Russian support for far-right groups in Hungary?

A lengthy article by Andrew Higgins appeared in The New York Times a few days ago under the headline “Intent on Unsettling E.U., Russia Taps Foot Soldiers from the Fringe.” As the accompanying photo, showing supporters of Jobbik demonstrating in Budapest in 2014, indicates, the larger part of the piece is devoted to Russian support of the Hungarian far-right. It pays special attention to Jobbik and the Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front), which got a lot of negative press recently as a result of the murder of a police officer by the group’s leader, István Győrkös.

Most of the information in the article comes from a March 2015 study by Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank that has published a number of pamphlets on Hungarian extreme right-wing organizations and their relations with Russia. Political Capital’s English-language study “’I am Eurasian’: The Kremlin connections of the Hungarian far-right” is the joint effort of Attila Juhász, Lóránt Győri, Péter Krekó, and András Dezső. The first three authors are political scientists working for Political Capital. András Dezső is an investigative journalist for Index. He did most of the work unearthing Béla Kovács’s Russian ties.

The study on which The New York Times article is based is 53 pages long. It is useful because it covers topics not normally reported on anywhere else. For example, the Russian media’s views of Jobbik and Béla Kovács’s role as a possible Russian agent. For me, at least, this was new information. The copious footnotes, which include a fair amount of English-language material, are also helpful.

The major problem with the study is that it is already out of date. Over the past two years much of the Hungarian political scene has turned upside down. Jobbik is no longer the Jobbik it was in February-March 2015. Its emphasis on friendship with Iran and Russia has shifted somewhat, in line with the thinking of Jobbik supporters who still prefer the West to the East. Moreover, Gábor Vona, the party’s chairman, has opted to move away from extremism in the hope of being accepted as a moderate right-of-center party. Magyar Nemzet, often quoted in the study as a pro-Russian government mouthpiece, is now, as a result of the falling out between its owner and Viktor Orbán, independent and frequently critical of the government. In early 2015 Béla Kovács’s immunity case was still pending, but since then the European Parliament decided to lift his immunity. And, finally, even as Jobbik began drifting away from Russia, Fidesz more than filled the void. Although Fidesz has had close ties to Russia ever since 2011, it was somewhat constrained by the European Union. With the election of Donald Trump, however, it is now confident that it is on the winning side.

According to the Political Capital study, “Russian military intelligence officers, masquerading as diplomats, staged regular mock combat exercises using plastic guns with neo-Nazi activists.” They carried out these exercises even though Hungarian intelligence was ostensibly keeping an eye on Győrkös’s “network of extremists linked to and encouraged by Russia.”

The analysts of Political Capital admit that support for these fringe groups rarely pans out, but “reaching out to those on the margins costs little and sometimes hits pay dirt. That happened with Jobbik,” claims András Rácz, a Russian expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. I heartily disagree with Rácz. Jobbik didn’t become an important party because of Russian financial support. They “hit pay dirt” with their anti-Gypsy rhetoric in a country where over 80% of the population is strongly anti-Roma. Their anti-Semitism also added to their popularity in certain circles.

The other topic The New York Times article treats at some length is the case of Béla Kovács, who is “widely mocked as KGBela.” I have written many times about the Russian financing of Jobbik and the role Béla Kovács played in the relationship between Jobbik and the Kremlin. But I don’t think I reported that in June 2015 the European Parliament lifted his immunity, thereby allowing a Hungarian investigation of his case. As The New York Times article admits, “authorities in Hungary have so far shown little real interest in pursuing the matter.” Just as “the government has shown similar reluctance to probe too deeply into Russia’s links” to István Győrkös’s neo-Nazi activities. This reluctance is worrisome. But even more worrisome is that when Bernadett Szél of LMP proposed a parliamentary investigation into Russian interference in Hungarian affairs, the move was blocked by Fidesz.

I’m Béla Rabbit. And I’m the Russian bear.

The official Jobbik news site alfarhir.hu is no more pro-Russian than Magyar Idők or Magyar Hírlap. Any Russian “financial aid” given to Hungarian fringe groups or to Jobbik is by now a complete waste of money since the ruling party and the Hungarian government are fully committed to a pro-Russian foreign policy. Why throw away good money on fringe groups, especially on Jobbik, which at the moment is considered to be the chief enemy of the Orbán government? Russian money to “unsettle the E.U.” is going straight to the Hungarian government in the form of billions of euros for the Paks Nuclear Power Plant enlargement. The real threat is not Jobbik or the neo-Nazi fringe groups financed by Russia but Viktor Orbán, who is doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding.

December 28, 2016
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Istvan
Guest
Eva your essay on The NY Times article does not discuss the apparent leaks for the Hungarian Parliamentary Committee for National Security. It is significant that both Molnar and Szeged went public with their comments to The NY Times in possible violation of aspects of Act CXXV of 1995 on the National Security Services, Article 14 or at least my reading of the Act. The references to the content of The NY Times article in to the revelation of information presented to the Parliamentary Committee for National Security have been less than explicit in the Hungarian media from what I have seen. Your essay obfuscates the significance of these disclosures and does not even speculate as to why this information was provided to the NY Times. I will admit your tone of accepting Russian penetration of the Jobbik as ongoing in this essay was much improved over your statement on Dec 24: “Jobbik did have close Russian connections in the past but by now the Russians are supporting groups which are even right of Jobbik.” As to your question as to why the Russians would want to support opposition groups of the right including Jobbik when “Hungarian (Fidesz) government are… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

The other aspect of this NY Times story is the extent it was promoted by the CIA itself in the final days before Trump takes control and very possibly will not want to discuss any Russian security threats internationally beyond closed doors. Carl Bernstein spent six months looking at the relationship of the CIA and the American press during the Cold War years. His 25,000-word cover story, published in Rolling Stone on October 20, 1977, and can still be read today at http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php To believe that these practices do not still continue in the US media would be hard to believe, clearly Russia Today is fully utilized by the Russians for their nefarious purposes. I accept that our security agencies in the USA can manipulate the media and more often than not I agree with the manipulation.

Guest

The Hungarian public may give lip service to its preference for “Europe,” but its political and social habits, its on-the-ground social and political preferences, proclivities and comfort zones, its mentality and its visceral responses place it squarely in the hub of darkest Eastern Europe/Balkans, and no amount of liberal democratic hand wringing can or will ever change that for the foreseeable future of many, many decades to come. That makes the job of Russia easy in positioning and manipulating Hungary as a deadly dangerous canker in the heart of the EU and NATO.

Guest

For those who can read German:
Foreign minister Szijjártó had an interview in the conservative (I call it right wing …) German newspaper Die WELT where he goes crazy over Trump and Putin – he hopes they will show the EU “the right way” (pun intended).
For liberals like us this of course would mean the destruction of the EU so I’m sincerely hoping that the core countries will show him and his right wing friends in Poland etc off!

The best solution (if the right wingers stay in power) imho would be the two speed EU – or let them leave and join Putin’s Eurasian Union!

I just can’t imagine an EU following Orbán’s and Kaszinsky’s ideas.

https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article160632695/Wir-muessen-aufhoeren-Einwanderung-zu-inspirieren.html

András B. Göllner
Guest

Touché

webber
Guest

Jobbik’s pay dirt: I disagree. Anti-minority sentiments got Jobbik votes (on that we can agree), but no funding. The Russian alignment brought quite a lot of money to the party. Jobbik now has a free weekly that its activists distribute nationwide by dropping it into people’s mail boxes. It’s quite a professional paper – far better than the government rag, Magyar Idők. Without money, Jobbik’s weekly could never be published or distributed.

Guest

Not too much OT:

You’ve probably all read that Obama announced sanctions against Russia not obnly because of their hacks.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/29/barack-obama-sanctions-russia-election-hack
Now for something funny – when Trump was asked about this “cyberwar” he said:
“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”
Poor guy …

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