The Hungarian Right: Fidesz, Jobbik and MIÉP

I read another wonderful article by Mária Vásárhelyi in ÉS (Élet és Irodalom). The title is "The Stray-away Radicals of Fidesz." A little background on Mária Vásárhelyi and the recent history of the Hungarian right. Mária Vásárhely is the daughter of Miklós Vásárhelyi (1917-2001), a journalist in 1956 who was Imre Nagy's press secretary during the October Revolution. Vásárhelyi and his family along with Imre Nagy sought refuge at the Yugoslav Embassy only to be taken to Romania. Vásárhelyi spent a number of years in jail but eventually, especially after 1963, worked as a researcher at one of the institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Toward the end of his life he ran the Soros Foundation in Hungary. His daughter Mária is a sociologist and "media expert." She is also keenly interested in the extreme right in Hungary and consequently has many enemies in certain circles.

As to the background of the Hungarian right. Naturally during the Kádár regime there was no appreciable right-wing movement and one rarely heard expressions normally associated with the right. For example, antisemitism. Once the lid on public opinion was lifted, all the old prejudices surfaced again. The first such movement emerged straight from Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), then the leading party of an allegedly moderate right-wing coalition. MDF was a mass party whose members and leaders came with very different sets of ideas. Prime Minister József Antall, an old-fashioned Christian Democrat, wasn't really representative of the party as a whole. István Csurka, a playwright turned politician, was the first within the party to manifest his dissatisfaction with Antall's MDF. Eventually Csurka left MDF and started his own party, Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (MIÉP). This rather cumbersome name reminds me of some of the far-right parties formed in the 1930s.

After four very difficult years the MDF coalition lost most of its supporters. By contrast, the new MIÉP gained ground. In 1994 the party was still too new to make a real difference but by 1998 it emerged as a party that passed the 5% threshold and could form a parliamentary caucus with fourteen members. Csurka's party supported the Fidesz-Smallholders government, but Fidesz obviously wasn't too thrilled with a party to its right. By moving to the right itself it managed to weaken MIÉP to the extent that in 2002 MIÉP didn't receive enough votes to be a parliamentary party. In the old days Csurka could easily get 200,000 people out on the street. But MIÉP became less and less relevant. Its place was taken by Jobbik (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom), officially established in October 2003 though its leaders started their political activities earlier as a right-wing student organization. By now, according to some polls, Jobbik could get enough votes to have parliamentary representation.

And here we can turn to Vásárhelyi's analysis "The Stray-away Radicals of Fidesz." According to Vásárhelyi Fidesz, until recently supportive of Jobbik, became worried about some of the results of by-elections. There were districts where Jobbik received over 8% of the votes. That observation is not new. It's pretty obvious that Viktor Orbán has been trying for almost a decade to forge a party on the right that includes all shades of right-wing opinions, including those of the far-right. One can certainly argue about the wisdom of such a plan. From past experience conservative Hungarians ought to know that any kind of flirtation with the far-right is a dangerous game. Orbán most likely figures that once he manages to forge an "alliance" (szövetség) with all other parties to his right he will be able to sail into power and later will take care of his "allies." Just as he managed to ruin József Torgyán and his party. However, the price of such a move is pretty high. In order to earn the support of the far-right concessions must be granted. For instance, Orbán had to give István Csurka a free hand in media matters in exchange for MIÉP's support.

Vásárhelyi offers another observation that is intriguing. According to her Fidesz is turning to MIÉP in order to combat the danger coming from Jobbik. Vásárhelyi's evidence is compelling, but my feeling is that MIÉP and its aging and ailing leader is simply no match for Jobbik and Gábor Vona. However, let's see what Vásárhelyi offers to bolster her contention. First and foremost, that lately the number of Fidesz politicians who appear in MIÉP's weekly, Magyar Fórum, is growing. Just to mention a few: István Simicskó, Fidesz chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, István Tarlós, the "independent" head of the Budapest Fidesz caucus who almost beat Gábor Demszky three years ago at the local elections, Ervin Demeter, Fidesz (earlier MDF) minister in charge of the national security offices, and Zoltán Illés, the environmental expert who is allegedly a liberal. But the most talked about was an interview with István Stumpf, the so-called independent political scientist who is actually the chief ideologist of Fidesz. That particular appearance must have been really embarrassing to the party because Stumpf's interview was published in the issue with the outrageous picture on its cover depicting György Surányi's in the middle of a Star of David. The caption read: "The Surányi Danger." That was at the time when there was talk of Surányi's becoming prime minister of Hungary. Suranyidavicsillag Stumpf's picture is second on the right. A few days later István Csurka was invited for an almost twenty-minute slot on Napkelte (Sunrise, a political interview program). According to Vásárhelyi, and I think she is right, the producer of Napkelte is very savvy when it comes to political "sensitivities." In plain language, the invitation of Csurka who was practically nonexistent as far as the Hungarian media was concerned was not accidental. The journalist who conducted the interview was Gergely Süveges, not exactly a prize winner, who asked perhaps three or four benign questions and not once questioned some of the decidedly outrageous statements. For example, that the government is behind the "mob." He let the assertion that "there was no change of regime" in 1989-1990 go without any remark. Normally Süveges is not at all shy when it comes to badgering members of parliament or heads of left-liberal parties on the same program. A couple of utterances support Vásárhelyi's thesis of the existence of some kind of deal between Fidesz and MIÉP. First of all, Csurka didn't attack Fidesz as he had been doing previously. On the contrary, he announced that a Fidesz government would be supported by the population, including, I assume, MIÉP. What he suggested was "joining forces and supporting" a Fidesz government. The second remark was also telling. To the question about the efficacy of street demonstrations advocated by Jobbik, the answer was a decided no. Csurka admitted that in the past he considered politics of the street appropriate, today it is not.

Indeed, it seems that Fidesz is "trying to breathe life into its former secret ally." There are signs of a new cooperation between the two parties. For example, in Pécs where there will soon be elections for a new mayor MIÉP asked its voters to support Zsolt Páva, the Fidesz candidate. This is especially noteworthy since Fidesz considered MIÉP responsible for its loss in the 2002 elections. Csurka's party received 4% of the votes. Not enough to be represented in parliament but sufficient to cause Fidesz's failure. It was this consideration that moved Fidesz to actually support Jobbik a year later. Since it was a student organization Orbán thought that his party would be able to control the youngsters. Especially because Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik today, was one of the founders of a "civic organization" called Szövetség a Nemzetért Polgári Kör (Alliance for the Nation Civic Circle) that Orbán himself joined. The enthusiasm within Fidesz when Jobbik appeared on the scene was obvious. István Stumpf wrote in June 2003 that Jobbik takes up issues that used to be represented by MIÉP but without its "crude overtones." The leadership of Jobbik "is accomplished, they communicate well … [the party] has the possibility of being the leader of the national right." Finally, Stumpf added that "MIÉP lost its vigor, it doesn't have a well chiseled message." On the other hand, Jobbik can express radical thoughts in "a more cultured fashion." Stumpf predicted that at the next elections it is very possible that MDF that stands a bit left of Fidesz and the Jobbik a bit right of it and, of course, Fidesz itself will be able to win the elections and perhaps even form a coalition government ( June 7, 2003).

Cultured? Well chiseled? None of Stumpf's predictions came to pass. On the contrary. Jobbik became a "monster" as Vásárhelyi called it. Vásárhelyi doesn't hide her opinion that Fidesz had a large role to play in bringing this monster to life. After all, Krisztina Morvai who heads Jobbik's EP list and who with a little luck may even go to Brussels as its representative at the European Parliament was a Fidesz creation after the October 23, 2006 events. They used her to incite public opinion at home and abroad with her "unscrupulous and primitive lies" against the government. She was greatly helped in this endeavor by the Reverend Zoltán Balog, Orbán's spiritual advisor and Fidesz parliamentary member. László Gy. Tóth, who was the chief advisor of Orbán between 1998 and 2002, today is the editor-in-chief of, a far-right website where Krisztina Morvai appears often and which is well known for its racist and antisemitic writings. Another prominent Jobbik man is Tamás Gaudi-Nagy who was also a member of the Orbán civic circle and received a prize from the organization for his tireless work for justice and democracy. Gaudi-Nagy's legal activity centered around the defense of former Arrow-Cross politicians, Hungarists, gendarmes, and members of the Lelkiismeret'88 group. As we all know, '88 equals HH, i.e. Heil Hitler.

This flirtation of Fidesz with the extreme right didn't quite work out, as is evident today. Vásárhelyi divides those who spout hate into two groups. One group consists of those who spread hatred for political gains–Fidesz and the right-wing journalists of Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap, HírTV, and EchoTV. Vásárhelyi goes so far as to claim that these journalists "work to order." But the problem is that there is another group whose hate-speech is genuine. They are convinced rascists, convinced Nazis. Fidesz, according to Vásárhelyi, inflames hateful passions "for cheap tactical gains." But the "strategic hate-mongering" worked too well and not at all the way Fidesz imagined it. By now Jobbik, or those who actually believe in the Nazi dogma, threatens Fidesz's chances at the polls. Admittedly, at the moment they are leading by a mile, but MSZP voters haven't flocked to the other side. They are simply shaken, undecided, and waiting. But there is a year to go and who knows. Especially when according to some polls about 25% of Fidesz voters actually sympathize with the extreme right. According to Vásárhelyi Fidesz by now realizes that the party cannot lure back these people. Orbán is hoping to split the radical right by supporting MIÉP and thus weaken a dangerous foe whom he brought into being.

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This seems to me to be a good analysis. I have felt since 2002, Orban/FIDESZ have continued to make the same tactical mistake: focusing on holding together the right even at the expense of securing the middle. By doing that in 2006, Orban let MDF back into the Psrlament. Now Orban realizes he has made an error in earlier legitamizing JOBBIK. I don’t think MIEP can reassert itself as a real force but may with luck keep JOBBIK below the 5% threshold. Anyway, with MSZP and SZDSZ popularity in the gutter, I really don’t get why FIDESZ does not move definitively to the center.


“MSZP voters haven’t flocked to the other side.”
Consider one more thing: Many former MSzP voters migh also switch to the right! They will never say so in the polls, but this is what happened in many Western European countries, as well.