Arbetet.se – fragment
Arbetet Global got an exclusive interview with Gáspár Miklós Tamás in his home in Budapest. This is a transcript of the interview.
It is a strange feeling to visit Budapest these days. Everything seems so calm, with all the tourists happily walking around in the historical centre – while the government is building fences against refugees at the borders. Do you agree with the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman when he writes that we have two classes in the world today, those who can travel freely and at their own will, and those who can’t, but are forced to do so – ”tourists” and ”vagabonds”, as he calls them?
Absolutely. While this tragedy is going on, Western tourists are just strolling around, admiring the pretty young women, all the cafes are full, the music is playing… As I wrote in a recent article, the same thing happened in 1944. Some six hundred Jews had just been taken to Auschwitz – and in the newspapers of the day you could read about the new premiere of cabaret operettas, musical comedies in the cinemas, and the football championship that was on. Everyone was enjoying themselves – while the death marches were going through town. People picked up their newspapers, opened the sport pages – and nobody gave a toss. It’s the same thing now. Nobody cares. Well, of course, when the Keleti station was occupied, that was unpleasant, because people couldn’t travel… But now everything is back to normal. The trains are running to Vienna. Mr. Orbán has won.
Do you really think that Mr Orbán has won?
Yes. His point of view is silently being accepted even by the Western European powers. After all, the fences are everywhere, and the flux of the migrants are being stopped. And he has never been more popular at home than he is now. I just read an opinion poll yesterday, where 88 percent of the readers of the French newspaper Le Figaro supported that Hungary is building fences at its borders. Ok, I know it’s a conservative paper, but still…
Do you think Viktor Orbán is consciously challenging the liberal status quo in Europe?
He is pissing on the liberal status quo. He has just announced this morning that liberalism is suicidal and a great enemy of Europe and that it has to be stopped. In a speech published two days ago he offered the great solution for the Hungarian youth: “every day nationalism” – 24 hours a day.
In schools, particularly?
Everywhere in life. It should permeate our lives. And it does!
Nationalism, as an ideology, isn’t new to Hungary, of course. It’s been around since at least the late 19th century…
But this is much worse. The late 19th century’s nationalism in Hungary was a civil nationalism that aimed at the assimilation of aliens. Old Hungary was ethnically very mixed, and only about 45 percent of the population consisted of ethnic Hungarians. The majority were assimilated, and most were welcomed if they declared themselves Hungarian patriots. It was the old style nationalism, civil nationalism, king and country, church, state, army, that kind of thing. Well this is not that, this is ethnicism – where only the ethnically, racially pure – the white, Arean, heterosexual, male majority – is the nation. So this is much nastier.
You have written about what you call “post-fascism”. Do you still think that concept is useful to understand what we are seeing in Europe now?
I have been vindicated, unfortunately. So yes, this is what we have [in Hungary, editors’ remark], this is post-fascism. It has all the democratic trappings, there is no need for a formal dictatorship. We have a minority media world, where people as myself can talk with no consequence for them – because it doesn’t reach more than 5 to 10 percent of the population. Most people in Budapest are not even aware of that such a thing as the left exists. I am known because of my political role in the last 55 years, but my fame is thanks to my past. People vaguely know that I am against all of this, so I am stopped at bus stops and train stations by people asking me what I think. They don’t read my articles or hear my radio interviews, so most people talk to me as if my point of view was unknown.
Let’s speak about the left. The workers’ movement has often been in conflict with nationalism and its ideas.
Yes, it has always been the greatest problem for the workers’ movement. Just think of August 1914 [start of the World War I]. The greatest enemy of the left and of socialism has always been nationalism. And racism, ethnicism, sexism, all the differentiations that try to supersede and hide class conflict. It’s nothing new…
But this new wave of nationalism that we are seeing in Europe and in other parts of the world is rather strong. What is the reasons for this, and what could stop it?
Since 1989, the collapse of the left and the march of the social democracy to the right, there is no real force that can be called internationalist and that is adopting class equality, a class-less society, as an idea. There is no such thing. But it will have to be reconstructed. Because you see, the bourgeoisie revolution started in 1642 with the English revolution, and all these demands of the enlightenment and of civil liberties are still an unfinished project. Enlightenment is still unfinished, let alone socialism. We are just in the beginning of this story. I will not see the end of it, nor will you, although you are much younger than I am. But obviously, I think that the time has come to intone these principles.
If we really think that humans are equal, well, then we have to fight against all kinds of discrimination and inequalities, whether class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, occupation, age, etcetera. And it is best done by realizing that the nation states and the political practices that are based on the power of the economic elite and dominant minorities, white mostly, will have to be changed to achieve liberty and equality. This is an old task, but it hasn’t changed, because now we see the results of what even so called liberal states can achieve. The refugee crisis shows you that even cooperating liberal nation states are absolutely unable – and in Hungary’s case unwilling – to solve a situation like this. This inhuman indifference to populations considered arbitrarily alien and “barbarous” has no consequence, because their human value is not considered equal to ours. In the East European media this is said absolutely openly. Of course, there are differences between countries; some are more tolerant and some are less, but the problems are similar.
Are we seeing what could be called a normalization of nationalism in the media of some of the European countries?
This has happened so many times. It happened before the war. And I still remember the German yellow press in the 70s, thundering against the guest workers. Myself, I am a minority Hungarian that grew up in Transylvania in Romania, where I was a member of the target group of Ceaușescus chauvinism. So I mean, what is new?! It doesn’t strike me as especially original. Intellectually it is boring. Morally it is intolerable. But new it isn’t. Of course, after 1989 with the demise of the Soviet Union, people were hoping that things would get better. But that was an illusion. There have been some improvements, of course, but those improvements are limited.
You are yourself a bit disillusioned, if I have understood it right.
Well, that is very mildly put. I’m… bitter. [laughter]. I had the usual trajectory of dissidents, from left to right. But in my case, I came back to the left, so my life is like a boomerang – from left to right and back again. [laughter]
Look, there are two cases – Greece and the migrant crisis – that both show you that there is no equality between nations. The brutality with which the intent of Syriza was put down by the European Union, and the brutality of many (though not all) European countries vis-à-vis the refugees, show you very well what this situation is about: that power is geographically located in the rich countries. And even the poorer countries such as Hungary can show where real power resides: in the armed forces. It is weapons, it is batons, it is sticks, it is tear gas, it is water cannons. The state still has the power to coerce unwilling people, especially non-citizens, while international treaties and human rights are thrown out of the window in 24 hours, without the slightest protest from the population. Nothing. Hungary is quiet.
Why is that?
Because people don’t give a shit. That’s why. Because they always thought that human rights was a sham, a lie, and a weapon in the hands of, you know, “coloured” populations. Gypsies or migrants – it’s all the same for them. And of course, it’s an international cabal in the hands of the international Jewery… “It’s the Jews”… Again, what’s new? “Liberalism is Jewish”, “human rights are Jewish”, “socialism is Jewish”… that’s what they say.
Tell me more about this Hungarian Anti-Semitism.
Good God, it’s the most important thing! Ideologically it defines things. It’s the model, the intellectual underpinning. Anti-Semitism is the structure, and it can be applied to the Arabs or to the Muslims, without the slightest tremor.
But more specifically, can you talk about the ideology of the ruling party, Fidesz? How would you define Orban’s ideology?
Viktor Orbáns party is called populist in the Western press. Well, it’s not that, at all. It’s an elitist party, a party of the state apparatus. It has no membership, and it doesn’t mobilize the population like populist parties do. It is a party of administrators, and in a very modern way it convinces its supporters through the media, which is handled very expertly by the government. It is a traditional right wing party, with an anti-social neoliberal economic policy; we have a flat tax, and there are no unemployment benefits in Hungary; zero! And they managed to do this because the social problem is presented as an ethnic problem. The poor means the Roma here – which is not true; among the 3-4 million that are members of the poorest part of population, about 10 percent are Roma. The rest of them are not. But nevertheless it is presented that way. And most of the criticism is centered on anti-discrimination issues and human rights, which also emphasize the ethnic side of the problem. So the social problem as such is not addressed at the public opinion at all.
Therefore, the state is very strong. It doesn’t have much social expenditure. The police state is reinforced, and it is all motivated by universal xenophobia. You know, “our Eastern and Southern neighbors are our enemies, because they took away our territories”, and “the Westerners are foreign enemies, because they want to force upon us their rotten, satanic liberal ideology and want us to be gay”, and you know, “the mongrelization of the Hungarian race”, just like in the good old 30s. It’s a very harsh control, we have a very authoritarian constitution, and a very tight control of public administration of every avenue of cultural life. There is no autonomy of the universities, and so on.
There is this politics of moral panic, implying that we are attacked by the United States, by communists, by Jews, by Arabs, by Romanians, by Serbs – everyone is against us – a classic xenophobic stance. And it is extremely successful.