Hungary’s government is homogenising society towards a “community of the Magyar people”…
By Magdalena Marsovszky
In the two years since Viktor Orbán was elected as Hungary’s Prime Minister, and the openly antiziganistic and antisemitic Jobbik party has become the third-strongest power in the country, freedom of the press and civil rights in Hungary have been significantly curtailed, reforms in the justice system threaten its independence, and Roma are positively persecuted by the “Hungarian Guard” movement and other extreme right-wing groups. In one third of primary schools, there are ethnic divisions, and openly expressed antisemitic and antiziganistic views have become acceptable in polite society. The EU has responded with sanctions such as actions for breach of contract, and Brussels is refusing to send aid money to the Hungarian government. However, the Hungarian government is firmly convinced that it is acting democratically.
Meanwhile, the Fidesz government views democracy as ethno-pluralism. Propaganda is being put about to the effect that Hungary should belong to the Magyar people, Poland to the Poles, etc. The aim is a closed, supposedly ethnically homogeneous national community. The Magyar people, it is claimed, both at home and abroad, are a community of common descent, in terms of ethnic culture and bloodline.
The aim is the “awakening of the organically evolved nation”. The nationalists in the country, who see themselves as “patriotic”, view all others as “unpatriotic”, “xenophiles”, “anti-Magyar”, “cosmopolitan”, “left-wing”, “Bolshevist”, “left-wing liberal” and so on. The entire political and cultural scene, as well as the media landscape, are split between the “patriots” and those of more liberal and democratic views.
Although the social democrats and the liberals have become an insignificant factor in political life in Hungary in recent years, an embittered campaign is being waged against them. Thus for example the new government created the post of a “commissioner for accountability”, who is retrospectively to look into all the “corruption scandals” of the previous liberal-socialist government and “circles associated with it”. But whilst he turns a blind eye to the nationalist camp, he is prejudiced against the “unpatriotic”.
The war against the “unpatriotic” or “internationalists” is not a new phenomenon. As far back as the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990, forces have been mobilised against this bogeyman. Thus in 2005, Viktor Orbán, as leader of the opposition, said that the Left, as the successors to Béla Kun (code for Bolsheviks), were attacking their “own kin and nation”, and the Fidesz election campaign ran under the slogan that with the elections, “Saint Stephen will recapture the country from Béla Kun and his successors”.
László Kövér, the speaker of the National Assembly, when still in opposition repeatedly spoke, in connection with the former liberal-socialist government, of “gigantic, Bolshevising, Satanic forces”. What he meant were the former prime minister “Ferenc Gyurcsány and his accomplices”, who would wish to “mow us down in our own homeland”. And the current deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the KDNP [Christian Democrats], Zsolt Semjén, never tired of emphasising that “the veritable anti-Christ, sometimes appearing as a Bolshevik, sometimes as a liberal” showed himself in the liberal socialist government.
Hungary is developing into an ethnic national dictatorship
The criminalisation and demonization of political opponents has thus been going on for many years, in a mostly antisemitic manner. This rhetoric is coded differently, but the message is: these are degenerates that must be destroyed. László Balázs-Piri, one of Fidesz’s men and president of the foundation which maintains the “House of Terror” memorial in Budapest, asserted a few years ago that left-wing liberals had a particular physiognomy and were “germ-carriers of dictatorship”. While László Kövér still believes to this day that socialists have no business in parliament, the journalist Zsolt Bayer, who is close to the government and is known for his antisemitic writings, repeatedly calls them “clusters of purulence” – and in 2010, the author herself was called “human despicableness personified” and “degenerate” by him.
Such tendencies were already apparent before the changes following 1989, but in the last 20 years they have steadily intensified. The tradition of nationalist thinking goes back to the 19th century. Today, there is a strong majority of a nationalist disposition in the country, as the election successes of Fidesz and Jobbik show, and even the other parties and organisations often work with nationalist or ethno-nationalist content. Almost all spheres of life have been ethnicised.
For many years, in the countless “völkisch” festivals it frequently happens that hundreds of thousands of people come together and carry out shamanic cleansing rituals or neo-pagan consecrations on the “Holy Hungarian Crown”, symbol of the greater Hungarian lebensraum in the Carpathian basin. Through this “bottom up” and “top down” hegemonisation of the last 20 to 25 years, the nationalist movement has been able to elevate its concerns to the level of government policy. With the new Media Act and Constitution, for the first time since the changes after 1989, the concept of the “nation” has become state doctrine, which necessarily leads to further exclusions.
In addition to homophobia, antisemitism and antiziganism, there is also a hatred of intellectuals; even the EU, the “international mega-capital” and the “western countries” are among the bogeymen. According to the preamble to the Media Act that has been in force since January 2011, it is not only minorities, but also majorities that are worthy of protection. In a country in which what matters is not the individual, but the person as a – supposed – part of a particular cultural community, this leads to the position that the minority should give way to the benefit of the majority.
Shamanism has also found its way into parliament. A few weeks ago, a shamanic cleansing dance was carried out around the 11th-century “Hungarian Crown” that is kept there. No-one appears to notice the significant danger of occultism that points in the direction of “ethnic cleansing”.
The democratic principles are clearly being undermined in Hungary, and the cultural anthropologist Ákos Szilágyi speaks of an “ethnic-national dictatorship”. By the government, the authorities and media, a constant pressure towards homogenisation is exerted on individuals to act and think in the interests of a community of the Magyar people.
Since the change in government, all bodies that regulate public life have been populated with Fidesz people. The cultural area too has been monopolised by the government. The justice system and the Hungarian National Bank have lost their independence – to say nothing of the media. There are still two opposition daily newspapers, and one radio station which broadcasts news that does not conform to the government line: the “Klub radio”, which however can really only be received in Budapest, as its bandwidth contracts in the countryside have not been renewed. Critical journalists are sacked and cannot find new jobs. So the state-owned media are often the only source of information.
Ethnic divisions in schools
In some schools, Roma children are no longer permitted to take part in swimming lessons with the “white” children, because they would dirty the water. Roma children are often put in special classes even at kindergarten age, on account of alleged sub-normal intelligence. Under the pretext that that they require special attention, they are separated from the “white” children. Since 2010, the situation has continually worsened. Before the change of government, there were still organisations within civil society which were supported by the state. The new government no longer provides any funding.
In small towns in which the openly antiziganistic Jobbik party holds the majority on the town council, the government allows the party complete authority over the Roma. In these towns, the Roma are terrorised by daily harassment and are afraid to allow their children out on the streets alone. Aladár Horváth, chairman of the board of the “Civil Rights Movement for the Republic”, says that Hungary has become a country of apartheid. For the Roma, paramedics and police are either not available, or arrive too late. The fire service often intentionally arrives too late, and the police do not record complaints. The Hungarian Guard has been officially banned since 2009, but is tolerated by the government. On 17th March, 100 new Guardists were sworn in at the Heroes’ Square in Budapest. In cities with large Roma populations, they hold regular marches.
At Easter in 2011, around 300 Roma women and children had to be evacuated from the town of Gyöngyöspata, because the threats issuing from far-right groups spiralled out of control. (See ak 561). But those who help are portrayed as scaremongering. Those who helped at Gyöngyöspata had to defend themselves before an investigative committee.
According to a 2009 investigation by the Progressive Institute in Budapest, over 80 percent of those surveyed have anticiganistic attitudes. That also applies to all administrative departments of the civil service. There is continual talk of “Gypsy criminality”, and even in the state-owned media, anticiganistic “documentation” is shown. According to a current investigation by the Anti-Defamation League, of the ten EU countries examined, antisemitism is strongest in Hungary. Homophobia too is widespread.
In Hungary, the process of transformation in the years following 1989 and the path to democracy are on the road to failure. The fear of change, fear of freedom and of a liberal, open society currently has the upper hand in Hungary.
In broad sections of society, democratic conflict is experienced as chaos and diversity is experienced as disorder. The “national re-birth”, the fight for values which are regarded as “long-established tradition”, the fight against liberalism and “western hedonism”, against reforms, against social democracy, against thinking in categories of liberal democracy etc., are associated with a kind of national religion: in it, the new government aims to complete some kind of mission in the name of the people (the Magyar people). This “Magyar mission” is presented to the outside world as a “Hungaria irredenta” and inwards as a vision of a “clean” nation, in which order will soon prevail.
Magdalena Marsovszky is a part-time lecturer at the University of Fulda, and member of the board of the Villigster Forschungsforum zu Nationalsozialismus, Rassismus und Antisemitismus e.V. [Villigster research forum on national socialism, racism and anti-Semitism].
From German translated by Margret Vince