U.S. concerned over neo-Nazi groups after Hungarian rainbow flags torn down

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The U.S. Embassy in Budapest warned on Monday that neo-Nazi groups should not be tolerated after two rainbow flags were torn down from municipals buildings in the latest anti-LGBT incidents in Hungary.

On Friday, a hardline soccer fan was detained by police on suspicion of tearing down a flag and burning it.

And on Sunday, Elod Novak, vice president of the far-right fringe “Our Homeland Movement” removed the rainbow flag installed to mark Pride celebrations from the Budapest city hall, and threw it into a rubbish bin. Police detained Novak.

The embassy said it was “deeply concerned” about the incidents.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that should be able to be exercised without intimidation. Neo-Nazi or other hate groups should not be tolerated in any society,” it said.

The comments were echoed in a statement by a group of embassies from around the world to mark 25th anniversary of Budapest Pride - being marked by a series of events and displays throughout the city this month as the traditional solidarity march was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A government spokesman said authorities were doing their job as Hungary is a state where laws were respected.

Rights groups say hostility to LGBT+ people has increased since nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third term in 2018.

According to ILGA, an international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex advocacy group, Hungary slipped the most in Europe in terms of rights in 2019, although it is still ahead of nearly all eastern European countries. Poland ranks last in the EU.

In Poland, where homophobia has been part of the ruling PiS party’s ideology and election strategy, nationalists and defenders of LGBT rights faced off against each other in Warsaw on Sunday. Nationalists burnt a rainbow flag.

“Those forces who fight against the biological dead end of homosexuality should team up internationally,” Novak told Reuters, saying his group was watching developments in Poland.

Tamas Dombos, a board member of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance, expressed concern about far-right groups working together.

“For an incident like this you only need a few people, this doesn’t mean that the majority of society are behind them ... this is why it is important that the local (Budapest) councils are supporting our cause,” he said.

Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo; Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams