Political violence on the rise in Hungary says Péter Krekó

November 8, 2015


“Violence in words can easily lead to violence in action, even if the two are not completely the same,” warns Péter Krekó, the director of Budapest’s Political Capital Institute and the co-chair of the EU radicalization awareness network.

Krekó defines political violence as a form of violence that aims to reach specific political goals, like overthrowing a government, or which is directed against a group and justified by political ideology.  The associate professor of social psychology and political psychology at Budapest’s Eötvös University cites as examples of political violence hate crimes, destruction of minority symbols (such as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries) or marches on minority communities.

“Violence in words can easily lead to violence in action, even if the two are not completely the same,” says Krekó, who warns that the level of political violence in Hungary is “rising on the levels of attitude and language”.

He identifies Hungary’s 700,000-strong Roma minority as the group most vulnerable to the threat of political violence.  “Twenty-nine percent of Hungarians think violence against Roma is justifiable,” says Krekó, noting that in the British sample this figure only came to around 10 percent.

Krekó says that in Hungary “violent extremism and political extremisms are pretty much overlapping, and there is a lot of connection between the two.”  While he does not consider  radical right-wing Jobbik party to be a violent organization, Krekó notes that it is connected to, and even funds, a number of organizations possessing violent goals, such as the so-called 64-county youth movement.

The need to depoliticize heated issues

On the basis of research jointly conducted by Political Capital and the Hungarian Progressive Institute, Krekó concludes that Jobbik is the party that glorifies violence the most.

“Twelve percent of Hungarian respondents in a representative survey said that terrorism can be an acceptable tool to reach some political goal.  In the case of Jobbik supporters this was over 20 percent, which means that over one-fifth said that terrorism is acceptable too,” says the analyst.

He identifies two main avenues for combatting political violence: politics and policies.

Krekó says politics is “rather the problem than the solution” as “the ones who are politically more active are the ones who tend to justify violence more”.  He warns that “very heated political debates can contribute to the justification of violence and to the general tensions in a society”, and for this reason he emphasizes the importance of speaking in a “more moderate way … But it is not always in their political interest.

“There would be a need to depoliticize some of the heated issues, for example the refugee question, the immigration debate, the Roma integration question, which doesn’t mean that political parties themselves shouldn’t speak about them.  But it shouldn’t be the political players who dominate this discourse because it seems to rather radicalize the public discourse.”

On the policy side, Krekó says the most important thing is an educational system that strengthens democratic values, makes the students more tolerant, raises the empathy level of students, and strengthens their trust in democratic institutions.  He says that at present the educational system in Hungary fails to deliver such goals, and this helps explain why youngsters and university students prefer Jobbik to other political parties.

He says the content of education should be changed but is concerned Hungary lacks the political will to do so.

Krekó stresses the importance to combating political violence of identifying social groups and geographic areas that are most vulnerable to radicalization.  He likens northeastern Hungary to a “powder keg” owing to its high minority population and low living standards.  “The chance of conflict becoming violent there is high,” says the analyst.

Community building

In addition to mapping the problems and then trying to find new solutions, Krekó is a strong advocate of “community building” especially on the part of the police, which he says is completely lacking in Hungary.

He acknowledges that there exists a danger of”reciprocal radicalization” in which the minority groups exposed to symbolic and real acts of violence become radicalized in order to defend themselves.  However, he has not seen any evidence of systemic radicalization among the Roma who exist on a “sub-political level”.

“They don’t have a strong identity.  They don’t have any strong political organizations or the capacity to organize themselves.  So they are rather becoming the victims of the violence.”

Krekó calls “unfortunate” the tendency on the part of Hungarian officials to link Roma issues with other unconnected phenomena such as radical immigrant communities in other European countries, and says it does not help Roma integration efforts to talk about them as a minority that can be radicalized.