Rise of the Rightwing

Mehru Jaffer

Hungary is being hijacked by extreme Rightwing forces in broad daylight. And all that the world does is to look.

The Far-Right Jobbik Party has won 17 per cent seats in last month's national elections. It already has a 15 per cent presence in the European Parliament. After its spectacular win in the April 2010 elections, Jobbik is the third most powerful party in the Budapest Parliament after Fidesz, the Right of Center winner and the disgraced Socialists.

This is a dream come true for Jobbik, founded in 2004. But for Hungary, the recent election results may well prove to be the country's worst nightmare.One explanation of the growing popularity of Jobbik is no doubt the confusion caused by the excruciating effects of the economic crisis on ordinary people. Jobbik has also won over voters by raising ugly ethnic issues that are divisive, making the claims of other European Rightwing politicians sound harmless in comparison.

Why do Hungarians vote for politicians who spit such hate against some of their own country people?

Analysts point to Hungary's unique history. A glaring example of a historic trauma being nursed by many Magyars to this day dates back to the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. After World War I, Hungary lost 72 per cent of its land and 64 per cent of ethnic Hungarians were left to make a home elsewhere. The population of Hungary was reduced from 21 million to 7.6 million.Indeed, nationalists continue to nurse the dream of a Greater Hungary.

Magyar is the dominant ethnic group of Hungary. There are about 14 million Hungarians on the continent. Ten million live in Hungary and 2.5 million Hungarians are scattered in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine.

Hungarians have long been fed on a diet peppered with imperial flavours. Modern Hungary is not happy with its present borders. The collective consciousness of Hungarians considers it only natural to want to right the historical wrongs brought upon them by 'others' a long time ago. In the absence of the real culprits of the past, Jews, gypsies and foreigners are rebuked instead as that wicked 'other'.
Critics worried about increasing xenophobia bemoan the fact that the union of states in Europe is all about economics and not enough about culture and politics. There is a demand for a European policy on culture, on reflection, and on the on-going public dialogue that will provide history a perspective.

Nationalism may have very obvious political connotations, but its ethnic meaning remains dubious. A country like Hungary is left to emerge largely as a nationalist state that views its population as ethnically homogenous. Nationalist ideology takes root in Hungary, unchecked and early. It begins in school and later permeates other pillars of civil society like the media. To be anti-semitic in Hungary is not to be against Jews alone but against all those seen as coming in the way of Magyar nationalism, including liberals and socialists. Those concerned argue that a society does not become democratic simply by going to the polls. A free market needs to be complemented with stable and healthy cultural and social institutions as well.

When the interests of the European Union is seen only as economic, then ethnic forces like the Magyar step in to right perceived cultural wrongs. In Hungary, it is not unusual to come across advertisements asking only 'nationalist-minded' citizens to apply. When a shop owned by a Magyar puts up a hoarding to say, 'buy from us', it is naturally understood that business should not go to those who are not Magyar. Indeed, there are taxi services that openly warn citizens that they serve only 'nationalists'.

Jobbik taunts the political elite for not practising what the Magyar ancestors inspired Hungarians to do. When Jobbik promises to return Magyar pride to the people, a majority of whom are jobless, it fills the soul of the have-nots with hope.

Soon after the fall of communism, Hungary was a shinning example of a model economy in transition. By 2008, however, the country was bankrupt and a Euro 20 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union came to its rescue.

The glitter of the 'golden era' between 1995 and 2001 was exposed as a big, fat lie. The Socialists admitted in 2006 that they had lied from dawn till dusk about the state of the country's economy, causing great psychological and practical sorrow to the people.
The salvation of Hungary, therefore, lies in something very simple. Hungarian politicians must stop lying to the people - not only about the country's economy but also about its history.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010

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