Fidesz versus Jobbik: Not much difference

Few things can annoy me more than reading in the foreign press or in political analyses that the Orbán government is “conservative.” Take, for instance, the otherwise admirable report prepared by the Congressional Research Service for the hearing organized by the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. It refers to the Hungarian government, Fidesz, as conservative and calls Jobbik a “relatively new, far-right ultranationalist party.” Unfortunately, both descriptions miss the mark–the latter by a little, the former by a lot.

The word “conservative” has many meanings, but all of them stress that the aim of a conservative, be it an individual or a party, is to preserve established customs and values. Even without knowing anything about the recent history of Fidesz and the Orbán government, one ought to remember the speech of Viktor Orbán, made after the party’s stunning victory in 2010, in which he claimed that what happened was a “revolution.” Surely, revolution and conservatism are not bedfellows. And if the victory was a revolution in the voting booths, what has happened since has been a constitutional and administrative revolution, turning the whole constitutional setup and state administration topsy-turvy and transforming Hungarian democracy into a full-blown autocracy, Putin-style. It is time to recognize that Fidesz is a far-right party which has nothing whatsoever to do with conservatism.

By the same token, Jobbik is not just a “far-right ultranationalist party,” as the Congressional Research Service claims, but a racist one as well. Otherwise, Fidesz and Jobbik are pretty much ideological twins. Foreign observers often compare Jobbik to France’s National Front, which is a mistake. Fidesz is the National Front of Hungary. Here I will attempt to show that by now the programs and ideology of the two parties are practically indistinguishable.

Sharper observers, for example Paul Lendvai, noted already in 2012 that the only difference between Fidesz and Jobbik is “the volume and the sharpness of the text. Fundamentally they think similarly about the tragic events of Hungarian history” and the desired future for Hungary. By now, more and more analysts share Lendvai’s assessment, mostly because in the last six years, little by little, Viktor Orbán has carried out practically the entire Jobbik program of 2010. Jobbik didn’t have to be in power to realize its program. Fidesz was good enough to oblige.

Jobbik kormany “In the name of the people” they proposed ten measures that would constitute their first tasks once in power. Since then, Fidesz has fulfilled eight out of the ten. A good list of Jobbik demands and Fidesz responses to these demands can be found in Policy Solutions’ analysis of the Hungarian far right. Jobbik promised to lower taxes, to save the Forex debtors, to nationalize utility companies and thus decrease utility costs, to tax the multinational companies, to lower the pensions of former communist cadres, to introduce public works instead of financial assistance, to prevent foreign ownership of land, and to give citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar? Fidesz obliged. Only two demands haven’t been met: the repeal of the right of immunity for members of parliament and the establishment of a gendarmerie. Both are small potatoes.

But that’s not all. It was Jobbik that demanded the discontinuation of private pension plans and the incorporation of their assets into the state social security fund. Fidesz promptly “stole” the private savings of about 3.5 million people. Jobbik demanded the mention of Hungary’s Christian roots in the new constitution. It was done. Jobbik called for the removal of Mihály Károlyi’s statue from its place in front of the parliament. Achieved. Jobbik demanded the removal of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name from the square in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The president of the Academy got the dirty job of carrying out this task. Jobbik wanted to declare June 4, the day the Treaty  of Trianon was signed, a “national memorial day.” Done. Jobbik considered the earlier government’s “servile attitude toward” the EU unacceptable and “was ready to confront Brussels, if necessary, on some national issues.” The last six years of the Orbán government have been spent in constant confrontation with the European Union. It’s time to wake up. As a blogger said the other day, “It has been Gábor Vona [of Jobbik] who has been governing Hungary” for the last six years.

Back in November 2009 I was asked to give a short talk on the Hungarian far right. In my speech I argued that the difference between Jobbik and Fidesz was minimal. I said: “In general, there are just too many signs that the messages of Jobbik and Fidesz are not radically different from one another. It is also becoming increasingly clear that supporters of the two parties overlap. It seems to me that on most fronts Fidesz says the same things as Jobbik but in a slightly more civilized manner.” If that was true then, as I believe it was, it is ten times more true today. Moreover, since Vona decided to adopt a less radical tone in the hope of gaining greater voter acceptance for Jobbik, even what Paul Lendvai called “the volume and the sharpness of the text” has more or less disappeared between the two parties. Vona lowered his voice, Orbán turned up the volume.

There is the misconception, often expressed in opinion pieces in the German, French, and American media, that any criticism of Viktor Orbán’s policies is dangerous because it is Fidesz that is the bulwark against the spread of the neo-Nazi party. I understand that Fidesz propaganda would like us to believe that they are the ones who will defend us from the horrors of a racist, extremist, ultra-nationalist party forming a government in the heart of the European Union. But the history of Fidesz and the Orbán government in the last six years has demonstrated that these two parties see eye to eye on almost everything–from history to the European Union to foreign capital. Viktor Orbán never once tried to stand up against rising extremism or what Jobbik stands for. No, as a matter of fact, he constantly stokes the fire with his intemperate speeches. To expect this man to save Hungary from Jobbik’s extremism is the greatest folly I can think of.

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Bill Benjamin
Guest

I am surprised you are amazed that the Congressional Research Service’s report is misleading of the political situation in Hungary. Both houses of congress are controlled by the conservative Republicans. This is the party that has made voting for minorities and others very difficult. They believe that freedom of religion applies only to Christians. They are homophobic, anti-woman and believe in the death penalty. Income inequality is a burden only the poor should suffer. Dana Rohrabacher, subcommittee chair is a supporter of Putin, as you have mentioned. Many of the positions taken by Fidesz and Jobbick fit neatly into what these conservative Republicans, especially the Tea Party members, would like to see in the U.S.

András Göllner
Guest

Éva is absolutely right and her position should be expressed forcefully more often. FIDESZ’ political and economic strategy has nothing in common with Conservatism as we know it. It is zealosly interventionist, and does not respect the rules of fair competition either in the economy or the political realms. It is not an advocate of limited role for the State but sees the State as an agent of social change. And its interventions reach deeply into the realms of religious life as well. It has taken upon itself the right to decide which Christian creed is permissable and which is not. It is a neo-fascist predatory State, the anti-thesis of Conservatism.

spectator
Guest

“…does not respect the rules of fair competition..”

In my opinion they don’t respect any rule, not even their own, as soon as it serves their interest. No wonder, the example on the highest level proves: they are right, it works, they got away with it, every time!

Just who’s gonna stop them, anyway?

googly
Guest
András Göllner, It’s obvious, however, that when people describe Fidesz as conservative, they are not talking about their economic policies, but their social, cultural, and societal policies. The term “conservative” means different things in different countries, of course, based on the history of that particular country. The Conservative Party in the UK has social and economic policy agendas that are almost a mirror image of Fidesz, yet they where in the same grouping in the EU parliament. Everything is relative. When you wrote: ” It is a neo-fascist predatory State, the anti-thesis of Conservatism”, I thought for a moment that you had clearly identified the issue, then I realised that you are saying something very confusing for me. Wasn’t fascism considered by most people who experienced it to be conservative in the political sense? Or are you referring to the idea that that fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany were radical departures, politically speaking, from the political culture prevalent at the time? It seems to me that both ideologies (which are virtually two strains of the same thing) were conservative answers to communism and socialism (no need to discuss the fact that these two latter ideologies are often viewed… Read more »
Elek Tokfalvi
Guest

Dear Professor Balogh,
as for Jobbik’s ten points being realized, let me remind you of your own posting from December 2011, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/12/12/jobbiks-campaign-promises-are-being-fulfilled-by-fidesz/ . As you noted then, the discovery (which has recently re-emerged in the neo-communist blog A Mi Időnk without mentioning it was Jobbik’s 2010 program), was originally made by the blogger calling himself Elek Tokfalvi three-and-a-half years ago and published on the site hvg.hu.

Webber
Guest

Minor typo in the above: “to introduce public works” should be “work” without the s.

Guest

That there is not much difference between Jobbik and Fidesz becomes even more obvious if you listen to Fideszniks in private – or on sites like politics.hu!

And now the good news:
This has become well known in Europe – many politicians in the EPP have already distanced themselves from Orbán and Fidesz after his latest outbursts on the death penalty etc.

Member

That is certainly good news. However many of us wonder why it takes so long to realize the obvious. The history of german nazi party should be one of the lessons learnt forever: democracy is vulnerable, its mechanism does not automatically guarantee its being retained.

Guest

More good news (though not from Hungary unfortunately):
In Spain the Conservatives had heavy losses in the local elections – after a long run of power people voted them out in Barcelona e g
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/spains-indignados-ada-colau-elections-mayor-barcelona?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

Member

There is one marked difference which stems from being on power. Fidesz functions like a classic mafia. Most of us not too curious as to how Jobbik would compare in this respect, though.

Lubos
Guest

A mafia even more closely supervised by Moscow and by Hungarian deep state elements.

Alex Kuli
Guest

Eva — I agree entirely with your point that Fidesz has nothing to do with modern-day conservatism. At the same time, I do believe that conservatives can be revolutionaries if they seek to replace an existing order with a new scheme based upon conservative values. Let’s not forget that the fathers of American conservatism, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, were also revolutionaries.

István
Guest
It is my opinion that the Derek Mix document produced by the Congressional Research Service reflects part of the underlying analysis of the CIA’s Office of Russian and European Analysis (OREA). Needless to say only publicly available documents are cited in the Mix document. But there is little doubt Mr. Mix was debriefed by CIA analysts and depending on Mr. Mix’s own security clearance level to a greater or lesser degree of detail. Why would the CIA see Fidesz as conservative but Jobbik as a “far-right ultranationalist” party? Primarily because of their analysis of the penetration and possibly indirect funding of the Russian SVR RF. This issue has been discussed before on this blog. (See http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/03/30/is-viktor-orbans-foreign-policy-jobbik-inspired/?cid=95566) An American political scientist Mitchel A. Orenstein claims this also in his article “Putin’s Western Allies” in the influential media source Foreign Affairs. He is an associate of the Center for European Studies and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and has direct relationships with US security officals. There is similar penetration of so called far right parties in other Central European nations and even in Greece. Jobbik is I suspect seen as highly penetrated by SVR whereas Fidesz… Read more »
Jon Van Til
Guest
Guest

Thanks!
That article really describes the basics of Orbánism etc – but it doesn’t help much however with fighting against it.

Sometimes I despair because so many people are so easily fooled all the time …
However what’s not mentioned explicitly in the article imho:

These “velvet dictators” seem to flourish only in countries without experience in democracy – so again Hungary etc are 50 years behind the “West”, it seems.

Zoltán Bretter
Guest
Though I agree with the great bulk of your article, there is one aspect in which Fidesz or rather Orbán might be called a “conservative”: if we consider him belonging to the very heterogeneous family of conservative revolutionary movement of the beginning of the 20th Century. According to one of their main ideologues, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck envisaged the establishment of a “Third Reich” for Germany and influenced to a considerable degree the Nazi ideology. He advocated authoritarianism, fierce nationalism, anti-Western feelings and an almighty State and sought a new form of social justice. He died in 1925, so no possibility of knowing his later stance on national socialism. But we do know that Carl Schmitt, belonging to the same stream became the member of Hitler’s party celebrating the burning of jewish books, becoming Kronjurist and defending Hitler’s dictatorship. (Of course he is much sophisticated than a simple Nazi, so even fell in disgrace at some point and deserves careful analysis.) And now to the point before I make a complete list 🙂 We know that Viktor Orbán has been influenced by Carl Schmitt and learned about him trough his professor, the late György Bence. I am convinced that… Read more »
Dezsőbátyám
Guest
Spot on. People were laughing at the term “revolution in the voting booths” and now even Orban denies that there was a revolution. However, there indeed was a revolution in many ways, Orban – on top of rearranging the entire state system – absolutely succeeded to sack the previous elite especially in the economic area. There are no “leftist”, liberal, left-leaning businesspeople (from which to raise donations) any more, its an empty set. A new leftist opposition would have no choice but to solicit money from Simicska and Csanyi. Plus, Budapest where the leftist elite resides was made totally irrelevant in the new election system. Orban is best understood as a revolutionary figure even though he would like to deny that — also in order to sell the changes as superficial, normal, nothing special, so liberals would not be worried. The denial of the revolutionary changes in power is a trick to make the anyway clueless leftist opposition to accept the reality as the new normal, the new baseline. The new baseline is thus not some theoretic democratic ideal, it’s “the NER” with hundreds of entrenched people all over the state/courts/prosecution, dozens of newly minted gazillioniares and cultural strongmen (like… Read more »
István
Guest

The U.S. Government gives the title of conservative to Fidesz today to indicate that Orban’s government is not beyond the pale and the Jobbik are based on the immediate strategic interests of the USA. I think it does not represent any type of deeper political analysis than that. This happens all the time in relation to US foreign policy.

For example in August 2004 US forces fought in the streets of Najaf Iraq against the Shite militia called the Mahdi Army, but today the Shite militia is all that stands between the Islamic State and the full collapse of Iraq. Now these same Shite forces that killed members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the Polish-led Multinational Division Central-South are called friendly forces. I think Eva is giving the Congressional Research Service too much credit in how labels are assigned to political entities beyond our borders. Today’s good guy can be tomorrow’s bad guy, or visa versa.

googly
Guest
Eva, I would differ slightly with what you wrote about conservatism. You wrote: “The word ‘conservative’ has many meanings, but all of them stress that the aim of a conservative, be it an individual or a party, is to preserve established customs and values.” I would change that to “preserve or re-institute historically established customs and values”, or turn back the clock, which is what Fidesz and Jobbik are succeeding in doing (Jobbik is succeeding by pressuring the government to adopt their retrograde policies). You also wrote: “Surely, revolution and conservatism are not bedfellows.” Maybe not, but counter-revolutions are almost always the bailiwick of conservatives, so maybe that’s what Orbán meant. Since there was not really a revolution in Hungary in the 1940’s, however, maybe the word “revolution” really is more accurate than “counter-revolution”, despite the supposed ideology. Either way, I would characterise what happened in 2010 as more of a putsch, since the voters themselves probably didn’t know what they were in for, as evidenced by the 2014 election. I would also argue that the demands made by Jobbik were meant to be palatable to the largest number of people possible, so it might be that, once in power,… Read more »
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