An article appeared in Friday’s Népszabadság that summarized the findings of a sociological study about youthful adherents (ages 15-29) to the ideology of the far-right Jobbik party. Unfortunately, it turned out that the report is two years old, and since then Jobbik has become a much more powerful political movement. The study by Anikó Félix and Anikó Gregor, for example, still talks about Jobbik’s strength being in the least developed eastern regions, although by now we know that Jobbik did equally well at the last election in Transdanubia. There are, however, a few points that are worth contemplating.
In a 2012 survey Jobbik enjoyed 10% support among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Fidesz led with 14% while MSZP brought up the rear with 6%. The rest didn’t answer. Late 2013 polls put Jobbik support at 14% in the 18-29 age group, significantly smaller than some people imagine. Fidesz and even the left liberals did considerably better than Jobbik in these surveys.
Worrisome signs emerge, however, when we look into some of the details of the Félix-Gregor study. The young men and women who support Jobbik “under certain circumstances” accept the idea of establishing a dictatorship; they consider membership in the European Union outright harmful to the country; and they are leery of government in general. And now comes the most remarkable feature of the study: the authors found that “there is no significant difference in the estimation of dictatorship and their attraction to ‘esoteric beliefs’ between young Jobbik and Fidesz supporters.” There is also no difference between them when it comes to the question of nationalism.
Let’s first take a look at nationalism or chauvinism as it informs these young people’s worldview. The study tries to make a distinction between “proud positive nationalism” and “chauvinism or a belief in national superiority.” The distinction, in my opinion, is not so clear as our authors seem to think because among the many definitions of nationalism one can find several that essentially conflate the two. Here are a few: “excessive patriotism; chauvinism,” or “exaggerated, passionate, or fanatical devotion to a national community.” In any case, these young people seem to endorse the chauvinistic version of nationalism. A rather bad piece of news.
Definitions of chauvinism often contain references to militarism. For example, “militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country” or “zealous and aggressive patriotism or blind enthusiasm for military glory.” So, it’s no wonder that one of Jobbik’s early decisions was to set up the Magyar Gárda, a paramilitary organization. Weekend gatherings and the comradeship experienced there greatly add to the cohesion of the group. They create a community to which young people in particular feel comfortable belonging.
And now we can turn to the subject of esotericism. These gatherings also include “lectures,” mostly on what the authors call “esoteric topics.” As these youngsters usually discard anything that is official or mainstream, they often reject whatever was taught to them in school. If their textbooks said that Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, they will instead be attracted to any zany pseudo-linguistics that glorifies the Hungarian language. It wasn’t the speech of some humble hunters and fishermen from the Russian steppe but the language of the Sumerians. This is just one example, but right-wing groups closely associated with Jobbik hold weekend schools where bogus scholars pour utter nonsense into young heads. These esoteric beliefs are also a common bond that hold the groups together. Their beliefs distinguish them from the rest of society. They think that secrets have been revealed to them that are unknown to others.
The important message that we get from the study that questioned 8,000 young men and women is that chauvinism and a belief in esotericism have a strong hold on both Jobbik and Fidesz sympathizers. And Viktor Orbán must know this because he loves to catalogue the unique virtues of Hungarians: they are clever, inventive, chivalrous, and hardworking.
If I had to pick the most important political weapon in Viktor Orbán’s arsenal, I would say that it is nationalism/chauvinism. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it, but it was some well-known Hungarian personage who claimed that “a person can cut firewood on a Hungarian’s back as long as he invokes nationalism.” Alas, it seems to work. What Viktor Orbán has done in the last four years to the majority of his own people would have caused riots in many other countries. Or at least serious opposition. But not in Hungary.
So what can the left-liberal opposition do under these circumstances? Resort to nationalism as a political gimmick? Surely, they could never outdo Jobbik and Fidesz. Moreover, no responsible politician should preach unbridled nationalistic, chauvinistic propaganda in the 21st century. The only solution to me seems to involve changing young people’s attitudes. Admittedly, this is a very difficult proposition when Viktor Orbán has tightened his hold on Hungarian education, but a way must be found because otherwise Jobbik-Fidesz will be in the saddle for decades to come. Since the European Union seems to be a willing partner of Viktor Orbán and keeps supplying him with the money that keeps him power, we can’t expect a collapse of the regime any time soon. The Hungarians themselves have to vote the regime out. But first they must reject the chauvinistic opiate Orbán and Jobbik are feeding them.