Hungary: Europe’s creeping fascism


The memorial PHOTO/Wikipedia

Just along from the Hungarian parliament building, visitors to Budapest can find Shoes on the Danube Bank. Consisting of 60 shoes facing the river looking westwards, it is a deeply poignant memorial to the Budapest Jews who were murdered by the fascist Arrow Cross government between 1944 and 1945. They were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot. Their bodies fell into the river.

Those killed in this way were only a fraction of Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. In 56 days during the summer of 1944 alone, Hungarian authorities worked with the Nazi regime to deport 437,402 Jews, primarily to the extermination camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Standing so close to the Hungarian parliament, the memorial is a reminder of the fragility of democracy and the terrible atrocities committed during the second world war.

New and old forms

There is nothing specifically Hungarian about these experiences, of course. Europe has an intensely violent and racist history. No corner of the continent can claim innocence when it comes to the history and legacy of fascism.

The sheer horror of this past can also sometimes blind us to the emergence of nationalism and fascism in new forms. If there are no extermination camps, should we therefore be content that the contemporary far right has adapted to, and accepted, democracy and minority rights? Progressives and democrats in many European countries today face this question squarely. Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain, to name only some of the most prominent cases, are all countries that have either a growing or consolidated far-right presence in their national political scene.

Perhaps because of the history attached to the terminology of fascism, many observers are reluctant to describe these developments in such language, preferring instead to label it ‘far-right populism’. The danger of this linguistic shift is that it can aid the normalisation of these new far-right forces into an accepted part of the European political landscape. Twentieth-century fascism did not, after all, begin the journey to the extermination camps by acknowledging this as its goal.

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