Hungary was the first country to close its borders when around one million refugees arrived on European soil in 2015. The country’s far-right Fidesz party swiftly positioned itself as the self-proclaimed defender of “Christian Europe” under the leadership of anti-immigrant nationalist leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Following a global trend, growing numbers of Hungary’s youth are joining far-right wing and neo-Nazi movements, such as the Highwaymen’s Army (Betyarsereg), to fight for a way of life they believe is under threat.
If you want to learn what the world might look like very soon, regard Hungary. And Hungary's an extreme of the predicament the whole world is going through.
The Highwaymen are affiliated with the country’s far-right political movement, Force and Determination, and believe in racially-justified violence. They went to ‘help’ the military forces at the country’s southern borders when migrants passed through Hungary on the Balkan route in 2015. And some of their members are currently on trial for intimidating Roma.
“We never prepare for a fight, we are ready for a fight,” says Adam, a 27-year-old who joined the Highwaymen in 2016. “I like being a member of the Highwaymen’s Army because it means togetherness … In order to apply, you obviously have to be Hungarian, and white. Jews should avoid us. They’re not only not allowed to join, but if he asked to join the Highwaymen’s Army I would smack him in the face.”
Political analyst Bulscu Hunyadi believes that “most of these youngsters do not join far-right organisations because they are obsessed with the ideology, because they are neo-Nazis per se. Most of the time they join these organisations because they want to join a community, they want to belong to a group of people. And step by step, of course, they start believing in this ideology.”
Botond, an 18-year-old high school graduate with ambitions to forge a career in Hungary’s far-right politics, is still looking for a movement to join and is determined to defend Hungary against liberalism and multiculturalism.
“I feel like I have to fight, fight for my country … There is a war against the white race. Nowadays, you can say whatever you want except if you are heterosexual, if you are white and if you are a Christian,” says Botond, who goes on regular vigilante patrols in the city in search of what he calls “degenerates”.
However, this perceived threat is a “myth … because nobody is threatening Hungary, we don’t have immigrants at all, zero immigration, but this is the one political topic everybody’s discussing,” explains Gaspar Tamas, a philosopher and political scientist.
“If you want to learn what the world might look like very soon, regard Hungary. And Hungary’s an extreme of the predicament the whole world is going through.”
Inside Hungary’s far right
By Theopi Skarlatos, filmmaker
It seems that these days, every other month another country elects a far-right leader. Hate speech, anti-Semitic rhetoric and xenophobia have become the norm in the upper echelons of power and governments across the world seem to be normalising and legitimising the behaviour of the far right.
So it’s no surprise that members of those far-right groups feel justified in their beliefs and bolder in the way they voice their opinion.
When we met Adam, he was perfectly respectful and gentlemanly towards us as a film crew, but at the same time, he would openly talk about his hatred of Jews and his wishes to criminalise interracial couples.
Although horrified by the opinions of the young people we filmed, in many ways I was comforted in my final thoughts following the filming. I felt like their opinions could still change.
By spending time with him and the Highwaymen’s Army, one of the most dangerous far-right groups in Hungary, I was hoping to find out more about his character and his motives to join such a movement.
How can someone harbour so much hate towards one group of people that they wish to completely rid them of all social and legal rights? How could someone have such a lack of compassion for refugees fleeing the horrors of war that they congratulated police officers who’d violently attacked them?
We set about spending time with Adam as well as 18-year-old Botond, a smart student who “loves his country” and “just wants to do good for it”. Botond says he turned to far-right groups because, in a world brimming with fake news, he “did not know where to find the truth” – which is unsurprising considering almost all Hungarian media are now controlled by government-friendly businessmen.
I was astounded by how much anger Adam carried from his childhood – how visibly upset he became when recounting the consequences of the fall of communism and the dashed hopes of his parents when they were forced to sell their family home during the financial crisis that followed.
“It’s clear I would go down this path,” he said. “There is an immeasurable anger inside me.”
Rather than making a film about my own judgement of these young right-wingers, I wanted to let them explain themselves and share their stories – but without giving the far right a platform to merely spout hate.
Although horrified by the opinions of the young people we filmed, in many ways I was comforted in my final thoughts following the filming.
I felt like their opinions could still change.
‘Fascism never really went away’
The reality is, the world currently is reminiscent of the 1930s, a decade that led to years of war, devastation and excruciating pain. We have never since been as polarised, until now. But we don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past.
By creating an atmosphere where Hungarians feel they must constantly defend against an invisible evil, Orban is creating a world that is ripe for the return of fascism.
There is still time, although philosopher Gaspar Tamas believes we are “past the danger”. According to him, this is a “quiet walk to the precipice” without the “fanfare of old fascism”. That the majority of us remain quiet and happy to live in our bubbles and go about our daily lives.
Are we happy with the state of the world? If not, should we make more noise?
Botond and Adam are intelligent, talented, but easily-led young men desperate for hope, desperate to be heard, recognised and respected, desperate for an identity – and desperate to be proud of themselves.
It is the far right that has managed to spoon-feed them everything they need because the societies we have created have failed to do so.
Adam, Botond and their friends are not just potential voters for power-hungry, populist, dangerous neo-fascists. They are the future – intelligent human beings capable of causing much harm in the world if their energies are directed that way.
And we continue to create an environment that allows them to do so.
By banning liberal universities and NGOs that aid refugees, by creating a hate campaign against Jewish investor George Soros, by creating an atmosphere where Hungarians feel they must constantly defend against an invisible evil, Orban is creating a world that is ripe for the return of fascism.
But perhaps Gaspar Tamas is right, “as the Italian thinker Giorgio Agamben once said, ‘fascism never really went away’.” He says it has always been lurking somewhere in the darkness.
“Times are crazy, but not crazier than other previous systems. We always flatter ourselves that our present is rational. The hell it is rational … it’s as rational as the early Middle Ages.”
We must not forget that.