Meet Europe’s New Fascists
Hungary’s far-right activists used to rally in the streets. Now they’re in parliament, where their party, Jobbik, is stoking hatred of Jews and Roma.
Márton Gyöngyösi, a member of the Hungarian parliament, does not look the least bit like a neo-Nazi. That may be the most frightening thing about him.
Born in 1977 to a globetrotting trade-official father, Gyöngyösi spent his formative years in places as diverse as Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and India. He received a degree in economics and political science from Trinity College, Dublin, and went on to a successful career as a corporate accountant, working for firms like KPMG and Ernst & Young. But in 2006, he quit accounting to join Jobbik, “The Movement for a Better Hungary.” Founded in 2003, the far-right, nationalist party is now one of the most powerful political forces in the country.
While Gyöngyösi opts for well-cut suits over the leather jackets typical of Hungary’s neo-Nazis, he has the unfortunate habit of sounding like one. In a February interview with London’s Jewish Chronicle, Gyöngyösi asked whether Jews “have the right to talk about what happened during the Second World War,” given Israel’s “Nazi system.” Discussions about the forced transportation of over 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz unnerves him: “Me, should I say sorry for this when 70 years later, I am still reminded on the hour, every hour about it? Let’s get over it, for Christ’s sake. I find this question outrageous,” he told the paper. “It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around with the numbers” of dead Jews. Holocaust survivors and their descendants who seek restitution for stolen property also grate. “This money-searching is playing with fire in Hungary,” he said. The comments only added to the growing sense of unease felt by Hungary’s 100,000 Jews.
A week after the dust-up, Gyöngyösi told me that the quotes printed in the Jewish Chronicle were “taken out of context” and “completely manipulated.” And when I sat across from him in his Budapest office overlooking the icy Danube, I didn’t see this side of Jobbik’s foreign-affairs spokesman. He was gracious and didn’t betray a trace of anger or resentment. But his distinguished pedigree and flawless English make his words—the sort of thing one would expect to hear from a half-literate skinhead—all the more chilling. Meet Márton Gyöngyösi, the clean-cut, savvy face of 21st-century European fascism currently on the rise in Hungary.
Last Thursday, Jobbik MP Zsolt Baráth delivered a five-minute speech from the floor of parliament commemorating a blood libel that took place 130 years ago. Several days before Passover in 1882, a young girl was murdered in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlár, and the local Jewish community was blamed. A group of 15 accused Jews were eventually acquitted in a court trial, but the murder victim, Eszter Solymosi, has since become a martyr figure for the Hungarian right. A memorial constructed in her honor several years ago is a pilgrimage spot for Jobbik members and other far-right activists. “As we can see, there is no clear explanation, we do not know what happened to Eszter,” Baráth said. “Nevertheless, there is one point common to the known variants: The Jewry and the leadership of the country were severely implicated in the case.”
This was hardly the worst outburst by a Jobbik figure; that honor would probably go to European Parliament Member Krisztina Morvai, who, in a 2009 Internet posting, wrote, “I would be greatly pleased if those who call themselves proud Hungarian Jews played in their leisure with their tiny circumcised dicks, instead of besmirching me. Your kind of people are used to seeing all of our kind of people stand to attention and adjust to you every time you fart. Would you kindly acknowledge this is now OVER. We have raised our head up high and we shall no longer tolerate your kind of terror. We shall take back our country.”
Jobbik leaders deny that they are a fascist movement. “We are not communists, fascists, or National Socialists,” Gabor Vona, the party’s 33-year-old leader, declared in a speech to several thousand Jobbik supporters this winter. “But—and this is important for everyone to understand very clearly—we are also not democrats.” (In his spare time, Vona founded Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary organization whose members would strut around Budapest wearing fascist insignia condemning “Gypsy Crime” and demanding segregation. The Guard was officially banned by the country’s constitutional court in 2009, but it is not uncommon to still see Jobbik members dress in fascist regalia for public displays.)
The party’s rejection of democracy at home has translated into an affinity for authoritarians abroad. Prominently displayed on Gyöngyösi’s bookshelf is a “Twinning Agreement” between Tiszavasvári, a small town in eastern Hungary, and the sister city of Ardabil in Iran. Last January, after a Jobbik candidate won the mayoralty, Gyöngyösi and Vona paid a visit to Tiszavasvári with the Iranian ambassador to Hungary. Since then, Jobbik has taken a particular interest in Iran. In 2008, Vona said that representatives from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard should monitor Hungary’s 2010 parliamentary election to protect against any irregularities.
The Islamic Republic might seem like a strange ally for a group that describes itself as a “radically patriotic Christian party.” But given Jobbik’s virulently anti-Europe rhetoric, anti-Western worldview, and undisguised anti-Semitism, it’s not hard to see why the party has embraced the mullahs.
Jobbik’s turn eastward also has roots in a cultural philosophy known as “Turanism,” a pan-Turkic ideology emphasizing the alleged origins of Hungarians among the peoples of the Central Asian steppes. Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of Hungary’s wartime fascist Arrow Cross party, espoused the existence of a “Turanian-Hungarian” race. One of the unspoken functions of Turanism is to emphasize the racial peculiarity of Hungarians and thereby establish Hungary as a country in which the Jews and the Roma have no place. While the Communists suppressed Turanism, since it challenged their own claims to universal brotherhood, the Hungarian far right, with Jobbik in the forefront, has revived it. Jobbik leader Vona has declared that “an alliance based and developed on the principles of Turanism instead of the Euro-Atlantic alliance would be more effective in serving the needs and interests of our nation.”
Jobbik, Gyöngyösi told me, rejects the Western “neoliberal” order, describing the European Union as “a collapsing union.” The party’s rejection of the “Euro-Atlanticist foreign policy” is based on more than just disgust for the supranational structures of the E.U. bureaucracy, the euro-zone crisis, and the perceived decadence of the post-Christian West; it has a deeper, atavistic basis. In a discourse citing Samuel Huntington and Carl Jung, Gyöngyösi explained how Hungarians have a “double identity,” Western and Eastern, owing to the influence of 13th-century Mongol invaders and the 150-year-long Ottoman conquest that commenced in the 16th century. These are not just matters of historical curiosity, they are present in a “very living culture” revealed in the Hungarian language, folk dancing, and mythology. It can also be traced genetically. There are three groups, Gyöngyösi told me, into which Europeans can be racially divided: “Germanic, Latin, and the Slavic. We are neither. If you look at the Hungarian faces they are very different from the Latin, Slavic, Germanic.” Given this account of what constitutes a true Hungarian, it’s difficult to see where the Jews and Roma fit in.
Jobbik came to the fore two years ago this month, when, after eight years of unpopular socialist government, Hungarian voters elected Viktor Orban’s nationalist, conservative Fidesz party to power with an unprecedented two-thirds majority of seats in parliament. Jobbik stunned Europe when it won 17 percent of the vote, becoming the country’s third-largest political party. The relationship between Fidesz and Jobbik is complicated—Jobbik is not a formal member of the ruling coalition—and yet, Fidesz leaders play a dangerous game by trying to appeal to their constituents without going too far.
The Orban government has set out on a course of rapid and thorough change, passing over 350 laws since coming to power. Orban’s critics allege he has set about to undo the country’s democracy by purging the civil service and filling it with party loyalists, establishing a media authority that threatens press freedom, eroding checks and balances, robbing the judiciary of its independence, and introducing a new constitution without sufficiently consulting the opposition or the country at large. Among other changes, the new constitution proclaims Hungary to be a Christian nation, defines life as beginning at conception, and stipulates that marriage is between a man and a woman.
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