The new face of Hungary's radical right wing Jobbik party

March 25, 2015

Hungarian Guard members and Polish far-right radicals listenting to speeches at Jobbik's March 15 rally in Budapest / Photo: VS.hu
Hungarian Jobbik militia and Polish far-right radicals listenting to speeches at Jobbik’s March 15 rally in Budapest / Photo: VS.hu

Translation of János Dobszay’s “Old-new faces of Jobbik – Awkward-cute” (“A Jobbik régi-új arcai – Ciki-cuki”) appearing in HVG on March 21, 2015. pp. 13-14.

Viktor Orbán’s strategy of adopting topics from Jobbik in order to weaken the radicals’ position has failed. Jobbik, which is trying to project a consolidated face, even profited from the outflow of voter support from Fidesz.

“God give us a better future!” this historically over-referenced sentence (used by Hungary’s interwar pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Movement in a slightly different form – ed.) greeted participants at Jobbik’s March 15 rally in Budapest, where people wearing uniforms of an offshoot of the banned Hungarian Guard reappeared after a lengthy pause. The confusion was not exclusively visible among policemen who stood by and watched the violation of law at the event passively. In the past weeks, Jobbik arrived at the crossroads as well: carrying on with their “cuteness campaign” – featuring party leader Gábor Vona posing with puppies and kitten in the social media – coined by the leadership and forced on the party in the run-up to the Spring 2014 general election campaign, or giving way to the radical fringe’s view that characterized the party before but were concealed for tactical reasons, as a year ago hiding these views behind the curtain seemed more beneficial.

There a number of reasons the radical right wing party needed to explain itself arising from its publicly exposed party members. An old exchange of emails revealed how Jobbik MP Gergely Kulcsár let his fellow Jobbik members know that he spat in one of the bronze shoes comprising the Danube-bank memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, attaching a photograph to prove his act. The case that happened four years ago is being explained by the MP today who said that it never happened, that it was only a bad joke, and that he now regrets. But the email has a more serious passage, that has not even been noticed by the Democratic Coalition, the liberal party exposing Kulcsár. The representative commented his photo with the following words:

If anybody is sad or tired, I would recommend them to visit this site, to get in the mood to finish the job, that our ancestors left unfinished.

Even though the party leadership did everything to restrain itself from radical and divisive statements, one sound recording that was published on the website vigyazo.blog.hu testifies to the fact that this is barely a part of their present marketing strategy. Having been recorded in the run up of the municipal elections last autumn, Tamás Sneider, Jobbik deputy speaker of the Hungarian Parliament shared some of the secrets from their workshop, that can only be likened to the confession of Gábor G. Fodor, Fidesz’s political strategist during interview with Magyar Narancs earlier, when he called the idea of a “polgári Magyarország” (a democratic Hungary based on middle-class values) a simple “communication product.” On the secret tape Jobbik’s vice president is talking about how the party should avoid coming across as violent yet at the same time it should work to bring out a “self-radicalization” of the society itself. This is why a division of labor has been created between Jobbik and its various background organizations – Highwayman Army (Betyársereg) or (radical youth) Movement for the Sixty-Four Counties. Whatever the party is not able to utter itself (as it would oust them from the political club) will be articulated through these radical civil organizations. The policy of shifting there and back again, as the recording revealed, is followed to placate pensioners who want peace and tranquility. For them the party should “present an image of nice guys” so that they too will vote Jobbik.

The fact that this tamed voice is a simple camouflage can be illustrated by how Sneider picked a real, battle-hardened person, Zsolt Dér, as his personal secretary. In the 1990’s, Dér converted to Islam during the Yugoslav war (according to Sneider becoming a Muslim is “still much better than converting to Judaism”) where he served on the frontline, killing a multitude of people. This is all apparent from the interview Dér has given to RTL Klub well before he became a politician, in which he spoke about how the “most intimate form of killing a man is stabbing.” Sneider found nothing wrong with his colleague’s past, and this tells a lot. He even remark with visible dismay that the only thing he really regrets is that he himself cannot be a fighter any more. Compared to this, even János Kötél, who was recently elected to the town council as a Jobbik representative in the town of Mezőtúr, is a dove, for whom verbal violence is quite sufficient. On his Facebook-page, Kötél routinely shared posts talking about murdering and hanging Roma. He was disciplined by Gábor Vona, who said that Kötél should move in with Kálmán Jónás, president of local Jobbik in nearby Hajdúszoboszló, who is of Roma origin, for a few days.

The authenticity of the image of Jobbik’s consolidation can be strongly questioned by information surfacing about Lajos Rig, the party’s candidate in the Tapolca parliamentary by-election, who is likely to give the Fidesz’s candidate a hard time, or even defeat him, in one of the most rightist constituencies in Hungary on 12 April. According to these revelations, Rig has a tattoo with the infamous motto “Meine Ehre heißt Treue” (“My honor is loyalty”) used by the German SS. He later explained his tattoo as referring to is feelings towards his wife and he justified this claim with pointing out that his tattoo has the date of his marriage as well. (We have no way to confirm or refute his claims as so far, Rig was unwilling to show members of the press this or other alleged tattoos – a mounted Hun archer, and Arpad-stripe shield, an inscription in Szekler “rovas” script reading Hunnia).

Another Jobbik-member, however, has problems exactly with loyalty. A Debrecen Jobbik politician has recently been secretly photographed in an intimate situation while cheating on his partner. The photos allegedly were taken to blackmail the politician into resignation. This could have something to do with a power-play going on in the local party organization that was going on in Debrecen for months, and recently resulted in the disbanding of the local Jobbik organization. There was no lack of intrigue and intimidation in this story: one party member was exposed having “free access” to all of his fellow party members’ emails.

How much damage the recently growing number of scandals can cause a strong party like Jobbik will be experimented during the upcoming Tapolca elections. Fidesz has a good reason to be afraid of the competing rightist party. The governing party that used to be labeled as a “party of young people” today seems more and more elderly besides Jobbik that is much more popular amongst young people, formerly a governing party stronghold of the population, than Orbán’s party. For Jobbik even the tactical move of attracting Roma votes in certain regions despite their fervent and apparent racist rhetoric seems to work out: they won a two-thirds majority in the Northeastern town of Ózd on the municipal elections. In these cases, Jobbik convinced the Roma that the “politics of order” represented by Jobbik is in their interests as well.

Getting stronger

Jobbik not only kept the 9/10th of its voters since the 2014 general elections but was successful in attracting new voters – a recent survey by Ipsos revealed. According to their calculations the radical party is now supported some 200,000 former Fidesz voters as well as nearly one-tenth of the inactive voters, that is around 350,000 people (the question whether these inactive sympathizer would really vote Jobbik in the elections of course remains unanswered).  While Fidesz is supported by 21% of the population, Jobbik managed to go up from 16% to 18%. The electorate of the Vona party is an estimated 1.5 million people, only 200 thousand less than the governing party’s. This is also half a million more than those supporting the Socialists. The political messages of Jobbik in the past weeks usually attracted less educated people in their twenties-thirties and the unemployed. Amongst voters below the age of 30 Jobbik preceded Fidesz during the past month, consolidating their lead with a 21:17 rate.

Increasingly Fidesz finds itself less able to send political messages to its voters for which Jobbik would not have a better and more accessible answer. Viktor Orbán was trying to adapt their radical rhetoric in vain when the topic of “economic migrants” was brought up. With the help of László Toroczkai, the mayor of the southern border village of Ásotthalom, Jobbik showed in practice that a stronger counter-measure against irregular migration is possible even within the present legal framework. Toroczkai ordered mounted watchmen to guard the border area. As earlier too strong ties with Russia could be used to shame Jobbik, this is no longer possible after Orbán inviting to and receiving Putin in Budapest. While the prime minister is doing more and more business with Russia, Fidesz ran out of options to try and stop Vona’s party.