Ana Dinescu – How far is the Hungarian far-right from power?
More than 60 years since the end of WWII, the politics of the far-right are becoming a recurring topic for the daily news. Neo-Nazi or extremist parties and movements in North America and Europe are more and more present in the political and social life.
For countries where totalitarian dictatorships fell two decades ago, the need of a critical re-evaluation of a problematic past was surpassed by the emergency of creating functional markets and political parties. In many cases, the new post-communist democratic identities were built on vacillating grounds: various historical frustrations and unstable identities were concocted under the big slogans of democracy and freedom of thought. The construction of historical narratives entered the daily political lives of the new citizens of the new Europe through a media not always fully prepared to perform the basic traditional task of being the “watchdog of democracy”.
Who do you think you are?
Without exception, manifestations of identity politics spread in former communist European countries, with various levels of support and political success. The call to identity never left the scenery, despite the assumed “international” orientation of the ruling communist parties. Post-communist developments overtly followed a beaten path originating well beyond the communist era, at the beginning of the construction of nation-states, during the 19th century. After the fall of communism, many political parties integrated in their discourses strong ethnic identity connotations – including the intolerant and xenophobic accents – originating from the WWII era.
From the East to the West of Central and Eastern Europe, political organizations with a far-right orientation were created raising old territorial disputes and re-constructing external and internal imaginary enemies. The most exposed groups to such attacks – both verbal and often physical – were the Jews and the Roma. In comparison to their counterparts in Western Europe, far-right discourses didn’t focus on immigration issues, pledging instead for authoritarianism, the creation of “national parties”, xenophobia and the admiration for WWII German leaders, completely ignoring the treatment that their countries received during the Third Reich. In many respects, the new xenophobic and neo-Nazi parties are taking full advantage of the democratic institutions that have been set up in the former communist states.
The Hungarian case study
Among the other Central and Eastern European countries, Hungary could offer an interesting case-study. Struggling with a problematic historical heritage which is ever present in daily political life, Hungary succeeded for a while to charm the West with the speed of its economic reforms and its liberalization of the market.
On the other hand, identity politics were central to contemporary political debates. Recently, political developments took an extreme-(right) turn, following the political success of Jobbik (Magyarországért Mozgalom – Movement for a Better Hungary) who won 15% in the last elections for the European Parliament and 17% in the April 2010 general elections. The movement was founded in 1999 by a group of college students and developed into a political party in 2003, though it insists in keeping its militant character to differentiate it from traditional political parties. Allied with the British National Party and Le Pen’s National Front and developing close ties with the Italian far right Forza Nuova and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – who were asked to send observers at the last elections -, its main political rhetoric is anti-Roma (a minority whose members were frequently attacked and killed) and anti-Semitic.
Jobbik succeeded to win votes and support with a discourse blaming all traditional political parties for endemic corruption and the failure to handle the economic situation, although its concrete economic and social program is rather vague. In spite of this, Jobbik succeeded to win considerable support and parliamentary seats in the Northeastern counties, considered to be the poorest in Hungary and with a high concentration of Roma population. The representatives of Jobbik are often involved in attacks – both physical and verbal – against members of the Roma communities, but the perpetrators are rarely held accountable.
This movement wasn’t created in a void. One year before the establishment of Jobbik, in 1998, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja – MIÉP) registered a huge success gaining 5% of the votes and parliamentary representation. Lead by István Csurka, a well-known nationalist dissident, the party became infamous for its anti-Semitic and anti-Trianon public statements (sometimes inter-connected). The conservative prime-minister Viktor Orban denied any direct support from MIÉP and rejected any connection with Jobbik, stating, among others things, that “democracy in this country is strong enough to defend itself” and banning Jobbik’s uniform outfit earlier this year. On a general level, however, the focus on tradition and conservative politics, nationalist – and anti-Trianon – discourses and cultural and political anti-Semitism reproduced in the mainstream media have increased the popularity of Jobbik.
At the October 2011 party congress, Jobbik’s leader Gabor Vona stated that he does not want to die before the Hungarians living beyond the borders of Hungary acquire political autonomy and he expressed his belief in “the resurrection of Hungary”. Although Jobbik and Fidesz have denied of having any direct political ties, they both share the same disgust for the previous socialist government and for liberal intellectuals. Jobbik’s insidious role is reflected in its parliamentary support for any government policies that reaffirm identity politics, mainly in relation to the Hungarians abroad. The government may find Jobbik’s support to be convenient, but this could prove a deadly weapon against democracy, since the parliamentary representatives of Jobbik are always pushing for the adoption of even more extremist policies.
Orban is the founding member of Fidesz – FIatal DEmokraták SZövetsége (Alliance of Young Democrats). He was elected prime minister between 1998 and 2002 and won a new 4-year mandate in 2010. Fidesz was founded in March 1988 by a group of young anti-communist intellectuals who wanted to represent the interest of the “nation”. One of the famous Fidesz founders is Zsolt Bayer, infamous for his anti-Semitic and anti-Roma public statements. This political platform was retained during the post-communism era being particularly effective during Fidesz’s electoral campaigns against the former ruling Socialist Party, which was suffering at the time from corruption scandals and accusations of unethical behavior. The wide disaffection with traditional political parties, mostly amongst the youth (who provide significant electoral support for Jobbik) has strengthened far-right tendencies in Hungarian politics.
The political climate during the first Orban government was marked by an outburst of identity politics, culminating in the implementation of special legislation giving privileges to Hungarians living abroad. The media loyal to the government – as the then Magyar Nemzet (The Hungarian Nation) – reproduced an anti-globalization discourse and pledged for the preservation of historical traditions, while they extensively covered the activities of Hungarian communities abroad. Little space, if any, was dedicated to the critical evaluation of Hungary’s politics during WWII and its incumbent responsibility.
Already criticized for its attempt to control the media in its first mandate, one of the first steps announced in 2010 by the new Orban government were new media regulations. A new media council was set up, criticized by the majority of journalists as an obvious attempt to muzzle critical voices in the media. Protests against these regulations were organized in Hungary and in big European capital cities. As in many other post-communist countries, state TV is forced to reproduce the political line of the parties in power, opposition newspapers are struggling to survive economically in a time of economic distress, while the media publications close to the government are awarded various tax exemptions. The far-right is extensively – and freely – utilising the Internet and social media to spread its intolerant message and its conspiracy theories, which are often echoed in everyday political discourse. In an extensive interview to Magyar Nemzet on 24 December 2011, for instance, Orban accused the “false” perceptions of international journalist “on most matters” regarding the current situation in Hungary and accused “financial circles owned by foreign interests” for the country’s current dismal economic situation.
Among the former communist countries, Hungary is only one example of where extreme identity politics could lead us. This path can be easily followed by any other Central and Eastern European country. Writing about such phenomena of xenophobia and intolerance is an opportunity to raise awareness.
We can’t predict the future, but at least we have the responsibility of doing our best for not repeating the past. Creating alternatives to the current political patterns may be the best answer to an apparently closed circle. The protests held periodically in the last 12 months, with the participation of important intellectuals from Hungary and abroad, shows that public opinion is not prepared to accept this anti-democratic return.
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