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Orban as the European Unconscious

This article was originally published at Oštra

The decision of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, to erect a four-meter-long wall along 175km of his country’s border with Serbia in order to prevent illegal immigration, prompts us to consider analytically two important factors. The first and most obvious concerns the symbolic meaning of erecting a wall. After the fall of a wall that separated eastern from western Europe, socialism from liberal capitalism, a united Europe, which again leaves outside of its borders some European states, has decided to erect a wall so as to protect itself from immigrants.

'European Maverick' : Viktor Orban and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit:
‘European Maverick’ : Viktor Orban and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit:

In fact, this point is central, because it is at this crossroads that we pass to the second field of analysis. This concerns the question as to whether ‘Europe is one that erects walls’ or whether he who erects the wall is, as The Guardian has recently declared, Europe’s ‘main maverick’? Is Viktor Orban going against the rest of the European Union in raising new walls, announcing the return of the death penalty, opening labor camps for immigrants, hanging billboards with slogans warning the ‘newcomers’ not to take jobs from Hungarians and to respect the laws of Hungary? In short: is Orban the negation of Europe or is he Europe’s unconscious?

Let us first move from the internal Hungarian context. Although in this country Orban’s ‘conservative’ FIDESz party is in power, the second most popular party is the neo-fascist Jobbik. In this way, their roles are distributed evenly. FIDESz in power behaves towards Jobbik (which has a number of mayors and the town of Tapolca in its control at a local level) in the same manner as the neoliberal state behaves towards the free market.

Orban, in other words, does his best to create a framework in which what we might call the ‘invisible hand’ of fascism – determined by Jobbik’s measures – guides the decisions of the state, bringing the ‘conservative’ FIDESz and the ‘neo-fascist’ Jobbik into joint action to introduce ever-harsher laws.

This relationship allows FIDESz to distance itself from the consequences of its own measures. When free trade produces great poverty, the neoliberal state says: ‘It is not us that are responsible!’ When Jobbik’s uniformed activists patrol the predominantly Roma neighborhoods of Budapest’s suburbs, the Minister of Internal Affairs, from the ranks of FIDESz says: ‘But it wasn’t us that did this!’

However, just as the neoliberal state starts out as the ‘night watchman’ of the free market but later becomes its active executor (as when, for instance, it leaps to the aid of the bankers with the people’s money), so too has FIDESz decided to move beyond the role of the ‘watchman’ of the fascistoid framework in which Jobbik is able to do whatever it wants, to becoming a more active player.

Not only has FIDESz joined Jobbik as a neo-fascist parliamentary party, it has taken a step further and thus decided to actively participate in the implementation of ideas (such as the building of the wall) which originally derived from the leader of the far-right nationalist organization ‘64 Counties’, the mayor of the border-town of Asotthalom, Laszlo Toroczkai.

If Jobbik have already done that which Orban wanted, but did not have to do directly by himself, then the question of the raising of the border wall would certainly be an issue with which the government would have to concern itself directly, no less than the neo-fascist political organization. It is not simply a Roma village that is under discussion, but the national border – it must be carried through to a state level.

More than two years ago, the municipal government of Budapest introduced a law according to which it was illegal to sleep in the streets. This law against ‘homelessness’ has provoked no reaction from the EU. In the same manner, as Orban was ‘acting crazy’ while Jobbik patrolled Roma villages in uniforms, the EU made out as though it did not understand that this law was aimed not only at the socially disadvantaged, but above all towards the socially disadvantaged who are of a different colored skin and who are immigrants in a state in which they are made unwelcome, forced to sleep under the open sky.

The immigrant question in the EU is particularly important, such that for European leaders there was no harm in ‘turning a blind eye’ to those ‘light’ measures on the EU’s fringes, which might perhaps reduce the number of immigrants in the rest of the Union.

Jobbik activists in unform during a party demonstration
Jobbik activists in unform during a party demonstration

When it came to the wall, the reaction was a little more harsh. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, in an article in the daily La Stampa, claimed that erecting the border wall was not in the European spirit. Despite European leaders’ attempts to ‘turn a blind eye’ to him, and despite the occasional affectionate criticism of the Hungarian ‘dictator’ – as most recently the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, labeled him – Orban is in the sphere of the European unconscious.

What the EU really hopes for is not that Hungary gives up on its plan to erect the border wall, which will ‘distort the European spirit’, but rather that this wall will be a success and resolve the immigrant questions for the entire Union! After all, the fascist leader of ’64 Counties’ is correct when he says that similar walls exist in the USA, Turkey, Spain, Bulgaria, Israel and that this is considered ‘normal behavior.’ Unfortunately, he is right, and it is Renzi that is wrong. The raising of walls is very much in the European spirit.

If Orban has welcomed the moment at which he activates his “Jobbik-64 Counties unconscious”, when will the EU activate its own “Orban unconscious”?

In part, it has already been activated, from the Italian Lampedusa to the southern coasts of Spain or Greece. Sometimes dissidents are not merely harmless to the system which they confront; often they are representative of its integrative part, they are merely the other side of the coin.

In liberal capitalism, these far right, neo-fascist ‘dissident’ elements do the dirty work, they ‘eat the pests’ and for this reason do not interfere with the overall plan – eventually they will have to be slapped with an exclamation point in an article, or even given a stronger, more affectionate smack on the nose.

Those dissidents whose backs are broken, however, are those from the left – and we see this at the moment in the example of the relations of the EU institutions towards the Greek government. In other words, the EU has a problem with the democratically-elected Greek government, but not with Hungarian fascism. So it should not be surprising if, following the unsuccessful negotiations with the Greek government, Orban’s methods are applied to ‘unruly’ Greece – because in recent times, one thing that has certainly not been a part of ‘the European spirit’ is a government listening to the people who voted it to power…

Translated from Serbian by James Robertson

BalunovicFilip Balunovic is a political scientist from Belgrade. His publications include the essay “Serbia on the European Periphery: A Blurred Reality of Post – Socialism” (Lambert, 2013, Germany), Does Serbia have a (political) Left” (FES, 2013, Serbia), “Notebooks from Freedom” (Mediteran, 2014, Serbia), . He is a columnist at the Al Jazeera Balkans and runs his own blog, “Levo smetalo”. His research interest covers fields from the domains of political philosophy, EU integration and political economy. Balunovic is 28 years old and lives between Sarajevo and Belgrade.


By Filip Balunovic

Filip Balunovic is a PhD candidate at Scuola Normale Superiore at the department of Political Science and Sociology in Florence; executive editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Serbia; author of the book "Freedom Notebooks", member of "DiEM 25"