An analysis of the Hungarian radical right
I just read a provocative piece in Élet és Irodalom (ÉS) by a "political analyst" whose name was inadvertently omitted by the designers of the Internet edition. The unnamed author sets out to challenge the accepted view of Hungarian right-wing groups. I present his/her argument here not because I embrace it but because I think that here and there it could sharpen our discourse.
The right and even the extreme right likes to call the ideology of these groups "national radicalism"–that is, allegedly a mixture of bourgeois radicalism and a Hungarian version of the narodnik ideology. Well, to my mind this is like mixing oil and water and claiming it is a natural blend; here I thoroughly agree with the author. Bourgeois radicalism (polgári radikalizmus) was basically a modern liberal ideology with very few adherents at the beginning of the twentieth century in contrast to Hungarian "populism," fashionable in the 1930s. The former group was an urban phenomenon while the latter wanted to build a society based on Hungarian peasant culture. So, according to the analyst, this self-definition is self-contradictory. After all, we are talking about two diametrically opposed intellectual trends.
People on the left refer to these right-wing groups by various names: fascist, neo-Nazi, neo-Arrow Cross (újnyílas, Hungarist), racists, anti-Semites, or just plain extremists. Although these labels may float in political discourse, they are not suitable for sorting out this rather heterogeneous mass. These labels lump all the groups together and don't recognize the differences in their ideologies. The extreme right groups that came into being after 2000 vary greatly in outlook and ideology. There are some–the militants–who exhibit antidemocratic tendencies, but there are others who strive for parliamentary representation.
What do these groups have in common? The author finds a common thread in a "distorted conservatism" (torz konzervativizmus). Their conservatism is a rigid, dogmatic way of looking at the past: "everything is wrong that's new." Central to their thinking are the "national traditions and national values" that, according to them, are "the core of national existence." The problem is that the national traditions they find so important don't seem to be part of today's society. As a result, a recurring theme is a lament over the disappearance of these traditions. The nation has become degenerate, it has discarded its values and its traditions and has instead become a victim to the manipulations of the consumer society. Today's Hungarians have become the unconscious slaves of capitalism and multinational corporations. The family is especially hard hit by these developments. People refuse to get married or refuse to have children, people leave the church, and instead of order there is anarchy.
The most important task of these extreme right-wing groups is to put an end to all this. They want to bring back Hungarian traditions and values and reintroduce a rigorous moral upbringing for Hungarian children. Most importantly, they want a "national awakening" from which groups considered to be alien would be excluded. Alien groups could be foreigners, Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals. The problem with all this, even from the point of view of those who expound it, is that "the existence of cultural values depends on their acceptance." Well, that's a problem; traditional Hungarian values are not uppermost in most people's minds. The extreme right, according to our author, solved the problem. Basically they elevated cultural or societal values to the status of ethical norms that exist independent of acceptance. Once Hungarian society turned away from these norms the nation fell into decline and decay.
It is difficult to place a theory of "value crisis" at the center of a political program, and therefore they resort to vague generalizations: "dissemination of education based on national values," or "care and respect of traditions." Because they don't find suitable political examples in the past, most of their traditions are "cultural." And since most of these "cultural traditions" are unknown in Hungary, they try to "revive" them or just "invent" them. One such invention seems to be a Hungarian martial art dubbed "Baranta"; another is a ball game known as "Turul." Yet another rather odd "tradition": placing somber primitive crosses on public squares at Christmas time.
This antimodernist outlook and the praise of traditionalist society reminds the author of Muslim radicals, the Taliban, and American fundamentalists who target abortion clinics. It is a well-known fact that the Hungarian extreme right sympathizes with the Palestinian cause. Only a couple of days ago there was a fairly large crowd demonstrating against Israel because of Gaza. Some of this can be explained by their anti-semitism, but it is also an expression of their instinctive sympathy toward a traditionalist society. Some groups, like Jobbik, are drawn to Iran, perhaps for historical reasons (the Hungarians and the Persians were "neighbors" at one point in their history) and also because they are attracted to an authoritarian form of government.
And finally, our author points to a resemblance between the Hungarian extreme right and Muslim societies and Hamas. Members of the Hungarian Guard are tied together not only by political beliefs; they also form a "community." They spend their free time together, they organize all sorts of communal happenings, and they help each other in time of need. "Politics and private life are not separate. Even friendships are formed within the movement." They have been diligently building a social network and a cultural community. Hence they can be compared to some of the Mideast terrorist organizations (for example, Hamas). The author adds that the Guard isn't functioning yet at that level, but they look upon these organizations as models, and the Hungarian extreme right uses some of their methods. Our author concludes that it is a mistake to call "today's radical right" Nazi or Hungarist although there might be some who sympathize with the Nazis or Szálasi. They are not historically grounded. Rather, they are part of what might be called social networking gone bad.
Or perhaps they're modeling the Mormons. Whatever one may think of their theology, they're not a fringe element within American politics. Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, is a Mormon.