In cooperation with Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Prague, our partners at the Hungarian think-tank Political Capital published a new study on the current state of Hungarian Far-Right. This is the second part of English summary. For the full study in Hungarian, click here.
An analysis of the political narratives related to the Trianon Peace Treaty in Hungarian public discourse is not only crucial because of the 100th anniversary of the treaty, but also because the strategy of PM Orbán aiming to monopolize the issue of nation-building. Narratives previously only accepted and used on the far-right scene have almost all infiltrated the government's communication and now form an important part of mainstream politics. The governmental rhetoric’s shift to the right has taken a serious toll on the far right, which has been “driven out” from its own topics.
Trianon as a pillar of polarization
The unprocessed nature of the historical traumas of the 20th century has broadly contributed to the polarization of public discourse in Hungary, but the importance of the Trianon-issue was even more enhanced by the turns of remembrance politics in the last hundred years.
The peace treaties following the Great War paradoxically contributed at the same time to the creation of an independent Hungary for the first time in 400 years, while separating the country from approximately two thirds of its former lands and population, forcing nearly three million Hungarians into minority.
Revisionist ambitions between the two world wars were overshadowed by the country’s alliance with Hitler’s Germany, which is one of the main reasons for millions of Hungarians today not being able to feel the trauma of Trianon - they merely consider it as one of the steps leading to the Holocaust. After the concealment during the era of state socialism, the issue could only break into the public domain with the 1989 regime change, ending decades of repression.
Even though József Antall, the first freely elected head of government of the country defined himself as the prime minister of 15 million Hungarians, made the relationship towards the Hungarian communities outside the country the symbol of right-wing national commitment, the memory and symbols of Trianon in the 1990s were mostly taken up by far-right movements and political parties.
Supporting the Hungarians outside of the country seemed to be a consensual issue as one of the priorities in Hungarian foreign policy. This consensus was first disrupted by Viktor Orbán, then in opposition, and the faultlines deepened further in 2004 with the referendum (invalid and failed due to low turnout) on the dual citizenship of ethnic Hungarians living abroad. The referendum initiative could not only be used to unite the right-wing camp and form its identity, but also to stigmatize the left campaigning for a “no” vote as an “anti-national” group. This played a crucial role both in the deterioration of the left’s popularity between 2006 and 2010, and in the rise of Viktor Orbán and the incorporation of Trianon-narratives into the mainstream.
After coming to power in 2010, one of the first measures by Orbán was to simplify the process for obtaining the dual citizenship for Hungarians forced to live outside the country’s borders. The next step was to grant them voting rights in the national elections, while the Hungarian National Assembly declared the anniversary of the Trianon treaty to be a National Day of Unity. Parallelly to the gradual radicalization of the Orbán-regime, an alternative historical narrative was being constructed based on the victimization of Hungarians and their constant fight in past and present alike with real or imaginary enemies. The topics previously thriving only on the far right thus infiltrated official communications, enabling most of the previously far right Trianon narratives to appear on the government’s side as well. Probably the strongest extremity of them, the exclusion of the opposition from the nation is also part of the government’s statements now.
From conspiracies to revision – major Trianon-narratives
Our research aimed to reveal the Trianon-narratives dominating the current far-right and/or governmental discourse to uncover both similarities and differences. We have examined the public statements of far-right and government-leading politicians, opinion formers and organizations, adding a media analysis of politically extremist media sources and the extensive media empire supporting the government.
Although countless and sometimes contradicting narratives have surfaced about Trianon, we list the ones most characteristic of the far-right and governmental scenes.
The Trianon Peace Treaty was…
- a result of the lost world war
- the result of the exaggerated claims of great powers
- the biggest injustice in world history
- the result of undermining work of internal enemies
- the result of a conspiracy by Freemasons.
- the left tends to attack their own nation
- there is a sense of cultural superiority over the neighboring nations or world powers
- and revision is depicted as possible/impossible.
The prime minister’s two-faced rhetoric on Trianon
The most attention focused on the prime minister’s statements, also serving as a guide to other politicians and opinion formers of the governing parties. Orbán’s communication on the Trianon-issue during the memorial year followed the usual pattern, using different tones for different audiences. This strategy allows for a higher level of radicalism when addressing his own voting base compared to the one used on the international scene. While his international press conference to launch the year on 9 January was focused on international cooperation and restraint, Orbán wished to rouse the feelings of national pride and excellence when speaking at the national holiday on 20 August. However confrontational his latter speech was, it still remained moderate regarding the topic of Trianon. Contrarily, in a speech that was given at a more private, rural location, the closest in time to the centenary but aimed especially at his own voter base, he blamed the “West” and the “conspiracy in Budapest” for Trianon equally. This way the responsibility is attributed to external and internal enemies at the same time, matching the concepts of enemies of past and present days as well. He touched on feelings of the fear of hatred against Hungarians and of cultural superiority as well, so during his public appearances throughout the memorial year the PM’s speeches included all the above-mentioned, more extremist Trianon-narratives – with the exception of revisionism. As we will later see, this agenda is echoed in media controlled by the government and the outlets standing close to it.
The far right and revisionism
The gradually radicalized government communication almost completely disregards territorial revision, this topic does not appear as a feasible option on the government’s side apart from some rare examples. Our examination of the statements of the far-right scene and interviews we conducted with the leaders of the organizations involved show that even though the most extreme versions of revisionist narratives were addressed, there is by far no complete ideological consensus throughout the scene on this issue.
While one of the extremist parties represented in the national assembly – Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement) – even advocated for repealing the Trianon Peace Treaty, not all of the most prominent far-right organizations stood by the idea.
Légió Hungária for example does not argue in favor of revision but autonomy, and even expressed its reservations stating that a territorial revision is technically unlikely but the claim for territories cannot be waived as a matter of principle, on moral grounds.
Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom (Hungarian Self-Defense Movement), on the other hand, considers revision to be the only acceptable solution. Their statements focus on persecution and victimization of Hungarians, the injustice committed, and cultural superiority as well. One of the dominant figures of the far right, György Budaházy is also an outspoken supporter of revision, he even started a public petition for the revision of the borders defined by the Trianon treaty. His reasoning that dismisses autonomy includes the mistreatment of Hungarian communities by the successor states of the former Austria-Hungary, the sense of cultural superiority and the necessity to remedy this historical injustice.
Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement) which claims credit for elevating the Trianon-issue into the mainstream, has issued a broad spectrum of statements. While claiming the borders to be illegitimate, they also promote dialogue with the neighboring nations, a kind of cooperation in the Carpathian Basin.
Trianon-narratives in the press
Main narratives of articles published in far-right media outlets
In the first nine months of the centenary of the Trianon treaty, the 16 examined far-right websites published 527 relevant articles. The majority of the coverage appeared around the anniversary in June, but the issue was on the agenda almost for the entire year. The most active sites were Kuruc.info, Elemi.hu (currently unavailable) and Hunhir.info, publishing four fifths of all the articles over these three platforms.
An approximate quarter of the articles were dominated by the narrative of the rough situation of out-of-country Hungarian communities (mainly in Transylvania and in Slovakia), raising the question of the responsibility of the neighboring governments. The second most common narrative was territorial revision as a possible/necessary step, mentioned in nearly a fifth of the articles. The third most common narrative discussed the exaggerated claims of the great powers, their collusion and their intent to destroy the Hungarian population as the background for the decision a hundred years ago. More than a tenth of all the articles included this perspective.
The main narratives of articles published in the pro-government media
Government-controlled media produced tens of thousands of relevant articles during the first nine months of the year, making the analysis of their content impossible at the level of our current study. To sample the narratives of the pro-government media, we examined the articles published on a single day, 3 June 2020., the day before the centenary, as this was the day when the messages discussing the following day were published.
In an interview with László Kövér, Speaker of the National Assembly and prominent Fidesz politician stated that the “Hungarian left has attacked its own nation repeatedly over the past hundred years. The Trianon borders would have been drawn very differently had the Hungarian left not betrayed its country. Today’s leftist liberal politicians lack the commitment to their nation.” This narrative considered remarkably extremist previously has by now become a common element of the government’s communication.
Zsolt Semjén, the deputy prime minister for national politics discussed the same sentiments in a festive speech in Csurgó, also on 3 June, adding Freemasons’ conspiracy narrative to the mix – which contains anti-Semitic overtones.
It is not by accident that the words of the speaker of the assembly and the deputy prime minister reached the biggest audience as most of the outlets of the exceptionally extensive government-controlled media empire reported on their statements in details. Although more restrained statements were also made from the government side, it can be said that the narratives by the two mentioned politicians were the ones that the government communication aimed to transmit most of all to the electorate.
This is all indicated by the fact that among the pro-government media articles published on 3 June, 15% presented the narrative of the left attacking its nation.
This is the second part of English summary. For the first part "Observations on the current state of Hungarian far-right", click here. For the third part "The National Core Curriculum and the Education for Democracy", click here. The study was made in cooperation with Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Prague.