2013.03.04.   Kész Zoltán
The Young and the Reckless: A Brief History of Modern Right-Wing Nationalism in Hungary

Parliamentary elections in a country barely more populous than metropolitan New York City rarely generate too much international attention. Nevertheless, Hungary received a fair bit of unwanted fame in 2010 when the newcomer far-right Jobbik party rose to an unprecedented 16.6%, gaining 45 out of 386 seats. At first glance, the result, disappointing as it seems, would pretty much fit into the post-crisis European pattern that shows a dynamic rise of extremist forces. But the Jobbik people are not your typical EU skeptic radicals.


Founded in 2003 by a surprisingly young group of right-wing professionals, the breakthrough for Jobbik came in 2006 when severe protests broke out against the ruling Social-Liberal government following a controversial speech by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. Although the demonstrations started off peacefully, they soon got steered away by groups of radical extremists who began attacking public institutions and engaged in severe clashes with patrolling police officers. Gyurcsány’s main opposition rival, the populist Fidesz party, did not pay too much attention to the emerging radical masses, as they were eager to keep the protests alive. But things soon got out of hand.

During the several month-long anti-government rallies, charismatic, radical leaders rose to questionable fame and began introducing unprecedentedly aggressive nationalist and xenophobic elements into the public discourse. In 2007, Jobbik leader Gabor Vona founded the Hungarian Guard nationalist movement, which, according to many, served as the party’s paramilitary organization and became frequently compared to Hitler’s brownshirts or to the fascist Arrow Cross Party in Hungary. Jobbik released a whole set of bogeymen to the Hungarian population: Jews, Gypsies, liberals, Communists, the European Union, the IMF, and claimed a worldwide conspiracy against the country. They reintroduced the concept of ‘gypsy crime’, and until 2009, the country frequently witnessed frightening marches of uniformed Guard-militants in the streets of small, mostly Roma-populated villages.

The unrest against the government, coupled with the upcoming financial crisis brought the population’s anxiety and frustration to a burning point. Abandoned by all mainstream parties, the coherent and surprisingly well-constructed universe of the extreme right became an appealing alternative for many, and Jobbik’s popularity rose to an unprecedented 14.77% at the 2009 European Parliament elections, earning three seats in legislation. Cleverly picking up serious but politically uncomfortable issues largely ignored by the other parties in policy areas like widespread petty crime, Jobbik started to be perceived as the only party with ready solutions. In the 2010 parliamentary elections, Jobbik’s radical propaganda resulted in an overall 16.6%, which earned them the status of third party. Unsurprisingly, their strongest electorates were the underdeveloped regions of Northern Hungary, the former strongholds for the left wing Socialist party.

Opening the parliamentary term in the uniform of the then-banned Guard, Jobbik remained largely stable; neither its policies nor its popularity appeared to show any sign of change. Although their MPs form a heterogeneous group of nationalist university professors and former skinheads, their legislative activity was nothing short of heavily debated controversies. Their radical advocacy of nationalist values, the propagation of the reunification of pre WWI Greater Hungary, their clear xenophobia and the outspoken EU skepticism pair up with cases that even attracted international attention, like a blood libel claim, or demands for a list of MPs with Jewish origins. Meanwhile, Jobbik constructed a surprisingly sophisticated parallel, nationalist universe of radio stations, webpages, dating sites for radicals, and their particular clothing styles and music genres. They must have gotten something right: according to recent surveys, Jobbik attracts 33% of university students, and out of them, 52% say that in some cases, they would prefer dictatorship over democracy.

In order to combat nationalism and anti-Semitism, something urgent must be done. If we don’t want history to repeat itself and see the 1930s again, we have to act immediately. The next elections are a bit more than a year from now. With the rising popularity of the radicals, and with the disenchantment of the electorate, there seems to be a threat that the extreme right will get more seats in Parliament unless something is done.

Combating these tendencies

The Free Market Foundation has launched a campaign to fight radicalism. We have already addressed the issue on the national level and published case studies and research. (http://kapitalizmus.hvg.hu/2013/01/15/milliardos-karokat-okoztak-a-rasszistak-magyarorszagnak/ ) We are starting a website to calculate the financial damages the extreme right is causing. We are going to educate people about the threats and about the alternatives that exist. Our research will be conducted to retrace the origin, elements and prevalence of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and their role in the ideological mobilization of the radical right. Research and experiments will reveal the prevalence and dynamics of conspiracy theories and will potential methods of combating conspiracy-based beliefs.

The project aims to tackle, discredit and ridicule these patterns of prejudiced thoughts by using several channels of public communication, especially those which are crucial for the radicals as well.

The Free Market Foundation is an Atlas partner. If you are interested in helping in their struggle against racism, write to kesz.zoltan@szabadpiacalapitvany.hu and visit their website at www.kapitalizmus.hvg.hu