Hungary's far right has long viewed the Roma as being to blame for many of society's ills. With foreign capital considered a new enemy at a time of economic crisis, the extremist Jobbik Party is gaining support.
Until recently, so-called "criminal Gypsies" had essentially been singled out as the main enemy of Hungarian society by the country's extreme right.
Every week, members of the far-right Jobbik party, or its military arm the "Hungarian National Guard," march in different parts of the country to demonstrate against the Roma and spread antagonistic slogans about the minority group. More recently, with the country in the grips of a financial crisis, the far right has discovered another enemy: Foreign capital, which as it says "sucks Hungary dry and destroys the Hungarian nation."
The new slogan of the Jobbik public demonstrations is, "The tanks have gone, the banks have come." The words are loosely used to refer to a far-right notion that, instead of being dominated by the former Soviet Union, Hungary is now dominated by Jewish capital.
But Jobbik politicians are by no means only hiding behind vague allusions. Parliamentary representatives of the extreme right insist that both the populist nationalist conservative governing majority and the opposition socialists and liberals represent the interests of Israel and Jews rather than those of Hungary itself.
Reasons for the surge in far-right support go further than the recent economic crisis
Such a message appeals to a significant portion of the general public - all the more so since, in recent years, about one million Hungarians have taken foreign currency loans. With the collapse of the national currency, the forint, these loans have become increasingly difficult to pay back.
The party's latest theme has struck a chord with many. In recent opinion polls, they have secured about 20 percent of the vote, making them for the first time the second strongest political force in the country - after the ruling party Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) and well ahead of the opposition Socialists.
The deputy leader of the Jobbik parliamentary faction, Marton Gyongyosi, is keen to celebrate the trend. "We are getting stronger and stronger, nobody can stop us," he said. "The people can see through the lack of credibility of the government and its policies and they realize that we alone are honest."
The rise of the extreme right is unprecedented in the history of post-communist Hungary. However, the reasons for it lie not only in the present financial and economic crisis.
Tough transition, corruption scandals
Even before Hungary had completed the difficult transition from a planned to a market economy, it was confronted by the effects of globalization and its accession to the European Union in 2004. The Socialist liberal coalition that ruled the country from 2002 to 2010 failed to tackle many pressing economic and social problems. Instead, it became more commonly associated with corruption scandals. The failure of the coalition eventually led to the landslide victory of Fidesz in parliamentary elections in April last year, when the current ruling party gained two-thirds of parliamentary seats.
In those elections, Jobbik received almost 17 percent of the vote and became the third strongest political force in the country. Their success came on the backs of an extremely xenophobic and antagonistic election campaign with the slogan "Hungary for the Hungarians."
Jobbik's rise started with a nasty incident, when a man was lynched by Roma who believed he had run over a child. The party caught the public mood and held all Roma responsible for the actions of a few.
The current high poll showing for the far right can also be attributed to the fact that the government is losing support because it has taken a series of unpopular decisions in order to stabilize the Hungarian economy. Last autumn, for example, people paying into private pensions were forced back into the state scheme in order to bridge the budget deficit.
Orban has been accused of hijacking the far-right agenda
Prime Minister Viktor Orban and various other Fidesz politicians have tried to put an end to the loss of support by employing nationalist rhetoric, which, to a large extent, had been copied from the extreme right. Orban has nurtured a populist, ant-capitalist and anti-EU rhetoric and has warned Brussels several times in the past months that it should not take the same liberties that Moscow once did with the country.
"It is mendacious rhetoric," said Jobbik's Gyongyosi, "because it is not followed by deeds. The ruling party constantly hijacks the topics from us that we, for the most part, were the first to speak about."
The majority of political observers do not freely believe that the Jobbik party will come to power, at least not in the foreseeable future. "Its rise in the polls is a temporary phenomenon," said prominent publicist Jozsef Decbreczeni. "In Hungarian history, extreme political forces could only come to power with the support of foreign powers, such as Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union."
A temporary phenomenon?
Nevertheless, many observers and civil activists view the intellectual influence of the far right with concern. "We know from history how dangerous a breakthrough by the far right can be in times of crisis," said Annamaria Vamos, coordinator and co-chairperson for the initiative "Civil Control - One Million for Democracy" (EMD), which demonstrates periodically against anti-democratic tendencies.
"We need to win back for the forces of democracy those voters from the far right who are not themselves of the far right but who saw no alternative," said Vamos.
Roma people have long been the far-right's main target
Such voters can be found in the town of Tiszavasvari. In May last year they voted for the Jobbik party candidate, Erik Fulop. Only 29 years old, the lawyer won 53 percent of the vote. After the election, Jobbik party leader Gabor Vona dubbed the place "the capital of our movement," adding the motto, "Today, Tiszavasvari, tomorrow Hungary."
In the small town, Fulop is eager to demonstrate how Hungary would look under the rule of the Jobbik Party and its "Movement for a Better Hungary." Jewish investors are not welcome, while Iranian diplomats and businessmen are frequent visitors to the town. Prostitution has been banned and a city guard established to patrol areas of the town - especially the Roma districts - and report suspected criminals to the police.
"We do not tolerate deviant forms of behavior anymore," said Fulop. "Anyone who commits crimes should now be shaking in his boots."
Author: Keno Verseck / rc
Editor: Nancy Isenson