Summary of Diagnosis 2009, a report prepared by Political Capital Institute for the Hungarian Anti-Racist Foundation
The consolidation of the far right since the 2009 European Parliamentary election has become a fact of life. The more than 427,000 votes cast for the Jobbik demonstrates that, aside from having integrated the majority of far-right voters, the party has also been successful in addressing voters disappointed in or categorically rejecting established parliamentary parties. The phenomenon is closely linked to the economic crisis, the government crisis of the past two years and Fidesz’s political strategy that in many areas blurred the line between moderate and radical policies. At the same time, the resurgence of the far right cannot be explained by these factors alone; it is traced to more complex social and political issues. Society’s demand for extremist political solutions over the past three years has been met with policies offered by Jobbik and the two strains have mutually reinforced each other.
Demand side – social psychological factors
The social/psychological factors predisposing a part of the Hungarian electorate to policies offered by the far right can be grouped into five broad categories: (1) growing discontent with the established political order, (2) political shift to the right, (3) increasing demand for authoritarian and law-and-order policies, (4) lack of social trust and (5) hostility.
Growing discontent with the established political order
Following the regime change, the Hungarian society expected to see rapid improvement in living standards. When this failed to materialize, over the past 20 years there has been a widespread and growing disappointment in democratic institutions and the market economy. Following the 2006 general election these trends intensified: social discontent with democratic institutions by early 2007 is well illustrated by a European Social Survey data. In a field of 21 European countries, the survey measured a lower social satisfaction index only in Bulgaria. These developments have equally undermined respect for constitutional institutions, parliamentary parties and politicians, as well as the European Union, while significantly increasing the appeal of far-right policies and social susceptibility for radical messages. It is interesting to note that the proportion of young people with little sympathy for democratic institutions is surprisingly high. According to the Youth 2008 research, less than 50% of those between the ages of 15 and 29 believe that democracy is superior to all other political systems.
Political shift to the right
A number of studies show that in the past few years the Hungarian electorate made a definite move to the right. Today the number of those located at the far-right fringe of the left-right continuum stands above 12%. While this does not necessarily represent a general and permanent shift in values, the phenomenon has a clear impact on party politics: potential support for the far right is currently so significant as to lend Jobbik (as yet outside of Parliament) the status of a mid-size party.
Increasing demand for authoritarian and law-and-order policies
In the past few years a sense of social yearning for role models, values and social order has notably increased. Based on past experience, this provides an excellent breeding ground for the spread of far-right ideology. Moreover, in Hungary the economic crisis and a sense of vulnerability due to the attendant social/political crisis has only increased a longing for authoritarian figureheads and the popularity of radical law-and-order policies. The “order-utopia” offered by the far-right is a response to this social need. In the meantime, a variety of self-defence guards challenge the state’s law-enforcement monopoly and undermine one of the cornerstones of the democratic system.
Lack of social consensus
Chronic pessimism characterizing the Hungarian population and a general lack of confidence all contribute to the resurgence of the far right. Low social morale and widespread suspicion create a weak civil society, lack of confidence in the market economy, strong demand for paternalism and growing distrust of the establishment. According to recently published data of the World Value Survey, the level of social activism is the lowest in Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria within all European countries. The weakness of civic institutions plays into the hands of the far right that, often disguised as a civic organization and assuming state responsibilities, promises the creation of social/political institutions to improve community life.
In the past few years intolerance and prejudice aimed at minorities, as well as political thinking based on conspiracy theories have been clearly on the rise in Hungary. There are no standard deterrents to tame or check openly expressed prejudices. In fact, increasingly public discourse in the country knows no boundaries and patently extremist political views circulate without reflection. As a result, open bias against Gypsies and their hostility to the majority society has escalated. Furthermore, due to the crisis (not only in Hungary, but in the region and the entire world) political anti-Semitism based on classic stereotypes has gained new ground.
Supply side – factors motivating the politics of Jobbik
Following the 2006 reorganization of a traditionally divided far right, successfully integrated by Jobbik, must be seen as a clearly independent political force. In other words, the resurgence of the far right does not benefit any parliamentary party and Jobbik is not their ‘creation’.
Jobbik is an independent political entity with positions consolidated in the past three years and its effective strategy is one of the factors behind the strengthening of the far right. For in themselves current social and psychological conditions would not have been sufficient to resurrect the far right; an effective political force was needed that, responding to opportune social conditions, was able to organize itself and a support base. In this context, in respect of Jobbik's policies we consider three factors particularly relevant:
- The symbolic force of the party’s ideology and rhetoric. This has been manifested in the appropriation and popularization of a number of public events, holidays, traditions and symbols, e.g., the Árpád-stripes or the Greater Hungary theme. At the same time, moderate political forces appear to be increasingly paralyzed in this contest. The rational/pragmatist political language used by domestic left and liberal forces rings hollow in this race for symbols. In a new development, the traditional right also appears to be losing ground against the far right.
- The effective exploitation of grassroots organization by the far right in opposition to party politics. Since the autumn of 2006 the far right has been Hungary’s most dynamic and expanding political community. In the past three years Jobbik has been highly effective in organizing this community and it created its own alternative public forums. As a result, today it can claim to have a more active social hinterland than any established parliamentary party.
- The appropriation of the Roma issue and its degradation to a law-enforcement problem is based on prejudice. The success of the strategy is well illustrated by the casual adoption of the “Roma crime” definition in public discourse.
Source: Political Capital’s calculations, based on Observer database
To this day Jobbik uses the legally banned Hungarian Guard as a tool to build the party organization. Using emotionally-loaded enemy images and symbols, the party has started to build a strong community and social support base. Joining this community, some voters believe they can diminish their own sense of isolation and share the intense experience of the collective. It is revealing that in the two years following the establishment of the Hungarian Guard almost 180 new Jobbik-party cells have emerged. As demonstrated by the outcome of the European Parliamentary election, the party has become a political force with stable support nationwide.
As a result, in addition to integrating the majority of radical and far right voters, Jobbik also managed to address voters disappointed in parliamentary parties. Accordingly, currently the following three (in part overlapping) social segments are overrepresented in the party’s base: young people, people living in rural areas and residents of North-Eastern Hungary.
As demonstrated by international examples, in most cases far right parties face serious risks when, after strong growth, they become part of the parliamentary/political elite, or a government coalition. If that happens, almost as a rule, support for far right parties declines. While there is little doubt that in 2010 the Hungarian far right will gain seats in parliament, long-term developments cannot be predicted at this point.
Legal, political and economic environment
Aside from extreme cases, legal tools cannot be the only means of countering the far right, although these cannot be ignored either. However, dogmatic arguments shrouded in legal fetishism are aimed primarily at the treatment of symptoms and not the elimination of underlying causes. In the past few years the far right often was left in the position of “the protector of legality” and organizations charged with the protection of the rule of law have often strengthened the position of the far right.
While public discourse is usually focused on legislative issues, the institutional causes for the resurgence of the far right are tied primarily to law-enforcement problems. On the one hand, at the practical level the mistakes and deficiencies of law enforcement often lead to the negligence of duties when it comes to specific measures against the far right or, when this is not the case, excessive procedural delays create the same impression. On the other hand, on the symbolic level inconsistencies in the application of law create the impression in the general public that legal authorities are unable to perform their duties and citizens are ”left to their own devices”. Such inconsistent enforcement of regulations erodes the credibility of competent authorities, which leads to a loss of confidence in the state’s institutional system, and eventually strengthens the position of the far right as it aggressively campaigns for law and order.
Between 2006 and 2009 there have been a series of significant changes contributing to the resurgence of the far right. In those three years long-simmering issues reinforcing society’s longing for radical solutions broke to the surface and coalesced.
The simultaneous crises of the government (governance), the relations between the Roma and non-Roma population, parliamentary politics impotent against the far right and the media unable to handle extremist incidents have laid the foundation for a breakthrough by the far right, demonstrated by the close to half million votes cast for Jobbik at the 2009 European Parliamentary election. Currently, political arguments aimed against the far right cannot be described as effective as, instead of targeting the far right, they primarily serve the political strategies of parliamentary parties hammering each other.
The economic crisis has extended the far right’s scope for action on several levels. First, crises usually aggravate existing social differences. In addition, chronic existential anxieties and in many cases the effective loss of livelihood reinforce dissatisfaction with the entire system, and expand the social base where radicals find additional support.
In formulating our recommendations, this year again we start out with the assumption: prejudices and extremist political trends can be modified and mitigated; their emergence can be checked.
- International and domestic public opinion polls all show that confidence in democratic institutions has declined dramatically in the past few years, especially among young people. Consequently, in Hungary as well there is an urgent need to improve civic studies and strengthen commitment to democratic values within the framework of public education and civil society alike.
- In the context of legislation we see the need to modify regulations only in respect to the right of assembly. Standard procedures authorizing demonstrations must regulate the issue of political responsibility unequivocally, and the police must be allowed to act free from party politics. We recommend that in the future competent local municipalities to be given the power to decide issues related to the right of assembly.
- The problems of inconsistencies seen in law-enforcement and painfully slow prosecution are more severe than the lack of legislative amendments. The effectiveness of the most precise and comprehensive legislation is measured by the level of its enforcement. In short, instead of passing more and more laws, an effective official response to the far right requires the correct, consistent and efficient enforcement of existing regulations.
- Currently the Hungarian media lacks a standard Code of Ethics providing journalists some guidelines on how to treat extremist incidents, organizations and individuals making headlines. Professional media organizations should urgently establish a set of standards and some basic principles to limit the publication of extremist views without critical commentary.
- The political media has become dominated by a narrative where all issues related to Roma integration are discussed along domestic political fault lines. Instead, various Roma-integration trends, projects and concepts should be treated free of party politics; it would make more sense to talk about assimilation and differential approaches. The first aims at absorbing ethnic (or other) minority groups and providing treatment equal to that granted to members of the majority, while the other approach emphasizes differences and the need to protect these.
- On the level of party politics, political arguments used in the past against the far right are clearly ineffective. Moderate political forces committed to the principles of parliamentary democracy, the market economy and the rule of law must join forces against the far right. Historical experience and foreign examples all show that extremist ideologies and political forces can be marginalized only through joint action.
The Diagnosis 2009 report can be downloaded in full from the Hungarian Anti-Racism Foundation and Political Capital Institute websites: