23rd Mar 2017

Right-wing extremism grows in Hungary

While far-right movements and ideas are becoming more popular in Eastern European countries, its threat is decreasing in western Europe, the Political Capital Institute's Demand for Right-Wing Extremism Index (Derex) shows.

Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary show the strongest inclination to discriminatory, anti-establishment and authoritarian ideologies, shows the index which measures and compares people's predisposition to far right-wing politics in 32 countries using data from the European Social Survey.

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  • A far-right demonstration in Hungary (Photo: Ákos Stiller/HVG)

In Hungary, the number of potential right-wing extremists has more than doubled from 10 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2009. In this regard, Hungary is the exception that disproves the rule: Political Capital's study rebuts the oft-cited notion that the far right-wing's social base has been expanding across Europe in recent years. While the far-right is indeed ascendant in several eastern European countries, its threat is decreasing in western Europe.

This is partly because in western Europe, the extreme-right's main appeal lies in its anti-immigration policies, a subject that rarely leads people to reject the political establishment as a whole. In eastern Europe, prejudice and anti-Gypsy attitudes are closely linked to opposition to the political system, distrust and general malaise, posing a major threat to stability.

In Hungary, the number of people angry with the establishment nearly quadrupled from 12 to 46 percent in the last seven years. This quick radical shift is not unique to eastern European countries: Experiences such as wars, terrorist attacks, economic crises or extreme dissatisfaction with the government can quickly reshape a nation's values, even when those values are firmly embedded in the culture. The principles at stake include tolerance of minorities, trust in fellow citizens and trust in social institutions.

In most eastern European countries, low public morale plays a far greater role in people's extreme right-wing proclivities than value judgments. This speaks volumes about the shape eastern Europe finds itself in 20 years after the fall of Communism. Eastern Europe's far right makes political hay from dissatisfaction with the political system, the government and the general state of affairs. In most western European countries (except Portugal), the opposite is true - value judgments play a much bigger role.

Although western Europeans' rates of prejudice and xenophobia are more significant than their anti-establishment attitudes, their eastern European brethren run rings around them in both departments. Paradoxically, opposition to immigration is strongest in countries that have the fewest immigrants.

To look at the statistics in a wider perspective it should not be forgotten that people in the West feel a strong pressure to be "politically correct."

Some respondents are therefore likely to be reluctant to express prejudice toward minorities in front of others. Eastern Europeans, on the other hand, are more likely to treat pollsters to a blunt, unvarnished stream of truth-telling.

Meanwhile, a comparison of Poland and Hungary may make for some depressing reading for Hungarians. The two countries started at about the same base in 2003: 10 percent of Hungarians and nine percent of Poles were potential supporters of the extreme right.

By 2009, Poland's Derex score had dropped by nearly a third and Hungary's had doubled. Poland's Derex ranking peaked in 2005, the year its left-wing government disintegrated amid corruption scandals and was replaced by an alliance of right-wing parties. Since then, there has been a reduction in support for extreme right-wing policies.

Hungarians' predisposition to far-right ideas, on the other hand, has been on an uninterrupted rise since 2003. Growth in prejudice - especially anti-foreigner sentiment - has been a major contributor, going up from 37 percent of respondents in 2003 to 55 percent in 2007.

More importantly, public morale has deteriorated, driven by anger towards politicians and mounting dissatisfaction with the government and the system itself. In Hungary's case, distrust has extended to all institutions. US Health Secretary Gardner's observation on extremists' penchant for "simple diagnoses" rings especially true here: Hungary's extreme right wing is creating a popular ideology out of "everything and everyone is bad."

With contribution from Attila Juhász, Péter Krekó, Csaba Molnár, Political Capital Institute, and Alex Kuli

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