8 April 2018, a general election was held for the Hungarian parliament. The current party in power, the right-wing Fidesz Party led by Viktor Orbán, won the election and gained a further five percent lead. More than 49 percent of the votes were in favour of Orbán and Fidesz. Almost 20 percent of the votes went to the self-proclaimed «national conservative» but in actual fact neo-Nazi party Jobbik, which supports Orbán. In other words, the election was a clear victory for the far-right in Hungary’s political landscape. Orbán’s Fidesz Party now holds 133 of the 199 seats in Parliament, while Jobbik holds another 26. The remaining seats are divided between four small centre-left parties unable to form any real political opposition to Orbán, who, since the election, has cranked up the rather unique mix of neo-conservatism and mercantilism that defines his political project.
A politics of fear
Eszter Hajdú’s film Hungary 2018 follows opposition politician Ferenc Gyurcsány’s campaign leading up to 8 April when the votes are tallied and his defeat is a fact. Gyurcsány now leads the small centre-left party Demokratikus Koalíció (DK). From 1994 to 1998, and again from 2002 to 2010, he was the Prime Minister of Hungary during a period of social democracy after the wall came down. In both periods his government implemented several neoliberal reform packages, privatisations and austerity measures. The film, however, does not offer much insight into Gyurcsány’s own political position and role in the political development of Hungary since 1989. Its focus is instead on Orbán and Fidesz, with Gyurcsány functioning more as a contrast to Orbán’s harsh xenophobic campaign. We follow Gyurcsány at election meetings and in conversations with members of the public, all of whom complain about the cutbacks and hateful politics of the Fidesz government. Fidesz, however, remains the protagonist of the film, crosscutting between Gyurcsány’s campaign and Fidesz election meetings with various ministers and other high-ranking Fidesz politicians lashing out against migrants and refugees, the EU and George Soros.
The election was a clear victory for the far-right in Hungary’s political landscape
The film brilliantly discloses how the Fidesz Party has reduced Hungarian politics to a politics of fear with its conspiracy-like portrayals of the alleged threats to the country. One conspiracy theory is based on the EU and the Hungarian-American investor George Soros. Soros advocates open borders and thus, according to Fidesz, threatens to flood Hungary with refugees and effectually destroy the country. The same story is hammered in. There is no talk of social policies, the economy, education, or tax policies; Hungarian politics centres solely on the external threats to the nation. It is almost a parody to hear ministers in the Fidesz government tell their supporters that you can hardly find a single white person in Paris (the implication is that Paris has been taken over by «black Muslims»).
The political agenda is this: Hungary should be a white Christian nation. This means closing the borders to refugees and immigrants that will «degenerate» the Hungarian people. Orbán poses as the steadfast defender of the Hungarian people and its Christian family values, and even of the Hungarian soul. He dismisses the foreign idea of «multiculturalism», which he claims is merely a continuation of a godless communism, as well as the liberal ideals of freedom that the EU tries to impose on Hungary. The EU, in turn, is actually no more than an instrument in the hand of George Soros, the evil demiurge who in all conceivable ways is trying to bring down Hungary. The Fidesz politicians certainly don’t mince words: Soros is Jewish, he is what they call an «international Jew», and his aim is to contaminate the Hungarian people’s soul with a godless hedonistic antinational ideology. And he is using the EU, NGOs and the western media to bring about his evil plan.
The political campaign of the Fidesz government resembles a postmodern caricature of the Nazis anti-Semitism – and it seems to be working. The similarities to Donald Trump’s «Make America Great Again» campaign are obvious. In both cases we see post-fascist political agendas giving promises of a national renaissance. For these post-fascist politicians democracy is merely a means for demonising the enemy and mobilising support to their quasi-totalitarian politics. Trump has declared war against the mainstream media, but in Hungary life is easier: Orbán directly or indirectly owns all sections of the mainstream media, and can go about unabashedly spreading his propaganda through their channels. In the film, then, Gyurcsány appears almost as a distant voice from an already lost public sphere. There is no room for dialogue or rational debate. Instead we see a liberal democratic politician trying to run an election campaign as if the democracy has not already been transformed into a totalitarian society.
The political campaign of the Fidesz government resembles a postmodern caricature of the Nazis anti-Semitism – and it seems to be working.
One of the film’s strengths is that it gives a poignant portrayal of how elections function in quasi-dictatorships. The film shows us nothing less than a caricature of an election campaign in which the winner has already been chosen. Hungary finds itself in a political situation where the opposition cannot properly act as an opposition, where a farcical politics of fear has replaced any real political discussion, and where the political alternatives have been limited to none (democratically speaking). The state apparatus and Hungarian politics now fully enmeshed, the election campaign is without substance.
It appears that if we are to see any kind of change, it has to come from the streets
Hungary 2018 shows a political system that no longer makes room for the opposition in Hungary and Europe. It appears that if we are to see any kind of change, it has to come from the streets – perhaps as France is experiencing with The Yellow Vests. And indeed, Hungary is already experiencing a wave of protest. 12 December last year the Orbán government passed a law enabling employers to demand 400 hours overtime a year from their employees, without having to pay them until three years later. The law has resulted in massive demonstrations in several Hungarian cities. The racist politics of fear that lies beneath Orbán’s ultra-capitalism may have hit a social democratic wall. Perhaps the blow will open the door to an anti-fascist and even anti-capitalist resistance in Hungary. Time will tell.
Translated from Danish by Sigrid E. Strømmen