Fidesz thrown on the defensive
Whilst Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány is on holiday and with the summer silly season in full swing, the issue of “national defence” groups formed by far-right organisations has become one of the biggest topics of debate. As was demonstrated last autumn, these organisations tend to activate themselves on national holidays and anniversaries. This offers the left a chance to attack main opposition party Fidesz, which is calling for right-wing unity but is put in an awkward position by the actions of the far right.
Since the events of autumn 2006, the media and politicians from both sides of the political spectrum have attempted to blow up the threat posed by the far-right groups or to trivialise it. Public figures at times present far-right activities as one-off actions of groups with no support base and at other times as violent organisations posing a genuine threat to democracy.
The far-right organisations are in fact both serious and trivial. Their support among society overall is minimal, so they have almost no chance of gaining representation in Parliament. On several occasions (the 19 September storming of the MTV headquarters, the 23 October and 15 March riots, and the attacks following the 7 July gay pride parade), however, they have proven that the far right is capable of organising itself independently of Fidesz and carrying out violent street actions.
An indication of the radicalisation of the aims and methods of the far-right, which re-organised itself following the leak of the Prime Minister’s Balatonőszöd speech last year, is the recent emergence of several “national self-defence” bodies. Although they describe themselves as civil organisations, they also intend to give firearms training to members and to perform civil defence, disaster management, national defence and law and order tasks on the grounds that the Hungarian police and military are incompetent.
The activities of these organisations does not necessary allow for legal action to be taken against them. Although the Constitution bans the establishment of armed political bodies, civil organisations can, within limits, carry out civil defence and law and order activities. Due to certain equivocal phrases – the Hungarian Guard, for example, says it will strengthen “national self-defence in extraordinary situations” – it is far from clear that the Public Prosecutor overseeing the legality of parties and civil organisations can prove the intent to commit a crime or to acquire power by force.
The organisations mentioned above provide an opportunity for attacks – political ones – since some of the groups organising themselves now can be indirectly linked to main opposition party Fidesz and to the party’s politicians. The organisation that has attracted the most attention, the Hungarian Guard, was created by the far-right party Jobbik. Fidesz has formed an alliance with Jobbik in several local governments and its leader Gábor Vona was previously a peer of Fidesz chairman Viktor Orbán in a civic association. The National Guard enjoys the support of Mária Wittner, former member of the far-right party MIÉP and current Fidesz Member of Parliament. Wittner has already caused her party considerable difficulties by speaking out in support of radicals (and Orbán, making her a rarity in its ranks).
Opportunities and risks
The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) have made it an element of their politics to blur the line between Fidesz and the far right. Fidesz is less able to make political hay out of labelling the left as Communists, since there is currently no real far-left danger and the public’s rejection of the far right is stronger than its antipathy towards the former regime.
Fidesz leaves itself open to attacks since, although it defines itself as a centrist party, it also needs the support of the far right. The Hungarian Guard hinders Fidesz in its efforts to change its image to emerge as an attractive alternative to former left-leaning voters as a moderate centre party.
Fidesz has not yet clearly distanced itself from the new groups, much as in the case of the Árpád flag, an ancient symbol now associated with the extreme right. This leaves Fidesz open to further attack – which the right-wing press attempts to counter by making reference to armed protection and defence companies close to the government.
The activities of the far right could give the government, whose support has fallen considerably, a chance to escape from its current difficulties caused by the public’s distaste for its fiscal consolidation measures. The Socialists and the liberals have the opportunity to strengthen their support base by pointing to the threat of far right organisations marching in uniforms.
The table has already been set. The Hungarian Guard announced that it will hold an opening event on 25 August. A counter-demonstration is planned for 1 September, the anniversary of
The new militant right-wing formations, however, are also of significance beyond party political questions. The Jobbik chairman, for example, has made it clear that he regards the Hungarian Guard not only as a means of politicising in the media, but also as a fundamental community-building organisation – providing a way of fitting young people receptive to radical views and means into an organised framework. The new group, therefore, in future will be able to mobilise itself not only through the media, but also through possible street actions.