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.

Point counterpoint.


  1. I do feel, you and the author of the original article, (which I haven’t read yet), accord an excess of recognition to these groups.
    Not as if they were not menacing or dangerous, they are, but in my estimation they are just too primitive and inconsistent to attribute any “ideology,” or “theology” to them.
    As much as I can ascertain, they frequently mix arrow-cross slogans with rock music, pagan rituals and dress with Kadar-era demands and nomad customs with excessive christianity.
    A chaotic and hairbrained lot they are.
    What really tie them together is the unrelenting hatred of Gyurcsany, the government and the Jews.
    What is really scary is the fact that their influence, or rather their popularity, is indeed increasing.
    I ask you; what can be expected from the electorate if they honor any of these bozos by electing them to parliament, just because they, the electorate, is unhappy with the government?
    Most of this guys are lucky, if they have elementary school education. So, these are the future politicians, deciding the fate of the country?
    Or, perhaps those crooks, riding on the coattails of these guys and make a career for themselves, like Morvai Krisztina, Porzse Sandor and Vona Gabor?
    I am convinced, that these groups simply lack the necessary intellectual and political savvy to organize a coherent platform. But there is behind them a more effective group, probably the fidesz, that clandestinely does the organizing for them.

  2. “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.” ”
    It is actually a little bit more complicated than this. In some respects the far right is incredibly (post)modern. The presence of this radical right on You Tube is very considerable. I’m not sure that Nemzeti Rock is a throwback to the past, but some of it is a rather bizarre cultural hybrid that fuses muscial traditions and styles that in other contexts have had radically different political connotations.
    Even though I find the Hungarian Guard distasteful, and I note the low-level political violence that has occurred against certain pro-government political figures, I think the comparison with Hamas is pretty tasteless. If the Hungarian Guard resorts to an organized campaign of suicide bombing I will change my mind – but they are not doing so far.
    There is definitely an alternative, neo-Nazi sub-culture out there, and not far from any Jobbik event you will find sellers of pro-Nazi t-shirts, or people selling pamphlets lamenting the allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. There is, however, a broader sub-culture with which this more politically extreme one is somehow associated. That is a broad culturally nationalist one – it is interested in Magyar roots, the problems of the minority, in dressing in the manner of early Magyar tribes (though the actually gear promoted reflects the nineteenth century representation of the Magyar tribes, rather than their reality). This seems to me more about finding a sense of rootedness in a rootless and insecure world, and while it is closely connected to opinions we would consider right-wing, no-one has really investigated its links to the far right.
    Sándor talks about “Kádár era demands”. In this regard there is more continuity with the 1930s than this phrase suggests. As anyone who has read the manifestos of the Arrow Cross or the writings of Szálasi will know, social radicalism directed to workers and peasants was combined with anti-Semitism and racism.
    Then, I think lastly and responding again to Sándor, I wonder what the modern far right represents. Is it a coherent part of the political landscape? Or is it rather a Cenrtral and Eastern European equivalent of the outburst of youthful left-radicalism that gripped north America and western Europe after 1968. In other words, is it simply the clearest vehicle of protest for a group that feels that the “transition” was not all it cracked up to be, and that the “communists” have too much economic and political power in the current system. How one judges this is critical in working through the best response to the far right.

  3. Yes, Mark, you are right, they are pressing towards the direction of least resistance. There is no risk in labeling everything they don’t like as communist.
    Nevertheless, I consider this as Bad Religion and don’t think it suitable for the political discourse.

  4. What you call “extreme right” can be a natural self defense against extreme wrong.
    I don’t agree with everything they believe in, but I understand why they are fed up with the Gyurcsany gang.
    I find religion silly, abortion necessary and personal freedom and privacy essential.
    I would also decriminalize drugs, and use the revenues to pay off the national debt.
    Am I conservative now?

  5. Sandor,
    Having read your “elitist” description of the Hungarian right as uneducated bunch of hoboes reveals your “education”. Man, you’d better crawl out from under your voluntary rock!
    You’ve made yourself the laughter of the day. Congrats!

Comments are closed.