Viktor Orban And The National Question In Hungary

Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary and leader of Hungary’s largest parliamentary bloc Fidesz—an abbreviation for Flatal Demokraták Szövetsége, the Alliance of Young Democrats)—perhaps the most controversial political figure in the former Soviet bloc, is deeply interesting to students of the “National Question.”

A young hero of the resistance to Soviet rule and now the most popular political figure in Hungary, Orban has aroused violent passions among Western, and some Hungarian, intellectuals. His first premiership, from 1998 until 2002, was for the most part uneventful, but his second term, beginning in May 2010, has been turbulent.

The Socialist-Liberal coalition that Orban replaced had expanded the civil service, trying to buy its loyalty with early retirement and fat pensions. It had also accepted as citizens a wandering gypsy population and offered asylum to non-Magyars, including a sizable group of apparent refugees from Tibet.

Orban has significantly curtailed or abolished this. He has denied citizenship to gypsies who cannot show a long period of residence in Hungary. He has put refugee communities on notice that they can no longer expect to receive support from the Hungarian taxpayer.

Since Orban now enjoys a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament, he has met minimal resistance in introducing his reforms. He has even reached out to the more rightwing nationalists in the Jobbik (= “movement”) Party, the third-largest party in Hungary. And he has put members of this controversial, emphatically anti-gypsy party on cultural committees in the National Assembly, an act of defiance to the Hungarian Left

Perhaps Orban’s boldest measure: declaring Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries such as Romania and Slovakia to be citizens of Hungary. Hungary was one of the losers in the Great War and the 1920 Treaty of Trianon stripped her of two-thirds of her land and about one-third of her Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) population. Those ethnic Hungarians assigned to Romania were particularly badly treated; the ones who landed up in Yugoslavia were killed or expelled at the end of World War II. Orban has not encouraged Hungarians outside of Hungary to rebel, but his reclaiming them as Hungarian citizens and urging them to think of themselves as his compatriots, has generated a certain amount of regional tension.

Orban has also changed the value of the Hungarian currency, the forint, without consulting the European Union, of which Hungary became a member in 2004, and has pointedly indicated that he will deal with monetary as well as human rights questions according to Hungarian national interest.

Most infuriating for the European multicultural or residually Marxist Left: the new constitution for Hungary,[PDF] which Orban promulgated in January 2 while tens of thousands of Hungarians celebrated around his residence. It vests considerable power in the prime minister as executive and also makes clear distinctions between members of the Hungarian nation, to whom full legal protections are awarded, and individuals who are merely Hungarian residents.

Perhaps most galling for intellectuals who served in the Communist regime: the passages in the Preamble, which refer to Hungary as an occupied country first under the Nazis, who took over Hungary in October 1944, and then later under the Soviets, until 1991.

Hungarian artists and writers, and most notably Jewish ones, easily made their peace with the Soviets and their agents. It is not surprising that a very intelligent Hungarian Jewish Marxist of my acquaintance, Agnes Heller, has been livid with rage against the “Victator,” as Orban is now contemptuously called by his opponents. 

One Green member of the European Parliament in particular, the famous lifetime leftist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, flies into rage when Orban’s name is mentioned. Describing the Hungarian head of state as an “authoritarian lunatic” may be the nicest thing that Cohn-Bendit has said about him.

Cohn-Bendit’s anger is spreading. As the Austrian member of the European Parliament Andreas Mölzer notes in Junge Freiheit, every day the European Union is looking for new measures by which to “quarantine” what it regards as the incipiently fascist regime in Budapest. .” [Hetzjagd gegen Budapest,(Google Translate) January 15, 2012]

This reminds Mölzer of the reaching for extremes that afflicted the same body in 2000, when it tried to punish Austria for allowing the supposedly extremist Freiheitliche Partei Östterreich and its leader Jörg Haider to participate in a coalition government.

Then as now, opponents of “extremism” appealed to Article Seven of the EU Charter, allowing for joint action against a country “violating human rights.” Then as now, the German Chancellor, wishing to show how antifascist Germany had become, assured the world that this rogue rightwing neighbor has been placed “under surveillance

Needless to say, such “surveillance” does not occur when former East German Stasi informers become major political actors in German affairs; or when the German Party of the Left, composed largely of recycled Communist officials, is allowed to muscle its way into provincial governments. Conservative nationalists and Communists (Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel was a member of the Communist youth movement in East Germany) are not to be seen as morally equivalent—at least, not by the Western intelligentsia.

And this may be the main lesson to be derived from this exercise in orchestrated anger. Western Europe is vastly different from the countries of the former Soviet bloc. Paradoxically, the Iron Curtain was an unintended protective blanket. Hungarians, Poles, Balts, Slovaks, etc. never underwent the kind of multicult indoctrination that has succeeded so well in “Western democracies.” They remain what the German philosopher Herder referred to as “historic, cultural nations.” They do not even pretend to, let alone actually, embrace the politics of guilt toward national or civilizational victims or  the human rights ideology that have stifled national awareness in Western Europe—above all in a “reeducated” and arrogantly masochistic Germany.

Orban exemplifies this post-Communist, nationalist leadership. The only evil he experienced is the longtime Communist dictatorship, the memory of which Western PC politicians try to ignore in favor of crusades against a largely declawed or mythical Right.

Not surprisingly, Orban was raised as a Reformed Protestant—that is, as a member of what Hungarian patriots even in a predominantly Catholic country, view as “the national church.” Most of the great Hungarian nationalists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and even earlier, like Ferenc Rákóczy in the early eighteenth century—were Protestants and, moreover, usually Calvinists. Catholics were seen as too closely allied to the Habsburgs and therefore as members of the religion of an occupying power.

And, not insignificantly, Orban was born and grew up in Székesfehérvár in Western Hungary, about midway between the Austrian border and Budapest. When I last visited Hungary in 1965, that fortress town (vár is the Hungarian word for a fort) housed the largest contingent of Soviet troops in the country. They had been left there after the Soviets put down the Hungarian uprising in 1956—as a reminder of who was in charge and as a means of dealing with future unrest in the Hungarian capital.

One can only imagine the impression this had on the young Orban.

But among those protesting Orban’s vision of a resurrected Hungarian nation, beside the inflamed multiculturalists and open-borders enthusiasts, is another group on the left.

They are the older, predominantly Jewish population—numbering now perhaps 100,000 out of a total  population of 9.5 million—whose families had been persecuted and sometimes murdered during the Nazi occupation and sometimes by Hitler’s Hungarian collaborators. Hungarian Jews often viewed Stalin’s armies and the Soviet victory as a godsend.

Indeed, Jews, including family members of mine, were heavily involved in two brutal communist dictatorships in Hungary, the first under Bela Kun (Kohn) 1919-1920 and the second under the Stalinist dictatorship of Matyas Rakosi ( Rosenfeld) 1945-1956. Wikipedia refers to these murderers as “atheists,” but they were ethnically Jewish. In Hungary the involvement of Jews in Communist regimes has inevitably generated anti-Semitism, which was already apparent in the uprising in 1956. Although the Israeli historian Jacob Talmon and Richard Pipes discuss this problem in their books, Wikipedia tries to ignore it and dwells on Christian and fascist anti-Semitism among the Magyars

Personally, I believe these overzealous critics of Orban are living with the ghosts of the past. And it must be said that, unfortunately, some of these critics compromised themselves by serving a brutal foreign dictatorship.

Nonetheless, their fears are real and to some extent understandable. These opponents of Orban would likely be content with a Hungarian government of the deracinated sort being urged by the EU.

But that is not likely to happen in Hungary, or in most places liberated from Soviet control. There the national spirit is still strong and thriving. 

From the perspective of a Western world that has moved too fast and too far in the opposite direction, it is gratifying to see the Hungarians are not imitating our example too closely.

 

Paul Gottfried [ email him ]  recently retired as Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After LiberalismMulticulturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism His most recent book is Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America