Bad blood or blood libel: When is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

While critics of Israel can be anti-Semitic, many who criticise Israel harbour a deep respect of and love for Jews. Similarly, supporting the Jewish state is not necessarily a manifestation of philo-Semitism and can stem from anti-Semitic motives.

A bar in Haifa.
Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Wednesday 5 September 2018

To many outsiders it may appear to be an overreaction, even paranoia, but the apprehension and fear that European Jews feel about resurgent anti-Semitism is very real. If you don’t get why, consider this: Before World War II, there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe (1.7% of the population). Today, three-quarters of a century later, there are as few as 1.4 million Jews in Europe (0.2% of the population).

Even when one speaks with or hears the stories of Holocaust survivors, it is difficult to grasp the apparently boundless human capacity for inflicting unspeakable cruelty and causing indescribable suffering.

Although the generation of Jews which survived World War II is gradually passing away, there is scarcely an Ashkenazi Jew who did not have a forebear who perished or came close to perishing at the hands of the Nazis. The kind of collective trauma caused by near-extermination is bound to live on for generations, as it has with Armenians and other devastated populations, in part stoked by the terrifying prospect that if there is ever a repeat performance, the next “Final Solution” will be irreversible in its finality.

While this kind of existential threat is fortunately a dim and distant possibility (for now), the dehumanising precursors of the image of te Jew as sub-human monster or super-human force of evil are re-appearing, sometimes repackaged and rebranded, at other times in the form of old-school anti-Semitic tropes.

This is most terrifyingly visible on the nativist right, especially in parts of eastern Europe. Deafening dog whistling has often given way to open racism, such as the spread of conspiracy theories in which the world is secretly run by shadowy Jewish financiers and bankers, from the classical myths surrounding the Rothschilds to the more contemporary conspiracy theories involving George Soros, particularly in his native Hungary.

The Arab world has imported similar conspiracy theories from Europe. These are particularly popular amongst conservatives and Islamists, but others are not immune, many of whom believe that Jews, in alliance with “crusaders”, are inciting a perceived war against Islam and, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they are convinced Jews were behind the 11 September 2001 attacks in America and, stretching conceivability to beyond disintegration point, that ISIS was created by Mossad.

Despite the left’s long and proud history of combating racism, some leftists have fallen prey to this form of racism, as the swirling controversy surrounding anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour party demonstrates, while others who were already anti-Semitic conceal their racism behind the left’s humanist, universalist discourse.

This is prevalent on the fringes of the anti-imperialist left, both Western and Arab, where a commendable quest for the liberation of the oppressed has begotten a toxic world-view in which the Jewish or Zionist lobby is attributed with almost superhuman powers. According to this bizarre outlook, it is not Israel that is the client of the US empire and does Washington’s bidding, but that mighty America is, in effect, a vassal state of Israel. In addition, for some, Israel is behind or involved in pretty much every problem in the Middle East.

That said, when it comes to identifying anti-Semitism, one of the most fraught and problematic issues is the question of Israel. There are many Israelis and their allies who equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and support of Israel with tolerance and philo-Semitism.

However, the reality is far more complex and very different. There are those who criticise Israel but harbour a deep respect of and love for Jews, and many admire the positive aspects of Israel. Similarly, there are those who are pro-Israel but support the Jewish state to conceal their own anti-Semitism, for racist reasons, such as the presence of Israel means fewer Jews in their own countries, or for political expediency, because Israel is a convenient ally and vice-versa.

One such person is Hungary’s Viktor Orbán who is a close ally of Binyamin Netanyahu and, in a show of supreme mutual hypocrisy, recently visited Israel, yet gives every sign, to my eyes at least, that he is a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite. Orbán has for years propagated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, enabled anti-Semites in his own party and in the fascistic Jobbik party, and whitewashed the memory of numerous Nazi-era Hungarian leaders, including the “exceptional statesman” Miklos Horthy.

Hungary, of course, is not unique in this regard. In America, not only has the Trumpian era been marked with increasingly overt rightwing anti-Semitism, of the tens of millions of Christian Zionists who support Israel, a significant proportion do so for what could easily be regarded as anti-Semitic reasons, from reducing the number of Jews in the West to the eventual “salvation” and conversion of the Jews.

Just as not everyone who supports Israel loves Jews, not everyone who criticises and opposes Israel hates Jews. This can often be the case in the Middle East, where the opposition of many Arabs to Israel is motivated by their solidarity with the Palestinian people, rather than any deep animosity towards Israelis or Jews.

Naturally, this is not always the case, as demonstrated by the widespread targeting of indigenous Jewish communities in the region following the creation of Israel: blaming and punishing people for the crimes of their coreligionists elsewhere in the world is the very definition of racism. This has led to the tragic situation we have now, in which Middle Eastern societies have largely been depopulated of their once vibrant Jewish minorities.

Moreover, what may be anti-Semitic in the case of an outsider is not necessarily so when it comes to the Palestinians. For instance, a bigoted Westerner singling out Israel as being all-powerful is either anti-Semitic or ignorant, and possibly both. But Palestinians making the same arguments may well be globalising their local situation, expressing the anger and frustration of living under generations of occupation and discrimination, of being penned off territorially, of being treated like foreigners on their own land, of being subjected to martial law in the West Bank, of being besieged in Gaza, and, most recently, of being officially categorised as second class citizens in Israel.

When this is all somebody knows, it does not take a massive leap of illogic to go from the idea that Israel controls their world to Israel controls the entire world, however irrational that is. Another reason, which also applies to other Arab states, especially the frontline states like Lebanon and Egypt, is the psychological equivalent of saving face, whether consciously or subconsciously: by endowing their enemy with superpower might, Arabs are concealing or disguising their own abject weakness and ineptitude. This is not to argue that this kind of distortion of reality is acceptable. It is merely to point out that it is the manifestation of a different dynamic.

Of course, anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli racism does exist in Palestinian society, but it is not as widespread as many Israelis believe and it comes from a position of weakness, unlike in Europe and America. And it can be extremely virulent and hateful, especially amongst those who believe that Islamic or Arab identity is superior. This can have ugly consequences, such as the decision of Haj Amin al-Husseini to collaborate with the Nazis during World War II.

However, more often it is the kind of racism common amongst enemies and victims of oppression, one based on generations of bad blood, not a blood libel, on the fear and distrust of those who have caused you pain and suffering, not an irrational fear and scapegoating of the minority in your midst, as is the case in the West.

Moreover, despite their soul-destroying plight, many Palestinians refuse to hate ordinary Israelis and focus their anger and opposition on the system. In addition, a growing number of fair-minded and humane Palestinians are combating anti-Jewish sentiment, challenging conspiracy theories and raising awareness in Palestinian society of the historical plight of Jews, from the pogroms they suffered to the Holocaust.

With time, as the conflict is resolved and justice prevails for all, one hopes that this kind of conflict-related racism will vanish.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Related posts

Hongarije, de Viktator en ik

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

Swaan van Iterson

Waarom ik mij zorgen maak over Hongarije: de gevaren van een tweederde meerderheid voor de “Viktator” en rechts-extremisme verpakt in een hip jasje.

Photo: ©András Bruck

Photo: ©András Bruck

Donderdag 17 april 2014

Een zondagavond stapte ik op het vliegtuig om er een paar dagen tussenuit te gaan. Precies op de avond dat de uitslag van de Hongaarse parlementsverkiezingen bekend zou worden gemaakt, bevond ik mij hoog in de lucht, ver weg van de wereld van de politiek.

Ik had mij regelmatig opgewonden over de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije: artikelen geschreven, een documentaire gemaakt, discussies bijgewoond. Op de opwinding volgde vaak een gevoel van machteloosheid, want de politieke situatie in mijn tweede thuisland ging in rap tempo bergafwaarts en dat ene artikel zou het verschil niet maken. Ik wilde voorkomen dat de machteloosheid om zou slaan in slachtofferschap, een sentiment dat Hongaren maar al te goed kennen. Ik besloot de verkiezingen deze keer zo veel mogelijk aan me voorbij te laten gaan.

Het eerste kwartier van de vlucht lukte dat goed. Ik ervoer een gevoel van opluchting, maar helaas: de pret mocht niet lang duren. Ik boog naar voren om een boek uit mijn tas te pakken en daar lag hij: De Groene Amsterdammer. Ik probeerde hem te negeren maar die verdomde letters op de voorpagina bleven me aanstaren:“Orbán’s Hongarije. De voormalige sovjetstaat is opnieuw een dictatuur”. Voor ik het wist had ik het tijdschrift geopend, bladerde ik naar het artikel, grepen de woorden van de Hongaarse schrijver-journalist András Bruck me bij de keel en dwaalden mijn gedachten toch weer af naar Hongarije.

Zodra ik landde zette ik mijn telefoon aan. Het onvermijdelijke was gebeurd. Voor de tweede keer had Viktor Orbán met zijn Fidesz partij een grote overwinning behaald. Fidesz had zo’n 44.5 % van de stemmen verkregen en zou daarmee naar alle waarschijnlijkheid haar tweederde meerderheid behouden. In de afgelopen vier jaar heeft Orbán zijn macht op allerlei terreinen in rap tempo uitgebreid. De onafhankelijkheid van de wetgeving en de rechtspraak is in het geding gebracht, alsmede de persvrijheid. De nieuwe grondwet die onder Fidesz is doorgevoerd staat bol van het nationalistische discours dat Orbán zo lief is. Onder de Viktator wordt  de geschiedenis herschreven waar je bijstaat: antisemitische schrijvers worden toegevoegd aan de leeslijsten van middelbare scholieren,straatnamen worden vervangen en door het hele land herrijzen beelden van Horthy, de regent die tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog een bondgenootschap aanging met Hitler. De kers op de taart: afgelopen winter richtte de regering het onderzoeksinstituut ‘Veritas’ op, een instituut dat de ‘nationale identiteit’ dient te versterken middels het ‘onderzoeken en beschrijven’ van de geschiedenis van de afgelopen 150 jaar.

Het was de linkse oppositiepartijen zondag niet gelukt om tegenwicht te bieden. Ze waren kwaad, want volgens hen was de uitslag van de verkiezingen mogelijk gemaakt door de aanpassingen aan het kiesstelsel die de Fidesz partij had doorgevoerd. De nieuwssite HVG.hu meldde dat Fidesz zondag ca. 800.000 stemmen minder behaalde dan in 2010. Toch zal de tweederde meerderheid van Fidesz waarschijnlijk in tact blijven. De weg is vrijgemaakt om de omstreden, nationalistische koers van Fidesz in sneltreinvaart uit te breiden.

Fidesz staat er niet alleen voor als het gaat om het verspreiden van nationalistisch sentiment. De extreem-rechtse Jobbik partij behaalde zondag ruim 20 procent van de stemmen. Jobbik pleit voor een extreem nationalistisch, antisemitisch beleid. De partij heeft banden met de ‘Nieuwe Hongaarse Garde’, een burgerwacht die Hongarije wil ontdoen van de ‘toenemende zigeunercriminaliteit’. Racistische uitspraken zijn binnen de partij eerder regel dan uitzondering. De partij heeft veel aanhang onder jonge (dikwijls ook hoogopgeleide) Hongaren. Bij Jobbik weten ze dondersgoed hoe ze campagne moeten voeren: de straat op, een sterk geluid laten horen op internet en de sociale media, en tegelijkertijd het imago van de partij onder controle houden. Het resultaat: traditioneel rechts-extremisme verpakt in een hip jasje.

Terwijl ik mij nog zo had voorgenomen om ditmaal afstand te bewaren tot de politieke ontwikkelingen, zit ik toch weer achter mijn laptop. Misschien is het onvermijdelijk, kan ik mij er beter aan overgeven. Er is mij vaak gevraagd waarom ik me zo druk maak om de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije. Regelmatig heb ik geprobeerd een respons te vermijden. Ik zou de ruimte van een heel boek nodig hebben om de complexiteit van het antwoord weer te geven. Maar ik zal vandaag een poging wagen: omdat ik de uitslagen van afgelopen zondag niet links kan laten liggen, en omdat het boek nog wel even op zich zal laten wachten.

Ik maak mij zorgen om de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije, omdat zich midden in het hart van Europa een dictatuur ontvouwt onder de noemer van de ‘democratie’ en het lijkt alsof we machteloos zijn.

Ik maak mij zorgen om de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije, omdat angst de Hongaarse samenleving domineert en in vele gevallen tot zwijgen of onverschilligheid aanzet.

Ik maak mij zorgen, omdat er ontzettend veel morele afbraak plaatsvindt in Hongarije. Een morele afbraak die misschien niet altijd in juridische termen te vangen is, maar juist daarom zeer gevaarlijke vormen aanneemt.

Ja, ik maak mij zorgen om de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije omdat ik Hongaars bloed heb. Samen met nog zo veel anderen zie ik mijn vaderland voor mijn ogen afbrokkelen.

Ik maak mij zorgen omdat mijn moeder het land tijdens het communisme is ontvlucht en naar Nederland is gekomen, op zoek naar een plek waar zij adem kon halen. Ze zou zich woedend omdraaien in haar graf als ze zou kunnen zien wat er gaande is. Als ze terug had kunnen keren, zou ze zijn gestikt.

Ik maak mij zorgen om de ontwikkelingen in Hongarije omdat ik van het land houd, en omdat ik het land haat. Zoals András Bruck schreef:

“Dat een democratisch land in vredestijd, geïntegreerd in een netwerk van welwillende naties, en gesteund met grote hoeveelheden geld, midden in de radicale, wereldomspannende veranderingen en de bliksemsnelle technologische revolutie, plotseling alles de rug toekeert, en dat het overgrote deel van de samenleving daar niets tegenin brengt, is eenvoudigweg onbegrijpelijk.”

“Wat is er toch met Hongarije aan de hand?”

___

This article first appeared in BKB on 10 April 2014. Republished with the author’s consent.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

Hungary’s forgotten generation

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 5 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.6/10 (8 votes cast)

By Swaan van Iterson

With the surge in polarised power politics, young Hungarians, excluded and frustrated, are falling prey to extremism and its twin menace, apathy.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Our dinner on a summer night started with a shot of Palinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy.  The occasion that had brought all these family and friends together was the name day (névnap) of one of the guests, a tradition in many countries celebrating the day of the saint after whom one is named. Although name days are not celebrated in my country (the Netherlands), it was a nice opportunity to get together, eat, drink and talk.

The dinner started very cordially. We talked about Hungarian wines, the weather, the ins and outs of the divorce of close friends, and made fun of the dissatisfaction of one of the guests with the amount of meat in the food.

The calm didn’t last long. Soon enough, the topic switched to Hungarian politics. One of our guests started to talk furiously about what he regarded as the biased international news coverage of Hungarian affairs: “The international media very often paints a picture of Hungary as the new antisemitic, racist hub of Europe which is growing into a dictatorship,” he complained.

In his view, what is happening in Hungary is sensationalised and ignores the efforts made in the country to improve the situation and forge a sense of collectivity in society. Maybe it was because of the wine and the Palinka, but our guest’s face started to turn an alarming shade of red.

While until two years ago Hungary was only occasionally mentioned in the international media, recent developments in the country have become hot news.  The New York Times, The Guardian and The Economist regularly publish updates on Hungarian politics, and more and more blogs devoted to following the latest developments are appearing online. Since Viktor Orbán and his right-wing conservative Fidesz party gained a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary elections of 2010, various controversial laws and a new constitution are being implemented in the country. The European Commission is closely monitoring the new media law, in which a media authority is appointed to vet whether journalists report in a “moral” and “objective” way.  In addition, the IMF and Orbán are playing cat and mouse around the sensitive issues of the independence of the Hungarian central bank and possible financial help.

On 31 August, Ramil Safarov, an Azeri soldier serving his sentence in Hungary for killing an Armenian soldier in Budapest in 2004, was sent home to Azerbaijan. The release of Safarov, and the rumoured money involved, made this peculiar international gesture by the Hungarian government headline news abroad.

However, while the big fish are being watched, little attention is paid to what must be the small fry in the view of the international media: the Hungarian people themselves.  To get an idea of what young Hungarians think, I asked the son of our furious guest to share his views on the ongoing debate. He looked at me, smiled, took a big sip of his wine and said: “You know, there are two sides in Hungary that do not talk to each other, both of them say something different, none of them tells the truth, and it doesn’t make a fucking difference what you think. That is the system I live in. Besides, nagyon nem szeretek politizálni, I really do not like to talk politics.”

Being half-Hungarian myself, that last sentence did not sound unfamiliar to me at all. I once talked about the broader meaning of the word politizálni with my friend Thomas Escritt, a journalist who writes regularly about Hungary. “Besides the fact that the word politizálni does not exist in English, it is difficult to translate because the semantics are all different,” he noted. “In Northern Europe, talking about politics is regarded as boring. In Holland, it means I’m not square, I prefer to talk about women. In Hungary, talking about politics is dangerous. ‘Nem szeretek politizálni’ means I’m innocent, leave me alone.”

Well, let’s go against this traditional Hungarian aversion and talk politics, and those two sides our young guest was describing. The ruling Fidesz party forms a powerful rightwing conservative bloc with its solid majority in the parliament. According to the most recent polls, Orbán’s party is still the most popular, with 30.4% of Hungarians supporting it. On the far right, Jobbik (the third largest party, with 14.5% in the most recent polls) gives voice to the extreme manifestation of nationalist sentiments currently bubbling up in Hungary, with one of their main goals being to wipe out gypsy or Roma “criminality” and to halt the supposed dominance of Jews in Hungarian politics and finances.

On the left side of the political spectrum, the second biggest party in Hungarian politics (20.5%) is the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), whose credibility shrank dramatically after the notorious “Balatonőszöd speech” in 2006. In this speech, the former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, admitted to his fellow party members that “we have been lying for the last one and a half to two years” about the economic situation in Hungary. The confidential speech was taped and broadcasted by Magyar Rádió (Hungarian Radio), which led to mass protests and riots in Hungary.

In 2011, Gyurcsány officially distanced himself from MSZP when he formed the newest, smallest party in Hungary, the Democratic Coalition, or DK, (2.4%). Together with Jobbik, the green party, which is known as Politics Can Be Different, or LMP (6.8%), attracts a high percentage of young voters. But the biggest political winner in Hungary seems to be apathy or disillusionment, with 48.6% of Hungarian saying they are undecided.

The political discourse is not particularly friendly. The ‘Socialists’ and ‘Liberals’ accuse the rightwing conservatives of being nationalistic, close-minded and sometimes even fascistic. These “Nazis”, in their turn, argue that the “ex-Commies” are sellout hippies who let Israel and Western European countries eat up the Hungarian economy, and that they will NOT allow Hungary to be dominated by the European Union after years of Soviet occupation. “Hungary for the Hungarians,” insist the conservatives, whether they live inside or outside of the modern borders of the country.

In the course of my research on Hungarian youth and their relationship with ultra-nationalist, rightwing politics, I have found plenty of examples that fit the discourse of both the right and left. During the filming for my documentary All for Hungary, which explores why a significant proportion of students in higher education identify with the Jobbik party, I talked to numerous young people, such as during the rallies organised to mark the 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

The first guy in the video above explained that voting for Jobbik was a logical decision. In his view, the left is corrupt, the right has turned bad too, the greens live in a utopian tomorrow, and so the extreme right is the only way to build Hungary’s future – this, to him, made perfect sense. This young man looks quite friendly, and keen on kick-starting that political career, so why not start in front of the camera.

The second group in the video – with their camouflage trousers and heavy boots – has a much darker aura surrounding them. These young men are all university students, but they don’t look very inviting to start a political discussion with. They seem to fit the “close-minded” and “fascist” stereotypes.

Let’s skip a few months and move on to another event which took place earlier this year. While Orbán assured tens of thousands at a pro-government rally that “over his dead body” would he allow the European Union to reduce Hungary to the status of a “colony”, Milla (One Million for the Freedom of the Press in Hungary) organised a counter-demonstration. What started as a Facebook group against restrictive media laws grew into a broader civil organisation opposed to the current societal developments in Hungary and the restrictive politics of the Fidesz party.

Several friends and I went out on the streets to canvass young people at this gathering on what kind of Hungary they wanted to live in.  The young man in the video below – who wants to live in a society where it is not seen as strange or unusual for people to help the poor and refuse “to live in shit” – would probably fit perfectly into the rightwing stereotype of the blabbering “hippy” leftist who believes that all you need is love.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

It is very easy to identify examples that fit the stereotypes. And everyone uses stereotypes to a certain degree. They are, after all, a way of making the world seem less complicated and easier to grasps. But they do not help us to understand society and the root causes behind societal developments and the choices people make. While politics may be the area of life where stereotypes are used the most, it is also where they can be most dangerous.

We need to look further and explore what motivations are behind political affiliations and listen to what different parties have to say. This is one of the core problems in Hungarian politics: people do not actually listen to each other and are satisfied to dehumanise and demonise their opponents.  The consequence? Society becomes polarised and fractured, instead of unified, on every single level.

As the partisans of the right spin further apart from the left in Hungary, much of the population is left, as the earlier poll suggested, stuck in the middle, unhappy with both sides. Many Hungarians agree with what our young guest asserted: “It doesn’t make a fucking difference what you think. That is the system I live in.”

This disillusionment, along with high unemployment, might explain why a recent survey, carried out by Hungary’s TÁRKI social research institute, showed that nearly half of Hungarians aged 19 to 29 wants to emigrate.

 


<!–[if !supportAnnotations]–><!–[endif]–>

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.6/10 (8 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 5 votes)

Related posts

Hungary for a better future?

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +6 (from 8 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.8/10 (13 votes cast)

By Swaan van Iterson

Faced with soaring unemployment and the lack of prospects, many educated young Hungarians are being drawn to the radical right. But will it give them the better future they seek?

Friday 5 August 2011

The Turul bird is the national symbol of Hungary. Jobbik voters often wear it on T-shirts, necklaces, bracelets and other accessories. Photo: Swaan van Iterson

Until last year, the international media paid little attention to Hungary. This changed when the nationalist and conservative Fidesz party, under the leadership of Viktor Orbán, won a two-thirds majority in the elections of April 2010, thereby gaining the power to push through radical changes. 

Orbán moved quickly to nationalise private pension funds. In addition, he pushed through a controversial media law, which stipulates that a government-appointed media authority should monitor whether journalists provide “moral” and “objective” reporting.

More recently, in July of this year, his government passed a new church law, which officially recognises only 14 religions, and hence strips the others of the right to receive state subsidies. The Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP) called the legislation the “worst religion law in Europe”.

And Orbán and his party are not finished yet. His latest idea is to allow secondary school children to study “basic military science” starting from the coming academic year.

But it is not just the Fidesz party that is making news in Hungary. Further to the right on the political spectrum the radical Jobbik party, which won 16.7% of the vote in the 2010 elections to become the third largest party in Hungary, is drawing attention.  The Movement for a Better Hungary’s (A Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom) manifesto is mainly based on, among other things, nationalism and the combating of so-called “gypsy criminality” (cigánybűnözés). Many believe that the party was closely linked to the Magyar Gárda (the Hungarian Guard that is now dissolved, but still active under different names), which was established to protect the population against this “gypsy crime”.

Jobbik’s main support base is not only found in the ranks of the poor and poorly educated workers in the northeast of the country, but increasingly amongst the urban young. In early 2010, some 15% of under-25s said they would vote for Jobbik – the party was particularly popular among university students specialising in the humanities or history.

This raises the question of why Jobbik is attractive to more highly educated students in Budapest. Most narratives paint a picture of a faceless crowd of “societal losers” who vote for the radical right. Can the same terminology be used to describe these students? I travelled to Budapest to find out. During a month of extensively interviewing students and hearing their story, while trying not to judge and to remain objective, I learned that radical right voters can be far from being the indistinguishable mass of victims they are often taken to be.

 Of multinationals and gypsies

A Jobbik student attends class with pen and bracelet in the colours of the Hungarian flag. Photo: Swaan van Iterson.

Farkas Gergely (25), a recent graduate in economics and sociology, is a Jobbik member and one of the youngest members of parliament. According to Gergely, the lack of prospects many students face leads them to vote for his party: “Many students in Hungary cannot find work once they graduate… For 20 years, no party stood up for young people and so they looked for something new. We have filled that gap.”

A lot of the students I have spoken to indicate that having a university degree in Hungary is no guarantee for a secure future. According to Marcell, a 25-year-old public administration student, the bad socio-economic situation is a result of, amongst other things, foreign interference: “Multinationals, transnational companies and foreign banks have come to the country in droves since 1989. They were able to operate here without paying any taxes while local firms had to pick up the tab – they got no special perks,” he says. “The result is that the multinationals have devoured our economy. They became the rulers of our homeland. Every Hungarian government over the past 20 years has been their unquestioning servant.”

Szuszanna (21), a medical student in Budapest, believes that it is mainly Jewish enterprises that have received this beneficial treatment: “We’re not happy with the Israeli companies which buy up everything here – they ruin everything. They take a lot of money out of the country and invest very little,” she argues.

In Szuszanna’s view, the trouble is that if you want to do something about the situation, you’re immediately labelled as an anti-Semite. According to her, the same problem arises around the “gypsy question”. The Jobbik introduced the term “gypsy criminality” into Hungary’s political discourse, which finally made it, in Szuszanna’s view, possible to talk about the situation – something that is very urgent, she believes: “During communist times, everybody was obliged to work, but that changed with the advent of capitalism,” Szuszanna tells. “Now that you can get benefits, a lot of gypsies don’t work anymore. They spend their benefits on alcohol and cigarettes and when this runs out, they often steal.”

Radical change

Student supporters of Jobbik greet one another by saying “Szebb Jövőt”, meaning “A better future”. They would like to see change not only in the socio-economic conditions but also in the political situation. János (26), who studies IT, believes that students vote for Jobbik because they want radical change. According to him, Hungary never underwent a change of the regime (rendszerváltás). He thinks that many communists continue to be in power under the guise of socialism and that communism actually never went away in Hungary. Moreover, like János, a lot of students view the socialists as being corrupt.

For a lot of the students, 2006 was the time they decided to join the Jobbik party. That year, an audio recording surfaced from a closed-door meeting, featuring the then socialist president Ferenc Gyurcsány. On the recording, Gyurcsány admitted that “we have been lying for the last one and a half to two years” about the economic situation in Hungary. The leak led to public outrage and mass demonstrations, including the occupation of the state television building by football hooligans and radical-right students.

Many of the Jobbik supporters believe that socialist “indoctrination” does not only occur in the political sphere, but also in the education system. Jószef, a PhD student in political science who is researching euroscepticism, would like to build an academic career but, in his view, it is very difficult to earn money as an independent political scientist in Hungary: “You need to have a political colour, otherwise you’ll get nowhere in this field,” he says. “Personally I have had no problems but I have heard others say that it is difficult to get a good position if you’re not a socialist.”

And it’s not just academia. In Katalin’s opinion the media is also dominated by “liberal leftists” (referring to the socialists). The “simplistic and oversexualised” American programming on television annoys her: “The Hungarian media is extremely prejudiced and, above all, extremely liberal,” she complains. “People watch MTV, use drugs, find it normal to be gay and encourage others to become so too. That’s just ridiculous.”

The “bias” of the Hungarian media does not stop Jobbik from reaching the public, János stresses. He says that the party bypasses the mainstream media by being very active on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, this helps the party to connect better with young people.

Eszter, a master’s student in public administration, thinks that Jobbik is a party for the young generation in a country where there is an intergenerational divide in politics: “Older people lived through communism and miss the security and stability of those times. In those days, there was still work for everyone. This means that older people vote more frequently for the socialists. Young people don’t have the same experiences and sympathies.”

Hungary’s Young Turks?

Badges worn by a Jobbik supporter. Photo: Swaan van Iterson.

Péter is a university lecturer at both ELTE and Corvinus University. He says that students who vote for Jobbik regularly voice their political views in their essays and assignments. According to him, history students in particular are drawn to the party – a phenomenon that does not surprise him in the least: “Hungarians have a history of lost wars and lost independence. This gives you a reason to become nationalistic. Young people are convinced that, given all they’ve lost, Hungarians can only count on themselves.”

Many of the students I spoke to integrate their political views not only into their studies but also their plans for the future. Ákos (21) describes knowledge as his “weapon” with which he can build his future and change the world. Towards that end, he is studying history and Turkish. He believes that Hungarians must have more control over their country, and the only way to achieve this is to become more independent from the West.

Surprisingly for all those right-wing Europeans who oppose Turkish membership of the EU because of the supposed civilisational differences, Ákos wishes to strengthen ties between Hungary and Turkey, as he believes the two countries share a common history: “Most people believe that the Hungarians are descendants of the Finno-Ugric tribes, but this is untrue. The Turks and Hungarians are brothers and there is a lot of research which shows that Hungarians are related to tribes in Kazakhstan.”

For other students, Jobbik is more a part of their daily reality than their future dreams. Barnabás (20), also a history student, wears black jeans and a leather jacket bearing Hungarian nationalist iconography, as well as an armband in the colours of the Hungarian flag. His interest in the Hungarista subculture began when he turned 16 and started listening to nationalist rock bands like Kárpátia and Romantikus Erőszak, whose songs include 100% Magyar (100% Hungarian) and Lesz még Erdély (Transylvania will be ours).

“It is very, very important for me to be part of the Jobbik movement. It is an integral part of my Hungarian identity,” Barnabás admits. “You really get the feeling that you belong to a group. Jobbik helps people who feel out of place but have a strong bond with Hungary to find a community. Before I joined Jobbik, I often felt alone, like I didn’t belong anywhere.”

According to Ákos, this sense of loneliness is common among young Hungarians who have few extracurricular activities to engage in or groups to join. For him, Jobbik is almost more like a family than a party: “At Jobbik, you feel that you’re at home. You are surrounded by people who think just like you and who want to reach the same goals.” He ended our conversation with the following words: “We’re there for each other. We fight for each other. Also for you, a better future!”

The students I talked to are trying to change their future through the Jobbik party. The way they actively engage their political ideas in their daily activities, studies and career plans, and use modern utilities like social media, makes it impossible to label them as ‘losers of the modern world’ or the modernisation process. But despite the solidarity and belonging that Jobbik inspires in its young members, the question is whether the radical right path they are treading is the way to achieve their dreams of independence, pride and well-being.

This article is part of a special Chronikler series on far-right extremism. It is published here with the author’s consent. ©Swaan van Iterson.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.8/10 (13 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +6 (from 8 votes)

Related posts