Of course, the 1939 election was a national election while in 2009 it was a European parliamentary election, but there is one thing that these two elections have in common: the unexpectedly strong showing of the extreme right. In 1939 there were six parties that could be described as right-radical, and altogether they received more than one million votes. It is true that the traditional government party still got 71.92% of the votes, which meant 187 seats in a 260-member parliament, but the parties of the extreme right received 18% of the votes and could send 46 people to parliament. Even in Budapest where the liberals and the social democrats were traditionally strong, the extreme right gained ground. Four years earlier these small radical parties had received only 50,000 votes. Four years later over one million! One might add that prior to 1939 voting in the countryside was not secret. The 1939 election was the first to have secret ballots everywhere. At the same time Law 1938/XIX increased the minimum voting age and introduced stricter educational requirements. However, it didn't help. Just as István Csurka's MIÉP enjoyed a strong showing in the well-off Buda districts in the 1990s, so the Arrow Cross, the most important extreme right-wing party, was the favorite of the upper middle classes in 1939.
Even then, as now, pundits debated about who voted for these parties. The conservatives gleefully pointed to Red Csepel (a working class district in the southern part of Budapest) that went solidly for the Hungarian Nazis and to their strong showing in mining towns. Western Hungary, an area that remained firmly in the Fidesz camp in the EU election, was an Arrow Cross stronghold in 1939, especially around the city of Keszthely and along the Magyaróvár-Zirc-Enying axis. The extreme right in 1939 was also very popular in central Hungary. In 2009 Jobbik was successful in counties with high Roma populations due to their anti-Gypsy rhetoric while "the Roma question" was a non-issue in 1939.
Several articles appeared lately on the the growth of the extreme right in Hungary. I want to focus on one that I found especially interesting: Andor Ladányi's "Kísért a múlt?" (Élet és Irodalom, July 3). Andor Ladányi as a young historian wrote a little book on the radical youth of the early 1920s which I found particularly useful when I was working on this period. Ladányi, like others then and later, believes that in large part the votes for the extreme right came from the left. In 1935 there were eleven social democratic members of parliament. In 1939 only five. But the smallholders also lost out to the Hungarian Nazis. In 1935 the party had a parliamentary caucus of twenty-two while after 1939 it was reduced to fourteen. In Buda, in the so-called "Christian middle-class" districts, the Arrow Cross party received 32.92% of the votes. Looking at the details of the 1939 election one can safely say that support for the extreme right was wider and deeper than it is for Jobbik today. First of all, the 18% figure is misleading because the radical parties, including the Arrow Cross Party, were unable to compete in every district. In those days there were districts where one could vote only for parties and others in which one could vote for individual candidates. There were thirty-eight districts where one could vote only for parties, and the Arrow Cross Party was on the ballot in only twenty-one of them. But when they were on the ballot, they received 29.35% of the votes. Then there were 135 districts where the electorate voted for individual candidates; here the Arrow Cross Party managed to get on the ballot in fewer than half of them. When they were represented, they received 26.37% of the votes. So, although it's not scientific to extrapolate based solely on these numbers, it's still not difficult to imagine what would have happened if they had been on the ballot in all 173 districts!
Although there are many similarities between the Arrow Cross and Jobbik, there are obvious differences. In those days the extreme right didn't face such issues as globalization or Hungary's relation to the European Union. Rascism was of course present but the "Gypsy question" was not an issue. First of all because the number of Gypsies in those days was much smaller than today, and in the late 1930s this minority group was not really visible. The extreme right found a common cause in anti-semitism, manifested more openly and virulently than today. Or at least in those days it wasn't necessary to use code words. Nationalism was an important component then as now, but irredentism dominated the vocabulary of the extreme right in 1939 in a way that it no longer does. By 1939 German Nazi propaganda exercised a powerful influence on the Hungarian extreme right, and the Hungarian national socialist parties even received financial assistance from Germany. For the 1939 election campaign this financial assistance was substantial. Ladányi believes that Jobbik doesn't receive financial assistance from other European right-wing parties. I might mention here that György Lázár, who often writes from California in Élet és Irodalom, makes a case for Iranian financial support of Jobbik just as an earlier Hungarian right-radical group received generous sums from Saddam Hussein (http://www.es.hu/index.php?view=doc;23303). I don't know where the money for the 2009 election came from, but surely not from the local supporters.
Finally, Ladányi recalls that in 1939 the extreme right won votes from the opposition parties (social democrats, smallholders, and liberals). The "government party" MÉP (Magyar Élet Pártja) actually gained voters. MÉP had more than a two-thirds majority in parliament. Prime Minister Pál Teleki and Interior Minister Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer immediately distanced themselves from the extreme right, and the policies of the government were in no way influenced by the presence of a fairly large national socialist group in parliament. The situation is somewhat different today. Fidesz's attitude toward Jobbik is ambivalent, making it more difficult to marginalize the Hungarian neo-Nazis.
As opposed to Ladányi I still don't believe that the majority of Jobbik's voters came from the left. The Progresszív Intézet came out with a new study that is very similar to the early Medián poll. See here: http://nol.hu/belfold/20090710-fokent_a_fidesz_szavazoibol_toltekezett_a_jobbik But to me even more telling is that half of Fidesz voters are opposed to the court's decision to ban the Hungarian Guard, and we know from other sources that one-third of them actually want cooperation between Fidesz and Jobbik. See http://nol.hu/belfold/20090709-nem_az_egyenruha_teszi And, as we know, the pollsters expected Fidesz to do much better in the EU parliamentary election than their final 56.36% figure. All in all, I believe that the majority of the Jobbik voters came from first-time voters and former Fidesz supporters.
The real question is whether Jobbik will make further strides and receive an even greater number of votes next year or whether the same thing will happen now as happened after 1939. The right radical groups splintered and again became insignificant. It was only after October 15, 1944, that Ferenc Szálasi, the head of the Arrow Cross Party, gained power, but only as Germany's puppet. Today I think a lot will depend on how the government handles the situation. From today's news it looks as if at last they decided to be courageous and take steps against any future activities of the Hungarian Guard. Meanwhile I wouldn't like to be in Viktor Orbán's shoes. His situation is very difficult given the presence of Jobbik sympathizers among Fidesz voters. But I don't think that ignoring the problem is the right answer to the problem.