Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fascist Militia Week in Budapest!

The end of summer seems to push the tenor of Hungarian political life from the sublime to the ridiculous. Last year's uborka szezon ("cucumber season" - the summer doldrums when all the news is about vegetables ripening) ended abruptly with a right wing riot at the Hungarian State TV building, which led to the anti-government riots in October 2006. Since the fall of 2006, the right wing has been nursing its wounds complaining about police violence and a nice paramilitary was a great way to puff up one's breast and seem threatening. Violence is not really a Hungarian characteristic - it takes too much organization to get a crowd to put itself at risk. On the other hand, hate speech, or specifically, hateful symbolism, is very much a part of Hungarian political discourse. The latest manifestation of hate symbolism (disguised, of course, as tender love of the Motherland) was the dedication ceremonies of a new Hungarian paramilitary group, the Magyar Gárda, affiliated to the Jobbik Party. The Jobbik (the name comes from the Hungarian word jobb 'right' but puns out to mean "better") are the successor party to the aging nationalist, anti-Semitic MIEP party of Istvan Csurka. Originally formed a few years ago as a younger, more presentable forum for right wing sympathizers, the Jobbik party quickly degenerated into a stridently anti-Semitic party prone to the Hungarian tradition of political provokacio - provocative acts in the burn down the Reichstag and blame the Jews tradition. This week's formation of uniformed militias was just another manifestation of the use of hate symbols to gain media attention. Hungary is in the EU now, and it isn't the done thing for political parties to form party militias in the EU. We have seen militias before - the Communist Workers Guard, last seen taking pot shots at East Germans crossing the border into Austria in 1989, as well as the Arrow Cross in 1944. The modern Militias prefer to adopt the symbols of the latter group. Of course, the Socialist coalition Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, loudly condemned the militias, while recognizing that they do have a legal right to form organizations. The opposition FIDESZ Party, however, parroted their line - originally used to defend the red-striped Árpád flags used by the October 2006 rioters - that there was nothing wrong in patriotic Hungarians wishing to defend their nation and using a flag that is associated with both the fascist Arrow Cross and the rise of neo-nazi Hungarist skinhead movement in the early 1990s. Originally, the Magyar Gárda were to wear a uniform of black shirts reminiscent of the Arrow Cross, an idea that Jobbik leader Gábor Vona said was "exactly what I liked about it." In the end, however, the black shirts were dropped... [photos from index.hu]On the other hand, the National Guard Brigade of Nyiregyháza was on hand with more fascist fashions... And the pseudo-legitimacy was furthered by the presence of Catholic and Protestant clergy blessing the event. The Hungarian Spectrum, a new English language source for an erudite and non partisan take on Hungarian news and society wrote:The appearance of three members of the clergy raised quite a few eyebrows. A Catholic priest, a Lutheran pastor, and a Hungarian Reformed minister blessed the flag of the guard. The MSZP immediately demanded to know what these three churches have to do with a clearly neo-Nazi organization. The Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches claimed ignorance. The priest and and the minister acted on their own. They didn't know anything about their plans. The Lutherans couldn't be reached. Legitimacy is what the game is all about. Viktor “The Man Who Would Be King” Orbán has been working maniacally to get himself appointed Prime Minister ever since he lost a second round of elections to Gyurcsany last year, and his main tactic has been to claim that local mayoral elections, street demonstrations, and forced referendums all proclaim the "illegitimate" nature of the present (elected) Hungarian government. FIDESZ leader Viktor Orbán was drinking deeply of the Kool Aid when he went on to blame PM Gyurcsány for inspiring the formation of fascistoid paramilitary units. It is well known that the Jobbik operate hand in hand with FIDESZ towards a politically unified right wing in Hungary. The Jobbik express the extremist, irredentist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric that resonates so well with the masses of dissatisfied, yet politically autistic Hungarians who identify liberal intellectuals (represented by the Socialist coalition partners SZDSZ, as well as just about anybody with a beard and a newspaper subscription) with an evil, international Jewish-Bolshevik-Capitalist conspiracy. The fact is we all know there are lots of right wing nutcases sitting on the tram next to us in Hungary, but they are in the minority. Yet the right wing knows the power of the accusation of “Anti-semitism” and in the great Hungarian spirit of political provocation plays the Jew baiting game for all it is worth in order to respond with “How dare you call us anti-semites! Why, there is a Jewish person in FIDESZ! How can we possibly be anti-Semitic?” But in Hungarian, language is always encoded and the meaning gets across to the political base. By declaring symbols like the red-striped flag and the arrow cross uniform national symbols of Hungary, the right can accuse those opposed to these symbols as "anti-Hungarian." Then FIDESZ spokemen get out and defend the legal mechanics of such symbolism, justifying it as a form of "free speech" which would only be opposed by those without "national feelings." The result is that a small percentage of the extreme right wing – acting with the tacit agreement of the center right - get to smear the majority of Hungarians with the uneasy feeling that “all Hungarians” are being accused of anti-Semitism. In fact, a very small percentage of the Hungarian voting public are anti-semitic. Creating this "unease" is to control the terms of debate, and to control the media's attention. If you make political hay from the unease, you have thrown oil on the fire itself. And the leader of FIDESZ should take a long hard look in the mirror the next time he blows off that accusation.

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