Írta: Szilvay Gergely
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.