With Hungarians slated to go to cast their ballots in April 2018, the country’s right-wing political landscape has been undergoing a transformation.
Recent months have seen Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s ruling conservative party, Fidesz, move further right, while Jobbik, a party with neo-Nazi roots, attempts to rebrand itself as a traditional European conservative party.
Fidesz’ left-wing rival, the Hungarian Socialist Party, is fractured. Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of far-right activity.
Fidesz has focused the bulk of its ire on human rights groups and aid organisations that have criticised its crackdown on asylum seekers entering or passing through the country.
Under the party, the government has been a leading voice against the influx of refugees.
In recent months, Hungary was again flung into the spotlight over an ongoing campaign against billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) charity advocates for greater acceptance of refugees and migrants.
Headed by Prime Minister Orban, Fidesz is Hungary’s ruling party and controls the government.
Founded in 1988 under the former communist government (1949-1989), Fidesz was initially a libertarian youth party. The party eventually evolved into an establishment conservative party that resembled many of its European counterparts.
However, Fidesz’s rightward shift continued, and the party has since incorporated policies that have raised red flags among experts.
Since the refugee crisis, Fidesz has become much more radical and even more prejudiced than it was before.
Orban, Hungary’s third longest-serving prime minister, has been accused by critics of authoritarian and illiberal tendencies. He was first elected to office for a four-year term in 1998. He came back to power 2010 and was re-elected in 2014.
There are no limits on how many terms a Hungarian prime minister can serve.
The arrival of around one million refugees to Europe in 2015 saw the ruling party swiftly position itself as a supposed defender of “Christian Europe”.
“Since the refugee crisis, [Fidesz] has become much more radical and even more prejudiced than it was before,” Peter Kreko, a political scientist at Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute, told Al Jazeera.
That shift has been “amplified” by the government’s recent campaign against Soros, he said.
Earlier this year, Orban and his allies launched an effort to shutdown the Central European University, a Budapest-based university founded by Soros.
At the time, Orban lambasted Soros as “big and powerful” and accused him of “destroy[ing] the lives of millions of Europeans with his financial speculations”.
Critics have alleged that the anti-Soros campaign has anti-Semitic undertones that play on racist stereotypes which maintain that Jews control the global financial system.
In November, Gergely Gulyas, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, claimed that Soros has launched a “full frontal attack” on the country “because in its immigration policy Hungary continues to stand its ground against the forces supporting immigration”.
An opinion poll published in early November concluded that Fidesz maintains a support rating of 61 percent, as reported by Hungarian Free Press.
Jobbik made waves when it was founded in 2003, launching on Eurosceptic, anti-Semitic and anti-migrant positions.
In 2013, the party drew sharp criticism for protesting the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, which it claimed was a demonstration against “a Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary”.
Recent years have seen the party shift from open anti-Semitism to a more brazen form of pro-Russian, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee politics that lines up with other European far-right parties.
Last year, the party submitted a bill designed to ban the resettlement of refugees in the country as part of the EU’s refugee distribution quota.
Cas Mudde, an expert on far-right politics and associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, said Jobbik “has partly been forced to remake itself into a mainstream right-wing party” because Fidesz has been “effectively dominating ‘their’ themes of authoritarianism, nativism and populism”.
“[Jobbik is] now mainly a radical right anti-Fidesz party though, whose electorate is their core base and radical right people who are upset about the corruption of the governing party,” he told Al Jazeera.
Last week, Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona said massive fines from state auditors may prevent it from participating in April’s elections.
The party has been ordered to reply by December 21 to auditors’ claim that it spent an illegal, under-market prices for anti-government billboard advertisements, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Speaking to media, Vona accused the government of executing a “brutal attack” against Jobbik by “using” the state auditors office.
“It is unprecedented and unimaginable in European democracies for a government to try to use such means to ruin its biggest challenger four months before the elections.”
In July, a cohort of far-rightists assembled in Budapest to announce the establishment of Force and Determination, an openly-racist group seeking to run in next year’s parliamentary elections.
While the number of members is not public, the inaugural rally attracted around 300 supporters.
Although small, experts say the group represents the splintering of Jobbik’s support base and draws from former Jobbik members disillusioned with the party’s redressing as a centre-right outfit.
Others on the hardcore fringe of Hungary’s far right have also joined Force and Determination.
“While some hardliners have left Jobbik in protest, these groups seem to have only local or regional support, and leave Jobbik unchallenged at the national level,” said Mudde.
According to a Reuters report in July, Force and Determination promotes open racism against refugees and Roma, the ethnic minority that makes up an estimated 315,000 people in Hungary.
Addressing the influx of refugees to Europe, Balazs Laszlo, one of the movement’s leaders, told followers at the time: “Tens of millions are added to the ranks of the Arabs, Africans and gypsies who will show no tolerance once they realise the power that their demographic significance lends them.
“Our ethnic community must come first … there is no equality.”
In September, a leader of the movement declared that refugee camps would “burn” if the EU continued to force “their multicultural ideology on us”.
“The question is, if we let in a single one [asylum-seeker], then the others will come too,” Janos Lantos said during a demonstration, the local Budapest Beacon reported at the time.
“We’re proud we are Hungarian, we’re proud to be members of the European white race.”