On Sunday 8 April 2018, Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ party (Hungarian Civic Alliance) and his partners, the Christian Democratic Party, won 134 seats out of the 199 in the Hungarian Parliament.
This is Orbán’s third victory. He has the two-thirds majority he needs to run roughshod over the Constitution.
The campaign was in effect run on a single issue – immigration, although Hungary has the third lowest level of immigration in the whole of the EU. Xenophobic rhetoric of the worst kind spewed out from the Orbán camp. If you believed him, Hungary was about to be overrun by Jihadists, terrorists, suicide bombers and a tide of Muslim refugees.
Just as nasty were Orbán’s thinly veiled antisemitic attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian born financier. The very same man who, in its early days, helped to finance FIDESZ!
There is a song “Things can only get better”, said to be a favourite of the Blairites. I don’t know if there is a song entitled “Things can only get worse”, but this could be the anthem for Hungary in the wake of this election. Hungary looks set to continue its backward trajectory to the Christian Nationalism of the 1930s — what the historian Emilio Gentile calls “political religion” where a rigid and traditional social order is maintained by an oligarchy whose elite is hand-picked by a “Caesar” (i.e. Orbán). Paternalism when it works, repression when necessary and a mystical, nationalistic elevation of the “Magyar spirit” to the exclusion of non-Magyars, refugees and Jews.
Orbán, like most Caesars, doesn’t like to get his hands dirty and will leave most of the “heavy duty” Jew-baiting to the far right supporters of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. Jobbik is second in the poll with 19.2% of the vote.
Of course, no election is ever won in a vacuum. For FIDESZ to have won such a thumping majority also requires an opposition that is weak and ineffective. The Hungarian opposition parties could not agree on even a minimal programme with which to oppose FIDESZ.
In the previous election in 2014 there was an electoral alliance — Unity — which won 38 seats, not much to shout about but at least it gave opponents of FIDESZ a focus. Since 2014 Unity has basically collapsed. In Sunday’s election the opposition’s results were poor. The Socialist Party came third with just 12% of the vote and its leading figure has resigned.
The other opposition parties: DK (Democratic Coalition), LMP (“Green Liberals”) and Egyutt (Together) have so far managed a total of 18 seats between them.
The opposition’s lack of political will, their lack of understanding of what was needed in this election, their failure to co-operate at any level, is the hallmark of utter political bankruptcy. A left-oriented coalition, based on a minimal programme of democratic reform and opposition to FIDESZ, seems the only forward.
This programme would need to include: freedom of the media; an end to cronyism; academic freedom, freedom of movement and absolute opposition to anti-semitism. Building this coalition must start now before Caesar turns into Napoleon.
According to a 2004 academic study (www.jstor.org/stable/1601607) of "the Hungarian voter", Hungary shows a strange "redefinition of the left-right spectrum".
"Namely, party elites on the left [this refers to the Socialist Party, legatee of the old ruling party] are more in favour of classical neoliberal economic policies, such as rapid privatisation, foreign investment, and tuition fees, while the rightist elites are more disposed toward protectionist policies..."
The "left" is defined as left only by a more liberal and moderate attitude on church-and-state, civil liberties, and immigration.
This picture of a left which is, on some economic issues, more right-wing than the right, must be a big part of the reason why the strident and self-proclaimed right wing has dominated in Hungary since the 2010 election, held in the wake of a big slump in 2009 (7% decline in GDP), following the 2008 world crash.
John's recommendation of a united bloc of the sort-of-liberal parties against Fidesz is no answer to this.
It is like the 1930s "Popular Fronts", except in those there were parties at least somewhat based on the working class and at least in principle, at least for the "next stage", advocating socialistic policies, which chose "for now" to bury themselves in alliances with discredited bourgeois liberal parties.
In this case the "Popular Front" is to be made only by the anti-socialist liberal-ish parties. So the task of whatever small socialist groups exist in Hungary is to try to lobby the anti-socialist liberal-ish parties - not receptive to left influence, since on John's own account they suffer from "utter political bankruptcy" - into sinking their differences?
And will the socialists then sink what differentiates them and join the "utter political bankruptcy" in the name of unity?
For socialists in Hungary to propose independent politics and independent organisation is surely not a quick fix. But then there is no quick fix. In the short term, as John says, "things can only get worse".
Given the conditions in Hungary, socialists should surely seek to join with, say, the Socialist Party, or Greens, in demonstrations or such to defend civil liberties and migrant rights - but at the same time, I would argue, they should build an autonomous political force left-wing both on economic and on civil-rights issues.
On the whole I take on board Martin Thomas’s criticism of the conclusion in my article ‘Caesar marches on in Hungary’ (Solidarity No. 446). In fact, I wanted to avoid the idea of a united bloc of ‘sort of liberal-ish parties’ by using the expression ‘left-oriented coalition’.
Clearly the situation in Hungary is extremely discouraging. I haven’t been back to Hungary for something like 5 years and it is difficult to write about this kind of political landscape when you no longer have your ‘ear to the ground’ as it were. Indeed it is indicative of the problems in Hungary that most of the people I once knew have left the country or retreated into a kind of ‘silence of the lambs’ or internal exile.
One of the big questions is: where will the forces of an autonomous left-wing opposition come from? The Socialist Party, as I said in my article, is utterly bankrupt, mainly because of its appalling record when in office – a number of its most prominent members are out-and-out Thatcherites – and the stench of corruption which permeates the top and middle levels of the party; all of which has contributed enormously to the national drift to FIDESZ (who are, of course, just as corrupt!). There are some in the ranks of the Socialist Party who still believe in the basic ideas of socialism and it is quite possible they could be drawn into some kind of anti-FIDESZ united front but, as an organisation, the Socialist Party is part of the problem not the solution.
When I lived in Hungary (1991-2000) I occasionally met with a group called the Left Alternative and attended a few of their conferences (at one of these Ken Livingstone was a keynote speaker). They were mainly a discussion group which, I hasten to add, is not to be sniffed at – there was a lot to discuss and since 1989/90 the situation for the left has been monumentally difficult. I don’t know if they still exist but I mention them to demonstrate that the idea of centres of resistance, however small, is not an impossible dream even in the unfavourable conditions prevailing in Hungary.
If an anti-FIDESZ united front could be built by left-wing activists it would, I’m sure attract some Greens and possibly some of the better liberals from the ‘liberal-ish’ parties. Nor should it be ignored that, at the level of fighting for civil-rights, some of these individuals have honourable records, going back to the 70s and 80s. I know little about the situation of the trade unions in Hungary today but I suspect it is not good. Even by the early nineties the trade unions had seriously fragmented.
Again I agree with Martin – ‘there is no quick fix’. Last point – the academic study Martin quotes is very interesting and the redefinition of the left-right spectrum is indeed ‘strange’ at first sight. I think there are few places in Europe (Northern Ireland is one that springs to mind) where history weighs so heavily on the present as it does in Hungary. I hope that the editors of Solidarity would consider a longer more in-depth article from me in which I would like to explore this history and why/how this ‘strange’ situation has arisen and also try and say a bit more about ‘Christian nationalism’ and ‘Orbanism’ in Hungary.