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UPDATED Hungary goes to the polls: the rise of the illiberal state

By Martin Smith, in Hungary | 24 February 2018

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban (pic credit Laszlo Balogh)

UPDATED after the mayoral election Hódmezővásárhely on 25 February – seen as a key bellwether constituency

This is the first of a series of reports direct from Hungary, looking at the realities of racism and fascism in the central European country and the rise of the far right, as the elections approach

On 8 April, Hungary will go to the polls in its parliamentary election. But this will be like no other general election in Europe. The main challenger to the authoritarian far right populist party Fidesz is the outright fascist party Jobbik.

At present, opinion polls show Fidesz on around 52%, with Jobbik at 17% and the centre left MsZP on 12%.

>> More on Hungary from Dream Deferred

This is an election whose repercussions will be felt far outside the borders of this poverty-stricken central European state. Hungary is becoming a beacon and organising centre for fascist and the far right across Europe, and is rapidly building a far right block with its allies in Poland and other neighbouring countries.

Here’s a guide to the three main parties contesting these elections.

>> Read our liveblog from the 2014 elections


There is an old Hungarian joke that was often told during the dark days of the Stalinist regime. Now it has resurfaced – but this time with a new target.

Every morning Viktor Orbán’s looks at himself in a mirror and says, “My eyes are my mother’s, my nose is my father’s, my chin” — the Hungarian word for chin and state is the same – “is mine”.

Over the last eight years Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz government have undermined democracy and have turned Hungary into an “illiberal” state. The government has pushed through constitutional changes that have undermined democracy, weakened Hungary’s judiciary, waged war against NGOs and imposed restrictions on press freedom.

That is only half the story: Orbán vehemently opposes multiculturalism and immigration. During the refugee crisis of 2015 Orbán encouraged Hungarian immigration officials and police to attack refugees arriving at its borders. Orban himself referred to the refugees as “poison” and erected razor-wire fences on Hungary’s southern borders to keep them out.

In the run-up to the election Orbán’s attacks on migrants have intensified and he has called for a global alliance against migration. At a recent rally in Budapest Orbán said: “Christianity is Europe’s last hope.” With mass immigration, especially from Africa, “our worst nightmares can come true. The West falls as it fails to see Europe being overrun”.

Roma people – a substantial minority group – are a regular target for official and unofficial racism in Hungary.

The Fidesz government is also whipping up antisemitism. It has found the “perfect” enemy in George Soros. Proposed legislation, dubbed the “Stop Soros” law, is calculated to curb the influence of the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros, who founded the Central European University and donates large amounts of money to human rights groups. Soros has supported Hungarian charities that help asylum seekers and migrants.

Everywhere you go in Hungary you see posters featuring a picture of Soros’s grinning face and underneath a slogan reads, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh”. Human Rights Watch rightly claims this poster, “evokes memories of the Nazi posters during the Second World War showing ‘the laughing Jew’.” These posters are almost always covered in anti-Semitic graffiti with slogans such as “keep Hungary Jew Free” and “stinking Jew” daubed on them.

Fidesz wasn’t always a right-wing populist party. It was founded in 1988 as an anti-Communist liberal party. After its poor result in the 1994 elections, Fidesz morphed into a conservative-type party.

Under Viktor Orbán’s leadership Fidesz gained power in 1998 and governed Hungary in coalition with two other right-wing parties. But it narrowly lost the 2002 elections to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MsZP). It has continued to move rightwards and become increasingly authoritarian.

Since 2010 Fidesz has governed Hungary and has adopted more authoritarian methods of rule. Its main political challenge has come from Jobbik, and it is in an attempt to undercut Jobbik that Fidesz has adopted an ever more right-wing agenda.


Jobbik is electorally one of Europe’s most successful fascist parties. It currently has 24 MPs, three MEPs and is running second in the opinion polls – although it is well behind Fidesz.

Formed in 2003, it is a party rooted in Hungary’s fascist past. It has led violent pogroms against the Roma and is involved in vigilante attacks on migrants trying to enter Hungary.

>> An in-depth look at the origins of Jobbik

Jobbik has used a paramilitary force – the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) – to intimidate opponents and minorities. The huge paramilitary organisation was banned in 2010, but it continues to operate under a number of names and guises.

Fidesz’s move to the right and Jobbik’s electoral success have prompted attempts by Jobbik’s leadership to “modernise” the party and adopt a more moderate-sounding political programme. So for example in its 2018 manifesto it claims it is a “modern conservative people’s party” one which “rejects the chauvinism of the 20th century”.

The media have taken Jobbik at its word and accept this “road to Damascus” moment. In a desperate attempt to undermine Fidesz, sections of the “liberal intelligentsia” have called for a coalition between the left-liberal parties and Jobbik. This is an appalling and dangerous move – behind the veneer Jobbik remains a deeply fascist organisation.

Jobbik has toned down its political message, but it is just copying the “Eurofascist” stratgey og parties such as the French Front National and the British National Party.

Jobbik may present a moderate face to the media in Budapest, but take a closer look at its political practice in the local areas that it controls and a nasty, more openly Nazi party reveals itself. Jobbik has rejected the unity call for its own reasons.

But it is worth keeping an eye on results of the local election in Hódmezővásárhely on 25 February, where Jobbik and all the left of centre parties have stood down in order to give an independent candidate a clear run at Fidesz.

UPDATE 26 February: Fidesz suffered a humiliating election defeat last night in the mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely. This was a Fidesz stronghold and a city that has been governed by Fidesz and the right since 1990. There was a 63% turn-out, higher than in any previous local election.

The result was:
•Péter Márki-Zay (INDEPENDENT): 57.35%.
•Zoltán Hegedűs (FIDESZ-KDNP): 41.83%.
•Gyula Hernádi (INDEPENDENT: 0.82%.

Márki-Zay, the independent candidate for mayor, was supported by every major Hungarian party from the greens (LMP), the social democrats (MSZP) all the way through to the fascist Jobbik.

The result will of course give a boost to every one who is opposed to the right-wing authoritarian Fidesz party. But the opposition parties are playing with fire if they think uniting with Jobbik is a way to politically defeat Fidesz.

This is a dangerous alliance and will further legitimise Jobbik. No one should doubt the fact that if Jobbik is given half a chance it will destroy the left and liberal parties and put in place a regime far worse than Fidesz. Jobbik’s nazi politics and its paramilitary force should not be forgotten.

Hungary: nazi party Jobbik has a huge paramilitary wing


The MSzP is Hungary’s third biggest party. It was launched in 1989 and came out of the bowels of the former Hungarian Communist Party, the MSzMP. It describes itself as a social democratic party. But on economic issues, the MSzP is often a greater advocate of neoliberal, free market policies than its rightwing opponents

Up until 2006 it was one of Hungary’s two major parties. But two crises ripped its heart out. The first was the Hungarian revolt of 2006.

Between 17 September and 23 October 2006 a wave of protests and riots shook the Hungarian government and state to its core. This protest movement was triggered by the release of a private speech made by the then Hungarian MSzP prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. In his speech, he revealed that his party had lied to win the 2006 election. He even boasted that he had achieved nothing in his four years of office. The protest movement was the first the country had seen since 1989.

For over five months, protestors occupied the square in front of the Hungarian Parliament. There were daily demonstrations, which often ended in riots. Jobbik, which was at that time a tiny organisation, played a central role in this movement. By February 2007 the movement had petered out.

The second crisis to rock the MsZP was the 2008 economic crash. Hungary saw its GDP fall by 6.8%, the largest drop in Europe, and unemployment hit 33%. According to a European Parliament report in 2015, a third of the population lives in poverty.

The MsZP were in office during the crisis and this, coupled with its unconditional support for the free market, saw its support haemorrhage.

Since 2010, the MsZP has been unable to challenge Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism and has done little to oppose the virulent racism aimed at the Roma population or stem the growing tide of antisemitism.

The collapse of the MSzP brought about the political breakthrough for the new authoritarian right in Hungary.

Election prospects

Unless the polls have got it seriously wrong, Fidesz look set to win its third parliamentary election in a row, by a large margin.

The party looks likely to win over two thirds of the seats and gain a so-called “super-majority”. Hungarian law – introduced by Fidesz – allows any party with over two thirds of the seats is allowed to pass a new constitution and other laws without the support from other parties.

A Fidesz victory would highlight once again the continued growth of far right racist populism across Europe and it will also see a further entrenching of the far right across Central Europe, in particular in neighbouring Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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