Anti-Muslim populism in Hungary: From the margins to the mainstream

Syrian migrants walk along a railway track after crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border into Hungary, near Roszke, August 26, 2015. Hungary's government has started to construct a 175-km-long (110-mile-long) fence on its border with Serbia in order to halt a massive flow of migrants who enter the EU via Hungary and head to western Europe. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh - GF10000182998
Editor's note:

This working paper is part of a multi-year Brookings project—”The One Percent Problem: Muslims in the West and the Rise of the New Populists.” Other papers in the series are available here.


  1. Political and historical context
  2. The rise of the far-right
  3. Political implications of the migration crisis: Rearrangement of the right
  4. Ideology of the far-right and populist right
  5. Framing of Islam
  6. Visions of identity and belonging
  7. Views on the future of Europe

Political and Historical Context

Hungary underwent a democratic transition after 1989, following four decades of communist rule. The country became a full-fledged NATO member in 1999 and joined the European Union in 2004. Until 2010, Hungary was a prime example of a successful democratic and economic transformation. However, since 2010, Hungary has gradually become a competitive authoritarian state or “hybrid regime,” where democratic institutions exist in theory, but the rule of law and civil liberties are severely limited in practice. In 2010, the country scored a one in Freedom House’s Freedom of the World rankings—the highest score for a fully free democracy. That rating fell to 2.5 in 2018. Hungary was also downgraded to partly free status in terms of press freedom.

The stark changes in the status of Hungary’s democracy since 2010 coincides with transformations instituted by Fidesz-KDNP after the party gained parliamentary supermajority. Between 2010 and 2014, Fidesz-KDNP completely transformed the Hungarian legal and institutional system. A new constitution, called Fundamental Law, was approved only by lawmakers from the ruling party in 2011 and all cardinal laws, which establish the framework of the political system and require two-thirds of the votes, were rewritten, including those regulating the electoral system, election campaigns, and the media. With these changes, Fidesz created a political system, which is completely tailored to its political interests and ensures the party’s control over politics and the public discourse. Political competition and pluralism have been hollowed out by rules benefiting the governing party and putting opposition parties at a disadvantage. Moreover, by appointing party loyalists to leading positions, formerly independent institutions, such as the Constitutional Court, the public prosecutor, the President of the Republic, the Media Council, the State Audit Office etc., which ideally function as checks and balances, have been transformed into bodies executing Fidesz’s political will. The foundations of dominating the public discourse were laid down by forcing the public broadcaster and the national press agency under the ruling party’s control, as well as pro-government oligarchs buying up independent media outlets and transforming them into Fidesz mouthpieces.

In 2015, Fidesz lost its super-majority but still maintained a simple majority in parliament. During that time, the party introduced a wide range of repressive measures against civil society, the independent media and academia (e.g., the Central European University). Since regaining their parliamentary super-majority in 2018, Fidesz has taken further steps towards autocracy: it created a media empire consisting of 476 outlets, established a new administrative court system controlled by the Minister of Justice, tightened regulations for demonstrations, adopted new laws that further limit the space for civil society, limited academic freedom, and waged a cultural war against independent artists.

As a result of these measures since 2010, political competition has largely become incapacitated in Hungary, and elections have become unfair, even if mostly free. In addition to de facto eliminating the system of checks and balances Fidesz’s opaque campaign finances and business dealings have produced a system of systemic corruption. Media freedom and pluralism has practically been eliminated due to the expansion of the Fidesz-controlled media empire, which reaches a considerably wider segment of the audience than independent or opposition supported outlets with only one exception, among online portals. The pro-government media receives editorial guidelines from ministries, frequently spreading disinformation and pro-Russian, anti-Western narratives, while smearing opposition forces and denying them the opportunity to appear in these outlets.

Societal attitudes toward migration, migrants and Muslims

Immigration was not a prevalent political issue in Hungary before 2015. In fact, the government’s 2013 migration strategy, which was not widely discussed in public, even stated that the country needs immigration for economic and demographic reasons and that the state should fight prejudices regarding immigration by launching effective communications and providing credible information. The situation changed, when an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers passed through the country in 2015. However, the number of migrants fell in Hungary considerably after the tightening of asylum regulation and the construction of the border fence in the fall of 2015.

Xenophobia in the Hungarian public is higher than in most of the post-socialist block.

Fidesz’s campaign against immigration exploits Hungarian society’s objection to “others,” which has traditionally been strong compared to other countries in the region. Since the democratic transition in 1989-90, there has been a rising trend in intolerance. In 1992, 15 percent of Hungarians expressed xenophobic attitudes but the number increased to 39 percent by 2014 and reached a peak of 67 percent in October 2018, while xenophiles disappeared completely. According to Political Capital’s Demand for right-Wing Extremism Index, which is based on the European Social Survey, xenophobia in the Hungarian public is higher than in most of the  post-socialist block. These views are particularly strong when it comes to Muslims: according to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Hungarians had unfavorable views of Muslims in 2016 compared to the EU median of 43 percent, even though (or rather because) Hungary has practically no Muslim population. Hungarians were also more likely to consider refugees a burden or a major threat more than the average European. In a 2017 survey, 64 percent of respondents from Hungary agreed with the statement that “all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.”

The prevalence of immigration as a concern increased considerably in Hungary since the refugee crisis, and not only among Fidesz voters. In the fall of 2014, 18 percent of Hungarians said immigration was one of the most pressing issues for the European Union and only three percent thought it was one of the main challenges for Hungary. In Spring 2018, 56 percent of Hungarians said that immigration was one of the two most pressing issues the EU faces.

The Rise of the Far-Right

The presence of far-right actors in Hungarian political life dates back to the late 19th century but the movement reached its zenith in the interwar period. In the Communist era, after the Second World War far-right actors disappeared from public life but they reemerged right after the regime change in 1989/1990. The political impact of far-right actors was rather limited in the 1990s and early 2000s. The far-right emerged from the ashes in the second half of the 2000s again with the rise of Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary), which received eight percent of the vote in the 2009 European Parliament election, and over 20 percent in the 2014 general election, after winning just 2.2 percent of the votes as a party alliance with MIÉP(Hungarian Justice and Life Party) in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Jobbik’s rise was based on three main pillars.

First, in the late 2000s Hungary slipped into a political, economic and social crisis, whose symbolic starting point was the demonstration and the far-right riot against then-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in 2006. Second, Jobbik successfully exploited anti-Roma sentiments and introduced a new political style of communication, which exclusively aimed at creating scandals and contradicting mainstream values. Jobbik introduced the term “Gypsy crime” in the political discourse, which could be promoted as a revolt against the establishment. The new communications style also included the creation of alternative communications channels and the professional use of social media, which enabled the party to directly reach out to its supporters and sympathizers despite being boycotted by the mainstream media. All this made Jobbik a more dynamic party that managed to attract new electorate, especially young people. Third, Jobbik was able to cooperate with and gain support from existing far-right organizations (e.g., Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement [HVIM], Army of Outlaws). Further, Jobbik founded the “Hungarian Guard,” a paramilitary group, whose symbols resembled those of the Hungarian fascist movement of the interwar period, enabling the party to quickly establish its presence across the country and build a strong grass-roots basis.

One of the main long-lasting consequences of Jobbik’s emergence was the quick radicalization of the public discourse. Jobbik’s tactic legitimized hate speech and anti-minority (especially, anti-Roma) sentiments in the society, which paved the way for Fidesz’s anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Islam messaging after 2015.

Political implications of the migration crisis: rearrangement of the right

Fidesz’s political strategy and exploitation of the migration issue

Fidesz’s control over the public discourse, based on its media dominance and massive propaganda campaigns, is the main reason why Fidesz has been able to dominate the conversation surrounding the migration crisis since 2015. Since the early 2000s, Fidesz has a genuinely anti-pluralist and an increasingly populist approach: the party claims to solely represent the will and interest of the nation against designated enemies who pose a threat to the nation. Since 2015, the main enemies have become refugees and migrants, and those societal and political actors who, in the government’s rhetoric, help, organize and bring them to Europe (e.g., NGOs, EU, George Soros). Fidesz has been able to keep immigration on the top of the agenda via continuous campaigns based on hate-inciting rhetoric, conspiracy theories (e.g., about the existence of a so-called “Soros-plan”) and disinformation.

Fidesz used the topic of migration to turn the political system even more authoritarian and to restructure the political landscape by creating an entirely new cleavage between liberal, pro-globalist and anti-liberal, anti-globalist camps instead of the old left-right division. Fidesz has simplified the public discourse to the single issue of migration since 2015. Party officials re-frame any criticism against Fidesz as an attack against the anti-migration policies that are defending the nation: those who oppose Fidesz are said to support the settlement of migrants in Europe. As a consequence, Fidesz has been able to increase its popularity since the start of its anti-immigration campaign: the party’s support increased from 24 percent in March 2015 to 38 percent in January 2019.

Implications for the far-right

Fidesz’s harsh anti-migration stance and rhetoric have completely restructured the far-right and triggered a chain reaction. Regarding migration, far-right organizations suddenly found themselves on the same platform as the governing party. While Fidesz has long used the tactic to take over topics from the far-right and implement them into policies in order to take the wind out of the far-right’s sails (e.g., exclusion of problematic citizens from social benefits, introducing a Trianon remembrance day, cult of nationalistic authors, thinkers, and politicians from the interwar period), this phenomenon peaked with the migration issue. Since they could not compete with Fidesz’s radical messages, Jobbik accelerated its moderation strategy in 2013, and increasingly positioned itself as a moderate right-wing party while maintaining its strict anti-immigration position.

Jobbik’s repositioning increased the internal struggles between those who wanted to return to a more radical approach and those who wanted to maintain the moderate policy line. This resulted in the majority of Jobbik’s radical wing splitting from the party and forming the rival far-right party Our Homeland in June 2018.

Fidesz’s radical turn has had implications for the far-right organizations too. To fill the vacuum on the far-right caused by Jobbik’s moderation and to react on the challenge posed by Fidesz’s anti-immigration and nationalist narrative, far-right organizations increased their networking activities and looked for new strategies. Thus, a new movement, Force and Determination (EE) was founded in the summer of 2017. However, with the foundation of Our Homeland, EE became superfluous and was absorbed by the new party. At the same time, in recent years Hungary has become a hub of the international far-right network with many activists visiting or even moving to Hungary mainly because of the friendly political climate.

Ideology of the far-right and populist right

The current dominant narrative of the far-right and the populist right is based on the triangle of nationalism, the securitization of migration  related to the vision of a war between civilizations, and anti-liberalism and anti-establishment sentiments. Political developments are often explained through conspiracy theories. By creating enemies and fueling fears, the narrative aims at polarizing the society and mobilizing their own electorate.

Nationalism is generally connected to the perceived victimhood of the nation and its members. In Hungarian nationalism, it is manifested in a nostalgia towards greater Hungary—and a deeply fueled victim narrative based on the Trianon treaty that ended the first World War for Hungary, which obliged Hungary to abandon two-thirds of its territory to its neighbors.

Traditionally, the Roma and the Jews have been the most important targets of the Hungarian far-right. However, since 2015, xenophobia mainly related to immigration has become the primary layer for the presence of the ideology of both the far-right and the populist right in Hungary. While objection against the Roma was always the strongest, opposition to refugees/migrants, Arabs and Muslims has caught up with or even eclipsed it. Anti-immigration, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments, which hardly existed in Hungary before, are mainly based on the perceived cultural differences, and explained in the context of a war between cultures and civilizations. Mainstreaming and legitimizing hatred against refugees and migrants by the government’s messaging has led to increasing rejection of other minority groups and nationalities too (e.g., LGBTQ people, Romanians). Sentiments against minority groups based on gender and sexual orientation have increased also because gender has become a significant mobilization tool of the Hungarian far-right and populist right in recent years. While the far-right actually mobilizes against LGBTQ people and events, Fidesz rather exploits the topic at the symbolical level, for instance by banning gender studies from universities.

In the narrative of the far-right and the populist right, they are waging a two-front war: they defend Christian values by fighting against the “Islamization” of Europe, and they protect the traditional values against the liberal, “post-1968” ideologies…

Emphasis on Christian and traditional values—the traditional family model and traditional roles for men and women—is also understood in the context of a cultural war, waged against both the liberal West and immigrants, especially Muslims at the same time. In the narrative of the far-right and the populist right, they are waging a two-front war: they defend Christian values by fighting against the “Islamization” of Europe, and they protect the traditional values against the liberal, “post-1968” ideologies such as multiculturalism and gender equality, which currently rule the West but at same time undermine its strength and immune system.

The EU symbolizes the decadent West. But while Fidesz’s stance against the EU has sharpened gradually since 2010, Jobbik has moved in the opposite direction. Due to the party’s moderation strategy since 2015, Jobbik’s stance on the EU has completely changed in recent years. While the party advocated for a “Huxit” earlier, its 2019 EP election program acknowledges the EU’s necessity in tackling global challenges.

Another important element of the Hungarian far-right’s and the populist right’s self-definition is their strong anti-communist stance. After the fall of the Soviet Union up until a few years ago, anti-communism was closely related to an anti-Russian stance, which has changed in recent years, mainly because of the pro-Russian foreign policy line of Jobbik and Fidesz and the increasing anti-West and anti-EU sentiments. A recent development in this regard is equating communism with the European Union, liberalism and the West, which is done both by government officials and far-right politicians and activists. In their view, the European Union and some member states force the dictatorship of liberal values on their citizens and other countries. Hence, according to their narrative, the “cosmopolitan” elites in Brussels and some other capitals (e.g., in Berlin) dictate just like Moscow did back in the communist era.

Framing of Islam

Due to the lack of a visible Muslim community, hardly any Hungarians encounter Islam in their daily lives and have any knowledge on it. Therefore, Islam was not present in the public discourse before 2015—except the marginal pro-Islam messages of Jobbik, mainly arguing for respect for Islam and better relations with some Muslim countries (e.g., Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan). The reason was two-fold. First, Islam has been valued by many in the Hungarian far-right for not having lost its influence in Muslim societies, sticking to traditional values, and maintaining strict social order. Second, as anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has been key characteristics of the far-right’s ideology, Islam and Muslim countries seemed to be a natural ally to many. Therefore, the pro-Muslim, pro-Palestinian and pro-Iranian stance was a main feature of Jobbik’s alternative foreign policy. In 2013, Jobbik’s then-chairman Gábor Vona said that “Islam is the last hope of humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” He later explained that he believed the main fractures in the world are not between religions but between traditional societies and global liberalism; and the Islamic world had proven to be the most resistant to the U.S.-led unipolar world order.

As a former Jobbik MP explained, Islam serves as an exemplar in terms of its status in Muslim societies, making it a role model for re-establishing the status of Christianity in Europe. While the party never advocated for settling Muslims in Hungary, neither for converting to Islam, it did not voice criticism against Islam’s expansion in Europe and its alleged incompatibility with European values before 2015 either. Since then, Jobbik has pushed its pro-Muslim position to the background to avoid criticism.

The anti-Muslim narratives that now dominate political discourse were essentially imported from Western European far-right discourse in which Islam is framed in the context of a cultural war between the Christian West and the Muslim world. Both the far-right and the populist right depict Islam and Muslims mainly through caricature: the former as a monolithic religion, and the latter as a united group of people, who share the same ideology, culture, and set of values. Islam is often depicted as a violent religion, and Islam and Islamic fundamentalism are often equated and used interchangeably. Pro-government and far-right media outlets reduce their explanation of Islam to a single claim and constantly use the words “fundamentalist, jihadist, terrorist” to describe Islam. They systematically choose international events that fit their negative interpretations. Fidesz officials and far-right actors have linked immigrants and Islam to crimes and terrorism, and often depict Muslim refugees and migrants as invaders, who want to force their culture on the peoples of Europe and establish an Islamic caliphate on the continent. This narrative is often supported by references to Hungary’s defensive war against the Ottoman Empire from the late 14th century and the Ottoman occupation between the 16th and 17th century. According to this argument, used by both Fidesz and the far-right, Hungary has again become the bulwark of Christian Europe and protects the continent from Muslim invasion.

Most of our interviewees  said that the relation between the West and Islam/the Muslim world is contradictory or even problematic. Some said that there are some areas of overlap between Islamic and Western culture (demonstrated for instance by the tolerance of moderate Islam). However, even Gallai and all those interviewees who belong to far-right organizations such as Jobbik, Our Homeland, HVIM, and Identity Generation, said that as far as fundamental, core values are concerned (e.g., the status of women and children), differences are serious, and according to some even incompatible. Having said that, some interviewees highlighted that differences are rather rooted in culture and less in religion.

As most of our interviewees, including Jobbik-politician Gábor Staudt put it, Muslim communities cannot integrate in Western societies due to the harsh differences between Islamic and Western values. Staudt considers Islam a totalitarian way of thinking. According to him, Muslims use religious freedoms as long as they are in a minority position, but they do not tolerate non-Muslims if they make up the majority. According to Ábel Bódi, leader of the Identity Generation in Hungary, Muslim communities living in the West stick together and aim to force their values on others. He thinks that terrorist attacks are rooted in the Quran, where Mohammed urges his followers how to handle infidels. However, some of our interviewees noted that there are significant differences within Islam as well.

At the beginning of the refugee crisis, Jobbik also discussed the threats posed by immigration extensively, evoking the vision of the “perishing of Christian Europe.” However, as Fidesz grabbed the initiative on migration, Jobbik outsourced its strongly anti-Islam rhetoric to its former Vice Chairman László Toroczkai, who has since left the party and formed a new far-right party called Our Homeland, in which he continues to argue against Islam. Toroczkai claims Hungarian culture is incompatible with Islam, describes the “Islamization” of Hungary as a national security threat, arguing that white, Hungarian, Christian culture must be defended. Toroczkai did not leave Jobbik over divergent opinions regarding Islam or immigration. While current Jobbik politicians, along with all representatives of the far-right and populist right claim that real refugees who flee war or persecution have to be aided, the help should take place outside the EU, in the closest and first safe country where refugees arrive after fleeing their home country. Any other forms or possibilities of migration are strictly rejected. At the same time, they do not object to migration of people with similar or same cultural background. As Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s vice chairman said in March 2018, they accept migration from EU/EEA member states.

However, many representatives of the populist right and far-right are not hostile to Islam itself as long as it remains outside of European border. As described above, some far-right representatives respect Islam as a religion within its own community and traditional location. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s treatment of Islam, Muslims and Arabs at official diplomatic events is quite different than the treatment of those topics in Fidesz’s mainstream communications. For instance, during the visit of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to Hungary and at the general assembly of the Union of Arab Banks held in Budapest, which both took place in 2015, Prime Minister Orbán praised Islam for its honorable, spiritual, and intellectual contributions. Furthermore, he described Muslims as representatives of a high civilization and mentioned the sympathy between Hungarians and Arabs.

Visions of Identity and Belonging

According to most of our interviewees, Hungarian identity is mainly based on a common culture, which includes language, history and traditions that has shaped a particular people over thousands of years. According to independent Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Krisztina Morvai, who entered the European Parliament via Jobbik’s list in 2014 but has since cut the ties to the party, belonging to a community, especially the family is an important value to the majority of Hungarians. According to György Gyula Zagyva, being Hungarian is not based on genes but on culture and behavior. For him, Hungarians are those who identify with the Hungarian culture. According to Gábor Staudt, everyone, who lives and works in the country and contributes to the nation must be included in the definition Hungarian. However, for him the Christian culture plays a role in the Hungarian identity. According to Ábel Bódi of the Identity Generation, identity has three layers—regional, national and “civilizational”—and each consists of an ethnic and a cultural element. In his view, the Hungarian identity is ethnically European, and the cultural aspect includes responsibility for the next generation, preserving Christianity and moral values. Most of our interviewees agreed that multiple identities do not exclude each other. At the same time, Ábel Bódi noted that European and Muslim identity are hardly compatible due to different values. According to Vice Chairman of Our Homeland Dóra Dúró, while discrimination among citizens is unacceptable, some differentiation based on cultural customs is reasonable.

Prime Minister Orbán stated that the Hungarian “is a unique kind” with a “unique language,” and “there is a world that only we see through the Hungarian language and culture.” In October 2018, Orbán defined a Hungarian as “someone whose grandchildren will be Hungarian as well.” The governing party has indirectly claimed that an “ethnically homogenous” country is better than the multicultural West. While Hungary is an ethnically homogenous nation state with a Christian culture, the West “wants to drive Europe into a post-Christian and post-national era.” The prime minister explained: “We love our culture, which maintains and protects our freedom, we believe in strong families, consider our traditions and history unique, celebrate our heroes and love our homeland above all.” Orbán advocates for keeping Hungary Hungarian, and Europe European. As a result, Fidesz excludes the possibility of Muslim immigrants’ integration in Europe and even the peaceful coexistence of Christian and Muslim civilizations as well.

As for Jobbik, the party used to advocate that “Hungary is for Hungarians,” although it was unclear who can be considered Hungarian. In its 2010 election program, the party claimed that Hungarians are some form of cultural/historical community, and the nation is not to be defined on an ethnic basis. The party also believes that the protection of Christianity is crucial.

Far-right organizations, such as the HVIM, the Army of Outlaws, Identity Generation or the Hungarian Self-Defense Movement all have very similar views on Hungarian national identity and Islamic culture’s incompatibility with it to those of the Fidesz, Jobbik and Our Homeland.

Overall, the Hungarian far-right and populist right considers Hungary an ethnically homogeneous, dominantly Christian country based on a common language, culture and values. Consequently, they object to multiculturalism and further European integration (with Jobbik as an exception to some extent) and emphasize the need for a Europe of sovereign nation states with control over their own borders.

Views on the Future of Europe

Hungarians remain highly supportive of the country’s EU membership despite the government’s years-long anti-EU campaign. Nevertheless, Hungarians are highly dissatisfied with the bloc’s handling of the refugee crisis and mass immigration. Moreover, Hungarians expect high gains from EU membership, but have “no tolerance for pain,” meaning that they expect richer member states to help poorer ones, but they are not willing to show solidarity in exchange when they are asked about the redistribution of refugees. The government’s anti-immigration campaigns which often blame the EU for encouraging mass migration, prompted Hungarians to assess that the “poor management of migration”  will be the main threat to the EU in the next five years despite the rapidly falling number of illegal border crossings. Further, hungarians are among the most pessimistic about the EU’s future, and among the most pessimistic member states when it comes to assessing the effects of migration on the EU.

The ruling party advocates for the “Europe of Nations” concept, PM Orbán accused Brussels of trying to form an empire, arguing that Hungary must be protected from Brussels’s colonization efforts led by bureaucrats, who are seeking to force Europeans into the minority—a narrative shared by all far-right groups. In PM Orbán’s assessment, Europe should be about the parallel competition and cooperation of nation states. According to Fidesz-affiliated MEP József Szájer, the EU today wants to discipline rather than manage cooperation. He added that it must give up the vision of federalism. He believes that Europe must be based on national sovereignty, the more active participation of national parliaments, and equality between nations. Nevertheless, while Fidesz has sometimes argued for a single-speed Europe, the party has shown willingness to accept a more flexible institutional structure for Europe, and even deepen integration in the field of defense policy, for instance.

The traditionally Eurosceptic Jobbik, which at one point even advocated for a referendum on Hungarian EU membership, has revised its stance on Europe: it now supports reforming the European Union as opposed to a Huxit referendum, and even claimed in the 2018 general election campaign that it would support introducing the Euro. Jobbik’s 2018 EP election program denounces the incumbent EU elite who are not building the “community of Christianity, social care, humanity and security,” so it advocates for “returning to the goals of the EU’s founding fathers.” The program envisions a new consensus for Europe, mainly between its Western and Eastern half, focusing on solidarity. The most important goal is equal wages across equal jobs in the EU, the so-called wage union –which 52 percent of Hungarians mentioned as the ideal future for the EU in Special Eurobarometer 479. Jobbik has also supported Hungary joining the European Prosecutor’s Office. In an interview before the 2018 general election, Jobbik Vice Chairman Márton Gyöngyösi said Hungary must remain a member of NATO. Vice Chairman Gyöngyösi favored “more power for nation states but close cooperation” on the EU-level and criticized PM Orbán for “leading the country out of the EU.”

After its split from Jobbik, Our Homeland announced that it wanted to hold a referendum on Hungarian EU membership. According to party Deputy Chair Dóra Dúró, numerous countries are thinking about following the United Kingdom’s example, and this is why such a vote is needed. Jobbik Vice Chairman Előd Novák shared a post on his Facebook page stating that Hungary should prepare to leave the EU and the leadership should assess “alternative options.” According to Ábel Bódi of the Identity Generation, the EU should consist of sovereign nation states that must neither dissolve nor melt. However, the states must cooperate in case they face mutual threats. While Our Homeland, Identity Generation, and Fidesz might differ when it comes to Hungary’s status in the EU, the connective thread—and across Hungary’s right-wing more generally—is an emphasis on sovereignty, national identity, and calls for action for defending the homeland from external threat of immigrants and their alleged enablers.


  • Footnotes
    1. Freedom House rates countries in three categories (Freedom Rating, Political Rights and Civil Liberties) on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means “Most Free” and 7 is the “Last Free.”
    2. Freedom House, “Hungary,” January 4, 2018,
    3. Freedom House, “Hungary,” April 27, 2017,
    4. The Fidesz-KDNP is technically a coalition of the Fidesz- Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP). However, we will refer to it simply as Fidesz since the KDNP does not have an independent political program, agenda or even popular support.
    5. Ágoston Zoltán, “Több Mint Száz Fideszhez Köthető Korrupciós Ügy Eltussolásával Vádolják Polt Péter Ügyészségét,”, November 12, 2018,
    6. Rényi Pál Dániel, “Egy Megszállt Hatóság, Ami Nélkül Nem Épülhetett Volna Ki Az Orbán-Rendszer,”, August 28, 2017,
    7. Erdelyip, “A Fidesz-Frakciótól Is Kapott Pénzt Karas Monika Ügyvédi Irodája,”, August 15, 2013,
    8. “Júliustól törlesztheti a Jobbik az ÁSZ-büntetést,”, June 11, 2018,
    9. Dan Nolan, “Inside Orban’s Crackdown on Hungary’s Free Press,” Aljazeera, April 7, 2018,
    10. Rényi Pál Dániel, “Orbán Kivonta a Szabályok Alól a Kormányzati Médiaalapítványt, Nem Lesz Versenyjogi Vizsgálat,”, December 5, 2018,
    11.  “Hungary: Parliamentary Elections 8 April 2018,” ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission (Warsaw: ODIHR, 2018),
    12.  “Hungary: Parliamentary Elections 8 April 2018.”
    13. The Black Book: Corruption in Hungary 2010-2018 (Civitas Intézet, Budapest, 2018),
    14. Attila Bátorfy, “Kilenc Grafikon a Kormánymédia Túlsúlyáról – Így Érvényesül a Sokszínű Tájékoztatás Elve Magyarországon,” Atlatszo.Hu, November 22, 2017,
    15. “Inside Orban’s Crackdown on Hungary’s Free Press.”
    16. “Az 1698/2013. (X.4.) Korm. Határozattal Elfogadott Migrációs Stratégia És Az Azon Alapuló, Az Európai Unió Által a 2014-2020. Ciklusban Létrehozására Kerülő Menekültügyi És Migrációs Alaphoz Kapcsolódó Hétéves Stratégiai Tervdokumentum.” (Ministry of Interior, 2013),
    17. Even though 177,135 asylum-seekers were registered in Hungary in 2015, only a few thousand of them remained in the country. Attila Juhász, Csaba Molnár, and Edit Zgut, “Refugees, Asylum and Migration Issues in Hungary” (Prague: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Political Capital Institute, 2017),
    18. However, these measures have only been effective in stemming migration flow to Hungary. At the EU level, the number of migrants started to decrease due to the EU-Turkey deal. Even though the approach to migration has become tougher across the EU since 2015, the conservative parties’ stance in other EU member states still considerably differs from that of Fidesz. While the Hungarian government openly fuels fears of and hate against refugees and immigrants, and it is almost impossible to gain international protection in Hungary, other members of the mainstream conservative European People’s Party do not engage in such rhetoric and they have not closed their country to asylum-seekers neither physically nor legally.
    19. Xenophobes are those who said, “no asylum-seeker should be allowed to Hungary,” and xenophiles are those who would let in every asylum-seeker.
    20. “Nyomkodja a kormány a pánikgombot, így egyre jobban irtózunk az idegenektől,”, December 19, 2018,
    21. Demand for Right-Wing Extremism (DEREX) Index,
    22. Dorothy Manevich, “Hungary Less Tolerant of Refugees, Minorities than Other EU Nations,” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C (September 30, 2016),
    23. According to Pew data, Muslims comprise 0.4 percent of Hungary’s population. “Muslim Population Growth in Europe,” Washington, D.C (November 29, 2017),
    24. Matthew Goodwin and Thomas Raines, “What Do Europeans Think About Muslim Immigration?,” Chatham House, Febuary 7, 2017,
    25. European Commission,“Standard Eurobarometer 82” (Autumn, 2014),
    26. European Commission, “Spring Eurobarometer 89” (Spring, 2018),
    27. The term “far-right” is used in the following way throughout the study. As far as the time up until 2015 is concerned, “far-right” refers to the whole scene in general, including Jobbik and various far-right organizations. From 2015 onwards, with the acceleration of Jobbik’s moderating strategy, “far-right” refers mainly to far-right organizations excluding Jobbik, except it is explicitly stated otherwise. The term “far-right” never includes Fidesz, which is referred to as populist right throughout the study. Even though Fidesz’s anti-immigration, anti-liberal and anti-establishment narrative is identical with that of the far-right in Hungary and abroad and with the rhetoric of the U.S. alt-right and the European New Right, in other issues Fidesz’s positions significantly differ from those of the Hungarian far-right (e.g., regarding anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, revisionism).
    28. Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász, The Hungarian Far Right: Social Demand, Political Supply and International Context, Explorations of the Far Right 6 (Stuttgart: ibiden, 2017).
    29. Vit Novotny “The ‘Soros Plan’: What to Keep and What to Scrap,” November 28, 2017,
    30. For instance, in 2016, the Hungarian government launched a billboard campaign disseminating claims such as “The Paris terror attacks were committed by immigrants” and “Brussels wants to settle a city’s worth of immigrants in Hungary.”
    31. The party has not even had an electoral program since the 2010 general election to avoid having to address problematic issues.
    32. In 2017, the parliament passed a law requiring NGOs who receive over 24,000 euros in foreign funding  annually to register as “foreign-supported” and disclose their foreign donors.
    33. “Pártpreferencia a választásra jogosultak körében” Közvéleménykutató,
    34. Attila Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement–The Populist Right and the Far-Right in Contemporary Hungary (Budapest: Political Capital and Social Development Institute, 2017),; Bíró Nagy András, Boros Tamás, and Varga Áron, “A Szélsőjobboldal Magyarországon” (Policy Solutions, 2012),; “Jobbik’s Policy Proposals Realized by Fidesz: A Summary in 10 Points,”( Budapest: Political Capital Institute,  May 2015),
    35. Attila Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement: The Populist Right and the Far Right in Contemporary Hungary.
    36. “Párt lett a Mi Hazánk Mozgalom,” Hír TV, August 23, 2018,
    37. Attila Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement–The Populist Right and the Far-Right in Contemporary Hungary.
    38. The explicit linkage of migration to security, presenting immigration as an emergency and immigrants as enemies who pose a threat to national security, culture and values.
    39. Endre Hann and Dániel Róna, “Antiszemita Előítéletesség a Mai Magyar Társadalomban – Kutatási Jelentés” (Tett és Védelem Alapítvány, 2018),
    40. “Negative Views of Minorities, Refugees Common in EU,” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C (July 11, 2016),
    41. Joanna Kakissis, “Hungary Has A Xenophobia Problem,”, April 27, 2018,
    42. Eszter Kováts and Maari Põim, eds., “Gender as Symbolic Glue” The Position and Role of Conservative and Far Right Parties in the Anti-Gender Mobilization in Europe (Budapest: Foundation for European Progressive Studies and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2015),
    43. “Megindokolta Az EMMI, Miért Akarják Betiltani a Genderszakot,” 24.Hu, August 10, 2018,
    44. Dull Szabolcs, “Orbán új korszakot épít, nagy változásokat ígért,” July 28, 2018,
    45.  “Hungary’s Orban Rejects ‘Sovietization’ by Brussels, defends nation state,” Reuters, October 23, 2016,
    46. “Kövér László: Marxizmus helyett liberalizmus,” Magyar Idők (blog), December 3, 2015,
    47. “Orbán a rezsicsökkentést hasonlítja március 15-éhez,” ORIGO, March 15, 2014,
    48. Respect for Islam is also rooted in the personal experience of some leading far-right activists, who were in direct contact with Muslims during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, where they fought voluntarily. A significant but probably unique example is that of Zsolt Dér, a member of the Army of Outlaws, a trainer of the far-right paramilitary group “Wolves” and former  personal assistant to current Jobbik chairman and deputy speaker of the parliament Tamás Sneider. Dér fought in Croatia and then also in Bosnia and converted to Islam. He even advertised the propaganda videos of ISIS, which according to him are a good source for learning about terrorist methods.
    49. “Mutual Benefits: Jobbik’s pro-Iranian Policy,” (Budapest: Political Capital Institute, March 2014),
    50. “A Jobbikban Értik, Miért Az Iszlám a Követendő Példa,”, ac, November 13, 2013,
    51. Author’s interview with former Jobbik MP Gábor Staudt, Budapest, December 10, 2018.
    52. Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement: The Populist Right and the Far Right in Contemporary Hungary.
    53.  “Az Iszlám Integráció Kudarca,” Demokrata, April 4, 2018,
    54. Horváth Attila, “Ugyanazt az érzést használta ki a Fidesz választás előtt, mint az Iszlám Állam,”, June 4, 2018,
    55. Sohini Chatterjee and Péter Krekó, “Elastic Interpretation of National Security: Closing Civil Space in Hungary,” in Counterterrorism Measures and Civil Society: Changing the Will, Finding the Way (CSIS, 2018),
    56. Forisek Ádám, “A választás tétje, hogy Magyarország maradhat-e a kereszténység európai védõbástyája,” (blog), February 24, 2018,; Nagy Gergely Miklós, “Levágott és karóra húzott iszlám fejű szoborral üzeni a határról Toroczkai László, hogy megállítjuk a menekülteket,” September 4, 2017,
    57. Ten interviews were conducted between November 2018 and January 2019. Interviewees included an MEP, and a supporter of Fidesz, former and current MPs and MEPs of Jobbik, current MPs of Our Homeland, leading activists of far right organizations such as Identity Generation and Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, and senior officials of Fidesz-close research institutes.
    58. Author’s interview with Sándor Gallai, director of the Migration Research Institute (a think tank close to the government), Budapest, January 7, 2019.
    59. Authors’ interview with former Jobbik MP and current Vice Chairman of Our Homeland Dóra Dúró, Budapest, December 13, 2018.
    60. Author’s interview with former Jobbik MP Gábor Staudt, Budapest, December 10, 2018.
    61. Author’s interview with leader of the Identity Generation, Ábel Bódi,  Budapest, January 7, 2019.
    62. Author’s interview with former Jobbik MP and current Vice Chairman of Our Homeland Dóra Dúró, Budapest, December 13, 2018; Author’s interview with leader of the HVIM, György Gyula Zagyva, November 29, 2018.
    63. Attila Juhász, Bulcsú Hunyadi, and Edit Zgut, Focus on Hungary: Refugees, Asylum and Migration (Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2015),
    64. Officially, Toroczkai quoted his dissatisfaction with Jobbik’s moderation strategy as the reason for the split, although he more likely decided to do so because he narrowly lost the competition for the party’s chairmanship. Since leaving Jobbik, Toroczkai and other representatives of his new party criticize Jobbik more often than the government.
    65. “Toroczkai László: A Magyar Kultúra Nem Kompatibilis Az Iszlámmal,” Echo,November 26, 2018,
    66.  “Az ásotthalmi ‘fehér utópiáról’ készített riportot a BBC,”,  February 7, 2017,
    67. Petr Boháček, “We have to help refugees, fight populism and work with EU says Jobbik deputy,”, March 31, 2018,
    68. Ágnes Schwartz, “Kiket néz hülyének Orbán Viktor?,”, February 2, 2018,
    69. “Ezért Döntött Úgy Morvai Krisztina, Hogy Visszavonul Az Aktív Politizálástól,”,  November 7, 2018,
    70. Author’s interview with leader of the HVIM, György Gyula Zagyva , November 29, 2018.
    71. Author’s interview with former Jobbik MP Gábor Staudt, Budapest, December 10, 2018
    72. Author’s interview with leader of the Identity Generation, Ábel Bódi, Budapest,  January 7, 2019
    73. Authors’ interview with former Jobbik MP, current Vice Chairman of Our Homeland Dóra Dúró.
    74. Kormányzat,“Orbán Viktor Beszéde a Miniszterelnöki Eskütételét Követően,” May 10, 2018,
    75. Herczeg Márk, “Orbán Viktor Definiálta, Ki a Magyar,”, October 4, 2018,
    76.  “Orbán Viktor Évértékelő Beszéde,” Kormányzat, February 18, 2018,
    77.  “Európa a Nemzetek Hazája,”, October 23, 2018
    78. “Orbán Viktor Ünnepi Beszéde Az 1956. Évi Forradalom És Szabadságharc 61. Évfordulóján,” Miniszterelnok.Hu, October 23, 2017,
    79. Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség (blog),“Képtelenségnek tűnik a keresztények és a muszlimok civilizációjának együttélése,” July 18, 2017,
    80. Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász, The Hungarian Far Right: Social Demand, Political Supply and International Context.
    81. Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement: The Populist Right and the Far Right in Contemporary Hungary.
    82. “The Future of Europe – Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes,” (Budapest: Political Capital Institute, July  2017),
    83. European Comission, “Special Eurobarometer 479,” (October-November, 2018),
    84. European Commission, “Special Eurobarometer 469: Integration of Immigrants in the European Union” (April 2, 2018),
    85. “Európa a Nemzetek Hazája,”
    86.  “Szuverén nemzetek Európája,” Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség (blog), October 17, 2018,
    87. Peter Kreko, “Hungary: A Foreign Policy Stress-Test Case for NATO and the European Union?,” Heinrich Böll Stiftung European Union, May 30, 2018,
    88. Juhász et al., The Year of Rearrangement: The Populist Right and the Far Right in Contemporary Hungary.
    89. Jobbikadmin, “Biztonságos Európát, szabad Magyarországot! – EP választási program, 2019,”, December 4, 2018,
    90.  “Special Eurobarometer 469: Integration of Immigrants in the European Union.”
    91. István Galambos, “A Jobbik támogatja az Európai Ügyészség bevezetését célzó európai polgári kezdeményezést,”, October 11, 2018,
    92. “We have to help refugees, fight populism and work with EU says Jobbik deputy,”,
    93.  “Népszavazást Kezdeményezne Az EU-Tagságról a Mi Hazánk,”, July 24, 2018,
    94. Előd Novák, “ANGOLOSAN TÁVOZUNK,” Facebook, August 6, 2018,
    95. Author’s interview with leader of the Identity Generation, Ábel Bódi.