Qatar-based Al Jazeera English recently broadcast a documentary film by UK filmmaker Glenn Ellis called Hungary: Towards the Abyss that explores the question “Is Hungary teetering on the edge of fascism?” The 25-minute film bases the premise that Hungary may be sliding toward fascism primarily on the rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy racism in the country, pointing to the following events and circumstances as evidence:
1-The statement from Jobbik representative Márton Gyöngyösi in the National Assembly on November 26, 2012 that it was time to “Determine how many people of Jewish origin there are, particularly in the Hungarian National Assembly and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national-security risk for Hungary.”
3-The patrols that the Jobbik-supported uniformed vigilante organization For a Better Future Civic Guard Association (Szebb Jövőért Polgárőr Egyesület) conducted on the streets of the Gypsy-inhabited section of the village of Gyöngyöspata for several weeks in the spring of 2011.
4-The Orbán government’s decision to include author József Nyirő, who served in the fascist Arrow Cross rump parliament near the end of the Second World War, on Hungary’s National Basic Curriculum for public schools.
5-The racially motivated murders of six Gypsies in Hungary in the course of nine separate attacks during the years 2008-2009.
6-The Orbán government’s espousal of the mythical Turul bird, central to the ancient Magyar origin myth and a main element in the names and emblems of interwar fascist organizations and parties in Hungary, as a symbol of Hungarian national identity.
7-The presence in Budapest of László Csatáry, the highest-ranked known-living accused Nazi war criminal on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s most-wanted list.
While all of the above points, with the exception of the last, are valid indicators of the palpable rise in racism and xenophobia that has taken place in Hungary, the answer to the question posed in the Al Jazeera documentary is that the country is not on the verge of becoming a fascist dictatorship as it did for a brief period under Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross at the end of the Second World War. With its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the Orbán government has no interest in cooperating with the radical-nationalist opposition party Jobbik and explicitly insists on equality and equal rights for citizens of all races and religions.
The Orbán government spokesman, for example, condemned the statement that Jobbik representative Gyöngyösi made in the National Assembly (point 1), insisting that it would “take the strictest-possible action to counter all manifestations of extremism, racism and anti-Semitism and will do everything under its power to quell the voices of hatred that are incompatible with European norms.” On December 3, 2012 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in the National Assembly “As long as I am standing in this position, nobody in Hungary can be harmed because of his faith, conviction or origin. I would like to make it clear . . . that we, Hungarians, will defend our Jewish compatriots.” The previous day, Fidesz National Assembly caucus leader Antal Rogán, Hungarian Socialist Party President Attila Mesterházy and Together 2014 leader Gordon Bajnai all spoke at a mass anti-fascist demonstration outside the Hungarian Parliament Building, the only time since Fidesz came to power in 2010 that officials from the Orbán administration and the democratic opposition had spoken on the same platform for the same cause.
The Orbán government has responded to some of the other evidence of increasing racism in Hungary cited in the Al Jazeera film. On May 8 of this year, the Fidesz-controlled National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) fined the newspaper Magyar Hírlap 250,000 forints for publishing Bayer’s article (point 2), which it said violated paragraph 17 of the 2011 Media Law prohibiting hate speech. This was the first time the NMHH had imposed such a fine since the Orbán administration established the body as part of its controversial law governing the media.
In May 2011, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the Criminal Code that stipulates punishment of up to three years in prison for organizing activity that serves to intimidate a specific community within the country. Prime Ministerial Spokesman Péter Szijjártó said that the government had initiated this law to combat “uniformed crime,” referring to the conflict that had taken place in the village of Gyöngyöspata between local Gypsies and uniformed vigilante groups (point 3). The Orange Files found no mention of author József Nyirő (point 4) in the final version of the 2012 National Basic Curriculum, suggesting that the government had reversed its decision to include the pro-Arrow Cross author on the curriculum. The Gypsy racial murders (point 5) took place before the Orbán government came to power. The verdict of those arrested on suspicion of having committed the murders is expected this summer. Though one may suspect that the Orbán administration harbors anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy attitudes, one cannot make a convincing case that its actions have so far served to heighten racism in Hungary.
Hungary: Towards the Abyss would have done better to explore the question “Is Hungary teetering on the edge of authoritarianism?” Near the end of the film, the narrator makes the following statement, referring to the primary objectives of the Fidesz government: “Viktor Orbán has other priorities. With an unprecedented two-thirds majority in parliament, he is changing the political landscape of Hungary, limiting free speech, outlawing homelessness and emasculating the Supreme Court.” An examination of these issues would have been the place to start in order to understand the political drama that is unfolding in Hungary today.