Of all the right-wing populist movements, the Hungarian case is the most multifaceted. Viktor Orbán and his Christian conservative party (Fidesz) have skilfully navigated diverse interests – anti-Russia and anti-EU, Islamophobia and “Eastern diplomacy,” global capital and local traditions – through the “cult of heritage” (Lowenthal, 1998). With multi-billion-euro investments in heritage reconstruction, dozens of new museums, and what Teodor Shanin (1990) refers to as the “mystification of the peasant,” heritage populism is at the fore of Fidesz’s nativist, back-to-roots nationalism. Heritage is the representation of the past in the present, and one of the most heralded aspects of national heritage is in the realm of physical culture. Sporting heritage is often drawn from in nationalistic discourse, and Orbán is no different, especially with his unbridled support of Hungarian domestic football (Molnar & Whigham, 2021). Although Orbán, like his predecessors in European populist politics, is also a proponent of the ability of local folk games to promulgate neo-turanism, a cultural and political movement to link Hungary both ethnically and economically to Central Asia. The aim of this paper is to present the case for Hungarian heritage populism through the lens of traditional games by analysing the reinvention of the National Gallop (horse race), the UNESCO-validated táncház (“dance house”) movement, and the mass pageantry of the Kurultáj cultural festival.

Dr Tom Fabian is a Postdoctoral Fellow, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), working with Professor Murray Phillips and Associate Professor Gary Osmond. The primary focus of his research is on traditional games, with two major interests: (1) Nature Games, focusing on the significance of games and play in land-based education, ecological sensibilities, and leisure environmentalism; and (2) Heritage Populism, based on conceptualizations of cultural heritage, nostalgic physical cultures, and traditional games and activities in contemporary populist movements (notably in the Hungarian case).



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