Jobbik: a party born of humiliation

The recent electoral success of Hungary’s right-wing parties rests on a deep ground swell of powerlessness and frustration.

Eszter Salgó

Topics World

The fugitive hid, and towards him
The sword reached into his cave
Looking everywhere he could not find
His home in his homeland
Climbs the mountain, descends the valley
Sadness and despair, his companions
Sea of blood beneath his feet,
Ocean of flame above.

From ‘Hymn from the Rough Centuries of the Hungarian People’, by Ferenc Kölcsey (1823)

Following the successes of the Hungarian extreme right-wing party Jobbik at the 2009 European Parliament elections, its success in Hungary’s recent national parliamentary elections (gaining 47 seats out of 386) has not provoked that much surprise. According to many commentators, this triumph primarily reflects people’s reaction to the disappointing results of the eight-year-long Socialist administration. However, what motivated Jobbik voters was not ‘just’ a strong sense of betrayal caused by a government that was incapable of representing their interests, but an intense form of humiliation which was further galvanised by ‘humiliation entrepreneurs’ active both in the political arena and in the media (according to whom all Hungarians should feel humiliated).

During the ‘rough centuries’, Hungarian national consciousness was constantly permeated by a sense of humiliation provoked by defeats and domination by outside forces. But this negative emotion, because it was counterbalanced by hope and self-confidence concerning the ability to change society and realise a better future, could also act as an invigorating force and manifest itself in a struggle for national independence and freedom, as it did in 1848, in 1867, in 1956 and in 1989-1990.

Today, the humiliation felt in Hungarian society plays a different role. There is a widespread sense of uncertainty connected to people’s lack of clarity about their present and future role in society, a strange result of the marriage between a communist past and a Western European future. So whereas humiliation in the past was a constructive force, feeding (as Freud would say) ‘drives towards life’, today it is a destructive one, feeding ‘drives toward death’.

The change to a capitalist system and integration into NATO and the EU are perceived by Jobbik voters as processes that have caused only problems and further suffering, adding new rings to the chain of humiliating events inflicted on the Magyars by Others. The result of the recent elections demonstrates not only Hungarian people’s rejection of the Socialist government (whose responsibility in failing to meet electors’ expectations and enhancing the country’s interests is evident), but also their denunciation of 20 years of Hungarian democracy. So while two new parties have successfully emerged promising a radically different way of conducting politics (Jobbik and a party called Politics Can Be Different), two major architects of the post-Cold War change of system (the Hungarian Democratic Forum and the Alliance of Free Democrats) have for the first time failed to enter parliament.

Jobbik’s success reflects voters’ disillusion with liberal democracy, the free-market economy, and with EU membership. Indeed, while ‘representing the voice of Hungary’ in the European Parliament, Jobbik MEP Krisztina Morvai could not help criticising ‘European aspirations to build a global empire’ and to ‘transform Hungary into a colony’. Many voted for Jobbik because, in a time of identity crisis, it offered a group identity, a ‘Hungarian identity’, and because, by singing ‘let them free’ lyrics, it promised to end humiliation.

Discontent in Hungarian society has much to do with unfulfilled needs and desires. It is as if both self-preservation and pleasure drives, to use Freud’s first drive theory, remain frustrated in a society where life is perceived as hard and gloomy and where people angrily resent being perceived as ‘losers’. In line with Schiller’s axiom, according to which ‘hunger and love are what moves the world’, Jobbik based its campaign on promising people work, security and, last but not least, strong ties. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona even went so far as to express his ‘gratitude and love’ to all those who contributed to the party’s victory while Morvai concluded all communications addressed to her followers ‘with hope and love’. Jobbik promises not only better survival opportunities, but happiness as well.

In response, discontented electors identify themselves with Vona and Morvai, both of whom, being attractive, charismatic, courageous and aggressive, represent the ‘ego ideal’ of Jobbik supporters. In doing so, supporters project their unsatisfied aspirations on to the political sphere, transforming their lust for recognition and power into Jobbik’s lust for recognition and power. Jobbik does not just satisfy self-preservation and pleasure drives but aggressive impulses, too. Hence Morvai’s great success was to convince many angry and unhappy voters that the lowliness of their existence, their hard and boring lives, were not things to be ashamed of, but parts of the humiliation inflicted upon Hungary. While giving vent to this humiliated fury is difficult for individuals alone, it becomes achievable by joining Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary organisation outlawed in 2009.

Let’s also have a quick look at the emotions that Jobbik’s success has provoked amongst its opponents, particularly those worried about the future of Hungarian democracy and its political culture. For them Jobbik’s success was an ‘uncanny moment’. It was as if the memory of the dreadful fascist era, long hidden, had once more revealed itself.

Today, as there were in the 1930s, there are two rights in Hungary: Fidesz, a ‘traditional’ right-wing party (which combines Horthy-style and Western European conservative features), and Jobbik, a radical right-wing formation (labeled neo-fascist by many Western commentators) which, in many ways, evokes the 1930s fascist parties of Gömbös and Szálasi.

Fascist leader General Gyula Gömbös, who was appointed as prime minister by the Regent in 1932, was aggressive and sentimental (like Morvai). He promised to spread happiness by cultivating the spirit of ‘national revival’ and by creating patriotic organisations in a period when (like today) Hungary was one of the countries most hit by the economic world crisis. During Hungary’s Depression, the prime minister’s objectives were the revitalisation of agriculture, the fight against the Jews, Bolsheviks and liberals, and justice for the poor. Today Morvai promises much the same. Inspired by Gombos, the fascist leader who searched for collaboration with other countries which felt humiliated by the Versailles settlement, Jobbik aims to re-orientate Hungarian foreign policy towards ‘revisionist powers’, countries that feel frustrated about the current international order and are ready to challenge it (Iran and Russia).

However, some aspects of the current political situation also bear an uncanny resemblance to the period dominated by the Arrow Cross, a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi that turned Hungary into a Nazi German client state and continued the deportation of Jews. Like contemporary radical right-wing leaders, Szálasi constructed fantasy narratives through the reinvention of a mythical and glorious past, the promise of a ‘new order’ with a central role given to a new ‘Christian’ Hungary (that is, one free of Jews and Gypsies) and the launch of a battle against the ‘destructive forces of money and capitalism’ (‘globalisation’ and ‘neo-liberalism’ in current populist rhetoric).

Morvai, like the fascist Szálasi, has also been inspired by a ‘prophetic mission’. In her case, the mystical revelation occurred on 23 October 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. As anti-government protesters clashed with the police she decided to represent the ‘cause of the Magyars’ and lead the ‘great mission’ to protect the ‘frightened and humiliated citizens’ against a ‘barbarised police led by a mad Nero’ and to combat the ‘unjust, filthy and destructive global imperialist world order’.

The fascist dream of being a heterogeneous movement, a Volkspartei, is also an aspiration of Jobbik – its electoral programme was addressed literally to everyone. It is certainly a Volkspartei in a Freudian sense, constructed according to an ancestral tribal pattern: obedience and total devotion by followers to the two leaders; strong ties among members; and a possibility to express aggressive drives towards outsider groups. The feelings of Jobbik followers seem simple yet exaggerated. To me, they appear credulous, open to influence and with little critical faculty. To put it into Freud’s words, ‘they do not thirst after truth, they demand illusions’. This predominance of a fantasy life born from unfilled wishes is the ruling factor in the psychology of Jobbik.

Many commentators argue that there is no need to worry: it is not the first time that the Hungarian parliament has made room for extreme right-wing parties. Furthermore, once in power such parties prove weak and tend to lose popularity. For example, after four years of parliamentary activity and a de facto coalition with Fidesz, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party, Miép, disappeared almost completely from the political scene. Jobbik’s prospects are not helped by the fact that its cohesion depends not upon shared political ideas but its members’ feelings of frustration. Jobbik, however, is very different from Miép. It is an electronic-age protest party, created in opposition to the last 20 years rather than to Kadarist communism.

Still, Hungarian prime minister and Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán certainly seems confident enough to deal with Jobbik. His role models in this regard are the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who weakened the National Front’s power by absorbing its main issues of concern, and Admiral Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s regent from 1920 to 1944. In fact, the Fidesz leader promised that once in power he would deal with the Hungarian Guard just as the Regent had dealt with the Arrow Cross: by giving them two slaps. However, let us not forget that it was Szálasi who eventually ‘slapped’ Horthy and not vice versa.

What permeates Hungarian society is not just melancholy but also a strong sense of humiliation. Physical violence has increased and hate discourse has become a constant feature. Political culture is filled with enemy-images with rivals characterised as being so vicious, corrupt, aggressive and harmful that everything is allowed in the fight against them. According to the former justice and law enforcement minister, Tibor Draskovics, the pervasiveness of hatred in society and the lack of political culture have created such an extreme situation that it has became necessary to intervene with legal instruments. This was why Draskovics outlawed the Hungarian Guard and tried to limit freedom of speech, but his proposals were blocked by the Constitutional Court and by the president of the Republic László Sólyom who, as president of the Constitutional Court from 1990 to 1998, played an important role in framing a constitution which, like that of the US, ascribes a paramount role to free speech.

While Jobbik has constantly been a target of satirical articles, its messages have undoubtedly touched a nerve. ‘Shall we be slaves or free?’ was the poetic question Morvai addressed to the electorate before the first round of voting. The Nemzeti Dal (National Poem), written by Sándor Petőfi, which she quoted, is the symbol of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 (which despite its ultimate defeat initiated a chain of events that led to the autonomy of Hungary within the new Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867). Needless to say, Morvai will not lead any revolution for ‘noble’ purposes. Rather what she might liberate is not the Magyar nation but her and her followers’ aggressive impulses.

With the spread of verbal and physical violence and the success of Jobbik, the memory of the Second World War is ‘hotting up’ – not only in Hungary but in many other Central and Eastern European countries as well. It seems that not even their integration into the EU will prevent these countries from exciting ‘old’ Europe.

Eszter Salgó is adjunct professor of International Relations at the American University of Rome and teaches psychology of conflicts and international security as part of the Master Course of Geopolitics at the Sapienza University of Rome.

Previously on spiked

Frank Furedi argued against zombie politics following Jobbik’s advance in the Hungarian election. Elsewhere, he commented on the EU’s reponse to the 2006 demonstrations in Budapest and recalled his own experience of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. David Hallsworth reflected on the impact of the Hungarian revolution on the British left. Rob Lyons looked at the top 10 Olympic moments, with Hungary at number 5. Or read more at spiked issue Europe.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics World


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