Despite Austrian uproar, Hungary courts far-right

EU states decry Jrg Haider, and focus on halting his politics from spreading to Eastern Europe.

Austria has been a steady target of criticism, and ostracism, since the formation earlier this month of a center-right coalition government that includes the Freedom Party of right-wing populist leader Jrg Haider.

In the latest instance yesterday, an Austrian cycling team was barred from a race in Belgium.

Mr. Haider has in the past praised aspects of Nazi rule, although he later apologized. His party has blamed immigrants and ethnic minorities for a variety of social and economic problems.

France and Portugal, the current European Union president, have been particularly outspoken, aiming to send a clear message to extremist politicians across Western and Eastern Europe that xenophobic and anti-Semitic views are beyond the pale, and that center-right parties seeking broader support should resist the temptation to woo them.

It is places such as Hungary that the EU has in mind. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a feisty young conservative in his mid-30s, already enjoys a cozy relationship with Istvan Csurka and his small, ultra-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP). Mr. Csurka is notorious for his coded and overtly anti-Semitic statements, and boasts of his friendship with French ultra-Conservative figure Jean-Marie Le Pen.

On Feb. 12, some 500 MIEP supporters demonstrated in front of the Austrian embassy in Budapest, chanting "Long Live Haider!" While the link with Csurka has actually cost Mr. Orban popularity with most Hungarians, analysts suspect the premier may be considering whether to make the alliance with MIEP official in the 2002 elections.

Orban has been conspicuous in his unwillingness to denounce neighboring Austria's political decision, even as Budapest continues to press for EU membership.

"Orban is learning that it would be impossible to form a government with Csurka. It's clear the EU would not accept it," says Istvan Hegedus, a former vice chairman of the Hungarian Parliament's foreign-affairs committee, who quit Orban's party in 1994 over its rightward shift.

Orban says the EU assault on Austria "surprised" him, as it "forces us all to think harder than usual about the deeper meaning of democracy." He was also quoted as saying Haider's emergence was like "a stone being thrown into an intellectually and politically stagnant pond."

communism's command economy until 1989.

Still, the reaction may not be lukewarm for long. Haider opposes EU expansion, which sits atop Hungary's foreign-policy agenda. Haider stokes fears of Central Europeans flooding into Austria, and insists that expansion not occur until real wages in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic reach EU levels - still far off, considering that the trio were mired within

On Monday, Orban raised this point with EU Enlargement Commissioner Gnter Verheugen. Orban said he expected more cooperation from the Austrians, given the two nations' "close historical links" as part of the 1867-1918 Austro-Hungarian Empire and before.

If anything, Orban's own actions over the past six moths have tarnished his own democratic credentials. He and his allies harangue against the socialist-liberal opposition as the "enemy" and "traitors," and speak of the need to "create" a balanced media - one more enthusiastic about the government. They have reintroduced a brand of "political anti-Semitism" not heard in Hungary in 60 years. Then, such rhetoric spurred the genocide of half a million Hungarian Jews from 1944-45.

In one case, Deputy Prime Minister Laszlo Kover peppered a Jan. 29 speech with references to "cosmopolitans" and "Communist Jews." Jewish observers contend such references are a cynical strategy by Orban to carve out a place as a "Man of the Right."

"These are deeply coded messages to the far right to show that this is where their hearts beat," says writer Miklos Haraszti, an ex-dissident and former liberal deputy in parliament. "They want these voters, even if they lose some sympathy from moderates."

Compared with neighbors Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, and Ukraine, as well as Austria, Hungary seems like an oasis of economic and political stability. But with the EU's robust response against Austria, analysts suggest it may usher in a new era of more closely monitoring the "internal affairs" of both members and candidates.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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