Forms of neo-nationalism from politics to popular culture

Principal investigator: Margit Feischmidt

Participants: Zoltán Ilyés†, Ildikó Zakariás

Grant: OTKA (2008-2012)

Period: from 2008

Research questions and objectives:

A couple of years after Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity (with Rogers Brubaker, Jon Fox and Liana Grancea) was published I ended up with the recognition that what we are facing in Hungary – and very similarly in other European countries – are new forms of nationalism, different in many regards from the old ones, dominated and reproduced either by the state or by other elite groups. Working with ethnographic methods and focus group interviews I found that “the” nation became an important category embedded into dominant narrative frameworks and public, semi-public and private discourses, in which people create their collective identities, inclusions and exclusion as well. With a focus on the creative agencies in the field I also observed that this new form of nationalism is produced by different institutions, not only political, but cultural and civic organizations acting in different fields and targeting different social groups.

I also looked at nationalist countercultures in their early stage, and I started to analyze using the conceptual framework of the British cultural studies on subcultures. But these marginal movements more and more manoeuvred themselves into the political and cultural mainstream at a later phase of development.

The success of new nationalism in Hungary is based on two factors:

(1) on the one hand on the far right parties, political and civic organizations, which have become successful and able to promote a political agenda of new (radical) nationalism, and

(2) on the other hand on a national cultural industry, which adapts very well to new market techniques producing nationally branded goods from music, books through media, newspapers, internet sites to tourism.

These two factors – the radical nationalist political organizations and the nationalistic cultural industry – shape together what many people think about where they belong to, what they have in common, what they can still hope for, and thus create a national eschatology. The business is playing an active role in constructing the cultural language of national radicalism, while the other engine offers the only available political alternative for those who feel that they were betrayed by the social and political establishment.

Research history:

While scholars and among them influential sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists argued two-three decades ago, that nation as community and nationalism as political ideology, lost momentum in satisfying demands of political cohesion and social inclusion of the late modern societies, many of them claim now that this perception of historical development needs a substantial revision. New and revised “old” forms of nationalism, new discourses and performative realizations of the “endangered” nations, along discursive strategies on dangerous aliens (immigrants, minorities etc.) became more and more popular all over Europe and they indeed respond to the demand of a considerable part of the society, reproducing, moreover, magnifying at the same time this social demand.

New forms of nationalism ask for new explanations, thus new theoretical approaches are needed. Social anthropologists Gingrich and Banks who used for the first time the term neo-nationalism pointed out the political origin of the phenomena, however they refused treating it primarily as an ideology and to analyze it “through the language of political manifestos”. In contrast they discuss new forms of nationalism through “an analytical focus on action, interaction and practice, together with accompanying forms of discourse” (Gingrich-Banks 2006: 3). According to Gingrich and Banks neo-nationalism is “the reemergence of nationalism under different global and transnational conditions” and it is the consequence of three contemporary processes: (1) the reaction of certain political actors to the global or transnational projects on identity politics; (2) the successful establishment in most European countries of parties of the far right as a legitimate part of the parliamentary system; (3) the success of the rhetoric and symbolic strategies manipulating various notions of culture, enacted in spectacular media performances and by well-publicized political leaders. (Gingrich-Banks 2006: 6)

Research methods:

As far as the methodology of the empirical investigation and its outcomes concerns: different qualitative methods were combined. 56 semi-structured individual interviews and in total 24 weeks fieldwork were performed in order to reveal the performative aspects of the nation (‘doing the nation’), activities and motivations related to the production and consumption of new national commodities (festival of national rock bands, tourism and pilgrimage to places of authentic nationhood etc.). We applied ethnography and focus group interviews in order to reconstruct the everyday talk on the nation in concrete communities. In three Hungarian villages, one Hungarian small town, one Transylvanian village and one Transylvanian town, as well as three districts of Budapest a total of 25 focus-group interviews were completed.

Research results in 2019:

New forms of Nationalism in and the Discursive Construction of the Gypsy Other

This paper is part of a larger project which aims to increase understanding of the re-emergence of nationalism in Hungary in rather new forms. New nationalism (Gingrich-Banks 2006) can be comprehended in relation to the successful establishment of the populist far right (Kalb 2011), as well as to the increasing demand for issues of identity and culture (Stewart 2015) in fields outside politics such as civic and leisure activities, media, cultural consumption (Feischmidt and Pulay 2017), and everyday discourses. Nevertheless, as this paper claims, everyday discourses of belonging and exclusion signaled long before the appearance of far-right alternatives that the reconstruction of solidarity is framed in ethno-racial terms, and moreover, is focused on the othering of the Roma by the ethnic majority of rural Hungary. My investigation applies a social anthropological perspective in the analysis of nationalism and reveals the discourses as well as the social relations which have generated the demand for this discourse and an increasing responsiveness towards identity politics and national mythologies in Hungarian society.

Previous research results:

New-nationalism and popular culture

The research aim was is to understand contemporary forms of nationalism in a socio-political context in which neo-nationalism has obtained a dominant role not just in politics but in public discourse and in the cultural field as well. We investigated the emergence of a particular music scene in the beginning of the 21st century, shaped by rock bands and performers and supported by far-right political actors, which has made the “national” imagination emotionally and ideologically appealing to a considerable part of Hungarian society and first of all to young people. We were focusing on a specific segment of popular culture in Hungary that is organized around a specific genre of rock music, named “national rock” (nemzeti rock) by its founders. On the one hand, we were looking at the processes of production and the activities of its performers along with their relationship to the far-right political movement.

Mainstreaming the extreme? Re-imagining the nation and its enemies among young people in Hungary

Our research points to an important shift in youth culture, which we see as one of the key factors underpinning political sympathies and allegiance. We found that certain segments of the 18-30 age group have turned their backs on the materialist and individualist lifestyle offered by the global cultural industry and centred on the value of freedom. Further research is clearly necessary not only to verify this cultural backlash but to identify its divergent roots. Our material contains evidence that underscores both economic and cultural structural drivers. The outcome of this shared frustration with the mainstream, as we pointed out, is according to our second strong claim a traditionalist-communitarian turn characterized by a celebration of national traditions and a desire for collective activities that re-enact a glorious past in the present (while also allowing participants to build defensive bonds).

Mainstreaming the nationalism of the far-right: public history and popular culture of historical revisionism

Far-right movements and organizations broke into the Hungarian public in the first decade of the 21st century along two issues: “Gypsy criminality” and “Trianon”. The latter is a controversial politically and emotionally loaded moment of national history. Neither the loss, nor the identification with past glory was emphasized in the last decades (contrary to the mainstream revisionism of the inter-war period): these topics were rather avoided. This is why the topic became so appealing and attractive when far-right organizations started to organize Trianon commemorations around 2006, followed by far-right entrepreneurs who in a very short time created a nationalist popular culture employing the revisionist message. This is what the governing moderate right, which also uses a nationalist rhetoric and is always looking for timely forms for its identity politics, could not stand out. They embraced and adopted the Trianon symbol in official memory politics. This paper examines public memory and the popular culture of nationalism as it is reinventing and reutilizing the Trianon-cult, which shows in an exemplary manner how once extreme symbolic revisionism has become part of mainstream discourses.


Feischmidt Margit (2019): New Forms of Nationalism and the Discursive Construction of the Gypsy Other In: Feischmidt Margit; Majtényi Balázs ed. The Rise of Populist Nationalism: Social Resentments and Capturing the Constitution in Hungary. Budapest; New York: CEU Press, pp 179-208

Feischmidt, Margit; Pulay, Gergő (2017) ‘Rocking the nation’: the popularculture of neo-nationalism. NATIONS AND NATIONALISM 23 : 2 pp. 309-326.