The righteous right

Something unusual, often perplexing can happen in Hungary every day. Yesterday, for example, 20-25 people disrupted a radio program broadcast live from the city of Debrecen, a stronghold of the right-wing Fidesz in eastern Hungary. The broadcast marked the entry of Klubrádió, so named because it was originally the radio station of the Hungarian Automobile Club, into the Debrecen market. Until about a year ago the station could be heard only in Budapest. Then it expanded to Transdanubia, next to the area of Kecskemét in the Great Plains, and a few days ago to Debrecen.

The radio station is the bête noire of the Hungarian right and György Bolgár, an extraordinarily knowledgeable television and radio personality who conducts a popular interview and call-in show ("Let’s discuss it"), is especially hated. This is somewhat surprising because Bolgár is a mild mannered gentleman who goes out of his way to give ample time to right-wing callers (his fans often complain about his generosity in this respect) and treats their points of view with respect.

To mark the occasion of the station’s expansion into Debrecen, Bolgár decided to broadcast his show from a fashionable restaurant’s veranda in the middle of the city. He invited the mayor of the city, Lajos Kósa, who is often mentioned as a possible successor to Viktor Orbán as head of Fidesz.

The first hour of the two hour program went off smoothly. Kósa expanded on the themes of how wonderful his city is and what a wonderful mayor he is. The socialist member of the city council, also invited, was only mildly critical. Everybody said that lately there is more cooperation between the two sides in the Debrecen city council. So everything was great. As soon as the mayor left, however, the demonstrators who until then were peacefully sipping coffee not far from Bolgár suddenly left their tables, unfurled their flags, and started screaming: "Traitors, traitors, down with you, Gyurcsány (the prime minister) into the Danube." A few antisemitic remarks were also heard. A television reporter was attacked, another who came to his rescue was hit on the head by a flagpost while the Debrecen police looked on. The program had to be interrupted. Bolgár and company had to leave the veranda and move into the building.

Mr. Kósa was, of course, immediately besieged by reporters who wanted find out his reaction to these events. His initial reaction was that he saw nothing wrong with the behavior of the demonstrators, saying what all right-wing politicians in Hungary mouth nowadays: they have the right to express their opinions. Somehow they forget that these "defenders of the freedom of speech" had just prevented people who do not share their political view from expressing their opinions. Throughout the day, however, Mr. Kósa became less belligerent and more apologetic.

One could say that as long as the far right manages to drum up only twenty-five people in a large city like Debrecen there is no reason to panic. Some people claim that the Hungarian liberal left exaggerates the right-wing danger. These extreme right-wing gatherings never involve really large crowds. We all know that in every country where democracy flourishes there is about 10-15 percent of the population that holds far-right views. Yet I think it is dangerous to belittle the far-right danger in Hungary for the simple reason that these nationalistic, antisemitic, antidemocratic views are held by far more people than those who are willing to scream and holler at street demonstrations of this sort. It is especially dangerous because the Fidesz gives a helping hand to these groups. In fact, Viktor Orbán himself gets closer and closer to these far-right political views because he has shrewdly recognized that these ideas appeal to a large segment of the Hungarian population. The question is: how large a segment. Only time will tell.