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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Hijacking Religion for the Sake of the Nation – Illiberal Democracy in Hungary

Europe (Central and Eastern)
National Identity
European Union
Robert Sata
Central European University
Robert Sata
Central European University

Austerity due to the financial crisis, the challenge of the mass influx of people into the country and diminished trust in the European project have had enormous impact on everyday politics in Hungary. The country has been a forerunner not only in adopting unorthodox economic measures blaming foreign capital for its troubles but was among the first erecting barbed wire fences on the borders to protect the country (and Europe) from mainly Muslim refugees. Although nationalism has a long tradition in Hungary and while most people have no strong ties to religion, I argue recent crises provide solid ground for new identity based politics. I highlight how illiberal actors use morality and religion to support their exclusivist identity politics using systematic content analysis of the official speeches of Prime Minister Viktor Orban from 2010 to 2017. I examine the creation of this new discourse of values and morality that is not only populist in being anti-establishment or anti-Europe but also increasingly ethnocentric being anti-migrants and uses religious references in defining itself as anti-Muslim. This culminates in Orban’s proposed illiberal democracy, within which identity of the nation rests on the discursive processes of ‘othering’ that stands for a contestation of liberal equality and diversity for the sake of saving the nation: migrants and refugees stand for culturally deviant people and liberal rationalism of EU institutions or progressive gender rights are threatening the nativist conception of society. It is this illiberal refusal of equality and diversity that brings back references to Christianity into secular Hungarian society, yet in this value-based politics, Christianity is not evoked as a religion but is hijacked as a civilizational marker to distinguish and unite against ‘the other’, and to (re)create a more nativist/cultural/identity or value-based version of Europe in contrast to the secular, liberal EU.
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