Some 400,000 people rallied in Budapest in support of the right-wing government. I discussed it a bit in my previous post but the significance of this has only grown on me. A lot of the visuals of the Al Jazeera report on the Budapest demonstration aren’t so different from the anti-austerity protests, often associated with the far-left, that we saw throughout 2011. There are signs mocking the rating agencies, signs criticizing the European Union which has instituted universal austerity policies across the continent.
These masses in Hungary are the indignant as much as the youths who last year occupied squares in Madrid and Athens. These Hungarians, however, are being mobilized by far different forces. They are drawn by arguments against the European Union used by some on both the left and right. The European Union as an institution has failed people on the continent, regardless of political leanings. But right-wing and left-wing forces mobilizing against the European Union bring enormously different consequences.
For Hungarians, there is the immediate prospect of more IMF and EU intervention and the resulting austerity, and the current right-wing government hasn’t been the doormat that center-right and center-left governments have been in Portugal, Ireland, and Greece. But as much as the European Union forces its member into uniform policy of social spending cuts and privatizations, it also has mechanisms in human rights obligations among member states that act to curb the authoritarianism of the far-right. Hungary’s right-ring Orban government is running up against these European institutions that are taking legal actions against reforms by Victor Orban curbing the independence of the central bank, judicial system, even the media of Hungary.
This is why the situation in European is so important and so delicate. There is such social anxiety as the population is hurt by repeated austerity measures and the population is looking for a political vehicle to reverse their precarious state. The risk is high that the far-right will be seen as the most readily mobilized force to challenge the mainstream political consensus around austerity. We’ll have a good measure of this possibility as far-right Marine Le Pen supports the demise of the Euro as she runs for president of France. If she does very well in a country that hasn’t seen the severity of the austerity that Hungary, Portugal, and Greece has seen, politics in Europe would be shifting in an incredibly dangerous direction.
I’m only repeating my urgency of previous posts that the left must organize now, not wait for the next austerity package being passed through parliament. It must do so or else our political foe that is the neo-liberal consensus will be replaced by an opponent in the far-right ready to wage war on the weakest and most vulnerable in Europe and on anyone hesitant to join that war.
2011 was marked by mass anti-capitalist demonstrations across Europe, but the first month of 2012 is taking a turn to the far-right.
In Portugal some 1,500 people were marching against the austerity policies of the government when fascists attempted to subvert the march and ultimately attacked the marchers who chanted against fascism:
The number of fascists were small, at most estimated at two dozen, but the protests wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t already a fanatically right-wing government in power with a commitment to austerity. However, backlash to austerity doesn’t always break in favor of the left. In Germany in the early 1930s, a center-right government imposed austerity only to be followed by the Nazis promising to dismantle austerity with the banner of racist nationalism and military aggression.
Today in Hungary, there were no small numbers in the right-wing demonstration to offer a measure of comfort. Media estimates put the crowds rallying behind an authoritarian & right-wing government at 100,000. Alarmingly, a number of the demonstrators were ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries, showing Hungary’s authoritarian right-wing is mobilizing not just within Hungary’s borders, but among Hungarians outside the country, a longstanding issue of tension with Romania and Slovakia.
Back to the enormous rally, a fairly ominous banner reads: “Stand by us or you’ll be next”:
This banner can be taken two ways. It could be directed domestically to opponents of the right-wing government who are being removed from media and judicial positions. Or, it could be directed across Europe to other right-wing nationalist movements, challenging them to take on the right-wing caricature of a leftist political elite in Europe. It’s ominous either way.
It should all serve as a warning to the left in Europe. Take on the European Union and its neo-liberal infrastructure or risk the far-right dismantling the Europe Union and the Euro and replacing them with fascist political infrastructure.
The opening battle in the struggle over Europe’s future may be starting in Budapest. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph explains:
“The EU said it had sent three letters of ‘Formal Notice’ over Hungary’s assault on the independence of the judiciary, the central bank, and the data protection ombudsman – the first step in “infringement proceedings”. The dispute could ultimately lead to loss of Hungary’s voting rights under Article 7 of EU treaty law.
‘We’ll use all our powers to make sure that Hungary complies with the rules of the EU,’ said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Mr Orbán said his country was the victim of ‘international leftists’ in Brussels. “
The standoff between Brussels and Budapest is not to be dismissed as a marginal European dispute. Hungary needs IMF and EU financing to stay afloat and Brussels is positioning itself as content to watch Orban’s government in Hungary sink if he doesn’t roll back his authoritarian challenge to the European neo-liberal consensus.
But the European Union technocrats aren’t just running up against Hungary’s authoritarian right-wing government. If the EU destabilizes Hungary -which letting Hungary go bankrupt would destabilize the country- there’s a far right force in politics ready and waiting to pick up where the Orban government left off and take the country fully into the politics of the radical right-wing.
This readiness of the far-right was displayed this past Saturday when thousands of supporters of the Jobbik party rallied in the capital against the European Union:
On top of two Jobbik members of parliament burning a European Union flag, supporters waved flags displaying the map of a “Greater Hungary”; a map expressing the ambitions of a right-wing nationalist movement with open territorial ambitions against its neighbors. This is from a party that in the past two election cycles increased its support from around two percent to over sixteen percent. The confrontation between the European Union and the current Orban government may serve to catapult this Jobbik menace into power.
All the more alarming is the absence of the left, let alone the far left. The contest over Europe is between the neo-liberal technocrats, an authoritarian right, and possibly the far-right if movements like Jobbik keep up their momentum. There is no left in this fight to even weaken these forces, let alone assert that the workers and the poor should have an increased share in both say and wealth in society. Instead, we have Portuguese labor unions sitting helpless at a table with a right-wing government and employers as government and employers carve up labor rights and wages.
The neo-liberal technocrats are trying to maintain their hegemony being politically challenged only by the authoritarian right. The left looks set to be a mere spectator, possibly as neo-liberal forces concede ground to a far-right onslaught building strength in Eastern Europe.