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East European Perspectives: April 5, 2000

5 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 7

Part V A: Radical Politics In Post Communist East Central Europe

By Michael Shafir

(Mis)placing in Boxes: Radicals Full Stop
A) Jozsef Torgyan and Hungary's Independent Smallholders Party

I started the last chapter of this study saying that the taxonomy warrants the introduction of two additional categories, and have dealt above with one of them, namely the radical left. I also called the second category "an embarrassing one" (East European Perspectives, 9 February 2000). This is the category of "radicals full stop." Cas Mudde's article on populism in post-communist Eastern Europe (East European Perspectives, 8 and 22 March 2000), confirms, I believe, my reticence towards the concept on which his otherwise excellent tract focuses. When both President Vaclav Havel and former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar can be categorized as "populists," something must be wrong. And yet the phenomenon Mudde (2000b) is writing about cannot be ignored.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Jozsef Torgyan's Independent Smallholders Party (FKGP), Leszek Moczulski's Confederation of Independent Poland, or Slovenia's Ivan Kramberger and Bulgaria's Business Bloc headed by Georges Ganchev do not quite fit into either the radical continuity or the radical return categories. Leaving them out of the debate, however, is to indulge in that deadly sin that brought so many a social scientist into disrepute: forcing reality to step into intellectual straight jackets. An attempt at avoiding this pitfall has recently been made by Mudde. He distinguishes among three main categories for the post-communist period: pre-communist extreme-right parties (ERPs), which, as the author acknowledges, roughly correspond to "Shafir's 'party of radical return,'" communist ERPs, which, again are "not unlike the 'party of radical continuity'" category that I propose, and "post-communist ERPs" (Mudde, 2000a). Apart from different perspectives of analysis (Mudde includes in the last category formations that, I believe, belong to radical return), the main problem with his taxonomy is that formations and leaders that behave in the way attributed by Mudde to post-communist ERPs may actually belong to the by-now universally accepted category of "historical parties," and hence to hardly fit into the "post-communist" category. This is quite clearly the case of the FKGP. Hence the "radical full stop" solution, unsatisfactory as it may be.

Torgyan has been described by Rudolf T�kes as being a "feisty" leader and "a shrewd lawyer cum populist demagogue" (T�kes, 1997, p. 143). He is all of these things and more. He is an anti-Semite (and what is more, so are other prominent members of his FKGP), advocates segregation of the Romany population, and has a murky past of possible links with the communist secret police. He is also one of the staunchest adversaries of allowing land to be sold to foreigners, which automatically turns him into an opponent of short-term integration into the EU, this being one of the conditions that EU member states have to fulfill. His discourse is often flamboyant and inciting. All these traits plead in favor of placing Torgyan in the category of radical return. Yet for three main reasons he defies the category: his party's history; the fact that allegations about his past links with the Hungarian secret police (AVH) proved questionable; and, last but by no means least, the fact that as a minister (in the Antall-Peter Boross cabinets between 1990 and 1993 and in the cabinet headed by Viktor Orban since 1998), Torgyan has tended to considerably attenuate his rhetoric, concentrating instead either on the promotion of his village constituency's interests or on such mundane skirmishes as fights over the budget with his peers.

The FKGP is a "historic" party that has no real anti-Semitic record, which is far from saying that the party was philo-Semitic. Yet Torgyan and his followers are undoubtedly driven by revenge towards those perceived to have been his formation's liquidators. This may somehow explain (though by no means excuse) the FKGP leaders' repeated attacks on "foreigners" (read Jews) who were (worse, are) allegedly "in league," with "Bolsheviks." Members of such "sister-parties" as the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic in Romania are on record as having similarly "slipped" into anti-Semitic innuenda, and for much of the same reason. If Torgyan nonetheless stands apart, it is because in Romania such pronouncements never came from the first, but rather from the second and third echelons of the leadership.

Torgyan's alleged links with the AVH have never been proved, though they keep re-emerging. Late premier Jozsef Antall, whose coalition partner Torgyan was in the first post-communist government, produced evidence showing that the FKGP leader (a flourishing lawyer under the previous regime) had intimate relations with the secret services--though this was not the reason for Torgyan's departure from Antall's cabinet in 1992 (Oltay 1994, p. 59; Szayna, 1997, p.137; Karsai, 1999, p. 145). In November 1995, Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDS) leader Gabor Kuncze, who was interior minister in the cabinet of Gyula Horn, sent a document--which seemed to indicate that Torgyan had indeed been a collaborator of the AVH--to the lustration panel of judges that examines the past of all parliamentary members. In August 1998, however, the panel determined that the AVH had threatened and repeatedly tried to recruit Torgyan in 1957 and that, although he managed to avoid collaboration, the AVH registered him as a secret agent under a code name. Having secured a false diagnosis, Torgyan subsequently spent some time in a psychiatric institute in an attempt to fend off further harassment by the secret police, the panel said, concluding that his name had been removed from the register in May 1958. Some three weeks before the panel made public the results of its inquiry, several former members of Torgyan's party told reporters that the FKGP leader's nickname in the files of the former secret police had been Lajos Szatmari, and that the information had been provided to the FKGP by Antall, who was by now dead RFE/RL Newsline, 27 June and 15 August 1997).

That Torgyan has many enemies is little wonder, given his personality and the ruthless manner in which he ensured his leadership in, and dominance over, his own party (Toekes, 1997, p.128). Post-communist political discourse has in many ways been a rather strange return to Stalinist political discourse--but in reverse. Attempts to destroy adversaries often concentrate on producing proof (genuine or not) of the target's past loyalty to the former regime. In Torgyan's case, his adversaries in 1997 made public that his doctoral dissertation, written in 1954 and dealing with the postwar peace treaties, had praised "the extreme generous attitude displayed by the Soviet Union regarding reparations to be paid by Hungary," much in contrast to the "treaty-breaching imperialists" (RFE/RL Newsline,8 August 1997). Interestingly enough, at about the same time, premier Horn's adversaries were similarly digging up his dissertation, which had praised Yugoslav economic policy under Tito. At the end of the day, neither the charge of collaboration nor his dissertation affected Torgyan's career, and, in 1998, he re-emerged as a coalition partner, this time of the Alliance of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ).

Torgyan's views on the Soviet Union, in any case, had changed 180 degrees once the former regime collapsed. He told Aurel Braun, who interviewed him for his book on the "extreme right," that the Soviet Union had undoubtedly "imposed communism from outside" but hastened to add that "too many Jews took part in the communist regime." And that was not the only anti-Semitic remark made during the interview (Braun, 1997, pp. 209-10). He is on record for making numerous controversial statements that make a distinction between him and Justice and Life Party (MIEP) leader Istvan Csurka difficult. In March 1996, at a rally he organized in Budapest, Torgyan spoke of a "liberal-Bolshevik" danger that is "paralyzing" the "powers of the Hungarian nation," and, using ethnocratic terminology, he added: "We, however, cannot be paralyzed. We are Hungarian. In the spring, the Hungarian manually clears away the vermin. Let us also clear away the vermin" (cited in Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 43).

The myth of "Judeo-Bolshevism" is haunting other prominent members of Torgyan's party as well. Speaking in the legislature in March 1997, FKGP member and parliament Deputy Chairwoman Agnes Nagy Maczo referred to communist dictator Matyas Rakosi as "that Hungarian-hating Mano Roth." The speech had obvious anti-Semitic tones and chose to omit the well-known fact that, although born Jewish, Rakosi had been a notorious anti-Semite himself. But what made it even more strident was the fact that Nagy Maczo was not even capable of producing Rakosi's correct birth name, which was Rosenfeld rather than Roth (Braham, 1999, p. 28n). The speech was expectedly criticized by the Socialists and their coalition partner, the SZDS (a party in which Jewish intellectuals are prominent), but Torgyan came to Nagy Maczo's defense, describing the attacks against her as "a fascist initiative aimed at intimidating democratic parliamentary forces and destroying multiparty parliamentary democracy."

Several months later, however, even Torgyan could no longer support his deputy, who was dismissed from her position in the party after calling for an alliance between the FKGP and MIEP (Torgyan himself, however, in 1993 had set up the Christian National Solidarity group of which the MIEP was a member, and organized rallies at which not only was Csurka allowed to speak, but even Albert Szabo's neo-fascists freely disseminated propaganda material (Oltay, 1994, pp. 59-60). Torgyan told Nagy Maczo that she might be able to retain her parliamentary deputy chairmanship "if she behaved" from now on. But after Nagy Maczo participated in an illegal protest rally of farmers, she was expelled from the FKGP parliamentary faction, thus also loosing her parliamentary chairwoman position and was eventually expelled from the party itself (RFE/RL Newsline, 1 and 4 November 1997). In January 1998, Nagy Maczo set up her own party, the New Alliance for Hungary, but that formation failed to gain parliamentary representation in the 1998 elections, in which it set up local electoral alliances with the MIEP and the Christian Democratic People's Party (RFE/RL Newsline, 12 January and 3 March 1998).

The "vermin" that must be cleared from Hungary (to cite Torgyan's above-mentioned speech) obviously includes the Roma. Or at least, as it transpires from his interview with Aurel Braun, the Roma should best be isolated in what--in the most fortuitous of circumstances--amounts to a call for apartheid, and-- at worst-- to a "benign" form of ethnocracy. He told the Canadian political science professor that the best solution to the problem posed by that community would be a return to the old "vaida" system, where Roma lived on the land under their own leadership, but were separated from the rest of the population. The Romany leadership would, under this system, be held responsible both for its own population and to the state (Braun, 1997, pp. 212-13).

Hungary has perhaps the most complex electoral system in the world, highly favoring stronger parties. For better or for worse, the system makes it extremely difficult for formations that do not have a good root organizational basis to penetrate into the legislature. It also sets a relatively high electoral hurdle of 5 percent. Nevertheless, the FKGP managed to gain a more-than-respectable representation in the three post-communist elections held thus far. In 1990, it was represented by 44 deputies (out of 386). The 1994 elections produced a significant drop in parliamentary representation, reflecting the "switch left" of the ballot itself. The FKGP was now represented by a total of 26 deputies (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, pp. 143, 362). In 1998, however, Torgyan scored the best result so far--48 deputies (RFE/RL Newsline, 25 May 1998). That brought him not only renewed membership in the ruling coalition, but also an agreement with FIDESZ, whereby the FKGP is to "propose" the coalition's candidate for the post of president, which Arpad Goencz is to vacate in mid-2000, with FIDESZ practically having the right to veto the proposal (Nepszabadsag, 11 November 1999). It has been widely assumed that the candidate will be Torgyan himself. FIDESZ has already leaked information to the media that it is trying to dissuade the maverick leader from the plan, proposing, among others, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi for the position. In January 2000, Orban stated quite brutally that "it would be better if Jozsef Torgyan remained chairman of the FKGP, rather than being nominated for the position of president of the republic" (RFE/RL Newsline, 24 January 2000). The FKGP, however, has thus far remained adamant that it will not renounce its right to nominate the candidate and Torgyan himself described his nomination for the post as "inevitable." At the same time he warned that attacks on him by political allies might prevent him from accepting the nomination. "I am a crucial figure in conservative national politics, and I believe that if I retired from political life, conservative national politics would greatly recede," he said in a display of "modesty" (MTI, 11 November 1999, Nepszabadsag, 10 December 1999 ). Under the constitution, the president's prerogatives are quite limited. But the damage inflicted on the country's image with Torgyan at its helm would not be so.


Braham, R. L., 1999, "Angriff auf das Geschichtsbewusstsein: Die ungarischen Nationalisten und der Holocaust," Europaeische Rundschau, Vol. 27., no. 3., pp. 17-29.

Braun, A., 1997, "Hungary From 'Goulash Communism' to Pluralistic Democracy," in Braun, A., Scheinberg, S. (eds.), The Extreme Right: Freedom and Security at Risk (Boulder: Westview), pp. 201-19.

Henderson, K., Robinson, N., 1997, Post-Communist Politics: An Introduction(London: Prentice Hall).

Karsai, L., 1999, "The Radical Right in Hungary," in Ramet, S. (ed.), The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe Since 1989 (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press), pp. 133-46.

MTI (Budapest), 1999.

Mudde, C., 2000a, "Extreme-Right Parties in Eastern Europe," Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 5-27.

Mudde, C., 2000b, "Populism in Eastern Europe," East European Perspectives,Vol. 2, nos. 4-5.

Nepszabadsag (Budapest), 1999.

Oltay, E., 1994, "Hungary" in "The Politics of Intolerance," RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 3, no. 16, pp. 55-61.

Szayna, T. S., 1997, "The Extreme-Right Political Movements in Post-Communist Central Europe," in Merkl, P. H., Weinberg, L. (eds.), The Revival of Right-Wing Extremism in the Nineties (London: Frank Cass), pp. 111-148.

RFE/RL Newsline, 1997, 1998, 2000.

Tismaneanu, V., 1999, Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

T�kes, R. L., 1997, "Party Politics and Political Participation in Postcommunist Hungary" in Dawisha, K., Parrott, B., The Consolidation of Democracy in East-Central Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).