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Hungary’s Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement, MHM) party tells a classic tale of far-right politics. Formed after an internal dispute in the extreme-right Jobbik party, which had been in existence since 2003 and had begun to tone down its rhetoric, the MHM leadership’s plan was to occupy the supposedly vacant space on the far right of Hungarian politics. Despite being the third most successful list in the 2019 parliamentary elections, after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz and the united opposition, led by Péter Márki-Zay, the party won only 2 out of 199 seats. MHM’s leader, László Toroczkai, is a respected figure on the Hungarian and international far-right scene, being one of the founders of the historically revisionist Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, a far-right youth movement that advocates the unification of all ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. Toroczkai gained international notoriety for organising “migrant-hunting“ units during the refugee crisis of the 2010s. The party’s program is a blueprint for far-right talking points, albeit with some idiosyncratic twists: protecting the “Northern Civilization” from bankers and Islam, withdrawal from the EU, tough anti-corruption laws, reintroduction of the death penalty, segregation of the “anti-social” Roma, etc.

Yet, there is something rather peculiar about MHM. If you search for the party on Facebook, you will find that the main MHM page has fewer followers than the page of its environmentalist subgroup, Green Homeland (Zöld Hazánk). While the extreme right is often banned on social media for violating the terms of service, the question is as to why the environmental subgroup has never been banned. Could it be that the grass really is greener (pun intended!) on the environmental side of far-right politics?

In a recent book chapter comparing the visual environmental communication of MHM and the Hungarian green party LMP, I argue that the difference has little to do with ideology. This is perhaps not particularly surprising: while ideological boundaries may be visible in texts, such as manifestos, visual communication is much harder to pin down. It was particularly interesting to see a nominally left-leaning green party like LMP commemorate the Treaty of Trianon, which ended the Austro-Hungarian monarchy at the end of World War I and reduced Hungary’s territory by two-thirds. This may be interpreted as an attempt by the LMP to appeal to the wider (revisionist) electorate by signalling a respect for the national trauma, even if unrelated to the ideological principles of green politics.

The environmental communication of the far-right MHM is surprising in several ways. First, it problematises the injustice of pollution caused by the Global North with consequences for the Global South, and in the process eagerly celebrates World Environment Day and World Bee Day – all things not commonly associated with far-right environmental politics. This does not mean, however, that the environmental communication of MHM and LMP is ideologically arbitrary. The content analysis of the green LMP shows that the party deals with issues expected of a green party, with climate change being the most popular topic, followed by criticism of nuclear energy  and plastic pollution. Interestingly, the most frequent themes in Green Homeland’s visuals are related to animal welfare, followed by plastic and air pollution. As the far right in Hungary almost unanimously accepts the existence of anthropogenic climate change, this was hardly a point of contention or difference in environmental communication between the two parties observed. Nevertheless, scrolling through the Facebook page of Green Homeland, one could not conclude that the page is run by a far-right party. Moreover, the visual representation of the green party seems to embody a more “far-right” aesthetic (revisionist images, “beautiful homeland” etc.) than the far right itself, although it is crucial not to exaggerate the significance of the Trianon exception.

LMP – The Hungarian Green Party’s environmental post: One nation in the form of Greater Hungary (hashtag #trianon100)  

In the quest to sway voters, political slogans and visuals often cross established scientific boundaries, aiming to resonate with both common sense and emotion, appealing to a broad spectrum of voters, including young and old, nationalists, and cosmopolitans. This “murky world” of visually conveying ideological values is highly problematic, especially in the era of “image-bite politics”, where values are hastily digested like fast food. With shrinking attention spans, we are increasingly susceptible to messages that evoke strong emotions. These messages do not need to be profound but must be straightforward, leaving no room for ambiguity. The Brexit “breaking point” poster is as a prime example with a memorable and visually recognisable slogan and the undertone (“The EU has failed us all”), a clear contrast, and an excellent angle.

Green Homeland’s Facebook post from 30 October 2020: “When you give, your soul is filled, when you love, your heart is filled.”

Most (visual) communication is not necessarily good communication. While the criteria for “good”, effective communication are subjective and open to debate, one would expect visual political communication to be clear, relevant, authentic, memorable, and consistent with certain ideological values. In the context of far-right environmental communication, one would expect it resonate with far-right ecologism, the far-right’s ideological response to a range of environmental problems. This ideology is based on the populist division between “us” (patriotic individuals, diligent citizens, awakened consumers of the ‘red pill’) and “them” (evil polluters,  globalists, or irrational environmentalists). Other principles of far-right ecologism include a belief in genetic determinism, the equation of natural and social laws, a commitment to nationalist self-sufficiency, and a nostalgia for past natural environments.

Translating these ideological principles into visual communication, far-right ecologism should probably manifest through esoteric slogans or depictions of the perceived threats that “soulless globalism” poses to the national rivers, creeks and forests. Alternatively, it could take the form of imagery that depicts an influx of immigrants as pollutants tarnishing the pristine natural beauty of the homeland. These images may sound grotesque or improbable, but they have already found their place in the campaigns of far-right parties.

The criteria for good communication are highly contextual. For instance, using Nazi imagery in Germany is likely to backfire, even if the intention is to denigrate the Alternative for Germany. But assessing the political cost of poor communication is not straightforward. The key is to meet the standards in political communication, and that the minimal impact avoids triggering a political scandal. Yet this “box ticking” in political communication often results in content that is not aligned with the ideologies of the party or candidate, resulting in seemingly “apolitical” content that fails to resonate with their core beliefs. This disconnect is understandable. Using an image of calm seas or orderly cities for a conservative party, or a red poster with a worker for socialists, can create a visually uninteresting campaign. At the same time, this disconnect between ideological positions and political communication only adds to voter confusion.

This confusion is not just a feature of visual communication but of political communication in general. Time and again, ideological principles get lost in translation between different modes of discourse. The existence of catch-all and populist parties does not help either. The emerging Manicheanism of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is particularly useful in environmental visuals and resembles the urgency of radical politics. This is not to say that anything goes. The content analysis of the themes still shows the expected results of both the greens (climate change) and the far right (animal welfare). This means that the images of cute hedgehogs that you shared with your friends this morning might have come from the far-right page. This is just one of the many ways in which far-right ecologism is becoming mainstream. Other ways in which far-right ecologism permeates mainstream discourse are more deeply disturbing, such as the fear of overpopulation or the comparison of societies to gardens and jungles because of the potential threats they pose to democracies

But beyond the mainstreaming of the far-right, the sense of disorientation in politics, facilitated by ambiguous political communication, can have far-reaching consequences far beyond the far right. The marketisation of politics has amplified the blurring of ideological lines – but we may forget that these lines were never so clear to begin with. This is not to say that we should do away with ideology as a reference point for understanding and interpreting politics. Ideologies are still needed to digest the speed of the food – information we consume on a daily basis. But today’s ideological amalgamations are assemblages: fragile constellations that nonetheless expose the seemingly immovable structures upholding politics. Thus the status quo, technocracy or any other epitome of structural stability is just as fragile and as dependent on good political communication as any other ideology. In times of climate crisis, it is exactly the murky world of ideologies, this “visual fragility” of the politics of the status quo, that offers our best hope for much-needed radical action.


Note: This article reflects the views of the author and not the position of the DPIR or the University of Oxford.



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