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Update on the Resurgence of Hungarian Fascism

Com­ment: In FTR #709, we high­light­ed the recent elec­toral suc­cess of the Hun­gar­i­an Job­bik Par­ty. A recent For­eign Pol­i­cy arti­cle fur­ther detailed that dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non.

“Rise of the Hun­gar­i­an Right” by Michael Jor­dan; For­eign Pol­i­cy; 7/13/2010.

While run­ning for a par­lia­men­tary seat in Hun­gary’s April elec­tions, far-right can­di­date Gabor Vona made one cam­paign promise that was con­tro­ver­sial even by his stan­dards: If vot­ed into par­lia­ment, the 31-year-old extrem­ist would report for duty wear­ing the insignia of his out­lawed para­mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion, the “Hun­gar­i­an Guard” — a taboo sym­bol that, with its ancient, red-and-white-striped emblem, bears a strik­ing resem­blance to the flag of Hun­gary’s Nazi-era fas­cist par­ty, Arrow Cross.

The sug­ges­tion was intol­er­a­ble to many Hun­gar­i­ans. Arrow Cross’s brief peri­od of polit­i­cal dom­i­nance, dur­ing which the par­ty mur­dered thou­sands of Hun­gar­i­an Jews and shipped many tens of thou­sands more to con­cen­tra­tion camps out­side the coun­try, is still a painful sub­ject. More to the point, the insignia itself is ille­gal. Von­a’s announce­ment direct­ly flout­ed a court deci­sion ban­ning the Hun­gar­i­an Guard, and it pro­voked the out­go­ing Hun­gar­i­an prime min­is­ter into ask­ing the Jus­tice Min­istry to inves­ti­gate.

But the con­tro­ver­sy appeared only to rein­force the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Von­a’s far-right, Web-savvy Job­bik par­ty, which went on to win a stun­ning 16.7 per­cent of the vote — the best per­for­mance of any hyper­na­tion­al­ist par­ty in post-com­mu­nist East­ern Europe. And Vona kept his word: At the May 14 inau­gu­ra­tion, he took off his suit jack­et to reveal a black vest with the Hun­gar­i­an Guard’s emblem.

Von­a’s intran­si­gence may have been shock­ing, but it was­n’t sur­pris­ing. Cen­tral Europe may be two decades removed from com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship and ensconced in West­ern insti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Union and NATO — but few peo­ple are cheer­ing. Promis­es of a glo­ri­ous new post-com­mu­nist life have result­ed only in ris­ing prices, grow­ing unem­ploy­ment, and endem­ic cor­rup­tion. And resent­ment is fuel­ing a greater appetite for right-wing extrem­ism across the region, accord­ing to a new sur­vey by the Budapest-based think tank Polit­i­cal Cap­i­tal. In Hun­gary alone, right-wing atti­tudes have leapt from 10 to 20 per­cent since 2003.

“It’s been con­stant dis­il­lu­sion­ment that many peo­ple [in Hun­gary] are sus­cep­ti­ble to. They’re bit­ter about the whole sys­tem,” says Alex Kuli, a Polit­i­cal Cap­i­tal ana­lyst. “That’s what Vona is respond­ing to and manip­u­lat­ing — this deep-seat­ed dis­il­lu­sion­ment.”

Vona came of age amid the post-com­mu­nist col­lapse of indus­try and agri­cul­ture, which was par­tic­u­lar­ly dev­as­tat­ing in his native north­east­ern Hun­gary. The young Vona, a good stu­dent in the small town of Gyongyos with a strong inter­est in pol­i­tics and debate, was fas­ci­nat­ed by Hun­gar­i­an his­to­ry, which was often dis­tort­ed by the com­mu­nists. Most obvi­ous was the 1920 Treaty of Tri­anon, which pun­ished Hun­gary for its role in World War I. The vic­tors lopped off two-thirds of Hun­gary’s ter­ri­to­ry and one-third of its peo­ple — includ­ing five of its 10 largest cities. Desire to recov­er those lands would help dri­ve Hun­gary into the Nazis’ arms dur­ing World War II. But that nation­al trau­ma, which res­onates even today, was glossed over in com­mu­nist-era his­to­ry books.

Vona took notice. “He felt his­to­ry was writ­ten by the win­ners,” says Von­a’s cousin, Vik­to­ria Lacz­hazi, her­self a Job­bik vol­un­teer in a city near Gyongyos. “And because we were the losers, our his­to­ry was­n’t being told.”

At uni­ver­si­ty in cos­mopoli­tan Budapest, Vona explored his­to­ry and psy­chol­o­gy and report­ed­ly planned to become a his­to­ry pro­fes­sor. His stri­dent pol­i­tics, though, swept him in anoth­er direc­tion. In 2003, dis­sat­is­fied with the polit­i­cal spec­trum avail­able to him, Vona and his com­rades found­ed a new par­ty, Job­bik, to fight for “nation­al rad­i­cal­ism.”

Job­bik snared just 2 per­cent in the 2006 elec­tions. Lat­er that year, how­ev­er, the par­ty caught a lucky break and exploit­ed it ful­ly. In Sep­tem­ber, then-Prime Min­is­ter Fer­enc Gyurcsany — a com­mu­nist-turned-mil­lion­aire whose Social­ist Par­ty is heir to the old com­mu­nist par­ty — was caught on tape admit­ting his Social­ists won reelec­tion by lying to vot­ers “morn­ing, evening, and night” about the coun­try’s eco­nom­ic health.

Bloody riots erupt­ed in the streets of Budapest. Pro­test­ers, por­tray­ing them­selves as patri­ots seek­ing to over­turn an ille­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment, reha­bil­i­tat­ed the red-and-white “Arpad stripes,” derived from an ancient roy­al coat of arms, but now asso­ci­at­ed in Hun­gary with the Arrow Cross flag. Sud­den­ly, the insignia was back in fash­ion.

And Job­bik, whose mem­bers were the ones wear­ing the stripes, came into fash­ion too. Under Von­a’s lead­er­ship, Job­bik has adopt­ed the endur­ing trau­ma of Tri­anon, epit­o­mized by the 2.5 mil­lion or so eth­nic Hun­gar­i­ans who today live across Hun­gary’s bor­ders — most­ly in Roma­nia, Slo­va­kia, and Ser­bia — as a cause célèbre. Images of “Greater Hun­gary,” which extends the bor­ders to those of the old monar­chy, were a rar­i­ty in the 1990s. Today, they’re ubiq­ui­tous on bumper stick­ers, posters, and T‑shirts. It has also stirred ten­sions with Hun­gary’s north­ern neigh­bor, Slo­va­kia, much of which was once part of the Hun­gar­i­an king­dom.

For sev­er­al years, before Vona leapt to cen­ter stage, the par­ty’s most pub­lic face was human rights lawyer Kriszti­na Mor­vai, who had taught law at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son, served on the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion of Human Rights, and worked for the U.N. Wom­en’s Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mit­tee.

Mor­vai is an attrac­tive blonde with a nasty way with words. In Feb­ru­ary 2009, after war broke out between Israel and Gaza, she wrote Israel’s ambas­sador to Hun­gary, “The only way to talk to peo­ple like you is by assum­ing the style of Hamas. I wish all of you lice-infest­ed, dirty mur­der­ers will receive Hamas’ ‘kiss­es.’ ” Lat­er in the year, she coun­tered online crit­i­cism by sug­gest­ing Hun­gar­i­an Jews “go back to play­ing with their tiny lit­tle cir­cum­cised tails rather than vil­i­fy­ing me.”

By August 2007, how­ev­er, Vona had tak­en over the Job­bik spot­light, unveil­ing his brain­child: a para­mil­i­tary wing called the Hun­gar­i­an Guard, or “Mag­yar Gar­da.” At the swear­ing-in cer­e­mo­ny for the first few dozen mem­bers, Vona pro­claimed, “The Hun­gar­i­an Guard has been set up in order to car­ry out the real change of regime” — from com­mu­nism — “and to res­cue Hun­gar­i­ans.”

Vona picked as his first tar­get an oft-vil­i­fied group, the Roma (more com­mon­ly, and pejo­ra­tive­ly, known as “Gyp­sies”). Hun­gar­i­an atti­tudes toward the Roma were already inflamed: After a teacher dri­ving through the north­east­ern vil­lage of Olas­zlisz­ka in the fall of 2006 report­ed­ly struck a Romani girl with his car, an enraged mob of local Roma beat the motorist to death, as his two daugh­ters watched.

In the fall of 2007, the Hun­gar­i­an Guard burst onto the scene in their black boots, black caps, and black vests stamped with the Arpad stripes. They began march­ing in lock step through Romani neigh­bor­hoods and vil­lages around the coun­try. It sent an omi­nous mes­sage, and some Roma threat­ened to respond with their own self-defense units, though no clash­es have yet been report­ed. (Still, human rights activists say, over the last three years nine Roma have been mur­dered by unknown assailants.)

Hun­gar­i­an and inter­na­tion­al crit­ics soon brand­ed the Hun­gar­i­an Guard as fas­cist, racist, and neo-Nazi. In Decem­ber 2008, the Budapest Met­ro­pol­i­tan Court banned the Hun­gar­i­an Guard for the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tion of the human rights of minori­ties. Job­bik has appealed and threat­ened to take the case all the way to the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights. Mean­while, attuned to the real­i­ties of polit­i­cal spin, the orga­ni­za­tion has attempt­ed to revamp itself as a civ­il ser­vice group. Last month, as Hun­gary faced its worst flood­ing in years, guards­men were out in their caps and vests, lay­ing sand­bags to pro­tect vil­lages and home­own­ers.

And Job­bik’s pop­u­lar­i­ty has con­tin­ued to grow, despite the fact that the Hun­gar­i­an media — often explic­it­ly linked to main­stream polit­i­cal par­ties — have either shunned or bashed the par­ty.

On the eve of June 2009 elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Job­bik lead­ers like Mor­vai and Vona criss­crossed the coun­try, appear­ing in one town-hall meet­ing after anoth­er. The grass­roots approach helped Job­bik score a star­tling 14.8 per­cent of Hun­gary’s votes, send­ing Mor­vai and two oth­er Job­bik rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Stras­bourg. On their first day of work, they all sport­ed the Hun­gar­i­an Guard insignia, seat­ed at the back with fel­low far-right rep­re­sen­ta­tives from oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries.

This April, with Hun­gary in the throes of eco­nom­ic cri­sis, Job­bik did even bet­ter, with Vona lead­ing the par­ty to its largest elec­toral slice ever, only a few points below the ven­er­a­ble Social­ist Par­ty’s abysmal 19.3 per­cent show­ing.

Most strik­ing about Job­bik’s per­for­mance was its strength among young Hun­gar­i­ans. Near­ly a quar­ter of vot­ers ages 18 to 29 went for the par­ty’s pledge of “Szebb jovot!,” or “A brighter future!”

This feat is due part­ly to Job­bik’s youth­ful lead­er­ship and its shrewd use of the Inter­net: The par­ty has a strong pres­ence on Face­book and Twit­ter, and it has its own YouTube chan­nel, “job­bik­me­dia.” But it’s also a mark­er of how dis­en­fran­chised Hun­gar­i­an youth feel, at a time when unem­ploy­ment for those ages 25 to 40 hov­ers around 25 per­cent, com­pared with about 12 per­cent for the pop­u­la­tion as a whole. For many young Hun­gar­i­ans, a vote for Job­bik is a protest vote against the main­stream par­ties, which are seen as hav­ing failed the younger gen­er­a­tion.

Job­bik’s new high­er pro­file, of course, brings up some ques­tions about its future: How does an anti-estab­lish­ment par­ty cope with being elect­ed to the estab­lish­ment?

There’s also the fact that polling research has indi­cat­ed that Hun­gar­i­an sup­port for right-wing extrem­ism tops out at around 20 per­cent, mean­ing that Job­bik could be near­ing the ceil­ing of its influ­ence. Vona him­self — now in the dai­ly spot­light as the head of the Job­bik fac­tion in par­lia­ment — might have lim­it­ed appeal. In three pre-elec­tion polls on who might be elect­ed the next prime min­is­ter, he mus­tered only a few per­cent­age points, com­ing in a dis­tant fourth.

Mor­vai, how­ev­er, has­n’t dis­ap­peared in Stras­bourg, and she still holds strong appeal on a nation­al lev­el. Her ambi­tion could split the par­ty in two. Mik­los Szan­tho of the Hun­gar­i­an think tank Per­spec­tive Insti­tute thinks an in-house skir­mish might be inevitable.

“While the often polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect mes­sages and image of Job­bik are wide­ly sup­port­ed among some seg­ments of the soci­ety, Vona as a polit­i­cal leader has­n’t acquired such pop­u­lar­i­ty,” says Szan­tho. “It’s a ques­tion for the future: How can the rad­i­cals bridge the inner rup­tures?”

There’s also the pres­sure com­ing its way from the rul­ing par­ty, Vik­tor Orban’s cen­ter-right Fidesz, which won in a land­slide. Of course, Vona and Job­bik have the lux­u­ry, for the time being, of wait­ing in the wings while Fidesz labors to ful­fill its lofty promis­es and han­dle the new chal­lenge that Job­bik pos­es to its right-wing base. But Fidesz has dealt deci­sive­ly with attack­ers from the right in the past: It already co-opt­ed Hun­gary’s first far-right par­ty dur­ing Orban’s first stint as prime min­is­ter from 1998 to 2002, swip­ing sev­er­al of its red-meat issues. And it could be start­ing the process again: After the elec­tions, Vona wrote a Face­book post alleg­ing the exis­tence of an Orban plot to “elim­i­nate” Job­bik, a charge that could well be true.

For the time being, though, Job­bik’s pop­u­lar­i­ty shows no sign of wan­ing.

“Peo­ple are fed up with all of the polit­i­cal elites, and Vona is a new face who promised puri­ty and secu­ri­ty for the peo­ple in the coun­try­side,” says a Hun­gar­i­an jour­nal­ist who cov­ers pol­i­tics for a lead­ing pub­li­ca­tion and did­n’t want to be iden­ti­fied. “If Job­bik waits a lit­tle, they can win a lot.”


2 comments for “Update on the Resurgence of Hungarian Fascism”

  1. http://www.salon.com/2012/11/27/far_right_hungarian_politician_calls_for_a_list_of_jews/

    TUESDAY, NOV 27, 2012 3:17 PM UTC

    Far-right Hun­gar­i­an politi­cian calls for a “list of Jews”

    Fol­low­ing the Gaza cri­sis, a mem­ber of the fas­cist Job­bik par­ty said Jews were a nation­al secu­ri­ty risk


    A mem­ber of Hungary’s far-right par­ty recent­ly incit­ed out­rage in call­ing for the gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a “list of Jews” in the coun­try who could pose a “nation­al secu­ri­ty risk.” “Már­ton Gyöngyösi, leader of Hungary’s third-strongest polit­i­cal par­ty Job­bik, said the list was nec­es­sary because of height­ened ten­sions fol­low­ing the brief con­flict in Gaza and should include mem­bers of par­lia­ment,” report­ed Reuters.

    Pub­lic out­cry led Gyöngyösi to issue a tepid apol­o­gy in which he claimed he nev­er asked for a list of Jews, but “cit­i­zens with dual Israeli-Hun­gar­i­an cit­i­zen­ship.”

    Reuters not­ed that between 500,000 and 600,000 Hun­gar­i­an Jews died in the Holo­caust, accord­ing to the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Cen­tre in Budapest. Accord­ing to some accounts, one in three Jews killed in Auschwitz were Hun­gar­i­an nation­als.

    Like oth­er far-right par­ties gain­ing ground in eco­nom­i­cal­ly flail­ing Europe, Job­bik reg­is­tered as a polit­i­cal par­ty in 2003 and has gained increas­ing influ­ence while vil­i­fy­ing Jews and Hungary’s 700,000-strong Roma pop­u­la­tion.

    Posted by R. Wilson | November 27, 2012, 8:59 pm
  2. @Robert Wil­son–

    We’ve already post­ed this one. It is to be found in the bar at right.

    Keep up the good work!



    Posted by Dave Emory | November 28, 2012, 3:21 pm

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