Orbán government withdraws support for extreme-right festival – POLITICO

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The Hungarian government withdrew financial backing for a festival known for links to extreme-right groups after its support for the event came under scrutiny.

The music festival, which takes place in Slovakia each year, is organized by the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (HVIM), an irredentist far-right Hungarian group. Last year, two members of the movement were handed jail sentences by a top Romanian court for planning to detonate an improvised explosive device in 2015.

The annual Felvidéki Hungarian Island festival attracts members of Hungary’s extreme-right scene, and one band planning on taking the stage this year is known for a song celebrating skinheads. Last month, Facebook removed a page advertising this year’s event.

As first reported by Hungarian-language Slovak newspaper Új Szó, Hungary’s State Secretariat for National Policy, a subdivision of the prime minister’s office, was listed as a formal sponsor of the event on the festival’s website.

Among speakers at the festival this week will be László Toroczkai, founder of the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement and head of far-right Hungarian party Our Homeland Movement. Toroczkai, the mayor of a small Hungarian border village, became known for running a local squad for catching asylum seekers, as well attempting to ban Muslims and gay people from his village. He has also recently founded an anti-Roma uniformed militia that sparked fears of renewed racially motivated violence in the country.

Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of Our Homeland, delivers a speech on May 21, 2019 in Torokszentmiklos, Hungary | Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

“We need to show again how to be in opposition without becoming adversaries of our own home.

Another speaker scheduled to appear at the festival is Ernő Raffay, a prolific anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist who is set to give a talk to festival-goers on the role of Freemasons in Hungary.

Following questions from POLITICO, the prime minister’s office said on Thursday it had issued an order to withdraw all financial support for the event.

In a statement, the prime minister’s office said that it had instructed the government-funded Gábor Bethlen Foundation, which had awarded small-scale support to the festival, to withdraw its funding decision. As a result the foundation had not supported, and is not supporting, the festival “with a single cent,” the statement said.

Toroczkai and Our Homeland “can represent a radical right, critical but loyal to Fidesz,” said one senior Fidesz official.

The government’s support for the event had been condemned by experts on extremism.

“The Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (HVIM) is a far-right organization, whose main profile is revisionism, the return to pre-Trianon [World War I] peace treaty borders,” Bulcsú Hunyadi, senior analyst at the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute think tank, told POLITICO in a note. The group also participates in gatherings of “international neo-Nazi organizations, such as the Day of Honour demonstration,” he added, referring to Nazi German and Hungarian soldiers’ attempt to break out of Soviet encirclement in Budapest in 1945, an event commemorated by extremists each year.

‘Radical right’

Supporting Toroczkai and other extreme-right figures could allow Orbán’s Fidesz party to weaken its rival, Jobbik, which has attempted — with difficulty — to transition from the far right to the center of the political stage. Toroczkai is a former member of Jobbik, who quit the party as it split between those members wanting to become more moderate and those wishing to retain an extreme-nationalist identity.

Toroczkai and Our Homeland “can represent a radical right, critical but loyal to Fidesz,” said one senior Fidesz official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Hungarian government is also not treating Our Homeland like other opponents.

Despite the party polling in the low single digits over the past months, Fidesz-linked television stations have broadcast dozens of interviews with leaders of Our Homeland since the party was founded a year ago. During that time, other opposition parties — who poll at much higher numbers — got very little airtime on the party’s stations.

People participate in a rally organized by the Our Homeland Movement in Budapest on March 15, 2019 | Peter Kohalmi/AFP via Getty Images

“The left-liberal opposition has come together with Jobbik,” Dániel Faragó, the young leader of Our Homeland’s chapter in the southern Bács-Kiskun county, told POLITICO earlier this year.

“We need to show again how to be in opposition without becoming adversaries of our own home. We stand in opposition to the Orbán government, naturally, but our opposition is a different type of opposition,” he said.

And Our Homeland is supporting some Orbán initiatives. Four ex-Jobbik members of the Hungarian Parliament — who now belong to Our Homeland — voted last October in favor of the ruling party’s resolution condemning the European Parliament’s critical report on the state of the rule of law in Hungary.

While criticizing the government, particularly on economic issues like mortgage loans and wages, Our Homeland has encouraged Hungarians not to participate in the opposition’s joint anti-Orbán demonstrations.

Asked about suggestions that Fidesz is informally supporting Our Homeland, the ruling party’s director of communication, Balázs Hidvéghi, told POLITICO earlier this year that “there is no reason why Fidesz would be supporting — formally or informally — any opposition party.”

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