There’s a lot said in Britain about how we’re closer in spirit to Anglophone North America than to continental Europe – as if to prove my point, I had to add the word “continental” to that last sentence on a second reading. This often rears its head in the debate over British EU integration, leading to the farcical suggestion that we ditch Europe in favour of joining NAFTA (the North, um, American Free Trade Agreement). This lobby has been quieter of late – there is speculation that someone may have shown them a map.
Every so often a news story comes along which gives the lie to this notion that the historical accident of speaking the same language somehow trumps millennia of shared history. As if the ongoing debate about the place of creationism (or “Intelligent Design”) on the school curriculum wasn’t enough to suggest that we’re sometimes on very different pages indeed, the debate over health care reform has recently become personal, with the Republican party taking a tack that surely few in Britain can find anything but ridiculous: that the NHS is an “evil and Orwellian” system that presumes to set the value of individual lives in determining access to medication.
The NHS is a flawed system, falling far short of its own lofty aspirations, and we Brits can trash it perfectly well without anyone else’s help. But it doesn’t half stick in the craw to hear this from a nation that rations access to healthcare not on grounds of cost-effectiveness, but rather on ability to pay. Though the NHS has struggled to keep up with rising costs, not to mention the shift away from the progressive taxation that Bevan saw as central to the project, I feel great pride to be from a country which took the remarkably radical decision, surveying the wreckage of post-war Britain, to establish health care, from cradle to grave, as a right not a privilege. This was to be free to all at the point of use, a remarkable leap for a country that had only fully lifted property restrictions on suffrage twenty years before.
It’s probably unfair to base our understanding of American views and values on these Republican voices, but also true that they somehow echo the loudest across the pond. They also weight the average, and exert a powerful rightward sway – a 2008 poll in The Economist found “average America” to be significantly to the right of the UK on most issues, and shockingly so on religious matters and “family values”. So while it’s tempting to laugh when they get things so very far wrong – most Europeans associate Hitler with war, repression and genocide, not welfare provision – it’s less funny to speculate about the very real influence these delusions can have.
It seems that, somewhat sadly and certainly ironically, EU elections across Europe are being used to vent local frustrations. Individual national establishments are to be punished for their perceived corruption, lack of accountability, and culpability in the current economic collapse. Britain’s not above this. The trend is towards the extremes. Exit polls from the Netherlands suggest a coup for the right wing, with the far-right Party for Freedom taking second place. Hungary, too, looks certain to have extreme right representation.
Every spare inch of Budapest is plastered with posters of smiling shiny people looking boldly into the future. Some are already ripped or graffitied, some pasted afresh after the last late night assault. To judge from sheer numbers, by far the most enthusiastic glue-bucketers support the extreme-right Jobbik party’s distressingly sane-looking candidate, Dr Krisztina Morvai. I was heartened to see a fight-back yesterday – the artistic addition of glowing green eyes, and a big black swastika.
Jobbik’s website makes much of the ‘slanders’ against its name. Morvai refused The Sunday Telegraph an interview for its “peddling of outright lies and malicious fabrication”; fancy having the audacity to claim that “Jobbik has been linked by mainstream Hungarian politicians to anti-Semitism and a wave of anti-gipsy violence that has claimed the lives of seven Roma during attacks that involved grenades, petrol bombs and gunfire.”
Like the modern-day British National Party, Jobbik goes out of its way to present itself merely the party that addresses those uncomfortable racial questions no-one else has the guts to address – cuddly, compassionate far-right conservatism with nary a cudgel to be seen. Except, of course, when Jobbik shows its other face – although it brushes off any claims that its uniformed, jackbooted militia, the Hungarian Guard, are anything more sinister than loyal patriots in national folk costume. Above is a picture of them marching with a banner saying “Down with the dogma of the Holocaust”. Hmm.
The party’s website has a useful page with maps detailing serious alleged attacks both by and against the Roma people in Hungary. Attacks on Roma are described in a detached, news-like tone. A large number turn out not be racially motivated at all – in fact, conveniently, the perpetrators themselves often turn out to be Roma, usually motivated by usury crime, and “as usury crime is widespread in Hungary, the racist theory is wearing thinner by the day”. In one arson case a swastika and threatening words were daubed on a wall, but “the painted (and not sprayed!) swastika was in opposite direction and the threatening words contained serious grammar mistakes. Tiszaroff is mainly populated by Romas and it would be hard to sneak there (even during night due to the dogs) for the alleged “racist” arzenist (sic).”
I don’t know about you, but that sure puts my mind at rest.
The second map sports different categories to the first – “Roma mob” and “Rape/ robbery”, but no sign of “Bogus/ minor”. There seem to be a lot more cases too. The “allegedly”s grow thinner and the strict recourse to such technicalities as evidence fades. Try this one for size: “An old couple were brutally beaten and robbed in their own house in Miskolc. Police later captured the Roma perpetrators. Miskolc Police Chief Albert Pasztor stated in a press conference later that “all serious robberies in Miskolc are committed by Romas”.”
Jobbik is a party that, for all its gloss, speaks of reuniting “Greater Hungary” after the stab in the back of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, boasts of its recent meeting with the BNP, and is fundamentally opposed to the supranationalist concept. I am far from a fervent cheerleader for the European project, but the presence of such neanderthals in the EU parliament can only render it a farce.