Tag Archives: Hungarian far-right

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.

Outrageous police reaction to crimes against the Hungarian Roma

Today’s topic is the Hungarian police’s decision not to investigate the attack on a Roma family in Devecser, one of the villages that earlier fell victim to the red sludge that covered acres and acres of land around a factory producing aluminum. I didn’t deal with this specific incident except as one in a series of anti-Roma attacks by far-right groups during the summer of 2012. However, here is a description of what happened on August 5, 2012 from The Economist. “You are going to die here,” shouted members of a 1,000-strong march as they stopped at houses they thought were a home to Roma, hurling their water bottles and stones to emphasize their point.” The Economist also mentioned that “not a peep of condemnation [came] from Fidesz.”

Ever since that time the Hungarian police have been investigating, taking their sweet time trying to ascertain whether a crime of incitement against the Roma minority occurred in Devecser. One would think that it shouldn’t take a year to come to the conclusion that inciting a crowd to kill people is a crime. But it seems that in Hungary it takes the police a year to decide the opposite. The police in Veszprém county announced a week ago that they found that no crime had been committed and they therefore stopped the investigation. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, it was a clear case of incitement and there was a good chance that the court would hand down a verdict against the neo-Nazi groups present in Devecser. But the Hungarian police prevented that from happening.

Before the attack on houses of Gypsies several extremist leaders gave speeches in which they called on their audience to kill the Roma. How else can one interpret such a sentence as “we must stamp out the phenomenon; we must exterminate it from our Lebensraum.” According to the Criminal Code, this kind of incitement against an ethnic group is a serious crime that may result in three years of jail time. Moreover, as a result of these speeches the crowd actually went on a rampage. The Gypsies under siege feared for their lives.

Marching toward to Roma houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

Marching toward to the Romas’ houses in Devecser, August 5, 2012

How can the police explain dropping the investigation for lack of evidence? According to them, the person “who incites doesn’t address the intellect but appeals to primitive instincts which may result in possible action.” In their opinion, the utterances in this case “did not contain intemperate, antagonistic statements that may induce maleficent action.” What could be heard from the leaders of these extremist groups, according to the police, may be offensive to the Roma population and morally reprehensible, but these extremists cannot be punished by the instruments of the criminal justice system.

Organizations involved with human rights cases decided to appeal the case. One group, called Tett és Védelem Alapítvány (Action and Defense Foundation), will appeal to the Constitutional Court. The president of the Foundation told members of the media that in the last nine months he himself reported 28 cases involving incitement against minority groups but they were all ignored by the police. A day later, however, we learned that there will be an investigation into the case of a member of the far-right crowd in Devecser who, most likely unintentionally, hurled a rock at a Jobbik member of parliament, who as a result suffered a slight head injury.

Meanwhile another case emerged that sheds light on the thinking of the Hungarian police when it comes to hate speech and incitement against minorities. One of the speakers in Devecser was Zsolt Tyirityán, leader of the Army of Outlaws. On October 23, 2012, he delivered another speech in Budapest; this time the targets were the Jews. He vented his hatred of certain Jews who “should be put into freight cars and taken a good distance away and put to work.” The Tett és Védelem Foundation again demanded a police investigation of this incitement case, but the Budapest police refused to investigate. The reasons? One was that this speech is still on YouTube because not enough people complained about the speech’s content. Otherwise, YouTube would have removed it. And the second was that one cannot talk about incitement when “the whole audience shares the speaker’s ideology .” In this case we “should rather talk about agreement of the participants.” So, it seems that according to the Hungarian authorities one can speak of incitement only if not all listeners agree with the speaker. 168 Óra, which reported on the bizarre police rationalization for not investigating, gave the following title to the article: “According to the police one can deliver a Nazi speech before Nazis.”

But don’t fear, the Hungarian police are quite ready to act when it comes to members of national minorities. An organization called Roma Közösségi Hálózat and several other Roma groups staged a small demonstration in front of the Ministry of Interior after the police refused to investigate the Devecser case. The man who organized the demonstration was Jenő Setét, a Roma activist. There were only about 30 people present, who kept repeating the slogan: “The police shouldn’t assist the Nazis.” The final result was a misdemeanor charge against Setét.

It is my impression that Hungarian policemen, who were somewhat constrained during the socialist-liberal administrations, now feel empowered to act aggressively, sometimes illegally, against ordinary citizens and minorities, especially Gypsies. I have been collecting evidence to prove my point and in the near future will give some examples of what I mean.