The Face of the Rising Right-Wing Populism in Hungary: Fidesz

Abstract

Hungary, as a member state of the European Union, has a right-wing tendency. Right-wing populist discourses in Hungary have increased through the Fidesz party. In this study, the right ideology and approaches to this ideology were discussed by conducting a case study on Hungary. In addition, the conservative tendency of the Fidesz party was examined through the values of conservatism. The historical development of Fidesz and its effect on the political atmosphere in Hungary were evaluated, and the party’s structure and its position in the media were also mentioned. The dynamics of Jobbik and Fidesz are also analyzed. Finally, in this study, the future effects of right-wing populist discourses on the European Union and especially Hungary are included.

Keywords: right-wing populism, conservatism, Fidesz, Hungary, European Union.

Özet

Macaristan, Avrupa Birliği’ne üye bir ülke olarak sağ eğilime sahiptir. Macaristan’daki sağ popülist söylemler, Fidesz partisi aracılığıyla artış göstermiştir. Bu çalışmada Macaristan üzerinde saha çalışması yapılarak sağ ideoloji ve bu ideolojiye yaklaşımlar ele alınmıştır. Ayrıca, Fidesz partisinin muhafazakar eğilimi, muhafazakarlık ideolojisinin değerleri üzerinden incelenmiştir. Fidesz’in tarihsel gelişimi ve Macaristan’daki siyasi havaya etkisi değerlendirilerek, partinin yapısı ve medyadaki konumuna da değinilmiştir. Son olarak bu çalışmada, sağ popülist söylemlerin Avrupa Birliği ve özellikle Macaristan üzerindeki gelecek etkilerine yer verilmiştir.

Anahtar kelimeler: sağ popülizm, muhafazakarlık, Fidesz, Macaristan, Avrupa Birliği.

Introduction

Political ideologies have led to great changes and novelty in world history and vice-versa. We cannot claim World history without political ideologies. In this article, I will discuss the ideology of conservatism emerging in Hungary in parallel to right wing populism. Conservatism, as one of the oldest and deep-rooted ideologies, has gained a new form with right-wing populism. While rising populism is trying to be understood, background and events should be included. I will evaluate right-wing populism as it influences the field of concrete manifestation, which is Hungary, taking both internal and external circumstances and dynamics that have driven the country to its current state into account.

The incarnation of right-wing populism in Hungary appears in the form of Fidesz. It should be noted that this party first emerged as a youth movement (Fidesz.hu, 2020). In addition, this party whose president is Viktor Orbán, today has an important position in the European Parliament. In this context, I plan to explain the change and evolution of conservative populism into Fidesz. Firstly, I will describe the background of populism and the atmosphere which led to it and then I will elaborate the transformation of the party, analyzing the ideology of a twenty-first-century European Union member country and its echoes. Secondly I’m going to take a closer look at conservatism, structure and actions of Fidesz in specific. Lastly I plan to set a general course of dynamics and analyze where they are headed next and conclude based on that take.

1. Political Atmosphere and Dynamics in Hungary from 2000 to the Present Day

To comprehend fully what led to the current state of now institutionalized right-wing populism in Hungary, there are certain steps and circumstances to take in consideration. Just like all post-Soviet countries, Hungary was also left poor, somewhat distant from the newly settling dynamics of liberal system and relatively confused. Anti-communist approach was one of the ideological pillars of 1990’s which carried on to early 2000’s too. Hate towards communist days was so strong that the political actors who sufficiently represented this social reaction became important figures in the future of Hungary. Following the fall of the Soviets, Hungary witnessed a period of democratization where almost all political actors demanded democratic reforms and the reconstruction of their country. These promises and clear intentions did not keep certain actors away from dissociating and exercising contradicting distinct political ideologies. The dense anti-socialist atmosphere naturally brought the positive view of the public regarding free market, capitalism and liberal dynamics in general. Accordingly Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. In other words political configuration was virtually the opposite compared to status-quo. As of today, we observe that Hungary, the country who avoided eastern powers at all costs, is now embracing them. Relations with the EU are not on good terms either.

In many aspects Hungary is akin to Turkey. This cannot be due to an historical perspective, but rather of a positioning. Just like Turkey, Hungary struggles with its identity. Both countries are stuck between East and West and always in an attempt to balance and find their footing. For Hungarian State, the tendency to shift towards the West appears to be entirely abandoned in mid 2010’s. On the contrary, the Hungarian government changed the country’s post-Soviet principals. Once the democrats now became populists whereas far-right practitioners took a more central position. Globally rising right-wing populism found perfect conditions to grow in Hungarian socio-political structure. After the storm of liberal western sympathy passed, euroscepticism rose drastically. Yet unexpectedly enough Hungarians, unlike their government, haven’t become anti-EU. However populist politicians addressed their problems regarding the EU’s policies that caused public concern. Conservative populists exploited those concerns in order to stay in power. As a country that heavily relies on the EU, Hungary can’t afford to burn the bridges with liberal European powers. Even though criticizing certain approaches mandated by the union, the Hungarian public might be even considered Europhile especially compared to their government. The reason why public opinion does not align with the evolution of the elite discourse might be based on the pragmatic understanding towards the EU on grounds of economic benefits that it represents (Lengyel and Göncz, 2021). Then how come eurosceptic Fidesz (Fiatal Demokratak Szövexsege) and its leader Viktor Orbán managed to stay in power for so long?

2. The Evolution of Right-Wing Populism in Hungary: Jobbik to Fidesz

Jobbik (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom) has been representing the the far-right ideology in Hungary for a significant amount of time. Similarly to Fidesz, Jobbik dwelled on youth and dynamism in its early years and originates from anti-communist background. Jobbik, up until 2016 defined itself as a conservative, nationalist and Christian party. Their extreme discourses and uncompromising principles kept them on the sidelines meaning that they were never really favoured for power or majority up until now. Meanwhile moderately central Fidesz grew by their populist and more inclusive discourses secured its strong place in the Hungarian parliament as the main opposition party. Fidesz benefited from addressing general right-wing concerns whilst portraying a relatively moderate and central façade; Jobbik leader Gábor Vona accused Fidesz of attempting to steal Jobbik’s right-wing voters. Both parties share similar views in case of migration and the EU’s attitude.

In 2010 Fidesz won the elections and rose back to power after 8 years. As the government FIDESZ became more and more eurosceptic. Their policies and practices gradually became highly anti-EU. Their relatively modest rhetoric proved to be a deceit since the government engaged in frowned-upon relations with eastern powers. Jobbik on the other hand went for a change of image. Around 2016 the party declared that they will exercise a different model which they call “modern conservatism”. Additionally this political manoeuvre might be to counter Viktor Orbán’s way of populism where images can be purposefully deceitful in order to reach power and implement his own agenda.

The interesting thing about this dynamic between the two sides is that when Fidesz was in power, we see that the Hungarian elites tended to reflect their ideas more than ever before. The party managed to point out public concerns, thus attracting the support of the threatened public. Feeding off fear has been the major weapon in populist arsenal. With Fidesz in power Jobbik, in its new moderate and central position, aims to challenge it. To sum up, Fidesz as a populist right-wing party which came to power by clearly more smooth promises had kept its position due its populism while gradually shifting towards a far-right line. And Jobbik found itself a more democratic and liberal spot, however they did not give up entirely of their own right-wing principles meaning they still plan to attack Orbán from the right (Bayer, 2017). This transition holds valuable data in order to analyse right-wing populist dynamics of Hungary. Reading and anticipating the potential direction of Hungarian politics may be concealed in the dynamics of the two parties.
Fidesz

Table 1. Number and proportion of votes cast on Fidesz’s party list (Political Capital Policy Research & Consulting Institute, 2014)

3. The Values of Conservatism and Fidesz

3.1. Desire to Conserve

The purpose and manifesto of Fidesz is to protect and conserve its Christian roots. It strongly emphasizes respecting Christian values as a European nation. And within this framework it advocates rejecting Marxist and progressive ideologies (Fidesz.hu, 2020). The desire to resist change is fundamental for conservatism. It resists change and preserves its existing status quo. Fidesz agrees with the ideology for its own values.

3.2. Traditions

Traditions and values are legacies that passed down from the next generation. One of the important values of conservatism is tradition. It is critical to preserve and maintain traditions. Besides, religion and commandments of religion are significant within the traditions (Heywood, 2010). Fidesz’s claim of Christian origins coincides with conservatism. It considers the Roman Catholic Pope holy and indispensable for the European nation.

3.3. Organic Society

The integrity of the social structure and the existence of social consciousness rather than the individual are conservative values. All of these shows organic society. Group understanding is improved, and the group can be listed as family, relative, nation or colleague. Family is the most basic unit in conservatism (Heywood, 2010). The Fidesz acted in this context and paid great attention to the family. Today, individuality comes to the fore. In this context, Fidesz has put forward its demographic sustainability policy. According to Fidesz, the family is the most important institution in society, and it touched demographic policies for that. It also criticizes the open border policy of other European states for demography, but it respected them for their decisions (Fidesz.hu, 2020).

3.4. Property

Although in conservative view, property provides economic assurance, another point is to create an atmosphere of security. Wealth creates an advantage and avoids threats from outside. In this sense, Fidesz did not want to pursue a policy that is economically dependent on foreign countries. It witnessed the situation where the crises brought the country before it came to power. It approaches the consequences of borrowing credit from IOs with a conservative perspective.

These values show the parts of the conservative approach and Fidesz’s overlapping. However, Fidesz is not called completely conservative. It shows its values under the Christian Democracy, and Fidesz avoids authoritarian beliefs. Instead, it embraces liberal democracy and traditions of Catholicism. Therefore, Fidesz does not have the exact values of hierarchy, authoritarianism, and human imperfection from its conservative values.

3.5. Christian Democracy

The concepts of family and organic society, which are a core of conservatism, emerged as social partnership in Christian Democracy. The church, unions and groups are linked by social partnership. Fidesz also emphasized unity for countries in the European continent and protecting their Christian roots. European integration, one of Fidesz’s initial goals, is also based on this. After the economic unification of the European countries, democracy and the rule of law were also on the agenda in the European Union. Hungary put the European Union on the agenda when Fidesz was active in the parliament. But according to Fidesz, a conservative party, the European Union is a Christian democratic project. It is based on the idea that European countries should stay together and conserve their religious roots (Fidesz.hu, 2020).

The other Fidesz’s main aim was social market economy. It did not want to be a foreign-dependent, fully privatized, and indebted state. It was acting more protective because they knew the situation reached by the oppression of a country. In the Christian Democracy understanding, it is seen that the social market economy is a solution for the collapsed economy. It is based on qualified state intervention (Heywood, 2010). Political and economic similarities are clearly visible for Fidesz, who sees itself in the Christian Democracy understanding.

3.6. Fidesz Party Structure

Viktor Orbán is the party’s founder and prime minister. He has been the prime minister of Hungary in 1998-2002 and now since 2010. Katalin Novák, Lajos Kósa, Gábor Kubatov and Szilárd Németh are the vice presidents of the Fidesz (Fidesz.hu, 2020).

Under the prime ministry of Viktor Orbán, the 1949 constitution was replaced by the constitution that entered into force in 2012. Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance and its long-standing partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) governed Hungary with the coalition power. Fidesz maintains a central-right majority in the parliament (Economist, 2020).

The political structure of Hungary is a parliamentary republic. The Prime Minister plays an important role in the administration. That’s why Viktor Orbán, who has been prime minister since 2010, is a significant figure in Hungary. The constitutional amendment he made in 2012 and his ten-year political authority led to the questioning of democratic values.

3.7. Fidesz’s Economic Policy

The economic situation had not been good when Fidesz came to power. Viktor Orbán managed not to make the situation worse rather than fix it. It slightly lowered the unemployment rate, but no new jobs were created, and it led to temporary solutions. The state expanded its role in the financial sector. It provided support to individual and small-medium businesses by providing appropriate loans from state-controlled banks. The fact that the banking sector is currently 90 percent dependent on foreign capital makes the situation difficult for Hungary (Sadecki, 2014). Prime Minister Orbán expressed this while emphasizing not being dependent on foreign countries when he comes to power. Most of the Hungarian capital must be controlled by Hungary. State intervention in the economy is critical in conservative ideology. At this point, Fidesz did not hesitate to intervene to cover the situation. Preventing foreign capital will also provide security for the state. In addition, Fidesz supports this economic strategy for security and order in Hungary.

Fidesz, who made a state intervention after the financial crises in 2010, showed a slightly increasing graphic until 2018. The economy, which started to decline after 2018, is also related to European Union funds, and the pandemic is expected to continue this decline in 2020. Conservative thinking that closed to foreign capital could not find a solution to the decline of the economy and made this decline permanent (HCSO, 2020).

3.8. Fidesz in Media

Fidesz is popular in the media throughout its political life. But the Hungarian press did not hold back from its criticism. When the conservative Fidesz came to power, it dissolved the responsible institutions for media oversight and founded the National Media and Intercommunications Authority and the Media Council. This situation was seen as authoritarian and media pressure and was criticized by the Hungarian opposition. In addition, the Fidesz made effective use of the media. It showed the public funds with large advertisements and carried out these advertisements under government information. It played a critical role in preserving its position to show important developments in the media with intense propaganda. The party of the prime minister also appeared more in the elections. Fidesz was more on the television in the public eye than any other party. Fidesz is seen as more authoritarian and repressive in the press and uses its superiority to maintain its position (Sadecki, 2014).

3.9. Fidesz’s European Perspective

When Viktor Orbán came to power, NATO and the EU became Hungary’s foreign policy agenda. Fidesz acted with euro-centric policies and constituted a significant majority in the European Parliament. It also benefits from financial funds because of cooperation with Europe. However, there is a fragile relationship between the European Union and Viktor Orbán. Fidesz’s two-thirds advantage in the parliament creates a negative picture in terms of abuse of power. However, the Fidesz superiority in the European People’s Party also affects these discussions. Fidesz entered the EPP in 1996 and currently has five delegates (EPP, 2020).

Fidesz, in a conservative ideology against the liberal perspective of the European Union, continues to draw backlash. Failure to protect the rule of law and democracy rather than seeing the European Union as a Christian union creates problems in foreign policy. Interestingly, this tension does not harm Fidesz’s popularity in domestic politics (Sadecki, 2014).

A Prediction?

The clash between right-wing parties escalated until today. Fidesz’s populism has worked out perfectly for the party this far, keeping them in power and allowing them to pursue other agenda. Right-wing populism due its nature, can’t be challenged by left-wing since it possesses the antidote against leftist rhetoric which can’ keep up with the fear induced by Right-wing populism. So what comes next? What political element is able to challenge Fidesz? When the left and moderate political parties are out of the picture it leads us to Jobbik. “Orbán feared he would be attacked from the right when the migration crisis began, said a senior Fidesz official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.” (Bayer, 2017) Some argue that the chances of Jobbik overthrowing Fidesz in the upcoming election are not as low as expected. With the help of his control over the media, Fidesz brought the public closer to Eurosceptic right-wing views and led to a more right-wing political atmosphere. In this political environment only right-wing parties can pose a threat towards the reigning government Fidesz. The dynamic between two parties shaped the fate of the country. And once again, on a larger scale, the fate of Hungarian people lies on how the clash of right-wing populism will turn out.

Conclusion

Fidesz was founded in 1988 and continues its way as Hungary’s most popular party. It emerged as a young liberal movement in reaction to the communist regime. Firstly, it made its name known, and the failure to get enough votes over time led to changes in the party. Exploiting right-wing concerns raised their votes eventually carrying them to power. With the media control they spread the party’s political views and fed public fears which kept them in power. Using populism, Fidesz prevailed in every election from 2010. The party continued to exist in a more conservative course. With this change, it was not completely conservative. It was not liberal either, but followed a policy based on Christian Democracy principles. The case of Fidesz might be the most successful populist application ever. Generally populism does not reach such levels. Other instances proved that a %10 vote is often the highest limit of right-wing populist parties. However, in Hungary Orbán’s Fidesz found a way to utilize populism to reach and keep the power.

The European integration and social market economy programs show that the party is not completely conservative or anti-EU for that matter. However, Fidesz’s view of the European Union as a fundamentally Christian union is in line with the principles of Christian Democracy. Fidesz has some conservative values in terms of embracing Christian values, reacting to the refugee flow, emphasizing the importance of control in the economy, and giving importance to traditions.In terms of historical background, world wars greatly influenced the political structure of Hungary. The fact that Fidesz was named after the Hungarian Civic Alliance increased its influence. Fidesz, which succeeded in 2010 under the leadership of Viktor Orbán, continues its power today. In conclusion, this European party, originating from a liberal root and later involved in Christian democracy and conservatism, continues to represent an evident example of right-wing populist rule in both Hungary and the European Union.

Oğuz Orhun

European Studies Internship Program

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