The concept of the nation in Fidesz political discourse. Part I

Perhaps some of you recall that a few months ago I bitterly complained about the so-called political scientists in Hungary. Political commentators are called political scientists (politológusok) in Hungary. These are young, rather enterprising men and women who are considered to be the gurus of the political life of the country. Rarely does a day pass that one, two, or three of these so-called political scientists don’t appear in the media. In the U.S. a political scientist is an academic who writes serious studies on politics. Well, it turns out there are real political scientists in Hungary too, but one has to search a bit to find them. A few days ago I happened upon a fascinating study on Fidesz’s concept of nation between 1998 and 2006. It can be found in Politikatudományi Szemle 16/3, pp. 129-159. Anyone who can read Hungarian should take a look at it. It is certainly worth the time spent. The article can be read at this address: http://tinyurl.com/24f6qm

The author is Ildikó Szabó, associate professor (docens) of political science at the University of Debrecen. It is fascinating and at the same time depressing reading. Professor Szabó relies heavily on Viktor Orbán’s speeches; seeing his anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic quotations brought together within a few pages is frightening. I wish someone would take the trouble to translate it or send it to foreign embassies in Budapest as a compass to the study of the Hungarian right.

The author distinguishes two distinct time periods in the development of the current "national strategy" of Fidesz. The first lasted from 1998 to 2003. During this period the concept of "nation" had a narrow meaning for Viktor Orbán: the nation consisted of people whose political views coincided with his own. The real nation was the Hungarian right. Everybody else placed himself outside the nation.The liberals and the left-wingers were often described by Orbán and his closest associates as outright enemies of the nation. Starting in about 2003 the concept changed. The "nation" became an alternative to parliamentary legitimation. According to the new view, everybody belonged to the nation; the enemies of the nation were only the government and the capitalists who were an "alien element" in the body of the nation.

Ms Szabó briefly describes the Orbán government’s strategy for arousing national enthusiasm. For instance, they built the National Theater, studded with nationalistic symbols. There was also the exhibition entitled Dreamers of Dreams: Magnificent Hungarians, held in the Millenary Park, intended to boost national pride. The government made good use of the one-thousand-year anniversary of the establishment of the Hungarian state. On January 1, 2000, they moved the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, which was most likely not his crown, from the National Museum to the Parliament Building and on August 15 of the same year, on the national holiday, they sent the crown for a little trip down the Danube to Esztergom, in 1000 the capital of Hungary, and back. Every locality received a millenary flag, properly blessed by priests and ministers. In brief, the Orbán government paid a great deal of attention to national symbols and emphasized the national community, past and present.

Ever since 1996, when his party moved from the liberal side to the right, Viktor Orbán has been preoccupied with such questions as "what it means to be a Hungarian," "who is a Hungarian." As I said earlier, during the first period, i.e. before 2003, only Fidesz voters were members of the nation. On the opening of parliament immediately after the formation of the Orbán government, the new prime minister announced that "whoever wants to belong to the Hungarian nation should vote for the government program" (July 4, 1998). Orbán considered the emotional bond among his followers a very important part of his program, especially after he lost the elections in 2002. For example, on May 7, 2002, he spoke tellingly: "Although we lost the battle, we became a brotherhood," or "We, who are on this square, will not be in opposition, because the fatherland cannot be in opposition," or "the fatherland is the fatherland even if it is under foreign influence, even if ravaged by Turk and Tartar, even if the role of governing is not ours."

Orbán and the Fidesz party leaders constantly accuse their political opponents of defeatism. According to them, the liberals and the socialists have been trying to convince the Hungarian people that they are not a great nation. László Kövér in March 2002, in the heat of the campaign, made a passionate speech along these lines that may have been partially responsible for the defeat of the Fidesz at the polls. Kövér talked about the need for optimism because if one doesn’t believe in the future one might as well hang himself. So far, so good, but unfortunately he added this sentence: "I would only ask those who … for years have been trying to hammer such thoughts into your heads, to set a good example. And once they are all finished, we may realize that perhaps we are better off without them." These sentences have been debated ever since: what did mean to Kövér say? Did Gyurcsány purposely misinterpret his words to win the election? I don’t think so. Kövér really did suggest that the liberals and socialists hang themselves. The thought preceding the "call to suicide" has been repeated often ever since. Viktor Orbán in July 2003: "New winds are blowing in Hungary: they are telling us to learn to be little." Or in October 2004: "I found one of the greatest problems of Hungary to be that we suffer from a chronic inferiority complex." Or a month later: "It is impossible to be a defeated nation, sometimes one has to win." Or in February 2005: "Well, we are not in power–we will be soon enough. The real problem is that we became a nation without hope that doesn’t believe in itself." That was, of course, not the situation in 1998 when "the country [for some mysterious reasons] began to believe in itself." But once Viktor Orbán was no longer the prime minister of Hungary, he could claim that the "country is mentally ill."

I don’t want to shortchange this very important study and I will stop about half way through my summary. Tomorrow I will continue with the section subtitled: "The nation as the alternative of parliamentary legitimation." Stay tuned.

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Vándorló
Guest

Thanks for pointing this out (the article). It really is a juicy chrestomathy of Orban’s metaphysical poetics. His ‘thoughts’ sound far more disturbing and surreal in English. Like the whinging of a pugnacious dwarf.

New World Order
Guest
Eva- Thank you for the synopsis. The rofesor’s work (as deescribed by you) demonstrates that, not surprisingly, Orban has a completely distorted understanding of what the role of the state or nation [I suppose the distinction being a “nation” is more than a political and geographic entity and encompasses-at least in Hungary-some ethnic component as well]should be in modern day Europe. Having said this, his emphasis that Hungarians need to be less defeatist [i.e, more optimistic] is a view that I share with him. The question is how this is manifested of course, and pining for some long lost Great Hungary of Pre-Trianon is the absolutely wrong way of achieving a useful optimisim. Looking forward, however, I think there are two things on which reasonable people can take comfort. First, while FIDESZ’s and Orban’s popularity may appear to be significant right now, I do not believe his “theory of nation” is the basis for this popularity, and it is not a view shared by a large part of his current base of support. Moreover, I think we can be thankful for the EU and EU membership. It is obvious that the benefits of EU membership which for Hungary are manifold… Read more »
Kincs
Guest

New World Order:
The limits on what Orbán can achieve if elected are not as great as one might think. If the voting were to go as polls stand today, then Fidesz would win a two-thirds majority in Parliament, enabling them to change the constitution at will. Who knows how far they would go?

Kincs
Guest

New World Order:
The limits on what Orbán can achieve if elected are not as great as one might think. If the election was to go as polls stand today, then Fidesz would win a two-thirds majority in Parliament, enabling them to change the constitution at will. Who knows how far they might go?

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