Is the radical right really anti-climate? Some evidence from Hungary

From the Inaugural CARR Conference

For three days, the Richmond University in London was not only the site of insightful and thought-provoking presentations during the inaugural CARR conference, but also an opportunity to engage in some of the most relevant debates in the field. Its pervasiveness, reinforced in the recent European Parliament elections, allows the radical right to permeate a wide range of policy domains, including those that are generally not associated with ethno-nationalism. One example includes discussions on the state of the natural environment, particularly human-induced climate change. The fact that climate change is becoming increasingly prominent on the political agenda, elevated to the level of ‘climate emergency’, raises questions about the radical right’s position on these issues.

Most of the research (see e.g. Lockwood, 2018) so far indicates that (populist) radical right parties are generally repudiating scientific findings on climate change being caused by the harmful influence of human beings. These analyses, paired with the reluctance of some leading radical right actors to acknowledge climate change, have definitely entrenched the view predominately present in the scholarship (and consequently the wider public) of the radical right opposing the scientific bent of a climate crisis. However, CARR Fellow (2019) correctly notes that the situation is far from uniform, although his presentation on the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) during the second day of CARR’s conference, indicates general ‘climate denialism’ of the party.

However, these findings do not coagulate with the situation in one of the beacons of the European radical right today – Hungary. The subsequent discussions pointed to a notable puzzle regarding radical right attitudes towards climate change, calling for a brief reflection on the Hungarian radical right’s stance on climate-related issues.

Defining the radical right in Hungary (as elsewhere) can be a tedious task, given the recent perturbations within the party landscape. This concern is primarily associated with the ideological profiles of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz and, according to the national 2018 elections, the strongest opposition party, Jobbik. Without having to delve into the conceptual demarcations that should ideally constitute a party or a movement as populist or radical right (or both), it quickly becomes clear that the actors constituting the Hungarian radical right are accepting the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.

Similarly, Schaller and Carius (2019: 87) found that Fidesz is one of the chief advocates of climate policies among the right-wing populist parties in the European Parliament, although they are more timid (harsher critics would say negligent) on this subject in the domestic political arena. Regardless, Fidesz, as well as the other Hungarian radical right parties (Jobbik, Mi Hazánk), are unison, at least officially, in recognizing the importance of mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.

For instance, Jobbik, a party infamous for its anti-Semitic statements, paramilitary units (Új Magyar Gárda), and collaborating with some extreme right organizations such as The Betyar’s Army (Betyársereg), can be considered ‘radical right environmentalists’. Although Jobbik’s ‘green’ section has gradually expanded following the party’s turn towards the centre, Jobbik has always been among the political parties advocating for stronger measures in climate policy. The establishment of Jobbik’s Environmental Protection Facebook page even promotes ideas of ‘green nationalism’ and Christian stewardship of nature. This Facebook page not only promotes technological innovations in the field, but also endorses climate protests, such as the now globally popular School Strike for Climate, led by Greta Thurnberg.

The same can be said, albeit at a much lesser scale, about the Our Homeland (Mi Hazánk) party, formed in summer 2018 after an internal split in Jobbik. The party has just established its Green Wing (Zöld Hazánk – Green Home), although it failed to enter the European Parliament at the recent elections. In an interview conducted with the leader of the party, László Toroczkai, he recognized the importance of dealing with climate change. In an interview I conducted with him, he argued that the evidence for this claim “can be seen on daily basis,” but also scorned ‘leftist environmentalists’ for being covetous and hiding behind the noble goals of nature protection.

The unanimous support of the Hungarian radical right for the recognition of climate change as an imminent threat seems to serve as an outlier in the majority of radical right parties looking askance at the possibility of human-induced climate change, let alone elevating it to the top of the security agenda due to the impending danger it poses. It is indeed difficult to estimate what this difference should be ascribed to: whether this can be related to the history of environmentalism in Hungary, immanent to those of post-socialist countries, in which environmentalism and nationalism would often coagulate and complement one another.

Another overlooked point is related to the populist nature of the radical right (one may say of politics in general), which signals the political inconsistency of these actors, continuously in flux. This results in the inability to capture the essential, ideal-type features of radical right environmental communication, beyond mere ‘eco-fascism’.

It is highly likely that, in the near future, we will witness more cases of radical right parties going outside of preordained, climate-denialist patterns and assumptions, not wasting the opportunity to engage at a more profound level with such a salient and important topic. This does not entail the possibility of the radical right monopolizing the discourse on the environment. Yet, it calls for reconsidering existing climate policies, which need to be not only comprehensive, but inclusive and apt to address social inequality and untenable economic logic in order to acquire a more prosperous and progressive framing.

Mr Balsa Lubarda is an Early Career Researcher Fellow at CARR and Doctoral candidate at Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University. His profile can be found here:

© Balsa Lubarda. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).