The 2018 Hungarian Parliamentary Election: the geopolitical risk of further legitimisation of extremist politics in Europe

Luke is a third-year War Studies and History student with a keen interest in geopolitics, political extremism and the rise of right-wing populism across Europe.

 

In 2017, Henk Von Houtom and Rodrigo Bueno Lacy published ‘The Political Extreme as the new normal: the cases of Brexit, the French State of Emergency and Dutch Islamophobia’. They argued, by addressing the “symptoms” of far-right extremism but not necessarily the “disease” itself (the concerns that were making people move to support politically extremist positions), political parties have put centre-ground politics at risk by legitimising more extremist policies. [1] While these scholars used the case of the Netherlands particularly, illustrating how the centre-right VVD held onto power in March 2017 by adopting stances held by Geert Wilders’ more extreme PVV [2], there is evidence to suggest the legitimisation of extremist politics has been occurring in other European states. Many eyes have been drawn to Hungary since the ascension of Viktor Orbán to the position of Prime Minister in 2010, and more recently, after the Fidesz-KDNP Party Alliance retained its majority in the country’s parliamentary elections held in April last year. However, this is not what our politicians should be wary of. Instead, the focus should be on the fact that Jobbik – the Movement for a Better Hungary – returned with 26 seats, taking over the Socialist Party as the new official opposition while the socialists were pushed into third, and what this implies for politics in Hungary as well as Europe. [3]

To gain insight into Jobbik’s vision requires turning to the manifesto on the guidelines for a future Jobbik-led Government. The document paints the picture of a party that ‘have always aimed to ally with patriotic people who are willing to make sacrifices for their homeland.’ [4] Usage of this term immediately establishes an idea of what is not simply a patriotic party but instead a more nationalist political force, as do their ideas and the very language they opt for. For example, Jobbik believes Hungarian citizens see politicians as ‘viceroys who feel it’s their prerogative to rule over the people’ whilst politicians should instead serve the people, and explicitly want nothing ‘to do with the dead-end Western European multiculturalism.’ [5] Comparing this manifesto to that of Viktor Orbán’s party, where the Prime Minister promised ‘to strengthen, to deepen, and to defend Hungary’ [6] shows a similarity of ideas, but clearly establishes Jobbik as decisively more nationalist, populist and radical. The fact then they gained 20% of the vote in 2018 is more than concerning.

By securing one in five votes and becoming the largest party in opposition [7], Jobbik has managed to shift to a position where it can apply pressure on the government and gain more legitimacy for its leanings. A potential fear for Orbán of his opponents sapping at his support base could see to an adoption of a more nationalist tone to keep Jobbik at bay, similarly to what occurred in the Netherlands. President Trump’s conduct since his election has already provided a taste of how a country may act on the international stage when following a nationalist or populist foreign policy: pulling out of treaties, causing difficulties in the establishment of new collective initiatives, risking the integrity of alliances. It would not be difficult to imagine Hungary following a similar, if not more dire, path if Jobbik is able to exert influence over Hungary’s political future, whether it be through manipulating Orbán or through their own machinations.

Nonetheless, another important factor that must be acknowledged is the collapse of the Socialist Party in Hungary as well as the Left more broadly. The socialists were once an equal political force to Fidesz, governing the country since it became independent from the USSR until 2010, but have been gravely unpopular since a political crisis caused a severe drop in support from which they have never recovered. [8] Opinion polling between the 2014 and 2018 elections shows that only on one occasion did the socialists exceed 23% of the vote, whilst on more occasions, they polled as low as 7%. It should also be noted that support for any other left-wing party hardly ever exceeded 10%. [9] Clearly, Hungarian voters have been unwilling to put their faith in any left-wing politician since the 2006 Őszöd speech. This effectively left a vacuum which Jobbik has occupied. They have been able to slot themselves into the higher echelons of Hungarian politics due to the lack of a more sensible and moderate political group in the national assembly to challenge Orbán’s premiership. More crucially, the lack of desire for most voters to give them another chance prevents them from retaking their place as the official opposition in the foreseeable future. So long as there isn’t an actual ideological opposition to the Fiddesz-KDNP Party Alliance, Jobbik will now act as that opposition, and they can portray themselves as the only credible alternative if Orbán is ever to force his citizens to look elsewhere to give their votes.

Von Houtom and Lacy illustrated with their academic contribution that political extremes are slowly becoming normalised in various EU countries and have argued that this could lead to a growing instability within the European project. There is a risk of this also being the case in Hungary. Despite the size of the majority that Orbán holds in the national assembly, the threat that Jobbik poses should not be sugar-coated. It is a party fuelled by nationalism, populism, radicalism; it is a modern example of a genuinely far-right party that could be only inches from power. It is a party that would seek to rip up international treaties, make collective goals unattainable, weaken the structure of the European Union to preserve Hungary’s status and culture, and it is the biggest party in opposition, a position that the left are very unlikely to reclaim anytime soon. So long as the socialists are unable to reclaim the trust of the Hungarian people, Jobbik are expected to remain in this position through which they will further cement legitimacy for their far-right stances. Until that time comes around again, assuming that it ever does, Orbán has best hope he doesn’t have any catastrophic disasters of his own. Otherwise, the EU and its member states may find themselves having to keep a much closer eye on Hungary than previously believed.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Henk Von Houtom and Rodrigo Bueno Lacy, ‘The Political Extreme as the new normal: the cases of Brexit, the French State of Emergency and Dutch Islamophobia’, Fennia-International Journal of Geography, Vol. 195, No.1 (2017), pg. 95-98

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.robert-schuman.eu/en/doc/oee/oee-1765-en.pdf

[4] https://www.jobbik.com/manifesto_on_the_guidelines_for_a_future_jobbik_led_government

[5] Ibid

[6] https://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/prime-minister-viktor-orban-s-speech-at-the-27th-congress-of-fidesz-hungarian-civic-union

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/concerns-as-neo-nazi-jobbik-party-wins-20-of-hungary-vote-9244541.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/18/1

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2018_Hungarian_parliamentary_election (I have only used this as my source because it would be unrealistic to provide the links for all electoral polling forecasts used)

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