Beyond the Problem of Access: Democracy Closing in Hungary

On Monday November 26 2012, a Hungarian MP, Márton Gyöngyösy, deputy leader of the extreme right “Jobbik” Party, called for the creation of a race-based list, on the grounds of risk to Hungarian national security.

This all-too-familiar burst of base bigotry from the Jobbik party in Hungary’s parliament has deflected attention from an even more ominous event that passed unnoticed, in the very same place, on the very same day: Electoral gerrymandering designed to keep the governing Fidesz Party in power.

As Marton Dornbach points out below in his remarkably insightful commentary from the Hungarian Spectrum — reproduced in full and slightly updated by the author — Fidesz is just playing “good cop” to Jobbik’s “bad cop”.

The two right-wing parties are only distinguishable by the fact that Jobbik’s hallmark is psychopathic bigotry, whereas Fidesz’s hallmark is psychopathic opportunism. Both are sinking Hungary deeper and deeper, downward and backward, toward an ugly, resentful autocracy and xenophobia to which Hungary is no stranger, and from which it has not yet made the sincere effort to dissociate itself that has been made by the other nations of Europe.

Hungary has a majority of decent, fair-minded people, like every other nation in the world. It is not beyond hope that world outrage at this pair of incidents may help them to rally against these two pernicious parties, Fidesz and Jobbik, that have already done Hungary so much harm, and oust them decisively, once and for all, in the next election, despite Fidesz’s shameless and disgraceful efforts to make this so much more difficult to do.

“The thing that is really important here, in my opinion, is not that Márton Gyöngyösi is a Nazi. Most of us realized a while ago that Jobbik is a virulently racist Neo-Nazi party. This is no news. It is also no news, unfortunately, that the ruling party is willing to go to great lengths to avoid unequivocal and firm condemnation of Nazi talk (incidentally, the most disgracefully equivocal part of Zsolt Németh?s response was the formulation he chose: he said the number of Jews in government ?is not particularly closely related? to the severity of the conflict in the Middle East /?nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz?/)

“No, the most newsworthy aspect of this incident is the timing. Gyöngyösi?s statements came five days after the ceasefire in Gaza was announced. So there was nothing particularly topical about his sick proposal. In any case, thugs like him never needed a pretext for Jew-baiting. Why now then?

“Well, it so happens that, on the very same day that MGy made this demented proposal, the Fidesz supermajority put a stake through the barely-beating heart of Hungarian democracy by abolishing universal voting rights and introducing an exceptionally restrictive form of mandatory voter registration. You wouldn?t know this from the foreign media coverage of the Monday parliamentary session; but that?s precisely the point. Especially in the international media, but in Hungary too, the abolition of universal voting rights was completely eclipsed by this Nazi provocation. After all, viewed from London or Washington or Brussels it is so much easier to relate to Nazism than to election technicalities in a small country. So much easier for journalists to cover the former than the latter.

“But let?s put things in perspective. Unfortunately, there always were and perhaps there always will be sick racists who harbor genocidal fantasies. The fact that Hungarian society as a whole fails to ostracize such people and/or treat them as psychiatric cases is a sign of a civilizational breakdown. However, there is no real danger of Gyöngyösi?s proposal being implemented (although in this respect we all know that nothing is impossible). Without denying that anti-Semitism is alarmingly widespread in Hungary and has a potential to produce violent outbursts, I think it is safe to say that the only group of people in Hungary that faces systematic discrimination and harassment on account of ethnic origins is the Roma. So we should see MGy?s statement as a purely symbolic act of transgression whose sole purpose was to shock and draw attention.

“Unlike MGy?s proposal, the election law passed on the very same day is certain to have very real future consequences. It drastically reduces the chances of Orban?s opposition. Let?s be clear about this: the introduction of severely restrictive voter registration rules in a country with a perfectly well-functioning central registry is an unprecedented disgrace. It is the most overt violation of basic democratic principles even in the sordid record of the Orban regime?s power grab. This is the outrage that is being overlooked amid the (absolutely justified) uproar about the latest Nazi provocation by Jobbik. Look at the foreign coverage of what happened on Monday in the Hungarian parliament: there is no reference to the election law, no reference to Zsolt Nemeth?s appalling non-response, while most outlets state that the Hungarian government has condemned the provocation ?in the strongest terms? (if only!) The whole story is a PR coup for Fidesz. In keeping with the line of defense adopted by numerous diplomatic and journalistic apologetes of the regime, this incident has given Fidesz yet another opportunity to play good cop to Jobbik’s bad cop.

To conclude, I find it almost impossible not to raise the obvious, admittedly speculative, question: Cui bono? Who is benefitting from all of this? To my mind at least the timing of this crass provocation invites the conjecture that there may be (tacit or not-so-tacit) co-operation between the Neo-Nazi Jobbik party and the ruling Fidesz supermajority. And let?s not forget here two points: it is not inconceivable that Fidesz may need to form a coalition with Jobbik to stay in power after 2014; and Jobbik is the other party, beside Fidesz, which stands to gain from the new voter registration rules. [original comment edited by MD]

Marton Dornbach

Here is some background reading on last year’s signs of Hungary’s downward trajectory already noted in this blog:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hungary’s Philosophy Affair: Bringing It All Out Into The Open

Open Letter to President of Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Response of President of Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Nyiri on Martyrdom

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Hornok on 1919

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Vancsó on Smoke Screens

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On “Magyar” On White Collar Crime

Quod Erat ad Demonstrandum (QED)