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May 18, 2022



Analysis: Quo vadis, Jobbik? Hungary's ultra-right moves to the center

21.11.2018 7:58
Hungarian politician Gábor Vona, 31 January 2015. (PHOTO:  Wikimedia Commons, N1TV)
Hungarian politician Gábor Vona, 31 January 2015. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons, N1TV)

The Jobbik movement in Hungary began in its hometown as a radical, regional students' organization that became, after 2006, a player in Hungarian political life determining its direction (back then from outside of Parliament). From the very beginning the party's rhetoric was dominated by antisemitic, chauvinist, irredentist and racist slogans.

"Gypsy crime is raging in Hungary," was one slogan that marked the basis of the party's social policy. Jobbik also chose another slogan for its fight against all enemies, foreign and domestic: "Hungary for Hungarians".

2010: Jobbik in Parliament, lists of Jewish people, paramilitary organizations, clash with Fidesz

When Jobbik first entered Parliament in 2010, one of its representatives gave a speech saying it would be necessary to create a list of the "persons of Jewish origin" living in Hungary who were working in the Government or the Hungarian Parliament, because they could pose a national security risk. What's more, many paramilitary organizations began swirling around the party, of which increased attention was paid especially to the Hungarian Guard, which regularly held marches and powerful demonstrations in small Romani-inhabited settlements.

The chair of Jobbik, Gábor Vona, even wore a Hungarian Guard uniform during the opening session of Parliament in 2010. The party had made it into the legislature with 17 % of the vote, and by 2014 they had earned 20 % of the vote.

The Fidesz party, governing with two-thirds of the vote, could no longer passively watch Jobbik earn such a result. Fidesz chair Viktor Orbán then established his so-called "System of National Collaboration", no longer following the model of the famous two-party system from the USA, which assumes political parties from either end of the spectrum will trade off on running what is ideally some sort of central area of power.

According to the system now in place, political affairs in Hungary are dominated by one powerful, popular party, surrounded on the left and right by gradually shrinking parties incapable of allying against the center because of their "irreconcilable differences". This maneuver was Fidesz's beginning step on its journey to holding power permanently.

While on the left many micro-parties actually began to build barriers to the Orbán regime's progress, the ultra-right Jobbik party, despite being quarantined by the media and other politicians, was able in many regards to supply subject matter to the public debate and to build up an impression of strength that was capable of achieving potential governmental changes purely from its own resources. Fidesz, for that reason, soon began to consciously attempt to take the wind out of Jobbik's sails by co-opting its social themes, which were far from foreign to its own increasingly radical portfolio, in order to eventually try to shut Jobbik down entirely through the broadest possible range of denunciation material published in friendly media outlets, .

2010 - 2015: Jobbik leaves antigypsyist rhetoric - the international refugee crisis

With the advent of the year 2015 and the international refugee crisis, which Fidesz exploited to absolutely co-opt the discourse of the Hungarian ultra-right in its Hungary-related aspects, a barbed-wire fence was erected on Hungary's southern border that has attained "cult" status. By exploiting the slogan of its own "Government information campaign" supported by unlimited financial resources, the Hungarian Government built up its hateful propaganda, which presented the influx of refugees and the problem of migration as a game being played behind the scenes of various states and the refugees themselves as terrorists or, at a minimum, as religious fanatics who are violent and wild.

According to various studies, beginning in the year 2010 it was apparent that Jobbik was veering away from antigypsyist rhetoric as intended by the Hungarian Guard, and the party has been heading toward a milder "centrist" tone. Fidesz's rhetoric, however, had never been characterized either by antediluvian nationalism or by civic conservatism before then.

Through the broadest possible variety of think tanks operating within the Government's field of vision (and inspired by America's Breitbart model, which prepared the ground for the Trump era), today disinformation is being given to Hungarian citizens/voters through media outlets that serve to augment the Fidesz strategy of transforming the electoral system and gradually eliminating all entities that might function as guarantees of the rule of law or checks and balances on the political situation. In that context, a recent study by two Hungarian sociologists, Mátyás Domschitz and Dorottya Szikra, investigating the degree and form of what kinds of changes each Hungarian political party has undergone in the area of social policy, proves interesting, as it found that, measuring by both the ideology and the practice of the party's social policy, Jobbik has, as of this year, transformed itself into a de facto Christian Democratic party on the European model.

Jobbik's current program does not mention "gypsy crime" anywhere, to say nothing of attempts to reintroduce gendarmerie services or paramilitary groups. Despite the fact that the party, through its representatives, is doing its best to distance itself from and erase its previous attitudes by alleging that it "wasn't racist" even back then, vice-chair Tamás Sneider has considered it effective to emphasize that Jobbik has, in the past, made "strong, youthful" assertions, and has even acknowledged that Jobbik may have once "unnecessarily harmed many different kinds of groups".

The "apostate" Gábor Vona and his video blog

In August of this year, Vona, who is now a Jobbik "apostate", launched his multi-episode "vlog." Based on the principle of a charismatic, one-man show, Vona takes up the cross of different social ailments there.

"The Romani issue" has managed to occupy significant territory among all the other contributions there; one of his episodes even was subtitled "Gypsy-Hungarian coexistence is one of the most important questions". Here Vona has come up with an absolutely new allegation, claiming that the issue is not whether the integration of Romani people has succeeded or not, but that in reality it was never begun - from either side.

The longtime Jobbik leader, formerly a prominent "expert on the Romani question", then launches a harsh critique of Fidesz, accusing the Government of having never actually been interested in the question of Romani integration and of just making empty promises as a cheap way of creating a strong voter base for Fidesz. "Hungary must clearly express its plan for Romani integration and find a method that corresponds to it," Vona says today.

This attempt at a conciliatory, rational approach to this subject is also reflected by Vona's heretofore unseen efforts to directly involve Romani people in the debate. Among those with whom he speaks in one episode of his video blog are invited representatives of "elite intellectual Roma", the alleged absence of which Vona considers, or claims to consider, to be one of the crucial problems of the current state of affairs.

Specifically, the program has been visited by the college student Lucián Horváth and by his former colleague and co-founder of Jobbik, István Kamarás. If Vona today is addressing the coexistence between Hungarians and Roma, he is viewing himself as a kind of mediator for either side, of which one labels him a priori as a famous xenophobe and the other hates him for "being involved with gypsies at all."

This attribution to him of incompetence by both sides is due to his position as a self-appointed judge, but he comes away looking like the daredevil who has dared to stir up the hornet's nest. Violent reactions to his efforts, in Vona's view, are clear evidence that this is a hot topic.

Despite his undoubtedly paternalistic approach, his "vlogs" do yield some unanticipated moments. The former Hungarian Guard member formulates ideas in his "vlog" such as "at the moment of birth we are all equal" and then attributes the unequal position of Hungarian Roma to the influence of "environment" in particular, a motion masterfully seconded by one of his Romani guests, who in conclusion even brings forward the idea - one well-known from the previous communist-era minority policy and practice - that it would be appropriate if illiterate or otherwise "inadequate" Romani parents had their children taken away from them immediately.

Such extremes aside, Vona also is allowing the idea to be heard in his contributions that higher education may be "useless" to Romani people if it can be assumed they will never be employed. His allegation that as far as the Romani intelligentsia goes, the governing Fidesz party is striving with all its might to maintain the status quo (because it suits them for Romani people to remain in relatively vulnerable positions) appears to be absolutely extreme - although given the existing political rivalry, it is far from incomprehensible.

In his most recent "vlogger" debates, Vona has touched on the question of poverty, which in Hungary also especially affects the peripheral regions, reminding his audience that any Romani people not recognized by local authorities, on the basis of their own arbitrary assessments, as candidates for community service work are de facto being condemned to starvation today. In that context, he then airs the question of the massive abuse in Hungary of subsidies designated for "Romani affairs" by the broadest possible range of local charlatans, mostly Fidesz-appointed representatives, most of whom exploit the minority, in accordance with the central political strategy, as a scapegoat in order to demonstrate their own "openness".

2018: Jobbik's electoral failure and internal schism

The current situation of the new Fidesz generation today has developed to the point where the new party officials do not consider the idea of a civic Hungary, which determined the initial identity of the Orbán Government back in 1998-2002, to be a political reality, but just a political product. Likewise, it is apparent that many names of conservatives previously belonging to Fidesz circles who were once reputable and respected have, for ethical reasons, definitively turned away from the conglomerate now called Fidesz and ended up suddenly on the other side of the playground - or even under constant fire themselves from the pro-Fidesz media.

Orbán himself, who has progressed even further with his friendliness toward China, Putin, and the concept of illiberalism, has entered the ring under the banner of defending Christian European culture. Placing his own person in the position of an opponent to a Merkelesque "Willkommenskultur", he has become the representative of a new, powerful Europe and has gradually found allies even for his trivialization of European policy on the battlefield between those advocating for migration and the guardians of Christian values.

Of course, in the interim the PM has also become all the more unsustainable for his party's erstwhile European political family, the European People's Party. Despite this, he is not planning to voluntarily leave that club: He would prefer an attempt to reform it in his own image.

That applies to the entire EU as well. Meanwhile, in Hungary, Vona resigned his chairmanship after Jobbik's election fiasco and has also withdrawn from political life.

Along with annexing the socially ultra-right discourse, however, Fidesz has run into Jobbik moving itself from its position as a party for just one layer of society into a popular party attempting, after 2014, to establish itself in the eyes of the public as having something of a unique character.

Jobbik's leaders suddenly look less like committed revolutionaries and more like judicious experts. For insurance the party has even launched a "puppy" campaign, as part of which Gábor Vona has posted photos to his Facebook page of himself with cute little doggies.

However, this seemingly sophisticated, tendentious about-face has raised questions about Jobbik's authenticity, both inside the party and among those who observe it from the outside. All this, along with Fidesz's inclination toward the extreme right, has caused Jobbik to lose its previous image as a party able to attract crowds, to which the supporters of the current PM immediately - and with a very precise intuition - responded by beginning to push Jobbik to the left, espousing a powerful vision of nationwide annihilation happening through a general conspiracy against the panacea that is Fidesz policy.

Losing their footing has sparked significant tensions in the Jobbik ranks, which Vona managed to somewhat cover up before the elections this year. After that electoral fiasco, however, he resigned and also withdrew from political life.

The election of new leadership then led the party to an internal schism: While the camp of those who have stayed in Jobbik would like to continue along the path established by Vona toward the center of the political spectrum, advocates of a hard line in the party have fled and established a new movement and party Mi hazánk (Our Homeland). What is this supposedly transformed party like in practice?

MEP Soraya Post, a Romani woman from Sweden, recently said the following at the European Parliament during her speech introducing an EU report about antiqypsyism at the close of last year:  "Nobody wants their children not to go to school. No one today wants to live without electricity or running water. If we want to be a proud Union, let's not allow those privileges to be kept from 10 or 12 million people."

The only lawmakers who did not support her at the EP were two Jobbik MEPs, Zoltán Beczó and Béla Kovács. The third Jobbik MEP, Krisztina Morvai, decided to abstain.

Adéla Gálová, Renátó Fehér, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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