Recent spikes in the support of Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, have taken many by surprise. The party already came in 4th in the 2010 parliamentary elections with 16.63% of the votes. This summer however, in Gyöngyöspata, where previously anti-Roma para-militaries had staged a siege against the town’s Roma population, two far-right candidates received a combined 44% of the votes. What drives people to support Jobbik?Disillusionment, frustration and pessimism are only a few of the features in the psychological profile of these voters.
This blog is particularly curious about the psychology of far-right radicalism – in the “human” side of what leads one to irrational hate. As such, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to present an English-language synopsis of an interview with András Tóth, researcher at the Political Science Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences published in the Hungarian left-wing daily Népszabadság. Tóth is the author of many studies on the electoral success of radical far-right parties, among them an article co-authored with István Grajczjár, of Zsigmond Király College in Budapest, on Why Radical Nationalist-Populist Parties Are So Successful at Times of Great Socio-Economic Transformations or Crises? (2009). The statistics in the text below are from Tóth’s research, though the commentary on his findings are my own.
The first myth to be debunked is that Jobbik’s supporters tend to “graduate” to violent or hateful ultra-right extremism from right-wing ideologies. Not all of these voters were persons originally attracted to right-wing convictions. According to the statistics, only one-half of them arrived at more radical views from supporting the the far-right Fidesz (Hungary’s right-wing governing party). 19% of them were already there (they used to vote for MIÉP, practically the predecessor party to Jobbik), but one-third of them supported the socialist party in previous elections. This is an important statistics to keep in mind in conjunction with suggestions that the Jobbik problem could be resolved by the governing Fidesz’ “syphoning” away of these voters. Indeed, Hungary’s government is often charged with making rhetorical or policy concessions to Jobbik’s supporters. Its minimalism in foiling militia activities (standing by idly so as to avoid actual confrontation, but refusing to intervene to prevent the operations of these militias) is a case in point, attempts to appease and to win over Jobbik’s supporters in the above hopes.
But with at least one-third of Jobbik’s supporters arriving to Jobbik in an abrupt flight from the opposite of the political spectrum, it is likely that not Jobbik’s ultra- nationalism, but its extremism, attracts these voters. One needs to keep in mind that Jobbik itself does not advocate illegal or extra-parliamentary methods in politics, but it often capitalized on connections it maintains with organizations on the far-right who do.
What is more, Jobbik’s political agenda are popular among voters of other parties as well. Statistics show that the views of “only” 10% of those employed in Hungary is driven by “strong nationalistic sentiment” (while Jobbik received 16% of the votes). Contrast this with these, far greater numbers: 18% of voters reject open immigration policies, 20% thinks in terms of hierarchical and supremacist political arrangements, 28% of them show signs of authoritarian convictions and 36% are disillusioned with politics in general. Note that the unemployed, who one would think are much more vulnerable to these attitudes, are not included in this survey.
In other words, the above convictions are wide-spread in voters of other parties as well. The numbers in relation to this finding are astounding: as many as one-quarter of the supporters of the two main parliamentary parties – of Fidesz and the Hungarian Social Party – showed support for policies of “strict order” and a “strong-handed leader who would govern by curtailing democracy”. Even more surprising is that two-fifth of the voters of the now defunct left-wing liberal party SZDSZ approved of these Jobbik-specific political views.
The psychological profile of these voters gives an even more disconcerting picture of their outlook on the world. Jobbik’s voters are the most likely to be distrustful of people in general. They are especially distrustful of strangers, and the most likely to have strong negative feelings against Romas and Jews. The appeal of a romantic, historical nationalism is strongest among them. They are the most likely to support the idea that, instead of laws and political programs, their country needs a few brave, unrelenting and dedicated leaders. They support positive discrimination for women the least, and capital punishment the most. Political disillusionment is the highest among them. They are least likely to agree that citizens have numerous opportunities to participate in political decision-making, and they are least likely to agree that the role of political parties is to serve as institutional channels connecting citizens to the state. The assessment that legislation is the tool in the hands of only a few interest groups is highest among them.
On the surface, the frustration of Jobbik’s supporters appears to be related to societal arrangements and democratic institutions. But studies have also shown that these sentiments stem from injuries on a much more personal level. Statistics were also able to demonstrate that Jobbik’s supporters are typically people who indicated that they suffered injustices by society. They feel that they have been treated unfairly in so far that the recognition they deserve has been denied to them. With these personal experiences coloring their view of society as a whole, it is not surprising that they are the least satisfied with democracy as a system, and they are the most likely to believe that elections guarantee the representation of the will of the people by members of parliament.
Altogether, Jobbik’s supporters are the most pessimistic of all voting blocks in Hungary. They are frustrated and disillusioned, but as all psychologists know, the issue never only the frustration or disillusionment of a person, but the mechanisms by which this person goes about coping with these feelings.
As other studies of the psychopathology of neo-Nazism also show, extreme right-wing supporters tend to escape their negative emotions by positing themselves higher in the social hierarchy than they actually are. For example, while the majority of Jobbik voters are students, workers, and the young unemployed (a bit less than two-third of them are men, and only 37% of them are women), they identify themselves as “middle-class.” The roots of their nationalist sentiments probably also signify a similar escapism into a by-gone era of presumed national glory.
The most common narrative of Jobbik’s rise to its current popularity is related to the Roma situation. The results of the elections in Gyöngyöspata – where two extreme right-wing candidates received a combined total of 44% of the votes – suggest that inciting racism within a community amplifies their popular support. The same was the case in earlier elections. The number of votes Jobbik received in the voting booth saw a sharp rise after an incident in which a group of Romas, who had since stood trial and were convicted of murder in the first-degree, lynched a biology teacher in Olaszliszka (he had hit a Roma child by his car, who was not injured, yet he was dragged out of his car and beaten to death by the Roma child’s extended family). While before this event Jobbik was not even able to get the 4% of votes necessary for obtaining seats in the parliament, once they seized on this event as the symbol of “Roma criminality,” they received 14.77% of the votes in the European parliamentary elections of 2009, and 16.67% in 2010’s national elections.
With these statistics, we are able to fill in the explanatory gaps of the above narrative. As is often the case in hateful human relationships, though the Roma’s are the “hate-object” of Jobbik supporters, this does not in itself mean that what there is to hate about them is something specific to the Romas. Of course, events like the one in Olaszliszka (or the suicide of an elderly man in Gyöngyöspata, the “cause” of the paramilitaries’ arrival to the town) can become the organizing idea for inciting the hatred. But the hatred comes from the person prone to these specific views and political assessments – it describes him or her primarily, and only indirectly the object of hostility. The Romas offer a fitting and permanent object for dispensing this hatred: they are different, they can be recognized by visual clues (i.e. there is no need to engage with them personally), and their situation is so desperate that that they can reliably serve in the role of “provoking” hate. We must keep in mind that persons already vulnerable to feelings of injustice (i.e. persons who already feel rejected or unjustly treated in a society) need a hate-object upon whom they unleash their anger, lest the same anger be turned inward and used to destroy the hater himself or herself.
Beyond the psychological components of the rise in Jobbik’s popularity, sociologists and political scientists can also point out the wider-reaching institutional factors that drives people to Jobbik. Outside of Hungary, politicians are keen on displaying respect and civility toward other parties. In the wake of the Norwegian tragedy, for example, the Labour Party was the first to hurry to the support of their right-wing rival and to assure the international press that Anders Behring Breivik, who was previously a supporter of the Progress Party, would not have had that party’s endorsement.
The situation is quite the reverse in Hungary. The hostility between Hungary’s governing party Fidesz and their socialist nemesis is so all-permeating that it makes any cooperation between Hungarian leading parties impossible. Hungary’s governing party currently has a super-majority in the parliament, which means that it can proceed in instituting its agenda without any consideration of the minority opinion. But since their super-majority translates to less than 53% of the popular vote, the overall result is a society dramatically and close-to evenly divided. To be sure, the remaining 47% is divided among three opposition parties, one of which is Jobbik, while two of these are on the left. Nevertheless, the sheer number of proposals on the legislative agenda (and a new constitution!) passed into law despite these sharp political divides provide for intense and acute hostilities among politicians as well as voters.
There is no better breeding ground for far-right causes than such an impasse in politics. And while the division divides left and right, Fidesz and the Socialists, as well as the two lesser parties, LMP and Jobbik; there is practically no way for Jobbik’s voters to recognize the ultra-right for what it is: an extreme take on politics that has no role to play in a well-functioning society.
Countries that have fought off the threat of neo-Nazism and its seepage into parliamentary politics found that nothing except a campaign of isolation can force right-wing extremism out of electoral politics. This, however, presupposes a “quarantine” on such parties, something which would require concerted efforts from every party in parliamentary politics. This would require the society-wide rift to be moved, from the center of society to the line separating Jobbik from the rest.