Those from Western Europe often still associate Hungary with Eastern Europe and all the connotations that go with it, such as the old communist regime. However, todays Hungary is quite different after giving communism the boot in 1989.
Today Hungary is a Republic and has a parliamentary democracy and increasingly the Hungarian public are turning to a more nationalist government. This is due in part to war, unemployment and resentment of the ‘West’ and has resulted in the rise of right-wing parties such as Fidesz and the Jobikk Party. The Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is leader of the national conservative party Fidesz as is President János Áder, who assumed office in May 2012 for a 5-year term.
Fidesz (standing for Alliance of Young Democrats) is the major national conservative party in Hungary. It was founded in 1988 by Students persecuted by the then communist party, they would meet in small secret groups. In 1994 the party changed from Liberal to Conservative and this marked a popular change in their policies, which perhaps led to them being the most successful party in the 2004 EU parliamentary elections. They also went on to win the EU parliamentary elections in 2009. Both the current PM & president belong to the party, which has been widely criticised for removing democratic checks and balances in the supervision of elections, the judiciary, and the media. The first Orbán government in 1989-2002 is also remembered for its radical privatisation policy, budget cuts, slashing of welfare benefits and a sharp rise in unemployment. It was essential therefore for the party to refresh its image in order to win back the support of the public, which is why in 2003 Fidesz took its current name ‘Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Union’. Since then it has taken severe austerity measures in light of the global economic crisis and imposed further cuts, reduced wages and raised taxes, as a result those living in Budapest and the Hungarian elite in general, on the whole do not support Fidesz.
The other major right-wing player in Hungarian politics, the Jobikk party, is criticised for being a fascist, neo-Nazi, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and homophobic organisation and can be likened to the UK’s British Nationalist Party (BNP). The Jobikk party prefers to see itself as ‘patriotic’ and their motto is ‘the movement for a better Hungary’. It rejects globalised capitalism and the influence of foreign investors in Hungary, in particular Israeli and Jewish investors; this is seen as racist by western European nations. Jobikk has also been linked to homophobic incidents in Budapest and has made attempts to criminalise homosexual propaganda; this was met with strong opposition across Europe. Several party leaders have also publicly made derogatory anti-Semitic remarks that have made the newspapers. The anti-Semitic views held by the Jobikk party are particularly controversial because there is a large Jewish ancestry in Hungary and the country has traditionally had a large Jewish population. Budapest is home to the largest synagogue in Europe, the Tabakgasse Synagogue, which is the centre of Neolog Judaism, a religious sect that developed in the former Kingdom of Hungary around the 19th Century.
The extreme views of the Jobikk party are not singular in Europe and its rise to mainstream politics is part of a larger more widespread rise of nationalism throughout Europe. Recently in fact Jobikk party leaders have been meeting in London with members of the BNP to discuss ideas, meetings which were hotly protested by Hungarian students in Britain.
In terms of Hungary in the EU, it joined in 2004 after a successful referendum by the EU-10 (original 10 member states). The EU’s free trade system helps Hungary, as a relatively small country it relies on imports and exports for a healthy economy, admittance also meant Hungarians could work in Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom; the other EU countries imposed restrictions.
In 2007, 25% of all exports from Hungary were in high technology, the 5th largest ratio in the European Union after Malta, Cyprus, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The EU10’s average was 17.1% and the Eurozone average was 16% in 2007.
In 2008 Hungary declared state bankruptcy and was bailed out by EU aid to the sum of some €20 billion, so one might say for Hungary’s sake it was beneficial that it joined the EU when it did, although other member states would perhaps take the opposite stance. In terms of the current situation it would seem that things are now on the up for Hungary; in August 2013 the unemployment rate sank below 10% for the first time in 4 years. Since then trade has been on the rise, but Hungary is still regarded as a struggling country, somewhat behind the West. It will need to shake this image in order to become accepted on equal terms with Western European Union countries.