That charming fascism, by S. K.

The article below will be controversial. Comparing today's Hungary to Benito Mussolini's Italy seems like a daring undertaking. Some people would call it a baseless accusation.

I think one of the problems is that nowadays people often use fascism and nazism interchangeably, but there are many, fairly basic differences between the two.The Hungarian right in the late 1920s and early 1930s was heavily influenced by Mussolini's fascist ideology and thus the connection between Orbán and Mussolini.

Lately, more and more people in liberal publications quite openly call Orbán "Benito Orbán," such as Attila Buják in his article "Posványos Benito Orbán." And László Kálmán, a linguist, compares Viktor Orbán's language to that of Mussolini. He claims that both are characterized by "concealment." Kálmán sees another point of comparison: Orbán easily moves from one political ideology to the next, just as Mussolini did. Orbán, like Mussolini, always says what people want to hear. Thus, in vain are we looking for consistency in his utterances over time. Mussolini was "a shameless populist" and so is Orbán.

The link between Orbán and Mussolini is Gyula Gömbös, prime minister of Hungary (1932-1936), who was an admirer of Mussolini. I wrote about the uncanny resemblances between the ideas of Orbán and those of Gömbös twice: in June 2008, that is, way before the 2010 elections that gave such unlimited power to Viktor Orbán and again in September 2010. A few days later, using the definition of Roger Griffin, a British political philosopher,  I proposed  in a Hungarian-language article that "Orbán's vision" might be described as "generic fascism." Griffin's definition of generic fascism is as follows: "Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism." Palingenesis means regeneration or rebirth. For anyone familiar with Orbán's vocabulary these words will sound very familiar.

And here is S.K.'s take on the same subject.

* * * 

Anybody I meet who is willing to engage in discussion on politics, as soon as it comes to the Orbán government and my ever increasing recognition that this bunch of Fidesz bozos are fascists pure and simple (all right, not so simple), my interlocutors immediately start looking for the exit, they are busy backpedalling and unanimously list the excuses, the differences and find ultimate refuge in the person of Stalin, because he was not a fascist and yet was the greatest of the mass-murderers.

I am sorry, but all those pusillanimous excuses only serve to confirm me in my conviction. Just because there are differences, and just because the assorted scum of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and all those other fascists and nazis were even greater bastards than Orbán, we still are faced with the undeniable fact that he is indeed a budding fascist and his government is a fascist government. In any case, it is early in the day, Orbán had merely a short year at his disposal to implement his fascist program and at the rate he is going, we won’t have to wait much longer until the comprehensive and conclusive proof arrives, considering what a busy bee he is.

That his rhetoric is fascist needs no confirmation, he confirmed that time and again. In the comparison with Mussolini all he lacks is the polished refinement that characterized Mussolini’s speeches but is completely absent in Orbán’s.

But apart from that, let us examine what fascism is. Let our guide be the definitive summary assembled by Emilio Gentile in the Enciclopedia Italiana (1992).

The following ten points are the “constituent elements" for the definition of fascism:

  1. A mass movement with multi-class membership in which prevail, among the militants and leaders, the middle sectors, in large part new to political activity, organized as a party militia, that bases its identity not on social hierarchy, or class origin, but on the sense of comradeship, believes itself invested with a mission of national regeneration, considers itself in a state of war against political adversaries and aims at conquering a monopoly of political power by using terror, parliamentary tactics, and deals with leading groups, to create a new regime that destroys parliamentary democracy.
  2. An “anti-ideological” and pragmatic ideology that proclaims itself anti-materialist, anti-individualist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, is populist and anti-capitalist in tendency, expresses itself esthetically more than theoretically by means of a new political style and by myths, rites, and symbols as a lay religion designed to acculturate, socialize, and integrate the faith of the masses with goal of creating a “new man.”
  3. A culture founded on mystical thought and the tragic and activist sense of life conceived as the manifestation of the will to power, on the myth of youth as artificer of history, and on the exaltation of the militarization of politics as the model of life and collective activity.
  4.  A totalitarian conception of the primacy of politics, conceived as an integrating experience to carry out the fusion of the individual and the masses in the organic and mystical unity of the nation as an ethnic and moral community, adopting measures of discrimination and persecution against those considered outside this community either as enemies of the regime or members of races considered inferior or otherwise dangerous for the integrity of the nation.
  5. A civil ethic founded on total dedication to the national community, on discipline, virility, comradeship, and the warrior spirit.
  6. A single state party that has the task of providing for the armed defense of the regime, selecting its directing cadres, and organizing the masses within the state in a process of permanent mobilization of emotion and faith.
  7. A police apparatus that prevents, controls, and represses dissidence and opposition, even by using organized terror.
  8. A political system organized by a hierarchy of functions named from the top and crowned by the figure of the 'leader' invested with a sacred charisma, who commands, directs, and coordinates the activities of the party and the regime.
  9. A corporative organization of the economy that suppresses trade union liberty, broadens the state intervention, and seeks to achieve, by principles of technocracy and solidarity, the collaboration of the ‘productive sectors’ under the control of the regime, to achieve its goals of power, yet preserving private property and class divisions.
  10. A foreign policy inspired by the myth of national power and greatness, with the goal of imperialist expansion.

After this I don’t think there is any doubt whether the orbanites are fascist. The only questions which remain are how much of this program has already been realized and how long it will be before the entire rotten edifice is fully complete.

I fear it is not very long.


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Kirsten
Guest

“A mass movement with multi-class membership”
Already in point 1, this mass movement for instance is not easy to detect. I thought support for Fidesz (in any case more of a “passive” “spectator” type than an active 19th century “crowd”) is diminishing already. “Multi-class membership” also appears difficult to define in the year 2011. Societies have become different since the 1930s and Hungary is not an exception. It is not a “too active” population of flag bearers composed of nobles and the working poor, quite the opposite, a population that bows out of politics.

Really?
Guest
In response to this and all previous articles by Eva I have one overiding question… where is the protest originating from within Hungary? I listen everyday to politoligists, commentators and intellectuals on the TV and radio commenting on the current horrifying developments on a political, economic and social level. But where are the social organisations, campaigning groups, single interest groups giving an outlet to public horror about what is going on? How is it that the last major public demonstration event was more than 2 months ago? There was the fire service/police demonstration that I went to but that was pretty single issue, and doesn’t seem to have lead to a broader public protest movement. The Democratikus Charta have something organised in Sept., but that seems to be having problems in getting groups together. Do the majority of people in Hungary agree with what is going on? In the 2 other other European countries that I have lived in (I live in Hungary now) there would be monthly massive demonstrations against the attacks on democracy and social and economic policy that are currently being implemented. I was organising social and political groups in both countries. After arriving here one year… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

“A foreign policy inspired by the myth of national power and greatness, with the goal of imperialist expansion.”
How Hungary should be “imperialist” has not yet been shown. OV and his crew are provoking, no doubt, but which resources could be mobilised to back “imperialist” ambition I would like to know.
I stop with these two points but I am afraid that even if some ideas of OV and Fidesz might resemble those of earlier fascists, it does not help much to illuminate what is going on currently.

Kirsten
Guest

Really?, I am certainly not the most qualified person to answer but 1) there appear to be platforms that try to gather people, even if perhaps still of modest size, and 2) the lack of a broad commitment is part of why Hungary got where it is. (That is why in my impression it “feels” like a dictatorship without being one.) I trust the judgement of other commentators here on the blog and expect that the “passive resistence” type of “protest” will ultimately also bear fruit.

a-good-hungary-exists
Guest
a-good-hungary-exists

so much simpler.
fascism is a trick.
the fuhrer empowers its stupid followers.
there is a competing game, who is the empowerer and who is the empowered?
when the leaders and followers managed to empower each other, they will generate a pyramid scheme, the empowered one is going out to recruit more idiots by promise and deceit, and a fascist chain reaction is active. believers in fascism are very fanatics, and afraid to quit. the police will also assure the mass loyalty.
in no time, they faithful ones will eliminate all moral, and start looting the untermensch victims.
many hungarians object this, but even more endorse it.
the donath ferenc sponsored Nagy Imre Tarsasag resists. and there are thousands of intellectuals who work feverishly to stop the chain reaction. good luck to all of us.
we have to be liberal, center oriented, and vote the reason in.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Really? writes: “where is the protest originating from within Hungary?”
Unfortunately, the opposition has committed political suicide and are unable to renew themselves, leaving tyhe filed to Fidesz without effective challange. They continue to cling to the same leaders who led them into the abyss. By now it would be normal for Fidesz to start loosing popular support and they are, but their loss is not switching over to the left.
The Socialists are twice stained in Hungarian eyes: once by their roots in the Communist Party and once by their close continuing ties to Gyurcsany, who at this point is believed to be the cause of all evil, including bad weather.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva,
I have no problem whatsoever with SK’s article.
“think one of the problems is that nowadays people often use fascism and nazism interchangeably, but there are many, fairly basic differences between the two.”- hmmm… I tend to agree yet I don’t see the “fairly basic” adjective. Perhaps I am not sophisticated enough.
There are the “also run” secondhand bumbling idiot wannabes /like Benito,Horty, George W. or the sad miserable Mr. Orban/ and the real pros like our old favourite Adolf /or Pol Pot, Stalin etc./. This is the only “fairly basic” difference I can perceive. Let me know if I am wrong.
Peter Litvanyi

Lutra lutra
Guest

Interesting article but I’m not convinced. Of course Orbán uses the rhetoric of the Right, and of course Fidesz is a monolithic party that tolerates no internal debate or dissent, but to label him as fascist is, I think, to accept the myth that his landslide victory was due to the popularity of Orbán and his policies (rather than the lack of a credible alternative), and that MSZP’s disaster in the polls was symptomatic of a failure in democratic politics.
Friends of ours (who did vote for him) grumble that Orbán’s populist speeches are to keep the masses happy and that underneath he’s just another slimy Euro-politician. Whichever the truth is, I don’t think he scores as high on the trust scale as Mussolini or, say, Peron would have done

Adam LeBor
Guest

This is so way over the top it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll try with point 7:
“A police apparatus that prevents, controls, and represses dissidence and opposition, even by using organized terror.”
This would be the police apparatus that supervised the recent gay pride parade to general acclaim; that oversaw the trade union protests and the gathering of tens of thousands of protestors demanding press freedoms? Er…yes.
All this talk of fascism is not helpful and allows more nuanced criticism to be dismissed as more left-liberal hysteria. A more useful term here would be ‘majoritarianism’ when a democratically elected government with an overwhelming majority uses that power in an unprecedented manner. But that demands a more nuanced and realistic approach.

LB
Guest

Adam:
While it may really be too early to speak of true fascism, since as you have stated the police has not (yet) been used for repression, the current situation does confirm that what you called the “left-liberal hysteria” is not a left-wing reaction at all. Is the right to a lawyer a left-wing value? Do only lefties oppose retroactive laws? Is the freedom of the media really a left-wing issue? Of course not. This is not left-wing hysteria, and the Fidesz is not a conservative party. And if, as you say, this is ‘hysteria’, we had better become more hysterical, because otherwise, soon enough, it will become illegal to do so.

LB
Guest

And in case you meant that the criticism itself is valid but we shouldn’t be too dramatic for fear people won’t take it seriously: the Fidesz will always dismiss criticism and call it misguided left-wing talk. But are we really able to afford softening the truth when the truth is just so important for people to understand?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Really? “In response to this and all previous articles by Eva”
I think it is pretty clear that I didn’t write this article.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Adam: “A more useful term here would be ‘majoritarianism’ when a democratically elected government with an overwhelming majority uses that power in an unprecedented manner.”
I think S.K. overstates the case but you understate it. I think something more is shaping up here than “majoritarianism.” I hope I’m wrong.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Adam,
Mussolini did not start as an antisemite. But when it became an advantage, he installed race laws (1938)
People like Janos Pelle tend to say but you can’t compare Orban to Goemboes.
Of course history does not repeat itself.
But Orban agreed on March 30, 2011 to be photographed next to “the honoured fecal antisemite” Zsolt Bayer.
What kind of signal is Orban sending out?
“Bayer is our boy and I am his friend”

Adam LeBor
Guest

@ LB – perhaps I was not clear enough. My point is that retroactive laws, for example, are worrying and a good example of what we can call ‘majoritarianism’. *But* they are not fascistic or fascism. Words have power and should be used correctly.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Adam LeBor, it is really not important to call the regime fascistic. What comes out in the end, is that the present Hungarian Government is abolishing indicators of Democracy.
So why are some people ready to play down Fidesz’ abolishing those indicators and their complicity with racist, antisemitic Jobbik?

LB
Guest

@Adam– fascism may be too strong a word, but, as Eva mentioned, ‘majoritarianism’ might be an understatement of the problem. ‘Majoritarianism’ implies that a ruling party uses power in an unprecedented manner, but it generally does not imply a breakdown of democratic institutions of the kind we see in Hungary today.

Sandor
Guest

Peter: “This is the only “fairly basic” difference I can perceive. Let me know if I am wrong.”
No Peter, you are not wrong, not exactly. For practical purposes the real difference is between the all inclusive nature of fascism, as opposed to the racially and ethnically (or any other arbitrarily) based persecutions by the nazis.

Sandor
Guest
Adam: “All this talk of fascism is not helpful and allows more nuanced criticism to be dismissed as more left-liberal hysteria.” It is very commendable of you trying to remain on an even keel, but then what is the point of coining a new word, just to disguise the facts? Majoritarianism? Isn’t that applicable to all majority government? There is here a really comprehensive, authoritative list of criteria and all you have to do is checking off each item you recognize in order to determine where the matter stands. It is completely useless to find one exception and use that to dismiss the entire proposition: no, the police hasn’t shut down any news paper yet, it is true, but instead a special authority was created to do that job and by George, they are already working on it. Yes there is a difference, but the outcome, by other means, will prove to be the same. I invite you therefore, to go down on the list and see how much of it was realized already and how much is in the process, then please announce the results. It would be highly irresponsible to declare the verdict now, so early, despite the… Read more »
PWT
Guest
Mr LeBor: What do you call a government that so reorganizes its cabinet that lines of authority and responsibility are opaque, hidden by titles and offices of Orwellian misdirection? What do you call a government that sends out opinion surveys to the citizenry with individual bar codes on them, creating the possibility of a data base with the names and addresses of everyone who agrees or disagrees with the government? What do you call a government that summons all ethnic Tibetans to the immigration office and detains them during the visit of Chinese officials so as to prevent any one of them from protesting? And that gay pride parade — what about the bus from Austria that was attacked by right wingers? The police not only did not come to their aid, they accepted charges filed against them by their attackers. The label of fascism aside, the most immediate problem of the present government is their total departure from the central principle of republican government, which is trusting future generations to govern themselves as we today govern ourselves. (This was forshadowed by their shameful anti-parliamentary-behavior during their years in opposition.) By the appointment to office of numerous officials who will… Read more »
PWT
Guest

Also this: the police has not yet been systematically instrumentalized by the government because it has not yet been completely purged of those with any allegiance to past governments, in particularly those who the Gy. government supported during the right-wing riots. But the purge is in the works, with a combination of early retirements or assignments to supervising the criminalized unemployed in work camps, and the new installation of 900 riot police in Budapest. There is plenty of room for the Hungarian police to develop their dormant authoritarian potential.

bankrupted-hungary-is-coming
Guest
bankrupted-hungary-is-coming

the name is not important.
the disgusting rule of orban shadowed by vona-morvai… is another shameful episode in hungarian history.
stay in budapest a few days and you can experience the frightening loss of freedom.
everywhere crosses, turul birds, ultra-nationalist street renamings, jobbik posters, marches, signs of a mob-terror, racist graffitis..
do you need more violence to reject the orban, csurka, vona, bayer march to fascism?

Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva: I think I finally managed to understand why you let S.K. post here occasionally.
Because when I see such worthless junk as this article again, even your posts seem somewhat valuable.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Really?”: “Do the majority of people in Hungary agree with what is going on?”
Yes.
This is the answer to your whole post.
You are puzzled about why there is no outcry against this “horror”.
The reason is because this “horror” exists only in your mind. Most of the population is content because last year’s developments mostly met their sense of justice.

Jim
Guest

Most Hungarians didn’t speak out against communism or WWII fascism either. Doesn’t mean they supported it. (FIDESZ’ firm support is around 25%, just to interject a dose of reality.)
It’s a passive populace, not an activist one, as a rule. This is part of the danger.

Jim
Guest

(There’s a good overview of Orbán’s dismantling of Hungarian democracy here, for those who read German. There is also a quote here that closely echoes Johnny Boy’s philosophy that the media should serve the government: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/demontage-der-ungarischen-demokratie-der-brutalpopulist-macht-die-eu-schweigt-1.1126940
)

Johnny Boy
Guest

Jim: “There is also a quote here that closely echoes Johnny Boy’s philosophy that the media should serve the government”
I’d be delighted if you didn’t put your own words into my mouth as if I’d have said them. I never said anything you are accusing me of.
I merely said the media is not elected by anybody so it shouldn’t be the ultimate controlling power, it should be monitored by the elected bodies instead.
But since you can’t argue with that, you falsify my words.

Jim
Guest

Having elected party officials monitor the government, rather than a professional non-partisan review board, amounts to the same thing.
There! I’ve used your very words. You just don’t get it. With that mindset, I would have returned from the West too.

Jim
Guest

read “media” for “government”, of course

freedom-for-hungary
Guest
The orbans and ahmedinejads may seem to be elected by dishonest elections. Their methods can not be justified. They lose the legitimacy within days. See the Fareed Zakaria interview: “We are watching the fall of Islamic theocracy” in Iran, Fareed Zakaria tells CNN Fareed Zakaria: One of the first things that strikes me is we are watching the fall of Islamic theocracy. CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall? Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound. CNN: How so? Zakaria: When… Read more »
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