Right wing political shift of FIDESZ1

The history of evolution of the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz – Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége) is a special case. Fidesz has stepped on the Hungarian political stage as a peculiar formation: first and foremost its founders and leaders were young people. The 37 university and college students and young degree holders signing the founding declaration were members of an elite movement living in dormitories. At the end of 1989, Fidesz defined itself as a radical, liberal and alternative organisation. However, anti-communism has remained one of Fidesz’s original attributes until today.

The parliamentary elections in 1990 ended with the victory of the moderate conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF – Magyar Demokrata Fórum). However, it is important to note that the system change was highly influenced by Hungary`s two liberal parties, namely the Alliance of Liberal Democrats (SZDSZ – Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége), and Fidesz. Viktor Orbán was among the founders of Fidesz, along with many other politicians now holding significant positions in the Hungarian political landscape.

The political shift of the organisation has started before the 1994 election fiasco, when Fidesz diverged from its previous liberal approach and started to move towards the conservative-right-wing side of the political scale. The first – and decisive – part of the political shift was concluded by 1994: moving away from the centre on the political scale Fidesz was no longer a liberal party, but it was not yet a conservative either.

What is unusual about the political shift and ideological renewal of Fidesz is that they were based on the misperception of reality, the forced search for identity, the miscalculations and the “all-or-nothing” way of thinking of the leaders instead of following a pragmatic, vote-hunting logic. The liquidation of democracy and the expelling of the party opposition led to the creation of an organisation of charismatic character. After the old-new leaders of the party found their permanent political identities, Fidesz already became a leading and winning force of the Hungarian right-wing political field.

In 1998 the Hungarian political scene witnessed the victory of Fidesz and the first premiership for Viktor Orbán. The party started to move more and more to the right of the political spectrum, which was proven by its coalition with MDF and the Party of Independent Smallholders (FKGP – Független Kisgazda Párt). This was also the time when Orbán started to gain more and more power within his party.

Despite its first victory, Fidesz could not win the 2002 elections. Both 2002 and 2006 brought renewed successes of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which was unique in the sense that no other Hungarian party was able to win two consecutive elections since 1990. However, MSZP`s second term was rather unsuccessful, due to a number of political scandals and the crisis in 2008, which led to the resignation of PM Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Taking advantage of the situation, an even more right-wing Fidesz started to claim that the political transformation of Hungary had not yet happened because the old communist elite still infiltrated everyday political life. In contrast, Fidesz promised a real political change for their voters,which brought a landslide victory for the party in 2010. Fidesz participated in the elections in a grouping with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP – Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt) and secured a two-thirds majority in the parliament. This was an unprecedented victory and it enabled Fidesz to profoundly change Hungary’s legal and political system.

The rise of FIDESZ after 20102

With the sweeping victory, the Fidesz government was given the possibility to enact fundamental changes to Hungary’s constitution and legislation as a whole. The changes had important legal consequences, such as the reduction of the retirement age of judges, or the creation of a new media-supervising authority, while others had symbolic importance, such as modifying the country’s official name to Hungary and defining the concept of family, which is discriminatory against individuals with different sexual orientations. Many of these changes were added to the Basic Law (formerly called Constitution), which was amended several times.

The government’s legislative measures, such as a new media law and a new constitution were heavily criticised by EU circles and the Venice Commission. During Orbán’s first appearance in the European Parliament he already had to face harsh criticism over his government’s acts. These ‘attacks’ initiated a change in Orbán’s rhetoric towards Brussels, which became more and more critical.

The change in Orbán’s rhetoric first manifested itself on 15 March 2012, when he emphasized that Hungary insists on national sovereignty and does not need “unsolicited assistance of foreigners.” Comparing the EU to the former Soviet dominance, he stated that for his country “freedom means that we decide about the laws governing our own lives, we decide what is important and what is not.” Since then Orbán has used a harsh tone towards Brussels many times.

The Hungarian political arena experienced two crucial events in the spring of 2014, namely the Hungarian parliamentary elections and the European parliamentary (EUP) elections. Not surprisingly, the first one was more important for the country and its government, because the results of the EUP voting clearly reflected those of the national elections.

Economic policy of Fidesz3

The common characteristics of the economic policy changes in Hungary between 2010 and 2015 are of discriminatory nature, meaning that they supported some firms and/or state-owned entities, while other businesses – chiefly the ones owned by foreign investors – were negatively affected. These new laws, regulations, by-laws or daily practices were openly in conflict with the letters and the spirit of the acquis communautaire. The Hungarian authorities played on time. Their assumption was – and this assumption did prove to be correct in practice – that it would take years until the EU machinery would reach a verdict and instruct Hungary, as a member-state to repel the given legislation. The previous Hungarian governments also relied on such discriminatory solutions, but these cases were not so costly for the targeted private businesses and were not implemented with such a brutal force.

The 36 discriminatory regulatory changes of the Orbán`s goverment in Hungary between 2010 and 2015 affected the following fields:

1. Restriction of the foreign economic relations;

2. Centrally controlled prices;

3. Special taxes and tax reliefs;

4. Restriction of the operation of firms;

5. Restriction of the Competition Law;

6. Creating artificial monopolistic and oligopolistic situations.

In his 600-page monograph (2015) of György Matolcsy, governor the Hungarian National Bank (MNB), which specifically deals with the period 2010-2014, no word is mentioned concerning the discriminatory economic policy measures. We can find relevant arguments only in two distant places of his book. The less important argument is that discriminatory treatment between 2010 and 2012 was due to MNB’s resistance, because it was clear that fiscal consolidation must be achieved without monetary policy change. After 2013, Matolcsy took over MNB, so this argument became automatically devoid of purpose.

Marolcsy`s more important argument is related to the criticism of self-regulating markets. Although he does not refer to Marx by name, but in fact, Matolcsy returns to Marx’s basic idea, namely „State regulation is needed if the market corrects subsequently because the subsequent correction can be theoretically higher price than a preliminary government regulation”.

During the autumn of 2014 an additional aspect of Hungary’s governance style came to the front, namely a new kind of economic policy.4 The main driving force behind this development was perceived domestic interests of the country. The most significant actions of this “particularist” economic policy included taxing the banks, nationalizing utility firms and inserting taxes in the 2015 budget which were clearly directed against foreign players (e.g. advertisement tax). Even if the way of introducing these measures was legal, their aim, explicitly favouring national firms, was clearly against EU rules. At the end of October 2015 the Hungarian political scene was in upheaval over a series of protests which were directed against the introduction of a new and unique tax on the internet. Public outrage could be seen as the reason behind this surprising turn of events on the one hand, however the discontent of some right-wing politicians and the lack of universal support for the tax within the Fidesz party in fact seemed to be more important motives.

The announcement to revoke the internet tax also reinforced assumptions that the tax issue was only a bone to chew on for the citizens and to obscure much more important political events, e.g. banning six Hungarian public officials suspected of corruption from entering the United States. The move in the middle of October 2015 can be considered a serious diplomatic incident, adding fuel to the already existing tensions between Hungary and the USA.

Another major action of the Hungarian government was initiating bilateral economic talks with Russia despite EU sanctions, which raised questions over Hungary’s loyalty to Europe’s collective policy. Hungary also introduced state measures to support producers in order to improve the situation. Hungary continued engaging in the South Stream pipeline project despite the fact that all related activities were suspended at the EU level. Moreover, Hungary also reached a long-term nuclear deal with Russia, which involves an important loan from Russia to finance the operation of a nuclear power plant in Paks/Hungary.

As the motives behind the Hungarian actions are clearly economic, it can be assumed that the Hungarian government disregards the objectives behind the EU sanctions. This notion was reinforced by the statement of Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Economic and Foreign Affairs, who said in an interview that Hungary conducts a “Hungarian friendly” policy which protects Hungarian interests.

The cases mentioned above all highlight a growing distance between Hungary and its Western allies. Perhaps Orbán’s announcement in the summer of 2014 about building ‘an illiberal new state based on national foundations’ and getting closer to Russia should finally be taken seriously. Hungary’s isolation from the EU and the West is clearly a carefully planned strategy and its long-term effects are questionable.

Although Peter Szijjártó has travelled all over the world and a lot of unsignificant agreements concluded with mostly negligible countries, no meaningful progress can be expected from the policy of opening to the east.

Understandably, the government intends to reach the widest possible diversification of its trading partners, but no real progress can be achieved, and perhaps it is even unnecessary. Germany and our other main [Western] trading partners are much more reliable. It is most probable that products intended for export will continue to find their market in these countries. Anyway, 70% of the imports and more than 75% of the exports of Hungary find market in the „declining West”. 5

The Orbán-phenomenon

Orbán has transformed Fidesz into a party that seems increasingly driven by a combination of ethnic nationalism, authoritarianism and populism.

Fidesz wants to change the meaning of Hungary’s borders, rather than the borders themselves. It has tried to do this by giving all “ethnic Hungarians” citizenship of Hungary, though preferring them to remain in the ancient lands of pre-Trianon Hungary.

Nationalism is combined with authoritarianism, with the government increasingly cracking down on media and NGOs considered “disloyal” to the nation (i.e. to Orbán and Fidesz), and with strong populism, which presents Orbán as the authentic voice of the Hungarian people who are fighting off a leftwing conspiracy.6

In a speech at Bálványos summer open university and student camp in Romania in July 2015, Orbán said: “What we have at stake today is Europe, the European way of life, the survival or disappearance of European values and nations, or their transformation beyond recognition … We would like Europe to be preserved for the Europeans. But there is something we would not just like but we want because it only depends on us: we want to preserve a Hungarian Hungary.”

Orbán now is the almighty ruler of Hungary. He doesn’t just warn about “the survival or disappearance of European values and nations”, but he organised xenophobic referendum campaigns and built barbed wire fences on Hungary`s southern borders.

For the past six years, Orbán has vacuumed up Hungary’s assets, putting them either in his pocket or the pockets of people close to him. This is no secret. His kleptocracy has been well studied. But there is a tendency to view it merely as sad and remote, a familiar story of yet another autocrat in a country struggling with a transition to democracy.7

Having bent the Hungarian state to his will, crushed his domestic foes and spun political gold from Europe’s migrant crisis, Orbán now has his sights trained on the immigration-friendly elites he claims seek to destroy Europe’s nations from within. Together with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the de facto leader of Poland, he promises a “cultural counter-revolution” in Europe, based on a defence of nation, family and Christianity.8

Since the beginning of January 2015, Orbán has started to adapt a hostile rhetoric towards immigrants and he has repeatedly claimed that Hungary belongs to the Hungarians and will not welcome everybody who wants to settle down in the country. The motivation behind Fidesz’s extreme right turn and the key to Orbán’s success might also lie in the fact that he manages to engage more and more right-wing voters. Another, even more dangerous scenario may also possibly develop: a closer cooperation than ever between Fidesz and Jobbik.

In the first half of 2015 Fidesz had been losing support on a massive scale before the public attention shifted to the refugee crisis, and the main beneficiary was far-right Jobbik. Orbán halted both the downward slide of his own party, as well as the rise of Jobbik, which had previously appeared unstoppable. That this owed in large part to the instigation of public fears about migrants is beyond doubt, as is the fact that the issue proved very successful in removing corruption news from the front pages of newspapers.9

The future of the EU10

The immigration crisis has drawn attention to the future of Europe. Today, the continent drifted between two visions, namely the concept of pragmatic nations of Europe, and the one of supranational Europe soaked with left-liberal ideas.

It is a crucial dilemma whether the Western elite is able to change its policy, because Europe should be facing not only the long dragging immigration crisis. Important steps are needed to strengthen the position of the European market and the geopolitical interests of the continent should finally be recognized. For this, however, strong enough legitimate management center would be needed in the EU. It is a question whether the pragmatic unity of the Visegrad states concerning immigration holds on in the discussions on the future of the EU.

On 7 September 2016 there was a roundtable discussion between the 5 parliamentary parties entitled “Is there a future for the Hungarian economy outside the European Union?”. Secretary of State Nandor Csepreghy of Fidesz, similarly to Jobbik Vice-President Daniel Z. Karpati was on the opinion that criticism of the EU’s current operation does not mean that a party would want to leave the EU, rather it wants to deal with the problem that we „have not entered into this EU”. Csepreghy confirmed there is a consensus among the participants that Hungary’s place is in the EU. According Csepreghy due to Brexit a multi-decade trend characterized by the integration came to a halt and now the issue entered into the public discussion again: what membership really means for the individual member states. “The EU would not become the United States of Europe, like the US, because they are too large differences between the EU Member States” Csepreghy added. In his view, on the basis of reality we should learn from the USA how to reconcile the value- and interest-based politics.11

On 13 September 2016 after the meeting in Budapest with Stanislaw Karczewski, President of the Polish Senate, PM Orbán said „there is a complete agreement between Hungary and Poland on the future of the EU and most of the issues relating to migration crisis.” 12

On 14 September 2016 after the common Bulgarian-Turkish border inspection together with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov Orbán said:”Everyone must understand that Europe’s future will be decided not in Brussels, but here, where we stand at the Bulgarian-Turkish border”. Regarding the Bulgarian border protection questions Orbán declared: „ Bulgaria adamantly defends itself, no traces of `naivité` can be seen, one cannot go far with European blah-blah and precautionary measures needed here.”13

On 29 September 2016 in an lentgthy interview made by newspaper „Lokal” Orbán said:

According to the surveys, we, Hungarians, are one of the most committed countries to the European Union. It is another point that according to us the current policy is needed to change, but our commitment to the common future of Europe remains strong. In fact, we want to change precisely in order to preserve Europe that we all love, feel as our homes and for which we have had so many sacrifices”.

Orbán sees the main dangers of migration for the Hungarian society as follows: „First, and formost there is the ubiquitous security. The immigrants are deceived with promises of prosperity enticing them for thousands of kilometers long dangerous journey. It is an inhuman thing if someone is forced or induced to live in another country, where a series of disappointments is met. And those who are decived will get angry. The cheated immigrants` mass create a constant source of conflict. Not to mention that some angry young men are being recruited by terrorists. In addition, immigrants do not share European values. For examaple, we Europeans respect for women and look at them as equals – while their habit is different. In all European countries monogamy is agreed to, polygamy is a criminal category – for the immigrants the opposite is natural. The European legal order and the Islamic law cannot be reconciled. To take care of the masses of immigrants represents a burden on our economy. Their catering and education cost a lot of money, while many millions of people are unemployed in Europe. Changes in the ethnic, religious and cultural proportions are not a negligible factor either. In the case of Hungarian communities living in the Trianon successor states we see what happens when a minority suddenly becomes a majority. During a lifetime the ground could be pulled out from under our feet. (…)”14

Twelve years after their accession to the EU, the question of Central European states’ solidarity with the rest of the EU has arisen for the first time. The countries of the region have been asked to share the burden of the migration crisis through relocation quotas, and they have refused. But this does not mean these countries are destroying EU solidarity, because there was no such solidarity in the first place. EU member states in the past never helped those under similar migration pressures such as Spain.15

Hungary was a major entry point into the EU for migrants coming from the Middle East, so it had become a transit point for migrants looking to settle in Europe. The Orbán government reacted by building a razor bled wire fence of 110 miles long on its border with Serbia. Today, thousands of migrants wait at the border, hoping to make it into the EU—while others find ways to breach the fence.

The most up-front statements regarding migration come from Orbán, who emphasizes the importance of securing the EU’s external border. Orbán wants to stop immigration, while the European Commission wants only to organize it. The fundamental difference between the proposed solutions comes from that contradiction. Threatening CEE states with the suspension of EU funds and treating them as second-class members doesn’t help unity either.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric used by Viktor Orbán and Czech President Miloš Zeman is distasteful and racist. Orbán’s October 2 referendum on EU migrant quotas was an open challenge to Brussels. Though his referendum failed to meet the required turnout threshold, but it remains a worrisome message of hostility toward the EU.

Furthermore, political communication in many countries is at times downright hostile to the EU, and at least at the political level there is a growing scepticism towards future integration and an increasing insistence on more national sovereignty. This boosts the influence of euro-sceptic ideas and pushes them into the mainstream of European politics. Over the past years, Fidesz has relentlessly emphasised Brussels’ alleged attempts at influencing Hungarian affairs, and has called for a fundamental rearrangement of the supranational organisation to give fewer powers to the centre.16

The division over the EU’s response to the refugee crisis and the way it was communicated in some CEE countries suggests that this issue was more than a mere policy disagreement – it increasingly looks like another symptom of a fundamental rift between what might be called the Western core of the EU and large segments of the recently acceded Eastern member states. The EU has always had to grapple with countries and governments that sought to halt or even reverse integration. With the rise of populists all across the EU, there are more parallel storms brewing for the EU than perhaps at any other time in its history. However, though there are some key overlaps and common causes, on the whole the growing strength of euro-scepticism in Western Europe is not the same as the particular challenge that the dominance of Eastern European populists represents. Correspondingly, the strategies for handling western euro-sceptic movements, parties or governments must also differ, at least to some extent, from the way the European Union will address the tensions with its new member states in CEE. The EU’s ability to identify such a strategy and to interact in new ways with its CEE members will be one of the key determinants of its ability to continue the integration project.17

Budapest, 17 October 2016.

Matyas Benyik

2 Czina,V. & Surmava T. , The rise of populist and exremist parties in the EU, The case of Hungary and Austria. PDU Study 1/2015. May 2015. http://www.democraticunion.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/pdu-study-2015-1.pdf

3Mihályi, P. Diszkriminatív, piac- és versenyellenes állami gazdaságpolitika Magyarországon, 2010–2015, [Ati-market and anti-competition state economic policy in Hungary],Discussion Papers, MT-DP-2016/7, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre for economic and Regional Studies, Budapest 2016. http://www.mtakti.hu/file/download/mtdp/MTDP1607.pdf

4Czina,V. & Surmava T. , The rise of populist and exremist parties in the EU, The case of Hungary and Austria. PDU Study 1/2015. May 2015. http://www.democraticunion.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/pdu-study-2015-1.pdf

6Mudde,C. The Hungary PM made a ‘rivers of blood’ speech … and no one cares

The Guardian, 30 July, 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/30/viktor-orban-fidesz-hungary-prime-minister-europe-neo-nazi

7Krushel, K., Biting the E.U. That Feeds Him, The New York Times, 6 October 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/opinion/biting-the-eu-that-feeds-him.html?_r=2

9Győri, G. The Political Communication of Refugee Crisis in Central and Eastern Europe, Poliy Solutions and FEPS, 2016 Budapest-Brussels. http://www.policysolutions.eu/userfiles/elemzes/245/political_communication_of_the_refugee_crisis_in_cee.pdf

10Fodor, Cs. 2016: Fókuszban Európa jövője [Future of Europe in Focus], Nézőpontok blog http://www.nezopontok.hu/2016/01/04/2016-fokuszban-europa-jovoje/

17Győri, G. The Political Communication of Refugee Crisis in Central and Eastern Europe, Poliy Solutions and FEPS, 2016 Budapest-Brussels. pp.75-76 http://www.policysolutions.eu/userfiles/elemzes/245/political_communication_of_the_refugee_crisis_in_cee.pdf

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