Transcript: Media Telebriefing on “We’re not Nazis, but… The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care”
Below is a shortened transcript of the August 14 media telebriefing featuring Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke and Sonni Efron, co-authors of the new report “We’re not Nazis, but… The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care.” They were joined with Peter Kreko, an independent expert from Political Capital in Budapest, who is not affiliated with Human Rights First.
Thank you and hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Human Rights First is pleased to host this conference call to talk about the rise of extremist parties in Europe, how Russia contributes to this troubling trend and why these developments should be particularly worrisome for the United States and U.S. policymakers. We have released a report today entitled “We’re not Nazis, but… The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care.” That report’s up on our website right now along with our press release this morning. That’s www.humanrightsfirst.org.
I’m the Vice President of Research and Analysis here at Human Rights First and I’m joined by Sonni Efron who’s a senior fellow at the organization and also the principal author of our report. We’re also pleased to be joined today by Peter Kreko of Political Capital in Budapest. He is an independent expert. Peter’s not affiliated with Human Rights First. He’s an expert on far-right parties in Europe and particularly the Russian connection to those parties as well as a pollster who’s done important work on antisemitism. He’s online today to answer specific questions you may have about those areas.
So, I’ll be brief. Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik parties are the most violent, antisemitic, racist, and blatantly fascist of the far-right parties that scored gains in this year’s European Parliament elections. The situation is not Europe in 1936, but neither are these parties the minor political fringe of neo-Nazi skinheads in Europe. They have embedded antisemitic, racist, homophobic rhetoric in mainstream political discourse in their countries and with increasing popular support they’re bullying ruling parties to turn their ideas into policy.
Golden Dawn in Greece has sought to impose racial superiority across Greek society; violently attacking doctors and medical clinics, artists, bloggers, teachers, human rights workers, playwrights, LGBT people, and even priests, as well as promoting a well-publicized wave of violence targeting migrants. In Hungary, Jobbik has organized and promoted paramilitary and vigilante activity to terrorize the Roma community.
The governments of Greece and Hungary for different reasons have allowed Jobbik and Golden Dawn to put down deep roots, which will be difficult to eradicate. These movements are unlikely to fade away on their own even when the economy improves. Jobbik and Golden Dawn electoral strength is increasing, and both parties have had a demonstrable impact on their national governments and institutions, nurturing the extreme tendencies in each country.
In Hungary, Jobbik has helped Prime Minister Viktor Orban to become more authoritarian, pursue historical revisionism of the Second World War period and Hungary’s role in the Holocaust, violate European norms of constitutional democracy and rule of law, further demonize the Roma community, and most recently declare that Hungary rejects liberal democracy and is embarking on a illiberal state.
In Greece, Golden Dawn has infiltrated the police and weakened the Greek government – a government which waited far too long to begin prosecuting its leaders for running a criminal organization and purging police officials who enabled Golden Dawn crimes. Greece is at a turning point. A credible prosecution against Golden Dawn leaders, accountability for police accomplices to Golden Dawn crimes, and a more aggressive program to prevent and punish hate violence are crucial to turn the tide against Golden Dawn’s efforts to remake Greek society in politics.
Both Hungary and Greece are seen in Europe and the United States as too big to fail financially; they are also too important to be allowed to fail politically. The European Union cannot tolerate black holes for justice and rule of law inside its own member states, yet Hungary is sliding away from democracy and Greece is suffering an acute crisis of human rights and rule of law.
With that, I’ll stop and turn over to my colleague, Sonni Efron, to discuss the implications of all this as for the United States and U.S. policy.
Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. I’m here essentially to argue that the United States has not paid enough attention to these really quite dangerous developments in friendly countries that have fragile democracies and are in very strategic locations. The tendency in the United States has been to view this as an E.U. problem, but it is no longer an E.U. problem to the extent that it reflects on U.S. alliances and particularly the transatlantic alliance.
I’d note that on the geopolitical level, the rise of a neo-fascist policy poses a direct challenge to the United States. First of all, given rising tensions with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea, the transatlantic alliance is more critical than ever. Greece and Hungary are also strategic NATO allies, but Golden Dawn and Jobbik wants to pull out of the E.U. and NATO, and both see Russia not the E.U. or the United States as their natural ally. These parties are more than Euro-skeptic. They want their countries out of the European Union precisely because they do not respect fundamental European values including human rights, nondiscrimination, and democratic checks and balances. In the pro-Russian far-right parties have imposed E.U. sanctions – I’m sorry, they have opposed E.U. sanctions – against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, its behavior in Ukraine, and they’ve in fact tried to give international legitimacy to the annexation of Crimea. Some analysts are asserting this Kremlin cultivation of far-right parties as part of a broader strategy by President Vladimir Putin to weaken the E.U. from the inside, to blunt anti-Russian policies including sanctions in the E.U. and possibly prevent further expansion of NATO. There are also allegations that Jobbik has received financial support from Russia and Iran and these concerns deserve fuller investigation.
One of the recommendations in our report is that President Obama assign the Director of National Intelligence to do an investigation of exactly what is going on inside the Russian connection. We also recommend that Pres. Obama pushback against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s idea of an illiberal democracy, and I’ll just highlight two specific steps we’re calling for. One is that members of the Community of Democracies vote to remove Hungary from the governing council of that group. It’s an international organization dedicated to the strengthening of international democracy and Hungary is one of 25 members on its governing council. Second, we think that President Obama should support the European Union in attempting to reverse Hungary’s backsliding on democracy and the rule of law, and that is up to and including Article 7 proceedings to strip Hungary of its E.U. voting rights.
The last thing I’d just mention is that attacks are continuing even as we speak. Ten days ago, a Pakistani migrant was very badly beaten in Athens and we see that Jobbik is promoting also very antidemocratic, anti-human rights polices specifically wanting to tighten Hungarian refugee policies. So the notion that the violent aspects of these parties’ behavior or the human rights violating aspects of their behavior is now behind us we think is false.
Thank you, Sonni. Sonni mentioned the connection of Russia to far-right parties. That is true in the case of Hungary and Greece but also across far-right parties in the European Union, and just to highlight again one of the recommendations of our report is that the U.S. Intelligence Community should assess the Russian connection to this party financing and otherwise, and as part of its view on Vladimir Putin’s strategy to weaken the transatlantic alliance and weaken the European Union.
I’d like to now turn over to Peter Kreko who will say a few words.
Thank you very much, Tad, and welcome, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity of speaking at this event and I would recommend to all the participants to read these perfect reports [have] with the Human Rights First have right now just been published.
I would like to very briefly comment on two aspects. One is the pro-Russian far-right and the other one is antisemitism from a Hungarian perspective. Political Capital Institutes, the institute that I am the director of, published a report in March on the pro-Russian tendencies of the European far-right parties and also will release soon a report on the pro-Russian tendencies of the far-left parties and we also released the report called Seven Statements on Antisemitism – about the nature of antisemitism in Hungary and it contains a lot of empirical results on what is the landscape in terms of antisemitism in Hungary.
When it comes to Russia and its connections with the far-right parties, Sonni has said the most important things that you should know about it. I would just add a few points. First of all, there is a major contradiction that we can observe both from the Russian side and both from the far-right side of this story. On the side of Russia, what is pretty strange is that Russia is always blaming the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and so on for having fascist or far-right tendencies. On the other hand, it seems to be that it’s Russia that is building up alliances via players who are really close to Kremlin, or even for example the vice prime minister of Russia who have met with a lot of far-right players. So they are building up alliances with far-right forces such as for example Front National in France, which is the strongest far-right party in the European Parliament at this moment, but we can even mention Jobbik and Golden Dawn, two parties that obviously have pro-Russian sympathies and tendencies.
What we can see as the second contradiction on the level of the far-right parties is that these far-right parties seems to be pretty strongly sensitive to all the issues of national sovereignty and why they are opposing the E.U., all of them, because they say that the E.U. is destroying the national sovereignty. When it comes to Russia on the other hand, they don’t seem to be that worried. For example, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France National said that France should join the Paneuropean Union that is including Russia. The leader of Jobbik, Gabor Vona, said that Hungary should join to the Eurasian Union, the club of the pro-Russian states, a small club of the pro-Russian states instead of the European Union; and for example the leader of the Golden Dawn said once that Greece should allow the Russian military forces to use their seas for military purposes. So when it comes to Russia, they are really open to the rejection of all the influences into international sovereignty and they are happy to give up national sovereignty for Russia.
What is the problem with these parties is that they are having pro-Russian tendencies; they have regular visits to Moscow. Most of the far-right parties in the European Parliament right now have rather pro-Russian tendencies. They are voting on the side of Russia in the European Parliament when it comes to resolutions criticizing Russia and even trying to put the policies of Russia in terms of energy policy, the current debate and a lot of other fields.
As they are gaining more popularity for example in France, in Hungary, in Greece and elsewhere, they have more and more power to influence the public opinion and pull it even more to a pro-Russian position; and when we talk about Jobbik and Golden Dawn, they can even say that both in Greece and both in Hungary, the pro-Russian tendencies and sympathies are pretty well present on the mainstream politics as well, so it’s not just the far-right that are holding these views.
One short remark on the antisemitism in Hungary. We have issued a report and the most simple findings of it is that Hungary when it comes to antisemitism is not really worse than the surrounding countries; for example Slovakia, for example Poland, from the countries that we see some comparative data of, but what is striking about Hungary is let’s say three things.
First of all, the open antisemites are still quite high in figure. They are about one-fifth of the population and 16% of the Hungarian population says that they think that the violence against the Jews are justified. So these antisemitic sentiments can turn violent and I think this is an important danger.
Second, the level of the party politics, most of the Jobbik supporters are rather antisemitic. According to one of our surveys, an internet survey, 75% of the Jobbik supporters found to be antisemitic, which is a shockingly high figure, and it also reveals that the current moderate trend of Jobbik as they call it is nothing more than just window dressing, so it’s not about substance.
The third thing is that there are more and more antisemites among the youngsters. So right now what we can see is that there are more antisemites in the youngest age groups, below 30 years, than in the age groups above, which is quite strange because regularly it’s like that the most adult the people are, the most prejudiced they are.
So antisemitism has strategic reserves in Hungary and I think it also underlines the fundamental failure of the Hungarian education system to create a more democratically committed and more tolerant youngsters. So there is a lot of political stuff to do at this point.
Great. Thank you, Peter, and before I turn it over to questions, I’d just like to make a couple last points. First, in both Greece and Hungary, we find that the self-correcting measures that you would find in a healthy democracy: courts, institutions that can enforce constitutional norms, free media, vibrant civil society; they’re not strong in either country.
Viktor Orban has set about to dismantle many of those institutions or weaken their independence in the last several years, in his last term and he’s continuing in this term with attacks on free media and civil society.
In Greece, these institutions are historically weak and I think its engagement with Golden Dawn has shown that they’re still weak and weakening further, and Golden Dawn is taking advantage of those weaknesses wherever it can.
Finally, I was in Ukraine in July and just to underline Peter’s point about the self-contradiction with regard to the Russians, there is plenty of evidence that Russian neo-Nazis are fighting against Ukraine in the east in that country while the Russian propaganda machine is, as Peter mentioned, tarring the Ukrainian government as being full of fascists, antisemites, and neo-Nazis. It’s not to say that there aren’t issues of xenophobia and antisemitism in Ukraine, but it’s nothing like the situation in Hungary or in Greece.
So, everyone, thank you very much for joining and I refer you to our report and our press person, Corinne Duffy. If you have any other questions, you can please contact her if you’d like to talk with one of us further and her information is on the advisory. So thanks again.