Dilemmas in current Hungarian politics

On the surface it was no more than a storm in a teacup: András Gerő, historian of the Habsburg Monarchy, wrote an angry letter to a somewhat secretive organization called Szeretem Magyarországot Klub/SZMK (I love Hungary Club) because the club members gave their blessing to an invitation to Jobbik Chairman Gábor Vona to meet with the membership. What the club members were especially interested in was Jobbik’s racist and anti-Semitic past and its present change of heart.

András Gerő is not a member of the club, but he normally gets invitations to the monthly gatherings because of his earlier appearance before the group as an invited guest. Still, he decided to write a sharply-worded letter to the club in which he expressed his disapproval of the decision. In the letter he admitted that Jobbik is “a legitimate parliamentary force,” but he argued that SZMK, with this invitation, legitimizes Jobbik and its chairman. The former is a political legitimization; the latter, intellectual and moral. Moreover, SZMK’s claim that by listening to Vona the members could gain new and useful information is idle. What one can hear about Jobbik in the media is quite enough to form an opinion of this party.

Gerő often ends up in the midst of controversies of his own making. A few years ago he divided the historical community by accusing Ignác Romsics of anti-Semitism, which most observers found unwarranted. His siding with Mária Schmidt against Mazsihisz and other Jewish organizations in the altercation over the House of Fate didn’t raise Gerő’s stature in my eyes. His relationship with the Fidesz government is also hazy because he is the director of the Habsburg Historical Institute, a one-man organization (plus a secretary) with a very elegant office. The institute’s continued existence depends on the goodwill of the Orbán government. It was because of this connection that Jobbik accused Gerő of serving Viktor Orbán’s interests in trying to blacken the name of Jobbik.

I doubt that Gerő acted as an agent of Fidesz, trying to torpedo Vona’s appearance before the members of SZMK. But Fidesz certainly loved Gerő’s attack on Jobbik’s chairman since Viktor Orbán’s real enemy at the moment is Gábor Vona. First of all, although Jobbik’s move to the center has weakened the party somewhat, it still has a large following. Jobbik today is the second largest party in Hungary. Moreover, there are signs that Jobbik has acquired a powerful patron with deep pockets in the person of Lajos Simicska, who seems ready to spend a considerable amount of money to get rid of Viktor Orbán. Simicska not only helps Jobbik financially. He also shares with its leadership the large repository of his “dirty tricks” that made Fidesz into the powerful organization that it is today. Jobbik’s move to the center especially frightens Orbán because he worries that his whole political edifice might crumble if Jobbik and the left-of-center forces decide to cooperate in some manner.

When it comes to the coverage of Jobbik in the Fidesz media, the emphasis is on the extremism of Jobbik. Magyar Idők published several articles on Gerő’s letter in which it embraced the historian’s opinion that “Jobbik is the political putrefier of Hungarian society.” Magyar Idők’s editorial on the subject carried the title: “Gábor Vona bowed before the Left.” Gerő, who enjoys being in the center of these controversies, in one of his television appearances called SZMK’s invitation to Vona “political racism.”

What transpired at this contentious meeting? It is difficult to get too much information about SZMK’s gatherings. We know that it is an elite club where the recommended yearly dues are 120,000 forints (approximately $450). Members and participants are asked to be discrete, and therefore the club functions pretty much without any public mention. Last year Károly Gerendai, the founder of SZMK and the brains behind the Sziget Festival, which is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe, did talk to Magyar Nemzet. There he gave some details about the membership and about the illustrious visitors who had appeared before them in the past few years, but otherwise little is known about the club’s activities. ATV got in touch with a few members, some of whom admitted that a long debate preceded Vona’s invitation. But, they said, at the end the decision was reached that “Gábor Vona is one of the most remarkable figures today in Hungarian politics who has been moving away from his earlier right radical position. We know his past, but he has a place in this club because we have many questions we would like to get answers to.” Moreover, “Gábor Vona and his party are a factor in Hungarian politics,” one of the participants said.

Magyar Idők’s editorial recalled that in 2011 Gergely Karácsony, then still a member of LMP, suggested a temporary strategic alliance among all the opposition parties, including Jobbik, which could easily defeat Fidesz and gain a two-thirds majority. After a few months of “housecleaning” and a new more proportionate electoral law, the parliament could be dissolved and new elections could be held. This strategy has been in the air ever since. Miklós Haraszti, without suggesting a temporary alliance with Jobbik, is also thinking along the same lines: to force Fidesz in some way to accept a new electoral law. Lajos Bokros, when he talks about the magic 500 days which would be enough to get rid of the most objectionable pieces of Fidesz legislation, after which new elections could be held, is also proposing a variation of the same theme. And this is exactly what Viktor Orbán is worried about because, if that materializes, if Vona were able to convince the socialist-liberal parties that he is no longer the man they had known for years, Fidesz’s chances of winning the election, at least as things stand right now, would be nil.

Moreover, there are a lot of ordinary citizens who consider Orbán’s removal so important that they believe a temporary alliance with Jobbik is still preferable to perhaps decades of Orbán’s fascistoid one-party system. Ferenc Gyurcsány talked about this more than a year ago. After seeing that, at a couple of by-elections, citizens were ready to maximize their votes by voting for the candidate most likely to win and ignoring party affiliations, he wondered whether left-right cooperation might materialize. As he put it, “I wouldn’t have any enthusiasm for it, but I can no longer rule out the possibility of the opposition parties’ joining forces in the interest of getting rid of the present government. This regime might have a very strange end.”

At present no one contemplates such a joint action involving Jobbik. In fact, Gyurcsány’s party is one of the loudest in excluding any such possibility. On the other hand, apparently Vona told his SZMK audience that “Jobbik is ready to cooperate with anyone against Fidesz and specifically mentioned LMP as a possible ally.” Mandiner, a right-wing publication, noted that Vona and his audience especially saw eye to eye when it came to the person of Viktor Orbán. As the paper’s source claimed, “the audience and the party chairman outdid each other in their invectives against Orbán.”

Jobbik joined the other parties when it came to the “national minimum” on healthcare, and today the Közös Ország Mozgalom announced that they had received assurances from Dóra Duró, a Jobbik MP, that the party will take a look at the electoral law in its final form and will make a decision as to whether they are ready to support it. No one can see into the future, but there are signs of left and right pulling in the same direction.

September 25, 2017
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Michael Kaplan
Guest

I appreciate the desire to unseat Orban, which I share, but I do-respectfully suggest caution in working with Jobbik. The Gero feud with Romsics is also not as simple as you comment. Well past the post communism period, Romsics was still using the term, “Jewish question” with out quotation marks when almost all modern historians consider this an inappropriate term. Moreover, Romscics wrote as if Jews were a monolithic group vs. diverse individuals. When taken to task, Romscics was very thin skinned. Is he an anti Semite? I have no idea. If Deak says he is not, that is good enough for me; however, Romscics was certainly wrong and as important, lacked empathy.

Marty
Guest

A few years ago Romsics simply “neglected” to include the year 1944 in his book Magyar sorsfordulók (The years which proved to be fateful for Hungarians (in the 20th century)).

This was an egregious oversight as 1944 saw the deportation and murder of over 400.000 Hungarians categorized as Jews. In 1944 Hungary was occupied by Germany and in late 1944 the unabashedly fascist Arrow Cross government took over which directed the entire economy and all instruments of the nation to serve Germany’s war efforts (when it was already clear the game was over for the Germany army).

If 1944 wasn’t a fate-turning year for Hungarians than one doesn’t know which was.

That said Romsics is not an anti-semite he – being a default white Christian male – just doesn’t have the slightest sensitivity about the holocaust and simply thinks “Jews” are a separate, clearly circumscribed category of “others”. It’s like when men talk about issues affecting women, they simply cannot comprehend what it is like to be a women.

Member
“If Vona were able to convince the socialist-liberal parties that he is no longer the man they had known for years, Fidesz’s chances of winning the election, at least as things stand right now, would be nil.” According to the August crop of opinion polls, combined support for all opposition parties (except for the tiny ones) is just 2% greater than support for Fidesz-MSZMP. This idea also presupposes that Jobbik voters would follow Vona into an alliance with the other opposition parties, which is a highly questionable assumption. http://kozvelemenykutatok.hu/valtozatlan-partpreferenciak-augusztusban/ “After seeing that, at a couple of by-elections, citizens were ready to maximize their votes by voting for the candidate most likely to win and ignoring party affiliations, [Gyurcsány] wondered whether left-right cooperation might materialize.” In a comment I made yesterday, I outlined the reasons why I believe the 2ö15 by-elections did not show meaningful evidence of cooperation between the Jobbik and Leftie camps. Since I am rather cynical about Hungarian politics to begin with, there is certainly reason to doubt the impartiality of my analysis. However, Republikon, founded by dyed-in-the-wool lefty liberal Gabor Horn, agrees with me. Their analyst wrote that there might be some evidence of “atjaras” (one camp… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Alex

Your example is of the case where the Jobbik and the dem parties both fielded candidates. It will be a different contest if there was a single candidate against fidesz and all polls show most probable victory.
Even if the current figures or the cooperation probabilities was insufficient for a victory, the parties should make the best efforts and be battle ready. Any new factor like a financial crises or revelations of Orban’s offshore accounts or like will tip the balance and send the regime crashing.

Member

“It will be a different contest if there was a single candidate against fidesz and all polls show most probable victory.”

Can you please give me an example?

Observer
Guest

Poll figured vary, no matter, try roughly: the dem parties + Jobbik support figured, subtract turned off diehards add Bradley effect voters from the huge “undecided”.

Member
That’s making a lot of assumptions that simply cannot be made. Talk to Ferenc Gegesy, who was the SZDSZ mayor of Ferencvaros (my district) from 1990 to 2010, when he got ousted by a Fidesz stooge. Gegesy, who was an excellent mayor but a poor politician, tried to explain it by saying “The MSZP ran against me. If we had had a united left-wing ticket, I would still be mayor.” In 2014, Gegesy tried to stage a comeback in which he gained the support of all opposition parties except Jobbik. His advisors told him, “If we add the MSZP votes from 2010 to your votes from 2010, you will have a huge majority and you will have no problem defeating Fidesz.” It didn’t work out that way. The MSZP voters did not follow their party. Gegesy is now the twice-defeated ex-mayor. We cannot add all opposition supporters together and say “now we will have a winning ticket.” Reality does not work that way. What we need is a poll that says, “The decided majority of Jobbik voters hate Orban more than they hate the lefties and will be willing to vote for a joint candidate/list, and the same is true… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Orbán’s removal is so important that I believe a temporary alliance with Jobbik is insrumental to getting rid of Orbán’s fascistoid one-party system

wrfree
Guest

Observer… I just think it opens up a can of worms. But I am only one man with only one set of eyes and ears. I think wrangling with the devil isn’t such a hot thing. Just my take.

petofi
Guest

Don’t be fooled, ladies & gents–Jobbik is an instrument of the KGB no less than Orban and Fidesz…

Observer
Guest

Orban is a current and deep disaster – a cleptocratic fascist regime in power. What can be worse here and now?
Jobbik, whatever the may be, CAN NOT form a gov alone – whats the big threat here?

Observer
Guest

Moreover, Vona’s been pushing to the center for two years now turning against fidesz where he came from. Give him a chance. What would be better – cooperation with Job or a Fid/ Jobbik coalition?

wrfree
Guest

In the type of left/Jobbik cooperative possibilities that could emerge the saying ‘ give’em an inch and they’ll take a yard’ could be a likely scenario somewhere down the line.
The scramble for power usually brings with it all the actions of pushing advantage. And Jobbik no doubt will push it for all its worth.

Observer
Guest

A. Gerő regularly stirs some controversy; even in his brief tv appearances he manages to play the contrarian. Self promotion or prickliness or else, he seems able to bend considerably or to serve the higher bidder.

Guest

Rather OT – a bad joke my wife just told me.
Maybe this helps to lighten up your day:
A Gipsy (I know it should be Roma, but still …) is interviewed – is life better now than in Kádár times?

No, life was much better in Kádár times! Then politicians would just talk, workers would work and we Gipsies would steal …

And now under the Fidesz regime politicians steal, workers just talk and we Gipsies have to work!

Tyrker
Guest

Sharing an old, bad and openly racist joke like this – and the fact that you thought it would “lighten up” anyone’s day – tells more about your true attitude towards racial stereotyping than any of your previous comments.

Guest

How nice of you to reappear, Tyrker!
How much are you paid for reading HS and coming up with those “valuable” comments, little *expletive deleted*?
What about analysing or interpreting one of Zsolt Bayer’s speeches/articles – I’m sure you’ve read them and admired them!

Istvan
Guest

Orban is featured in this issue of the US journal Foreign Affairs. http://www.foreignaffairs.com: Europe’s Populist Surge | Foreign Affairs