Why do Hungarian émigrés bet on the wrong horse?

Why it is that Hungarian émigré groups usually side with the Hungarian right? Why do they support the Fidesz or even the extreme right in the old country?

The trigger for these questions was the Canadian-U.S. visit of Krisztina Morvai, the chief spokesman of the so-called "independent" legal defense team (Független Jogász Fórum). This group is anything but independent. Her real aim in life is to portray the present government of Hungary as the embodiment of the worst Stalinist-style dictatorship. Morvai, who in her spare time is an associate professor in the most prestigious law school of the country, can come up with incredible statements. By her tireless activity, half of Hungary believes that the Hungarian police attacked the peaceful demonstrators on October 23, 2006, not vice versa. She likes to compare the Hungarian police force to the Rákosi regime’s ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hatóság), the most dreaded national security force in the worst of Stalinist times. Morvai tirelessly tries to blacken the name of the Gyurcsány government at international forums. She was not successful in the European Union, and therefore she is now trying at the United Nations. Perhaps member countries can put pressure on the EU to condemn Hungary. Of course, all this is nonsense, but it provides a backdrop to the events in Toronto.

It is noteworthy that Hungarian émigré organizations invite people like Morvai to deliver lectures. This is what happened in Toronto, New York, and several other places. According to people I know in Toronto, the leadership of the Hungarian House (Magyar Ház) comes exclusively from the right. Therefore, they don’t really serve the whole Hungarian community of Toronto but only the politically like-minded crowd. Anyway, Morvai’s first stop was in Toronto, where she delivered her usual speech about police terror and dictatorship. Everything would have gone smoothly but for a one single man, Sándor Kerekes, who walked in with a black umbrella on which he wrote: "Here we all have two countries!" This was a reference to the notorious letter Ms Morvai wrote to Népszava some time ago in which she made a distinction between "our kind" and "your kind." While "our kind" has only one country, "your kind" has more than one. From the context of the letter there was no question that she was talking about Hungarian Jews. Shortly after Morvai began to speak Kerekes got up, walked to the podium, opened the umbrella, message facing the crowd. All hell broke loose. Kerekes’s umbrella was seized, he was dragged out of the room and yelled at, while the crowd greatly enjoyed itself. Obviously there was no one there who would side with Kerekes.

That was one exciting moment in Morvai’s visit to Toronto. Another was also noteworthy. During the speech in which she practically compared herself to Jesus Christ leading her people out of darkness, she referred to the Virgin Mary as the "Palestinian girl." Later, by then back in Hungary, when she was asked whether she really called Mary a Palestinian girl, her memory failed her.

But let’s get back to the question of why the great majority of Hungarian émigrés seem to be right-wingers. Of course, one can argue that only the active groups are dominated by right-wingers. Those who hold moderate views simply refuse to participate in émigré politics. And so appearances are deceiving. But I still believe that even if we had more scientific polls the majority of the Hungarians abroad would side with the Hungarian right rather than the left.

I see several reasons for this. First and foremost, it is due to their relative ignorance of what has happened in Hungary since they left. As far as they are concerned, life in Hungary stopped at the time of their departure. If someone left in ’56, for instance, he remembers only the bloodthirsty Kádár of the early years and has no knowledge of the "soft dictatorship" of the later years. So it is understandable that the émigrés are ferociously anti-communist. They believe that those horrible communists managed to survive the change of regime and that the MSZP (Magyar Szocialista Párt) is nothing but the old communist party of Kádár in a slightly different guise. It is, of course, true that the reform wing of the MSZMP (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt) formed the new party, but the old well-known figures were forced to retire from politics. The other thing that these people don’t realize is that the Hungarian Socialist Party is not very socialist. In fact, it is the MSZP that has tried to steer the country away from a socialist market economy and the welfare state. Under Gyula Horn most of the state property was privatized. And now Gyurcsány is committed to re-educating the Hungarian public and minimizing their dependence on the state. Just as state property was privatized, now there is a push to privatize some state services (most notably and contentiously health care).

The émigrés, stuck in a time warp, think that the socialists are really socialists, the descendants of Kádár and Rákosi, while the Fidesz offers a new way forward. In fact, the Fidesz’s ideas about Hungarian society are much closer to the old socialist system. They don’t want to privatize anything; they want to keep state ownership of many industries. While the socialists and liberals keep saying that "the state is not a good owner," the Fidesz insists that the state is an excellent owner. The only trouble, they argue, is that the state at the moment is in the wrong hands. If they were in charge, the state-owned sectors of the economy would thrive.

The other thing that appeals to the émigrés is the Fidesz’s nationalism, perhaps even irredentism. Again, this is understandable, probably grounded in a certain nostalgia for what Hungary was before things turned so sour and they had to leave. They really were born in a wonderful country, indeed formerly a truly important country.

So while in their adopted countries they support self-reliance, competition, and private ownership and oppose anything smacking of socialism, they don’t seem to realize that in Hungary they are betting on the wrong horse. Out of misinformation, out of prejudice, out of ignorance. Because surely the thinking of the SZDSZ and the MSZP politicians is much closer to the political thinking prevalent in their adopted country. It is the Hungarian right’s anticommunism and nationalism that leads them astray.

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You echo my opinion and experience 100%. And when you say all of the above to a Hungarian emigre and point out Fidesz’s faults, all they can counter with is, ‘Well, at least they’re not communists.’ At which point I realize there’s no point in continuing the conversation any further. But when I do, I say things like, ‘Well, actually, Viktor Orban attended Oxford in the mid-80’s when I’m sure it wouldn’t have been possible for him to do so unless he and/or his family espoused certain views; and Geza Jeszenszky taught in Southern California in the 80’s and how is that possible that they let him out to do so and earn his keep in dollars, etc.?’ I mean, I love it when Geza Jeszenszky talks about being oppressed. Really? You were oppressed? All the way over there in California? Jeez. And why is it that Stumpf Istvan (Orban’s cabinet chief) JOINED the communist party in 1989, when NO ONE was — oh yeah, I forgot, his father-in-law, Horvath Istvan, was one of the last communist ministers of interior under either the Grosz or Nemeth governments. So it’s o.k. for Fidesz to have familial ties to communists, I guess.

Without getting into everything you wrote about, I would agree that North American Hungarians skew Right in their political beliefs, albeit there is frequently a separate Hungarian and Canadian/American political identity.
However, I couldn’t help but notice this sentence: “By her tireless activity, half of Hungary believes that the Hungarian police attacked the peaceful demonstrators on October 23, 2006, not vice versa.”
Not even taking Morvai into consideration here, (the sooner the Right finds someone else, the better), to suggest that the police did not attack peaceful demonstrators is categorically wrong. Certainly it was far-right troublemakers who faced off with police and began the riot, but this melee then spilled over onto the Fidesz rally which had started earlier and was located less than half a kilometer to the south. From that point on, the crowd was heterogeneous, the police refused to make distinctions, and many innocent people found themselves on the wrong end of a police truncheon or vipera. The far-right provoked the police, but that does not provide the police with free reign to act as they wish, be it a fringe nutter or a person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Probably politicians are scumbags for the most part, and of course the political past of many members of the socialist party does not automatically lift members of the current opposition to a morally higher status. However, I would disagree with most of what was previously written (except for the corrections on the role of the police on October 23rd, 2006). The country has taken a drastic turn downwards in the past few years. Or do you REALLY believe that the government is actually doing something right now? I mean, other than propagating their own positive image and at the same time completely privatizing every last niche of the public services still available to serve Hungary’s needs. Is it really the people’s needs that competition in public health care serves? Or does it instead favor the insurance company maffia that has plundered America’s public, too, for quite a few decades? It’s really a shame that many people are willing to accept without any critisism whatsoever the cyncial gyurcsányian dogma, which says that “bread isn’t for free, so why should education and health care be free?” We’ll see where it all leads. And also, no matter what anyone says about the Fidesz… Read more »

And also, anyone can have familial ties to the communist era, I think it’s natural for a population of 10 million.
But inheriting almost all of the MSZMP party’s wealth and property, but then not claiming to have any ties to it (which is exactly what the socialists have done) is a different story.
Of course, it would be superfluous to ask MSZP to define their ties with MSZMP of the communist era before Fidesz defined their ties with extremism, since the close bonds between the former two are 100% well-known.