The Year of Rearrangement - The Populist Right and the Far-Right in Contemporary Hungary


Executive Summary

  • In Hungary in 2017, xenophobia was the primary layer for the presence of the far-right ideology. Fidesz was leading the charge in this regard. The party’s narrative, matching the rhetoric of far-right actors, is based on the securitisation of migration; the conflict of civilisations, ethnic groups, religions and cultures; and on views of the world based on conspiracy theories. Its goal is to polarise and mobilise society by presenting enemies and amplifying fears.
  • The Orbán regime made the political system even more authoritarian under the pretext of defending the nation from asylum-seekers. It used this topic to legitimise the – otherwise legal – stigmatisation of civil society organisations, and to label independent media and political opponents foreign agents.
  • The artificially incited anti-immigration position has relegated all other enemies to the back row. While the government’s campaign against George Soros has clearly induced anti-Semitic sentiments, the government has attempted to present itself as the protector of Hungarian and European Jews. And while anti-Roma sentiments may have “frozen” on the national level as a result of the short-term interests of radical actors, they are still very much present on the local level, and emotions may easily be stirred up again.
  • Jobbik, which entered a fierce battle with Fidesz and was neither able nor ready to compete with the government in terms of anti-migration positions, has outsourced the communication of this issue to the party’s deputy chair, László Toroczkai, who is also the mayor of Ásotthalom, a village on the Hungarian-Serbian border. As Jobbik attempts to tone down its communication in an effort to present itself as a party capable of taking over after Fidesz, it seemed to follow this apparent division of labour: while party chair Gábor Vona served as the face of the party towards left-leaning voters, demonstrating Jobbik’s transformation into a “people’s party”, Toroczkai has remained the most prominent representative of the far-right wing. The majority of radical politicians featured in the first tier of the party have been disciplined and have demonstrated a reserved style of communication.
  • Jobbik did not always refrain from extremist political practices at the local level. While Fidesz and left wing opposition parties often try to discredit Jobbik’s strategy of moderation by recalling events from its past, they for the most part do not take into account the fact that there are present-day examples which could be brought up against the party, showing how it is definitely moving towards the political centre while also trying to retain its extremist voters.
  • Far-right organisations are practically on the same platform as the governing party regarding migration. Fidesz has attempted to use them to discredit Jobbik through two narratives in contradiction with one another. On the one hand, they attempt to emphasise the radical character of Jobbik through its (prior) close connections to these organisations and the anti-Semitism of Jobbik’s politicians; and on the other hand, they portray the criticism these organisations express vis-a-vis Jobbik as evidence that Jobbik is in fact a party lacking principles and one that has turned away from radical views and voters. The pro-government media has seemed to intentionally elevate certain far-right organisations by carrying interviews with their leaders in order to amplify their anti-Jobbik messages.
  • The year saw a continuation of the cooperation and network building among far-right organisations begun in 2016. Since the decline of the Guard movement, 2017 was the first year when the far-right scene has appeared to undergo a revitalisation. In addition to criticism of the shift to the centre represented by Vona, the organisations have continued to maintain a close relationship with certain Jobbik politicians.
  • This is the continuation of a previous tradition in terms of the approach towards the far-right. Namely: incumbent political forces in Hungary have generally approached the far-right not based on principles but in the framework of contemporary political interests. The result of this is that the norms providing long-term protection against radicalisation and extremist ideologies have not become more entrenched in public life and society. Just as the pre-2010 government was responsible for the strengthening of the far-right, the current government is also failing to serve as a guarantee against extremists.
  • A good indication of this lack of guarantee is that the government has not done much to prevent Hungary becoming a hub of the international far-right network. The leaders of the international far-right organisation Knights Templar International (KTI), James Dowson and Nick Griffin, were eventually banned from the country, but the organisation itself is able to continue its local operations, and serves as an important catalyst in the cooperation and activities of Hungarian extreme-right organisations. On the other hand, individuals affiliated with the pro-Kremlin Arktos Media and do not tend to become involved in Hungarian domestic politics. Their views, however, match those of the current government on numerous points, praising Orbán’s anti-EU, anti-liberal and anti-immigration politics.
  • Russian influence is not decreasing, either. While Jobbik has partially abandoned its previous openly pro-Russian orientation in the context of its efforts to reposition itself, in the case of the governing Fidesz, this is becoming stronger and stronger; the majority of far-right organisations also maintain their pro-Kremlin views, and they serve as important channels of Russian influence.

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