Hungary: Viktor Orbán seeks salvation in Asia

16 August 2012
Hospodářské Noviny Prague

Cold-shouldered in Europe, the government of Hungary has launched an “Eastern opening” policy in an attempt to find new allies in Asia. As part of its efforts, it shows little hesitation in dusting off the mythological ideology of the Hungarian fascists. And that is bringing it nearer to the extremist Jobbik party, notes a Czech journalist.

Somehow, Europe, the financial markets and investors have got used to the unorthodox economic policies of the Viktor Orbán government.

In the middle of summer, when it seems that even the Stock Exchange is on holiday, the Hungarian ruling party decided to surprise everyone by supporting an obscure festival that promotes ties between the Hungarian nation and the tribes of Central Asia through the Turanism movement.

What’s more, that movement is linked with Hungary’s historical and contemporary extreme right, which ensures another explosive issue between Budapest and the rest of Europe.

Turan roots

From Friday to Sunday around 250,000 people visited the town of Bugac in the plains of central Hungary, playing host to the fourth annual Kurultáj, a get-together of tribes and nations espousing the Turanist tradition. The Turans, originally an Iranian tribe, were later linked with the Turks, and still later their origins were traced to some Central Asian nations, although most scientists now discount this theory as modern legend.

In Hungary, Turanism – deriving from the Hungarian nation’s origins in ‘Túrán’in Central Asia – became especially popular in right-wing circles in the interwar period, when some in the Hungarian elite used it to try to work out their complexes over the Treaty of Trianon, which saw the former Kingdom of Hungary lose two-thirds of its territory and a third of its inhabitants.

Much more dangerous than Turan I – the only tank produced in the Škoda-licensed factories in Hungary during the Second World War – was Turanism as part of the ideology of the Hungarian fascists led by Ferenc Szálasi.

Anti-semitism

The current members and supporters of Jobbik, the extreme right-wing party that stands out for its open anti-Semitism, among other things, follow the Szálasi legacy directly. It could be said, with cynical irony, that Jobbik publicly supports the anti-Israeli statements from Iranian leaders not merely out of ideology, but also because they believe they have common ancestors.

This year’s Kurultaj in Bugac was, for the first time, a semi-official event, whereas up till now it has been associated mainly with Jobbik. In a weekend press conference, according to Hungary’s MTI news agency, Jobbik’s deputy leader Márton Gyöngyösi, who is also the deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, spoke of the need to find the roots of the Hungarian nation in the east, rather than in the fictitious Finno-Ugric theory “that the enemies of the Hungarians are trying to foist on us.”

Gyöngyösi praised the government's official “Eastern opening” policy, a policy that is nothing more than an attempt by Budapest to escape its diplomatic isolation in Europe by trying to find friends in Asia. The Turanism theory, shaken free of its dust, is eminently suited to do just this.

Closer to Jobbik?

Vice-chairman for the Fidesz party, Sándor Leszák, received tribal leaders in the National Assembly, and the government contributed 70 million forints (about €251,000) towards organising the overall event. The weekend featured not only old men in exotic folklore costumes sitting on Secessionist benches, but also examples of various hand-to-hand combat scenes and hunting with falcons.

It did not have to be a totally bizarre event. The pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet, for example, carried an interview with Uyghurs living in Germany, a reminder for the paper of the "mythical" roots closely related to the fight against the oppression in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, who thanked their “Hungarian brothers” for the chance to remember the culture and customs of their own nationality.

However, following the recent “rehabilitation” of the interwar dictator Miklós Horthy, after whom some streets have been renamed, and following the international criticism of the growing anti-Semitism, the link between the government and fascists exploiting the Turanist mythology might give rise to the conjecture that Viktor Orbán and his party are closer to the extremist Jobbik, than Europeans have previously thought.

Translated from the Czech by Anton Baer

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