In Hungary, “völkisch” ethnic thinking is everywhere – including in the opposition. The government is able to implement its ethno-nationalist policies almost unhindered…
By Magdalena Marsovszky
Since the new constitution, known as the Basic Law, came into force on January 1st, 2011, in principle Hungary is no longer a republic, even though the term does appear in a somewhat hidden-away passage. Instead of the inviolability of human dignity as the expression of universal human rights and of a pluralistic democracy, the central focus is now on the “nation”, or the “national creed”. The first line of the preamble reads: “God bless the Magyars!” This is a quotation from the Hungarian hymn, and is as much as to say: minorities no longer count for anything.
The passing of the constitution does indeed represent a profound political turning point, but it was not unexpected. The “national-conservative revolution”, or to quote Viktor Orbán, “the revolution in the polling booth”, was the result of a shift towards the right that has been going on for decades. There is a tradition of völkisch ethno-nationalist ideas going back to the pre-war era; it could be seen in ‘real socialism’, but gained considerably in importance after the change of regime. In 2010, this development ultimately culminated in the election victories of the consistently völkisch ethno-nationalist parties Fidesz and KDNP on the one hand, and Jobbik on the other. In the sense of being the opposition to the opposition, the latter party stands ideologically on the side of the government, and exerts considerable pressure on it to enforce völkisch ethno-nationalist policies consistently.
In relation to Hungary, it is misleading to talk in terms of the categories of left and right, for the sociopolitical cleavage runs not between left and right, but between the ethnic and non-ethnic forces, with even a large section of the members of the socialist party MSZP and the Green/ecological party LMP thinking in ethnic terms, albeit less consistently. Völkisch-ethnic thinking has infiltrated society over decades. Even the various anti-fascist groups, which to some extent are simply the continuation of their real socialist predecessors, propagate a “national collective of the people-nation instead of capitalism”, and with their antiimperialist, antizionist position, they represent an antisemitism that comes from the left, although they are not aware of it. The government and a majority of the opposition share a common position of resistance to “capital”, with capital being defined as “money-grubbing capital” and “foreign”, something that comes from outside. The opposition is unaware that they have this in common too.
The conscious common denominator of the opposition is the negative attitude to the government, but not a concern for democracy. Just as in the times of real socialism, they believe they are fighting an “oppressive power” and waging class war on the side of the masses. But the agenda pursued by the government is völkisch ethno-nationalism, which is gradually coming to occupy all political and cultural life. Hungary is now an ethnocracy: the “nationally-minded, true Magyars” rule and suppress those whom they regard as “national atheists” and un-Magyar. One cannot yet speak of a Gleichschaltung or a forcing into line, of a “total nationalism”, as there continue to be niches for oppositional activities, thanks to – amongst other things – the Internet and the massive pressure brought to bear by some EU authorities and foreign media. However, the oppositional media reach almost exclusively the inhabitants of Budapest. In effect, there is no nationwide flow of information any longer.
Even the opposition does not grasp what is happening in its entirety. Cause and effect are reversed, and there is a predominant view that “Mafia structures” control the country. Even well-known opposition critics and intellectuals talk primarily of a “land of corruption”. What is not seen here is that it is the ethnical politicizing above all that leads to “graft”. The argumentation coming from the opposition is dominated by an economistic reductionism. This is connected to the fact that the way of thinking of the opposition in Hungary still follows Marxist orthodoxy, according to which the current social crisis – in the sense of Dimitroff’s definition of fascism – is to be explained solely by the development of capitalism.
What is seen as revolutionary in Hungary by a majority today is the “redemption of the nation” by the “völkisch mission”. This is why Viktor Orbán sees himself as a “conservative revolutionary”. He thinks that Europe is ruled by Marxism – although Orbán, just like large sections of the opposition, knows only orthodox Marxism. The generally predominant ethnic perspective, to which a belief in clearly definable ethnicities or “ethnic groups” belongs, leads to the situation where even the struggle against certain patterns of exclusion cannot break through the ethnic vicious circle. Thus when Orbán emphasises that he will defend “the Jews” in Hungary, it is generally received favourably. And the “Roma strategy” that was passed in 2011 by Orbán’s government – headed by the Minister for Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, who was recently awarded with the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit) by the German president Joachim Gauck – was praised by the European Parliament.
Yet instead of combating antiziganism and antisemitism, programmes are imposed for “protection of Jews” and for “gypsy policies”. The problem is seen as lying squarely with the minorities. The fact that this does not stem antisemitism and antiziganism, but rather encourages them, is barely recognised in Hungary, not even in the opposition. Only on the subject of homophobia is the prevailing chauvinism clear to the opposition too. The ethno-nationalists believe that the problem must be tackled with gay people, and many of them are of the opinion that being gay is an illness and can be cured. Gábor Vida, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, compares homosexuality with bed-wetting and calls it a “danger to humanity”. This is why the Lord Mayor of Budapest, István Tarlós, also believes he is in the right when he repeatedly wishes to prohibit “Gay Parade” in Budapest.
Political propaganda works in Hungary not by reflection but through the mobilisation of aggressive feelings towards a political opponent or scapegoat. Conspiracy theories and collective delusions, which also exist within the opposition, lead to tendencies towards collectivisation, in which the ideals of individuality in the literal sense are crushed. So it is no wonder if even the oppositional or anti-fascist critique is characterised by a regressive anti-capitalism. Thus for example recently the largest opposition party, the MSZP, accused the Prime Minister of “making a pact with big capital”. A few months ago, the chairman of the MSZP, Attila Mesterházy, promised to call “global capital” to account, and András Schiffer, head of the Green/ecology party LMP, wants to defend the people against the “dominance of the capital”. In the democratic opposition there are hardly any forces that question the concept of the ethnic cultural nation with any determination, and grasp the critique of capitalism not as a question of the nation, but as a question of the system.
Meanwhile, the only party that is consistently democratic and anti-fascist, and which stands up for universal human rights and a plural democracy, namely the small Democratic Coalition (DK) based around the former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, was until mid-October 2013 excluded by the other opposition parties. This exclusion had and has anti-semitic undertones and is filled with extreme hatred. Gyurcsány said recently in an interview that he was aware that “the right-wingers would dearly love to kill [him] and the left-wingers would love to deport [him]”. He and the DK are the epitome of the collective bogeyman. And thus even the Lord Mayor of Budapest asserted that the members of the Democratic Coalition “always read only the Old Testament”.
For some years it has been possible to observe that the collective bogeyman of the “eternal Jew” in Hungary is being gradually being passed from the small liberal party, the SZDSZ, to the new party, DK. No doubt this also has something to do with the fact that for some years now, the liberals have been undergoing a nationalist turn. At present, it can be observed that almost all the small opposition parties are being absorbed by the MSZP, which has a völkisch-ethnic tendency, and are thus giving up their ideals of individuality.
What is interesting here is the path taken by the great hope of the opposition, Gordon Bajnai, who was Prime Minister of the socialist minority government from 2009 to 2010. On the occasion of his surprising comeback, on 23rd October 2012 he called for a new change of regime, and together with the youth organisation Milla (“One million for press freedom”) and part of the Green/ecology party LMP, he founded the party E2014 (“Together 2014”). In doing so, he is pulled along by völkisch current of the socialists. The popularity of the alliance E2014 has markedly receded again, no doubt also because the population has noticed that this party has nothing ground-breaking to offer.
If, according to surveys, a few months ago there was still a chance of the opposition toppling Orbán’s government in the elections next year, this has evaporated in the meantime. Nonetheless, for the opposition there is no way around joining forces.
The widespread völkisch-ethnic way of thinking, however, leads to the situation where progressive activists regularly demonstrate together with right-wing groups against the “rulers”, and where in local politics, in questions about practical matters “ideological differences are overlooked”, as they like to say. This is the cause of the cooperation between the Green LMP and the Nazi party Jobbik in the investigative working party on the “cronyism of Fidesz”, and that is also the reason for the occasional joint appearances of Milla and the determinedly anti-semitic motorcycle club “Goj Motorosok”. Such alliances are illustrated for example by a photograph that shows Gordon Bajnai smiling in a friendly manner together with a Jobbik sympathiser whilst grabbing sandbags during the floods in early summer, and which was published on Bajnai’s Facebook page, as well as on the home page of E2014.
It is therefore not surprising that in this political climate, with the coalition of Fidesz and KDNP 2010, the völkisch ethno-nationalists have achieved an absolute majority and now have the prerogative of interpreting the discussion. Now the “völkisch mission” can be fulfilled. The new constitution, the new media law, the measures in cultural, educational and economic policy, the judiciary, the executive – quite simply, the entire swath of actions by the state are subject to völkisch-idealist categories. Through this, the separation of powers becomes obsolete. The new “integration strategy” for Roma finds expression in Hungary as a structurally racist social policy, in which not only Roma, but also the poor and the homeless are criminalised and excluded.
From time to time, it appears as if the Hungarian government can walk all over Europe. Just as Minister Balog recently held out the prospect of “loving segregation” for Roma, in recent days the speaker of the National Assembly, László Kövér, has spoken of a planned “Enabling Act, not intended in a negative sense”.
Translated from German by Margret Vince
Note: I use the spelling “antisemitism” instead of “anti-Semitism”, “antizionism” instead of “anti-Zionism” in order to avoid the idea that there is any kind of given “Semitism” or given Zionism with certain characteristics against which the antisemite holds his/her beliefs or acts. Instead, it is the antisemite who constructs “Jew”/“Semitism”/ “Zionism” in a contingent manner.
Slightly modified and updated version of the article in German in: