During, and long before, the 2019 election, Jeremy Corbyn was smeared as a racist. Yes, one of the proudest and most active anti-fascists parliament has ever seen was successfully portrayed as a dangerous racist.
But the real problem and danger of fascism lies with Boris Johnson and the people he surrounds himself with. And Buzzfeed has revealed that just days after the election, one of his special advisers gave a speech praising Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s fascist leader, and promoting a “special relationship” with Hungary post-Brexit.
Downing Street has distanced itself from the comments by Tim Montgomerie. But his words still speak volumes about Johnson’s premiership and the people in his inner circle.
“Limits of Liberalism”
Montgomerie, Johnson’s special adviser on social justice, made his speech on 17 December in Budapest at the Danube Institute – a right-wing thinktank. As Buzzfeed‘s Alex Wickham tweeted:
A bit more about the Danube Institute where Tim Montgomerie was speaking
— president is an Orban biographer who was given Hungarian Order of Merit last year
— board includes a Fidesz politician and a Polish politician who said homophobia is "fictitious" https://t.co/mwVyZrDRzG
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— Alex Wickham (@alexwickham) January 6, 2020
Montgomerie stated that Johnson will make a “significant investment” in the relationship with Hungary and Orbán’s Fidesz party:
Budapest and Hungary have been home, I think, for an awful lot of interesting early thinking on the limits of liberalism, and I think we are seeing that in the UK as well. So I hope there will be a special relationship with Hungary amongst other states.
And he drew parallels between Orbán and Johnson, before asserting:
I think we’re still the party that believes in the individual, but it’s a greater idea of individualism. It’s an idea of the individual where the individual prospers with good public services, strong family, strong community, a nation that sees them as the priority rather than perhaps an immigrant from abroad.
Orbán has been accused of racism on numerous occasions and is known for his anti-immigration policies. In 2018, he described refugees from the Syrian conflict as “Muslim invaders”:
We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders. For example, to arrive from Syria in Hungary, you have to cross four countries, all of which are not as rich as Germany, but stable. So they are not running for their lives there already.
In 2018, Hungry introduced a law criminalising people helping refugees. UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein stated:
The constant stoking of hatred by the current government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values
And in September 2019, he advocated a “family first” policy to encourage Central Europeans to have children:
If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others. There are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population for ideological or other reasons.
‘Mind your own business’
Meanwhile, in February 2019, following genuine accusations of antisemitism, Orbán told the Board of Deputies of British Jews to “mind your own business”. And in March 2019, the cover of a pro-government magazine was described by the Times as something that:
could easily have been propaganda from Nazi Germany
Orbán refused to condemn the cover that pictured Andras Heisler, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, surrounded by banknotes.
This background has emboldened the far right on the streets. In October 2019, Vice News reported that a Jewish community centre was attacked by 50 fascists who tore down a rainbow flag and painted antisemitic graffiti. But this wasn’t the first such attack focussed on organisations funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Spokesperson for Open Society Foundations, Csaba Csontos, told Vice News:
This place is an ideal target for government propaganda. It seems this triggered the far-right actions.
“The media landscape felt quite normal. Now it is all gone”
Against this background, the press is also under attack in Hungary. Writing for Red Pepper, Nagy Gergely Miklós reported that:
Before 2010 (the year Orbán came to power) there was a wide range of different media, with left-wing, liberal or right-wing values. Dailies, news portals, weeklies, radio – the usual. Our democracy wasn’t perfect, and it was young, but the media landscape felt quite normal.
Now it is all gone.
Miklós stated that Fidesz “continues to buy up media outlets, close them, control the advertising market, and generally suffocate the remains of the real press or transform it into yet more propaganda”, and that:
This media pushes out anti‑immigration messages 24 hours day, and attempts to intimidate and destroy anyone who dares to publicly criticise the government.
This is what 21st-century fascism looks like
Make no mistake, this is what 21st-century fascism looks like. It comes dressed in smooth-talking suits with the likes of Montgomerie, Orbán, Johnson, and Nigel Farage. To fight this fascism, we need to recognise it and we need to name it. While there’s a minority on the far right who like to parade with swastikas, this isn’t where the threat really comes from. Fascism in 2020 is not going to look outwardly like fascism in the 1930s. It’s had a makeover. But that doesn’t reduce its threat and the need to fight it on every possible front.
That fight has to include maintaining and promoting free and independent media. Virtually all mainstream media outlets joined in with and perpetrated the racist smears against Corbyn. They demonised a committed anti-racist and helped enable Johnson, whose many racist comments have been well documented, gain his massive majority.
Johnson may not have endorsed Montgomerie’s comments. His comments may mean he doesn’t return to work as his special adviser. But that’s not the point. Montgomerie was the PM’s adviser on social justice. And these are the sorts of people at the heart of the Johnson administration. The UK is not in a comparable position with Hungary. Yet. But this shows exactly why resistance to the far right is urgent and vital during the coming weeks and months.
Featured image via YouTube – Guardian News
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