Orban re-elected; what next for the Hungarian working class?

Victor Orban (Wikimedia Commons)

This is what you can call a “victory by a landslide”. Sixty six per cent of the seats in the Hungarian parliament were won by the governing, hard right, Fidesz party. They won back the two thirds majority necessary to change the constitution. Against the trend of the last elections, voter turnout increased close to a record 68%. The government changed the law in their favour, so they won 134 seats with only 48.8% of the actual votes cast. But this is still close to their best result ever and much more won than most governing parties in Europe can hope for. There are allegations of election fraud but even those making the claims do not think it would have really changed the results.
How is this possible? Fidesz has been embroiled in dozens of corruption scandals over the years, the biggest one just before the elections, concerning embezzlement of EU-funding. Around 60% of public investments are paid for by the EU. The funding has been increased, possibly in an attempt to block further Russian and Chinese (public) investments in the country. The EU money and the imperialist competition with the other world powers had a positive effect on Hungarian economy. GDP has increased by 3.7% in 2017, unemployment is down to 4.2% and wages have grown by 9.4%.

But the numbers are misleading. From 2008, Hungary was in recession. Around 600,000, mostly young workers, left the country in search for jobs. The money they send home amounts to around 3.5% of GDP.  A kindergarten teacher in Budapest, for example, starts work, after years of education, on about 385€ Netto, about the same cost as one room in a shared flat.

The young often cannot afford to live in Hungary. Wages remain so low that it is expected that in a few years about one million people will have emigrated from the country, which is about 10% of the total population.
For these young forced abroad, if they wish to take part in elections in Hungary, they have to go to Hungarian embassies to vote. Out of around 150,000 Hungarians who live in Germany, only 3% voted. It is likely that a large majority of these votes would have been cast against Fidesz.

A campaign of lies and hatred

Orbàns victory is due to massive scaremongering with “alternative facts”. This propaganda is funded by millions of taxpayers’ money and supported by the government’s strong control over (not only) public media. Last autumn, for example, Hungary saw a huge campaign for a referendum on the question “Should the EU be allowed to send refugees to Hungary”. For this campaign, €55.1 million in taxpayers’ money was spent on an anti-refugee and anti-EU campaign (see: https://bit.ly/2qmzV1c).

Linking all problems to foreign powers and influence and their “agents in Hungary” (the former governments), is a huge part of Orbàn’s propaganda. His election campaign bore the title, “Stop Soros”, referring to a “conspiracy” led by the Hungarian-born capitalist George Soros. The regime accuses Soros of attempting to “import” millions of refugees to bring down “European culture” and its alleged main defender, Orbàn. The campaign had very strong anti-Semitic undertones, presenting Hungary as a victim of international, secret powers. The fact that people are ready to believe this shows the power of years of unchallenged propaganda. But the vile propaganda gets an echo party, not because if nonsense about a Jewish conspiracy, but because Hungary is being exploited by international capital, the big bosses.

No real political opposition in sight

At the same time, there is a lot of anger and frustration with the government. Large demonstrations and even strikes (which are practically illegal) have taken place in recent years. But the democratic opposition parties did not even really try to answer the huge social problems in Hungary. Instead they concentrate on bringing back the pro-EU, pro-austerity and not less corrupt governments of the pre-Fidesz era, with some of the parties running former prime-ministers as frontrunners.

For now their main political position is just anti-Fidesz, without offering a real alternative. This became visible at the biggest demonstration that took place for years, a week after the elections. About 100,000 marched in Budapest, with the main demand of a recount of the votes (which, as mentioned above, would not change much). On the one hand, this shows the willingness to fight, but it also shows how desperate this fight is without a clear perspective on how to win it. The main demonstration slogan, “You cannot forbid the people”, was open to wide interpretation. The largest opposition party, the neo-fascist Jobbik, and other fascist groups, made up a huge part of the demonstration.

They are the only ones acting like an alternative to both Fidesz and the EU. With Orbàn’s further swing to the right during his election campaign, Jobbik suddenly appeared as the more ‘reasonable’ party to some mainstream commentators. But with its 60,000-strong militia, Jobbik remains a daily direct and physical threat to the Roma-minority, refugees, Jews, LGBTIQ persons and the Left. Jobbik will probably swing back further to the right of Fidesz because they did not get stronger in the polls but even lost some percentage points (even though they gained in the total number of votes because of increased turnout). The resignation of the long term chairman of Jobbik, Gabor Vona, was due to this failure to make a significant electoral breakthrough. And now, with the opposition back on the streets, Jobbik are probably in the best position to gain support from it. More support for fascists may well be a threat to Fidesz but even much more so for workers and youth.

Bring down the government!

The trade unions are barely in a position to organize the resistance. Still linked to the former Stalinist, now social democratic, MSZP party, and hit by anti-union laws, a solution to the crisis facing the working class movement is not to be expected from their leadership. But tens of thousands on the streets offer a chance to develop a political programme. Pressure from the streets could force the union leaders to take up industrial action, pushing the fascists to the side-lines, resisting Orban and struggling for higher wages and better working and living conditions. The Left, if they want to be taken seriously by the masses, needs to take up the opposition against the EU also, fighting for a Europe of the workers, not the bosses EU.

A strike movement that can effectively counter the government is implicit in the situation and it could go further, even posing the question down the government at some stage. But it will need a strong workers’ party, armed with a socialist and internationalist programme and rooted in protests in the streets and in the unions, to fight to come to power and to provide a better life for workers and youth.


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April 2018