Jessica Storey-Nagy, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, gave a talk entitled “Nationalism in the European Union: A Hungarian Case Study” on June 19, 2019 for IU’s Language Workshop.
In the talk, Jessica explained her research on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party’s formulation of Hungarian national identity. The party is strongly anti-immigration and totes new anti-migrant militaristic task forces and laws, all to keep an “idealized” version of a pure Hungary. The party is quite popular and holds two-thirds of the seats in parliament.
The poster states: "Don't let Soros have the last laugh!" in reference to a government-run propaganda campaign against a fabricated "Soros plan," which is supposedly supported by the EU in order to destroy "national culture" in countries like Hungary. Immersive propaganda like this is very common all over Hungary. Photo credit: Financial Times
Jessica explained that nationalism is an idea and process that is constantly being formed and reformed, rather than a fixed tangible reality. Orbán and Fidesz promote a right-wing nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric that frames Hungarianness as defined by the relation to the homeland, especially the capital of Budapest. Other Hungarian cultural items like goulash, paprika, the Rubik’s cube, and an idea of Greater Hungary are touted as part and parcel of Hungarian national identity. Hungarian nationalism is also framed in opposition to external powers, imperial or socialist. By framing Hungarian identity in a nativist, militaristic way, while incorporating qualities previously thought of as Hungarian, Orbán creates and spreads a certain version of what it means to be Hungarian and attempts to disseminate it among the population.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the White House with Donald Trump. Photo credit: BBC
Fidesz is part of an international alliance of center-right parties, the European People’s Party, that recently won a number of seats in the European Parliament, even though Fidesz’s ideology is far-right nationalist. Interestingly, the right-wing nationalist parties in different countries like France and Italy work together as an international movement. By proposing immigration and Euro-skepticism as major emphases, other nationalist parties force center and left parties to respond. This has transformed the political landscape of the European Union and allowed Orbán to move his party further and further to the right, while claiming to remain in the center.
Jessica is preparing to leave for Hungary to conduct dissertation research as a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellow. She will interview Hungarians to understand how they receive and interact with rhetoric about nationalism and how they formulate Hungarian nationhood. As Jessica argues, in order to understand the broader trends in Europe and the world of increased right-wing nationalism, scholars still have to examine specific places and people. This is because the process of developing nationalism is different in every place and influenced by the personal experiences of each individual. Only by understanding the local context can we understand the broader picture.