The Hungarian national football team caused a stir during last year’s European Football Championship mainly because of their fans. An extremist minority of men dressed in black chanted racist chants and displayed far-right symbols in the preliminary matches for the tournament. It is a gesture from German player Leon Goretzka, who, after his late goal to make it 2-2 in the Group C match in Munich, showed the Hungarian fans a heart made of thumbs and fingers.
UEFA eventually punished Hungary with a home match without spectators, in addition to another match under observation. BUT: In penalty games closed to the public, UEFA allows children up to 14 years of age to be present if they are accompanied by an adult. Thus, last Saturday in Budapest, no less than 30,000 spectators watched the start of the Nations League against England. When the English players got to their knees before kick-off to once again stand up against racism, many onlookers booed.
These shouts are only a symptom of the hostile climate that has developed in football and society in Hungary. For years, the “Carpathian Brigade” grabbed headlines. This apparently paramilitary group brings together several hundred violent neo-Nazis from various clubs. In her symbolism she wishes for the return of the regions of the Old Kingdom, and dreams of “Greater Hungary”.
The Hungarian Football Federation gave right-wing fans a long time
In the scene of Hungarian fans, the “Carpathian Brigade” is in the minority. But their salutations to Hitler, monkey noises and hate speeches went unchallenged by other groups in the long poorly attended Hungarian League. The far-right Hungarian Jobbik party realized the ability of the rioters and the ultras to mobilize and recruit a number of them to work on the streets.
The Hungarian Football Association has given right-wing fans a lot of time. Then, in 2012, in a home match between Hungary and Israel, Auschwitz chants echoed in the stands. Concerned about fines, federations and clubs have increasingly imposed stadium bans and customized tickets. For a while, the hooligans stayed off the field in groups. But in the environment – on trains, in bars, on Internet forums – they used football as a platform for nationalism and hatred.
The reasons for this are profound. Nationalism was also officially banned in Hungary during the communist era. But since the 1970s and 1980s, many football fans have expressed their social frustration by hiding their identity in stadiums, sometimes in the form of anti-Semitism. Since the democratic transition in the 1990s, left-wing and anti-racist parties have had a difficult time in Hungary. Only a few NGOs in the country have been able to launch long-term projects against discrimination in football. That wasn’t enough to change, and so the Carpathian Brigade returned to the prominent stage to highlight high profile events such as the 2016 European Football Championship in France or last year.
Officially, Viktor Orban does not want anything to do with this extremist bloc, but the Hungarian Prime Minister also sees football as a national tool. The story continues that Urban got to know his political comrades better in student football in the late 1980s. In the 19th century, Orbán ignited protests against Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. A mob stormed the national television station in 2006, including supporters of the Ferencváros club in Budapest.
For Viktor Orban, the Hungarian national team’s victory over Germany will be of special value
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2010, Viktor Orban has introduced football into political power structures. The government proceeded with the construction and renovation of stadiums, halls and sports schools, as well as for minorities of Hungarian origin in neighboring countries, who also look nostalgic at the historical “Greater Hungary”. Orbán used tax credits to encourage companies to invest more in football. Prominent members of his ruling party, Fidesz, are represented on the club’s boards of directors. They often meet with decision-makers from the judiciary and banks at the new stadium square in Felixo, Urban’s small hometown. At the head of the record champion Ferencvaros, Gabor Kubatov, member of the Board of Directors of Fides. Right-wing rioters were seen several times as moderators of party rallies.
For the Hungarian Prime Minister, the Hungarian team’s victory over Germany will be of particular value. After all, Orban often sees the policies of the federal government as evidence of an alleged international conspiracy against his country. As usual, the German Football Association sold personal tickets only to German fans accompanying it. However, fan advisors believe it is possible right-wing brawlers from Germany could obtain tickets through other channels, as was often the case at games in Eastern Europe. So it must be challenging – both mathematical and political.