Far Right Rising in Hungary

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The crux of the problem is that only the symptom is being addressed, not the root causes
Recently the rise of the right in Hungary has been discernibly visible. Last month it was especially apparent. At the beginning of the month a peaceful sit-down protest organized by members and sympathizers of the Hungarian Guard, a right-wing paramilitary group, was brutally broken up by police. This prompted a nation-wide demonstration the following weekend by the supporters of the Hungarian Guard in where the movement – which was officially disbanded by a court order – was defiantly re-organized while the police simply looked on.

All this left many wondering as to what is really going. For some, last month merely demonstrated how the government and the police have been overstepping their authority and, in turn, has provoked events to the present stage. Others, meanwhile, view the events of the past month with alarm and feel that the government and the police are losing control of the situation as well as of themselves.

Politicians, for their part, have been quick to use the present state of affairs to their own advantage and to advance their own narrow interests with a view to the upcoming national elections. For those on the left, namely the Socialists and Liberals, the rise of the far right represents everything they warned against since their disastrous showing at the EU elections in June. Thus, unless disgruntled left-wing voters come back to the fold then there is a real danger that the far-right will assume a large measure of political power next year in Hungary.

As for those on the right, foremost represented by the Young Democrats (FIDESZ), the rise of the far right has enabled the party to move more toward the political center. Although it doesn't deny that it's still a right-wing party, it nevertheless views itself as the only party sitting between two extremes: the radical neo-liberalist left represented by the Socialists and Liberals (many of whom who have links to the former communist regime) and the far-right extremists represented by the Hungarian Guard and its political wing, the Jobbik.

The problem of the far right in Hungary, however, is more complex than it appears on the surface. As elsewhere within Europe, a general right-wing backlash against the EU led to a major victory for the right in Hungary during the EU elections in June. This anti-EU backlash also prompted disillusioned voters to support the far-right; within Hungary the stellar rise of the Jobbik from the fringes to 15% is a testament to this level of dissatisfaction with the EU.

Yet it's not only with the EU which has led to the success of the far-right. Over the years many have become deeply distrustful of politics in general and politicians in particular, more commonly referred to as "the political elite". In many ways, this notion of the "political elite" and all it entails is not unlike the notion of the "nomenklatura", a term which was prevalent during the communist era. This overall distrust of politics and politicians has been brewing in Hungary for several years now, and has merely deepened as the country was hard hit by the financial crisis and is still struggling to find its way forward.

Anti-Roma-Sentiments are apparent for the vast majority of people

While the EU election results may have made the rise of the far-right look impressive, it's still unclear as to how strong they really are and how they will perform in a "real" general election. For most, the EU elections are not considered that important, and thus are not viewed as a "real" election in this regard. As a result, the low turnout in last June's vote, at 36 percent, helped to inflate the Jobbik's impressive results.

Not only this, but if history is anything to go by, then the Jobbik and the far-right might be in for a nasty surprise. Prior to the 2002 general elections in Hungary, Istvan Csurka's radical right-wing Truth and Life Party (MIEP) had scored a similar success at a by-election in the small town of Dabas. With a similar result of 15%, the MIEP were confident that they would score big at the upcoming general election. The foreign media also went along for the ride; the BBC did an extensive report on the likely impressive showing of the MIEP. Indeed, on the day of the election Csurka himself went to the horse races and even won 100,000 HUF (about $500) and was confident that this was a good omen. In the end, not only was his showing at the election not impressive, the MIEP had failed to even make it into parliament.

The rise and fall of the MIEP is important in that not only does it illustrate that elections which are not "real" can be very misleading, but that after this fiasco the MIEP fell apart and has failed to recover since. Indeed, it was this failure that prompted many from within the party to call for a change. However, as with all political parties in Hungary (especially those on the right), everyone wants to be king and thus Csurka adamantly held on to power. Subsequently, scores left the party or were kicked out. Many of these people ultimately came together and helped forge a new party together with other elements of the right (many from the FIDESZ as well as groups of right-wing university youths). All were disgruntled by the victory of the Socialists in 2002; it was widely assumed by them that the Socialists and Liberals had cheated their way into power. This new party ultimately became the Jobbik in 2003.

Unlike Csurka and other radical right-wing parties, the Jobbik tried to avoid using anti-Semitic clichés and instead focused on the Roma (gypsy) issue instead. This proved to be a much more successful formula for the Jobbik as the concept of a "Jewish connection" to blame for Hungary's problem is hard for many to visualize or even comprehend. Roma issues, on the other hand, are much more apparent for the vast majority of people. This is not to say that an anti-Jewish bias doesn't exist within the Jobbik; instead, this bias is carefully framed within the context of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression.

What is ironic is that while there is much concern over the rise of the far-right in Hungary, some of the harshest critics against the Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard come from none other than the radical right itself such as Csurka and the MIEP. In fact, during the EU elections in June the MIEP decided not to run any candidates. Instead, Csurka urged his followers to put their support behind the FIDESZ.

As far as some on the radical right are concerned, the Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard are nothing more than a left-wing ploy. Csurka himself regards the Jobbik as a party of "Jews wrapped in an Arpad flag". He is especially critical of Krisztina Morvai, the head of the party's list for the European Parliament.

growing Radicalism

Without a doubt, Morvai has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the Jobbik which perhaps explains best the resentment of Csurka and others have toward her and the party. A former member of the Women's Anti-discrimination Committee of the United Nations, Krisztina Morvai gained prestige in right-wing circles after leading investigations into police violence during street protests against the Socialist government in 2006. Then Socialist Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, admitted lying to the electorate on the state of the economy to win re-election, causing furious protests from the right. Ever since, the right-wing in Hungary has considered the ruling Socialists as illegitimate, and have repeatedly demanded new elections.

Subsequently, this has led to a growing radicalism among many within the right as well as those who regard themselves more as centrists, a factor which has played in the favor of the Jobbik. Likewise, as the FIDESZ moved more to the center in order to mop up disillusioned supporters of the left, right-wing voters unhappy with this move gravitated more toward the Jobbik. In addition to this, as the state of the economy and public security declined rapidly over the past few years, the Jobbik has also been able to secure support from traditional Socialist strongholds, especially those areas with a high Roma population.

There is no doubt that the declining economic situation in Hungary coupled with bleak future prospects has all played a major role in the rise of the far-right. Yet what has also contributed significantly to this shift is the equally declining state of public security. This is not only limited to the problems between mainstream society and the Roma minority. In general, crime has been on the rise although the authorities have done their best to paint another picture. Statistics speak for themselves: in the first few months of this year more armed robberies occurred than all of last year, and the trend is continuing upward. At one point, ripping ATM machines from walls were so common that they appeared to occur almost on a weekly basis.

The success of the right and the far-right isn't only due to national issues and the state of the economy, however. The EU is blamed for forcing Hungary into a supplicant role within the union. Not only were the glowing promises of EU membership not forthcoming after accession in 2004, many feel that they have been hamstrung as a result. Farmers are fighting a losing battle as store shelves are dumped with cheap products from other parts of the EU, most of which are of poor or dubious quality. Meanwhile, better quality Hungarian products are made exclusively for export and not the domestic market. A case in point is with garlic: Hungarians consume cheap Chinese garlic whereas excellent quality Hungarian garlic is sent to Italy.

The 1990s dream of a "Silicon Valley of the East" has long since vanished

Recently, the agreement by the EU to allow Mercedes to open a plant in Hungary has angered some. The new German car factory will employ Germans who will come to Hungary to work at the plant. With high unemployment within the region, many wonder where is the logic in letting foreign companies settle in a country and bring in their own workers. Sadly, this is not something limited to Hungary or Central Europe but is apparent throughout the EU. Not long ago British workers protested at a similar plan by a company to bring in cheap labor from abroad.

It is quite clear to many that the EU as it now stands is not for the benefit of Europeans but for multinational corporations in where it has become easier for them to move operations throughout Europe in order to exploit cheap labor, lax environmental conditions, corrupt bureaucracies, and to be closer to their markets in order to reduce the cost of delivery. All this can be found within the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. People, in turn, are faced with an absurd situation in where much of the food that is produced locally isn't for local consumption, and the goods manufactured within the country are not even being made by their fellow-citizens. Governments, meanwhile, are coerced into introducing austerity measures in face of declining sources of revenue. This is because the revenue that would have come from taxes related to domestic production and consumption is evidently missing.

This sad state of affairs is clearly visible within Central and Eastern Europe which has been demoted to a colonial status within the EU. In many ways, Hungary and other countries within the region are considered Third World states. One just has to look at the types of investments which are being sought by some governments within the region. The Hungarian government, for instance, has done its best to encourage the settlement of companies that employ menial labor. Incentives have also been given to polluting industries in order to have them set up operations within the country. Ironically, some of these investments come from Third World countries such as India, as exemplified by plans for a tire factory in the Matra hills (a plan which was later scrapped). Meanwhile, highly skilled jobs, such as computer programming, find their way back to Third World countries such as India. Hungarian computer programmers, which once were highly sought after some two decades ago, are no longer so highly regarded. The 1990s dream of a "Silicon Valley of the East" has long since vanished and is nothing more than a distant memory.

For a modern, industrial nation this emphasis on menial labor and polluting industries are a thing of the past. Modern industrial countries are now focused on service industries and skilled, niche sectors such as biotechnology and as informatics. Consequently, education systems have been geared toward meeting this demand. Yet in countries such as Hungary the government is moving in diametrically the opposing direction. Hence, the country's educational system reflects this, and many lament the poor and dilapidated state of the schools, colleges, and universities. It's not an exaggeration to say that the majority of high school graduates in Hungary are barely literate.

All this has led to a perceptible shift within the region toward the right in recent years. In the Czech Republic, for example, a country with the same population size as Hungary and with similar ethnic problems, also boasts a right-wing a semi-paramilitary group of "concerned citizens". The Czech Guard, as in Hungary, aims to protect Czechs from "Roma crime". A similar paramilitary-style squad has also been formed in Bulgaria as well.

One of the effects of the far-right rising in one country is that it indubitably leads to the far-right rising in a neighboring state as well. This, in turn, leads to tensions among neighboring states which, in turn, only further exacerbate the situation. The EU, meanwhile, appears to simply look the other way, making the situation even worse. Indeed, the inability of Brussels to do anything inflames passions further and deepens the anti-EU sentiments which already exist. It's a whirlwind of intolerance which threatens to spin out of control.

Tensions between Slovakia and Hungary

The most notable example of this is the tensions which exist between Slovakia and Hungary. Tensions have traditionally been cool between the two countries, but relations have become ice-cold as of late due to a controversial language law introduced by the Slovak government. Basically, this law requires that Slovak only be used in official places even if both parties happen to speak another language and are comfortable using another language. For Slovakia's Hungarian minority, the language law is ridiculous and discriminatory: for example, an ethnic Hungarian doctor treating an ethnic Hungarian patient has to communicate in Slovak even though both the doctor and patient may find it easier using Hungarian. In this case, failure to speak in Slovak results in a stiff fine.

Similar repressive language laws can be found elsewhere, for example in Romania. In areas predominantly Hungarian and often visited by Hungarians, signs linked to places of interest are displayed in Romanian as well as French and English -- but not Hungarian. According to Romanian authorities, the rationale for doing so is because Hungarian is not considered a world language even though the sites concerned are visited foremost by Hungarians. The rationale of the Romanian authorities is clearly ludicrous: accordingly, one can also question why the signs are also displayed in Romanian since it too isn't a world language.

Aside from inflaming passions and reopening old wounds on all sides, such controversies simply add to anti-EU sentiment – especially in Hungary. Apart from economic prosperity, one the main justifications for EU membership was security and minority rights. Many ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries feel that they are actually worse off now than before EU membership. Before EU accession, ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania seemed to enjoy more rights and autonomy in terms of using their language and practicing their customs. All this seems to have changed with EU accession, and the EU – which boasts of being a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic entity – appears to be unconcerned with their plight.

All this plays into the hands of the Jobbik as well as more moderate elements on the right, such as the FIDESZ. The level of frustration within the country is such that many Hungarians aren't afraid of the far-right. In fact, recent polls suggest that Hungarians are more afraid of gypsies than of the Hungarian Guard.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that far-right parties such as the Jobbik have gained in popularity. With clever slogan such as "Hungary for Hungarians" and "make the multis (i.e., multinational companies) pay" the Jobbik have tapped into a large pool of resentment felt at all levels of society yet expressed in different ways. At the same time, the incumbent Socialists and Liberals are deeply mistrusted and seen as nothing more than neo-liberalist gangsters who have sold their country's resources -- and even people -- to the highest bidder. Thus, the poor showing of the left in Hungary is not only due to increased support for the right, but to a rapidly declining level of support for the left. Taken together, the two has made the rise of the right and the far-right in Hungary look impressive indeed.

Still, it's uncertain whether the right and the far-right in Hungary can hold on to their momentum. People are desperate for solutions, and they want these solutions delivered quickly and painlessly. To most observers, this is an impossible task; in fact, for the right in Hungary herein lays the danger: as the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for -- you may get it in the end.

For the moment, the Hungarian authorities are at a loss of how to confront the growing power and influence of the far-right, and have thus resorted to the use of violence. For its part, the government has relied heavily on the use of new legislation. For instance, subsequent to the events in the beginning of July parliament passed a law making it illegal to appear in a Hungarian Guard uniform or to show public support for the organization.

As with so much similar legislation as of late that has been passed in order to curb anti-government protest, this law is much ado about nothing. For legal experts, the law appears to create more problems than it solves. First and foremost, while it makes it a crime to wear a Hungarian Guard uniform, no such uniform really exists. Instead, the Hungarian Guard adopted traditional Hungarian male dress as its so-called uniform: white shirt, black vest, and black pants. Wearing this combination of clothing is not considered illegal in Hungary, at least not yet.

There also remains the question as to what the authorities had banned in the first place. The Hungarian court determined that the Hungarian Guard did not fulfill the conditions of its original charter and ordered it disbanded. This does not mean that the concept itself was illegal. In effect, the group can reorganize under a different name and start all over. Some legal experts feel the government may have even overstepped its authority in drafting the new law and the issue is now being sent to international forums such as the European Court of Human Rights. It also doesn't help that the head of the Jobbik, Krisztina Morvai, is a lawyer and very well versed on legal matters.

Complicating the situation even further is the justification often used by the government for certain repressive actions. The police action to break up the protest by members and supporters of the Hungarian Guard in early July was a prime example of this. About sixty or so people gathered together and staged a relatively peaceful sit-down protest. Police quickly moved in and randomly picked people from the crowd and then started using tear gas to disperse .everyone. In one instance an innocent bystander was even charged with assaulting an officer. Only when an amateur mobile phone video of the incident surfaced was it proven that it was the bystander who was victimized by the police. Although the person was released without charge, there was no official apology or explanation for what happened. Likewise, there was no follow up to the incident or investigation into why the officer had claimed to have been assaulted, and whether or not this officer or any of his colleagues had actually committed a crime for bearing false witness.

It's this seeming impunity of the police which has turned the general public against the authorities. The arrogance of law enforcement officials in Hungary appears to run to the very top. The Law Enforcement and Justice Minister, Tibor Draskovits, went so far as to justify the illegal police action at the beginning of July by claiming that the people who were gathered at the protest had shown their sympathy in public for terrorists such as Gyorgy Budahazy.

Budahazy is a right-wing activist and agitator who on several occasions confronted the authorities head-on. His most notable exploits were the Elisabeth Bridge blockade in 2002 and the attack on the state television building in 2006. In mid June he was taken into custody on suspicion of terrorism and for running the Hungarian Arrow, an organization that was allegedly behind several Molotov cocktail attacks against the homes of politicians, among other things.

Although it's not inconceivable that Budahazy was a leading figure behind the Hungarian Arrow and that this organization does exist (some are still unsure of whether it really exists or not) Budahazy for his part has pleaded not guilty and still has yet to have his day in court. Thus, Draskovits' reference to Budahazy as a terrorist and his supporters as supporters of terrorism is uncalled for by a person in his position. In a democracy a person is considered innocent until proven guilty; Draskovits, therefore, overstepped his authority when he attempted to justify the police crackdown as a response to terrorism.

This mistake on the part of the authorities was quite apparent the following week when members of the disbanded Hungarian Guard announced a nation-wide protest in response to the police action earlier. During this demonstration the police then stood idly by and simply watched as Morvai and others publicly condemned the authorities. The demonstrators then vowed to reconstitute the Hungarian Guard and symbolically put on their black vests in defiance.

For his part Draskovits was not content with letting Morvai and the Hungarian Guard have the last word. A video surfaced toward the end of the month allegedly showing the kind of attacks that the Hungarian Arrow was planning. Without a doubt, this video was to demonstrate the actual threat that far-right extremists pose, and to this extent the Hungarian Guard and the Jobbik as well. It soon turned out, however, that the video had nothing to do with the Hungarian Arrow or political terrorism. The opposition FIDESZ was quick to condemn the government for playing the terrorist card and the Liberals, who have since gone through a major leadership overhaul, also joined in to condemn Draskovits and called for his resignation.

Most legal experts agree that these and other government responses to the far-right are more of a knee-jerk reaction and in the end does more harm than good. Sadly, for the past couple of years in Hungary the authorities have been unable to constructively deal with the problems it faces other than resorting to the big stick. The problem with this method is that by using the law as a big stick innocent people and individual human rights end up getting hurt more than those whom the restrictions were targeted for in the first place. Not only this, but such a mindset ultimately puts society on the road to what former Russian President Vladimir Putin once described as a "dictatorship of law".

A dictatorship is a dictatorship no matter what word is put before or after it. As history has shown, a communist dictatorship is just as brutal as a Nazi dictatorship. Consequently, for those living under such a regime there is little difference between the variants. In this manner, there is a growing feeling within Central and Eastern Europe that after freeing themselves from various dictatorships over the past decades, the people within the region have now succumbed to a neo-liberalist dictatorship of sorts.

At this point the question naturally arises as to how the authorities should deal with problems such as the Hungarian Guard if not by brute force. Although the far-right in Hungary appears to address some legitimate concerns that people have, there are many elements within it which indubitably exploit the situation for their own ends. In many ways, the problem is akin to that of football hooliganism: the game has become so intertwined with violence that it's hard to separate the two.continues here

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