Tag Archives: Jobbik

Beware, the refugees are coming!

A couple of days ago a brief article appeared in Magyar Nemzet, which surely surprised those who happened upon it. The Hungarian government has surreptitiously accepted a fair number of refugees for settlement in Hungary this year. While the drumbeat against the Soros Plan and migrants is continuous and unrelenting, behind the backs of the misled people the government has accepted far more “migrants” so far this year than in 2016. While in 2016 the Hungarian government received over 25,000 applicants, this year their number shrank to fewer than 3,000. Yet, according to the Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (BMH), the number of people receiving asylum has more than doubled.

Here are a couple of terms we must be familiar with before we can make sense of the statistics. My source is an extremely useful pamphlet the Hungarian Helsinki Committee published in English, called “Asylum in Hungary.” I assume this is one of those publications the Hungarian government accuses the Helsinki Committee of putting out to encourage immigration and promote the Soros Plan. In fact, it is a guide to help arrivals find their way through the complicated Hungarian bureaucracy. There are three different forms of protection a refugee can get in Hungary. (1) Refugee status (menekült) is for people with a “well-founded fear” of torture, inhuman treatment, slavery, physical or sexual violence, or very serious discrimination. (2) Subsidiary protection status (oltalmazott) is for people who are at a real risk of suffering any of the following: the death penalty, torture, degrading treatment, or serious threat to a civilian’s life. (3) Tolerated status (befogadott) is a protection status based on a more general (not individualized) risk of harm in the country of origin.

According to the statistics, the Hungarian authorities’ favorite refugee status seems to be the “tolerated” one. In 2016 271 people were allowed to stay in Hungary under this rubric. This year their numbers will most likely be close to 1,000 because so far 866 such permissions have been granted. The number of those who have received subsidiary protection is also up. In 2016 only 7 people were granted such status while this year the number was 73. On the other hand, the Hungarian authorities are extremely reluctant to grant bona fide refugee status. In fact, this year fewer such permissions were granted (89) than in 2016 (154). What is the reason for this reluctance? According to the Helsinki Committee, the real difference is that those with subsidiary protection status are not allowed to have their spouses, children, or parents join them at a later date.

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: László Beliczay

The refugee camps in Hungary are now practically empty. Last year there were more than 1,000 refugees in camps, while right now there are no more than 400. The reason for the small number of migrants waiting for a decision on their applications is that “the majority of the asylum seekers without waiting for the decision leave the country.” It is therefore difficult to understand why the ministry of interior still steadfastly recruits “border hunters.”

The only party that seemed to perk up after reading the Magyar Nemzet article was Jobbik. Péter Jakab, the party’s spokesman, released a communiqué in which he complained about the duplicity of Fidesz which, on the one hand, frightens people with the migrants and, on the other, allows them into the country. It is bad enough that Viktor Orbán through “settlement bonds” has allowed 20,000 people so far into the country, but “even 1,000 poor people” have been permitted to come to Hungary just this year. Jobbik, as far as the issue of immigration is concerned, holds even more draconian views than Fidesz. From this and other statements it is clear that if it depended on Jobbik, not one Middle Easterner or African would ever set foot in Hungary.

There is another piece of news that is connected to the Hungarian government’s quiet acceptance of a fair number of refugees, obviously in the hope of appeasing “the bureaucrats in Brussels.” This is an interview with Lívia Járóka, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament who was just elected one of the vice-presidents of the body. Járóka is part Roma on her father’s side. She has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University College of London. She became a member of the European Parliament in 2004, but it seems that she was dropped from the Fidesz list in 2014. However, she was just chosen to replace Mrs. Pelcz, Ildikó Gáll and also inherited her position as vice-president.

Járóka gave a fairly lengthy interview to Magyar Idők on the occasion of her election to the vice-presidency, an interview that is full of statements that would be unexpected from a Fidesz member of the European Parliament. First of all, she refused to engage in any anti-migrant talk. The reporter from Magyar Idők tried to elicit from Járóka a condemnation of the European Union’s refugee policy, but she avoided going down that path. Instead, she emphasized the necessity of their integration. “We would like it if they [the refugees] would understand that we find it important that, after a rapid and effective integration, armed with European knowledge, they would be able to return to their own homelands.” Well, well. This is a message we haven’t heard before. Integration? Until now we have heard from the highest levels of the Hungarian government that integration between Muslims and non-Muslims is impossible. Their cultures are so different that one ought not even attempt it. Moreover, the argument continues, these people don’t want to integrate. They want to live the same lives they led in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.

What’s going on? Of course, the first thought that comes to mind is that Viktor Orbán is up to his old tricks. Playing the migrant card in Hungary but behind the scenes in the European Union showing his reasonable side. He could, for example, go to Antonio Tajani, EPP president of the European Parliament, and tell him that, although only 3,000 or so asylum seekers came to Hungary, the country has already allowed almost 1,000 to settle and the new Fidesz EPP vice-president talks about “rapid and effective integration.” Surely, he will say, there must be some misunderstanding on that score. I can well imagine such an exchange during his recent visit with Tajani. Of course, it is also possible that Járóka, judging from her ethnic background as well as her professional interests, has a more sophisticated understanding of the issue and finds it difficult to accept the kind of reasoning the absolutely loyal “parrot commando” bombards the Hungarian public with.

November 20, 2017

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

A fanciful government story on international terrorism and Jobbik

Yesterday a newly revived internet news site, zoom.hu, published a “sensational” news item. Information received from an unnamed person with close government ties revealed that Salah Abdeslam, the man behind the Paris terrorist attack of November 13, 2015, in addition to the three trips he made to Budapest between August 30 and September 17, 2015, visited Hungary a fourth time in the middle of January 2016, two months before his arrest in Brussels. During this visit Abdeslam allegedly conducted negotiations with members of a far-right Hungarist group called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front/MNA). I covered the October 2016 shooting incident connected to MNA that took a Hungarian police officer’s life. The head of the group, István Győrkös, wanting to prevent the policeman’s entry into his house, shot him dead. As you can well imagine, a story that connects “migrant terrorism” with a home-grown group that allegedly had ties to Jobbik is hot stuff, especially for pro-government media outlets.

In December 2015, when Belgian authorities discovered that Abdeslam had visited Hungary, it was clear to me that the Hungarian secret services knew nothing first-hand about his presence in Hungary. He came and left three times without anyone noticing it. Most of what the Hungarian police, the anti-terrorist organization, and the national security offices subsequently learned about his movements in Hungary came from Belgian and later French sources.

Abdeslam’s first trip on August 30 was uneventful. His two comrades arrived in Hungary and phoned him to come pick them up. He arrived with legal Belgian papers and brought two fake Belgian IDs for the new arrivals. They got into a car and headed west without any trouble. Practically nothing is known about his second trip. But the Hungarians unearthed quite a bit of information about his third trip, in September 2o15, for the simple reason that the three newly arrived terrorists, who later all died in the Bataclan terrorist attack, had to wait at least a week in Budapest for Abdeslam to pick them up.

In October 2016 Népszabadság reported that Hungarian authorities, working together with Belgian and French counterterrorist units and police forces, were seeking locals who had helped ten ISIS-trained terrorists hide in Hungary and who assisted them in reaching Belgium. The paper claimed that a number of people were actually arrested. Nothing was known about their number or their citizenship, and we learned nothing about them afterward. It may have been “fake news.”

Abdeslam’s name also came up a couple of days after he was arrested on March 18, 2016 in the Molenbeek area of Brussels. On March 23 the Austrian tabloid Kronen Zeitung published an article about a woman who claimed that she had seen Abdeslam with another Arabic-looking man in Café Harrer, a famous confectionary in Sopron. The Austrian woman reported this sighting to the Eisenstadt police station, but it seems that the Austrian police were not impressed. It is likely, however, that the Austrians did get in touch with the Hungarians, who also ignored the case.

The mysterious appearance of Abdeslam in Sopron is at the center of zoom.hu’s story. From the article an incredibly professional Hungarian national security service emerges, which was watching Abdeslam’s every move in close cooperation with its Austrian, German, Belgian, and French counterparts. The clever cops “didn’t even try to arrest Abdeslam, they only followed and watched him. They tried to find out the reason for his visit to Hungary. They documented all his meetings.”

Where Salah Abdeslam was allegedly spotted in Sopron

This excellent police work brought “staggering results.” Hungarian right-radicals had and perhaps still have contacts with international terrorists. An investigation is ongoing with the assistance of the other countries’ national security services. According to zoom.hu’s informant, while Abdeslam was talking with the leaders of Győrkös’s Hungarian National Front, “the Hungarian, Austrian, French, and Belgian authorities had time to organize and follow the French-Belgian terrorist’s every move.” But then, we must ask, why didn’t these national security services arrest him right there on the spot at the Café Harrer in Sopron? Gy. Attila Fekete, formerly of Népszabadság, who wrote the article, could find only one possible explanation for the delay. Perhaps they were hoping to find more associates by allowing Abdeslam to remain free. I must say that, given the danger a man like Abdeslam posed, such a strategy is pretty unimaginable.

But that’s not all. At the end of October 2016 the Hungarian police tried to enter István Győrkös’s house looking for weapons but, as the article points out, the police investigation into the Hungarian National Front had actually begun ten months before the fatal encounter between Győrkös and the police officer. How convenient. The article suggests that there is a direct relationship between Abdeslam’s fourth visit to Hungary on or around January 19 and the beginning of the investigation into Győrkös’s clandestine activities.

With this we arrive at cast-off Slovak weapons that had been legally deactivated but could easily be made usable again. Such weapons were used during the attack against Charlie Hebdo and in other terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. They also found their way to Hungary. For example, such weapons were found in the possession of the two older men who allegedly wanted to assassinate Viktor Orbán. Even Gy. Fekete calls their organization, Magyar Nemzeti Hadsereg (Hungarian National Army), a joke. At the time, in 2015, I even doubted that they wanted to kill Orbán. Their targets seemed to be Jews. In any case, the theory is that Abdeslam came to Hungary to negotiate the purchase of these deactivated but readily reusable weapons for his terrorist activities.

Of course, pro-government organs like Origo love the story. One of their journalists pointed out that Márton Gyöngyösi, an important Jobbik politician, was seen in the company of an MNA member and that Gábor Vona attended a public event in the company of Győrkös’s son. Moreover, the kind of weaponry used in the terrorist attacks, which was also in the possession of a Hungarian right-wing organization, is proof that there is a connection between international terrorism and Jobbik.

Pestisrácok.hu, however, seems to have more sense and suggests that the story someone dropped into Gy. Fekete’s lap may be nothing but a hoax.

One wonders what is behind this leaked material, which surely comes from government and/or national security sources. Gy. Fekete is a responsible journalist who must have gotten his information from a source that he considered to be credible. Is this part of Fidesz’s attempt to further discredit Jobbik by coupling its name with international terrorism? This is what the Origo article suggests. The story might get further embellished or it might be dropped, depending on its reception. For the time being there are skeptics even on the right of the political spectrum.

November 14, 2017

Jobbik’s checkered past and present

Even a cursory look at the recent Hungarian media reveals Fidesz’s anxiety over every political move Jobbik makes. Fidesz uses every opportunity to discredit the party, to portray it as a duplicitous formation whose turn to the center is nothing more than a sham. Indeed, it is difficult to take the party’s official portrayal of itself as being moderate right-of-center at face value when one of its deputy chairmen, László Toroczkai, at the height of the government’s attack on Central European University, declared that “it should be banned, shuttered, and its ruins should be dusted with salt.” Toroczkai shared these lofty thoughts at roughly the same time that his superior, the chairman of his party, Gábor Vona, in an interview asserted that Jobbik stands for the freedom of education and that the party will not vote for the amended higher education law that was designed to make the university’s continued existence in Budapest impossible. Yet László Toroczkai is still deputy chairman of Jobbik.

It is time to reacquaint readers with Toroczkai’s career because it’s been four years since I wrote about him. At that time I described him as “an infamous neo-Nazi who has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia because of his openly irredentist views and illegal activities.” I wrote these words at the time that Toroczkai was elected mayor of Ásotthalom, a large village near Szeged, adjacent to the Serbian-Hungarian border.

Toroczkai was born László Tóth but changed his name to something more Hungarian sounding. After all, a great Hungarian patriot cannot be called Mr. Slovak (“Tót” means Slovak in Hungarian). He is the founder of the irredentist Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (HIVM/Youth Movement of the Sixty-four Counties), a reference to the number of counties in Greater Hungary. The high point of his career was leading the mob in September 2006 from Kossuth Square to the building of MTV, the public television station, which the crowd stormed, burned, and eventually occupied. During the siege almost 200 policemen were injured. He made a name for himself again in 2015 when, on his own, he began the “defense of the country from the modern-day migration.” It was his idea of erecting a fence along the border that inspired Viktor Orbán, who put the idea into practice.

And yet Gábor Vona, while ostensibly trying to reorient Jobbik along more moderate lines, asked Toroczkai, who at that time wasn’t even a party member, to become one of his deputies. Naturally, Vona was showered with questions about the incongruity of having the radical Toroczkai as a member of his team. His answer at the time was that “there are issues that need radical solutions and there are others that require moderate ones,” which was a pretty lame explanation for his action.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Vona has since regretted his decision, because on almost every issue Toroczkai has taken a position contrary to the party’s official stand, including such an important issue as the government’s refugee quota referendum, which Jobbik didn’t support. A month later Toroczkai was in the news again. This time his town council passed a number of ordinances that forbade building mosques, wearing the burka, all activities of muezzins and, for good measure, the “propagation of gay marriage” and any publicity given to “opinions about the family different from the definition in the constitution of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.” Vona paid a personal visit to Ásotthalom, where he apparently gave Toroczkai a piece of his mind. Toroczkai at that time considered leaving Jobbik, but it seems that the serious differences of opinion between Toroczkai and the more moderate leadership were patched up. At least they were until now.

On October 31 the Toroczkai-led HVIM covered a full-size statue of Gyula Horn (1932-2013), prime minister of Hungary between 1994 and 1998, with a black sack and hung a sign on his neck reading “PUFAJKÁS GYILKOS.” “Gyilkos” means murderer and “pufajka” is a quilted jacket that was part of the Soviet military uniform worn by the paramilitary force that was set up by the new Kádár government in November 1956. Gyula Horn is highly regarded abroad, especially in Germany, because when Hungary let the East German refugees cross over to Austria, Horn was the country’s foreign minister. He is also considered by many to have been the best Hungarian prime minister since 1990. MSZP’s leadership was outraged, but as a Jobbik politician rightly pointed out, László Kövér, the Fidesz president of parliament, refused to name a parliamentary chamber for Horn because of his role in the 1956 revolution. President László Sólyom also refused to give an award to the former prime minister because of Horn’s role in the revolution and because he allegedly didn’t change his views on 1956. Still, considering that it was only a couple of weeks ago that Gábor Vona delivered a speech in which he made overtures to the left, Toroczkai’s assault on Horn’s statue again cast a shadow on Vona’s sincerity.

The pro-government media has been salivating over the possibility of an open split between the moderates and the radicals in Jobbik, which in Fidesz’s opinion would greatly weaken the party. All of the articles I read in 888.hu and pestrisrácok.hu predicted that, even if not now, after the election Jobbik will surely fall apart. Today  pestisrácok.hu heralded the fact that within days the Army of Outlaws and the Association of Identitarianist University Students will organize a new party “where the disappointed Jobbik followers will find their true voice, for which they joined Jobbik in the first place.” The hope in the pro-Fidesz right-wing press is that, as a result of the radical right’s departure from the party, Jobbik will collapse.

But this may not happen. B. György Nagy wrote an article titled “Arabs, Greens, Jobbik” in which he called attention to the fact that when a party embarks on a major shift in political direction its popularity can drop precipitously. A good example is Fidesz’s own experience in 1993, when the party had a commanding lead with 30% of the votes, which by the 1994 election shrank to 7%. But Jobbik hasn’t lost much support. It is holding onto its usual 20% share of committed voters. Moreover, there is a fascinating dynamic to this support. One-third of Jobbik supporters are new recruits, while 30% left the party, most likely heading to Fidesz. This means that Jobbik has a reserve among currently uncommitted voters.

A Fidesz caricature of Jobbik’s anti-Semitism / 888.hu

And so Fidesz has to weaken Jobbik in some other way. One line of attack is establishing a connection between ISIS and some far-right groups, like the Hungarian National Front (Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal/MNA) and the Army of Outlaws, who are now being investigated by the parliamentary committee on national security as well as the prosecutor’s office. The reason for the investigation is that a Hungarian version of a video promoting ISIS, its cause, fighting methods, etc. was found among the documents of MNA. The problem for Jobbik is that at one point Jobbik had a loose organizational connection to the Army of Outlaws, and Toroczkai to this day has close ties with Zsolt Tyirityán, its leader. Apparently Jobbik no longer supports Toroczkai’s HVIM financially, but Toroczkai is still deputy chairman of the party. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee, instructed the national security people to investigate and report in two weeks on their findings. If a link between these extremist groups and Jobbik can be established, Vona’s party will have to weather some very hard times between now and the election.

November 10, 2017

Former PM Péter Medgyessy on the current political situation

Two days ago, when I was covering the negotiations between MSZP and DK, I was initially planning to include a few words about an interview with Péter Medgyessy, who was prime minister of Hungary between 2002 and 2004. Because I launched Hungarian Spectrum only in July of 2008, readers will find relatively little information on him on this blog. But his name came up about a year ago when we learned that the former prime minister, who owns a consulting firm, had received €600,000 from the French company Alstom in 2006, the year in which the City of Budapest made its decision to buy Alstom cars for the new metro line. Medgyessy naturally claims that his consulting firm had nothing to do with the decision in favor of Alstom, adding that it is a well-known fact that his relationship with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and the liberal SZDSZ leadership of the City of Budapest was strained. This may be so, but receiving a high fee from a firm that was already in some trouble over corrupt business practices doesn’t look good.

Medgyessy comes from an old Transylvanian family and can trace his ancestry all the way back to the seventeenth century. After graduating from Karl Marx Economic University, he became a civil servant, working his way up the ladder until by 1982 he was deputy finance minister. After the regime change, he retired from politics and became CEO of a couple of banks. In 1996 he was named finance minister in the Horn government. In 2002 he was chosen as MSZP’s candidate for the premiership and, after a slim victory over Fidesz, became prime minister of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition government.

Less than three weeks after his inauguration, Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper that had close ties with Fidesz in those days, revealed that Medgyessy had worked as a paid counterintelligence officer under the code name D-209 in the III/II section of the ministry of the interior. SZDSZ demanded that Medgyessy be replaced with someone with a clean record, but MSZP politicians convinced them to support Medgyessy. Two years later, however, Medgyessy lost the support of the coalition partners.When he threatened to resign unless the SZDSZ minister of the economy was dismissed, MSZP refused to stand by him. His resignation was accepted, and MSZP named the young Ferenc Gyurcsány as his replacement.

After this somewhat lengthy introduction, let me turn to the interview itself. Szabolcs Dull of Index visited Medgyessy in his home, where he asked the former prime minister to assess the current political situation. The conversation began with the chances of the opposition parties at the forthcoming election. Medgyessy predicted a Fidesz victory due to the poor performance of the opposition politicians and Viktor Orbán’s superior political instincts. What Medgyessy was referring to here were Orbán’s policies in the face of the migrant crisis. He doesn’t like Orbán’s answers, but he would have done the same thing if he had been in Orbán’s shoes. He also praised Orbán’s public works program. He admitted that the program doesn’t make much sense economically, but it is a good thing to put these people to work, for which they “receive a little bit of money.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

As for Orbán’s political chances, Medgyessy is convinced that “it will not be the opposition but time that will displace Orbán.” The problem with the opposition politicians, including Gyurcsány, is that “they are made of old stuff,” which is somewhat amusing to hear from a former Kádár counterintelligence officer who served as deputy finance minister in the old regime. They are not only old-fashioned socialist types from Kádár’s times, but “they are also mediocre.” No socialist can successfully take on Viktor Orbán, “who is anything but mediocre.” There is only one person who is up to the task, and that is Bernadett Szél. Medgyessy admits that Szél’s prospects for 2018 are slim, but he believes that she will be ready to lead the country in 2022. Medgyessy’s description of Szél as a person who “can integrate people” is strange considering her categorical and total rejection of cooperation with any other opposition politicians.

At the end of the interview Medgyessy repeated what he had asserted in an interview almost a year ago–that Viktor Orbán can be removed only if MSZP, DK, and Jobbik cooperate. Such a solution might not be a principled political decision, but “what is principled in politics?” The question is not whether the political left likes Jobbik. “There are historical situations which override every other consideration.” As for the problem of a workable coalition government that would comprise left-wing parties and a right-wing Jobbik, Medgyessy’s answer was: “This is the art of politics.” After all, this problem was solved in Austria during Wolfgang Schüssel’s chancellorship between 2000 and 2007 when he formed a coalition government with Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party of Austria.

The interview was not well received in opposition circles. The only person who had a high opinion of the interview was László Kéri, who found Medgyessy’s assessment of the present Hungarian situation correct and convincing. His colleague Zoltán Lakner, whom I consider perhaps the best political analyst in Hungary today, had a strikingly different opinion of Medgyessy and his interview. He said that it is hard to forget Medgyessy’s D-209 past and his rather miserable performance as prime minister. Moreover, someone who doesn’t remember the past accurately might not be the best person to predict the future. Here Lakner is referring to Medgyessy’s repeated claim after his resignation that it was a veritable coup d’état organized by Gyurcsány and other MSZP leaders that removed him from office. And with a D-209 past, “he shouldn’t stand on a moral pedestal because it may wobble under him.”

Lakner’s colleague Kornélia Magyar, in a comment to the above, wondered why Index found an interview with Medgyessy such a good idea just now. What is the editorial direction of Index? Clearly, she is suggesting an ulterior motive behind the publication of this interview. I assume Magyar was making a mental note of the fact that Index is owned by Lajos Simicska, who has been supporting Jobbik.

Jenő Kaltenbach, former ombudsman in charge of national and ethnic minority rights, was blunt in expressing his befuddlement at “keeping alive these political weathervane-corpses (Szili, Medgyessy). Unless because of Fidesz.”

This last point refers to the fact that in November 2015 Péter Szijjártó bestowed a prize on Medgyessy for his work on developing closer relations between China and Hungary. The ceremony took place shortly after Medgyessy in an interview claimed that corruption was not greater during the Orbán government than it had been earlier. As for Katalin Szili, formerly one of the top MSZP politicians who was president of the parliament (2002-2009), she accepted all sorts of jobs from Viktor Orbán after 2010. For example, she became a member of the Nemzeti Konzultációs Testület in 2011 and in that capacity had a hand in writing the new constitution. Since March 2015 she has been working for the Orbán government as a commissioner representing the prime minister himself, dealing with matters related to Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

What upset MSZP politicians most was Medgyessy’s suggestion of a political collaboration with Jobbik. The party published a statement in which they expressed their opinion that “Jobbik is the party of a billionaire thief while Fidesz is the party of thieving billionaires –one mustn’t vote for either! With these? Never!” Ildikó Lendvai, former party chairman and leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2009, stressed in a television interview yesterday that, although she thinks highly of Medgyessy and considers him a pleasant and clever man, she found this interview unfortunate. To work together with Jobbik would be a suicidal strategy. She also took issue with Medgyessy’s support of Bernadett Szél. Although Szél is a very promising and talented politician, one cannot have as the common prime minister of the democratic opposition somebody who refuses to work with others.

All of this shows the predicament in which Hungarian opposition politicians find themselves. Viktor Orbán managed to set up a structure that created a trap from which it is almost impossible to break out.

November 9, 2017

Jobbik’s Krisztina Morvai: A portrait

I promised a post on Krisztina Morvai, one of Jobbik’s three members in the European Parliament. Her name came up a few days ago when she gave a lengthy interview to Magyar Idők in which she spoke so fervently against the Soros Plan that she received the greatest compliment possible from Fidesz’s very own Zsolt Bayer. In his opinion, the golden words of Morvai could have come from Viktor Orbán himself.

So, let’s take a look at the career of this woman, who was born in Budapest only a few days after Viktor Orbán in 1963. On paper, she has had a sterling career. After attending one of the best high schools in Budapest, she received a law degree cum laude from ELTE. She joined the faculty of her alma mater where she still teaches. In 1989 she got a scholarship to study at King’s College, where she earned a master of law degree. During the 1993-1994 academic year she taught law at the University of Wisconsin as a Fulbright scholar. Her main interest is criminal law, dealing with victims’ rights, child abuse, sexual exploitation, discrimination, and domestic violence.

Between 2003 and 2006 she was a member of the Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee of the United Nations where she took a very pro-Palestine position and called attention to what she called the “inhumane living conditions” of Palestinian women, which was followed by an official complaint by the Israeli government. In 2006 the Hungarian government refused to endorse her for another four years. What followed was truly disgraceful. She wrote to all the national missions to the UN, accusing her own government of giving in to Israeli pressure in nominating not her but Andrea Pető, whom she called “a well-known Zionist,” which was a lie. The affair is well summarized in an English-language article in HVG from August 2006. She became filled with hatred toward Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose government withheld its endorsement. After her return to Hungary she participated in all the anti-government demonstrations and was one of the founders of the Civil Jogász Bizottság (Civic Legal Committee), which was subsequently used to discredit the Gyurcsány government’s handling of the disturbances that took place during the fall of 2006.

Krisztina Morvai / MTI / Photo: Bea Kallos

As she kept moving to the right and was an outspoken anti-Semite, Jobbik found her to be a choice addition to the party’s followers. She didn’t actually join the party, but she headed Jobbik’s list for the 2009 European parliamentary elections. In addition, she became Jobbik’s candidate for the post of president in 2010.

By 2009, her reputation had plummeted in better circles. In November of that year The Guardian called her a “neo-fascist MEP.” It turned out that she was one of the invitees to a conference organized by the Palestinian Return Center, but several politicians who were scheduled to speak at the conference protested and the organizers withdrew their invitation to her. Because, as the director of the group said, “She is one of Europe’s leading neo-fascists … and Jobbik is a revolting party.”

Her reputation in Israel also hit rock bottom, especially after she advised the “liberal-Bolshevik Zionists” to “start thinking about where to flee and where to hide.” Or, when she distinguished between “our kind” and “your kind” in a context where “your kind” could only be the Jews who, in her opinion, were ruining her country. “Our kind,” she insisted, will not allow the colonization of Hungary. The Guardian also got hold of a Morvai quotation from one of those numerous political discussion groups that existed before the advent of social media. The group consisted mostly of Fidesz supporters, but the “list-owner” let people join without checking their ideological preferences. So, I signed up and read the incredible conversations that took place there. One day I noticed that Morvai, a fairly frequent contributor, in an argument with an American Hungarian who happened to be Jewish, wrote about “so-called proud Hungarian Jews who should go back to playing with their tiny little circumcised tails” instead of doing this or that.

In February 2009 she wrote a letter to the Israeli ambassador to Hungary in which she objected to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, calling it a “mass murder” and genocide. She claimed that “the only way to talk to people like you is by assuming the style of Hamas. I wish all of you lice-infested, dirty murderers will receive Hamas’ ‘kisses.’”

She has been a member of the European Parliament ever since 2009, where she is pretty active. She records her activities on her blog as well as her Facebook page. She is also usually on hand in Hungary whenever the country’s far right is threatened in any way. The latest outrage was her behavior at the trial of György Budaházy, a right-wing extremist, who received a 13-year jail sentence for terrorism. The prosecutor apparently found the verdict too lenient, at which point Morvai, who was in the audience, got up and created a scene. When everybody was ordered out of the courtroom, she refused to leave. ELTE, where she is an associate professor, initiated an “ethical investigation.” The investigation ended in a slap on the wrist.

Liberal commentators object to Morvai’s presence on the faculty. Apparently, she has been on unpaid leave ever since 2009 when she became a member of the European Parliament, but she still gives lectures on the abuse of children, terror in the family, and similar subjects. According to students, “she is a superb lecturer” and her lectures are “exciting. The blogger “Mr. Flynn Rider,” however, thinks “this well-known extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic lecturer should have been kicked out a long time ago” from the law school.

As I said in my post titled “Do we know what Jobbik is all about?” Morvai gave a long interview in Magyar Idők which was welcomed by Zsolt Bayer, who wrote an opinion piece in the same issue. Morvai subsequently expressed her surprise about the splash this interview made because “for my Facebook community and visitors to my blog there was nothing new in this interview.” Clearly, Morvai is trying to downplay an important move on her part.

At the moment, Fidesz and Jobbik are at each other’s throats. A couple of weeks ago there was talk of the government’s likely plans to withdraw mandated financial support to the party on the basis of possible financial irregularities. Jobbik at the moment is Fidesz’s favorite whipping boy. The personal attacks on Gábor Vona are incessant and ugly. One reason is that Jobbik is just as harsh a critic of the Orbán government as the liberal-socialists parties are. For instance, Jobbik ironically insisted that the Hungarian police investigate George Soros if he is such a serious threat to national security.

It is in these circumstances that a Jobbik member of the European Union gives an interview in which she agrees with every move the Orbán government has made in the last two or three years. Moreover, the publication of that interview is accompanied by the simultaneous support and praise from one of the best known Fidesz journalists, Zsolt Bayer.

In the interview Morvai supports the government wholeheartedly. While her party criticizes Orbán over the lack of democracy, she finds the EU’s criticism of Hungary on that score unacceptable. She agrees with the argument that the Orbán government does its share in attending to the root causes of the problems in the Middle East by helping “our Christian brethren on the spot.” As for the Soros Plan, “the European migration policy is so absurd, unreasonable, and inhumane that there must be some evil, demonic plan behind it,” although she doesn’t know whether Soros is the #1 organizer or not.

What is Bayer’s supporting piece about? It is about Jobbik, which is no longer the party that deserves his admiration because “its chairman led his people to betrayal and sleaze.” But not Krisztina Morvai. She has remained what she has always been. That is a great relief to Bayer because he was afraid that Morvai, following Vona, had been lost. The very fact that she gave an interview “for us” is a mortal sin because Jobbik politicians refuse to “talk to us.” This interview could have been given by Viktor Orbán. “Krisztina Morvai has come home” or “actually it seems she has never left.”

A day later Magyar Idők was still on the subject of that interview. A journalist in an opinion piece wrote: “Unbelievable, people in Jobbik are not curious about the interview their party’s MEP gave to our newspaper.” Obviously, this Morvai interview is considered to be a major win in Fidesz’s political duel with Jobbik. And, of course, Morvai is not as innocent as she tries to portray herself.

October 31, 2017

Do we know what Jobbik is all about?

I have somewhat neglected the affairs of Jobbik, but the speech that Gábor Vona, the leader of the party, delivered on October 23 was significant enough to prompt me to take stock of what’s going on in what was once the most notorious extremist right-wing party in all of Europe. The reputation of Jobbik was so tarnished a few years ago that not even the very right-wing Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) in the European Parliament wanted anything to do with the party’s three European parliamentary members. They sit with the independents. In 2015, however, Vona and people close to him in the party decided to abandon their former ideology and move toward a more centrist position on the political spectrum.

The move was logical because, over the years, Viktor Orbán had moved his own party, Fidesz, more and more to the right until the two parties were practically indistinguishable. Vona’s move resulted in a loss of support on the extreme right wing of the party. These people most likely today are Fidesz supporters. As the election nears and the size of the liberal and socialist camp shrinks, Vona has been making great efforts to appeal to disillusioned MSZP voters. The job is not easy because too many people remember the party’s anti-Semitic outbursts, their burning of the European Union’s flag, their support for all sorts of extremist groups, and their establishment of the Hungarian Guard, whose flag bore a suspicious resemblance to that of the Hungarian national socialist Arrow Cross movement of the 1930s and 1940s.

Because of the heavy baggage Jobbik carries, for the time being there is solid opposition on the left to cooperating with Vona’s party, even though there is quite a bit of pressure from below to enter into some kind of “technical coalition” because otherwise Fidesz might emerge with an even greater plurality than in 2010 and 2014. But Gergely Karácsony of Párbeszéd put it well when he said that “once Jobbik made it clear that it doesn’t want to cooperate with the other parties but is interested only in its own voters, any discussion on the subject would be counterproductive.” Moreover, if the opposition parties on the left made a deal with Jobbik, it would essentially be rolling out a red carpet for Jobbik voters.

Yet there are observers like Béla Galló, a political scientist who formerly had close connections with the socialist party, who are convinced that although Vona and his comrades swore in 2010 that they would never have anything to do with the members of the pre-2010 political elite, they are in fact surreptitiously flirting with the left opposition. Indeed, there are signs that may be interpreted as Jobbik making efforts at getting closer to the other parties. For instance, Vona readily accepts invitations to conferences organized by the other side. A couple of days ago Gábor Vona, together with Bernadett Szél (LMP), Zsuzsanna Szelényi (independent), Gyula Molnár (MSZP), and Péter Balázs, former foreign minister, participated in a conference organized by Political Capital and the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, a socialist think tank. He was also recently invited by Momentum to a meeting, after which he announced that the young leaders of this new political party had made a very good impression on him.

Gábor Vona and Péter Balázs at the Conference of Political Capital and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung / Source: zoom.hu

Gábor Vona’s October 23 speech was the latest and perhaps the clearest indication that he now wants to position his party exactly opposite the stance that originally elevated the party to considerable heights in Hungarian politics. Instead of basing the party’s policy on harsh opposition to mainstream politics, he wants to cooperate with others. As he put it, “the destructive energies must come together.” He has had enough of strife. He is no longer “interested in who is on the right and who is on the left, he is not interested in who is moderate and who is radical, and he is not interested in who is conservative and who is liberal.” He agreed with Viktor Orbán that Hungary is “a freedom-loving nation,” but “the country’s whole history must be a continuous fight for freedom not just against foreign powers but also against domestic potentates.” The reporter of 24.hu had the impression during the speech that “Vona has become so tame that one had the distinct feeling that he even buried his own extreme right-wing, semi-Nazi past.”

This might be too optimistic an assessment of the situation. There are plenty of issues on which Jobbik hasn’t changed its mind at all. It is still an extremely nationalistic party, and although there is no more overt anti-Semitism coming from the very top Jobbik politicians, many of the loudest anti-Semites are still in leading positions within the party. So are some Islamophobes. In addition, it is not at all clear what Jobbik’s position is on the Horthy regime and Hungary’s responsibility for the Holocaust. Vona’s foreign policy ideas are also worrisome. A couple of days ago Jobbik organized an international press conference for foreign journalists where Vona tried to explain Jobbik’s position on a number of issues. I found his foreign policy ideas convoluted, unrealistic, and even dangerous. They wouldn’t be an improvement over those of Viktor Orbán because “he would place Hungary in a German, Turkish, Russian, American, and Chinese sphere of influence (erőtér).” I remember similar noises from Viktor Orbán often enough. Vona’s ideas on Jobbik in the European Parliament are difficult to comprehend. What does he means when he says that he “sees the place of Jobbik and the country not in a party family [párpolitikai család] but in regional cooperation?”

Finally, just a short note on a new development. Krisztina Morvai, one of Jobbik’s three EP members of parliament, gave a long interview to Magyar Idők in which she wholeheartedly supported Viktor Orbán’s war against the “Soros Plan.” In brief, she turned against her own party, which just sued the Orbán government to produce the so-called Soros Plan which Vona and friends don’t think exists. Fidesz is most likely thrilled because Zsolt Bayer, whose writing is a good barometer of Fidesz’s positions on issues, welcomed his old friend, Krisztina Morvai, who returned to the fold. He joyfully announced that “this interview could have been given by Viktor Orbán himself.” That’s a real compliment. A left-wing internet news site wryly commented that Gábor Vona must be a happy man because Krisztina Morvai’s radicalism and anti-Semitism were heavy baggage for this new allegedly right-of-center Jobbik. Actually, Krisztina Morvai’s political career deserves a separate post, if not two, which I will certainly write one day.

October 29, 2017