Friday, January 13, 2012

That Weird Little Country in the Middle of Europe

Hungary Heads Into the Horthyite Past

If the EU, Bloomberg and oh my, Paul Krugman are talking about you, something must be right – or wrong. Hungary’s Fidesz government, lead by reactionary Viktor Orban, is making waves by heading towards bankruptcy and authoritarian rule. Of course, for Hungary, this is nothing new.

Known as an enlightened empire back around 1900, Budapest and environs boasted a Parisian-style life. However, anti-Semitism and rural nationalism were rising at that time in response to the domination of Hungary by urban capital - which many reactionaries saw as "Jewish." The revolutionary wave of 1919 in Europe brought the Hungarian Communist Party to power under Bela Kun for 6 months – the only successful revolution after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The radical Marxist Gyorgy Lukacs was Commissar for Culture in this government. Romanian troops entered Budapest in August 1919 and crushed the workers republic. Lukacs organized a Communist underground while Bela Kun left the country and went to the USSR. After the Romanians left, a White terror followed, sponsored by Admiral Horthy (yes, in a country with no seaport…). Horthy, on his white horse, took over Hungary, and oversaw an authoritarian right-wing dictatorship from 1919 until 1944, lastly as an ally of the Nazis. A Hungarian army was one of those encircled and defeated at Stalingrad by the Soviets. (See “Enemy at the Gates,” reviewed below.) Kun, who fled to the USSR, was later executed by Stalin as a Trotskyist in the 1930s. For his part, Lukacs was at one point put under Budapest house arrest by the Hungarian Communist Party, and served in Imre Nagy's government during the 1956 uprising..

Horthy was removed by the Nazis in 1944 for insufficient loyalty, and the “Arrow Cross” Hungarian fascists put in charge. They carried out the deportation of the Jews of Hungary to the death camps. The German Nazis did not even have to do it – few were in Hungary anyway. It was Hungarians who stocked the death camps at the end of World War II - a point surviving Hungarian Jews consider significant. However, today the Budapest museum of the “House of Terror” (headquarters for the Arrow Cross and later the Communist secret police) celebrates the period prior to post-war communism – the Horthy period - and the reign of the Catholic Church. This is the period that Orban would also like to return to.

A new Constitution took effect January 1, 2012 that gave Fidesz control over the news media, the courts, religion, and the central bank. Orban has ‘decertified’ 348 religions – although not the Catholic Church, which is now one of 14 ‘state-recognized’ religions. This in a country where only 21% of the population attends church at all. The government has even nationalized pension funds and put the unemployed to work digging ditches. Abortion is now illegal and hetero-sexual marriage is the only form of marriage. Christianity is now recognized as the ‘foundation of the nation.’ Fidesz appointees will hold key government positions for years in the future. Major decisions can now be made by a bare majority of the Parliament. The courts have been packed with Fidesz appointees. The press must now pass articles by a Board of Censorship, and 'violating' papers can be shut down. This is all based on a 53% Fidesz win in the elections – similar to George Bush’s idea of a mandate with 50.5% of the vote. Hungary now has 10.7% official unemployment, 14% of retail loans are defaulting, and working class people who got loans in Swiss francs or the Euro are now suffering the plunge of the forint.

The EU is only protesting government control over the central bank - their main interest, of course. Yet defeat of Orban by the Hungarian working class is what is really needed, similar to what they did in 1919 and 1956. 10s of thousands of demonstrators lead by the Hungarian Solidarity Movement recently forced Orban to leave his new Consitution event by the back door of the Buda palace, which is a start.

Hungary’s government bonds have just been declared ‘junk’ by 3 credit agencies, although these same agencies are suspect due to their own blindness before the 2008 U.S. crash. Hungary was able to get a massive loan from the EU in October 2008, just prior to the recent meltdown in Europe, which has saved it until now. Now Hungary is part of that very same meltdown, as the strapped IMF and the ECB are balking at more loans. Hungary is not in the EU zone, after all. The forint has dropped precipitously in value due to Hungary's difficulties. While some parts of the European populations are moving to the left, others are moving to the right, as the bourgeois ‘middle’ collapses along with its credit ratings and its fat wallets. Hungary provides an example of the latter.

What is the opposition? The Hungarian “Socialist” Party (“SP”) is what is left of the former Communist Party. It is a neo-liberal organization rife with corruption and prostration before Brussels - though it barely lost the last election. However, Fidesz has now passed laws making the SP liable for transgressions by the former Communist Party. The Communist Party has been branded a ‘criminal organization’ and the SP is legally identified as their successor. In other words, anti-communism continues, even against liberals. Sound familiar?

The other main party in Hungary is Jobbik – a far-rightist party that silently murders Gypsys, makes anti-Semitism a plank in their program, and trains with weapons. They have several seats in the European Parliament. For all practical purposes, they are the reincarnation of the Arrow Cross, as Fidesz is Horthy in a suit.

When old Jewish ladies in Budapest worry again – is it any wonder that they might wonder what capitalism has again brought to Hungary?

Red Frog
January 13, 2012

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