Magyar Gárda (Hungarian guard): no end to the controversy

It seems that the Fidesz found a clever, if fairly obvious, strategy to extricate itself from the Magyar Gárda trap. The party might (on the surface, in some eyes–pick your qualifying phrase) be linked with the guard, but they’re not responsible for its formation. Using what can only be described as a blunt instrument, they decided to blame Ferenc Gyurcsány for the growth of the extreme right and all its ramifications. If the prime minister hadn’t said what he said at Balatonöszöd, where he tried to convince his fellow socialists that reforms and belt-tightening couldn’t be postponed, then today everything would be peachy pie. There would be no extreme right, no disturbances, and no paramilitary organizations.

Let’s step back a bit in time to put the "clever" response into context. The fact is that the extreme right–even if no violence accompanied its activities–was fairly strong in Hungary from 1990 on and very visibly after 1992 when István Csurka was expelled from the MDF and established a new party, the MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja/Party of Hungarian Truth and Life). Csurka was able to move crowds of over one hundred thousand people at some of his party’s gatherings on certain holidays. In 1998 the MIÉP received enough votes to have parliamentary representation. It is true that in 2002 the MIÉP didn’t manage to repeat its triumph of four years earlier, but the number of people voting for this antisemitic, extreme right-wing, nationalist party didn’t really diminish. They received less than the necessary 5% of votes cast only because voter participation was at an all-time high. Since the 2002 defeat the MIÉP lost its appeal and most of its voters. Where did these right wingers go? They can be found among the supporters of the Fidesz which moved enough to the right to appeal to former MIÉP supporters. Thus, the far right’s camp, as far as I can judge, is about the same size as it was in 1992. The only difference is that a certain segment of this far right is now ready to use force. And, again in my opinion, not because of Gyurcsány’s speech or because of the belt-tightening but because the Fidesz’s verbal attacks on their opponents give these groups fodder for their paramilitary agenda.

If a party leader keeps repeating that the current government is illegitimate because the party and the prime minister lied in order to retain power, then one ought not to be terribly surprised that all this talk emboldens the violent elements within the extreme right. It may not be the equivalent of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater (when essentially speech becomes action and is therefore not protected by the U.S. Constitution under the first amendment), but it’s mighty close. Violent words, violent acts. They feed on each other.

How successful the new Fidesz strategy will be, I don’t know, but somehow it will be difficult to blame Gyurcsány for the Magyar Gárda and other paramilitary organizations. Fortunately, the extreme right-wing gatherings are getting smaller and smaller. Their leaders were promising all sorts of anti-government demonstrations for August 20th, but with the exception of half a dozen people trying to disturb the raising of the flag nothing happened. These same groups promise further trouble for the anniversary of the Balatonöszöd speech’s leak which the Magyar Rádió made public in late September. Again, my feeling is that these groups have spent themselves already. Yes, there is Magyar Gárda, yes, Gábor Vona talks about thousands, but somehow, in the long run, I am hopeful that they will not succeed in making the Gárda a movement that could sway national politics. First of all, a movement from the right that looks dangerous usually causes the left to close ranks. Moreover, even the Fidesz is not entirely of one mind on the question. There were people, high enough in the party, who raised their voices against the formation of this paramilitary organization. The international pressure that seems to be mounting might also force the Fidesz to change its course. And there is one more thing to consider. When push comes to shove, the Jobbik is no friend of the Fidesz. Once Orbán has had enough of the Jobbik’s attacks on his party, perhaps he will be less sympathetic to the Magyar Gárda and its "peaceful aims," like getting rid of ragweed and giving blood. (I assume that the guard performs all these community service projects in uniform.) The upshot: I am fairly hopeful.

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An excellent digest of the state of affairs in Hungary. I discovered your web site a few days ago and have read through all of it. Finally a site I can really recommend as an erudite explanation for the many absurdities that have come to overwhelm Hungarian politics and society. Well done, this fills a much needed non-partisan gap in local media writing. Keep posting… we’ll keep reading…