Political Capital Institute, a Hungarian think tank, came out with a new index that the authors call the DEREX Index that is supposed to measure societal acceptance of right-wing extremism. The findings were reported today in HVG. The researchers compared 32 countries; they found that in Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Hungary the impulses toward the acceptance of right-wing extremism are the strongest. In Hungary, for example, in six years the percentage of potential extreme right-wing voters has more than doubled from 10% to 21%.
The study supports my long-held belief that this trend goes against the development in the West. Many of my friends who felt personally insulted every time the question of the Hungarian extreme right came up kept repeating that Hungary is just following a European trend. Moreover, these guys cannot be taken seriously. Just a few loud mouths who make a lot of noise. I could never quite believe this optimistic assessment of the Hungarian situation and it seems that I was right. First of all, in the West the strength of the extreme right has dissipated. Moreover, there is a big difference between the Western and the Eastern European varieties of extremism. In the West right-wing extremism is directed against immigration and foreigners and isn't coupled with a general rejection of the whole democratic regime as it is in Hungary. In Eastern Europe the anti-Roma prejudice is coupled with a distrust of the regime itself and with a general dissatisfaction with life in general. And, Political Capital adds, that combination can threaten the very stability of the regime.
Let's look at some examples. In Ukraine in two years, between 2005 and 2007, anti-regime feeling grew from 25% to 51% among the adult population. In Hungary between 2003 and 2009 dissatisfaction quadrupled: from 12% to 46%. Political Capital measured all sorts of indicators: lack of trust in institutions, anti-elite feelings, economic nationalism, xenophobia, and aggressive nationalism. These are all dangerous components of instability and this danger is especially present in Eastern Europe, most notably in Ukraine, Hungary, and Bulgaria, in addition to Israel and Turkey. In these countries Political Capital estimates that 20-30% of the population is inclined to support the extreme right.
I found the comparison between Poland and Hungary especially interesting. In 2003 both countries started off from roughly the same position. In Hungary, 10% of the population supported the extreme right; in Poland, 9%. But while in Poland that number has decreased, in Hungary it has steadily grown. In addition, in Hungary xenophobia has grown tremendously. Between 2003 and 2007 those expressing negative feelings about foreigners has grown from 37% to 55%, that is the majority of the population.
Political Capital very rightly talks about this whole phenomenon in terms of supply and demand. Surely, if there is a growing segment of the population expressing extremist views, sooner or later parties or organizations will emerge to meet that demand. So it is no coincidence that Jobbik has grown so spectacularly in the last few years.
I must say that Hungarians who are so proud of being part of Europe might not find it reassuring that the country is being compared to Ukraine, Turkey, and Bulgaria. How did all that happen? If you ask a socialist or a liberal he will tell you that it is all Fidesz's fault. Even Ibolya Dávid, a conservative politician, said just the other day that "in the meantime from the overcoat of Orbán quietly and slowly came forward the muscled up anti-democratic and radical Jobbik." The reference is of course to Gogol's famous short story and Dostoyevsky's saying: "We all come out from Gogol's 'Overcoat'."
Up to a point I agree with this assessment but at the same time one must ask: which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Surely, Viktor Orbán himself couldn't have emerged as a leading politician if there was no "demand" for the type of populist authoritiarian politician he is.
By now I'm looking forward to the elections with a morbid curiosity. How strong will Jobbik be coming out of this competition? If Political Capital is correct, stronger than we think.