Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász of Political Capital, a Budapest-based think-tank and consultancy, have just published a new book titled “The Hungarian Far-Right.” This is the first book in English dedicated to the topic.
Speaking at the book’s launch in Budapest on Wednesday, Krekó said “The Hungarian Far-Right” is the culmination of more than 10 years of research. When they started writing the book, Jobbik was the strongest far-right political force in Central-Eastern Europe – and one of the most radical ones. However, two factors had contributed to the topic that dramatically changed the theme: Jobbik’s move to the center, and the refugee crisis.
According to Krekó, Jobbik’s move to the center appears to be a dedicated strategy, one made for pragmatic reasons.
“Usually, it’s easier to get into power from the center than from the margins,” Krekó said.
With Jobbik’s switch, Fidesz, anticipating a shift toward the extreme right in the Hungarian political landscape, had adopted many radical elements of Jobbik’s platform. In some instances, Fidesz had taken Jobbik’s radical policies even further into the extreme.
As a consequence, Hungary now had practically two far-right parties — one in government, the other the largest opposition party.
“My feeling is the center is disappearing in Hungary,” Krekó said.
Citing Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde’s three-point definition of the far-right – nativism, authoritarianism, and populism – Krekó said Fidesz has become a genuine radical right-wing party in that it:
- Believes in a fight against an international elite, one that involves a special form of chauvinism which puts an ethnic ingroup into the center of the political ideology
- Promotes authoritarianism, i.e., makes a concentrated effort to weaken checks and balance and centralize power, and
- Is populist.
To drive the far-right point home, Krekó said Fidesz’s nativist ideology required no further explanation when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself, speaking at a conference of the Chamber of Hungarian Industrialists in 2017, emphasized the need for Hungary to preserve its “ethnic homogeneity” because “too much mixing causes problems.”
Krekó said that when Political Capital first released a big study on the fa-right in 2008, there was no far-right party in the Hungarian parliament. Back then, Fidesz had been a right-wing populist party but there was no nativism at the center of their political ideology. A decade later, “both [far-right] parties will take 60 percent of the votes,” writes Krekó, noting that “this is a big change in the Hungarian political landscape.”
According to Krekó, when he and Juhász started analyzing the far-right in Hungary more than a decade ago, they projected that the very strong authoritarian and chauvinistic attitudes emerging in the country at the time would give rise to the far-right.
According to Krekó, “The Hungarian Far-Right” offers four levels of analysis:
- The situation in Hungary;
- Regional politics: what Fidesz and Jobbik look like in the Central-Eastern European nationalist populist context;
- European context, and
- International context.
“There is a populist slide we can see everywhere in the west. Viktor Orbán believes deeply in the populist zeitgeist. He thinks he can benefit from this and that it will sweep the old elite away,” Krekó said. There was a synergy between the far-right and nationalist populist language coming out of Hungary, which was very similar to what could be heard in other countries in the region: specifically, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
“These are built on similar narratives: historical frustration of lost territories, a strong anti-Semitic component, and, in some cases, even fascist nostalgia,” Krekó said.
“But Hungary is pretty much the only country in Europe where the government could gain in popularity after the refugee crisis at the expense of the far-right. In most other countries, it’s the other way around: far-right parties strengthen, and governmental parties weaken.”
Krekó did, however, point out the marked difference between Jobbik and Fidesz: they envision a completely different future. For instance, Jobbik had been disappointed by the election of Donald Trump — an interesting detail considering wide admiration for Trump from the far-right. In contrast, Fidesz had been thrilled by the election of Trump.
This was related to their different projection on the establishment of the future. Orbán, speaking at the last Fidesz congress, claimed the world was witnessing a new zeitgeist — and the zeitgeist was on their side — one that the family-friendly, hard-working, patriotic Christians would win all over the Western World.
“The Hungarian far-right is the rule and the exception at the same time,” Krekó said. The rule, as they were part of this populist zeitgeist. But it was the exception as well, because in most European countries the far-right opposition parties could capitalize on the refugee crisis to the expense of the governmental parties. In Hungary, it was the other way around.
“This book is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand Hungary’s domestic political tendencies over the last few years, that is, how and why the far-right became the mainstream,” Krekó told the Beacon.