EU and Hungary Relations in the Recent Era: Ideological Standing-Normative Cleavage

 EU and Hungary Relations in the Recent Era:
Ideological Standing-Normative Cleavage

Rising Nationalism in Hungary

Hungary, as one of the countries in the grip of the global financial crisis, has been finding a place not only in the EU’s (European Union), also in political agenda of the world with the policies of the government of Victor Orban that came into power overwhelmingly, for the second time in 2010 after the period of 1998-2002. As it can be recalled, by receiving 53% of the valid votes in the last election and having 2/3 majority of the Hungarian National Parliament, the Orban’s nationalist-conservative party FIDESZ attained enough power to form a government alone and to amend the constitution. In addition to this boom of FIDESZ, the far-right party Jobbik achieved to get into the parliament for the first time, as a third largest party by taking 17% of the votes in the same elections and this situation was considered as a clear indication of rising nationalist-conservative movements from moderates to extremists.

There would surely be reflections of waxing nationalist-conservative thoughts on policies. The Orban Government was not so late for using its considerable legislative power, and in spite of all negative reactions, the government amended the constitution in 2011 without seeking an agreement with the opposition. It was not only the constitutional amendment that put the new government in the heart of internal and external heavy criticisms, also some amendments in the legislation made those criticisms heavier. In this regard, major discussions were accompanied by the regulations on National Media Council, whose members would be selected by the government, and re-formation of the structure of the Central Bank which was made it open to interventions of the government and ban of abortion and same-sex marriage. It was claimed that along with the judicial reform, the government jeopardized judicial independence and made it vulnerable to political impacts. As a result, all the intentions of the government came out in the fields of media, social life and jurisdiction increased the number of the question marks in the minds.

The rising nationalist ideology revealed itself in economic policies as well. Public finance was in a very bad condition and the country was having tough times economically. Despite the economic crisis, new taxes were levied and pension funds were expropriated. In such a period when independency of the Central Bank was questioned, Hungary demanded for loan from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial recovery. However, not long after, the Hungarian minister of economy declared that the attached conditions were against the national (economic) independence and hence, the agreement was suspended.

According to the government, this agreement would remove the control of the state over the economy and this was unacceptable. Even, one step further was taken by the government and IMF was asked for closing its office in the country. Global economic network took these developments as an obvious indication of the deep suspicion of the Hungarian Government about IMF, international financial system and even about capitalism. Though it is not possible to know certainly whether such a suspicion exists, it is quite easy to claim that the government wants to keep its control particularly over finance and develops its policies accordingly.

EU’s Reactions

The new constitution dated 2011 caused eventful discussions in the EU as well. The Union could not remain unresponsive to goings-on and as a matter of fact it did not. Regarding rule of law and liberties, restrictions and pressures of the Orban Government was slowly evolving into authoritarianism, even into dictatorship. EU thought European values was outraged and stated that it might cut the financial aids for cohesion. Furthermore, there were some circles arguing that the voting rights of Hungary in the Union should be suspended. It should be admitted that there is a factual background for such a serious debate in the EU. It is because that although there are some efforts for giving the impression of answering the criticisms directed at the legal arrangements made after the Orban Government came into power, the belief that there is no change in the “spirit” of the arrangements, left a mark in the EU. In addition to nationalist-conservative tendencies in the “spirit” of the arrangements, there is also an exceeding reinforcement of executive power by enhancing its competency. In spite of all these, the Hungarian Government did not accept the criticisms and made a claim that the EU applied double standards for Hungary, which is not amazing for –at least Turkish- readers. Lastly, taking no step back as required, despite all the warnings and sanction threats of the Union, could be considered as the European scepticism of the Orban Government.

Increasing hostility towards foreigners and minorities -especially Jews and Romans- in Hungary, whose relations have been quite tense with the EU owing to the legal arrangements, shows another development worrying the whole Europe with regard to human rights. The regular demonstrations reflecting xenophobia are particularly led by extreme rightist Jobbik Party. On the one hand, perhaps it might be explained with the impacts of the global financial crisis. On the other hand, it might be considered as an indication of emerging ideological agenda and discussions in recent years in Hungary. In this sense, for instance, in 2010, Hungary was one of the Eastern European countries that requested the European Commission to consider the denial of the crimes committed by the Communists –like the denial of the Holocaust- as crime. Those countries’ ministers of foreign affairs conveyed to EU that Nazi and Communist crimes should be assessed equally. Although the sufferings under the Communist regime and the sensitivity occurred in time had been spoken out, the European Commission refused this call. Considering the statements, the reason lies behind the EU’s decision is the conviction that anti-Semitism still exists in Europe, but Communism does not pose danger anymore. Despite the fact that both of the ideological camps still exist in Europe, the Union does not want to take them as equals. Consequently, Hungarian Constitutional Court interpreted using the Nazi and the Communist symbols in the context of freedom of expression and lifted the ban against these symbols. Due to the growing criticisms in the country, the Court limited its preliminary decision in the following April and judged that these symbols cannot be used in the event that it impairs social order and peace.

The Rise of Normative Cleavage within the Ideological Standing of Hungary    

EU’s decision on the crimes of communists might rely upon today’s considerations rather than a historical perspective. However, looking upon European history, it is obvious that communist regimes punished people for their political opinions or socio-economic status even if they did not make discriminations on the basis of ethnicities. Thus, Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries have not forgotten the grieves and the struggles they went through under the communist regime. In fact, the downfall of the communist regime is commemorated as the acquisition of the independence by those countries. Within this context for example, in National Avowal of the new Hungarian Constitution, Nazi and Communist regimes are identified as intruder dictatorships which committed serious offenses against the Hungarian nation and citizens and the year of 1944 is depicted as the date when the country lost its independence with Nazi occupation. Also, the Communist Constitution in 1949 is not recognized and the uprising in 1956 against the Communist regime is proclaimed as the birth of liberty. After the fall of Soviets, the year of 1990, when the first free elections were held, is declared as the rise of democracy and constitutional order.

As a matter of fact, while the policies of the Hungarian Government seem to endanger the rights of the country in the EU, its policies are strongly consistent with nationalist-conservative background and have a normative approach accordingly. The statements in the new constitution are quite sufficient to see the ideological backdrop of the government who prepared the constitutional text. In this scope, by emphasizing the strong linkages between Christianity and the notions of nation and state, the constitution refers to the religion. The Orban Goverment highlights national and historical sensitiveness relevantly with its nationalist-conservative character. The Hungarian originated people are granted the right of voting and having passport with the new Constitution. By this policy, new national rights are tried to be given the Hungarian minorities who lost most of their lands and survived in neighbouring countries after the I. World War.

Unfortunately, the EU’s considering such a national sensitivity less important than the Holocaust and changing the way of the discussion into an unfair ground in a sense erode the confidence of Hungary in the EU. Hence, the EU, with its standing, causes the increase of the support of nationalist movements and policies foremost in Hungary and in other countries whereas the EU does not wish such a situation at all. Furthermore, the financial threats of the Union to some countries, because of the government policies; -just like the Hungarian case- carry the EU antagonism and scepticism further. As a result, the hot ideological agenda in addition to the severe economic problems shows itself both in domestic politics and in the relations with the EU. Due to the ideological standing, political cleavage between the Union and Hungary deepens gradually. It is true, all the experiences show that while democracy is on a bumpy road in Hungary, nationalist-conservative movements from every stripe and colour have been getting strong. Hungary’s ideological position in question puts forward national independent political and economic policies. This circumstance is interpreted by the West and the EU as the incompletion of Hungary’s “transition” period. Apparently, while Hungary is trying to escape from the darkness of its history, it is caught by the shadow of the EU, so it falls into a mental squeeze.

Mustafa Atatorun, Researcher, International Relations Department – Süleyman Demirel University (Isparta) & Associate Professor Murat Okçu, Public Administration Department – Süleyman Demirel University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Atatorun, Mustafa, and Murat Okçu (December, 2013), “EU and Hungary Relations in the Recent Era: Ideological Position-Normative Cleavage”, Vol. II, Issue 10, pp.6-10, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (


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