Hungary needs a central-right party

What Hungary needs is the depolarisation of its politics, and a move away from the mainstreaming of far-right ideology. While the opposition parties in Hungary are putting all their energy into making sure Fidesz doesn’t win the general elections of 2022, what also needs to be done is to try to actually break Fidesz from within.

The political vacuum on the centre-right in Hungary politics, with Fidesz as the most right-wing Eurosceptic party in Hungarian parliament

Why? Because the consolidation of the power of Fidesz — starting from the moment they got into power again in 2010 — has severely compromised the independence of the judiciary, academic freedom, media plurality, a dysfunctional parliament, and restructuring of Hungary’s political system and constitution custom-made for the government party Fidesz. Overall, Hungary has become a country which is nowadays seen as the best example of de-democratisation in the world.

Despite a drop in popularity, support for Fidesz remains high. Recent polling data shows that 45% of active voters still prefer Orbán’s Fidesz. Are all those voters as conservative and undemocratic as the party they vote for? That is a complicated question, but there is reason to believe that part of the Fidesz voters is lured into voting for the party by way of threatening livelihoods, through financial benefits or pressure, for instance from the church.

With that in mind, it is in place to first explain what makes Fidesz a far-right party. This is, in fact, a term which you will not see used too often for Fidesz, and it is quite likely that Fidesz would also not feel flattered by being called far-right. I’ll base my argument on political science research.

The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right cautiously states that Fidesz could perhaps be called a far-right party rather than a conservative right-wing party.

Mudde (2010) argues that sometimes there are more “dangers” to the
health of democracies from the mainstream than from the radical right. Bale (2008, 12) insists that the mainstream right is more responsible than the radical right for a rising anti-immigrant tide, suggesting that they adopted stricter immigration policies in some countries. This is the case with the ruling Fidesz party in Hungary, which has become a “prisoner” to the “illiberal” rhetoric of the radical right (Pytlas 2016). In 2015, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán called for internment camps for illegal immigrants. At a summer university camp, he argued that Hungary and Europe were fighting for “the survival or extinction of European values” and stated that he wanted “to preserve Hungary as a Hungarian country” (Mudde 2016). Yet in official Fidesz election manifestos, the party refrains from such overtly radical right discourses (Mudde 2016). While its anti-Semitism is not as obsessive as Jobbik’s, some of its members of parliament have resurrected anti-Semitic tropes about “anti-national” elements and “Jewish financial control” of Hungary (Rensmann 2013, 227). These examples lead us to reflect on the ways in which the mainstream is influenced by the radical right, or how the radical right informs the ideals and policies of the mainstream. In this respect, Fidesz is often classified as mainstream, conservative right and Jobbik as radical right, but perhaps this approach needs some reassessment.

Furthermore, Cas Mudde, one of the best-known political scientists researching populism and political extremism, has labelled Fidesz as a far-right party. This is how he puts it in his book The Far Right Today.

The fact that Hungary could transform from a liberal democratic into a far-right authoritarian regime within the EU, which was founded to prevent the emergence of exactly such regimes, is a painful illustration of politics in the fourth wave [of the far-right]. First, it shows the transformation of a mainstream right-wing party into a populist radical right one. Second, rather than meeting broad opposition from the European political mainstream, as would have happened during the third wave, Fidesz was protected by the mainstream right European People’s Party, the main political group in the European Parliament. Third, while Orbán is a loud and open Eurosceptic, his approach to the EU is offensive rather than defensive. He does not want to leave the EU; he wants to transform it in Hungary’s image.

Striking to me was Mudde’s focus on gender when discussing far-right ideology.

Almost all far-right groups subscribe to familialism, which sees women as mothers and, as such, as essential to the survival of the nation/race. … Far-right propaganda is rife with femonationalism: that is, the use of women and feminist arguments (like gender equality) in support of nativism, in particular Islamophobia. Women (and girls) are portrayed as vulnerable, threatened by “aliens” (domestic or foreign), and dependent upon the protection of “their” (masculine) men. It is only within the context of Islamophobia that far-right groups defend gender equality and women’s rights, juxtaposing an egalitarian “West” against a misogynist “Islam.”

Some of the key policies of Fidesz are anti-gender, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic, a patriarchal family policy, covered in a thick layer of anti-liberalism.

The need for a new party in the centre-right

What Hungary needs, in my view, is a new party on the centre-right of the political spectrum. Most logically those people would be former Fidesz and Jobbik members. A party which respects political diversity, European values, and, most importantly, democracy. It will have a Christian conservative tone, and is strong on corruption. It might disagree with the idea of the ever closer Union, but sees the inherent value of the European Union, without wanting to change the EU from within — into some kind of illiberal state. This party will not try to squeeze out local governments that happen to be run by left-wing parties, and will not rush to pass legislative packages overnight, without a parliamentary debate. If this new party would win, its leader would hold weekly press conferences and not weekly radio talks where the host would not dare ask any critical questions. And the list goes on…

In this new era, Hungarian politics will not be between Fidesz and “the opposition” (the Gyurcsány gang, part of the Soros Network, liberal = communist, etc). But between MSZP, DK, Fidesz, Jobbik, Párbeszéd, LMP, [new party], etcetera. Politics will slowly depolarise, and most importantly, there will be a government coalition. A coalition of two or three or even four parties that will need to agree on Hungary’s future together, through consensus.

As I see it, and many Hungarians as well apparently, one of the most pressing issues would be to deal with the healthcare crisis. While Hungary’s healthcare system dates back to socialist times, it has not improved much over the last 30 years. With the COVID-19 cases has steadily been decreasing, the death rate per capita is extremely high, daily killing more than people. A grand coalition of parties that declare that healthcare will be their collective responsibility, that would be a much-needed political future for Hungary, as I see it.

I’ll be writing about more ideas soon! And not only about Hungarian politics! :-)

A Dutch-Hungarian political scientist based in the Hague, mostly writing about politics in Hungary/CEE/NL