Balint is a 30-year-old PhD student from northern Hungary, with expertise in organic farming and environmentally friendly agriculture. Well educated and fluent in English, Balint talks with passion about his daily work at an organic farm, hiking and spending time in nature. An expert in the field of soil biology and biochemistry, he conducts weekly tutorials with his peers for those interested in sustainable lifestyles and growing organic food.
But there is something else that Balint is passionate about that makes him a rather unusual respondent: He is a fervid nationalist, a high-ranked member of the extreme-right 64-Counties Youth Movement (HVIM). The movement was founded in 2001 by then-journalist and now leader of the extreme-right Our Homeland party, Laszlo Toroczkai, with an aim to unify all ethnic Hungarians in one state.
As much as one might expect the opposite, the Hungarian extreme right at large is in opposition to the right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban. To people like Balint, Orban is a turncoat, an opportunistic populist willing to switch sides on the ideological spectrum in accordance with the prospects for electoral success. In fact, Balint’s organization represents the disgruntled core of Hungary’s extreme nationalists, those who were not incorporated in Orban’s project of “illiberal democracy,” vilifying the figures of Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros or, more recently, the former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
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While some of Orban’s general policies, like those on immigration, for instance, are generally endorsed by the wider nationalistic circles, agricultural issues are not sufficiently addressed in Hungarian society, historically heavily dependent on the agrarian sector. To Balint and his like-minded fellows, Orban’s technocratic leadership has devastated Hungarian agriculture, offering leeway to oligarchs from the prime minister’s inner circle and allowing the country to fall prey to the interests of multinational corporations.
Through the mask of a caring nationalist, Orban’s rhetoric has enchanted Hungarian farmers who were led to believe that Orban’s solutions for the agricultural sector would include the promotion of small-scale farming and better representation of Hungarian interests in the wider European market. In fact, Orban’s campaign for the 2014 parliamentary elections included proposals for strengthening family farms and smaller agricultural producers and holders.
However, in 2015, his regime privatized a great quantity of state-owned land, selling it to influential individuals with close ties to the regime in the so-called “pocket contracts” instead of distributing the land to smallholders. This is how, under the guise of nationalist politics, Orban’s government managed to sustain electoral support, exerting pressure across the oligarchs’ pyramidal schemes and systemically engaging in land grabs that contribute to the deterioration of Hungarian agriculture.
Words vs. Deeds
Given these discrepancies between Orban’s words and deeds, Hungary’s extreme right articulates itself as the “real” caretaker of the country’s land and farming values. With the help of his colleagues, Balint launched a Facebook page called Zöld Ellenállás (Green Resistance) that promotes sustainable lifestyles and forms of agriculture, simultaneously targeting what they understand as “liberal outlooks on the environment” and promotion of “destructive antinational values in the social domain,” such as minority rights, veganism and the “mantra of sustainable development.”
In Balint’s own words, nationalists are still not sufficiently invested in environmentally-friendly agriculture and sustainable livelihoods, unable to recognize the harmful currents of consumerist culture and the logic of growth induced by modernity. However, the extreme right and its emphasis on the philosophy of vitalism, organicism and action argues for leading by example, and so Balint lives up to the ideological expectations. As a PhD candidate at one of the oldest Hungarian universities, Balint’s extreme views become secondary as compared to his expertise in this important field and have not greatly impeded his academic or professional career.
While it would be difficult to extrapolate individual examples, such as those of Balint and his peers, to the wider radical-right landscape and argue that Hungarian nationalists are generally in favor of environmentally-friendly policies in agriculture, it is important to point to the existing, and often ignored, links between the ethnic, organic type of nationalism and agriculture.
While cooperation between the far right and the liberal opposition seems unlikely at first glance, the monopolization of the political sphere by Orban’s Fidesz and its devastating impact on Hungarian agriculture has spurred some odd bedfellows in Hungarian politics. A case in point is the cooperation between the left-liberal Green Party (LMP) and the (formerly) far-right Jobbik in the domain of agriculture. Acknowledging the existence of far right’s interest in the land and (organic) agriculture, paired with a willingness to embark on these pursuits, is a prerequisite to better understanding how right-wing populism operates in rural communities, but also how alternatives to right-wing populism are conceived on the seemingly same side of the political spectrum.
This finding is not supposed to alarm or denigrate any chance of emancipatory and progressive alternatives to Orban’s agricultural policies. However, it intends to question the meaning of emancipation and grassroots politics, and the true merit of leading by example to which Balint and many like him adhere.
*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.