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.
“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.