organization that claims to run combat training courses across the Baltic States, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Mike Dwyer, he writes, identified himself as a White Nationalist or neo-Nazi by the SS runes tatooed on his left arm (displayed proudly in the pictures of a shirtless Dwyer pointing a handgun at the camera that were posted on his Facebook site). He goes on to claim that Dwyer was in Bolivia working for IRMS to provide ‘close protection for Shell executives’ – a claim to be treated sceptically given its source, as Flood also emphasizes. Indeed, the Stormfront thread on Dwyer’s death is taken over by furious debate as to whether Eduardo, given his mestizo heritage, can really be considered white enough to be admitted to the forum’s pantheon of neo-fascist heroes.9
These revelations have caused consternation in Erris. The Shell-to-Sea campaign alleges that last April’s assault on Willie Corduff and the sinking of Pat O’Donnell’s trawler in June are just two incidents in which local protesters have been subjected to the kind of combat techniques taught in counter-terrorist camps. Concern about the recruitment strategies of I-RMS has also been expressed by Judge Mary Devins during the recent prosecution of one of its Corrib employees, Richard Kinsella, for a public order offence. During the trial it was revealed that Kinsella had a number of previous convictions that should have precluded him from doing security work.10 The Phoenix also revealed that several other I-RMS employees had not properly registered with Ireland’s Private Security Authority.11
In a pamphlet published through the Dublin branch of the Shell-to-Sea campaign, Andrew Flood points out that four months before Michael Dwyer and his companions flew to Bolivia, Evo Morales announced the nationalization of a gas pipeline held by a company in which Shell has a 25 per cent stake. One of the chief shareholders in the pipeline, according to the pamphlet, is Branko Marinkovic, a Santa Cruz businessman of Croatian descent who has been a vociferous opponent of Morales. Bolivian authorities have accused Marinkovic of ‘financing the Flores group’12; they also claim that Eduardo and Dwyer met Marinkovic on a number of occasions and that a factory associated with one of his businesses was used as a store for their cache of arms. Flood maintains that Shell would stand to gain from the return to power of the Santa Cruz elite whose control of Bolivia’s natural resources flourished until the socialists came into government. Citing the $15.5 million settlement last June of the case against Shell for their conspiracy to assassinate Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other opponents of their activities in the Niger delta, Flood argues that the events in Santa Cruz likewise demonstrate Shell’s desire to manipulate local politics in Bolivia, and Ireland, for its own purposes. Of Eduardo and his gang, he concludes: ‘These fascists are simply useful idiots in the global corporate game of gaining control over energy resources…None of the events in Bolivia directly involve Shell. The corporation is always one step if not more removed from events on the ground.’
I suspect the coincidences and connections spanning Transylvania, Santa Cruz and the remotest points of Mayo are too multiple and diverse to be accounted for in the one conspiracy. Nor can the same motives be assumed for all involved. The unique twists and turns of Eduardo’s own biography brought these men together, and Transylvania, rather than Mayo, seems to have been where the strongest links were forged.
In the summer of 1994, I spent a week in Tibor Révész’s home town, Sfantu Gheorghe, or Sepsiszentgyörgy as it is known to its predominantly Magyar population, at the heart of Székelyföld in eastern Transylvania. My friend Nina, a Hungarian emigrée to Canada, was returning to visit old friends there and she suggested I tag along. We took the overnight train and, according to the diary I kept, crossed the Romanian border at Kisújszállo. I woke at six to the sight of heavy dew on the open green hills. Women in kerchiefs and gathered skirts were already out in the meadows, raking in swathes of freshly scythed grass. A horse-drawn cart on a dusty track was overtaken by a bareheaded man on a motorbike, struggling to counter-balance the weight of an oil drum bouncing in his side-car. Solid farmhouses sat gable-end to the road, their yards visible through heavy, ornately carved gates with their inhabitants’ names engraved on the lintels above: Andreas Stollenberg and Adolf Fischer were the two I noted in my diary. Nina explained that these houses once belonged to ethnic Germans, many of whom descended from people who had settled in Transylvania during the twelfth century. As part of Ceausescu’s plan to homogenize Romania, this population of some 400,000 was ‘repatriated’ en masse to Germany during the 1970s.13 The houses we passed had since been granted to Romanian, Transdniestrian and Roma families who worked in the rusting factories the dictator had plonked down in the valleys to ensure the resettlement of the Transylvanian countryside and the dilution of the ethnic- Hungarian majority who lived there. This resettlement and the confiscation of church property, Nina told me, was what had prompted the first protests in Timosoara led by Laszlo Tókesi in 1989, which had resulted in Ceausescu’s downfall; although, she added regretfully, Tókes had subsequently crossed to the right and started ‘saying stupid things’.
Our host, Anna, worked as a librarian in Brasov, an elegant town an hour’s drive away from the estate of tower blocks on the outskirts of Sepsiszentgyörgy where she shared a two-bedroom flat with her son, her first husband, László, his second wife, his parents, and now, temporarily, us. The block’s hot-water supply ran for three hours in the morning and three in the evening. The average salary was forty US dollars a month. What enabled our hosts to survive was the garden they owned with another family out in the countryside where they grew all the vegetables they ate, the fruit they bottled for the winter, and the windfalls reserved for palinka, a lethal fruit brandy. Clari, László’s second wife, told me that the shopkeeper in the nearby village assigned her customers to three categories – alcoholics, illiterates and retards – all of whom kept giving birth to children, ‘each one stupider than the next’. All went to her to spend their last 500 lei on palinka. When Clari started to grow courgettes, the villagers lined up along the fence, stared at her weird crop and asked her what to do with them. ‘And then, when I had told them,’ she said, ‘they vanished overnight.’
As we drove through the village of Hadareni on the way to the allotment, I noticed a row of burnt-out houses, thirteen or fourteen in all. ‘What happened here?’ I asked. In response, László pointed to a large chestnut tree where, he reported uneasily, two Gypsies had been strung up by a lynch mob the previous September. The mob comprised most of the village’s 750 inhabitants: Hungarians and Romanians for once pulling together. A further two men were murdered as they fled the crowd, which then went on the rampage, torching the Roma houses I had noticed. The remaining Gypsy population, of over a hundred, departed that night, abandoning houses and belongings. ‘We are barbarians,’ László finished, shaking his head, ‘And this in the birthplace of Imre Nagy!’
By this stage I had learned enough about Eastern Europe to know that László’s contempt for these murders represented a rare tolerance towards the Roma population. Since the collapse of the Ceausescu regime, UNHCR and Amnesty International had noted with alarm the steep rise in racist attacks on Gypsies across Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, some of them orchestrated by neo-Nazi groups.
On my last night in Sepsiszentgyörgy, I offered to take the children to the circus as a farewell treat. The big top was standing on a littered waste-ground beside the flats. We arrived early and walked in through the metal crush barriers. Circus hands with Alsatians on choke chains took our tickets from us. The ringmistress, who had sold us our tickets, was Romanian. She began the evening’s entertainment with a twenty-minute peroration on the rules and regulations to be observed by the audience, few of them related to health and safety, which she then invited a shambolic man from the audience to translate ‘exactly’ into Hungarian. ‘Hello,’ he slurred into the microphone. ‘We welcome you here tonight. Thank you. Goodbye.’ There was a pig in a crown, some geese, the mighty Ion who laid down his bare torso on glass and nails and stood up unscathed, and two trapeze artists who swung round and round by their teeth in the air above us. Our applause was punctuated by regular outbreaks of barking and the clatter of sticks, as Gypsy children ran the gauntlet of the handlers outside and squeezed in through gaps in the canvas. Once inside they sat a few rows back, and dropped down under the banks of seats whenever they spotted a handler entering the ring. ‘Don’t think, because I can’t see you, that you will get away with this,’ Anna translated as the ringmistress screeched into the microphone.
The highlight was reserved for the end of the show. Sudden revving announced the entrance of a balding man, clad in a white tracksuit with silver sequins down each leg, riding a battered stunt bike. The tent filled with noise and exhaust fumes. This is what the ragged band of kids had been waiting for. They clutched each other in wild excitement as the bike roared a few laps of honour while the handlers built up a ramp with boxes and flat sheets of steel. The ringmistress stalked back in. Who, she challenged, would volunteer for the finale, the daredevil stunt never before attempted this side of Bucharest? A gaggle of kids, some no more than three years old, scrambled into the ring and prostrated themselves in the dirt. I counted twenty lying in a row beneath the makeshift ramp. Surely, I thought, the clowns will tumble in now and clear them out, replacing their frail bodies with something more expendable? But no, the rider revved up, stalled, revved up again and took flight out over the children. His back wheel landed about six inches from the last boy’s face. When the kid got to his feet I could see the mixture of terror, pride and outrage shining in his eyes through the mud on his cheeks.
‘More!’ demanded the ringmistress. I wondered now whether I shouldn’t get to my feet and protest, but no one else seemed worried. Another five children were added, the last in line jostling for a position closer to the ramp. With hardly a glance at them, the stunt man left off his chat with the ringmistress and returned to his bike. Again after several false starts, he took off and raced up the ramp. This time I watched in horror as the bike twisted sideways in the air; but the last boy, somehow anticipating its early fall, scrambled forward just in time, and the back tyre thumped down on the precise spot where his face had been. The biker dismounted to wild applause.
This ragged town, its outskirts as trashed and seemingly everyday decent as any of Hungary’s post-industrial estates, has provided the political heart for the campaign to restore autonomous status to Székelyföld ever since its loss in 1968. Nearly 90 per cent of Székelyföld’s population of 800,000 are ethnic Hungarians. The UN’s decision to recognize Kosovo as an independent state has re-ignited these demands. Since 2004, a more radical group has emerged from the Democratic Union of Hungarians (UDMR), a junior party in the Romanian coalition government: the Hungarian Civic Party wants the restoration of full Szekler autonomy, guaranteed by closer ties with Budapest. Its headquarters in Sepsiszentgyörgy are shared with the Szekler National Council, which last February organized a rally of over 4,000 people in the centre of the town to present the government with a list of ten demands. Among these was the creation of a national university to serve the needs of the country’s 1.43 million Hungarians, many of whom do not speak Romanian. Zoltan Gazda, president of the Hungarian Civic Party’s local branch, warned a year ago that if the fight for Székely autonomy could not be won within Romanian law, he believed there were some elements in the region who would seek to take it through violence.14
The Legion’s activities might be discounted as just the nastier edge of local politics, the common coincidence of separatist ambition and disenfranchised youth giving rise to preposterous war games in the far-off woods of Transylvania, save for the fact that its rhetoric is echoed by various organizations on the far right that are fast gaining popular support throughout Hungary. Chief among the newcomers is the Jobbik party, established by Lájos Für, a former Minister for Defence from the centrist MDF (Hungarian Democratic Party). In June’s European Parliamentary elections, Jobbik won 14.8 per cent of the country’s vote, giving it three seats in Strasbourg.
Searchlight has condemned Jobbik for its systematic incitement of hatred ‘against Jews, Gypsies and gays as well as against Slovaks, Romanians and Serbs’.15 Prominently featured on the party’s website is a map of Hungary. Coloured dots mark the locations of alleged outrages perpetrated by the Roma – rapes, murders, mob attacks. Conspicuous by its absence is any warning that due legal process should be observed.
In the immediate run-up to the election, five Roma were murdered in separate incidents across Hungary, targeted, according to activists, by the same hit squad.16 Jobbik boasts its own proto-militia, the Magyar Gárda, inaugurated at a ceremony outside Buda Castle where fifty-six members in black uniforms assembled under the Árpad stripe flag made familiar by the Arrow Cross, the fascist party that ran Hungary from March 1944 until the arrival of the Red Army the following year. Among the speakers that day were MPs from the right-wing opposition party Fidesz, which had run a common slate with Jobbik in the local elections the previous year.17
The new cooperation between Fidesz, Jobbik and other small right-wing parties successfully capitalizes on the populist dream of regaining the former Hungarian territories in Serbia, Slovakia and Romania as a sentimental antidote to the economic gloom. Of these territories, Erdély, as the entirety of Transylvania is known in Hungary, is held especially dear. When, in 1994, Eduardo was demobbed at the rank of major from the Croatian army, it was Fidesz that first engaged his sympathies, then a more moderate youth party on the Christian Democratic right. And with remarkable speed, the day after his killing, one of the first websites to record its grief was Jobbik’s: ‘With deep sorrow we report that our friend and fellow editor, Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, passed away. He died for his country.’18
But for which country? In 2001, Ibolya Fekete won the award for best director at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival for Chico, with Eduardo starring as himself in the title role. In her interviews, Fekete carefully asserts the right to treat the facts of her hero’s life fictionally; all roles other than the lead are played by actors, with newsreel footage and a couple of real-life interviews anchoring the narration in the tradition of cinéma-vérité. Fekete relates in one interview how she met Eduardo while working on an earlier film in which he was cast in a minor role as an amateur actor. During coffee-breaks, he explained that his own hybrid identity – half-Hungarian, half-Spanish; half-Jewish, half- Catholic; true Bolivian mestizo – left him feeling at home nowhere. By her own account, she came to see in his story a metaphor for Eastern Europe: cast adrift from the communism that repressed individuality and promoted certainty, it had rushed sentimentally into the politics of national identity promoted by Western capitalism. And yet the film is less detached from its protagonist than this résumé might suggest.
‘Somos Bolivianos,’ Eduardo’s mother tells a fellow passenger on the flight from Chile to Sweden in the wake of Allende’s assassination:We are Bolivians. ‘No,’ contradicts his father loudly, ‘somos internationalistas’, and on cue, the cabin fills with an impassioned chorus of ‘The Internationale’. Chico’s central premise is that Jorge Rózsa’s commitment to the workers’ revolution left his son unable to navigate a post-communist world; he becomes a revolutionary in search of a country for which to fight, inspired by a vague idea of justice and the emotional rewards of belonging to a ‘band of brothers’. Eduardo’s decision to throw in his press-card and join the Croatian Army comes after he has been roughed up by a Serb commander who persistently demands, ‘Why do you hold all these passports?’ as he displays them for the camera – Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish, and Bolivian. ‘No se,’ Eduardo responds wearily, at a loss to condense the complexities of his upbringing into an appropriate answer to serve in this inter-ethnic war. It is axiomatic that Chico, so nicknamed for his resemblance to a comic-strip character, will find these issues resolved in his command of the similarly stateless volunteers who arrive in the small border village where he is posted, asking for ‘the Spaniard’ to enlist them. The fact that Lazlovo is populated by Hungarians, who movingly declare that only through fighting for Croatia can they defend their 800-year-old settlement from Serb annihilation, further shapes the village to the contours of home.
Lazlovo, where Eduardo based his brigade in the autumn of 1991, lies eighteen kilometres south of Osijek in the Croatian territory of Eastern Slavonia. After the fall of Vukovar to the Serbs in August, resulting in over two hundred civilian casualties and massive displacement of the civilian population, the city of Osijek on the River Drava became the Croat front line. Its hospital was shelled repeatedly by Serb troops and a group of Serb paramilitaries, or Chetniks, led by the notorious war criminal Zelijvo Ráznatovic, a.k.a. Arkan, looted the villages in Osijek’s vicinity, terrorizing their inhabitants during his night raids. There is evidence that Arkan singled out the Hungarian villages for particular brutality. It is alleged that several atrocities were carried out by Serbs in Eastern Slavonia during this time, including a massacre of Croatian civilians in villages to the north of Osijek. In this light, the defence of Lazlovo can be justly regarded as a noble cause, although the members of Eduardo’s brigade appear to have been a less romantic crew than Chico portrays. Among the one hundred or so he enlisted were many neo-Nazis (unsurprising, perhaps, given the history of Croatia’s Utashe), including a contingent from the French National Front. Eduardo chose ‘Franco’ for his own code-name, a nicely ironic title for the leader of an international brigade. Not withstanding the support of the more openly fascist Zenga units (Croat paramilitaries) further to the south, Lazlovo fell to the Serbs on 24 November 1991.19
Within the film, there is only one shot of Eduardo killing anyone, and it is portrayed as typically heroic: the strangling of a Chetnik as he stands guard over a kidnapped member of the brigade who lies gagged and bound in the dark. Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to the young Swiss journalist, Christian Wurtemberg, who enlisted with Eduardo just after the fall of Lazlovo, declaring himself eager to experience the visceral thrill of warfare. It seems Wurtemberg soon began to suspect his commander of involvement in trafficking weapons and drugs.20 On 6 January 1992 he was killed some miles from the front line, strangled and then shot. Two weeks later, a British freelance photographer, Paul Jenks, arrived to investigate the circumstances of Wurtemberg’s death. Jenks was shot by a sniper in the back of the neck with a single bullet, out of range of the Serb forces whom the brigade immediately blamed for his death. In July 1994, Channel Four screened a documentary made by a friend of Jenks’s, the investigative journalist John Sweeney, which accused Eduardo of having ordered the murder of both men to cover up his own racketeering.21
A coda to Fekete’s account is provided by one of the ‘inspirational quotes’ listed on Eduardo’s blog. It is a short poem, adapted from some lines by the Szekler poet, Endre Ady, considered one of the finest Hungarian writers of the twentieth century. ‘One must kill, yes, kill, because for the rebuilding of the fatherland, there must be mortar / And there is no better bond in the clay / In our fatherland’s tortured soil / Than the blood of the enemy / As well as the blood of the hero.’22 A UN investigation into the use of mercenaries during the Balkans war recorded allegations that Eduardo’s brigade had carried out massacres of Serb civilians in the villages of Divos and Ernestinovo.23 This goes unmentioned in Chico.
It seems that by the time I met Eduardo in late spring 1994 his reputation as a minor war hero was under threat. Over the summer he began his own campaign of rehabilitation, publishing the first of five books recounting his part in the war. How much of this Ildikó knew, I am not sure, for she stopped confiding in me once I expressed doubts about what good the relationship was doing her. A smart, attractive, articulate undergraduate, fluent in English, was she too part of the rehabilitation process that would culminate in the lavish receptions and press conferences which greeted Chico on its release in 2001?
In an interview with András Képes, made before he left for Bolivia in October 2008 and broadcast posthumously by MTV (Hungary’s state broadcaster), Eduardo claimed that he has been invited by the Council of Santa Cruz to train and organize a militia in preparation for civil war. He said he intended to enter Bolivia illegally from Brazil and, once in Santa Cruz, to ready himself for conflict with the government of Evo Morales. ‘We won’t walk with flags, we will do it with arms. We will declare independence and create a new country.’
Santa Cruz is located in Bolivia’s south-eastern lowlands; with its reserves of natural gas and iron it is the richest region of South America’s poorest nation. The propertied and business elite are of predominantly German and Croatian descent, accounting for roughly 30 per cent of the region’s population. Evo Morales’s promise to nationalize state resources and companies and advance indigenous rights presents a direct threat to the power of this elite. The Santa Cruz Civic Committee, to which Eduardo seems to have been referring in his interview, was led until recently by Branko Marinkovic. Its goal is regional autonomy for Santa Cruz, and it is affiliated to two far-right organizations, Union Juvenil Cruçena and the Nacion Camba, both of which have been implicated in racist violence.24 Eduardo’s own website carries links to both organizations alongside other right-wing patriotic sites such as Radio Iyambae and Patria Camba. On one you can listen to an anthem that begins: ‘O valiant Crucenistas, take up your arms / March to the fight / For we will guard our households and our fields from tyranny … To die for your country is glorious.’ Click on the icon for Nación Camba, and a slogan flashes up: ‘El futuro es mestizo’; this is a prelude to a series of articles on the high level of education and entrepreneurship among the region’s European population, in contrast to the Aymara and Quechua indigenes who are described as a ‘backward and miserable race’, threatening the progress of the Bolivian nation through their degeneracy. Across the globe, the terms of racial hatred that cling like barnacles to the underside of militant patriotism are remarkably consistent.
Last September, a mere three weeks before Eduardo Rózsa-Flores arrived in Santa Cruz, nineteen indigenous Bolivians on their way to a pro-Morales rally were killed by armed civilians. The introduction of a new constitution last January recognizing the right of indigenous groups to self-determination, guaranteeing universal access to basic facilities, and protecting minority rights has further angered Crucenistas.25 Nacion Camba is seeking a provincial referendum to decide whether it may secede from Bolivia and form its own state. The Union Juvenil Cruçena runs courses for secondary-school students to educate them in the proper regional and cultural pride that in time may bring about ‘una Revolución Social Camba’.
It is not difficult to imagine that, having been awarded Croatian citizenship by Franjo Tudjman and declared a hero of their war of independence, Eduardo would have been welcomed home to Santa Cruz as a long-lost son among the Croat-descended population. The Bolivian authorities are currently trying to discover who paid for the eight return airfares from Madrid to La Paz, the group’s six-month stay in the city’s finer hotels and the BMW which Michael Dwyer liked to boast had been placed at his disposal to drive Eduardo around the city. For a man who listed writing and acting as his only regular occupations, it was some blow-out.
Among the inspirational quotations listed on his site, Eduardo includes one from Darren Shan, a popular author of teenage Goth fiction: ‘We are foot soldiers in the power struggle of the world.We go where there is need for us and do what we must do. Everything else is secondary.’26 This quotation might serve as a useful synopsis. The way I read it: a group of young ethnic Hungarians engage in paramilitary training in the mountains around their home towns in Székelyföld. Some of them are not too bothered by ideology: they despise the Gypsies for the violence they see on the edge of their towns; they blame the Jews and the socialists for the lack of employment prospects, although the shape of this latter conspiracy is a little unclear and perhaps they choose not to pursue this one too far with Eduardo. They enjoy belonging to a militia, which they can lend occasionally as a strong arm to demonstrations organized by the politicians who might yet regain the cultural recognition denied to their parents before them. A stint with I-RMS in Ireland provides a living doing all those things they have been training to do while waiting for their moment at home. They meet an Irish guy who seems to share their interests in martial arts and survival techniques. When he is let go in September, they are already hatching plans to join a friend of theirs in Bolivia for some kind of operation providing security to businessmen, and the Irishman, seeing no other work in the offing, goes with them.
Eduardo Rózsa-Flores was a man who attracted volunteers. In company, he was always acclaiming, approving and welcoming men and women younger than himself who might be challenged to put their boot behind their ideals. A Facebook link from a pro-Jobbik forum takes me to a video of his friends queuing to pay their respects at an altar. Some girls lay red roses, some reach out to caress his photograph. The film is inter-cut with photographs of his life. The pictures begin with him as a white-bundled baby cradled in his delighted father’s arms, then a jug-eared toddler in shorts, and fade into each other, so that the shot of a boy petting a tapir in a garden, with mother and sister standing by, is briefly visible through the wide brow of the teenager he would shortly become. He looks, I notice in this shot, a little like Evo Morales.
In most of the photos, his glance is modestly downcast, his thoughts inscrutable, while the rest of his face exudes a boyish warmth reciprocated in shot after shot of him relaxing with soldiers, combat rifles and handguns slung casually aside. This is what war is, these photos say, fellowship through tiredness and danger, the laughter of friends as the commander blows out the candles on his birthday cake. In later years, judging from the grizzled stubble, Nehru jacket, and open-necked shirts, Eduardo found a civilian uniform befitting the role of poet-fighter that he finally achieved through the promotion of Chico. After visiting Jerusalem, where in Chico he is filmed praying at the Wailing Wall before seeking out a Catholic priest to hear his confession, he converted to Islam in 2004, and claimed to act as the Vice-President of the Islamic Community of Hungary for the past few years. His conversion might be connected in some way to his participation the same year in a convoy carrying Hungarian aid to Darfur. A photograph of Eduardo kneeling next to an imam at prayers testifies to his devotion, as do the Sufi-inspired love poems that are an improvement on his earlier, more bloodthirsty verse. Not that Islam stopped him from reprising his childhood role as altar-boy in the local Catholic church in SzurdokpüspoÅNk, the northern Hungarian village where he settled with his dog Tito; nor from hollowing out Stalin’s bust to use as a vomit receptacle during drinking bouts, as the reliable Éva Balogh reports a friend saying. His conversion can be read as symptomatic of a ready and admirable willingness to identify with the oppressed, whether of Gaza or of Vukovar; this is the Eduardo celebrated in a city-centre cinema by his friends in the Budapest arts community last May, the Eduardo who talks well to camera, appearing reflective and articulate in his interview with Képes. Or his skull-cap and adopted faith can be read as pragmatic, the cover that might be needed to smuggle out arms or to ensure the next paying gig in some one else’s army, at a time when the next contract seemed most likely to come from the Middle East. By his own admission to Képes, the story he offered acquaintances in Santa Cruz – that he had returned home to film a documentary about the city’s new politics – was a lie. No, to train a militia was another job entirely, for which Eduardo would drag along his customary mix of the impressionable and the dangerous, down the corridors towards some hotel room and the sudden sound of gunfire closing in upon their sleep.
1. Information about the life of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is taken from John Follain, Jackal: Finally, the Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, 2000.
2. Éva S. Balogh, ‘The Hungarian Far-Right in Bolivia – Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’, Hungarian Spectrum, 18 April 2009.
3. Mihnea Talau, ‘Szekler Paramilitary Training in Romania’, Ziua, 29 January 2007.
4. See ‘Real International Terrorism: Dwyer, IRMS and the Szekler Legion’, The Phoenix, 9 June 2009.
5. Adam Murphy, ‘Manhunt for Mercenary Leader who Worked for Shell in Mayo’, An Phoblacht, 11 June 2009.
7. Reported on http://www.politics.ie by the ‘Utopian Monk,’ 27 April 2009. Tibor Révész’s homepage, photosniper.freedom.hu, was removed the week after the Bolivian killings.
8. Andrew Flood, ‘The Shadow over Erris: Shell, IRMS and Bolivia’, Indymedia, 26 June 2009.
10. ‘Sligo judge changes Shell / IRMS security policy’, Sligo Today, 3 July 2009.
11. ‘Shell’s Unregistered Security Men’, The Phoenix, 21 June 2009.
12. Eduardo Garcia and Mark Tighe, ‘Bolivian forces “found” handgun in Dwyer’s room’, The Times, 10 May 2009.
13. A covert deal with Helmut Schmidt in 1978 brought Ceausescu between 8,000 and 14,000 Deutschmarks for every visa that granted ethnic-German families in Romania the right to resettle in West Germany. Today there are no more than a few hundred ethnic Germans left in Romania, living around Timosoara and Arad.
14. Nicholas Kulish, ‘Kosovo’s Actions Hearten a Hungarian Enclave,’ New York Times, 7 April 2008.
15. Karl Pfeifer, ‘Hungary: Rightwing militia prepares to fight “Satan” government’, Searchlight, October 2007.
16. Adam LeBor, ‘Jobbik: Meet the BNP’s Fascist Friends in Hungary’, The Times, 9 June 2009.
17. 25 August 2007. Pfeifer, Searchlight, October 2007. On 2 July 2009 it was reported that a Hungarian court has ordered the Magyar Gárda to disband under anti-Nazi legislation.
18. Éva S. Balogh, ‘The Hungarian Far-Right in Bolivia – Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’, Hungarian Spectrum, 18 April 2009.
19. This information is taken from testimonies given at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
20. Philip Sherwell, ‘My Meeting with the Man Accused of Plotting the Assassination of Evo Morales,’ Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2009. ‘Germany’s Secret Balkan Plan’, Searchlight, July 1992.
21. Travels with My Camera: Dying for the Truth, dir. Chris Curling, 1994, Hardcash Productions for Channel Four.
22. Eduardo’s adaptation of some lines by Endre Ady, translated by Éva S. Balogh, ‘The Psyche of an “Anarchist”: Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’, Hungarian Spectrum, 21 April 2009.
23 Report to the UN General Assembly, A/49/150, 6 September 1994.
24 Fionuala Cregan, ‘Racism, Violence and Neo-Nazism: Politics as Usual in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’, Indymedia, 29 April 2009. 25. See Fionuala Cregan’s series of three articles about Bolivia in The Irish Times, 17, 22 and 23 January 2009. 26. Éva S. Balogh, Hungarian Spectrum, 21 April 2009.
Read more in The Dublin Review issue No. 36 Autumn 2009.