Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Rise of Jobbik, Populism, and the Symbolic Politics of Illiberalism in Contemporary Hungary

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Rise of Jobbik, Populism, and the Symbolic Politics of Illiberalism in Contemporary Hungary

Article excerpt

"The West is doing it to us again," a middle-aged man in the middle of a crowd told me. "It's just the same as after the First World War; it's just the same as after 1989. The West is trying to keep Hungary down."

The man wanted to make sure that I understood, and so he showed me one of the maps he was selling. It was a map of the Kingdom of Hungary, as it was constituted before and during the First World War, all around were the crests of the 64 historic counties of Hungary, and at the bottom were the words from Ferenc Erkel's 1861 aria My Homeland, you mean everything to me (Hazám, Hazám, Te Mindenem!).1 "This is what we lost," he said to me. In the same crowd, men wore t-shirts depicting the Kingdom of Hungary ripped apart by sinister, skeletal-like hands. The speaker on the stage began to speak of how the banks pay low taxes, but make big profits, and of "Bank terror" (bank rémület). Some in the crowd chanted: "Our home is not for sale!" (A haza nem eladó), meaning both their literal homes but also referring to the whole of the Hungary. The speaker said that her political party, Jobbik, would not let "the banks colonise Hungary," to which the group of young skinheads next to me responded: "It's the Jews! It's the f*cking Jews! Stop the Jews!"2

Unfortunately, in contemporary Hungary, anti-Semitism remains a very public part of the political landscape. Likewise, anti-Roma sentiments, even violence, also characterise the current political climate; in both cases these expressions of antagonistic politics are tied to the widely held political belief among the political right that Hungary is under assault from outside forces, whether expressed as international global capitalism, as Jews, or translocal, "rootless" Roma painted as the perpetrators of cigánybunozés, "gypsy crime." Yet at least according to two of the leading politicians, heads of the two of the most popular political parties, another force appears to "threaten" Hungary. This is the European Union. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister and leader of the dominant political party Fidesz, frequently denounces Brussels, suggesting its bureaucrats engage in "imperialist" meddling in Hungarian affairs.3 Gabor Vona, the leader of the further right insurgent Jobbik party, which, since the 2014 local and municipal elections, has become Hungary's second most popular party,4 likewise opposes Zionism, global capitalism, and its continental variant, European integration.5 This article will examine how both Fidesz and Jobbik cast the European Union as a dominating, even colonising force in order to justify their policies of nationalising certain industries and orienting their foreign policy objectives and potential partners and projects eastward. Nevertheless, the European Union is important to both Fidesz and to Jobbik. Fidesz and the Hungarian government remain reliant on the European Union for infrastructure funds, agricultural support, and access to markets. In the case of Jobbik, the European Parliament has been an important avenue through which their politicians obtained legitimacy, as well as a legitimate platform in the media from which to amplify their political message.

Far Right Politics Immediately after 1989

Since the end of communism there has been widespread support for the political far right in Hungary. Almost immediately the symbolic politics of "national revival" gripped the Hungarian polity, and have, in the past 25 years, evolved into a daily politics characterised by anti-Semitism, anti-liberalism, and anti-Roma expressions. It is beneficial to see the roots of these sentiments as being connected to the legitimising politics of the earliest moments of the transition away from communism, in the days when the rule of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSzMP) collapsed. The themes that emerged from that first 1990 campaign continue today. They include external persecution, especially by Western institutions (whether they be the International Monetary Fund or the European Union), the threat of foreign dominance (especially in the economy), and the presence of an enemy alien within, either Jews, Roma, or a liberal "fifth column," set on "destroying Hungarian culture. …

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