A year and a half ago Gábor Vona, the leader of the Jobbik party, paid a quick visit to London to meet with his party’s supporters among Hungarians working in Great Britain. The trip turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Vona. He and his followers were forced to move to another location after they were confronted with protesters waving signs saying “No Nazis, no Golden Dawn, no Jobbik, no BNP.” A few days before his arrival The Guardian had a piece on Jobbik and Vona and came to the conclusion that the “fascist Hungarian Gábor Vona is not the sort of immigrant we want in the UK.”
The same Gábor Vona at a camp organized by EMI (Erdélyi Magyar Fiatalok / Transylvanian Hungarian Youth) said the other day that “Nazis have no place in Jobbik. If anyone is attracted to the Nazi ideology he should go and establish a party of his own.”
In the last six months, in the wake of a sudden surge in the party’s popularity in the late fall and winter of 2014, Vona decided on a new strategy. With the precipitous fall in Fidesz’s popularity at the same time, Jobbik became the second largest party in the country. The leaders of Jobbik thought that their party might be the one that could be the foremost challenger of Fidesz at the next national election in 2018. Vona also realized that with the party’s current ideology its chances of appealing to a wider audience was practically nil. There will always be 15-20% of the electorate who will vote for a party espousing anti-Semitism and anti-Roma views, but that is not enough to defeat a party whose supporters come from all walks of life. So came a new slogan: Jobbik must become a “néppárt” (people’s party). That in Hungarian political parlance means a party whose support is not restricted to a narrow segment of society but recruits its followers from all socio-economic segments of society.
Since the announcement of the new strategy the Hungarian media has been preoccupied with Jobbik and its future, most of which I find rather tiresome. According to some analysts, Vona’s new strategy has been so successful that Vona can easily become the next prime minister of Hungary. The best example of this kind of alarmist sentiment appeared in Index, from which we learn that indeed “Jobbik has followers from the richest to the poorest strata of Hungarian society, and their program preordains them to be the most popular party in Hungary unless Fidesz figures out something by the end of the year.” And that is not all. According to Tamás Fábián, the author of the article, Vona has been more successful than Péter Szijjártó when it comes to acquiring friends in the East. He carefully lists those embassies in Budapest which sent representatives to Jobbik’s last congress and adds that today even “Putin would gladly meet Vona.” The only problem with all this is that Jobbik’s popularity, after an initial upsurge, has been stagnating and in fact, according some of the polls, in the last two months the party even lost support.
There might also be another strategy change in the offing in Jobbik. In 2010 Gábor Vona published an article in Barikád, the party’s weekly, which since has resurfaced as a topic for discussion. In it we read about Jobbik’s warm relations to the Muslim world. Why? Because “there is only one culture left which seeks to preserve its tradition: it is the Islamic world.” Vona considered Islam “mankind’s last remaining bastion of traditional culture…. If Islam fails, the light will go out completely…. History will really come to an end and there will be no happy ending.”
Three years later in Morocco Vona declared that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” In April of this year during a trip to Turkey he fiercely defended Turkey in the face of international criticism over its unwillingness to take responsibility for the Armenian massacre. He even criticized the pope for calling the events of 1915 “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” a remark he found “inappropriate.”
Jobbik also made its position clear on Hungarian participation in the international effort against ISIS. Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said at a press conference that “although Jobbik looked on the rampage of ISIS with utmost pain, the party could not support any action that could expose Hungary’s security to danger.” He reminded his listeners of an interview given to CNN by Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, in which “Clark acknowledged that Muslim fundamentalists of the Middle East were recruited with the support of the United States of America and its friends in order to fight against Hezbollah.”
The love affair between Jobbik and the Hungarian Muslim community, however, is now over. One of the three imams of the Magyar Iszlám Közösség (Hungarian Islamic Community), Ahmed Miklós Kovács, declared fatva against Jobbik and forbade any communication between Muslims and Jobbik or any other extremist groups. He admitted that in the past many Hungarian Muslims voted for Jobbik and some of them joined para-military groups or the party itself. But this is now over because “these organizations have become enemies of the Muslims.”
Jobbik’s has not publicly announced any policy change toward Islam, but the imam is obviously aware of a change of attitude. Indeed, Jobbik’s internet site, Alfahír, makes it abundantly clear practically every day that Jobbik has zero tolerance toward the refugees, most of whom come from Muslim countries. Jobbik organized several rallies against the refugees, and the latest gathering in Pécs against building a refugee camp near the city had Jobbik support. A message from Krisztina Morvai, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament, was greeted with great delight and approval. The same Krisztina Morvai is planning to produce a documentary film on the “illegal migrants” crossing the Serb-Hungarian border at Ásotthalom, where László Toroczkai, the far-right leader of the 64 Counties Youth Movement in Hungary, is the mayor. He has done a lot to poison the atmosphere in the region by inciting the population against the refugees. All in all, Jobbik, sensing the growing anti-Muslim attitude in Hungary, will most likely quietly drop its pro-Islam stance.
Finally, I would like to quote from Cas Mudde’s recent article on the nature of the Orbán regime.
Misguided emphasis on the most extreme and photogenic radical right groups also plays out in Hungary. As the international media continues to give little or no attention to the increasingly radical right rhetoric of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, they continue to publish alarmist articles and op-eds about the rise of the radical right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) – despite the fact that Fidesz probably has a more radical discourse (though not ideology) than Jobbik.
János Dési, a journalist who currently works for KlubRádió, wrote a book with the title Melyik a Jobbik? (Which one is Jobbik?) The book’s cover says it all.
It would be better to worry about the Fidesz that “Orbán has transformed … into a party that seems increasingly driven by a combination of nativism, authoritarianism, and populism–hallmarks of radical right ideology,” to quote Mudde.