After the opinions of experts and of two young Hungarians, Nouvelle Europe asks the caricaturist and student of Philosophy and Study of Religions, Ármin Langer, about his political engagement and his perspectives on the situation of his country, before he rushes of to tear down his latest exhibition...
How long, if at all, have you been interested in the development of national politics and why?
I have been interested in politics since I was a teenager; it is the spirit of tikkun olam (the intention to repair the world), which is driving me with steam power.
According to you, can a youngster, like you or your friends, actively influence developments in national politics?
Absolutely, with social activism, by raising our voice. We can't change the world completely, but we can give signs. Not to mention that we also have the right to vote…
Born 1990, barely at the age of twenty, you are an active member of a humoristic association, the Magyar Fokhagymafront (Editor's comment: Hungarian Garlic Front, MAFOF; the name refers to debates in Hungary after the import of Chinese garlic in the country).
I have to note that I am the founder and leader of the MAFOF.
What was the motivation behind founding the association?
We wanted to demonstrate the absurdity of the hateful behaviour of political extremists: to show that we are not afraid. Several people have thanked us that we answer to the absurd with the absurd, that we dispel the anxieties of the intimidated. It is because of these remarks that starting this was worth it.
Is your goal parody, or rather political?
Our goal is political parody; we self-define ourselves as a group of political artists.
The Garlic Front has participated at the demonstration against the Constitution on 2 January 2012. On your Facebook page, foreign fans can also read: “To our foreign followers: yesterday the Hungarian Garlic Front participated in a demonstration with 100 000 people against the new constitution, which is just too liberal. (The others found it too authoritarian, dunno why.)” Where does satire end and where does explicit political criticism start? For example, if the Garlic Front participates in an official demonstration, can it do so with satiric slogans?
Yes, it can. Our task is more difficult in this case than, let's say, at a fake demonstration organised by ourselves, but luckily the echo given by the press and the spectators has been equally positive. After the demonstration held at the Új Színház (Editor's comment: New Theatre; this is a demonstration organised on 1 February 2012 against the director György Dörner, infamous for his connections with the extreme right, who had just entered into office) and after our participation on 2 January, the likes of our Facebook page have doubled from one week to another.
On the example of the Peace March in January (Editor's comment: the pro-governmental demonstration on 21 January 2012), the MAFOF has organised a Frog March (Editor's comment: 'Peace March' is called 'Békemenet' in Hungarian; 'Frog March' is a game of words because it is called 'Békamenet' in Hungarian). Why?
The Frog March will be the parody of the political spirit which can maybe be best described as a fanatic, pseudo-Christian nationalism. 400.000 people marching down Andrássy Avenue with slogans such as “EU = Soviet Union”, “Homosexuality is an illness”, “We won't be a colony!”?! In the twenty-first century, in Europe?!
On your blog, many comments concern István Csurka, the former head of MIÉP (Editor's comment: Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja, Party of Hungarian Justice and Life; this extreme right party did not manage to enter Parliament in 2010). However, MIÉP is but a very weak party and Jobbik (Editor's comment: the extreme right political formation of the country and third political force today) is playing an ever stronger role in political life. Why don't you criticise this party on your webpage?
We wouldn't give a sh*t (if I can put it like this) about István Csurka (R.I.P.) (Editor's comment: István Csurka died on 4 February 2012), hadn't he been one of the candidates to the post of intendant of one of the theatres financed by public money (Editor's comment: Csurka submitted his candidature to the office of intendant of the New Theatre (Új Színáz) together with the director György Dörner, but his candidature was refused by Budapest's mayor István Tarlós). As far as Jobbik is concerned, we decided in the beginning that we will be protesting in general against the extreme right, and not against specific parties.
Personally, how do you judge the role of Jobbik in the Hungarian political sphere? How many adherents does their anti-semitic, anti-Roma and homophobic ideology find today?
As far as I can understand it, Jobbik's sudden popularity can be led back to a great extent to the howling that the Gyurcsány “Anti-Fascist” grouping and their, similarly publicly despised, associates staged after the foundation of the Magyar Gárda, which unites bullies in boots in its circles. The radical, state-centred response is a straight consequence to the neo-liberal amok politics, which we have witnessed during the past years (Editor's comment: this refers to the political discourse of the leftist-liberal government between 2002 and 2010).
As for anti-semitism and an anti-Roma attitude: it is a thousand-year-old recipe that if you are not doing well, you can get rid of your energy by kicking those who are weaker than you, which are in our case the minorities. And today, there are many people who are not only doing really badly but they are even in deep sh*t, and who would love to kick somebody. Given these circumstances, once well-being has come back, which will be in my view in a social democratic system – it should not be confused with the kind of “the state is for sale” laissez-faire politics represented by the MSZP-DK (Editor's comment: Magyar Szocialista Párt, the Hungarian Socialist Party and the new Demokratikus Koalíció, Democratic Coalition) – the Jobbik-balloon will burst.
Almost everywhere in Europe, the Hungarian political situation is under heavy criticism: not only the European Union (the Commission, heads of state, Members of the European Parliament), but also journalists have raised concern. What is your opinion about the anxious portrait that the European media paint of the “New Hungary”?
The anxious portrait is exaggerated, but it is good that it exists because without a scandal, no-one would be concerned about the situation and the situation would turn into what it is described now 'behind closed doors', so to say. The current course does in fact not represent clear, liberal democracy, it is completely filled up with nationalism, but there is still a freedom of press (even if the public media tend to manipulate), otherwise I couldn't do all kinds of agitating activities, journalism, or even organise demonstrations, and so on.
Does the EU have the right to intervene in constitutional, economic, and legal questions to the extent that it is doing so in the Hungarian case?
It is in the EU's own interest that none of its member states follows a sort of kamikaze-politics, eventually pulling other, slightly more sober but vulnerable countries, in its course. This is not only a question of prestige. I would like to go a step further: not only the EU, or Europe in the larger sense is responsible for Hungary but also the whole world: just like Hungary is responsible for everyone; it is necessary to leave the attitude behind that what is happening outside the borders doesn't concern me; this does not work at all in such a small, globalised world as ours.
Under today's economic and political circumstances, is the situation of a Hungarian student or youth different from any other European?
In my opinion, our situation is not very much different; it is survivable, we don't live yet in an authoritarian dictatorship. There are silly things, such as being bound to the soil (Editor's note: this concept from the Middle Ages refers to the constraint of the serf to be bound to the soil, or not being able to leave his land without the consent of his lord; it is now used in Hungary to describe the reform plan of the universities according to which the students who are scholarship holders would be obliged to stay and work in Hungary within the twenty years following their graduation for a period two times longer than their studies), but even this is not the end of the world. The study fees that are going to be introduced now are a completely accepted thing in many other, well-functioning countries (having said that, being on the left of the political spectrum, I condemn any system of study fees). For the time being, there are only problems, but there is not an emergency. That will start, and not for the youth, but for the country, when many young people will leave the country because of the unfavourable circumstances: what more and more friends of mine are doing.
If there were early elections in Hungary, which party would win? Is there any alternative to a Fidesz majority?
Fidesz. Only a disciplined, uniting opposition could be an alternative, but that doesn't exist in Hungary. It is an other issue that a coalition between MSZP-LMP-DK-Szolidaritás-4K-Godknowswho (Editor's comment: these are, apart from the socialist party MSZP, recently formed parties, of which only two, MSZP and the liberal-leftist LMP (Lehet Más a Politika, Politics can be different) are represented in the Hungarian Parliament; Szolidaritás means 'Solidarity' and 4K! Negyedik Köztársaságot! [For a] Fourth Republic!) would not bring redemption either; we have seen many negative examples of these all-against-one coalitions, the last time in Slovakia, which is now waiting for early elections because of its governmental crisis.
(By the way, I didn't use “opposition” instead of “leftist” by coincidence; even the most permissive political philosophers wouldn't describe half of these parties as “leftist”).
To go further
On Nouvelle Europe
- GÁT, Bence Ákos, “Nouveau départ ou fin de la démocratie en Hongrie ?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Sunday 10 April 2011, displayed on 27 February 2012
- HERMAN, L., “La nouvelle Constitution hongroise : un "renouveau spirituel et intellectuel"? ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 26 April 2011, displayed on 27 February 2012
- SÉNÉ, T., “Renaud Dehousse : Droit communautaire et sanction(s) de la législation hongroise”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Jeudi 16 février 2012, displayed on 27 February 2012
- SÉNÉ, T., TÓTH, A., “Éva Tersztyánszkyné Vasadi : « La Hongrie est un État de droit constitutionnel, avec un parlement majoritaire élu démocratiquement ! »”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Mardi 31 janvier 2012, displayed on 27 February 2012
- TÓTH, A., “Antonela Capelle-Pogǎcean : « une réaction nationaliste de cité assiégée » en Hongrie”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Wednesday 1 February 2012, displayed on 27 February 2012
- TÓTH, A., “Hungary: the Black Sheep of the EU?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 3 February 2012, displayed on 27 February 2012
Foto source: Ármin Langer for Nouvelle Europe.