Friday, September 07, 2007

Taking Outrage a Bit Too Far

Late last month a group calling themselves the “Magyar Garda” held their inaugural ceremony here in Budapest. This stirred up a lot of controversy.

The group’s sizable opposition describes Magyar Garda as a racist neo-fascist militia. Indeed the militaristic ceremony, the circa-1940’s uniforms, and the group’s use of the Árpád Stripes give a lot of weight to such accusations (The Árpád Stripes originally come from medieval times, but they were adopted by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party in the 1940’s).

I should say here that I am uncomfortable with the formation of the Magar Garda, and the group’s allusions to a pure Hungary give me the super-creeps.

Here is a short video of the ceremony from last month.

But the controversy that has been stirred up and the very vocal opposition to the Garda might be doing more harm than good.

I remember when the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Madison while I was at school there. The organizers of the rally assumed that in liberal Madison there would be a large counter-protest and the ensuing tensions would make the news. The citizens of Madison, however, had better things to do. Everyone understood that the Klan was nothing more then a fringe group. Their calls for racial and spiritual purity came from a mangled and anachronistic philosophy that America had all but squelched. As a result, the rally came and went with little fanfare.

Of course the situation here in Hungary is not the same as it was in Madison. What I’m attempting to say with that bit of extreme understatement is that the issues of race and xenophobia in Hungary reach deep into the history and culture. I’m not offering that as an excuse. I just want to ward off the admirably optimistic, yet naively Americancentric response, “Why can’t we all get along?”

I don’t want to hear that, because there are people in Hungary who don’t want to get along; there are people in Hungary who believe Jews, Gypsies, and Communists have stolen Hungary from the Hungarians. When you approach these people with evidence that contradicts such claims, they retreat into rote answers involving the liberal media and the socialist government.

I have been in lessons where students openly talk about the agenda behind the Jewish Media. While I am not stunned to learn such views exist, I am stunned to find people comfortable enough to express such views to their English teacher.

That comfort is why I am put off by the outcry against Magyar Garda.

The outcry is notable, and to a certain point it is justified, but in my opinion the opposition to Magyar Garda might be going too far.

Groups within Hungary are calling for the outright banning of the Magyar Garda. The Prime Minister has rightfully denounced the group, but he has gone the extra step of asking “the country's chief prosecutor to closely monitor the group for any violations of the Hungarian constitution (Spiegel International).” Shouldn’t everyone be monitored for such offences? But that’s not all. News of the Garda has crossed borders. Several international organizations have issued statements of concern over the formation of the group. The conservative German paper Die Welt used the formation of the Magyar Garda as primary evidence in an argument about inequities within the EU.

I think the issue may have been blown out of proportion.

The weekly Hungarian financial magazine HVG wrote an article that confirmed my suspicions. In it László Tamás Papp reminds readers that the popularity rating of Jobbik, the political party behind the Magyar Garda, is hanging around somewhere in the tenths of a percent. Of course now they are getting a lot of press, so that might change.

Even if it does, however, people should not flip out. The people behind Magyar Garda have used some offensive symbols, but they have been careful to avoid any official messages of hate so far. There is a well-written English response to those who question their aims on Jobbik’s website. In it the author clearly states that accusations of racism within the party are the fabrications of a liberal media and the socialist government.

In a section of the group’s charter translated by the Budapest Times, the references to fascism are oblique at best: “Conscripts will carry out physical, mental and spiritual training to help maintain public order, preserve Hungarian culture and defend the nation in extraordinary situations.” After reading the literature, it is clear to me that Jobbik has formed a guard that is barely attempting to veil its fascist overtures, but they are veiling them for now. In a democratic society we do have to stomach such crap. But do we need to pay so much attention to it? When we bring these fringe elements into our daily discourse we make them appear legitimate. In doing so, we make people think the racial stereotypes such groups promote are acceptable.

I’m not saying we should ignore these people, but instead of acting like they are some huge looming threat, couldn’t we just belittle them, laugh at their backwards beliefs, and point out their absurdly low polling numbers. It seems a more effective way to turn the population away from this garbage.

A little footnote: If you find it difficult to laugh at neo-fascists, just remember this little detail reported in The Budapest Times: "According to press reports, one of the original guard members had to be replaced at the ceremony after accidentally shooting himself in the face with a gas pistol."


Jason said...

Interesting post, Hogan. What scares me just a little though is how it seems to relate to an increasing voice for right-wing opinions and a drift to the right politically in a lot of countries in Europe and other Western countries as well (e.g. Greece, France, Australia, Jesusland aka USA). It seems like as technology and population growth make the world smaller, people get more scared of people who are not like them and are closer to them than ever before. Not that that's new, of course. People have always been afraid of "the other," but there used to be oceans and mountains and things to keep them away. And sadly, not all fascists are stupid enough to shoot themselves in the face with gas pistols (what is a gas pistol?).

chumpo said...

i agree that the idea of a preemptive strike against a fringe group of "cultural purists" seems only to further their cause with publicity. getting enough people to believe in something as ridiculous as cultural purity for the win and then having a parade with goons is scary indeed. i wonder what it is exactly, or what had the greatest overall impact, in my upbringing that makes me believe racism/classism is such a foolish belief. i wonder what events unfolded in the lives of the people in the video that make them believe that this group will provide a better tomorrow? and not even the people marching, it's clear they've undergone some amount of brainwashing rhetoric, the people cheering them on, what is going through their heads? is it the same? funny how the cheering became louder when the younger, more militarized members marched by.