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Slipping to the Right

From TP



Throughout Europe a perceptible shift to the right in terms of EU politics could be observed. In an election which saw the lowest turnout yet, right-wing and radical parties throughout Europe made substantial gains. This should come as little surprise since in many countries voters decided to punish incumbent governments for the economic mess people find themselves in. Moreover, many find that the way in which the EU is run and the very nature of its institutions is also to blame for the economic crisis. Brussels is regarded by many as the focal point for neo-liberalism within Europe, and now that this economic philosophy has shown its ugly side many don’t like what they see. As a result, the European parliament has now been filled with quite a few politicians who wouldn’t mind dismantling the EU altogether.

European Union election results in Hungary: the combined strength of the right-wing now stands at 70%


Naturally how much they can actually achieve to this end is another story. Still, many are worried about what this major shift to the right may mean domestically. Although EU elections are supposed to deal with issues on a European level, they inevitably tend to reflect politics at the national level.

Hungary is no exception to this. As elsewhere the turnout was low, with a little over one-third of eligible voters casting their ballots. Although this was a few percentage points lower than in 2004, it was nevertheless the highest for the region as a whole; in Slovakia, for instance, voter turnout was just under 20% and once again among the lowest in the EU.

As far as most observers were concerned, the [extern] outcome of the EU election in Hungary was a foregone conclusion. The question wasn’t whether the ruling Socialist party would send more politicians to Brussels than their arch rival, the right-wing Young Democrats (FIDESZ), but how badly they would end up losing. In the end, the left-wing in Hungary lost very badly: the Socialists could scrape together only four out of the 22 seats available, securing only 17.4% of the vote, compared to the FIDESZ which took a commanding 14 seats, representing over 55% of the total ballots cast. Even worse was the fate of the so-called Liberals, or SZDSZ, which failed to win a single seat; with barely 2% of the popular vote they fell into a distant fifth place behind the Humanist party which has yet to win anything in any type of election. The only party which more or less produced the same result as five years ago was the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) as it scrapped by to secure a single seat. Many observers find this result a miracle in itself as they had written off the MDF, anticipating that they would perform even worse than the SZDSZ.

What was more of a surprise and shock for many, however, was the performance of the radical right-wing party the Jobbik. Regarded by some as an extreme right-wing party with neo-fascist tendencies, the Jobbik came in third place just behind the Socialists capturing 3 seats, which translates into 14.7% of the total vote. Most observers predicted that the Jobbik would get under 10% of the vote and thus win only one or two seats. This colossal miscalculation has left many reeling and searching for answers.

Part of the answer lies in the slander campaign against the Jobbik which merely drew attention to the party. The SZDSZ were most guilty of this, basing their campaign foremost on one of fear and hate. By contrast, the Jobbik presented itself as a modern and respectable party, with a clear position that appealed to many people. Their propaganda campaign was often witty and to the point, as exemplified in this political [extern] advertisement. The popularity of this video (with up to 10 times the number of views on YouTube as opposed to the video campaigns of other parties) attests to the success of their propaganda campaign as well as the relevance of the slogans used which addressed issues that many were concerned about. These dealt with topics such as the economy (“make the multinationals pay”), public security (“prison for the guilty”), and globalization (“Hungary for Hungarians”).

Without a doubt, the strong showing of the Jobbik has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the Hungarian political spectrum, especially within the left-wing parties of Hungary as well as the MDF. Yet aside from their public condemnation of the Jobbik for their radical views, the problem is that none of them are exactly sure of how to deal with the Jobbik. This is because the appearance of a slick and sexy radical right-right wing party has introduced a new and dynamic element to Hungarian politics, which will make the run-up to national elections in less than a year anything but boring. Indeed, some feel that the success of the Jobbik in the EU elections has now revitalized Hungarian politics to a certain extent.

Although the FIDESZ was the only party to not comment on the success of the Jobbik when the results were first announced, indubitably the party leadership was a little uneasy. For one, it was clear that much of the support for the Jobbik came from the ranks of the FIDESZ. The rise in stature of the Jobbik now threatens to bleed even more support from the FIDESZ. Moreover, the main success of the FIDESZ was its ability to operate as a front organization for the right in order to unite against a common enemy – the left. Indeed, some feel that the success of the FIDESZ over the years in part had to do with it dismembering smaller right-wing parties from the inside then swallowing up what remained. The fate of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) and the Independent Smallholders (FKGP) are the most illustrative examples.

The Jobbik threat to the FIDESZ is now two-fold. Firstly, some members of the Jobbik are made up of disgruntled remnants from other parties that were supposedly imploded by the FIDESZ. Hence, they view the FIDESZ as not a true right-wing party but one that reverts to populist slogans when necessary. Thus, unlike other right-wing parties until now the Jobbik will definitely be a harder nut to crack for the FIDESZ. In conjunction with this, a second concern for the FIDESZ is that they now have much less room to maneuver than before. The success of the Jobbik may embolden others on the right, namely those with a stronger political conviction and sense of identity, that it’s possible to attain a measure of success despite the overwhelming power and influence of the FIDESZ.

For those on the left, on the other hand, the problem of the Jobbik is even more complex. For the Socialists, their arch rival has always been the FIDESZ and, in particular, its leader Victor Orban. Although from an ideological standpoint the Jobbik now presents the greatest threat to the Socialists, from a practical and politically pragmatic view the FIDESZ is still their main problem. The concern for the Socialists at this point is not whether they will lose the next election in under a year; instead, what bothers the Socialists most is that the FIDESZ may obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament. With such a majority the FIDESZ would be able to make constitutional changes and would even have control over parliamentary immunity. Many Socialists are afraid that the FIDESZ would use or abuse this power in order to enact a witch-hunt. The former Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, alluded to such before stepping down when he criticized the judiciary for being in the service of the FIDESZ.

Thus, the dilemma for the Socialists is that they can’t pay too much attention to the Jobbik otherwise right-wing voters will simply flock to the FIDESZ, thereby increasing the likelihood that Orban will be able to get his much coveted two-thirds majority. On the other hand, based on the results of the EU elections, the combined strength of the right-wing now stands at 70%. Thus, the Socialists must somehow rebuild their shattered base. To this extent it can be expected that in the next few months the Socialist propaganda machine will concentrate on the imminent danger of the right, as exemplified by the results of the EU election, and attempt to link both the FIDESZ as the Jobbik as one and the same. Along these lines it will be argued that supporters of the left-wing have no other choice but to rally around a single party to defeat a common enemy even though many Socialist voters feel their party had betrayed them over the past few years.

This task may not be too difficult as the only other left-wing party, the SZDSZ, is fighting for its very survival. Its disastrous showing at the EU elections was not only the result of a bad propaganda campaign, but also the fact that it openly and aggressively championed (and continues to champion) the cause of neo-liberalism which has since suffered a major setback due to the financial crisis. As a result, it’s more than likely that the SZDSZ will team up with the MDF in order to either form a new political entity or forge a political alliance of sorts so as to be in a stronger position to face the upcoming parliamentary elections. The MDF, for its part, is also in need of a partner as it is barely able to keep its head above water. Having also suffered a major blow to its prestige and creditability over the past few years, it’s also in desperate search of a new identity.

Ironically, the party most directly affected by the success of the Jobbik is the Truth and Life Party (MIEP) of Istvan Csurka. The MIEP is also a radical right-wing party and was once considered to be the biggest threat to Hungarian democracy. It succeeded in entering parliament in 1998 and many felt that its stellar rise during the 1990s would continue unabated. However, after a poor showing during parliamentary elections in 2002, Csurka’s fortunes and that of his party have steadily gone from bad to worse. Many MIEP supporters ultimately left the party and joined the Jobbik. Now, with the success of the Jobbik in the EU elections, the MIEP has faded to the background and become a mere shadow of its former self. In many ways, Csurka and the MIEP have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Although pundits will no doubt make much ado about the rise of the radical right in this small Central European country, in essence the results of the EU election in Hungary merely reflects a similar shift throughout Europe. This is primarily due to a failure at all levels – European and national – to address the financial crisis and take concerted steps to excise the ghost of neo-liberalism from capitalism. Given that the foundations of the EU is built upon the same neo-liberalist foundations which is held responsible for the present economic crisis, it should come as no surprise that euro-skeptic parties such as the Jobbik will be now sitting in the EU parliament – at the very heart of the body they detest and wish to dismantle.

In order to regain support and a measure of respectability, the left-wing in Hungary needs to now return to its roots and champion the causes of social justice. For years people have been under the illusion that they can have their cake and eat it too. The financial crisis has forever dispelled this illusion. Many are no longer of the belief that liberalism and socialism are compatible with privatization and an unregulated free market economy. Hungary has to finally leave the past behind and put an end to the past two decades of goulash capitalism if it is to avoid becoming a Third World country within the heart of Europe.


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