Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Worrying developments in Hungary

It is always difficult to disentangle truth from average left-wing hysteria in accounts of what happens in European countries, especially in Central Europe, when right-wing parties win elections. There have been all sorts of alarums and excursions about the Hungarian government, which last April won the two-thirds majority that the first post-Communist constitution specifically tried to prevent. (here and here)

This article in Der Spiegel is, as usual, muddled on the subject, assuming as a starting point that anything left-leaning is better than anything right-leaning. As before it lumps FIDESZ and Jobbik (the extreme right-wing party) together, though there is a throw-away comment on the second page that indicated Orban's efforts to distance himself and his party from the latter.

There is a mention of the growing popularity of Jobbik but no real indication of figures. Maybe it is worrying and maybe it is not; maybe they are just idiots who like marching around in made-up uniforms with torches in their hands.

However, I cannot dismiss the subject completely, as a good deal of the information is true, as I found out when I was in the country last month. The New Theatre has, indeed, acquired a new director who is an unashamed anti-Semite and who, together with his ultra-nationalist friend and colleague, Csurka, talks openly about rescuing Hungarian culture from the present rotten, liberal and foreign control. Anyone who knows twentieth century history can decipher the code there.

The plan to move Attila József's statue from the square outside Parliament is real enough and when I was there a twenty-four hour demonstration or occupation was going on of people who were reciting the great poet's works. As I was told one reason was his politics (though he was not actually a Communist) but the other was Viktor Orbán's apparent desire to restore the square to its early twentieth century appearance. It seems in keeping with the pronounced desire to "return" to the Hungary of pre-Trianon.

The iniquities of the Treaty of Trianon are part of the politicians' discourse and there are various plans to get the Hungarians in other countries to vote in Hungarian elections. Given how many of them there are (those iniquities were real enough) there could one day arise a situation in which the government of Hungary is decided by people who do not live in the country. (Of course, its real government is in Brussels, so one could argue that this is all a minor problem.) Unfortunately or fortunately, at present, the various groups in various countries seem to be unable to come to any agreement, as a political programme I watched on TV explained.

When I tried to find out whether people really cared about what happened almost a century ago, given how many other things happened afterwards, I could get no adequate reply but certainly I heard no conversations on streets, on trams, in shops about the Trianon. The price of goods, yes; the nasty foggy weather, yes; Trianon, no.

I did hear some complaints from people who thought developments of this kind were would not be possible in the EU, which is why they supported Hungary's membership (not such a stupid notion when you look at the country's history). What, I asked reasonably, did you think the EU would do? Answer came there none.

At present these are possibly worrying developments, which may not go very far either because the next elections will bring an end to the FIDESZ control or because Orbán will decide that this is not a good idea, just as he decided after much swaggering around, that the IMF was a better bet than China or Saudi Arabia, though that is once again in suspension.

Though our media tends to relegate Hungary's woes, there can be no question about it, the country remains another difficult problem, both economically and politically for the European Union.


  1. I have a good friend in Hungary who I think would second your concern. In Eger, where he lives, the very young seem to be especially anti-semitic and xenophobic. Most of them will never have met a Jew, but that doesn't seem to matter to them. The Jewish cemetary is regularly vandalised, as is a completely unused Synagogue which was restored using EU funds. Maybe Hungary has always been the same, but certainly the mood has become darker in my estimation, from visits over the period 1992-2010. Their politics seems to be highly juvenile, with no party seeming to feel the need to be 'the adult in the room'. Elections are a bidding war of who can promise the most chickens in the most pots paid for out of 'government money'. Pensions always seem to figure highly in that respect. I do wonder what direction Hungary would go in if the EU broke up. I'm not that optimistic.

  2. Sadly, Andrew, few people are. One way last year's election was described to me at the time was a competition of who steals more. The things is there aren't that many directions in which it can go, no matter what the politicians or the mob leaders say. It is too small to shut itself off completely and nobody wants to be another North Korea. Culturally as well as economically it is European (not necessarily in the EU, of course). These developments were not meant to take place once the former Communist states were in the EU, I seem to recall being told.