Looking for Hungarian activism in election Budapest

Article published on April 7, 2010
Article published on April 7, 2010
On 11 and 25 April Hungarian voters are poised to elect the right or even the far-right. Only a handful of people in the country are swimming against the increasingly strong right-wing tide – and even these few are drifting off course, or have thrown their faith in politics completely overboard

'I can already see ghosts.' Cultural scientist Magdalena Marsovszky stands shivering amidst a group of demonstrators on Budapest’s Hősök tere, or Heroes’ Square. On 6 March, right-wing extremists were intending to march across this square, but the neo-Nazi rally was called off. Hungary is on the election trail. The hundred or so activists can be made out only through the television cameras. Hardly a soul has turned out for the counter-demonstration. In the distance, a Hungarian flag flutters. Relief: no Nazis! Just a handful of Roma or 'gypsies' are taking part in a march. 'I can already see the Jobbik cross everywhere,' Magdalena says nervously.

Jobbik is the Hungarian far-right movement which was founded in 2004. It has enjoyed a surge in popularity, not least because of the global financial crisis. Its malicious rhetoric is mainly targeted at the Roma, who make up 8% of the Hungarian population. A white double-dagger symbol is emblazoned on its red and green party logo. For years in Hungary, empty promises, xenophobia and anti-capitalism have provided rich political pickings. In the 2009 European elections, Jobbik took 14.7% of the vote. Now it has the Hungarian parliament in its sights, too. According to the latest polls by the opinion research institute Gallup, the chances are good. Jobbik could attain up to 20% and even move ahead of the socialists to become the second-largest power in parliament – a situation similar to France’s in 2002, only more predictable!

(L-R) Gábor Vona (31, party chairman), Krisztina Morvai (43, human rights lawyers and MEP since 2009); Zoltan Balczó (52, MEP and Jobbik vice president)

Divided loyalties

Feminist campaign slogan (Európai Feminista Kezdeményezés) against extreme right radicalism and the 'Hungaria Guard''There is a civil-war-like atmosphere here in Hungary,' opines Magdalena, desperation written all over her face. Members of the civil society in Hungary can be counted on one hand. Even the feminists – of all people – were in the thick of things from the outset, as an 'engine of democratic mobilisation'. Andrea Alföldi is the founder of the network of left-wing feminists. A few weeks back, on Hungary’s 'day of honor', she organised an anti-fascism demo. Today, though, she is conspicuous by her absence – out of protest! 'The original aim of the organisation becomes lost the moment politics intervenes,' she explains.

This general disillusionment with politics is especially pronounced, in no small part thanks to the trauma caused by former socialist leader Ferenc Gyurcsány’s 'lies speech'. The ex-chairman of the Hungarian socialist party (MSZP) admitted in 2006 that his party had 'lied from dawn till dusk' in order to win the election, a concession which sparked mass protests. He spoke of Hungary the 'whoreland'. His words were a gift to Fidesz (Hungarian civic union conservatives, the opposition party) and Jobbik. Gyurcsány – the so-called 'filthy jew' – can now be heard on YouTube in a multitude of clips circulating amongst the far-right. The socialists? Traitors! On the tables at Szimpla Kert, the garden of a club in a former steelworks, stickers depict Edvard Munch’s The Scream. You can make out the words scrawled across them: 'Gyurcsány again? Never!'

Sticker campagn'Hungary’s far-right are extremely shrewd. They use the flourishing corruption in Hungary, the predominant anti-communist feeling and xenophobia to their advantage,' affirms 'Ethnografus', alias Peter Niedermüller, 58, who for the past eighteen months has kept an anti-racism blog on the website of the left-wing liberal daily newspaper Népszabadság. He named his blog Védgát, or 'Dam'. The former university professor of ethnology and cultural anthropology does not think much of symbolic campaigns: 'No one goes to them. Young people, especially, steer clear of those kinds of events.'

Rockik against Jobbik

In the west, the French people took to the streets in their thousands in 2002, when the high abstention in the second round of voting left only Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen standing for office. In 2010 Hungary, the situation is more drastic. The opposition leader, Viktor Orbán (Fidesz), is readily grouped in the same political family as Le Pen. A crushing victory is predicted for him; a two-thirds majority would allow his conservatives to amend the constitution.

Auf den Fotos ist Király neben Transvestiten und Homosexuellen zu sehen, auch den ein oder anderen Joint habe er geraucht. Nicht unbedingt Jobbik-kompatibel...Nevertheless, metal musician András Vörös, 38, remains optimistic. He believes in Hungary’s protest culture: 'I hope that Hungary is hit by the kind of wave that swept through France. There are times when you need to shout at the top of your voice, but sometimes you also need to let things run their course. I can imagine young Hungarians taking to the streets if the worst comes to the worst – they did, in fact, after Gyurcsány’s ‘lies speech’.' András, front-man of the Hungarian underground rock band Superbutt, draws on his Gauloise cigarette. This year, he is campaigning in the music against racism project (Zare). On 21 March Superbutt and guests moshed for more tolerance in the Gödör Club. In his words, 'a real exchange,' which was important. 'A gypsy band covered one of our metal songs, and vice versa.'

The campaign was organised by the foundation of subjective values, a Hungarian NGO founded in 2002 by Marcell Lőrincz. As a student, the 31-year-old first worked for the non-profit radio station Subjektiv in Pécs, where this initiative was born. Nowadays he takes his tolerance workshops to Hungarian schools, co-operates with other EU countries, or organises music-based protest campaigns like this one. 'Unfortunately, anti-racism is distinctly unpopular,' Marcell laments. 'The government tries to hijack our campaigns for its own ends.' András Vörös is also annoyed by the omnipresence of politics. 'I want to keep our music and our campaigning as far removed from the election campaign as possible,' he says. 'If a politician sets foot in the club, we’ll stop playing immediately.'

The faces versus racism in the current election campaigns

The message is clear: politics stays outside the pprch door. That's exactly the reason Andrea Alföldi gave for her absence from the antifa anti-fascism demo on Heroes’ Square. Marcell too stayed away from the picket line. Hungarian activism is still finding its feet. 'Lots of people are scared, and the democratic thinkers are still just budding,' Magdalena says with regret. Today she is interpreting for Aladár Horváth, a well-known Hungarian Roma activist, who is also standing in the election. His motto is solidarity. 'The last time, in 2002, I felt that if Fidesz formed a coalition with Jobbik, I would have to leave the country,' he explains. 'That is morally indefensible. A lot of people trust me. I have to be the last to go, if at all. We need to stand and fight for our right to live here. This country has no future besides one that includes gypsies.'

Many thanks to ©Judit Járadi and the cafebabel.com team in Budapest

Images: ©far right protesters ©habeebee/ Flickr; Jobbik campaign image ©jobbik.hu; feminist campaign ©AA; Gyurcsány Sticker ©DS; András Király ©; András Vörös and Marcell Lőrincz by ©Fabien Champion/ cafebabel.com