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 first part of English summary. For the full study in Hungarian, click here.
During the emerging political, societal and economic crisis that started to unfold in 2006, the far-right in Hungary gained new strength. After 2010, however, the movement started to gradually lose ground and even entered a sort of crisis by the middle of the decade. In order to understand where the nationalist radical scene stands now, and to gain a more complete view of far-right organizations’ visions, values and ideologies, we interviewed prominent figures of the movement and included the findings in our study.
Rearrangement on the far right
The weakening of the radical nationalist scene can primarily be attributed to changes in party politics. The Fidesz government that gained power in 2010 has taken a number of topics and messages from the far right from the very beginning (e. g. in the fields of cultural and remembrance politics, economic and social policies and in foreign politics), and utilized more and more elements from their toolset of political tactics and methods. The year 2015 raised the bar to new heights with the start of the cabinet’s „migrant campaign” that painted asylum-seekers as enemies and immigration was deemed the highest priority topic for many years to come. Creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats, inciting fears and hatred became the central element of Fidesz’s tactics, connected to the „one camp, one flag” strategy of the party. The strategy aims at controlling the entire political right to rule over its topics and keep its actors in check.
Parallel to Fidesz’s shift to the far right, the extremist party Jobbik accelerated its strategy to become a „people’s party”. Aimed originally at broadening the camp with more moderate electorate (and at the same time leading to the loss of the former connections with radical nationalists), Jobbik probably did not see any other option because they could no longer challenge Fidesz from the right.
The changing political climate favored the far right as the governing party and its media helped their messages to appear increasingly in the public discourse and to become more accepted (like the catchphrase of „ethnic homogeneity” used by the prime minister, the conspiracy theories about George Soros or painting immigration as a Muslim invasion). As a backlash, the far-right formations had to face the fact that Fidesz not only took over their topics but echoed them even louder than they could. With the fall of the socialist-liberal government, they also entered a void concerning their objectives –„national radicalism became hollow”. The crisis surfaced the long existing rifts in the movement and uncovered the absence of a common vision. Members started a process of self-reflection to redefine themselves and their objectives.
The reflection resulted in the rearrangement of the scene; new figures, tactics and focuses emerged. The final outcome became especially visible in 2020 when a number of Jobbik’s politicians left the party to start Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement, MH) that has representatives in the National Assembly via their independent members, while Légió Hungária was formed by actors leaving HVIM. Both organizations represented a return to the „roots” considering topics, messages, tactics and political style as well. The Hungarian far-right made (apart from the anti-Roma sentiments that can be considered traditional in the movement) anti-immigration and the anti-LGBTQ stances its main topic in accordance with international trends. These topics also feature a significant idea of a Jewish conspiracy that follows the traditions of anti-Semitism.
The largest organizations of the radical and far-right movement are Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, HVIM), Betyársereg (Army of Outlaws, BS), Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom (Hungarian Self-defence Movement, MÖM) and Légió Hungária (Hungarian Legion, LH). Identitás Generáció (Identity Generation, IG) separates itself both organizationally and in its ideology from these organizations that can be considered traditional; IG is the member of the pan-European identitarian movement. Apart from IG, the organizations are closely connected, they organize events together, show common activity in certain issues, although they differ in their vision, ideology, activities and appearance as well. All the ‘traditional’ organizations apart from LH support the MH party, they act cooperatively and propagate the party’s actions and messages. The formerly traditionally introverted far-right scene made a visible step out onto the international stage, maintaining active relations mostly with German and northern European organizations, and they also connect to numerous regional (e. g. Bulgarian, Serbian, Ukrainian) and other western European actors. This opening up is part of the global development of the far-right’s internationalization.
The career of the figures we interviewed in the far-right movement shows the strong connections that exist between the organizations and at the same time depicts the constant transformation of the far-right. While the year 2006 was equally fundamental for most of them in their commitment to the movement, their personal motivations reach a lot further back in time. Most of the figures interviewed obtained their world view from a right-wing, conservative family and patriotic, Christian upbringing. Many of them also stressed the importance of the noble and/or Transylvanian family heritage, military experience and stories in the family and the role of ascendants in the Horthy era. Family traumas like fleeing form Transylvania, or persecution after World War 2 or 1956 also played a role. Companionship played an important role for many of them both in the formation of their worldview and in their socialization in the movement, together with the community experience built by subcultural elements like music, concerts and organizational events.
Values, topics, narratives, enemies
The traditional far-right organizations share a number of common characteristics. Their centralized and strongly hierarchic structure includes a tight circle of leaders making the decisions, and they all show a strong militant character in their activities, values and organizational structure alike. Neither of them can relate to modern republican values, the concept of equality based on the idea of human dignity is far removed from their worldview that is built basically on merits and hierarchy, and they have an ambivalent, not at all uniform relation to freedom. Most of them object being described as chauvinist, racist, antisemitic, Nazi, “nyilas” (member of the Arrow Cross Party) or Neo-Nazi and the like, even though their world view and system of values are centered around – with more or less difference – the sense of superiority whether it is the white race, the Hungarian nation, the Christian/European culture or the traditional values. Their typical values all include the nation, tradition, Christianity, order, security, community and the need for a strong, authoritarian state – while liberalism is unanimously refused.
As the organizations we examined mostly define their agenda and narratives against something (e. g. groups of people, global or local trends), a significant element of their identity is the common enemy concept they imagine for themselves or generalize from examples of extremity. According to the extremist narrative, some groups pose a threat to the “own” ethnic and cultural group’s existence from the outside (immigrants), while others (e. g. liberals, gay people) threaten it from the inside. Certain groups are painted to be dangerous because of their strength, power or influence (e. g. the Jewish conspiracy), while others mean danger on the contrary for being underdeveloped or in a poor situation (the Roma or the immigrants). As usual, the enemy concepts featured in the far-right narratives are “strawmen” detached from the related groups, even existing independently from them.
In accordance with the international trends of the far right, the so called “Great Replacement” narrative is in the center of their reasoning. It includes the belief of well-organized outside enemies (e. g. Muslim immigrants) and inside enemies (e. g. liberals, gay people) threatening the civilization and race of white Europeans. This narrative kept reoccurring in our interviews and one of the reasons for its success is that it concentrates all the insecurities and fears related to the loss of ethnic and cultural privileges due to changes in society. There is also a significant need to prepare for the imminent “Great Collapse”, the change to eradicate the present world order. The most extreme conception to expedite the collapse does not seem to be present in Hungary, however, the idea of a disaster or emergency in society – mostly in the form of a war – exists in the far-right mentality.
The topics that occurred as answers to questions or spontaneously were dominated by the immigration and LGBTQ-issues (present as both a demographic and a moral problem), and the unevenly extremist, but always paternalistic anti-Roma attitude. The reasons against immigration included the denial of the willingness of migrants to integrate, the conflict of value systems, the invasion and Islamization, the protection of Christian values, and the weakening of Europe. The conflict around sexual orientation and gender identity – that for certain organizations evolved to be almost of the highest importance and to provoke the most vehement reaction in recent years – is the expression of “protecting the race, the nation and tradition” together with anti-liberalism and anti-western attitudes. The significance of the “Roma-issue” is indicated by its spontaneous emergence in almost all of the interviews, with some considering it as the downright main problem of Hungarian society. The problem itself was identified in multiple ways: some stressed the unemployment of the Roma people, the crimes committed by them and the situation of public security, the “gypsyfication” of certain settlements. As far as traditional far-right topics are concerned, antisemitism does not appear as an individual topic. However, it clearly dominates the scene’s mentality; most of the issues’ final explanation is the “Jewish conspiracy to rule the world” that is considered an obvious fact.
Our interviews also revealed the helplessness caused by and the sensitivity of the COVID-19 pandemic, which defined 2020 both from a political and economic point of view. The issue of the pandemic seems seriously divisive for the radical nationalist community: virus- and mask deniers are challenging the ones to accept prevention measures. This division might be the reason why the majority of the organizations did not communicate or took a stance on the virus, they merely called to follow the regulations or offered virtual community events. Opinion leaders of the far-right scene are subtly skeptical about the seriousness of the virus and the pandemic, and blame the media for inciting panic – although more of them stated that they do not deny the virus and the regulations have to be followed. Their ideas on the effects of the outbreak and its political and economic consequences align with the popular conspiracy theories, the vision of the previously mentioned collapse of society, and foreshadow the possibility of increasing control and oppression of societies.
There is a symbiotic relationship between Fidesz, which aims to dominate the complete political field on the right, and the radical and far-right actors. the former taking topics and messages from the latter, viewing themselves as a driving force, as an actor channeling the society’s needs and steering the public discourse and the government towards the appropriate direction. This also hints at their relation to Fidesz’s politics: although they do not fully agree with several of the steps taken by the cabinet, at the level of specifics they mostly expressed support for the government’s actions, and the vast majority claimed that the country had been moving in the right direction since 2010. They mainly highlighted family policies, actions against immigration, the reinforcement of defense, the strengthening of national consciousness and conservative values as positives, while mentioned corruption and oversimplifying government communication as negatives. A significant part of the organizations feel that they have to endure less headwinds than before in terms of legal and institutional framework as well as the public discourse. They view the Fidesz government in many cases as a nationalist force that is bound by the realities of realpolitik or by the attention of international communities meaning they cannot go as far as they would see necessary. While they have reservations about the effectiveness or courageousness of the government’s steps, their direction is highly supported. Interestingly, a remarkably small portion of the organizations find it problematic that the government takes and recycles their topics; the majority rather welcomes that ideas, which used to be considered radical, have infiltrated the political mainstream within a few years.
This is the first part of English summary. For the second part "Narratives of the Trianon trauma", 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.
 Approximately 2 hours of interviews each were recorded with representatives of the following organizations: Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, HVIM ), Identitás Generáció (Identity Generation, IG), Hozz Világra Még Egy Magyart Mozgalom (Bring Another Hungarian Into the World Movement), Légió Hungária (Hungarian Legion, LH), Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom (Hungarian Self-defence Movement, MÖM), Betyársereg (Army of Outlaws, BS), European Patriots Unite (EPU).