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BUDAPEST, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - The rise of the anti-gypsy Hungarian far right has revealed deep failures in the country’s political system and its civil society.
Hungary is still recovering from the shock of seeing a new extreme-right formation called ‘Jobbik – Movement for a Better Hungary’ gather 15 percent of the vote in last month’s European parliamentary elections won by the rightist opposition party Fidesz.
Many have pointed the finger at the left’s inability to deal with the Roma issue, instead brushing it under the carpet or putting the focus on the “fascist threat” in Hungary. Others blame the rightist opposition for minimising the same threat. There is strong opposition to the right against Roma, a ‘gypsy’ people who migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century.
However analysts have noted that many may have voted for Jobbik as a protest vote in a country deeply distrustful of politicians and politics. The low turnout, at 36 percent, also inflated Jobbik’s impressive results.
Jobbik began as a movement of right-wing university youths, and evolved into a party in 2003, betting on the Roma issue while avoiding the anti- Semitic clichés of other extreme-right parties.
Unlike its far-right predecessors that had their base in Hungary’s larger cities, Jobbik’s anti-Roma rhetoric scored points in the countryside as well, especially in poor areas populated by the Roma.
“The Roma is an unpopular topic, so in order to get more votes, the liberals and the socialists thought that the best strategy is not to include this issue in their campaigns too much,” Hungarian anthropologist and Roma expert Gergo Pulay told IPS. “As a voter, if you had a sense of an apparently existing problem and you were searching for a party that says something clear about it, you went for Jobbik.”
The party was also very skilful in using the media to gain visibility, especially by setting up the ‘Hungarian Guard’, a semi-paramilitary group of ‘concerned citizens’ with such aims as protecting Hungarians from “Roma crime”.
While Europe was shocked by the appearance of the ‘Guard’, recent polls suggest that Hungarians are still more afraid of gypsies than of the Hungarian Guard.
Authorities decided to ban the ‘Guard’ in a decision that promises much controversy and court appeals at European levels.
Another factor playing in Jobbik’s favour was the telegenic presence of female politician and lawyer Krisztina Morvai as head of the party’s list for the European Parliament.
Krisztina Morvai, a former member of the Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee of the United Nations, gained prestige in right-wing circles after leading investigations into police violence in the street protests against the socialist government in 2006. Then socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted lying to the electorate on the state of the economy to win re-election, causing furious protests from the right.
Ever since, the extreme right has considered the still ruling socialists as illegitimate, demanding early elections, and growing in radicalism. The left says the country’s radicalisation was nurtured by the main opposition party Fidesz, whose officials are only now condemning Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, “a guard of clowns,” in the words of Fidesz board chair Laszlo Kover.
However, among lower cadre officials sympathetic views towards Jobbik persist, mutual cooperation within several municipalities continues unhinged and, as many point out, Jobbik’s leader Gabor Vona is a former member of Fidesz.
Ironically, Fidesz’s recent turn to the centre only helped push disillusioned rightist voters into Jobbik’s arms, to which must be added the surprising votes coming from traditional socialist strongholds. As all mainstream Hungarian parties failed to address the acute problem of Roma integration, Jobbik was given the chance to start the discussion on the topical Roma issue, Pulay told IPS.
With a few noble exceptions, Pulay claims there is “no serious ground for anti-racist action in Hungary today. What we see with such campaigns here is that they can only mobilise those who already think the same way, while having no serious influence beyond that.”
Pulay says civil society shares part of the blame: “There is a certain cult of ‘the urgency’ of the Roma problem, giving us little time to think, and requiring immediate intervention. This urgency provides a space for plenty poorly prepared actions by self-appointed experts with very doubtful outcomes.”
Moreover, public opinion tends to blame gypsies for money that actually disappears at higher levels of bureaucracy, the anthropologist told IPS. “As in the rest of Eastern Europe, there is a mushrooming of non-governmental organisations and other programmes that managed to develop their own exploitative bureaucracy throughout the last 10 to 15 years.”
Many believe that the growing hostility towards the Roma minority is connected to the economic crisis. Hungary has been hit harder by the global financial crisis than the European average.
Politicians have also built careers on anti-Roma rhetoric in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and similarly to Hungary, paramilitary-style squads have been formed in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
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