Blurring Boundaries: Hungarian Leader Adopts Policies of Far-Right

By Keno Verseck

Supporters of the Hungarian far-right extremist Jobbik party take part in a demonstration in October at an apartment complex housing many Roma families in Miskolc, Hungary. Zoom
REUTERS

Supporters of the Hungarian far-right extremist Jobbik party take part in a demonstration in October at an apartment complex housing many Roma families in Miskolc, Hungary.

Internationally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán likes to present himself as a champion of democracy. At home, though, he is implementing one policy after the other that is inspired by the right-wing extremist Jobbik party. Too often, Brussels downplays the problem.

The right-wing extremists in Hungary's Jobbik party like to advertise themselves as "honest, clean and genuine." The "juster" or "better" ones, as their party's name implies, place particular value on the authenticity of their party's political agenda. Still, they have a serious problem: Leading Jobbik politicians claim that members of the government coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán are constantly "stealing the issues and ideas" of the party and peddling them as their own.

There's a good reason why Hungary's right-wing extremists, who took 17 percent of the vote in 2010 elections, are frustrated. Orbán and his ruling majority have been veering further and further to the right. Indeed, hardly a week goes by these days in which politicians from Orbán's Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) party or prominent party backers somehow publicly adopt a right-wing extremist stance.

For example, conductor Ádám Medveczky, a member of the pro-government Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts (MMA), recently called for something akin to an intellectual expatriation of the writers György Konrád, Péter Esterházy and Imre Kertész, the latter of whom won the 2002 Nobel Prize in literature.

Speaking about the three authors on the private television channel AVT, Medveczky said: "Whoever is born a Hungarian but damages and bad-mouths Hungarians when abroad can no longer be regarded as a Hungarian." MMA President György Fekete had previously expressed similar sentiments and demanded that no member of the academy should be allowed "to lack the genetic feeling of nationalism."

Blurring Boundaries

Rather than being some body of little consequence, the MMA is an unofficial culture ministry with far-reaching powers over cultural policies. Under Fekete's presidency, the MMA no longer subsidizes "unpatriotic" works. And, according to his interpretation, writers like Konrád, Esterházy and Kertész are unpatriotic. In fact, many on the Hungarian right view the lot as traitors for taking critical stances toward political circumstances in their homeland.

"There are no longer any clear boundaries between the thinking of Fidesz and Jobbik," says György Dalos, a prominent writer and political biographer. And what he says about cultural policies also applies to many other policy areas of the Hungarian government. Indeed, Orbán and his ruling party are implementing a major part of Jobbik's right-wing extremist platform. While some policies are toned down, others are adopted unchanged. For example:

  • When Orbán's government entered into power in May 2010, it passed a law declaring June 4 a "Day of National Unity" of Hungarians all over the world in commemoration of the Treaty of Trianon. The 1920 peace agreement deprived Hungary, one of the losers of World War I, of two-thirds of its former territory.
  • Statues of communists regarded as traitors were pulled down and, with Fidesz politicians in attendance, statues of Miklós Horthy were erected. The far-right leader of Hungary between 1920 and 1944 had a hand in the World War II deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
  • The Hungarian National Core Curriculum (NAT) recommends the works of anti-Semitic writers from the interwar period. The media law requires journalists working for public media organizations to promote a national identity in their reporting. And the preamble of the constitution in force since 2012 evokes the spirit of the Horthy regime.
  • In a measure geared mainly toward members of the Roma minority, the government has made it necessary for citizens to perform volunteer work and allow their living spaces to be inspected for orderliness in order to receive social-assistance payments.
  • The rights of paramilitary militias have been bolstered. And, in a concession to Roma-haters, a right to use arms for self-protection on one's own property has been introduced.
  • Citing patriotic pride, the government kicked officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of the country in the summer of 2010. It introduced a financially worthless but vote-winning "crisis tax" that foreign companies have to pay. Lastly, using populist and anti-capitalist slogans, the government announced a loan moratorium in 2011 that was de facto only tailored for Fidesz supporters. The measure allowed private debtors to pay back foreign-currency loans from banks abroad in full at a set interest rate. Economics Minister György Matolcsy spoke proudly of the government's "unorthodox" economic policy.

On Wednesday, Orbán was in Brussels to speak with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz about Hungary's economic policies and an ongoing procedure against the country for surpassing deficit maximums. Orbán presumably also had to answer questions about right-wing extremism, but only informally.

Brussels Downplays Extremism

Indeed, many politicians in Brussels either don't comment on or downplay the issue of right-wing extremism in Hungary. Take, for example, Wilfried Martens, the Belgian parliamentarian who heads the European People's Party (EPP), which also includes representatives from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Orbán's Fidesz party. In a tersely worded response to written questions, Martens said that Fidesz, as a member of the EPP, shares in the worries about extremism, and that Orbán has always "stressed the necessity of confronting this problem."

Only a few European politicians who share Orbán's center-right views venture to make clear statements on the issue. For example, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, a member of the EPP from Luxembourg's center-right Christian Social People's Party, recently expressed outrage over comments made by the prominent Hungarian commentator Zsolt Bayer, a co-founder of Fidesz and close friend of Orbán.

Bayer sparked an uproar in early January when he wrote an article in the Fidesz-aligned, right-wing newspaper Magyar Hirlap about a New Year's Eve stabbing in a bar in Szigethalom, a town south of Budapest, in which Roma are suspected of involvement. "A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence," he wrote. "They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. … These animals shouldn't be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved -- immediately and regardless of the method."

No one in the Fidesz party leadership publicly condemned Bayer's article. A party spokeswoman said that since Bayer had expressed "his own opinion" as a commentator rather than as a Fidesz member, the party would not take a stance on it. And Fidesz communications chief Máté Kocsis even went so far as to say that anyone who criticized Bayer's article was "siding with the murderer" -- in other words, with the Roma -- even though no one was murdered at the stabbing in question.

Charges of Dishonesty

At the same time, a few weeks ago, Fidesz awoke the impression that it was planning to clearly distance itself from racial hatred. The apparent change of heart had been prompted in late November, when a right-wing member of the Jobbik party had demanded in parliament that "all Jews living in Hungary be registered," and that "Jews, particularly those in parliament and the government, be evaluated for the potential danger they pose to Hungary." Soon thereafter, on Dec. 2, Angal Rogán, the party's parliamentary flood leader, delivered a speech at a major anti-Jobbik demonstration in which he strongly condemned anti-Semitism in Hungary.

However, critics of Fidesz doubt that the party -- and Viktor Orbán, in particular -- is serious about wanting to distance itself from right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and antiziganism, a term denoting racism toward the Sinti and Roma. Kristián Ungváry, a historian who has just published a 700-page book on the interwar years of the right-wing extremist Horthy regime, describes the party's policies as a "sham."

"The party speaks with two tongues," Ungváry says. "On the one hand, one distances oneself from right-wing extremism in order to maintain a good reputation abroad and because one notes that the political damage would be too severe. On the other hand, Fidesz pays tribute to anti-Semitic writers of the interwar period … or expresses right-wing extremist positions in regime-friendly newspapers because it wants to attract voters on the right."

Attila Nagy, a political scientist at Budapest's Méltanyosság Institute, also believes that the Fidesz won't turn away from more extremist stances. He admits that there is genuine outrage about right-wing extremism in some party of the party, but he adds that "this part, which backs a clearer pro-European course, is currently not a decisive one within the party."

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1. Don't mislead on Hungary
Olivier Braun 01/31/2013
Dear Sir, Your paper, "Blurring Boundaries: Hungarian Leader Adopts Policies of Far-Right" is utterly misleading, not to say deceptive. If the Jobbik is clearly an extremist party, it has nothing to do with prime minister Orban's party. None of the examples of Jobbik's policies supposedly adopted by the Fidesz, indicate that the Fidesz is extremist. First, it is disturbing that to illustrate the government's policies, you offer the reader a picture of fanatical Jobbik members looking like a German nazi milicia. If you read closely the examples you give, you are portraying benign acts or policies as far-right, and you deliberately mislead the reader implying that some comments on 'unpatriotic' authors suggest that Orban wants to deport them. In the sentence "Ádám Medveczky, a member of the pro-government Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts (MMA), recently called for something akin to an intellectual expatriation of the writers György Konrád, Péter Esterházy and Imre Kertész", you fail to point out the word "intellectual" before the word "expatriation". Surely you favor free speech and the right for people to criticize. Surely the government has the right or even the duty, not to extract tax-payer's money to subsidize an author, especially if he is insulting you. Hungary suffered as you mentioned, a loss of two-third of the country with the Trianon treaty, and many Hungarians had to live under a foreign rule. How could you convey the idea to your readers that to create a day of national unity is extremist and dangerous ? What about the Palestinians who still long for their lost farms in Israël ? Don't you think that the communists were criminals, and that it is right to pull down their statues ? And I guess you don't know much about Horthy who was no Hitler and who had to rule Hungary after a civil war before having no real choice than to support victorious Germany. He was no nazi but certainly loved his country and strove to make a deal with Romania to repair an injustice. That said, I wouldn't favor erecting a statue of him, but it is relatively benign. I am French and can assure you that we have some pre-war anti-semitics who are considered to be great writers (e.g., Celine) and are widely published and read by well-meaning leflists. Actually quite a lot of anti-semitics were from the left (as was Hitler). Don't convey the idea that those authors are in the curriculum because they were anti-semitics. Alas anti-semitism was quite a plague at that time, and I am afraid it has revived under the disguise of anti-Israel, and is strong among Muslims in France. You mention that a kind of work is demanded from members of the Roma people to receive welfare. I am afraid you don't know Hungary and that the behavior of a number of the Roma people is a real trouble (as it is in France and maybe others European countries) and that the government has the duty to spend the tax-payer's money carefully. To be blind doesn't help. Finally, what is wrong, or what has it to do with left or right, to defend yourself in your home, when attacked ? When I studied law in France it was even a presumption of rightful conduct if you killed a burglar in your own premisses during the night : a presumption of having acted in self defence, to be precise. Is France a fascist State ? Which other country would you label as being on the brink of fascism if it doesn't want to submit with the IMF recommendations ? That said, the IMF was created for a specific role, to help manage the fixed-change regime decided in Bretton Woods, but the gold-exchange standard no longer exist thanks to Nixon. Why can't a international bureaucracy not dissolve itself when it's mission is over ? I wonder if the Spiegel covers the take-over of the State by the French socialist now in power, how they changed a lot of the hight ranking civil servants to put socialists in their place. How the whole National Education is, since the 1980's (it started before) a bastion of the left, to mould our fellow citizens. And the Hungarian born economist, living in France, wrote a few month ago, since few people know the difficult Hungarian language, they all depends on the interpretations of the facts from the Hungarian intellectuals, largely from the left, and far from impartial. Please, cease giving your readers such a false notion of Hungary under a center-right elected government. I don't approve a lot of what Orban does, especially his economic policy, but that doesn't make him nor his friends a cripto facist. Far from that.
2.
andre79799 02/03/2013
From the famous Hungarian expats list in the article – who in their unexplainable rage making their life-end reason d'etre to bad mouth Hungary and Hungarians -another illustrious person is woefully missing. Please permit me to add his name to the list and elaborate. He is Ákos Kertész, (not to mix him up with his namesake Imre Kertész). For his literary efforts, singing praises of the glorious communism Ákos Kertész was lavished with the following (undeserved) Hungarian accolades: SZOT Price, Attila József Price, Award of Literature Publishing House, Book of the Year Award, The Art Fund Prize for Literature, The Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, János Arany Price, My Homeland’s Award, Honorary Citizen of Budapest, The Middle Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit, Kossuth Price. In return, Ákos Kertész in (a pinko-chrypto communist rag) a Hungarian publication in the USA, the “Amerikai Népszava” 2012 March 2 edition in an open letter states (I am using direct Hungarian quote here with English translation): Ákos Kertész: “… Percemberkék. A jelenben élnek, akár az állatok. A valóságos állatokra gondolok, vagyis ez nem erkölcsi ítélet, egyszerű ténymegállapítás……. … A magyar genetikusan alattvaló … ... boldogan dagonyázik a diktatúra pocsolyájában, röfög és zabálja a moslékot.. Translation: “… (The Hungarians) are minuteman. They live in the present, just like animals. And I am refereeing to real animals. This is not a moral judgment but the facts… … The Hungarians are genetically inferiors… … they happily wallow in the dictatorship’s puddle grunting while gobble up the pigswill …” ------------ ----------------- As for Zsolt Balyer’s article in the right-wing newspaper Magyar Hirlap daring to criticize the minority roma criminal elements, to get the whole picture one has to understand the uncontrolled, unacknowledged, denied roma terror swept under the rug that Hungarians have to endure without complaining. Not an isolated case, just prior to Zsolt Balyer’s critique, two old Hungarian pensioners brothers were victims of the denied, supposedly non-existent, lily white washed roma crime wave. Two old Hungarians living their poverty-stricken life in their rather poorly furnished house were robbed. Both brothers were hard of hearing, they could not afford hearing aid. They did not hear the thieves when they broke in during an early January night. The following night the roma duo returned. This time they were looking for cash. They beat up the two old Hungarians with pipes. One of them was beaten to death on the spot, the other old Hungarian other ended up in hospital only halve beaten to death. They had a grand total of 700 forint cash at hand, which is about 2.29 Euro!
3.
andre79799 02/04/2013
To follow up on my previous post, in Hungary, news of roma atrocities are muffled, white washed and rarely if ever get through the liberal (vestiges survived and thriving from the old communist) system constructed filters to reach the West. Just two examples of roma atrocities from the many, Hungarians have to endure without complain because if they as much they dare to open their mouth they are right away blamed as neo fascist Nazis, racist anti-Semites. But on with my two true stories. In Gadna, a sleepy hamlet in North East Hungary a 21 years old roma guy broke into an 88 years old Hungarian lady’s home who was living alone. The roma beat and repeatedly raped her. She had knife stab wounds on her back and her naked body bore other life threatening injuries, her eyes were gouged out. According to coroner’s report one of her leg at knee was hacked off with an ax while she was still alive. As a coup de grâce the roma split her head with the ax and left the ax in her skull. About 9000 forint = 30.65 Euro worth of old household items were stolen. Second satanic horror story happened in Tápióbicske a small settlement close to Budapest. Two roma women befriended a Hungarian lady with her daughter. The roma bit by bit moved in, took over the Hungarians' home, made virtual slaves of the mother and grown up daughter. The two helpless victims were beaten, tortured, nailed to the wall, hanged by chain, and burned with red hot embers. Near to the end of their two months ordeal, the Hungarian mother was beaten with a broom until the broomstick broke on her back. Then with the broken end of the broomstick she was raped. She died from agonizing internal injuries and unimagined pain she received through her private parts. Now the matter of dual Israeli – Hungarian citizenship. For their proportion there are far too many Hungarian Jews in the country’s administration holding key positions and in the Hungarian parliament itself. Not only that they hold double citizenship and alliance to another country but they want to keep it as a secret, organize demonstrations, crying wolf as they just did when someone challenges them. Let us see what are the rules in the Israeli Knesset itself about dual citizenship of a KM: “…Article 16A: Non-declaration due to dual citizenship 16A. If a Knesset member holds an additional, non-Israeli citizenship, and the laws of the country whose citizenship he holds permit him to be released from such citizenship, he shall not declare allegiance until after he has done everything required on his part to be released from such citizenship, and he shall not enjoy the rights of a Knesset member until he makes his declaration…” “…Article 42: Termination of Tenure or Candidacy …..The legal advisor suggested that the constitution must detail all the cases in which the service of an MK ends, be it because of a criminal conviction, a suspension or any other reason including refusal to pledge allegiance or to renounce another country’s citizenship…” Please make your own just judgment.
4.
andre79799 02/04/2013
Dual Israeli – Hungarian citizenship in the Hungarian parliament. Let us see what are the exact rules in the Israeli Knesset itself about dual citizenship of its MK’s. Article 16A: Non-declaration due to dual citizenship “16A. If a Knesset member holds an additional, non-Israeli citizenship, and the laws of the country whose citizenship he holds permit him to be released from such citizenship, he shall not declare allegiance until after he has done everything required on his part to be released from such citizenship, and he shall not enjoy the rights of a Knesset member until he makes his declaration…” Article 42: Termination of Tenure or Candidacy “…..The legal advisor suggested that the constitution must detail all the cases in which the service of an MK ends, be it because of a criminal conviction, a suspension or any other reason including refusal to pledge allegiance or to renounce another country’s citizenship…”
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