Rudolf Ungváry on the fascistoid mutation in today’s Hungary, Part I

The political system introduced by Viktor Orbán never ceases to fascinate analysts and observers. Earlier we spent a considerable amount of time discussing Bálint Magyar’s theory of the post-communist mafia state. Dozens of political scientists, sociologists, economists, media experts, and legal scholars wrote articles on different aspects of Viktor Orbán’s mafia state, describing the way it functions. Although in the last few years other analysts have offered views on the nature of the Orbán regime from various angles, legal and psychological, it was only Magyar’s mafia-state theory that stuck and became widely accepted.

ungvary rudolf2The new book by Rudolf Ungváry will most likely be a serious challenge to The Hungarian Octopus: The Post Communist Mafia State. Ungváry contends that the two edited volumes on the mafia state provide merely “a sociological description” of the Orbán system. Only “the economic criminality of the system is captured, not its essence.”

So, what is the essence of Orbán’s system according to Ungváry? As the subtitle of the book suggests, it is “a fascistoid mutation.” (Rudolf Ungváry: A láthatatlan valóság: A fasisztoid mutáció a mai Magyarországon/The Invisible Reality: Fascistoid Mutation in Today’s Hungary [Pozsony/Bratislava: Kalligram, 2014])

Before the appearance of this book, only two commentators called Fidesz a fascist party, pure and simple. One was the linguist László Kálmán, who wrote an article in October 2010 on a rarely visited internet site in which, after briefly describing the three or four essential elements of Italian fascism, he stated that “Fidesz in the past fifteen years has been a fascist party par excellence.” The other was László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava. I might add here that in September 2010 I wrote an article for Galamus in which I compared the ideas of Viktor Orbán to those of Gyula Gömbös, prime minister of Hungary between 1933 and 1936, and talked about the similarities of the present Hungarian political system to that of Gömbös, which itself was a mutation of Italian fascism. But Ungváry is right, references to the fascist elements in Orbán’s system did not prompt serious debate.

Ungváry argues that without antecedents the present system could not have been developed. “The system is successful because the Hungarian political culture of the extreme right before World War II has been reborn in a different guise. It pretends to be something else. It uses the instruments of liberal democracy to mask itself.” Ungváry lists four “surface characteristics” of the Orbán regime that “are designed to hide the real nature of the system.” Then, following the research findings of Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher, and Hans Mommsen, the German historian of Nazi Germany, he concentrates on the “eight essential characteristics of fascism.”

The most misleading characteristic of this mutation is the democratic “gloss” that covers the fascistoid structure. Democratic institutions have remained, although they have lost their function. The role of opposition parties is to ensure the appearance of democracy. Behind that gloss Ungváry sees the hidden structures of the system that make the regime a mutation of the original.

As for the essential characteristics of the system. (1) There is no declared “guiding principle.” The Leader is not named. There is no Hungarian Führer, Duce, Caudillo, not even Nemzetvédő. He is only “Viktor! Viktor!” Yet he is the supreme leader. With those who don’t question his leading role he is patient, but his political opponents are considered to be enemies and aliens. (2) Although the “cult of strength” is present, there are no brutal reprisals. Intimidation is indirect, but it is always present in Orbán’s speeches. (3) Loyalty is one of the guiding principles, but again it is not written down anywhere. The socialist system also demanded loyalty, in its case to the party. The Orbán system of loyalty is based on personal networks that are typical of fascistoid regimes. At the top of the pyramid stands the Leader himself. (4) Within the system there is seeming chaos but this chaos is actually organized. Those who are faithful to the leader have a fair amount of power, but for those who are suspect there is no mercy. For example, more than half of the civil servants were fired. There is no “class warfare”; the fight is with banks and multinationals. (5) Every important state institution is in the hands of “their own men.” (6) One of the most typical characteristics of the system is its “more neutral selection of those to be excluded.” In communism this ingredient of the system was pretty straightforward; it was based on class. In Nazi Germany it was “race.” In Orbán’s system the targets are those “who don’t belong to us.” They are the ones who are stripped of their banks, their pensions, their land, and so on. This is the third time in a century that wealth has been redistributed. In order to give to those who are “ours” they must take away from others. (7) The groups who are targeted can vary depending on the needs of the regime. It is flexible in this respect. (8) In order to ensure the followers’ loyalty and enthusiasm for the regime, it is necessary to stir up passion and conflicts. In Hungarian this is called the “politics of grievances”; it also entails the rewriting of history.

These essential characteristics of Orbán’s fascistoid mutation are critical to understanding the rest of Ungváry’s treatise, about which more tomorrow.

A few words about Rudolf Ungváry. He is a real polyhistor. He is a mechanical engineer by training but is known as a writer, journalist, film critic, and librarian. In 1956 he was an engineering student and because of his activities was interned in Kistarcsa. In 1958-59 he worked as an iron turner, after which he was allowed to return to university. Since 1983 he has been a research associate at the Széchényi (National) Library. He considers himself a conservative in the classical sense of the word.

Tomorrow I will turn to Ungváry’s thorough analysis of the present fascistoid system and how Hungary ended up here.

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o'magyar
Guest

A few of us have known it.

The national intelligence is so low that 40-50% of the people do not shame to celebrate viktor as the savior.

The future is bleak, because the reservoir of smart people became very small.

tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

O’magyar – I would say the intelligence or otherwise of the Hungarian people has nothing to do with the nature of the current regime. After all it is the same people who were happy enough with a democratic system up until FIDESZ gained its 2/3 majority in Parliament. And again you would not have called Germans during the 1930’s unintelligent. They were amongst the most educated nation in the world at that time. No, the intelligence of the general population is not a factor in which regime a country has. What Bálint Magyar and now Rudolf Ungváry have done is provided a considered theoretical framework for understanding the nature of power in present-day Hungary. None of those frameworks relies on the level of intelligence, or otherwise, of the general population. There is plenty in which to criticize the current regime in devastating detail, but alleging that there aren’t enough smart Hungarians isn’t one of them.

Member

I talked to a Fidesz sympathizer the other day. To him Orban is a strong leader not a dictator. He sees the problems, at least part of it, but he thinks of them as collateral damage on the way to greatness. This also includes the possible corruption (“he deserves it”). He doesn’t believe in the Weimar republic analogy.

We have to be careful with the Mussolini analogy. I think the followers see our Duce as the good Duce. Pushing the fascist button on the general Hungarian population, that is on a frustrated, apathetic, uneducated mass, can backfire on us.

It maybe a better strategy to belittle him wherever possible. These stories, where showed up on a NATO excercise uninvited are priceless, for instance.

I’m not arguing anything in the comparision. All true. I’m just saying we have to get these genious Hunkies put the cross in the right rubric in 2018.

Geza Kmetty
Guest

Look at Turkey’s situation with Erdogan. Orban of Hungary (Orbania will be the new name soon….:)))) and Erdogan are very similar. They both are frightfully effective populist “leaders”, following old and tried fascists tactics, with nationalistic populist slogans to mesmerize the dumbed down masses. High IQ has nothing to do with being a responsible citizen. Germany was full of smart people, who followed Hitler. Poor self esteem, combined with historic defeats in the hands of “others” (with no faults of their own actions that may have contributed to their defeats) and now looking for elevating their self esteem and national prestige by kicking sand in the face of the progressive civilized world. Wow!!! What a way to go down to another assured defeat!!! Fools follow other fools… Free elections alone, will not produce Democracy and Critical Thinking Citizenry….

Member
We can call Orban whatever we wish. We preach to the converted only. A friend of mine was telling me that her husband’s mother did not talk to the family for six months because she suspected that they did not vote for Orban. We are talking here about educated people, on top of the middle class. When the family pointed out some of the obvious corruptions of Fidesz, the answer was “It was not reported in HirTV. It must be lie.” Again, I am talking about a highly educated woman. Fidez fans also believe that all the bad that Hungary is still experiencing, or starting to experience is the outcome of previous wrongdoings. The new scandal of Rogan (the 5th district store that was sold to a guy who is likely a hit man to hire below its real value) happened because of Gyurcsany. According to Fidesz Gyurcsany hired people to trick Rogan’s man. lol The sad part is that Fidesz’ fans do believe in the Fidesz versions does not matter how laughable the version is. It was only three days ago I mentioned the parking space fees in 5th district that must be paid under Rogan to an independent… Read more »
Guest

o’magyar: “The future is bleak, because the reservoir of smart people became very small.”

I never believed that the Hungarian plain is populated by hillbillies, and that this is the reason that Hungary has entered a blind alley. Hungarians are just as smart as other people but they lack democratic tradition and enlightenment.

Günther
Guest

Chancellor Merkel is coming to Budapest in February to endorse Orban Welt am Sonntag has learnt.

Orban obviously will use this occasion to prove that even Angela Merkel loves him.

He will use the meeting not only in Hungary, but with any politician as a clean bill of political heath.

See, Merkel met with Orban it would be time to meet Cameron again or Sarkozy.

Why Merkel lets herself used by Orban is a mystery.

bereg if you know what it meansi
Guest

Referring to Bálin Magyar sounds a bit weird, if not blatantly crazy. Our dearest Bálint was up to his balls in cocoa stained keyboards and power-brokering or what not? Why don’t you so-called “smart people” (rather smart arses, if you ask me) get stuffed and disappear for good from this small country called Hungary?! Who wants you here? Go and get a life to yourself somewhere else where you might as well become happy, which is probaly a mission impossibele for you. Go and try to teach your values to Palestinians or get youself waterboarded a bit just for the sake of the taste of true democracy.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

bereg, if you really mean what you write then it is nice of you to show how justified it is to speak about the fascist mutation.

buddy
Guest

@bereg Have you actually read Magyar’s book Magyar Polip? I think you should! There are some really good points in it and you could learn a lot. 🙂

Joe Simon
Guest

Utter nonsense by Ungvary.

I spend 4-5 months in Hungary every year.
The quality of political discussions on ATV or ClubRadio is simply unknown in the US or even Canada. PBS or TVO is a distant second. By contrast, on CNN all you get is mostly entertainment news by miniskirted girls with too much makeup.

Power is far more concentrated in the US, for example, than Hungary. The top 1% of Americans own as much wealth (and power) as the bottom 95%. Food for thought!!!
The churches are full, lucky if you get a standing place.

The trouble with Orban is he talks too much. He should follow Mackenzie King’s advice: talk only about motherhood and apple pie.
If anything, there is too much virulent politics in Hungary.

o'magyar
Guest

Intellectual poverty. Moral poverty.

So much depression is floating in the Hungarian puszta and Pest.
Reformers after reformers, freedom fighters after freedom fighters tried to restore justice and happiness to Hungary.
Only the Ferenc Deak team was successful for a short time.
Most parts of this polarized nation has never found it important to establish freedom for all.
The long lines of ugly dictators could turn Hungary repeatedly into barbaric killing fields.

The bereg is beregging there and the rest is history. Let us give up hope. Our szabadsag has not been found there for a long time.

Istvan
Guest
Responding to Joe Simon: There is nothing in either the United States Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence which indicates even the slightest inkling of a thought of wealth equality in my country. Even the right to a public education does not exist in the US Constitution, it does exist to varying degrees in State Constitutions. But overall Simon’s data relating to the USA is not correct and wealth concentration while high is not as extreme as he presents it. The most authoritative source comparing wealth-concentration in the various countries is the successor to the reports that used to be done for the United Nations, now performed as the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook. The 2013 edition of it finds (p. 146) that in the U.S., 75.4% of all wealth is owned by the richest 10% of the people. The comparable figures for the other developed countries are: Australia 50.3%, Canada 57.4%, Denmark 72.2%, Finland 44.9%, France 51.8%, Germany 61.7%, Ireland 58.4%, Israel 68.9%, Italy 49.8%, Japan 49.1%, Netherlands 54.6%, New Zealand 57.6%, Norway 65.9%, Singapore 61.1%, Spain 54.0%, Sweden 71.1%, Switzerland 71.5%, and U.K. 53.3%. Those are the top developed nations, and the U.S. has the most extreme wealth-concentration… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Some people here seem lost. This blog concerns Hungary, not the United States. There are thousands of blogs about American politics and society. I suggest that people who want to comment on American issues visit those blogs, not this one.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

I suggest also to stick to Hungary. Pusztaranger report: Hungarian authorities permited demonstration of neonazi rabble “Nemzeti Gárda” and others against
“Gypsie-criminality”
http://pusztaranger.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/neonazi-aufmarsch-in-nagykata/

yahoo55623
Guest

Below is an excerpt from a new book on Russia.

Does it sound familiar?

With the oh-so-lovely “boys” from Bibo college?

“Instead of seeing Russian politics as an inchoate democratic system being pulled down by history, accidental autocrats, popular inertia, bureaucratic incompetence, or poor Western advice, I conclude that from the beginning Putin and his circle sought to create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal…who used democracy for decoration rather than direction.”

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/how-he-and-his-cronies-stole-russia/

Many voters but especially hopelessly naive Western observers desperately wanted to believe that they were right, that “The West” was superior and democracy will prevail because that’s the natural order of things, like forever-growth in economy, when all the evidence was there for anybody who wanted to look proving the exact opposite.

It’s a good news that at least some, still no too many people are coming to terms with reality.

Lolek i Bolek
Guest

@Webber

They are most definitely not lost, they are trolls (and people feeding the trolls).

It’s a very straighforward tactics: since many readers are from Western-Europe and they are not pro-US and many readers from the US are also critical about their own country to a certain extent, arguments which raise valid American issues can put present day Hungary (the result of Orban’s disastrous regime) in a much more favorable light. Many people can say, if this is the same in the US then this isn’t so bad compared to what I expected from the media coverage of Orban’s regime.

That’s their goal, this is premeditated.

When the US criticised the communist regimes in the 1960’s there was always an apt (but of course ultimately ridiculous) reply “but in America they beat up the negros”. These trolls provide the current version.

Istvan
Guest

Webber this blog is presented to the public by a U.S. citizen resident in the USA, and reflects in my opinion an American Hungarian perspective, although a somewhat refreshing liberal one compared to the norm for American Hungarians in my opinion. Joe Simon’s claims against the USA are indirectly an attempt to discredit Eva and her perspectives, if they are inaccurate they need to be corrected to the extent they can be corrected.

An
Guest

Re: intelligent Fidesz supporters

Some of you wrote about intelligent, educated friends/acquaintances who are adamantly defending Fidesz, no matter what.

While I agree with both Magyar’s and Ungvary’s characterization of the regime, as a social-political system (I really don’t see an irreconcilable contradiction between the two), to understand the psychological profile of how the regime works, I think another analogy would be very useful: the analogy of a cult.

The way Fidesz and Orban was in a crowd of blind followers, and the machinations with which they maintain this following, is not unlike the operations of a religious cult. That explains how for many otherwise intelligent and educated people rationality goes out of the window when it comes to Fidesz. Simply put, rational arguments and facts will not convince these people. I’m afraid that nothing short of a major tragedy would wake these people up.

Member

@An “The way Fidesz and Orban was in a crowd of blind followers, and the machinations with which they maintain this following, is not unlike the operations of a religious cult”

Exactly. The keyword is “belief”. Believe in salvation and don’t let yourself be detered by the evil critics. But while talking to them time to time I have the impression that something sticks. Talking to a Fidesz sympathizer is like explaining something to your teenage kid. To reitarete my previous point, the focus should be on this crowd not on the anatomy of the Orban regime.

Also the Fidesz believers feel part of the system – they are tied to them by their belief. These people will take everything you say about the regime personally. They have a huge moral investment. It’s an addiction.

An
Guest

@Mutt: this article may be helpful when discussing politics

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/05/how-to-win-your-next-political-argument.html

Member

@An
This reminds me on the old guy at the Fidesz HQ in Budapest a few months back: “Do you want a little chloric acid in your face?”
Oh, well … Hungary.

Guest

An: “I’m afraid that nothing short of a major tragedy would wake these people up”

An immense tragedy took its beginning already long time ago when the “state” robbed people of the money that was set aside in personal accounts for their old age. The enormity of the crime dawned on few and it did not seriously alarm the opposition. Inevitably the fate of hundred thousands in their old age will be eviction and starvation. How major a thing is needed to wake people up?.

Joe Simon
Guest

@ Istvan
I disagree.
When HS talks about Hungary, an idealist picture of the US is held up & implied.
Refer to the Princeton 2014 study of the US.
“The majority of American citizens have near-zero impact on public policy”.
Does it mean the Us is a fascist state? Of course not.

spectator
Guest
An and Mutt is right – Fidesz indeed operating like any other sect. Blind faith and unconditional devotion among the main requirements to be a ‘real Fidesnik’. It also means, that from this minute on you’d become a ’true’ Hungarian, a real nationalist and a patriot, a ’true’ christian, a ’true’ conservative – all at once, as like by miracle, believing in Viktor gave you absolution from being a communist, an agent, an ateist or a liberal – all these are “the others” from now on. Not to mention the added benefit: as a Fidesz member you entitled to hate all the others and express your hatred at vill, they will save you from the consequences, you have nothing to worry about – its a bargain, really! And no, it isn’t much about education – I wouldn’t use the word of ‘intelligent’, however – it rather turns around the elementary need of the people to belong to somewhere, and rather belong to a successful group if they decide to. And they will. Mostly the ones with no real personal integrity, mind you, but they do join to the ‘winners of the moment’ in vast numbers. Why and how it happens?… Read more »
spectator
Guest

@Jean P – they’ve been lead to believe that this is the right thing to do, so they didn’t take it as a tragedy, rather as an inevitable part of their life.
Hungarians seldom react the same way any other ‘regular’ nations will – just take a look on our history.

googly
Guest
Joe Simon, You wrote: “Does it mean the Us is a fascist state? Of course not.” Troll you may be, but if you’re not, then you’re not very bright. Your use of the Princeton study is an obvious red herring, and not a very valid one (much like your lies about inequality in the US – when are you going to address what Istvan said about them?). Having near-zero impact by the population on public policy, especially in a very large country like the US, is not indicative of fascism, so why bring it up? There are many other types of political system that create a similar situation, including democracy, where apathy bred from a relatively well-run government can keep people from becoming activists. In the case of the US and other true democracies, people can clearly have an impact if they so choose. In Hungary, they cannot, since the state is completely run by one corrupt party that has no interest in allowing anyone else to impact public policy (the internet tax will reappear eventually, perhaps in another form). That’s the difference, which even a casual observer could see, and is evidence of authoritarianism, at least. Address the valid… Read more »
Guest

Not too much OT:

We visited my wife’s family in Eastern Hungary (looks much worse there than here near Hévíz …) and heard from them about a place surrounded by two walls (!) directly on the road from Törökszentmiklós to Mezötúr that belongs to Orbán’s wife …
Anyone know more about this?

Re the new (and old …) trolls:
Ignore them!
Simple Simon and his observations about the USA though make me laugh sometimes.

googly
Guest
Tinshed, I don’t know if Hungarians are less intelligent than the average nationality, or even less educated (communism can do that to a nation), especially since I’ve never lived in a part of Hungary outside Budapest. However, using 1930’s Germany as an example to disprove this idea does not work. We here in the 21st century have many tools available to us that those Germans did not. The main, most important tool is the history of the latter half of the last century, especially the part that includes the nearly uniform consequences of fascism. Since Italians and Germans from that era had no way to know what would befall them, they can be forgiven for thinking that fascism might work well for their respective nations. Hungarians, however, have the benefit of hindsight to see that in every case until now, systems that followed in the footsteps of those countries have all eventually met an unpleasant end to their fascist (or fascist-;like) experiments. This is the question I have for those who vote for Fidesz and Jobbik: when has your method of governance ever worked? In evoking Turkey, Russia, and China, Orbán sidestepped the issue, but those countries are all doing… Read more »
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