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Shift to the right for rural Hungary

Mark Urban | 17:26 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

ETYEK, HUNGARY - Farmers in this remote corner of Europe seem to have the same gripes you could hear in Wiltshire or West Lothian.

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Imre Hegedus wants more rain, and he worries about the health of his herd of 1,700 dairy cattle, but the thing that really drives him to distraction is the buying power of the big supermarkets.

Names familiar from British high streets dot the landscape between Budapest and this village about 50 miles (80km) to the south west.

Complaints against the likes of Tesco, Spar or Lidl are widely heard in Hungary these days, where the power of the "multi-nationals" and its perceived effects on traditional rural life, are a hot election issue.

Mr Hegedus tells me that he is losing 8 cents (just under 8p) on ever litre of milk his farm produces - and that adds up to around 2,000 euros each day.

The dairy farmer is currently expanding his farm with a European Union (EU) grant. He is trying to achieve the economies of scale and production methods needed to compete with the Slovak and Polish dairy producers who also sell milk to the foreign owned supermarkets in Hungary.

Like many Hungarians, Mr Hegedus will vote for nationalists in the European elections - it is just a case of how far to the right he feels like going.

The Fidesz party is expected to poll around 60% of the vote. Jobbik, a newly established group to the right of Fidesz hopes for more than 5%. This would give Fidesz around 14 of the country's 22 European parliamentary seats and Jobbik one.

In recent weeks Jobbik has received much press attention. The party has a uniformed wing, the Magyar Guard, which it says stands ready to combat crime by the country's Roma minority.

Having attended one of its election meetings, the echoes of the 1930s are clear.

Mr Hegedus says that he has not yet decided whether Jobbik is a serious party worthy of his vote.

Many of its slogans, for example about combating the power of the multinationals or protecting Hungarian rural land ownership appear to address the diary farmer's concerns directly.

But he is sceptical about whether these policies could be delivered while the country remains subject to EU rules and regulations.

Neither Jobbik nor Fidesz proposes leaving the EU or even re-negotiating Hungary's membership.

Given the limits that staying within the Union would place on any policies that might be challenged as uncompetitive or discriminatory, the answer might lie with Mr Hegedus making common cause with dairy producers in surrounding countries.

But while he has led protests by local dairy producers against Tesco, he has not yet investigated that possibility.

I couldn't help wondering as I left the farm whether they might not challenge the supermarkets more effectively and make the EU work for their interests rather than against them if they organised in Hungary and its surrounding countries.

UPDATE - 16 JUNE 2009

fabsoursweet - well I hope the functioning or otherwise of the EU and its role as a moderator of political extremism has got something to do with the maintenance of peace. Actually reading the insights of those who commented above I'm really glad that I blogged on this subject. I must get down to the farm more often...

One reader contacted me offline to tell me that Etyek was not remote and was as close to the capital as Surbiton is to London. I'm kicking myself both because I didn't check out the distance I'd been given but also because, if I'd realised how close it was, I would have headlined the blog "The Suburbia of Buda".


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.


    I lived in Hungary for two years - mid '98 to mid '00 - so know a little of the territory. Where does Jobbik sit compared with the old Smallholders party of Torgyan?

    Interestingly, Irish farmers are havi9ng the same issues with the 'Tesco effect', except that very few of them have anything near 1,500 strong herds.

  • Comment number 3.

    'The Hungarian farmer is trying to compete with the Slovak and Polish dairy producers who also sell milk to the foreign owned supermarkets in Hungary.'

    No doubt both Slovakia and Poland have to meet onerous EU regulations too. A real race to the bottom would take place if the rules were removed. But how far should deregulation go? A key question, but recent events suggest that regulations in the EU will tighten instead. Should Hungary leave the EU and drop its standards in so many areas - perhaps losing the European market?

    In fact a few years ago a think tank in Washington suggested that US manufacturing companies should no longer be bound by asbestos legislation as their competitors in the East didn't have this expensive handicap.

    Still on farming. Last week the Economist reported that rich countries were buying farmland in other jurisdictions in order to have more room to grow their own food. Should this be allowed?

    "But Sudan and Ethiopia have famines now: should they be declining to sign land deals altogether? Many of the worst abuses are committed by the foreign investors local partners: will they be restrained by some international code?"

  • Comment number 4.

    Just pondering... despite the obvious logical directional projection, does a shift away from 'the left' necessarily have to mean, or be described as 'to the right'?

    Maybe it's just some trying to back to a more centrist position, as the dominance of the former over the last decade has perhaps not quite worked out as well with electorates as some, in unique positions of influence, might have wished, and indeed still seem to seek to cling to.

  • Comment number 5.

    the myth of globalisation and the power of multinationals is no different to the enclosures. excluding, through various means, the ordinary person from a living for the profit of the few.

  • Comment number 6.

    I currently live in Budapest. The Rise of Jobbik is a concern, but not a suprise, when economic times are tough then these kinds of parties tend to prosper as the festering wounds of racism and nationalism begin to surface. traditionally too there is no shock that these extreme right parties garner support among rural communities. it is the same in most of the European Union is it not. Jobbik, may get a seat, but they will not prosper too much while Fidesz is so strong.

    More concerning is the revival of Fidesz. This is a party which has prospered from the utter shambles that is the mszp and their disasterous economic policies. the problem though is that this fidesz has not reformed at all since being drummed out of power with widespread charges of corruption, bribery, incompetence and cronyism eight years ago. In fact the same guy, Orban is still at the helm and looks set to become PM next May since MSZP are in no state to contest an election.

    one thing is certain, Hungary's troubles will continuze for a while yet, regardless of the europpean election results.

  • Comment number 7.

    Irish Farmers have similar issues. A litre of milk in shops Ireland costs around 1.30. A major milk proccesser in Ireland pays farmers as little as 20cent per litre. In Ireland if CAP goes so will a huge portion of farmers in Ireland. The EU isn't the problem its the power exercised by supermarkets and proccessers. Ultimatly farmers have to sell milk any at any one time there is only a certain amount of excess capacity within one firm so for many farmers it is very difficult to switch to a proccesser that pays more. A large number of farmers however would be needed to switch proccesser to impact on price.

  • Comment number 8.

    I've lived in Hungary on and off since 1995 and I am married to a Hungarian citizen. All my kids are bilingual British-Hungarian citizens too. Hungary has always been a country in my experience which punishes the successes of its citizens. There a urban myths of a sort that Hungarians are only a success when they go abroad. There are so many examples of Hungarian ingenuity and innovation succeeding outside it makes one wonder how the country actually survives at all with such a brain drain. To get on in Hungary, you just have to leave. It won't make any difference who is in power - Fidesz or anyone else. It just a choice of which on which piggies will be able to have their turn at the trough. Economically, the increases in VAT and tax increases plans go against every common sense approach to encouraging economic growth. You only have to look at Slovakia to see economic success by cutting taxes. Once again, the people are being punished by the elite. Anyone who wants to get on needs to do it somewhere else.

  • Comment number 9.

    Am I going crazy or does this have nothing at all to do with war and peace?

  • Comment number 10.

    Dear Mark,
    Jobbik is not follwoing the steps of Torgyan's Smallholders' Party FKGP. Jobbik is the logical outcome of recent political developments: (1) disastrous mismanagement (since 2002) of economics and society by the govt. of socialists and neocon liberals and quasi-dictatorial parliament (remember: single chamber, no checks by any upper house or other institutions, one plus purchased vote is enough to uphold said dictatorship of parliament, as the case is for some 8 months now) (2) systematice misuse of Roma votes by liberals (SZDSZ), (3) the now widespread realization that the nation's economic power is lost to foreign capital owners, to name only a few of the factors that cry for parties innocent in said developments and offering clearcut diagnosis and some hope for escaping a social and economic collapse. Considering Hungary's geopolitical exposure, racial singleness, scarcity of natural resources (what is left?: arable soil (also due for a sellout as of 2011), innovation and improvement in education/vocational training, some wellness tourism while seashores and skying grounds are missing)
    That enters Jobbik and threatens responsible and well-fed politicians whose friends jump in protect the known brilliant establishment. Logical that intellectuals and deprived masses turn to Jobbik.
    Please let them do their job and disregard the many biased articles surprisingly appearing nowadays.

  • Comment number 11.

    #6 - grammyka

    I see a Gallup poll for Nepszabadsag is predicting a 'landslide' for Fidesz. I agree Fidesz has shown no sign of reform and familiar faces are still apparent. My main concern though comes from the way they behaved during the chaos which followed the Oszod Tapes (sorry, no accents allowed)when their behaviour suggested they were prepared to ally themselves with other parties of the right to secure electoral advantage.

    This will not be a big issue in the EP election but could be very serious if Jobbik make inroads during the next general election when we could see an unholy partnership of the centre and extreme right in government. I very much hope that the political mainstream will unite to resist the rise of Jobbik. Mark's piece also underlines the difference between the urban politics of Budapest and attitudes in rural communities.


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