I have a strong suspicion that Jobbik, Hungary’s extreme right-wing party, which has been experiencing unprecedented growth in the last year or so, may undergo some internal turmoil soon. The reason for a possible palace revolt or an outright split within the party is Chairman Gábor Vona’s turn toward a more moderate political stance. This new ideological shift stemmed from his belief that Jobbik will be successful only if it drops its anti-Semitic, anti-Roma verbiage and offers a political platform that is acceptable to large segments of Hungarian society.
The problem with this new orientation is that perhaps the majority of the party members in leadership positions are dissatisfied with Vona’s strategy even if some of them, like Tamás Sneider, claim that this ideological U-turn is only for show. Or, to use Gábor G. Fodor’s by now famous description, only a “political product.”
The Hungarian far right, ever since its appearance in the 1920s, has shown a tendency to form small parties of short duration which often fell apart only to reunite with other splinter groups. Ferenc Szálasi himself organized several small parties before his last one, the Arrow Cross Party, did exceedingly well in the 1939 elections. But even that party lost its appeal soon after.
As far as the present situation is concerned, the Hungarian far right already consists of three or four groups of various shades of far-right ideology. Since I don’t consider Fidesz a moderate conservative party similar to Christian Democratic parties existing in different European countries I count it among these groups. After all, Zoltán Balog, an important political figure in the Orbán government, looks upon the Hungarian right as one political bloc and considers the growth of Jobbik a plus for the right. To quote him verbatim, so there is no misunderstanding: “If we add Jobbik’s and our results and compare them to what the situation was ten years ago, we can see an incredible change. A real right-wing turn.” The message is clear. Jobbik is one of them, just a little more to the right than Fidesz.
People often compare Jobbik to the French National Front and, on the surface, their histories are similar in many ways. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party also started as a youth movement, and LePen’s daughter, who took over the leadership of the party a few years ago, just like Vona, is trying to “de-demonize” the National Front. As far as ideology is concerned, the National Front is socially conservative and nationalistic, anti-immigration and anti-euro. But it is not an openly racist, anti-Semitic party like Jobbik is. I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to call Jobbik a neo-Nazi party, as László Karsai, a historian of the Holocaust, referred to it in 2013. Recently a Hungarian political commentator warned about comparing Jobbik to Le Pen’s party because, in his opinion, it is Fidesz that is the Hungarian equivalent of the French National Front.
The attempt to “de-demonize” Jobbik cannot be as successful as Marine Le Pen has been in France, mainly because of its neo-Nazi ideological base. The shift is too sudden and too radical. A large group in the leadership simply doesn’t buy it. When a Jobbik member of parliament is caught spitting into one of the “Shoes on the Bank of the Danube” or when the Jobbik candidate in Tapolca-Ajka tattooed an SS symbol on his body, it is hard for Vona to talk about “society’s need for peace and quiet.” There are “question marks” about his new strategy, as he himself admitted in a recent interview. Members of a party that has for years loudly promoted an anti-Semitic and racist discourse is now supposed to follow Vona’s advice about “sharing the sorrow of everybody, including the Jews.” Moreover, until now the party promoted a turn to the East, but now Vona talks about “a western opening.”
I believe that sooner or later Vona’s new political brand will result in a revolt by the majority of Jobbik political leaders, who joined the party because of its neo-Nazi ideology. This is especially likely if Lajos Rig, the Jobbik candidate in the Tapolca-Ajka by-election on April 12, does not do well. In this case, those Jobbik leaders who were leery of Gábor Vona’s new strategy in the first place might force him to abandon his “moderate course,” claiming that this new approach doesn’t bring tangible results. After all, the Jobbik candidate did poorly in the last by-election in Veszprém. The party may look good in opinion polls, but its candidates cannot win elections.
The outcome of an internal power struggle will depend on whether Vona’s camp is stronger than those who would rather follow Előd Novák, allegedly the editor-in-chief of kuruc.info.hu, where one can read about “holokamu” (the Holocaust swindle), Gypsy crime, and Jewish criminality galore.