Or­ban courts far-right vot­ers ahead of vote

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban long pro­claimed zero tol­er­ance of anti-Semitism but has more re­cently risked an­ger­ing Is­rael and Jewish peo­ple with re­marks ap­par­ently court­ing rad­i­cal right-wing vot­ers ahead of 2018 elec­tions. Or­ban’s lan­guage, em­brac­ing no­tions of “eth­nic ho­mo­gene­ity”, ap­pears fash­ioned to oc­cupy ter­ri­tory on the far right aban­doned by the rad­i­cal na­tion­al­ist op­po­si­tion party Job­bik, which has mod­er­ated its mes­sage, an­a­lysts and crit­ics said.

Or­ban has locked horns with Euro­pean Union part­ners over re­spect for lib­eral demo­cratic con­ven­tions and re­luc­tance to take in refugees. In a speech last week Or­ban re­called the rule of in­ter­war Gover­nor Mik­los Hor­thy, a di­vi­sive fig­ure who led the coun­try for 24 years un­til 1944, sign­ing sev­eral land­mark laws against Jews and even­tu­ally sur­ren­der­ing more than 500,000 to the Nazi Holo­caust. “That his­tory did not bury us (af­ter World War One) is down to a few ex­cep­tional states­men (like) Gover­nor Mik­los Hor­thy,” he said. “That fact can­not be negated by Hun­gary’s mourn­ful role in World War Two.”

The Fed­er­a­tion of Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties in Hun­gary and the World Jewish Congress said in a joint state­ment they were “con­cerned” about the tone of such elec­tion­eer­ing. Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to Bu­dapest re­quested a clar­i­fi­ca­tion of Or­ban’s words, which Jerusalem found “trou­bling”. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is due to pay a visit to Bu­dapest in mid-July, the first by a sit­ting Is­raeli prime min­is­ter. Some an­a­lysts said Or­ban’s new hard­ened tone sig­nalled a change in his pol­i­tics and could de­fine his up­com­ing elec­tion cam­paign as he seeks re­elec­tion for a third con­sec­u­tive term. Or­ban’s Fidesz is a run­away fa­vorite to win the 2018 elec­tions, com­mand­ing about a third of the elec­torate with Job­bik and the So­cial­ists at about 10 per­cent each. Job­bik re­ceived about a mil­lion votes in 2014, but risks big chunks of that elec­torate with its new, more mod­er­ate line. “Job­bik’s move to­wards the cen­ter has up­ended the power base in the cen­ter and cre­ated a vac­uum on the far right,” Zoltan No­vak, an­a­lyst at the Cen­tre for Fair Po­lit­i­cal Anal­y­sis said.

Harder Line Finds Fol­low­ers

One in­di­ca­tor of that move is Or­ban’s harder line on im­mi­gra­tion. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants have en­tered Hun­gary via its south­ern fron­tier since 2015, though most have moved on west­ward to more pros­per­ous parts of the EU. Bu­dapest has erected a bor­der fence along its south­ern fron­tier. “It is very im­por­tant to pre­serve our eth­nic ho­mo­gene­ity,” Or­ban told a business fo­rum on Feb 28, re­peat­ing the phrase sev­eral times.

Po­lit­i­cal Cap­i­tal an­a­lyst Peter Kreko sees Fidesz and Job­bik ac­tu­ally trad­ing places, with Or­ban now on the far right. “For Or­ban to speak about ‘eth­nic ho­mo­gene­ity’ in eastern Europe, less than 75 years af­ter the Holo­caust or 25 years af­ter the Balkan wars, is a com­plete dis­re­gard of civ­i­lized norms,” Kreko told Reuters. This week he used a na­tional tour ral­ly­ing against Euro­pean Union plans for migrant re­set­tle­ment quo­tas to crit­i­cize Mus­lim mi­grants. “They don’t re­spect our cul­ture,” he said. “They seek space for their own (cul­ture), then sup­press ours, then re­place it. This is a mat­ter of iden­tity.”

Or­ban’s “eth­nic ho­mo­gene­ity” idea has struck a nerve with a new mil­i­tant rightwing po­lit­i­cal al­liance, which will launch at a rally next week and may also en­ter the 2018 elec­tion race. “Within decades the con­ti­nent can im­plode de­mo­graph­i­cally,” al­liance leader Balazs Las­zlo told the pro-Or­ban daily Mag­yar Idok. “Our eth­nic ho­mo­gene­ity can come wholly un­done... We rec­og­nize dif­fer­ences and de­fend our own race.”

A leader of the move­ment, Mi­haly Orosz de­nied any co­op­er­a­tion with Fidesz. “If they sense they can use our move­ment po­lit­i­cally they might try but there is no in­ten­tional col­lu­sion on our part,” he said, adding their goal was to pass the 5 per­cent vote thresh­old to get into Par­lia­ment in 2018. Kreko, the an­a­lyst, says the par­al­lels clearly in­di­cate a strate­gic squeeze: har­vest­ing vot­ers left be­hind by Job­bik from both the cen­ter of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and the ex­treme right. Fidesz also de­nied any co­op­er­a­tion. “Fidesz re­jects all kinds of anti-Semitism, and does not co­op­er­ate with these politi­cians,” the party said in an emailed state­ment. — Reuters

Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban ar­rives for a me­mo­rial ser­vice for late for­mer Chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl on July 1, 2017 at the cathe­dral in Speyer. —AFP

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