Ideological wandering in the steppes of Turan

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Hungarian linguist Sándor Csoma de Kőrös became interested in finding out the origins of the Hungarian people. Based on the linguistic affinity between the Hungarian and Turkic languages, he suggested that the roots of the Hungarian people are in the "land of the Uighurs" in Eastern Turkestan (the Iranians called that country Turan), or even further — in the Himalayas. He believed that if he could reach the Himalayas and Tibet, he would find there the key to the origins of his ancestral homeland. He went to Tibet, there he studied the Tibetan language and searched for its connections with Hungarian, based on the fact that Hungarian, Finnish, Turkic, as well as Mongolian and Manchurian languages belong to the Ural-Altaic group of languages, also known as the Turanian language family.

Actually, Kőrös was only a linguist, but a hundred years later, in the 20th century, his research gave an impetus to the emergence of purely political concepts that influenced the course of the world history. In 1909, a Pan-Turan movement emerged in Turkey led by a political group known as the Young Turks. Soon, in 1910, the Hungarian Turanian Society was founded, and in 1920 — the Turanian Union of Hungary. In 1921, the Turanian National Union was founded in Japan.

Kőrös's ideas also became known to Karl Haushofer, who exerted strong influence on the formation of the views of the German Nazi leaders, Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler. Haushofer was also highly interested in Indian and Tibetan cultures, studied Sanskrit and claimed to have visited Tibet. He shared the ideas of the Central Asian origin of the Aryan race, developed the key provisions of geopolitics, and in the early 1920s led the Institute of Geopolitics at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, advocated the seizure of territories by Germany in order to expand its "living space" (Lebensraum) and achieve world power.

In Russia, similar ideas appeared in the theory of "Eurasianism". Eurasianism is an ideological, worldview and socio-political movement that arose among the Russian emigrants in the 1920s-1930s, based on the concept of Russia-Eurasia as a unique civilization that unites elements of the East and the West, but differs from both of them. The ideologists of Eurasianism saw the origins of the Eurasian political and cultural unity not in Kievan Rus but in the empire of Genghis Khan, viewed as a "steppe civilization." In 1925, Nikolay Trubetskoy declared that Russia was the heir not of Kievan Rus but of the Mongolian monarchy. In his opinion, Russians and nomads were connected by a "special mentality" based on the ideas of personal devotion, heroism, spiritual hierarchy and "faith in the higher beginnings of the world." These values are incompatible with European bourgeoisie and mercantilism. Another ideologist of Eurasianism, Petr Savitsky, believed that "Russians are in some way also Mongols", because "Russian "pioneers", the scope of Russian conquest and development had the same spirit, the same sense of the continent." He also wrote that despite all its severity, the Mongol-Tatar yoke was the best way out for ancient Russia, which, in his opinion, was unstable and had to be subordinated to some external force. Savitsky also "enriched" the ideology of Eurasianism with the concepts of "developmental place" (similar to the Nazi idea of "living space") and "ideocracy" (subordination of human life to higher ideas).

Eurasianism put forward a program of transforming the entire system of cultural and ideological landmarks, which was supposed to bring spiritual separation from the West, designed to open up a path of spiritual and political development for Russia and the neighbouring countries peculiar only to them. The ideologists of Eurasianism reacted negatively to any reforms in Russia aimed at bringing it closer to the West. On the contrary, they welcomed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 as the beginning of a new era, in which Russia allegedly left the European cultural world alien to it and embarked on an independent historical path.

The Eurasian movement practically lost its influence in the middle of the last century. But it experienced a revival at the end of the 20th century after the collapse of the Soviet Union in modern Russia. One of those who are now actively promoting these ideas is Putin’s former aide Vladislav Surkov. He especially favours the idea of "expanding the living space": "The size of the territory matters. Control of space is the basis of survival. Over the centuries, the Russian state with its harsh and immobile political interior has been preserved solely thanks to the relentless pursuit of its borders. It has long since unlearned, and most likely, never knew how to survive in other ways. For Russia, permanent expansion is not just one of the ideas, but a genuine existential aspect of our historical being."

In Hungary proper, similar ideas took shape in the ideology of Turanism, which became popular, especially among right-wingers, between the two world wars. The impetus for this, among other things, was added by the traumatic syndrome experienced by the nation after the Treaty of Trianon which deprived Hungary of two-thirds of its territory within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and almost half of its population. Hungarian Nazi dictator Ferenc Szálasi was a great fan of Turanism, even a Hungarian tank from World War II was called "Turan I".

Therefore, Hungarian Turanism, German Nazism and Russian Eurasianism as ideologies combined the desire to "disassociate" from the European political tradition (primarily from the ideas of democracy) and to find a political alternative to it (which was mainly manifested in their support for the ideas of totalitarianism and authoritarianism).

Just as the ideas of Eurasianism were revived in modern Russia, a revival of the ideas of Turanism is observed in Hungary — not at the level of an official ideology but rather as a social mythology.

Initially, the main bearer of Turanism ideas was the far-right Jobbik party, which, in particular, justified its support for the anti-Israeli statements of Iran's leaders by the Iranians and Hungarians having common ancestors. At one time, the Jobbik leadership actively contacted Russia, and one of the party leaders, Márton Gyöngyösi, was an observer at the "elections" in Russian-occupied Donetsk in 2015. However, after the start of full-scale Russian aggression, Gyöngyösi apologized to Ukraine. According to him, he cooperated with Russia because he was looking for allies who would be concerned about the problems of national minorities in Ukraine, as he considered it important to protect the rights of the Hungarian community: "I would not do it now, and I apologize for it, because I understood the consequences and the hidden intentions of the Russian Federation when it supported Hungary," said the politician. The leader of Jobbik assured that now in the ongoing war with Russia, he is completely on the side of Ukraine: "I am also doing this because the Hungarians, representatives of our minority, are fighting under the Ukrainian flag against the Russian aggressor. And when they fight for Ukraine, they also fight for their homeland, Transcarpathia, where they come from, where they were born. They want Ukraine to be pro-Western, European, and they want to live in a free, democratic and sovereign Ukraine." This attitude of the Jobbik leadership to the Russian invasion of Ukraine can be largely explained by the fact that this party was founded by veterans of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, so the negative "historical memory" of the USSR and Russia prevailed over Turanist ideas.

However, the banner of Turanism was picked up by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his national-conservative Fidesz party. Márton Gyöngyösi associates the shift in Hungary's foreign policy, which is currently taking place under Viktor Orbán, with Turanism, calling it a "turn to the East". It is not accidental, since the hard nationalist policy of Orbán and his Fidesz party has spoiled relations with the European Union. In his political rhetoric, Orbán often mentions "bureaucrats in Brussels who blackmail and threaten Hungary." To a large extent, Brussels is dissatisfied with the current Hungarian state leadership because of its authoritarian tendencies. Therefore, it is not surprising that the ideas of political Turanism, including the denial of the European democratic tradition, came in handy for Orbán.

The question is how deeply these ideas penetrated Hungarian society. A well-known Hungarian sociologist, the director of the Reform Policy Center of the Budapest University, Pál Tamás, believes that Viktor Orbán has found "a form of conducting politics and a language that are adequate to the cultural traditions of the average Hungarian voter outside of the capital." As Pál Tamás points out, provincials are even proud that Orbán has a bad reputation abroad.

Therefore, the "battle of ideas" taking place in Hungary — pro-European (predominant in the Hungarian capital) and Turanism (more popular in the provinces) — will largely determine Hungary’s politics and its future.

Mykhailo Mischenko

Deputy Director, Sociological Service

Born in 1962 in Kyiv

Education: Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Faculty of Philosophy (1984). Ph. D in Philosophy


1984 – 1990 — Sociology Department at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1990 – 1998 — Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1998 – 2003 — Ukrainian Institute of Social Research

February – September 2003 — Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

Since October 2003 — Deputy Director, Razumkov Centre Sociological Service

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