The present political system, introduced and refined over the last five years, has wide support. Not as wide as it was in April-May 2010, but Viktor Orbán’s party still has about one million followers. This is the hardcore, those who will never question the wisdom of the Leader. Where are these people coming from? This is the question Rudolf Ungváry is trying to answer in this book.

NyugatHe focuses on the divide between the two political groups who, to use János Kis’s words, “have been at war with each other in the last one hundred years.” Ungváry avoids the by now practically meaningless terms “right” and “left”and instead draws the line between “democrats” and the “nemzetiek.” The former at one point were called “nyugatosok” after a famous periodical Nyugat (The West) around which they gathered. Later, between the two world wars, they were known as “urbánosok” (urbanites). They were the ones who believed in progress, they longed for western democracy, they wanted to modernize the country. The other group, the nationalists, have been suspicious of the West ever since the late eighteenth century. They rejected the imitation of western ways. Instead they glorified the common folk, especially the Hungarian peasant, who in their eyes held the key to the true Hungarian soul. It was from this group that the so-called “népiesek” came, a group of writers and sociologists who spent their creative energies writing novels and studies about the Hungarian peasantry. This latter group can be profitably compared to the Russian narodnik movement. And continuing to use Russia as a point of reference, the Hungarian divide between these two groups is analogous to the nineteenth-century Russian Westernizer and Slavophile movements.

Because of the relative backwardness of Hungary, the liberal group remained small even as, especially after the end of World War I, the Hungarian right gained considerable momentum. These people were never enamored of the West, but their dislike of Western ways intensified since they blamed the western powers for the cruel fate that befell their nation. The number of civil groups formed by extreme right-wingers multiplied. The people who gathered in these associations were sworn enemies of liberalism, they harbored a real hatred of the Hungarian industrialists who were mostly of Jewish origin, they were against modernization, they put their faith in the Hungarian peasantry, and above all they wanted to reconquer their land from the Jews. Some of them imagined a “third road” which would enable Hungary to create a unique system which was neither capitalism nor socialism. The incredible thing about all this is that these concepts, which people thought had long been forgotten, were revived after the change of regime. The “népiesek,” “nemzetiek” gathered in MDF while the “nyugatosok,” “urbanites” established SZDSZ. And there was even talk about the “third road,” naturally promoted by politicians of MDF.

Ungváry analyzes the results of the 1939 election, which proved to be an eye opener. According to a law enacted in 1925, only inhabitants of larger cities could vote by secret ballot. In the villages voting was open. In 1938, the secret ballot was introduced everywhere. The result was an incredible growth of the extreme right Arrow Cross Party of Ferenc Szálasi. On the right there was also a large group of voters whom we usually refer to as “the Christian middle class” or “keresztény úri osztály.” The liberals and socialists were in the great minority all through the interwar period, but after 1939 they became truly irrelevant. And yet a few years later this large mass of right-wing voters disappeared into thin air. Or did they?

With the Soviet occupation and the subsequent establishment of the Rákosi regime the members of the Hungarian right had no place in political life. Right-wing parties were forbidden to enter the early post-war elections, and therefore the proponents of the Hungarian right couldn’t go through the kind of development that took place in countries occupied by U.S., British, or French troops. The ideas of the Hungarian right became frozen in their pre-1945 form, only to reemerge after 1990 to the great surprise of liberals and socialists. And with their reemergence came the growth of the extreme right, anti-Semitism, anti-capitalism, and anti-democratic ideas.

Members of the Hungarian right carried on the “nemzeti” tradition within their own families, passing on to their offspring family traditions, including stories of the grievances they suffered at the hands of the communists. A lot of people felt they were victims of the regime, perhaps more than the actual numbers warranted. Family stories became inflated. Suddenly everybody had a peasant grandfather whose whole crop was taken away by force. These are the people that today are the loyal followers of Viktor Orbán, whose own family was not a victim but rather a beneficiary of the socialist system.

Rudolf Ungváry in his other works often talks about the fact that Hungary was and still is a country where the “nemzeti” right-wing people are in the majority. A few years back he engaged in a lively debate about this thesis with such academics as János Kis and Zoltán Ripp. If we accept Ungváry’s division of the two political sides as “democrats” and “nemzetiek,” then I’m afraid the “democrats/liberals” were definitely a minority before 1945. What the situation is today we don’t know, although within a couple of years we should have a fair idea of the relative strength of the democrats and the non-democrats.

Ungváry stresses the importance of political culture, which determines the state of a political system. Although the Hungarian democratic tradition has been weak so far, perhaps one day Hungarians will be able to say loud and clear: “I am … a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country; and the least appearance of an encroachment on those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil exceedingly.” It was the sixteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin who uttered these words in 1722. It is that kind of political culture which has been missing in Hungary.

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Parts of the book appeared as essays in “Élet és Iro­da­lom” and “Moz­gó Vi­lág”

part 1,2 & 3: Élet és Iro­da­lom
part 4:
part 5:


Ok, here is another typical Fidesz supporter outburst when they are cornered: “Do you want Gyurcsany to come back?”. I heared the same argument recently from a state employee, 40 something with two degrees and from an elderly farmer, 60 something, no degree.

That’s where we are.

I’m sure our little Duce will enjoy Ungvary’s book. That’s what he wants after all. To be treated as a controversial history figure instead of a common thief. So we don’t look at his real motives. Orban is not interested in ideology – his game is to stuff his pockets and cash his chips before he ends up on a lamp post. It worked in 1990. Let the political changes sweep you away and enjoy your riches. We are actually lucky with this prick. Kover for instance is ideological. He would be the real disaster.

Csaba K. Zoltani

Juveniles, when they run out of ideas often resort to calling their adversaries names that they associate with undesirable characteristics. Today, politicians resort to the same technique calling their opponents fascistic or even belonging to a mafia state. Very few could define what they really mean by these designations or exactly what these terms mean and even fewer can provide verifiable proof that indeed the designation is appropriate.

Reading of this terminology in political pronouncements remind one of the work of the Belgian Rene Magritte who challenged preconceived notions of reality with paintings where ordinary objects represented something else. His Elective Affinities reminds the viewer of possible “magnificent error” in that one sees something else than what is represented.
As he showed, calling something by a chosen name does not remake the true nature of an object. In fact, one can call anything by any name but that does not transform it into something else.

Political concepts evolve, one may disagree with the direction of evolution, but in a tolerant society the means of evolution needs to be discussed, but name calling will hardly lead to a better and more humane societal structure.


@Csaba It’s time to call a spade spade. If you read the previous post and Laszlo Kalman’s post 4 years ago, you should see they go point by point comparing Orban’s little racket to the Duce’s Italy. Try to argue those remarks instead of calling us juveniles.

tinshed (@tinshed)

Those who interested in this debate may be interested in a paper entitled, “Back to the Future? Revolution of the Right in Hungary” by Jason Wittenberg from the University of California, Berkeley. He argues that while there are similarities between the inter-war period with its authoritarianism and the current regime, there is little evidence that the country is becoming dictatorial. Key differences in the international context between the two periods render a future return to traditional dictatorship unlikely. Not sure I agree, but Wittenberg poses some interesting questions. It was written before the recent elections so perhaps underestimates the consolidation of a de facto one-party state. Without checks and balances, power continues to corrupt those who can exercise it unfettered.

Link to paper is below.

There are two identifiable groups in Hungarian history 1.The Hungarian haters / collaborators 2. The Hungarians The Hungarian haters have a very deep hatred for Hungarians, often they call them “peasant” and similar derogatory terms. They believe that Hungarians are inferior in every way and thus incapable of self-government. They always want Hungary to be ruled by non-Hungarians that is the most important feature of group 1. That it was Austrian rule, Soviet rule is not important. The important that it is non-Hungarian. These are the people who celebrated the Trianon treaty as well because in many ways it “solved” 70% of the “problem” and for 70% of Hungary it ensured that the rulers will always be non-Hungarian. The first group, the Hungarian haters always aims to put some outside power in control. They expect the problems of the country to be solved by an outside force such as the Soviet Union, Habsburg Empire, or any other outside force they can find really. Thus they happily collaborate with any outside power to achieve their goals. The tragedy of Hungarian history is that while the collaborator group was often smaller, they could still get into power by the help of outside… Read more »

@jimmy I totally agree! Group number one perfectly fits Orban and the Fidesz! With the help of the Russians they want opress Hungarians, stuff their pockets and destroy democracy on the way! They are hated by the majority and their group is small. Thanks Jimmy. We could not have sad it better!


The Hungary haters care for the future of the Hungarians.

The less proud nemzeti/voelkisch/chauvinist Hungarians are searching for a szalasi replacement.

Are we the eternal shame of this universe?

Was it the plan of St. Istvan?


“Rudolf Ungváry in his other works often talks about the fact that Hungary was and still is a country where the “nemzeti” right-wing people are in the majority.”

But this misses an important piece of the puzzle. I disagree that today’s right wing would be the same as the pre-1945 one. It is only the rhetoric that survived, and maybe the symbols and the language. The content, however, got replaced to a great extent. The classic right-wing was much closer to the traditional meaning of the word, the pre-1945 elite would have been repulsed by the centralization efforts, the corruption, and the borderline communist approach to the economy. No, Orbán is Kádár’s successor pretending to have continuity with the Horthy era on the surface. He provides for the people who emotionally hated the Kádár-regime, but secretly enjoyed it and now can get the best of both worlds.


“He provides for the people who emotionally hated the Kádár-regime, but secretly enjoyed it”

This is actually a very good point. But he also caters to the Horthyist, the Triananon maniacs, the anti-Semites, the religious zealots, the you-name-it. There is no such thing as the Orban regime is a continuation of anything. For him and his crew the country is just a cash cow.

Hungarian political culture is primitive, hidebound and deeply corrupt across the entire political spectrum. A mix of the Balkans and Ukraine. The vast majority of Hungarians are “nemzetiek” (nationalists), essentially national socialists of various hues. The small minority that Ungváry calls “democrats” are essentially elitist champaigne socialists of international orientation, big on egalitarianism in theory, but just as unequal and corrupt in practice as the other side. Besides, they could not work their way out of a brown paper bag even if they tried, and are quite hapless in tackling the crafty and totally unscrupulous politics of Orbán and his gang. Not to mention Jobbik that runs circles around bleeding heart socialists of all colours on the left ,among stuck-in-the-mud peasantry, manual laborers, lumpenproletariat and the lower middle class that make up the vast majority of Hungary’s population. What is missing entirely from the political palette of Hungary is sensible, non-nationalist, non-socialist, non-elitist cosmopolitan pro-market conservatism that respects its opposition and is capable of productively working with it, and there is no hope that this type of political orientation could ever take root in Hungary because there is absolutely no constituency for this among the vast majority of opinion forming… Read more »

Who exacly are these “hungarian haters”? Could Jimmy describe who they are and in what way they hate Hungary?

tinshed (@tinshed)
Jano – I agree. The current regime’s enthusiasm for control, centralization and state-ownership of resources is classic ‘statist’ behaviour that many on today’s Left, outside of Hungary, applaud. If you read the comments on The Guardian whenever they write about FIDESZ’s latest attempts at controlling the banks, nationalizing pension funds or heavily taxing media, then you find a level of support that is surprising – given the overall illiberal nature of the regime. Many readers of The Guardian seem to openly admire what Orbán is doing as it seems to play to their antiüestablishment sentiments. This is a very radical regime – FIDESZ has undertaken a program of fast and massive change that aims to overhaul the previous political, cultural and social order. Orbán himself talks of revolution. A classic conservative, like myself, is appalled at the speed and gratuitous nature of change instituted by FIDESZ. No good will come of it – it never does. In this respect there is a definite continuity between Kadar and Orbán. I also liked you comment that on the surface Orbán seems more like Horthy yet underneath is more Kadar-like, thus allowing opponents of the previous Communist regime to have the best of… Read more »
Jano, there is no missing puzzle. The népiesek are really against modernization or the term “modern” in any form. That means they are against capitalism and communism which are seen as foreign concepts brought into Hungary “by the Jews”. And according to them, Jews are not “Hungarians” and never will be. They are Jews. These “isms” are not a natural development in their view. They essentially think that Hungary’s history was derailed in the last part of 19th century with the (belated) industrialization/modernization and now somehow we have to go back to the path which would have been the natural course of history without modernization and the influence of the West (whether as soft power or a peace dictatum). This is crazy, but capitalism has a very hard time in Hungary. Hungary doesn’t have easily exploitable natural resources (not even black coal to be used in energy production). This means that even to switch on the power stations to produce any widget, Hungary needs to indebt itself because the gas, nuclear energy etc. must be first imported. Any know-how the Hungarian companies had became obsolete by the 1950’s, from then on Hnugarian industry gradually became totally uncompetitive so now it’s… Read more »

Csaba K. Zoltani: “As he showed, calling something by a chosen name does not remake the true nature of an object. In fact, one can call anything by any name but that does not transform it into something else.”

It is amazing how defenders of Orban/Fidesz fail to test their arguments on the very cause they are defending.

The Orban/Fidesz basic law calls Hungary a Christian nation. This does not impress Christian behaviour on the Hungarians.

Orban/Fidesz call robbery of pension funds, real estate and immaterial rights all sorts of soothing names. It remains robbery.

Orban/Fidesz call their guiding principle ”the interest of the nation”. It is still nothing else than the interest of Orban/Fidesz.

Orban/Fidesz can call anything by any name but that does not transform it into something else.

Mike Balint, You wrote: “…respects its opposition and is capable of productively working with it” Can you productively work with a thief who wants nothing more than to take everything you have, and who treats any compromise as a weakness and an opening for further atttacks? I believe that the “opposition” to Fidesz, such as it is, has already worked with Fidesz, and has suffered as a result. The only way to restore Hungary to democracy and development is to put Fidesz out of business as a mafia state. You also wrote: “there is no hope that this type of political orientation could ever take root in Hungary because there is absolutely no constituency for this among the vast majority of opinion forming and opinion leading teachers, journalists and media people in Hungary.” Of course there is a constituency, just as in any other nation. Pretending that a specific group of people are incapable of understanding and choosing democracy is much the same as saying that a specific racial group is incapable of learning and becoming civilised, which is gross, uninformed racism. Hungary was well on its way to becoming a healthy democracy, then the financial crisis struck and Fidesz… Read more »
Bendeguz, Sorry, but your arguments are weak and not supported. Your assertion that “Hungarians don’t speak foreign languages” may have been more true under communism, but that was probably government policy (everyone had to study Russian, which very few wanted to study), and is certainly not true now. If you talk to young people, you will see that a surprising number of them have learned English or German, since these are the “hot” languages to learn, and there is another large group of people who have learned all manner of foreign languages: the ones who have moved away from Hungary. Convince them to return, and you will have a very multi-lingual society. Continue with the current policies, and as many of them who can will stay away forever, but the majority of them will be forced to move back to Hungary after the EU expels us, and will be compelled to learn the language of our new masters, Russian (one of the great ironies of history, szerintem). Meanwhile, how many Americans, Australians, Canadians, English and Irish speak foreign languages? That hasn’t kept them from forging strong democracies and dynamic economies. Hungarian industry is deemed competitive enough to attract a large… Read more »
@Googly – I’m sorry, but I must doubt that you have ever have been to China. Hungary and China are not even in the same category. Hungary’s competitive industrial base is owned entirely by foreign corporations (China has these types of companies and in fact many more than we have from those in Hungary), there is no competitive indigenous industry perhaps, I agree, with the exception of pharmaceuticals/chemicals. In semiconductors, to use just one example, China has an unparalleled eco-system in production (in Shenchen) similar to the Silicon-valley. Once it has been built out, due to the so-called network effect nobody can outcompete these centres of innovation. There’s nothing genetic in Hungary’s being a laggard, and I never said anything like that. However, there are serious geographic and historical issues at play which you overlook. While it’s true that the Americans or Canadians don’t speak foreign languages they don’t have to because they speak the lingua franca of the current days. Small and open markets can’t afford to behave like that. America has a huge domestic market and Canada and Australia both have enormous natural endowments (like Quatar does), they too can afford not to speak other languages. I like… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Interesting series. I do agree that in every country, some political ideas have a very long lifespan (political science in France still discusses the division of the right-wing between Orleanists, Legitimists and Bonapartists, categories related to the mid-19th century period). However, as much as I believe that the communist regimes in Central Europe did ‘freeze’ public debate to some extent, I’m not so sure they froze the evolution of political ideas and the sociological forces behind them. Mostly because the regimes, as totalitarian (in the sense that they pretended to build a new, total reality) as they claimed to be, eventually had to deal with the said sociological forces, and with the economy. The history of agriculture policies in communist Poland and Hungary seems a good example. Consequently, as much as I think that invoking the pre-1939 ideological divides is essential, I also think that a study of how these divides had repercussions on Hungarian policies between 1945 and 1989 cannot be avoided – and that this point cannot be dismissed with the ‘victimhood’ card, as it is so often the case with Fidesz supporters. Hence, I side with all those who think that what is going on in Hungary… Read more »
Thanks everybody for the really interesting discussion – I also think bendeguz has some real points. Though hee in Western Hungary it’s true that the young people learn English, that’s usually the end for them. And I know from my wife’s relatives in the East that the situation there is really grim, no learning (no good teachers), no jobs, no new businesses – those plants owned by the “foreign devils” are the exception, not the rule. Btw and OT, but maybe funny: When I was in Japan in1988 one evening we went to a restaurant where mainly Japanese in black suites and with ties (only males!) were feasting and drinking a lot. Our host told us that these guys were still at work, discussing their companies’ businesses – it was kind of obligatory to not go home after normal business hours … As we were leaving one of them (really drunk) stumbled upon us and said “in a loud whisper”, so we could understand it: Ah, those foleign devils … Back to business in Hungary: We took the whole family to a restaurant (my wife’s birthday) and afterwards talked a bit with the proprietor who said that in the last… Read more »

Re: “The Hungary haters”

Well, when someone said something negative about Adolf Hitler – was he immediately labeled a “Germany hater” 80 years ago?

Re the trolls here:

They’re usually rather easy to identify! We all go OT from time to time, but the comments of these (expletive deleted) are almost always off topic! I really recommend this article on logical fallacies from the Nizkor project which describes their modus operandi, aka Kindergarten logic:

Joe Simon

I agree with Ungváry: Hungary needs a more mature political culture.
Economically Hungary was devastated by decades of socialistic practices.
Impatient, driven by daily economic concerns, many people look for simple solutions offered by Jobbik. The liberal, nemzeti divisions are overemphasized by Ungváry.
As an aside, I wonder what Benjamin Franklin would say of present US conditions.

I read Eva’s summary of the study and I was left wondering about this passage: “With the Soviet occupation and the subsequent establishment of the Rákosi regime the members of the Hungarian right had no place in political life. Right-wing parties were forbidden to enter the early post-war elections, and therefore the proponents of the Hungarian right couldn’t go through the kind of development that took place in countries occupied by U.S., British, or French troops. The ideas of the Hungarian right became frozen in their pre-1945 form, only to reemerge after 1990 to the great surprise of liberals and socialists. And with their reemergence came the growth of the extreme right, anti-Semitism, anti-capitalism, and anti-democratic ideas.” I do not know about the evolution of conservative and right wing ideology in the Hungarian emigrant communities in Canada, New Zeland, Austria, or the UK during communist rule, but I have some awareness of the evolution here I the USA. A serious academic study of this evolution in the USA needs to be done. Because my family were early emigrants prior to WWII and retained deep cultural ties to the community via religion some changes became obvious during the later 1950s and… Read more »

The article missed two essential point. Namely that, according to Ungvary, the present right-wing, and in general the customary fascistoid structure has its main purpose as a “rebellion” against democracy.
The other is the clear effort on the part of the Orban system, to cover up its fascistic nature, by keeping up the facade of the hollowed-out democratic institutions, and hiding behind them, while preventing them from functioning.
I must also point out, although it is more a conjecture than a fact, that the adulation of peasantry on the part of the fascistoid ruling elite sprung from the desire to have a large mass of people at their disposal whom they can rule over, without any resistance. The present intent of the reorganized education system aims at the same goal.

@ googly, December 1, 2014 at 3:45 I hope for your sake and for the sake of all Hungarians that your rosy perspective on your country’s potential would sooner or later prove to be both correct and valid. As to the two points that you have chosen to take issue with, I can only say that you seem to have deliberately misconstrued the intent of both. As to the first, I completely agree with your point about Fidesz, whose very name is a ridiculous lie (Alliance of Young Democrats [sic!]). But tell me, are “democratic” opposition groups in Hungary capable of productively working even with one another? And don’t the “parliamentary” opposition parties on the left serve hadly more than “democratic” figleafs for Orbán’s “constitutional” maffia state? To an outsider like me, it seems that the eight most salient characteristics of Hungarian political culture are vicious quarellsomeness (összeférhetetlenség), obsessive whinging (panaszkultúra), “let the neighbour’s cow croak” (“dögöljön a szomszéd tehene”), systematic backstabbing (módszeres fúrás), hidebound ignorance (bornírt tudatlanság), and profound anti-capitalism, antisemitism and xenophobia. A capacity for productively and harmoniously working with each other does not appear to be a very common social virtue among Hungarians, and unsurprisingly, their politics… Read more »

small correction, end of third paragraph:

….and in any case a Hungarian accusing others of “gross, uninformed racism” is a little bit like a a pot calling the kettle black.


I feel this explanation and characterization of the differing political groupings in Hungary is the best I have seen, and really explains the perceptions and views of so many in the country. Among may things, I would be really curious on some comparative insights. In Poland, PIS really seems to tap in to the same vein as FIDESZ and also harks back to an earlier, nativist and populist politics. What, however, explains the success in Poland of the PO and a more Tory like traditional conservatism, that has no place or footing in Hungary? Similarly, the recent election for President in Romania (though I am less famiiar with this situation) also seems to suggest a more traditional conservative type politics has resonance in Romania.

Karl Pfeifer

Hungary today is according to my opinion rather a postcommunist Maffiastate than fascist.
Therefore, the motif of Orbán & Co. is not to install a fascist regime, but to make sure that they do not have to return the stolen goods.
Orbán and Fidesz are competing for an ultraright segment of voters and Fidesz near Media like Echo TV, Magyar Hirlap, and Demokrata is anti-Semitic and racist. In a way, which is similar to development during the late 30ies in Hungary. However, and this is the difference to the Horthy regime, they also try to have some alibi, like the Lantos institute and other government actions. The main thing for Orbán & Co is to get rich, whatever the cost to Hungarian society.