Monday, May 07, 2007

Far-right extremism in central and eastern europe

This piece of mine, on the worrying rise of far-right extremism in central and eastern europe, appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Grave robbery is always a despicable act. But when the grave is that of a man who, under difficult circumstances, did his best for his fellow countrymen and women, and presided over arguably the freest and most liberal form of communism the world has ever seen, the incident is particularly lamentable.

The desecration of the grave of Janos Kadar , Hungary's former communist leader, and that of his wife, has been condemned across the political spectrum in Hungary. Yet sadly, it is another disturbing example of the far-right extremism sweeping not just Hungary but the entire region.

In Poland, anti-communist hysteria is being stoked up by the Kaczynski government, which, because of its slavishly pro-Washington foreign policy, escapes censure for its blatant homophobia. The government's latest McCarthyite initiative is a new law which requires lawmakers, academics and others to confess any collaboration with the communist regime or risk losing their jobs.

In Romania, the Greater Romania Party of Corneliu Vadim Tudor poisons the political discourse with its anti-Hungarian, anti-Roma rhetoric, while in Estonia, the government pandered to neo-Nazi opinion by ordering the removal of a statue commemorating the Red Army from central Tallinn.

Anti-semitic attacks are growing more commonplace: last year a group of Jewish tourists were attacked on the underground in Budapest; Jews were advised by their community leaders to stay at home during recent Hungarian National Day commemorations. Asian immigrants have also been the victims of brutal racial attacks; violence against Roma is on the increase too.

The reason for the rise in such far-right extremism is economic. The standard western line is that since 1989, the former communist countries' economies have been transformed into booming, market economies. The reality is rather different: GDP in the former communist states fell between 20% and 40% in the decade after 1989 - an economic contraction which, in the words of Budapest economist Laszlo Andor "can only be compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s".

In many cases, it's been parties nominally of the left, bought off by capital, which have been doing the dirty work. In Hungary, the "socialist" prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany (whose personal fortune of $17m was made from privatisation deals in the early 1990s), is the darling of the US Embassy and foreign capital, not just for his support for the Iraq war, but for his zeal in following a neo-liberal agenda which has involved selling off over 160 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and introducing charges for visits to the doctor. Gyurcsany's austerity programme has made the vast majority of Hungarians worse off: little surprise that, faced with a continuing fall in their living standards, 65% of Hungarians said they held positive views about the Kadar era and its progressive brand of communism.

The correct response to the tyranny of neoliberalism should not be racism, anti-semitism and homophobia but economic and social policies to increase solidarity. It's time the socialist parties in the region stopped following the socially destructive dogma of Thatcherism and instead tried being socialist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Christ, this is worrying. Things seem to be going backwards since 1989, not forwards.