Fascism in Hungary
by Matyas Benyik
The fascist movement is usually on the rise in situation of political and economic crises with a specific mandate to train the dissatisfied, rebellious masses docile or even enthusiastic servers of capital. At the same time the dispossessed people and their capitalist owners must be convinced that no one can defend their interests better and more consistently than the fascists. Antagonistic interests are to be harmonised. The program of the fascist movement in this respect resembles to the one of social democracy, but its methods are brutal and primitive.
The basic method of fascism is to combine open terror with social demagogy, which promises material recovery and growth to the masses; the terror rides on the basest instincts in order to tread both the left and the democratic and liberal wings of the bourgeoisie, but if necessary, the proletarian and petty-bourgeois groups of the fascist movement itself as well, if the social fulfillment of promises were asked for accountability. The special task of the terror is a psychological function intertwined with the task of the politics, namely to divert the social anger of the masses from the real responsibles to the most vulnerable elements of the population whom are chosen as scapegoats.
Main features of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries
After the end of the Cold War the peoples of the ex-socialist countries were suddenly confronted with the phenomenon of globalisation. West European companies rushed into the CEE market and contributed to the creation of a savage capitalism. The weak anti-capitalist forces were unable to put up any resistance to this predatory process. At the same time the preparations for EU integration were pushed through at all costs. It is understandable that many people now see themselves in the role of the victim.
The fall of the so called „communist” regimes in CEE left an ideological vacuum. A seething ideological mix came to the fore in many countries, made up of anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and racist stereotypes, nationalist prejudices and elements such as militant anti-communism, revisionist ambitions and a vengeful fundamentalism. The advance of right wing extremism (RWE) is closely connected to the crises of CEE „new capitalism”. In this region under the banner of freedom and democracy the neofascist political groups and parties are legally marching on the streets.
The nation-state arrangements of the new power elite of CEE are the more extreme, namely the more the idea and the praxis of the independent nation state are linked with the fascist, anticommunist tradition, the more they are nationalists-fascists. In this respect Ukraine, the Baltic region, Hungary and Croatia are the most frightening cases, i.e. where the Nazi collaborators played an important role during the second World War.
As for the CEE realities are concerned we can see that this part of Europe consists of at least three different regions/subregions, where new system change is taking place, namely:
1.) In Russia – Ukraine – Belarus – Bulgaria: wild authoritarian regimes are on power, their function is to push and implement the neoliberal agenda.
2.) In Hungary and Poland (and also West Ukraine): strong authoritarian regimes rule, vivid neofascism is prevailing, neo-Horthyst, neo-Arrow Cross movements are on the rise in Hungary. The ruling right wing FIDESZ government with its 2/3rd majority has changed the bourgeois democratic institutions and introduced a semi-dictatorial system.
3.) In Slovenia and Czechia the neofascist tendencies are less visible and these countries seem to have a better chance to „catch up” to the Western type of „welfare societies”.
4.) In the Balkans the RWE is fitting to the global phenomenon, especially after the events of 9/11. All of the Balkan countries, including Serbia, have significant economic problems and some parts of the society really suffer and are scapegoating other groups (ethnicities) who are supposed to be responsible for that. Every group, every community in the ex-Yugoslavian geography sees itself as a victim of the violent events of the 1990s.
The rise of far-right in Hungary
The Athena Institute has identified 8 major active extremist groups in Hungary, namely the New Hungarian Guard, the Hungarian National Guard, the Sixty-four Counties Youth Movement, the Outlaws’ Army, the For a Better Future Self Defence, the Guards of the Carpathian Homeland, the kuruc.info and the Hungarian National Front. These extremist groups and the Jobbik party (The Movement for a Better Hungary) played an important role in the revival and success of the Hungarian far-right scene. They mutually strengthened and used each other to reach their political goals.
From 2007 until around 2011 the popularity, the number of members and influence of the so-called „radical nationalist” groups close to Jobbik grew steadily, despite the banning of the original Hungarian Guard. These extremist outfits built a virulent subculture and a stable hinterland for the political far-right, which in return used them as its number one campaign weapon and tool. With their activities, the extremist groups provided substantial support to Jobbik to gain popularity and and participate successfully in the 2010 general elections. However, as a general tendency recently, we can see a decline in the number of membership, a fragmentation and an erosion in the skinhead subculture, the Hungarist and neo-Nazi groups, whilst the dominance of the „national radical” groups, namely the New Hungarian Guard and especially the Sixty-four Counties Youth Movement (SfCYM) that has always been somewhat independent of Jobbik, are intensively expanding in the regions of Romania (Transylvania) that are densely populated by ethnic Hungarians.
Jobbik as a party was formed in October, 2003 from the movement of the same name. The creators of the movement were primarily conservative university students and there are still many young people among its supporters. Jobbik took in charge as the only party to face the „unsolved situation of the ever growing gypsy population”. It stated – what everyone knows but is silenced by „political correctness”– that the phenomenon of „gypsy crime” is a real problem.
In the 2006 parliamentary elections the party reached only 2.2%, running together with MIÉP (Hungarian Truth and Life Party) on the MIÉP-Jobbik – A Harmadik Út (The Third Way) ticket. Four parties reached the 5% threshold, besides them only the Harmadik Út collected over 1% of the votes. By 2008 the now independent Jobbik was at 7%, according to the polls. Upon the initiation of the party leader Gábor Vona, a so called „Cultural Association of the Hungarian Guard” practically a paramilitary organisation was formed in August 2007. The Guard and its clones with sworn-in members in uniform evoked fear of a considerable segment of society due to their marches and Roma killings/atrocities mainly in the counry-side.
At the 2009 European parliamentary elections, Jobbik won 3 seats and in doing so came close to beating the ruling Hungarian Socialists into third place. The irony of politics is the fact that the EP elections in 2009 brought the breakthrough for Jobbik - which had been allied with the MIEP (Hungarian Justice and Life Party) failed dismally - gained almost 15%, with about 430 thousand votes. In 2010 national elections Jobbik has been further strengthened: the number of supporters doubled to 855 thousand reaching almost 17%.
Hungary’s 2010 parliamentary elections saw Jobbik cement its posititon as the nation’s 3rdlargest party, doubling the vote it had received in the previous year and getting just 3 seats short of the previous ruling party. Jobbik reached 16.67% of the votes in the first round (12.26% in the second round) and delegated 47 deputies into the national Parliament.
There is a debate that Jobbik is not a neo-Nazi, but a populist right-wing party. However, the majority of the Hungarian public agrees that it is an anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, xenophobic, homophobic, racist and chauvinistic party. Jobbik believes in „Hungary for the Hungarians” and in a Greater Hungary. Jobbik wants to renegotiate both the borders of Hungary and its membership of the European Union.
But Jobbik is not the only problem. A number of actions of PM Viktor Orban’s government also caused a lot of concerns in Europe. Whenever useful to cement his power, Orban does not hesitate to cast the free market principles of the European Union aside and wage a war against Brussels ( e.g. refugees).
The prevalence of anti-gypsy sentiment is one of the main pillars of Hungarian far-right movements. Anti-gypsy concept has been widely accepted in Hungary in recent decades. But the success of the Hungarian far right over the past ten years may not have its origins solely in this: it is worth examining which social groups and attitudes have helped move the far right from the margins to the mainstream and to a socially more accepted position.
In the last European parliamentary election in 2014 Jobbik has managed to meet its goal, becoming Hungary’s second power, because the Socialists have collapsed, and Jobbik could become Fidesz’s challenger. Low turnout is a caution, indicating that Hungarian society does not trust the European Union.
However, the real failure could have been if Jobbik had not beaten the fragmented Socialists. Jobbik was saved from the embarrassment, but the acquisition of the second place is not a victory, but only a beauty spot. We should not forget that before the 2014 parliamentary elections Vona set a goal to overthrow Fidesz. It is worth remembering that Jobbik’s career started with boycotting the 2004 EP-elections and campaigned against joining the EU.
Half a year before the 2014 parliamentary elections it seemed that Jobbik was down. The party reeling from internal conflicts, moreover, has been a serious competitive disadvantage due to the reconstruction of the electoral system. Fidesz took and efficiently applied a portion of the right-wing radical thesis: it did not attack Jobbik directly, but tried to marginalize it. Fidesz was brilliant to sow dissention and scapegoating and Jobbik’s room for manoeuvre has more and more narrowed. Anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric started to become boring even among the susceptible population to these ideas.
It is a warning signal for the opponents that Jobbik - in terms of the outward appearences - set off in the direction fit for good society. Number of Jobbik’s voters in 2014 national elections passed one million (over 20%). Since the early April national elections, the number of Jobbik voters has shrunk to one third in the EP-elections.
Jobbik best results during the EU parliamentary election in 2014 were registered in Hungary’s rural areas, while in Budapest and in the big cities Jobbik was less successful. Highest number of votes came from people of the medium educated levels (secondary school, or vocational school) and better off rural population. This rural middle class, in small towns and villages, is facing daily living problems, struggling constantly for survival, fearing of slipping into poverty. The material deprivation and frustration of this layer have influenced decisevely the strengthening of the radical right and its approach to Jobbik. In addition, the rural way of life in many cases associated with uninformed position (one-sided information or isolation from the objective sources of information) contributed to the relatively good end result of Jobbik. It is a pity that with the exception of Fidesz and Jobbik up to now no other party has been able to address the problems of the rural population.
What is wrong with Jobbik?
1.) Jobbik represents a set of values, which might create a distorted, unhealthy society, generating permanent internal tensions and struggles with full of contradictions, destroying the country’s peace, functionality, innovative chances and decent character. These Jobbik values are built - they think - on the hierarchical relationship amongst people along uncontrolable factors, like origin (the presence of Jewish or Gypsy ancestors) and gender identity (5-7 % of people with congenital homosexuality). This perception mode close to Nazism appears in Jobbik’s cultural, educational and social policy endeavors.
2.) If Jobbik came to power, it would constitute an introspective, isolationist policy in Europe. This strategy for small nations like the Hungarian one would lead to fatal backwardedness, even state bankruptcy. Jobbik represents a deeply anti-globalisation ideology and it would soon leave the European Union. Vona’s party wants to implement an anti-market economy of dictatorial nature. They are against the big foreign capital, but in favour of the national capital. Jobbik’s anti-capitalist attitude is limited only to the multinationals and it wants to influence the anti-free market mechanisms by state means.
3.) Jobbik wants to use radical means to solve social problems, which means no regard for the principle of social justice. This type of governance perpetuates internal social tensions.
4.) The last major concern is that Jobbik proclaims that democracy is not the proper way forward for the Hungarians. Jobbik prefers powerful central management, strong state intervention at all levels, and top down state model.
In summary, I think that dangerous trends and developments are taking place in Hungary, while an alternative political force has not emerged yet. The lesson is to be quickly and firmly learnt if we want to get rid off Orban’s national-Christian populism and Jobbik’s radicalism (neofascism).
This text is based on the presentation made by Matyas Benyik at the Eastern and Central Europe Social Forum held in Worclaw on 11th, 12th and 13th of march, 2016.