Hungary’s Road To Serfdom

Máté Hajba Advocate, Young Voices
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While the world was watching Ukraine, last month saw some equally fearful results in Hungary’s national elections. Not only did the nationalist ruling party Fidesz secure their second consecutive term, the reactionary party Jobbik scored the second most seats in the general assembly, foreshadowing dark days ahead for the Eastern European country.

Hungary’s last four years have certainly proved how frightening democracy’s tyranny of the majority can be. With two-thirds of the seats in the general assembly, Fidesz launched a legislative campaign to extend the power and role of the already overweening state. The party started nationalizing assets such as pension funds, exercised censorship over the media, and passed election reforms cementing their victory later this year. The unbelievable extent of their gerrymandering is seen in the statistics: Fidesz managed to gain an absolute majority in the latest election despite receiving 600,000 fewer votes.

These reforms only paved the way for the rise of Hungary’s controversial Jobbik party, which many deem to be a neo-Nazi entity, to add to the growing democratic deficit. Jobbik’s history is riddled with scandalous activity such as paramilitary marchers, flag burnings, and a call to establish a government list of Jewish citizens. Unfortunately, these far-right policies are quickly becoming accepted as a norm in politics. The new deputy speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly Tamás Sneider is a Jobbik member and former skinhead leader. Although he currently denies this fact, he has affirmed his extremist youth in the past. The sad reality is that Jobbik is not to be disregarded as a political force, since it has 20 percent of voters behind it. Jobbik is now the second most popular party, an unacceptable fact for a country that has experienced the terrors of both far-right and far-left dictatorships firsthand.

Unfortunately, Hungary is not doing well with facing the past. There is a growing nostalgia for “Greater Hungary,” a historic geographic landscape that incorporated vast territories from neighboring countries. The loss of these parts, like Transylvania after World War I, is still a thorn in the eye Hungarian nationalists. This historical fact combined with the strong patriotism of the era has led many Hungarians to romanticize the period right before World War II when efforts were made to regain these lands. Supporters of Jobbik unveiled a bust of Hungary’s then-Governor Miklós Horthy, who made an alliance with Hitler. Although he was not put for trial for war crimes, still he is responsible for anti-Jewish laws and a shameful period in Hungary’s history.

The governing party Fidesz, whose members were eager to vote for a ex-skinhead deputy speaker without so much as a raised eyebrow, is erecting a statue in memory of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. It will depict an eagle adversely descending on an angel. The piece stirred a huge uproar amongst critics, who say that the eagle clearly represents Germany, while the angel is Hungary — the message being that Hungary was completely innocent in the horrors of World War II.

Fidesz is not shy when it comes to nationalist politics, although their actions are dwarfed by those of Jobbik. The former want to lure voters to favor them from the supporters of the latter. Fidesz granted voting rights to those living abroad who have a Hungarian identity, despite not having citizenship until recently, because they are the residents of the historical territories taken away as the result of World War I.

The left-wing opposition was disgusted by the actions of Fidesz. They strongly oppose the building of the statute and were fiercely against having a deputy speaker with a skinhead past. Ironically, a video of one of their members, Zsolt Molnár, later emerged suggesting that he was a skinhead as well.

Indeed, Hungary’s government is now overrun by extremists on both the left and right — a tragic situation for a country that has experienced the horrors of both. Hungary’s rulers should heed fascism’s woes seen throughout its history to instead embrace liberty —  a value that should be held dear, but which is sadly, slowly bleeding out.

Máté Hajba is a Young Voices Advocate and  Vice Director of Polgári Platform, a Hungarian nonprofit promoting democratic values.

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Máté Hajba