Those 'Rabid' Hungarians and the Approaching 'Abyss'

2013. február 7. 8:18
In another polemic from the commentary pages of the international press, this time from the Guardian, Carl Rowlands airs tired arguments about the Hungarian Right's supposed "attacks on Gypsies, its virulent antisemitism and its xenophobic Christian nationalism." Full of misinterpretations and rather selective use of the facts, the op-ed – and this narrative generally – is growing old.

Rowland's commentary, "Hungary's Rabid Right is Taking the Country to a Political Abyss", begins with a reference to the controversial article by Zsolt Bayer, an outrageous piece that received widespread international coverage for its despicable language about "Gypsies".

We already covered the Bayer incident in a previous post. What Rowland fails to mention is that leading politicians of the ruling party, Fidesz, roundly condemned Bayer's language. In a fit of pure, partisan-fueled conjecture, Rowlands, who contributes to the Guardian's Comment Network as part of the New Left Project, asserts that Bayer "represents a 'close circle' - a central committee of inner Fidesz confidantes."

As we pointed out in our post, Bayer is indeed a founding member of Fidesz, which was more than twenty years ago, but he does not hold a government job, has never been a member of parliament and has not held a party position since 1993, when Fidesz was part of the liberal group. Rowlands copy-pastes the seldom scrutinized but frequently cited assertion that Bayer is a "personal friend" of the prime minister, but the simple fact is that today he is not part of any kind of decision-making or other "circle" in the ruling party or government. For Fidesz leaders he is like your old high school or college friend: you know each other well because you've known each other for years, but you've gotten on with your lives and you're not necessarily spending a lot of time together these days. So, contrary to the point that Rowlands presents, the "current generation of Hungarian rightwing politicians" is not "epitomised" by Bayer, who is not a politician but an independent journalist. Rowlands, in another egregious distortion, asserts that Bayer "really remembers only the tail end of the Kadar years." But Kádár, the communist leader and secretary general of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, ruled from 1956 until 1988. Bayer, who was born in 1963, likely remembers very well the communist regime of Kádár. Unfortunately, one would suppose, he remembers more than the "tail end."

After that, where to begin rebutting Carl Rowland's commentary piece, which comes straight from the fever swamps of leftist polemic? He not only denigrates the image of Hungary but stigmatizes the conservative, right-wing side of the political spectrum internationally. While he's presented as 'New Left', he uses arguments that are difficult to characterize as moderate. For example he writes that "the final piece in the puzzle [of the Hungarian right] is its direct emulation of modern US Republicanism, with its toxic brew of intolerance, fundamentalist Christianity and xenophobic nationalism. Fidesz national symbolism is strongly redolent of redneck Southern nationalism – the ubiquity of the flag on political platforms, and its placement on flagpoles outside large traditional-styled dwellings.” The US flag is just as ubiquitous at Democratic party events. Just have a look at images from last year's party convention in Charlotte. And excuse me, but the Union Jack can also be seen everywhere in contemporary politics. Similarly, have you had a look lately at any political events or 'traditional-styled' dwellings in France?

It is difficult to recall a time when the Left was not ringing the alarms about the "growing problem" of the far-right, racism and anti-semitism in Hungary. Similarly, we hear repeatedly the flimsy assertion that the moderate, center-right disingenuously works in cahoots with the far-right, pandering cynically to populism. Scarcely a week passes without someone calling on Viktor Orbán and Fidesz (and previously other center-right leaders) to clearly distance themselves from the far-right. If you are not leftist or liberal, then you have to prove your innocence. You have to show that you are not a racist. And it's not enough to do so once, but you have to repeat it again and again like a ritual. Where the alleged racism of the Right remains a persistent problem, the actual Marxist, communist or maoist past of many politicians on the Left is not. It’s tolerated as a simple, innocent error.

Rowlands writes that "the borders between mainstream, European centre-right politics and the Horthy-centric far right have never been firmly established. In 1993, even as Csurka [the founder of the predecessor to Jobbik, the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party] was expelled from the collapsing MDF administration, the leaders of the government engineered a ceremonial reburial of Admiral Horthy's bones in his home village of Kenderes.”

In fact, the reburial of Horthy's remains was a private affair, a request of the Horthy family to allow his remains to return home because he could not be buried at the time of his death in 1957 in communist Hungary.  The government did not "engineer" what was a private ceremony. More to the larger point, however, those who know Hungarian history know that Horthy (about whom we wrote here) sought to suppress not just radical-left but also radical-right politicians, and he did, even if we may question his effectiveness.

"Hate speech," writes Rowlands, "has been a defining aspect of the Hungarian right wing since well before the transition to multi-party democracy in 1989,” and he goes on to lament its alleged anti-Semitism and racism. Here, as always with these arguments, what is most interesting is what he leaves out. He fails to mention that the previous Orbán Government (1998-2002) established the Holocaust Museum in Budapest and the House of Terror, which remembers not just the communist regime but the Nazi one as well. He fails to mention that that first Orbán Government made compulsory the observance of Holocaust Memorial Day in all Hungarian schools. He fails to mention that Antal Rogán, Fidesz's parliamentary group leader, was one of the featured speakers alongside Socialist and other opposition leaders at a demonstration condemning the anti-Semitic comments of Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi. He fails to mention that last month, the government established the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Committee to prepare for 2014, the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. Speaking at the inauguration of the committee, State Secretary János Lázár, the chief of staff to the prime minister, spoke of the need "for the nation to come to terms with its guilt in relation to the Holocaust. For us to call the sin by its name, to search for the guilty, who included Hungarians, and to make amends to the victims.”

Rowlands overlooks details like the fact that the first-ever Roma member of the European Parliament from the Central and Eastern European region, Lívia Járóka, who was featured in a Hungarian Globe interview back in June, was elected on a Fidesz ticket. Járóka was one of the driving forces during Hungary’s term as president of the EU Council in 2011 behind establishing a European Framework for National Roma Strategies.

"Fidesz devotes massive public resources to communication," writes Rowlands, "[w]aging a kulturkampf to remove people of questionable loyalty from theatres, museums and opera houses.” To be precise, these people were not removed, but they were replaced after their contracts expired. However, there's some truth to this point, but if we're all being honest with each other, previous left-wing governments did the same. Kulturkampf, unfortunately, is a permanent fixture in this part of the world, not just since the transition but probably since the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It would be easier to take Rowlands and his ilk more seriously if they were equally vocal when the Socialists carry out their Kulturkampf.

We could go on picking apart Carl Rowlands' piece, but maybe that’s enough for the reader to see its warts. The Guardian contributor from the New Left does nothing more than recycle old, weak allegations against Hungary's center-right as being extremists in disguise. It's growing a little tiresome.

Összesen 22 komment

Jelenleg csak a hozzászólások egy kis részét látja.
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Dear Carl. You didn’t write nothing new in your article, just recycled many claims, even the Bayer-piece was commented in the international press weeks ago. So the fundamentals of your piece do not have actuality.

Supposing Bayer has a role in a kind of „well-funded and comprehensive propaganda machines of recent years in Europe”, you slide into creating conspiracy-theory. Exactly into the same kind, which far-right suspicious usually create. Bayer is tipically somebody who is not under control.

Also you undervalue Hungarian politics, when you suppose that the right’s rethoric is the „direct emulation” of US Republicanism. First: there is no evidence for that. Second: Fidesz don’t need it. If you read books, articles about the debates of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy after 1900, you will see, many thing was nearly the same. The only one new now is LMP.
Anyway: the Antall-government didn’t originated it’s politics in anglo-saxon tory or republican one, but in german christian-democracy, for example in Konrad Adenauer's ideas. Also good to know: your recent claims against Fidesz and Mr. Orbán where used against József Antall and his MDF – nowadays Antall is praised by left-liberals with nostalgy as the „real, moderate, european conservative” – unlike the nationalist-populist Orbán.
What I wrote about Horthy, it is a point. Even there was once a debate inside Jobbik about adoring Horthy, because a group of the party claimed Jobbik would had been knocked out by Horthy in those times. „A democracy which is 2 years old was seen to celebrate an authoritarian leader, who by the end of the 1930s was presiding over a brutally managed form of suffrage. No democrat.” Not „a democracy” celebrated Horthy, but who adored him. Possibly a minority. There was no official burial, I repeat it again, but after 40 years of communism maybe a democracy don’t have to be complete. Also everybody has the right to be burried in his homeland, not? In a starting democracy many old, previously suppressed sentiments break open. And wasn’t Spain a democracy, when after the death of Franco, his old ministers played keyrole during the transition and in the democratic political life? You wonder about your perfect democracy, but that’s the reality of a democracy. Do you think celebrating non-democrat kings is also „no democrat”?

I'm Gergely, as I wrote in the end on my comment (SzG) :D You know, when a hardcore Fidesz-fan reads Népszabadság or Népszava, he thinks these newpapers and their journalists are paid by MSZP, and they are directly telefoned from the party. When you tell it to them or to an ordinary leftist reader, they will laugh. And rightly so. But they think the same about the conservative/right side of the press – when it’s exactly the same situation there.

Anyway you can check out my articles in hungarian at the Mandiner blog,, and and decide wether I'm paid by Fidesz. Hardly you will find anything from the last months which defend Orbán and his government. I expressed many times I’m sceptic about Orbán’s governing style generally and I critizied their decisions paricularly also. More times, than defend them. etc.
Anyway: I’m an outside contributor to Mandiner, I’m employed by a non-political website.

What you say about „neocon” rhetoric is not just „neocon”, but generally conservative. Anyway, I havent heard the old slogen about „2 children 3 rooms 4 wheels” since 2010. But I like this slogan, as I (and usually Mandiner’s bloggers like) Reagan and Thatcher.

What you say about Antall’s economic policy is simply not true. In those times SZDSZ, the hungarian liberal party criticized him being not enough capitalist. But anyway: you don’t like „neoliberalism”, as heartless capitalism, and also you don’t like Orbán’s „populist”, „anti-neoliberal” rhetoric and economical policy. After all what do you prefer? From my side I like the conservative decisions of Orbán gov, like flat taxation, cuts on gov subsidies, etc. But I don’t like Matolcsy and measures as bank tax, fat tax, etc. I can recommend you an interview:

Antall’s words on Horthy were diplomatic – and I think true. Yes, there were ministers as they said privately, which is maybe questionable, but the ceremony was not a governmental event. I think Horthy was somehow undistinguished for his role in those times, but he wasn’t evil. And he made many mistakes, that’s why I don’t see him as hero. But it is a fact that he put Szálasi in prison and Rákosi as well. Even in the 80s there, under communism there were a consensus among historians about Horthy wasn’t fascist and wasn’t evil dictator. There is a new book, maybe you can read it, if you speak hungarian: I recommend it.

„Should be placed into the community of the nation and the awareness of the people." After a communist dictatorship this sentence I think does not have any problem. At least it balances the misinterpretations. But I repeat: for me the Horthy-period is somethind mixed. I really like Isván Bethlen, but I have problem with Teleki, Gömbös, etc. And what I prefer is the dualistic times before 1920. Antall expected gratitude, and maybe you know that his father saved many polish against germans after 1939. When you it, you slithering and manipulate arguing. And Horthy’s role in holocaust, that what he did right and wrong, in those times werent’t clear even among historians. It is not a black-white thing. Again I recommend Turbucz’s book. And yes, it’s true that Antall is praised nowadays in leftist newspapers as „real european conservative and moderate”, and it is written nearly by the same, who attacked him being horthyist in the 90s. But anyway: if you value somebody, it does not mean you agree with him in everything, and you don’t criticize him at all. I like Reagan, Thatcher, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Aznar, and also for example Roger Scruton, who criticized many times Thatcher.


Excuse me to write so much, but one more thing: many on the right side of the political scene see you and others as well-paid and well-organized forces of hungarian left, who write their pieces in the international media for an order. This is the easiest to think. Maybe we can honour each other as let's say free enough not writing down sth what he does not think. Thanks. Gergely

I know, you didn't mentioned Horthy a dictator. But maybe you dont have to expect from somebody from the entire history democratic feelings to celebrate him. My question remained: shouldn't we celebrate non-democratic kings? And I asked it in the context of Horthy's reburial and the Antall-gov, not the recent.

I didn't write that you would do MSZP-propaganda. I said we should respect each other as free enough not propagate something what he does not thinks. I don't think you are just a propaganda person. As you critizied many times MSZP, I critizied many times Fidesz.

Also I didn't said that you imply that Orbán is racist. I don't know from where you take it. But you said it about the "hungarian right". A left I think at Hungary has never been neoliberal. Nor the right.

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