Hungary's billing, at least in the English-speaking world, has not been the best lately. The Economist came out with a new article on the growth of the far right in Eastern Europe in which Hungary enjoys pride of place because Jobbik, Hungary's far-right party, seems "more troubling than earlier groups." The article, entitled "Right on down" (November 12, 2009), depicts the by now well-known uniformed members of the Hungarian Guard. The caption reads: "Nasty and resurgent." The article also mentions the Slovak National Party (SNP) whose leader, Jan Slota, is known for his anti-Hungarian remarks and Bulgaria's Ataka ("Attack" in English), an extremist party known for it verbal onslaughts against the country's Turkish minority. It claims that elsewhere, for example in Poland and in Romania, the far right seems to be on the retreat and that the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have no significant far-right parties.
The article correctly points out that the far right in central Europe differs from its western equivalents in the sense that the latter thrive on immigrant bashing while in the east they "dwell on more atavistic grievances: ethnic minorities, old territorial disputes, homosexuals, international financiers and, naturally, Jews." These far-right parties, including Jobbik, hark back to the times when the state protected the population from market forces. It is also remarks that "far-right ideas have percolated into the mainstream." I think this is a pretty accurate picture, at least of the Hungarian situation.
Thus the spectacular growth of the extreme right is no longer a secret that can be kept under cover. I always have to laugh when Hungarian nationalists accuse liberals of giving interviews to the foreign press and thereby spreading "rumors" and "untruths" about Hungary. As if the world needed the help of Hungarian liberals to find out what's going on in the country. Some years ago there were only two Internet political discussion groups on Hungary. One was in English, the other in Hungarian. The right-wingers, some of them real Nazis, were especially outraged that Hungarian liberals said "nasty things" about Hungary in English. It was less of a sin to say the same thing in Hungarian because, they thought, these "rumors" would not spread outside the charmed circles of Hungarian natives.
Even Viktor Orbán thinks that what he says in Hungary in Hungarian somehow remains the secret of his audience. Therefore he merrily says one thing in Hungary and something quite the opposite abroad. Surely, he should know that foreign embassies have a whole slew of people who are doing nothing else but monitoring the written and electronic media of the country where they are serving. And today people with knowledge of both languages don't even have to reside in Budapest in order to transmit instant information to Washington, London, Berlin, Paris, or even Beijing.
In the last two years or so there have been so many negative news items appearing in the foreign press about the Hungarian far right in general that the word "Jobbik" is becoming quite familiar to the English, French, or German-speaking public. I wasn't terribly surprised this morning when I noticed an enormous headline in The Guardian (The Observer) by Jamie Doward: "Morvai axed from London conference after protests. Hungarian neo-fascist MEP Krisztina Morvai blocked from speaking at pro-Palestinian event." Well, The Guardian didn't mince words. Morvai is called "neo-fascist," pure and simple. In Hungary commentators and politicians are not so brave. Fidesz says nothing while the socialists and liberals skirt the issue. As far as I know, only Tamás Bauer, former SZDSZ member of parliament, called Jobbik a Nazi party.
Morvai became known as a champion of the Palestinians, in particular Palestinian women under Israeli rule, as the Hungarian member of the Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee of the United Nations between 2003 and 2006. As a noted spokeswoman for Palestinian rights, she was invited to speak at a conference organized by the Palestinian Return Centre to be held in London. But several politicians who were also scheduled to speak at the conference were alarmed when they learned the background of their fellow speaker, Krisztina Morvai. Suddenly everybody remembered stories in the British press about Jobbik's attitude toward the Gypsies, about its militia, and the views of some of its supporters toward gays and the Jews.
For good measure Jamie Doward recalled the Hungarian Guard's activities in the last couple of years, their uniforms "emblazoned with a striped red-and-while symbol, a version of which was used by the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that ruled Hungary for a brief but brutal period towards the end of the Second World War." The author is well informed. He knows that the Guard was banned, yet Morvai has been photographed wearing the uniform of the militia.
The first man to pull out of the conference was Labor MP Neil Gerrard when he learned about Morvai's background. The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge, independent MP and former labour minister Clare Sort, and Daud Abdullah, deputy secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, who were all due to speak at the event, were also alerted about Morvai's role in Jobbik. Already on November 2 a blog appeared in which some harsh words were uttered about Tonge appearing at the same event with Morvai. "Tonge appearing at this event is not surprising, but it is certainly embarrassing to the LibDem hierarchy, who condemn the BNP (British National Party). This fascist Tonge will appear with belongs to the Jobbik party. This is a party which has a private army, and when Nick Griffin addressed their conference last year, he was a complete lightweight. The BNP are to Jobbik what Labour is to the Communist Party in Russia circa 1930. That is how extreme this organisation is, yet a LibDem will talk at the same rally. You must be wondering what this rally is. It is all in aid of the Palestinians. The one cause where white nationalists and the left have a common interest: the destruction of the Jewish state." So goes the blog writer.
The conference is promoted by the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza. The spokesman for the organization confirmed that Morvai's invitation had been withdrawn due to the protests they received. Critics of Nick Griffin's party were delighted because they consider Morvai "Europe's leading neo-fascist … and an MEP for a revolting party." Wow! One must admit that Krisztina Morvai must have real talent to achieve such fame in such a short time. A few months ago no one knew her name and today she is "Europe's leading neo-fascist." What a career!
I can pretty well predict the reaction of Morvai and Jobbik. Morvai is not the kind of person who can take perceived offenses like that lying down. She will fight back and will blame the international Jewish conspiracy that wants to silence the truth. She is certainly not the quiet type. In fact, she holds the record in the European Parliament: within a couple of months she managed to deliver nine speeches. Almost all about Hungarian internal affairs that have nothing do with the European Union. But to her mind the European Union must "punish Hungary" because her government is trampling on human rights. What are the odds that anyone will believe her allegations?