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Hate tourism

7 August, 2011

There is sex tourism, there is disaster tourism, there is volunteer tourism — sometimes, like in Chiapas, it borders on guerrilla tourism — and there is hate tourism. The British National Party’s (BNP) London regional secretary, when he gave the Nazi salute at a Hungarian festival a few days ago, was a hate tourist.

The festival, called Magyar Sziget (Hungarian Island), was created ten years ago (by a man later charged for his role in the 2006 Budapest riots and for conspiring to attack a gay pride march) as Hungarian nationalists’ answer to the popular festival Island (Sziget). Although Hungarian Island’s goal is a “nation-awakening crusade,” and as such it appeals to what the organisers call “national brethren” (i.e. ethnic Hungarians), it has, they claim, come to be Europe’s largest “national festival,” an annual jamboree of white supremacists, racists, anti-Semites and xenophobes of all stripes. This year, it hosted a concert by Saga, the Swedish white supremacist singer who is Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s pop idol.

What attracts them to Hungary is that they are able to engage in speech and practices that they would not in their home environments, even within the BNP, which expelled the tourist after images of his salute were revealed. As with other forms of tourism, hate tourism — or perhaps more precisely, intolerance tourism — offers a liminal space in which the taboos of everyday life dissolve. Moreover, in the crowd of Hungarian “nation-builders,” nationalist extremists who — despite the broadening appeal of some of their ideas — are still stigmatised as freaks in Western Europe, are seen as normal, even, perhaps, admired. The BNP politician has previously lectured to members of the Hungarian party closely linked to the festival.

But even outside the festival, Hungary is a good place for racists and all those who are simply uncomfortable with a society that is in any way diverse. The traumatic experience of brown and black skin that Anders Breivik faced at the summer camp where he carried out his massacre could never happen in Hungary, which is reassuringly white: even the minuscule immigration that exists consists mostly of Hungarian “national brethren.” No one makes a fuss if Africans or Gypsies are denied entry to a club, a frequent occurrence. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Auschwitz T-shirts and other Nazi paraphernalia are not only sold at Hungarian Island but circulate freely among the public. As for Greater Hungary bumper stickers and World War II memorabilia, which show half of the neighbouring states as part of Hungarian territory, those are veritably ubiquitous. As a response to the BNP affair, a member of the Hungarian parliament and organiser of Hungarian Island, who bears the fitting surname Zagyva (Muddled), announced that the organisers would sue the British journalists who filmed the BNP official’s salute for intrusion and accused them of violating media ethics. It did not occur to him to offer any apology for the salute or symbols displayed: this would be unthinkable in today’s Hungary. The government avoids taking a stand on such occurrences, and media or politicians close to the government routinely dismiss those who condemn them as exaggerating, unpatriotic, or worse, agents of a foreign conspiracy.

Despite growing anti-immigration sentiments, it is very unlikely that Western Europe will ever be all-white again. Moreover, in many countries, these sentiments against certain ethnic or religious groups are justified in terms of protecting other minorities — such as homosexuals. In Hungary, and to varying degrees in other Eastern European countries, the public acceptance of racist and homophobic discourse and discriminatory practice must feel like a breath of fresh air for some, perhaps many, Western Europeans. Add cheap beer and good food, and Hungary’s future as a destination of hate tourism, perhaps also hate migration, is promising.

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