Gábor Vona and Katalin Rangos in the Spinoza Theater

On Thursday in the Spinoza Theater on Dob utca, in the middle of the “Jewish quarters,”  a lengthy conversation took place between Gábor Vona (Jobbik) and Katalin Rangos, a well-known journalist. It was part of a series of conversations with leaders of all the more substantial parties, including Fidesz. This was the third such gathering, after the appearances of Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK) and Bernadett Szél (LMP).

After Anna Sándor, the director of Spinoza, announced the scheduled conversations a couple of months ago, she received criticism and even threats from people who considered Jobbik an unacceptable guest because of its anti-Semitic past. Anna Sándor refused to retreat. I can only applaud this decision. Hungary is allegedly still a democracy and, whether we like it or not, Jobbik is the largest opposition party. Its support is twice the size of MSZP’s.

The debate that spilled over to Facebook was about whether Spinoza, which is known to be sensitive to minority questions and yearly organizes the by now famous Jewish Festival, is not legitimizing with its invitation a party that until recently was known for its anti-Roma and anti-Semitic ideology. From the comments on Jewish internet sites it is clear that the larger part of the Jewish community thinks that the theater’s invitation was a mistake.

The capacity of the Spinoza Theater is small and the atmosphere intimate, though the audience was not allowed to ask questions. The conversation, lasting an hour and a half, was exclusively between Katalin Rangos and Gábor Vona. Rangos was hard hitting and, as a result, Vona faltered a few times. But by and large he handled the situation quite well. The conversation can be viewed on Hír TV.

The weakest part of Vona’s responses came when he was asked why he tolerates László Toroczkai as deputy chairman of the party. I wrote recently about Toroczkai in my post on “Jobbik’s checkered past and present.” Most observers are convinced that Vona needs Toroczkai in a high position within the party because his presence in the leadership ensures the loyalty of the more right-radical supporters of Jobbik. Vona’s justification for Toroczkai’s presence in the party brought to mind that on certain issues Vona is still very much of a hard liner. For example, Toroczkai’s views on the migrants and Islam suit him just fine. His answer to Rangos about his old claim regarding the incompatibility of his possible Jewishness and his being the head of Jobbik was also totally unacceptable. I was equally appalled when he expressed his admiration for Mária Wittner just because she was a heroine of the 56 revolution, regardless of her extreme right-wing political views. So, I suspect that there are many far-right elements remaining in Vona’s ideological playbook.

On the other hand, his explanation of how he, who once said that Jobbik was not a democratic party and that democracy is not his cup of tea, now wants to restore democracy in Hungary was more convincing. As he put it, he can thank Viktor Orbán for his recognition of the absolute necessity of democracy because in the last six to seven years he learned what it’s like to live in an undemocratic state. Those who don’t want to listen to the entire conversation can read a good summary of it here.

Péter S. Föld, whose writings I greatly admire, wrote an article titled “Variations on Vona and Spinoza.” Variation A is that Vona is a Nazi and Jobbik is a Nazi party. They try to convince us that their past actions were only childish mischief, but their metamorphosis is merely a tactical move. After they grab power we will see a return of the old Jobbik. They will again count Jewish members of the government and parliament; they will again spit into the shoes alongside the Danube. Therefore, allowing Vona into Spinoza was not just a mistake but a sin. Variation B claims that we should recognize that Jobbik is not the same party that it was a few years ago. Vona has changed for the better. If we look around, we must realize that Fidesz is in fact to the right of Jobbik by now. If they are ready to apologize, we must forgive them. Moreover, we have no choice if we want to get rid of the Orbán regime; we must cooperate with Jobbik.

Föld summed up the opposing positions on the left perfectly. I figure that the majority of the people believe Variation A, just as Katalin Rangos announced at the beginning of the conversation. Those who were present most likely will not be swayed by whatever Vona told them.

While we contemplate the alternative positions, it is worth taking a look at the government papers because they might guide us in our own assessment of the dilemma the Hungarian left-of-center opposition faces. First of all, all three papers I consulted talked about both sides in a most degrading manner. Here are a few headlines: “Communists, anti-Semites, and flag burners in cahoots for power,” “Vona sucks up to and delivers an oath of allegiance to the moonbow of MSZP-SZDSZ,” and “Vona makes a penitent, ridiculous visit to the downtown liberal elite.” All three articles have an anti-Semitic tinge to them because they make it clear that this “downtown liberal elite” frequents the old Jewish quarters and the Spinoza Theater.

According to 888.hu, Vona humiliated his own party and disgraced himself. And Rangos was labelled “the most servile and unscrupulous” supporter of the MSZP-SZDSZ governments. Even so, according 888.hu, she was all sweetness and light and acted like a “forgiving mother hen” when talking to Vona. She was accused of allowing Vona to wiggle out of sticky questions concerning the past. The Fidesz media, most likely reflecting the party’s fears, seems truly worried about some kind of reconciliation between the opposition parties of the left and the right.

I have the distinct feeling that Fidesz was mighty unhappy about this gathering and that orders were given out to warm up some old stories about Jobbik’s past anti-Semitic statements to help shape public opinion for the event. Gábor Kubatov, who is an extremely important person within Fidesz, gave an interview to Figyelő in which he talked at some length about a possible “technical cooperation between the left and Jobbik.” While he was at it, he delivered a ringing condemnation of both anti-Semitism and Ágnes Heller, “the chief ideologist of the left-liberals who keeps talking about cooperation with Jobbik.” Such cooperation would completely undermine Fidesz’s basic political strategy.

November 19, 2017
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Michael Kaplan
Guest

Professor Balogh, while I often agree with you, I think you are mistaken in equating giving a private venue to the leader of Jobbik with free speech. Actually, a private venue is well with in its rights to have denied this venue, the Spinoza Theater. Moreover, the leader of Jobbik has never apologized in both words and actions for his racist anti Semitic and antiRoma words and actions. If the opposition to the current regime is not careful in avoiding anything like an overture to Jobbik, the old fox Orban will only grow stronger. Vona’s toleration of more overt anti Semitic and anti Roma, thugs, let alone anti Gay voices in Jobbik only confirms the need to avoid these thugs like the plague. Thanks for other comments in your wide ranging article.

Alex Knisely
Guest

When the webpage of the Spinoza describes the venue as “A zsidónegyed szívében” surely even a Fidesz-leaning newspaper may do the same.

Sometimes, Prof Balogh, you do rather over-egg your pudding.

Member

“Fidesz-leaning” is a highly misleading and manipulative term, Alex. You lean because of temperament, inclination, or conviction. Fidesz newspapers are controlled and paid for by Fidesz directly. Quite different.

Alex Knisely
Guest

Thank you. I think that an inclination, a leaning, may inhere or may result from tuggings and pushings; you think differently. I infer from your comment that you believe that my choice of language was shaped by wishes highly to mislead and to manipulate. If my inference is correct, I say: You believe wrongly, David, and to impute those wishes to me is discourteous in you.

Observer
Guest

A.Knisely
My imputation from your response here is of your Fid leaning. The future will mark my hunch.

Alex Knisely
Guest

Thank you. Your response is probably cogent, and so I wish that I understood it — “mark my hunch”, though, eludes me. *** If you think that I am a Fidesz sympathiser, however, which might be what your first sentence wobbles toward, you are well far from the mark.

Member

If Gábor Vona, or anyone else has an ideology, a conviction that is completely unaccaptable to the majority, but he/she changes it to be acceptable, it is worth to consider, what and how will he/she change again in the future.
Before elections, politicians will promise anything and they all want to look like savior Angels, so they can get elected.
My experience is, that few of them, if any, keeps his promises and none of them are saviors.
Gábor Vona is no exception! More impertant, that he is only a front man of the Jobbik, on his back the rest of the unacceptable people would slide into important posts in the Government.

wrfree
Guest

Re: the ‘front man’ of Jobbik

Vona can do no less as a leader of a popular party fighting for ‘the good of the cause’. He seems now to have a fondness for ‘democracy’ and what he thinks it stands for. It’s very simple. One can talk, orate and pronounce until the cows come come. But the proof in the Jobbik pudding is deeds. Actions ultimately speak louder than words.

1956
Guest

To: Gyula

I am recognizing FIDESZ and JOBBIK as the weaponized Hungarians, whose task is to destroy the West. Their real target is beyond Hungary, They are the best tools for the Kremlin. The rest is window dressing.

Michael Kaplan
Guest

Mr. Bognar-I agree 100% with your comments. I don’t attribute any bad motives to those in the opposition who think a tactical alliance with Jobbik might unseat Orban; however, this is a dangerous strategy per your comments and the proposed strategy is a poor substitute for creating a viable opposition. I can’t imagine a successful coalition government with Jobbik and once in power, they might never leave. The left/liberals must work much harder to unseat Orban. The same is true in the USA regarding unseating Trump. I think Vona’s tactics remind me of the salami tactics of the post war communists in Hungary e.g. get rid of the opposition one slice at a time while promising a better future!

Member

Thank you. There are ample examples of politicians and leaders of movements in a society are acting as a weathervanes and Hungary is a prime example for this. (There is a Hungarian proverb, liberally translated; One can’t make bacon from a dog.)

wrfree
Guest

Nice proverb.
Just would like to say if there are some who view Jobbik as the ‘indispensable’ in coalition strategy that’ll really have to put the ‘zsir into the beds.

Member
One should remember examples from history. Radical parties start out as minorities. As they become popular through their leader(s), they tailor their speeches and campaign to the various social classes and groups, telling them only what they like to hear. When they become elected and become a majority in coalition or later alone, that is when their true nature becomes fully visible. The Communist Party in Russia, the Nazi Party in Germany and jumping to the present, the Fidesz employs the same deception to gain absolute power. ========================== “Hitler and other Nazi speakers carefully tailored their speeches to each audience. For example, when speaking to businessmen, the Nazis downplayed antisemitism and instead emphasized anti-communism and the return of German colonies lost through the Treaty of Versailles. When addressed to soldiers, veterans, or other nationalist interest groups, Nazi propaganda emphasized military buildup and return of other territories lost after Versailles. Nazi speakers assured farmers in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein that a Nazi government would prop up falling agricultural prices. Pensioners all over Germany were told that both the amounts and the buying power of their monthly checks would remain stable.” https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008206 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++ In Hungary, the entire political system, the politicians… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Precisely.
Jobbik in a coalition is a non-star. Lessons from the basement boys in Moscow…

Member

The Orbanist regime is racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic misogynist. The main opposition party holds exactly the same views as the vast majority of Fidesz foot-soldiers.

On the ground, throughout the towns and countryside, there is no difference whatsoever in the views between the two parties *except* the fascist regime has an incredible PR machine and is infinitely more corrupt than Jobbik.

Jean P
Guest

Political Realism.

The Soviet system was anathema to the Americans. Nevertheless they allied themselves with the Soviet Union. What would have happened if they had done otherwise? Hitler would have won.

Guest

Yes, remember the old adage:
The enemy of my enemy …
There’s even a mathematical theory behind it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_enemy_of_my_enemy_is_my_friend

qaz
Guest

It’s not because the crocodile attacks your enemy that it is your friend

Marty
Guest

1. Jobbik and the left-wing together can depose Orban. They may not be able to govern but – at least as a necessary first step – together they can end the Orban-era.

2. This is why Orban and his pals in the Fidesz media (which would go belly up in the minute the monies from the state budget dried up) are terrified that Jobbik and the leftists might somehow cooperate and reconcile.

3. On the other hand if Jobbik and the leftist parties – for whatever reason – don’t cooperate then Orban and his system are here to stay for certain.

This is so simple.

4. As a corollary, Fidesz will do any and all things to fire up hard-line (and Fidesz-loyal) Jobbikniks to repudiate “communists” and fire up die-hard liberals to repudiate the “fascists”. Fidesz is really good at causing internal dischord within other parties, they used to play MSZP like a harp.

Gergő
Guest

OT:

56% of all the advertisements in Népszava the last “leftist” daily newspaper are state-connected (ie. politically decided) advertisements.

Even in Ripost, the recently set up madly fidesznik daily tabloid had 44% of its advertisements coming from state-related entities and even in Magyar Hirlap (the hard line right wing, pro-Fidesz daily owned by ufologist oligarch Gabor Szeles) this ratio is 35%.

Not surprisingly Magyar Nemzet (owned by Lajos Simicska) has 5% of the ads paid by the state (taxpayers).

Just so you know how independent the supposedly leftist Népszava (in which TGM and other stalwart lefties publish) or Vasárnapi Hírek (42%) are.

http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20171120_A_szabad_sajtonak_ara_van_A_fideszesnek_is_Es_azt_is_on_fizeti

Observer
Guest

Remember the “500 days” scenario:
Introducing fair election laws, bringing charges against corrupt figures (disqualifying them from public office), blocking/seizing the Orbán Mafia assets, incl media outlets, firing their minions from all key positions, etc. After which early elections are to be called under the new rules.
Oszt Jo napot.

Istvan
Guest

An interesting discussion. It has some similarity to the discussion between liberals here in the USA and the Antifa movement which is a conglomeration of autonomous, self-styled anti-fascist groups in the United States. The Antifa want to push KKK, fascists, and pro-Confederate supporters off the streets with mass mobilization and if necessary violence. In general the liberals want people to ignore their marching about and oppose them politically.

Even though the Antifa are generally socialists, anarchists, and Black nationalists I have some empathy for their perspective given the rising tide of the far right. As in Hungary civility in political discourse has broken down completely in the USA. Even within the Republican Party factions are rolling in the dirt fighting. So the position of many Hungarian Jews towards any cooperation with Jobbik in any way is not surprising.

Farkas
Guest
Vona’s “wolf in sheepskin” Fabian tactics are transparently disingenuous and intentionally deceitful. He will do and say anything to get close to even the smell of real government power. But what actually matters is the ideology, thoughts and sentiments of the Jobbik party membership, and that has not changed one iota since Vona began his sweetness and light campaign (“cuki kampány”) about a year and a half ago. That is when the problem posed by the mass arrival of Middle Eastern and African refugees suddenly began to overshadow the core Jew-hate and Roma-hate belief system of Jobbik membership, and Fidesz quickly seized the opportunity to take the wind out of Jobbik’s sail in the racist hatred stakes by diverting public attention to the “dangers” posed by the “Muslims at the gates.” So now we have Vona’s “cuki” campaign in response to the Fidesz move to neutralise Jobbik, in good time for the upcoming general elections in 2018. To anyone who believes that this is some kind of evidence that Vona had suddenly met the Lord on the road to Damascus, I have a great bridge to sell, the one over Sydney Harbour. And then there is Brooklyn Bridge too in… Read more »
Marty
Guest
Vona may or may not have changed. But he has to be included in the efforts to get rid of Orban, there is no other way. If you dismiss Vona you say yes to a continued Orban system – this is so simple. Moreover, Fidesz’s voters – according to polls – are now more to the right than those of Jobbik. You can hardly be more and more consistently anti-liberal, anti-West, pro-Russian, anti-Semitic (the anti-Soros campaign is nothing much more than anti-Semitism in an “acceptable” form) than Orban and his system is. Orban already represents the most extreme available in the EU, Jobbik is unlikely to go further. But what you need to understand is that Vona and Jobbik are incapable of creating a concentrated power structure like that of Fidesz. This is because Fidesz’ real power lies is in extremely strong, personal and family ties forged while the top Fideszniks were basically kids at the Bibó College. Then their friends, spouses gradually became judges, prosecutors, senior intelligence officers etc. The people in the outer cirles of the system know those in the kernel Orban, Kövér or Szájer or Deutsch or Handó or Polt will never ever betray each other… Read more »
Farkas
Guest
I understand your point. However, I don’t believe that a workable black and red tactical alliance between Jobbik and the left-liberal factions and fragments is ever likely to come to actual fruition. That is simply not in the nature of any of the potential candidates that would be parties to such an arrangement. If the left-liberal factions and fragments are unable to co-operate in any shape or form with one another, then how in heaven’s name would co-operation work between all of them and Jobbik? To me at least, the proposal for a black and red tactical alliance in preparation for the upcoming general elections is the height of absurdity. An embrace of left-liberal Budapest Jews and Jew-hating Hungarist neo-Nazis? Gimme a break. The idea behind it was stillborn and bankrupt the moment it was thought up by some brilliant left-liberal Budapest intellectual (probably of Jewish descent) in a moment of desperation. In any case, I don’t think the Hungarian electorate has as yet reached the limits of its tolerance of the Orbán regime, regardless of the regime’s clearly evident oppressiveness, systemic corruption and venality. It is more than likely therefore that the electorate would opt for continuity and stability,… Read more »
Farkas
Guest
I think furthermore that the only real way for the left-liberal factions and fragments to actually defeat Orbán and his gang in some future election is through patient and arduous work building support networks at grassroots levels right across the country, and inspiring ordinary people in country towns and villages with an alternative vision for Hungary, and especially with a vision, as well as the practicalities of a better future for ordinary Hungarians and their families. But for this, the left-liberal factions and fragments would need to first of all work out what the hell they are about, what do they really believe in, and what do they actually have on offer for ordinary Hungarians and their families. And once they worked that out, they would have to roll up their sleeves and get ready for possibly decades of skillful organizing and hard, grinding work at grassroots levels, before they saw all that organizing and work coming to fruition in the form of a decisive political victory over Orbán and his gang. The key precondition for all of this would be a willingness of the left-liberal factions to unite into a strong single party and give up the luxury of… Read more »
Guest

Farkas, I have to agree with you! It’ll take a long time though – but we have that saying in German:
Der Krug geht so lange zum Brunnen bis er bricht …
Someday Hungarians will see what’s going on – just look at the articles I quoted in my answer to Melanie.

Marty
Guest

wolfi, by the way we have the exact same saying.

Marty
Guest
Look, I agree with your strategies – long term. If the left ever wants to govern again in Hungary it will need a message (to the uneducated, white, rural working class), credible people and so on. I’ve been saying the same thing. But Hungary is not a democracy and what you suggest is really for a normally functioning democracy. This cooperation is not about government, not about any real policy cooperation other than to agree whose party’s candidate will opposed the Fidesz candidate in the local electoral districts. This is a very limited purpose agreement. But let’s not overcomplicate things. First things first. This Orban system must end and there’s no other way to achieve that than to have some kind of cooperation between the leftist parties and Jobbik. Orban purposefully set the system up so that these sides would have to cooperate, political forces which would normally hate each other. Honestly I couldn’t care less about Agnes Heller, this is the logic the election system dictates. I live in Hungary and I want Orban to go. If this means supporting Jobbik or anybody else for some tactical purpose then be it. I don’t care and I can live with… Read more »
Gardonista
Guest

How do we pull back from the abyss? In many ways, a large majority of Hungarians hold views that I consider unacceptable [you can insert a more strident term, if you wish]. For me the greatest enemy is Fidesz, even more than Jobbik. So I don’t begrudge someone else talking to them, though I go back and forth.

But more important than whether non-racists are willing to talk to Jobbik, I think it’s critical that we don’t attack each other. We have a nearly impossible battle on our hands to return Hungary to sanity. It’s hard enough as it is, so let’s at least go easy on each other.

1856
Guest

Gardonista,

Can’t you see the same Russian activities in Hungary and USA.

Was any administration ready to fight the Russian penetration attempts?

Was probably Obama the weakest president on this front?

blinkyowl
Guest

Vona is a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.