A few months ago I found myself under attack by some right-wingers who were outraged when I described an interview with a sociologist. The topic was the "new Hungarian right." Among other things Pál Tamás, the sociologist in question, mentioned that the extreme right has a large following in Hungary. While in most western European countries they constitute about 10% of the adult population, in Hungary their number is much larger. Then I quoted a few statistics that were indeed rather surprising. My right-wing "friends" who either don't understand English well enough or didn't read my blog carefully attributed the findings of the sociological study to me. As if I invented these figures because I am "anti-Hungarian." (In their eyes everybody is anti-Hungarian who tries to show an objective picture of Hungarian society.) As a result I found my name on a list of people who, in their eyes, are responsible for the deep division in Hungarian society. I must say that I was thrilled to be included in such illustrious company: I have a very good opinion of all those "ditch diggers," as we were called.
Well, I'm going to stick my neck out again. This time I will summarize a new, more exhaustive article written by Tamás on the same topic. First he tells his readers that although we talk a lot about the "radical right" or the "extreme right" we actually know very little about the people who fall into this category. Many questions remain unanswered. We are not at all clear about the connection between the moderate right and the extreme right. How temporary or constant are the different networks within the radical right? What are the similarities between the extreme right that existed before World War II and the radical right of today?
Let's start with the second question–the longevity of networks within the radical right. According to the existing, not too extensive literature on the subject the different movements and groupings within the radical right are unstable. It is almost impossible to keep them together for any extended period of time. Actually, one doesn't need to read this "literature" because the events of the last decade or so bear this out. In the second half of the 1990s István Csurka's MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja = Party of Hungarian Truth and Life) was strong enough to achieve parliamentary representation, and Csurka was able to turn out crowds of two hundred thousand people for MIÉP's mass demonstrations. Today MIÉP is almost dead. At the last elections MIÉP joined forces with Jobbik, another right-wing party that began as a right-wing youth organization. Jobbik means the "Better One"; the party's name is an abbreviation of Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Movement for a Better Hungary). They did rather poorly together and by now they are at each other's throats over money. Meanwhile there are small groups that come and go. For a while they show up at demonstrations only to disappear later. But although identifiable groups within the extreme right have a short life expectancy, the "radical camp" is quite stable.
Pál Tamás and his team (allegedly) randomly sampled 1,500 voters, in the process trying to build an algorithm by which to "monitor" radicalism. (I question the notion of a random sample because I'm not altogether convinced by the results. I have a better opinion of the average Hungarian, admittedly without a single tick of data on which to quantify my impressions, and perhaps just a case of "wishing makes it so." So for the time being I defer to statistical analysis.) They put together a number of questions designed to shed light on what makes people tick. The questions touched upon "the need for authority," "the desire to rewrite history," "a feeling of Hungarian superiority," "political antisemitism," and "anti-Gypsy feelings." With the help of answers given to the above questions the sociologists tried to place the right radicals within the context of Hungarian society as a whole. They also asked people about their attitudes toward active participation in protest movements. The most important, and disturbing, finding is that opinions associated with "right-wing radicalism" are also prevalent in the center and are present, though with less intensity, on the left. So, to summarize.
The Strong Hand. Dialogue between right and left, strengthening of democratic institutions, withdrawal of charismatic political leaders on either side–all this is totally alien to Hungarian political culture. The solution to the current situation, according to 75% of the people, would be "a strong government that would rule out party squabbles." Moreover, 52% of the people responded that "in today's situation only one party representing society as a whole is needed." The idea of a one-party system was rejected by only 28% of the sample. As for the leader, "he should be a determined man who can lead the country with a steady hand." That question, to my mind, wouldn't differentiate the left from the right; indeed, the idea was rejected by only 10.4%.
Although in the early 1990s the dividing line was not at all clear between right and left, by today people have no difficulty placing themselves on a scale of one to seven, where seven represents the extreme right, one the extreme left, and four the middle of the pack. In this sample 15.4% scored themselves as a seven, 14.4% as a six, and 14.5% as a 5. That is almost 45% of the population.
Culture of (Non-)Protest. Although the extreme or radical right is a fairly large percentage of right-wing voters, only about six percent of them would take part in street demonstrations, would attend political meetings, or would be willing to participate in strikes. The only activity they would engage in in larger numbers is to collect signatures (22%).
History. It seems that the left-liberals for the time being have lost the battle over historical interpretation. Sixty percent of the people agreed to the proposition that "today it is superfluous to talk about Hungarian responsibility and a Hungarian negative role" prior to and during World War II. Only twelve percent think that the Hungarian government before and during the war years was responsible for the disastrous outcome. Thirty-seven percent agree that "in the last eight to ten years we have been talking too much about the holocaust." (Twenty-seven percent disagree, so here the results are not so lopsided as in the question of historical interpretation.) As for the "new" symbol of the right, the red and white striped flag last used by Ferenc Szálai's Hungarian nazis, the acceptance of the flag is larger than one would suspect. While only about 30% of those asked declared themselves to be right-wingers, 37% consider "this flag part of Hungarian history and find it absolutely incomprehensible why some people are against it." The question of Trianon is also telling. The majority realizes that territorial changes are impossible, but 27.5% think that "the injustice of Trianon could be remedied only by territorial changes." (32% of Fidesz voters agreed with this statement and 22% of MSZP voters.) Thirty-six percent agree that "the most important goal of Hungarian foreign policy is to regain our leading role in the Carpathian basin. "
Prejudices. The most prevalent prejudice in Hungary is against the Gypsies. Sixty-nine percent are convinced that "Gypsies take advantage of welfare payments." Fifty percent claim that "Gypsies are responsible for their own situation." As for antisemitism the sociologists found that about one-third of the population are "active and consistent anti-Semites." There were slight changes in numbers when specific questions were asked. When they had to answer with yes or no to "Jewish culture is such that it is difficult to reconcile it to the culture of the majority" thirty-one percent agreed while twenty-seven did not. To the question "the Jews in order to achieve their aims resort to trickery" forty percent agreed while thirty percent did not. Here the difference between Fidesz and MSZP voters was fairly large: 50% in case of Fidesz and only 32% of MSZP voters. To the statement that "the influence of Jews is too great in Hungary" forty-one percent agreed (27% disagreed). Again there is a fairly large difference between Fidesz and MSZP voters (59% as opposed to 32%).
Next year, the sociologists will repeat their experiment. I'm curious whether there will be any change, one way or the other.