Roundtable Discussion on Jobbik and the Hungarian Far Right
By yjmsgi3, on 18 March 2016
As a result of the electoral successes of Viktor Orban’s governing FIDESZ-KDNP coalition in 2010 and 2014, Hungarian politics has experienced a dramatic shift to the Right. One beneficiary of this rightward shift is Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, which is now the leading opposition party with the support (according to opinion polls) of about one-fifth of the probable Hungarian electorate.
Formed in 2003 by university students in Budapest, Jobbik can be placed in a long tradition of right radical parties in Hungary that stretches back to the Hungary Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) that obtained parliamentary representation in the 1990s, to the interwar Party of Hungarian Life (Magyar Élet Pártja) and to the pre-First World War Catholic and Nationalist Parties such as the Catholic People’s Party, The Slovak People’s Party, as well as Europe’s first antisemitic party, the Országos Antiszemita Párt, founded in the 1880s. Jobbik has also been compared to Ferenc Szálasi’s ‘Arrow Cross Movement’, which briefly seized power in October 1944, even though the ideological differences between these two parties are substantial. Certainly, all of these parties, including Jobbik, can be seen as recurring examples of the enduring clash between populist/rural/antisemitic nationalists and an allegedly cosmopolitan/urban/liberal elite sometimes referred to as the népi-urbánus debate. This debate has been an important fault line in Hungarian politics since at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
On Wednesday, 24 February, five young academics from Britain, Hungary and Romania presented short papers at a well-attended roundtable organized by SSEES’s Centre for the Study of Central Europe, held at SSEES and chaired by myself (Thomas Lorman), which shed some light on the ideological roots and future prospects of Hungarian right radicalism in general and Jobbik in particular.
Chris Moreh, a research fellow at the University of Southampton presented the first paper. He stressed that the growth of Jobbik was caused by the failure of the governing elites after 1989. He noted that Jobbik’s popularity rests on several pillars, including its supposed continuity with earlier right radical parties, a belief in activist politics, and the promise to hold previous the governments to account for their errors. Moreh also explained that Jobbik was endeavouring to conform its ideology to other right radical parties in Europe in order to further boost its popularity.
The following paper, by Áron Szele, who is based in Bucharest, compared Jobbik’s ideology to the interwar Arrow-Cross movement. His talk drew inspiration from Roger Griffin’s description of fascist movements as palingenetic, and stressed Hungarian right radicalism’s continuing belied in a glorious past, a decadent present, and a glorious future. He also stressed that Hungarian right radicalism continues to hold a ‘conspiratorial’ view that regards the true Hungarians as a disadvantaged ‘in-group’ controlled by a nefarious ‘out-group’, and he also added that right radicalism was once again benefiting from the intellectual bankruptcy of the Left in Hungary.
The next speaker, Dániel Róna, who teaches at the Corvinus University in Budapest, systematically compared the ideology of the governing FIDESZ party with that of Jobbik. He noted that on a number of key issues, ‘defending’Hungary against migrants, centralist control of education, higher taxes, increased regulation on large (foreign-owned) companies, there is broad agreement. Nevertheless, key differences remain. Unlike FIDESZ, Jobbik seeks a more progressive tax system, seeks Hungary’s ultimate withdrawal from the EU, has a questionable commitment to democracy and flirts with antisemitism.
Eszter Tarsoly, who is about to defend her Ph. D thesis on attitudes to language at SSEES then gave a talk on the rhetorical similarities and differences between FIDESZ and Jobbik, providing a close textual analysis of recent speeches by Viktor Orban and other politicians. She highlighted the effectiveness of both Orban’s and Jobbik’s rhetoric, which is grounded in their shared use of a distinct vocabulary that neatly dovetails with their respective populist/ nationalist ideologies.
Finally, Philip Barker, a doctoral student at SSEES who is researching the development of Hungarian political rhetoric in the late eighteenth century traced Jobbik’s emergence back to the various ‘charlatan’ fringe movements that provide the party with an intellectual and social basis for its success. Among the diverse examples provided, he mentioned the cult of the noble warrior, grandiose claims about Hungarian history and the influence of the Hungarian language, and claims that Hungary and Hungarians are imbued with a mystical aura. He also noted the distinct language employed by Jobbik. the radical rights obsession with ‘the politics of grievance’, and its hostility to those who had ‘cheated’ Hungarians of their greatness.
The event concluded with questions from the floor. A question on student attitudes brought the response that Jobbik is the most popular party among Hungarian university students, with first generation students who were pessimistic about their future being the most likely to gravitate to the party’s message. A question on the future prospects for Jobbik brought the cautious response that Jobbik could grow in popularity but it is unlikely to join a governing coalition and it may even be on the wane as its dynamism has been exhausted. The speakers agreed, however that Jobbik’s presence will continue to pull the governing FIDESZ party to the Right to ensure that it retains its popularity. A question on Jobbik’s attitude towards football brought the response that the party supports the government’s efforts to promote Hungarian football and physical education, has strong support among football fans, but opposes the government’s controversial programme of stadium construction. A final question about where the next challenge to the government’s authority will come from, if Jobbik’s dynamism has peaked, brought the response from some members of the panel that Hungary may see the emergence of a new left-wing populist party or the creation of a new right-radical party that is even more radical than Jobbik. This concluded the round table and both the participants and the audience retired to the Masaryk room for a pleasant reception at which, appropriately, red and white wines from Hungary were served courtesy of the generous funding provided by the School.
Dr Thomas Lorman,
Teaching Fellow in central European History, SSEES
For summaries of talks, see below
Jobbik manifestation in Budapest, October 23rd 2012.
Orlovic – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22607076
Summaries of Talks:
Chris Moreh: In my talk I provided a broad overview of the main pillars on which popular support for Radical Right parties in contemporary Hungary – and Jobbik as the most successful such political organisation – rests. The proliferation of right-wing radicalism was made possible by the political failures of the post-socialist ruling elites, especially by widespread disenchantment with the ‘left-liberal’ governments of the 2000s. As a reactionary force, new populist nationalist movements have based their promise of ‘radical’ economic and political change on three pillars: firstly, the reinforcement of a sense of ideological-thematic continuity with historical national(ist) movements and esoteric ethno-nationalist mythologies; secondly, a commitment to ‘political action’ at the local level, strengthened by a rejection of the perceived top-down technocracy of European-level governance; and thirdly, an image of blamelessness and the promise to seek accountability for the alleged political malfeasance of previous governments. Complementary to these three pillars, I argued, we can see the emergence of a fourth one relying on an ‘intellectual’ – or pseudo-intellectual – turn within Jobbik. This arguably involves a stronger ideological integration with other European movements – such as the French Nouvelle Droite or Russian Eurasianism – around certain powerful geo-political principles and projects, and this may become the leading edge of Radical Right agendas over the next decade.
Dániel Róna: In my contribution I compared the ideology of the governing FIDESZ party with that of far-right Jobbik. The main similarity is the narrative offered by the two parties. According to them, the primary job of the government is to “protect” Hungarians against any threats, such as the influx of migrants, foreign interventions to Hungarian domestic affairs and exploitations of banks and multinational companies. Both Fidesz and Jobbik are in favour of pro-order policies, centralist control of education, widespread application of public work and they also share the same philosophy about the social entitlements. It is very difficult, however, to determine causal inferences: in many cases it is unclear, which party influenced the other. Nevertheless, key differences remain. Fidesz introduced a flat tax whereas Jobbik advocates progressive tax. Although Orbán’s rhetoric contains many anti-EU messages, Fidesz never actually considered Hungary’s quit. Jobbik, on the other hand, initiated a referendum on this and voiced its Eurosceptic thoughts. Jobbik praised the Horthy-era without critics whereas the relationship of Fidesz to interwar Hungary is more ambivalent. Finally, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic voices are totally marginal – although not entirely absent – in the ranks of Fidesz but they are often essential parts of Jobbik’s main politician’s statements.
Áron Szele: In my talk, I’ve highlighted the similarities and structural differences between the ideology of the interwar far right and fascist parties and the contemporary Jobbik political movement. I concentrated mainly on a comparison based on the exploration of their main ideas, as evidenced by their discourses and practices. The main elements of the ideology are highly similar and exhibit little diachrony, the main ideas (nationalism, xenophobia, the drive to regenerate the nation, a conspiracy theory, social populism, mimetic leftism) being deployed in a similar fashion both in the present and in the past. They are spun into a similar narrative about time, in which the past possesses wholly positive qualities, the present wholly decadent and negative traits, while the future has an ambivalent nature: positive (a modern return to the past), or negative (destruction). This narrative constitutes the ideological core of the far right, which has remained immutable since the 1930’s. In the second part of the workshop, I spoke about the limitations placed on Jobbik’s expanse in Hungarian political life, by making reference to the past: a far right party can exploit a situation where its narrative seems to coincide with the reality (cognitive consonance). In a situation where the governing authority is influenced by the far right, and borrows from its discourses and practices, the latter is reduced in its capacity to act.
Eszter Tarsoly: In my presentation I argue that a coherent strategy of linguistic framing contributes to the success of right-radicalism in Hungary. Through short excerpts from speeches by Viktor Orbán (PM, Fidesz) and Gábor Vona (President, Jobbik) I explore networks of tropes and other linguistic strategies (specifically, phonological features and rhetorical technique) which political players on the right exploit in the conceptual framing of their discourse. The period preceding the 2014 parliamentary elections, Fidesz’s repeated election victories in that year, and the height of the “migrant crisis” in Europe saw the emergence of relatively new political themes which were to be accommodated in the linguistic frames of familiar political and cultural discourse. During this period, particularly since summer 2015, Fidesz’s framing increasingly shifted in a direction which was Jobbik’s privilege before: examples include their use of the metaphor MERCENARY and historical topoi of FOREIGN RULE for the European Union, and the popular medieval topos of DEFENDERS of Europe for Hungary. I discuss the way in which Orbán deploys repetition as well as syntactic and semantic parallelism to consolidate images of an insecure world and future outside Hungary, thus normally preparing the ground for daring propositions, such as his 2014 “illiberal democracy”.
Philip Barker: In my presentation I briefly discussed the role of pseudo-religious and fringe-historical elements in the rhetoric of the Hungarian far-right. In Hungary there is a popular perception that pseudo- and para-scientific ideas, quasi-religious cults, neo-pagan movements, and crackpot theories of national origin exploded in popularity after the fall of communism. Often promoted by non-mainstream right-wing groups, many of these nationalist-spiritualist discourses embrace a variety of quack ideas, including “alternative” proto-historical mythologies, fantastic narratives of Hungarian tribal and linguistic supremacy, and tales of an ancient but lost “native” faith and civilization. Frequently ridiculed in conventional academic and political circles, such “charlatanism” does not always present a clearly identifiable ideology. However, it is usually centred upon a set of anti-modern, anti-pluralist, and radicalized inclusionary/exclusionary principles that are strongly opposed to liberal notions of individualism, universalism, and market freedom. In this way, “charlatanism” offers a countercultural form of protest for disaffected voters who feel they are the “losers” of the democratic transition, the dispossessed victims of the corrupt political elite. While Jobbik’s official rhetoric may not always draw upon such ideas in a consistent fashion, the recurring topoi of national victimhood and the revival of a lost, sacred nation support two of Jobbik’s main political claims: the first that it champions “true Hungarians” against the oppression of self-serving domestic and foreign interests, and the second that it constitutes a viable alternative to the Judeo-Christian, middle-class-oriented political mainstream.
Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL.