The Radical Right
In recent weeks it has become one of the most disputed questions of public discourse in Hungary whether the "Movement For a Better Hungary" (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom; hereinafter: Jobbik) will cross the threshold at the European elections of 7 June which would allow it to enter the European Parliament. The radical party is gaining strength according to the most recent public opinion polls.
Although in Hungary or in relation to Hungary there have been quite many articles published in the press about extreme right incidents and manifestations, the country is one of those very few in Europe where there has been no extreme right party represented in the national parliament since 2002, that is to say that from a political point of view these phenomena could be qualified as marginal ones. It cannot be excluded, however, that the elections of 7 June to the European Parliament will lead to a turning point in this trend, and the Jobbik Party, which often advocates extreme views, will manage to send its representative(s) to Brussels.
It should be pointed out: it has been a general tendency in Europe that the extreme right parties can achieve greater-than-usual success at the European elections which tend to provide an occasion for protest votes, while there are no big stakes involved, and the voter turn out is relatively low. Therefore, it is not a Hungarian peculiarity but rather a commonly observed symptom.
Lately there have been several circumstances helping the cause of extreme right radicalism in Hungary. What is fuelling the radicalisation of the public sentiment to the greatest extent is that Hungary harder than the European average has been hit by the international financial crisis, as a result of the poor performance of the socialist Government led by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. The already ill public mood is being further worsened by the fact that following the fall of Gyurcsany, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) prevented the call for early parliamentary elections despite the desire of an overwhelming majority of the Hungarian electorate. Instead, a new government has been formed under the leadership of Gordon Bajnai, Gyurcsany's former minister of economics, who has already announced severe restrictions which in turn foreshow the chimera of a social cataclysm. Growing tensions overshadowing Roma-Hungarian cohabitation (see in Analysis No. 216 at www.budapestanalyses.hu) also contribute to the spread of radicalism.
It was mainly due to the establishment of the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda), the symbols of which are reminiscent of extreme movements in Hungary's history prior to 1945, that the public really became aware of the existence of the Movement for a Better Hungary. This organisation held more demonstrations "against Roma criminality" which called attention to an existing social tension that had earlier been treated as a taboo. Beyond openly declaring itself being hostile towards the Roma, the movement has not avoided undertaking implicitly Anti-Semitism either, especially during Israel's offensive in Gaza, or in some of its statements (e.g. the captain of the Hungarian Guard in Bács-Kiskun County openly expressed his Holocaust negationist views at a citizens' forum). The situation was further complicated when one of the dissident organisations of the "official" Hungarian Guard organized a "Holocaust denying" manifestation in front of the German Embassy. The leadership of the Jobbik would get into a difficult situation if it declared that this happening had not been held by any organisation under its control. In this case it would antagonize its own potential electorate. If it does not do so, however, the "fascist" qualifier may well stick to it in the public's view.
Both parties of the extremely unpopular Government - the MSZP and the SZDSZ - attempt to capitalize politically on the eventual strengthening of Jobbik. The Hungarian governing parties' popularity hits all time low according to the public opinion surveys. In such a situation they avail themselves again - certainly not for the first time - of evoking the "fascist danger" by which they try to address their disillusioned former electorate. This political strategy is nothing new, but rather constitutes a constant element in the communication of the Hungarian left wing (see in Analyses Nos. 138 and 165 at www.budapestanalyses.hu), and it is expected to be utilized mostly in the campaign of the liberal SZDSZ, since no other campaign topics might arise for the party in the shadow of the latest political developments.
At the same time, there are astonishing swerves in the relations between the left and the radical right. Much to everyone's astonishment the resigning Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany allocated 25 million HUF (nearly 100 000 USD) - as one of its last measures - to a foundation closely linked to István Csurka, leader of another Hungarian party of the extreme right, the Party of Hungarian Truth and Life. It is not less startling that the leaders of Jobbik have regular consultations in Moscow. This latter is considered to be especially noteworthy by certain pundits, because the party has significant financial resources at its disposal, and it could distract votes from Fidesz, the main opposition party of the right that resolutely stands up against Moscow's economic expansionism.
On the top of the above-mentioned steps, the socialist-free democrat Government is proposing an amendment to the Constitution as well as amending some criminal laws, a move that has been criticised even by certain liberal organisations defending civil rights and stalled in the Constitutional Court's filter. The amendments would harden the so called hate crimes, but in fact they would also restrict freedom of expression through a broad definition of the concept of defamation. This intention is nothing more than a surrogate act that is suited for maintaining political hysteria and diverting attention from real problems. There are specific limitations on freedom of expression which have been clearly defined by the Constitutional Court in several of its judgements. In case of "violating human dignity", the present obstacles to folding up this violation are a lack of law enforcement and, ultimately, a staggering trust in the justice system. The domestic political situation - already noisy with political hysteria ("spread of fascism") - is further aggravated by a police that is demoralized, financially broken and incapable of efficient criminal investigation, as well as by the inaptitude of other law enforcement agencies of the state.
The Hungarian governing parties are now in the process of clearing the ground for an eventual victory of Fidesz, then to demonstrate that they were right about the warning signals as regards the "expansion of fascism". By exporting this phantom problem of domestic politics, the Hungarian Government is, however, restricting its own lobbying power and ability to assert its interest in the international arena, since certain political circles in the neighbouring countries use this situation for discrediting Hungary, their rival, primarily in their relations with the US and Brussels.
So far Mr. Viktor Orban, former Prime Minister, the Chairman of Fidesz, whose popularity spreads from the moderate right to those holding more radical views, has succeeded in firmly confining the strengthening of the radical right in Hungary. No wonder, therefore, that in its present campaign Jobbik is doing everything to position itself vis-a-vis Fidesz. During its public meetings Jobbik keeps stressing that Fidesz could not overthrow the extremely unpopular Government because it is too "soft" (i.e. Fidesz has declared that it would use solely lawful and constitutional means), and sometimes Jobbik even employs anti-Semitic slogans against Fidesz too. (It openly calls Fidesz a sister party of Likud by referring to the existing links between the Hungarian and Israeli right wing parties, the intensity of which is strongly exaggerated by the extreme right media.) Reacting to this the press close to Fidesz has ceased the coverage of Jobbik, and in the rhetoric of Fidesz a new element has reappeared stressing that voting for Jobbik means in fact to support MSZP, since the unpopular Government can be replaced only by Fidesz alone.
In case of a low electoral turn out, it cannot be excluded that the radical right in Hungary will attain success at the EP elections of 7 June. The potential electorate of Jobbik consists of two layers. On the one hand, the party addresses those on the right wing who consider Fidesz to be too moderate for "chasing away" the present unpopular Government, but on the other hand, in contrast to general belief, it is getting more and more able to attract former socialist voters who are frustrated socially. Recent data of public opinion polls indicate that Jobbik is gaining strength while, at the same time, Fidesz' popularity is increasing as well. It means that Jobbik is attractive not only for right wing voters. An eventual gaining ground by Hungarian radicalism at the EP elections will be part of a general European trend. However, it would be still too early to forecast a possible participation of Jobbik in the national parliament as a result of the upcoming 2010 domestic parliamentary elections which will involve a much bigger stake for people in Hungary than the European elections this June, and which will have probably a higher electoral turn out too.