The Day Hungary Veered To The Far Right
Hungary is a place in the middle, and this shows. Always torn between east and west, between liberal saviors, entrenched aristocratic/conservative interests and, well, Russia and whatever Russia means at the time (see the crushed revolutions of 1848 and 1956 specifically but not exclusively), Hungary tends to bounce back and forth across the political spectrum, not so much blowing with the wind as getting caught in first this and then that gravitational field.
Hungary is in focus right now because it just took on the presidency of the European Union and because – in a moment of political stupidity – it passed a draconian media law at exactly the same time, part of the rightward swing of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his FIDESZ party.
For better or for worse, Orbán and FIDESZ are becoming known as the right-wing crazies of the EU, pushing Hungarian interests beyond the bounds of the polite EU and making blustery noises about everything from the Hungarian currency to Roma to that media law, even as the Hungarian economy struggles mightily. And now there is Jobbik, a far-right extremist party, that is growing in popularity and forcing Orbán to hew to the right-wing line.
But it was not always so with Orbán. He became a central player in Hungarian politics as an anti-communist demonstrator, a courageous activist for democracy, and FIDESZ, which means Alliance of Young Democrats, actually was, for a good while, a party of young democrats, with liberal policies and an age limit and everything.
Orbán’s shift to the right gets passed over in most press accounts these days. Kind of old news. But the how and why of that shift happened paint a telling portrait of the man and party “leading” the EU for the next six months.
For five months in the spring of 1994, I worked two days a week at the Budapest Week, the first independent English language newspaper in Budapest . The editor was grizzled and alternative, supposedly the brother of the lead singer of a big jam band of the time.
One day he challenged me to try some “gonzo” journalism, to go to a FIDESZ rally and cover it in the spirit of Hunter Thompson, who I had not read but understood perfectly.
At the time, FIDESZ was, as I said, still supposedly full of actual young democrats, and they were looking good in the polls, the only seemingly decent alternative to the conservative party that had ruled Hungary since 1990 and that was deeply unpopular.
So I suspect that my editor thought “gonzo” would mean a look at the coming of Hungary’s true democratic revolution, five years after the Iron Curtain came down.
Instead he got a story about an almost impossible to find rally in a decrepit courtyard filled with empty chairs and a handful of pensioners and a giant – really, giant – orange balloon. I was vicious on the lack of buzz, of any grassroots support, on the arrogance of the party spokespeople who refused to not only translate anything for me but refused to even tell me what the speeches were about.
I also fixated on the ridiculous orange balloon, floating around crushing small dogs and children, totally ignored by the crowd.
The story did not run.
This was partially because I couldn’t find a local press account on the rally so we had no idea what anyone said. But, really, Budapest Week was not above publishing pure mood pieces in 1994. I suspect my “gonzo” journalism just went too far against conventional wisdom, and the editor did not trust the college intern to be right about the coming failure of FIDESZ in particular and young democrats in general.
In the election, FIDESZ got crushed by the resurgent socialists, and everyone acted shocked and the return of reformed communists. Soon after, Orbán took the party far to the right, and you see where he’s ended up.
But at least he lost the balloon.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Amanda Bynes’s Behavior Revealed to Be Elaborate PSA
- 2 Obama Horrified by the Grammar in Our Emails
- 3 Monster Fart Prompting Management to Rethink “Open Office”
- 4 NSA Demanded Access To Un-Filtered Instagram Photos
- 5 Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Ambushed By Alan ‘The Paper’ Rubinstein
- 6 ‘Licensed to Kim Jong Il’ Records 27th Straight Year Atop N. Korean Charts
- 7 ‘A/S/L’ Most Asked Question At Kaplan Online University Reunion
- 8 Vice Magazine Now Only Hiring Writers Who Fail Drug Test
- 9 Stanley Cup Final One Blowout Away From “Boston Massacre” Headline Outrage
- 10 Henry Cavill to be Replaced by Stack of Pancakes in “Man of Steel” Sequel