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Hungarian Politics: Shifting to the Right in Terms of Symbols and National Issues

Dénes Sályi 2018.08.10.

After the two-thirds victory of FIDESZ-KDNP in 2010, the right-wing government not only generated major changes in legislation, state organization and the constitution but also shifted public discourse into a direction more in line with the political philosophy of the traditional Right. This is well demonstrated by the fact that being patriotic has become trendy among opposition parties. This cautious approach to the national issue has been a distinguished feature of the Hungarian Left, unlike most of their western or eastern brother parties. Clearly, patriotic slogans have become politically saleable products in Hungary; after the 2008 global crisis, the demand for liberal messages decreased, while the popularity of traditional and local values continued to rise.

Right-wing Jobbik, the biggest opposition party, has built up an image of itself as a patriotic (or nationalist) party representing anti-globalist and Eurosceptical ideas. As of late, Jobbik has tried to appear less radical in an attempt to become a mainstream party. Jobbik supported giving citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries. They called for protecting the traditional values gained from Hungarian history and levying taxes on multinational companies.

The Socialist Party has had the most interesting change in position, traditionally being internationalist, but critical of national rhetoric in political communication when in government. In the 2004 referendum, they, including Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, opposed giving citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries.  After the disastrous fall of the party at the national election in 2010, they defined themselves as leftist patriots – but this official line didn’t get the full support of the party, and has remained the same today. In 2013, Mesterházy visited the Transylvanian city of Kolozsvár – which has around 20% Hungarian residents and a lot of cultural and historical memories – where he and the Socialist Presidium apologized for their previous policy, saying they had offended Hungarians living in neighboring countries. This summer, several Socialist politicians took part in the Transylvanian Festival of Tusnád – a major and symbolic political gathering organized by FIDESZ for about a quarter of a century. The great question of the future is whether MSZP will be able to consolidate their patriotic policy, getting rid of a serious political handicap from their past and establishing an authentic patriotic and anti-globalist agenda focusing on the matters of the Left. Particularly social welfare and justice, which could preserve a pro-European Union stance. Or they could choose to remain a modernist, globalist, capital-friendly ‘third-way’ party.

The smallest party of the parliament, Lehet Más a Politika (Politics Can Be Different), is an anti-globalist green party. Since their establishment, they have stood for indigenous ethnic minorities and regionalism. In this, they differ from several Western European green parties. However, at the previous election, they got just 7 percent and appeared to be on the verge of falling apart. So it’s unsure whether a markedly green, leftist and patriotic party will remain in the Hungarian political arena.

A further question is to what degree this ’new patriotism’  influences the political scene in Europe. The phenomenon – wrongly interpreted as populism with a pejorative overtone by the mainstream –  is a reaction to a haphazardly elaborated federalist scenario in the direction of a United States of Europe. They don’t seem to understand that the project’s success is dependent on the acceptance of the societies of the member states. If rejected by the ‘people of Europe’, a new scenario has to be launched in order to keep the European project alive.

by Dénes Sályi       

featured photo: MTI