It was only a few days ago that I posed the question: “who will win this political game?” Gábor Vona or Viktor Orbán? The occasion was Gábor Vona’s decision to demand a price for his party’s support of the constitutional amendments, which for political reasons were an important issue for the Hungarian prime minister. Orbán obviously didn’t expect his right-wing opposition, Jobbik, which had actually preferred an amendment to the referendum, to object to the “unwanted settlement” of refugees in Hungary. In that he was correct, but in exchange for its votes Jobbik demanded an end to the sale of the so-called “residency bonds,” a program that has been fraught with corruption in addition to being financially disadvantageous to the country (except in the very short term).
Orbán was furious. It was bad enough that the referendum into which he had poured so much money and energy turned out to be invalid. But now he was faced with Jobbik’s “blackmail,” as he called it. He was in a bind. Fidesz no longer has a two-thirds majority, without which no amendment to the constitution can be passed.
What followed was communication chaos. János Lázár announced that no more residency bonds will be sold, a statement that was later corrected by Viktor Orbán. He claimed that although Hungary’s financial situation is a great deal better than it was three or four years ago when the residency bond program began, the country still needs the incredible amount of money that is flowing into the budget from Chinese and Russian businessmen.
There was similar confusion over whether the vote on the amendments, originally scheduled for November 8, will be held on that day or whether the vote will be postponed. As it stands now, Fidesz has decided to go ahead, hoping they will be able to find two non-Fidesz people who will vote for the amendments. These votes, according to Vona, will not be coming from Jobbik.
Perhaps Viktor Orbán suspected after the failed referendum that Vona might give him a hard time. The very next day, on October 3, he launched into an ad hominem attack against Vona in parliament. Válasz, which until very recently was the most pro-Fidesz publication of Lajos Simicska’s media holdings, came to the conclusion that “Fidesz began the liquidation of Jobbik.” 888.hu immediately understood what was expected of them. On October 4 this caricature appeared on 888’s internet site.
This is serious business because there is no greater public enemy as far as Orbán is concerned than Ferenc Gyurcsány. Underlying this direct assault, at least according to talking heads, is Orbán’s intention to attract the more radical Jobbik voters by offering them an alternative in Fidesz. Fidesz should be more attractive to them than a moderate Jobbik that, according to Fidesz propaganda, is being led by an alter ego of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Boris Kálnoky in an article in the Austrian Die Presse called the October 3 attack on Vona the first sign of “a power struggle in the Hungarian right.” The prime minister is attacking the party leader but is courting Jobbik’s voters, Kálnoky believes.
A few days ago Paul Lendvai, who just published a new book titled Orbáns Ungarn/Orbán Magyarországa, claimed that Orbán’s honeymoon is over. And Zoltán Lakner, an astute political commentator, considered the possible failure of the constitutional amendment “the end of Orbán’s game, which will cause him a serious loss of prestige.” (Unfortunately, I’m unable to provide a link to Lakner’s article because it appeared in Népszabadság and therefore is no longer available on the internet.) So, Orbán’s ire is understandable. And his vengeance against Vona is going to be brutal. No effort will be spared to discredit Vona.
The attack, after Orbán’s initial volley, is now coming largely from the recently established Fidesz internet sites. For example, ripost.hu, a tabloid of sorts, dredged up an old story from 2013, forgotten by most people. Vona was accused of marital infidelity and of visiting brothels and gay bars by “Terry Black,” whose real name is Károly Rácz and who for 30 years worked as a gay porn actor in Germany. Vona denied that he went to gay bars or brothels, but he did admit that he was unfaithful to his wife. Now riport.hu revived this old story with the title “Vona’s sexually supercharged private letters are being circulating in Jobbik.” Vona’s “liberal attitude toward sex” is being reinforced with stories about other Jobbik politicians, where “one sex scandal follows the other.”
Magyar Idők, Magyar Hírlap, and sadly by now also Origo, are full of attacks against Vona’s Jobbik. There was an article in Magyar Idők with the intriguing title “A Jobbik girl with American flag,” which says a lot about Fidesz. The American flag was on a ski cap the girl wore to Jobbik’s rally on October 23. This was considered to be such a stigma that Magyar Idők published a picture of the obviously odious item which, I guess, was supposed to demonstrate that Jobbik has become the agent of American imperialism.
Fidesz is even capable of creating anti-Jobbik demonstrations to discredit the party. Due to journalistic incompetence, however, their efforts turned into a farce. Origo reported at 17:05 on October 23 that “a group of 20-30 people had to be separated by the police at Jobbik’s 1956 commemoration” because they tried to disrupt Gábor Vona’s speech. The only trouble was that Vona didn’t even start his speech until 17:15. There can be only one explanation for what happened. Fidesz planned to send 20-30 people to disturb Vona’s speech, but Origo, 888.hu, Lokál, and others were too much in haste in writing their reports. Origo has since completely rewritten the article. When n1tv.hu, an internet television with ties to Jobbik, inquired about their “time machine,” the so-called journalists refused to respond. Even András Stumpf, a journalist who works for mandiner.hu, not exactly a liberal internet site, was horrified by Origo’s stunt of reporting an event that hadn’t yet taken place.
Fidesz in its recent attacks on Jobbik benefited greatly from the murder of a policeman by a far-right Hungarist, István Győrkös, a couple of days ago. During the early days of Jobbik, in the summer of 2009, the party signed a “cooperation contract” with some far-right groups, like Betyársereg (Outlaws) and the Hatvanhét Vármegye. the number of counties of Greater Hungary. These ties have now returned to haunt Jobbik. Origo wrote an article in which it claimed that over the years Jobbik has had a close relationship with the Hungarian National Front of István Győrkös, which is not the case. As HVG said, “reading the pro-government media we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Vona is actually a member of a notorious Turkish terrorist organization.”
But these accusations stick, and Fidesz is doing everything in its power to perpetuate these stories. For example, Lajos Kósa, the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, already indicated that the government should start an investigation to find out whether any political parties had ties to Győrkös’s Hungarist organization. Jobbik tried to publish several public announcements showing that these attacks lack any credible foundation, but MTVA, the super media authority above MTI that was supposed to publish their statements, simply refused to accept them. Jobbik is planning “to take the necessary steps,” which in Hungary means to sue MTI.
No question, it’s war, a very serious one, but will it achieve Viktor Orbán’s goal of annihilating Jobbik? Moreover, is it a smart political move to destroy the party? Orbán’s genius was to establish a political system inspired by a formula that worked beautifully between the two world wars. The party that remained in power throughout the period, though it bore different names, had two weak opponents: one on the left and one on the right. They were so far from each other ideologically that cooperation between them was unimaginable. Therefore, the government party was never seriously threatened. This is exactly what Viktor Orbán had in mind, and it has worked beautifully until now. But what will happen if Jobbik is pushed up against the wall and turns against Fidesz? What if it starts to cooperate with the opposition parties on the left? It could happen if Orbán goes too far in his zealous pursuit of his prey.