Tag Archives: Magyar Gárda

Jobbik’s Gábor Vona and his Hanukkah greetings

Today Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, managed to retain his position despite opposition from András Schiffer and the admittedly ineffectual smear campaign of the Fidesz-inspired media. Hadházy’s internal critics accused him of jeopardizing LMP’s firm policy of not cooperating with any other party when he talked about the necessity of dialogue among opposition forces.

I’m convinced that deep down Hadházy knows that the party’s current strategy is doomed to failure, but with a brave face he is trying to pretend otherwise. At the press conference after the party congress Bernadett Szél somewhat pointedly remarked that the party’s election strategy had already been decided earlier: LMP will be on its own at next year’s election because “there is no party in parliament that LMP could work with.” Hadházy took the easy way out by emphasizing that LMP doesn’t want to attract voters from the left but rather “hopes to convince voters of the government party that change is necessary.”

Now to the main topic of today’s post.

A few weeks ago the government launched a smear campaign against Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, which, as I indicated earlier, didn’t achieve its aim. In fact, the methods used to demonize Vona were so primitive and base that I got the distinct impression that the campaign actually resulted in some sympathy for Vona, even on the left.

Thus, new tactics were required, which Gábor Vona himself offered to Fidesz when he decided to write Hanukkah greetings to the various Jewish religious communities, including Slomó Köves’s Chabad-based Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Köves is a supporter of Orbán. Shortly after the formation of the second Orbán government he became chief rabbi of the Hungarian armed forces.

Vona’s Hanukkah greetings were obviously part of Jobbik’s new strategy, which includes shedding the party’s anti-Semitic past. The problem is that that past was laden with so many sins against Hungarian Jews that a quick turnaround couldn’t be accepted by Köves or any other Jewish religious leaders. Köves wrote a lengthy letter in which he listed some of Jobbik’s most outrageous anti-Semitic statements. After a few famous sayings from the Old Testament, such as “The tongue has the power of life and death,” Köves suggested that instead of sending Hanukkah greetings, Jobbik leaders should voice their new convictions, if they are genuine, at forums where previously “not light, but hatred, ignominy, and darkness reigned.”

Köves made his letter public, which in turn elicited a public response from Vona. Perhaps the most interesting part of the letter is Vona’s explanation of how he ended up on the wrong side. He “inherited” his anti-Semitism because he found himself in an environment in which “one side called Hungarians Nazis, while the other labeled Jews traitors.” Since then, he “has come to the realization that this doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Vona’s answer didn’t satisfy the Jewish community, which was justifiably offended by his occasional juxtaposition of Hungarians and Jews instead of Christian and Jewish Hungarians. At the same time, it also outraged the more radical members of Jobbik who, I’m convinced, have been getting ample support in their opposition to Vona’s leadership from Fidesz.

Origo has been closely following the reverberations within Jobbik after the Hanukkah affair. The first story of some import came from Vecsés, a town just outside the city limits of Budapest. Vecsés at one point was the center of the Army of Outlaws movement, whose leader is a friend of Gábor Vona. Otherwise, Jobbik claims that the party and this neo-Nazi group have nothing to do with one another. On the local level, however, there seems to be cooperation despite the denial. Or, at least this used to be the case. The only Jobbik member of the town council was, or perhaps still is, affiliated with the Army of Outlaws. This man, Imre Orbán, has a reputation for being a troublemaker and has distinguished himself as a fouled-mouthed anti-Semite. This time he placed a post on Vecsés’s Jobbik Facebook page in which he accused Gábor Vona of making a fool of Jobbik members by turning to the rabbi with his apologies. He added some four-letter words in his discussion of Hanukkah. This incident was taken seriously by the party and Vona promised to investigate.

The official “state news” Híradó reported a few days ago that the Jobbik leadership in Vámosmikola, a village of 1,600 inhabitants, also criticized the leadership because of the Hanukkah greetings and the subsequent exchange of letters. Jobbik cannot be strong in Vámosmikola since in the 2014 municipal elections it didn’t even have a candidate for mayor or the town council, but even the smallest protest is big news in the right-wing press.

Pesti Srácok gleefully reported that a former member of the Magyar Gárda, once the paramilitary arm of Jobbik, since dismantled, demanded the vest that was part of their uniform from Vona, who proudly wore it at the opening of parliament in 2010. By trying to build bridges between Jews and the party, Vona “became unworthy” of this precious vest, claimed the former member of the Magyar Gárda.

Yesterday Magyar Idők called attention to a demonstration of disappointed Jobbik members that will take place in Debrecen, where the organizers are expecting Jobbik sympathizers from four counties. These people not only complain about Vona’s Hanukkah letter but also about Jobbik’s abandonment of its earlier radical political strategy. A closer reading of the article, however, reveals that most of these people are no longer members of the party. As the chief organizer, Erika Ulics, a lawyer, explains, 35-40 local leaders who will gather in Debrecen already left the party after Vona, in 2014, decided to scuttle the party’s former ideals. Ulics herself was expelled from the party, allegedly because she leaked inside information to Népszabadság.

Ulics, by the way, is a notorious neo-Nazi and an admirer of Ferenc Szálasi, who was executed for war crimes in 1946. In addition, she is a racist who suggested that all Gypsies should be forced to join the army and attack Romania. “If we win, Transylvania is ours. If we lose, Hungary is ours.” Those with strong stomachs should visit the news sites Cink and 4024 for more quotations from this vicious neo-Nazi and anti-Semite.

The government-sponsored sites are so eager to spread news of the imminent collapse of Jobbik that they are resorting to fiction. According to alfahir.hu, Jobbik’s official site 888.hu reported that the entire ten-man Jobbik group in Nemeshetés, population 320, resigned in protest over Vona’s new pro-Jewish policies. It turned out that Jobbik doesn’t have a local cell in the village. Since then, the article has been taken offline.

Yesterday afternoon Ulics’s demonstration did take place. It is hard to tell from the picture just how many people attended, but as far as I can judge, there were mighty few. It certainly didn’t shake Jobbik to its very foundations as, I’m sure, some Fidesz leaders hoped.

The sign, by the way, is an Albert Wass quotation: “The surest weapon against mendacity and falsehood is truthfulness. This is our weapon.” And one shouldn’t miss the doctored photo of Gábor Vona and Ágnes Heller walking hand in hand. It is unlikely that Heller received this distinction because these people are such admirers of her accomplishments as a philosopher.

All in all, I tend to agree with the political scientist Attila Ágh, who in a recent interview said that Vona’s new strategy, for the time being at least, hasn’t resulted in any spectacular growth in the party’s popularity. On the other hand, it hasn’t collapsed either. The opposition to Vona is small, and he still has the party leadership behind him. Most supporters have remained faithful to the party, but it is difficult to predict whether Vona’s new strategy can achieve its aim of attracting voters from the left and from the large group of the undecided.

January 15, 2017

Young Jobbik and Fidesz sympathizers have a great deal in common

An article appeared in Friday’s Népszabadság that summarized the findings of a sociological study about youthful adherents (ages 15-29) to the ideology of the far-right Jobbik party. Unfortunately, it turned out that the report is two years old, and since then Jobbik has become a much more powerful political movement. The study by Anikó Félix and Anikó Gregor, for example, still talks about Jobbik’s strength being in the least developed eastern regions, although by now we know that Jobbik did equally well at the last election in Transdanubia. There are, however, a few points that are worth contemplating.

In a 2012 survey Jobbik enjoyed 10% support among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Fidesz led with 14% while MSZP brought up the rear with 6%. The rest didn’t answer. Late 2013 polls put Jobbik support at 14% in the 18-29 age group, significantly smaller than some people imagine. Fidesz and even the left liberals did considerably better than Jobbik in these surveys.

Worrisome signs emerge, however, when we look into some of the details of the Félix-Gregor study. The young men and women who support Jobbik “under certain circumstances” accept the idea of establishing a dictatorship; they consider membership in the European Union outright harmful to the country; and they are leery of government in general. And now comes the most remarkable feature of the study: the authors found that “there is no significant difference in the estimation of dictatorship and their attraction to ‘esoteric beliefs’ between young Jobbik and Fidesz supporters.” There is also no difference between them when it comes to the question of nationalism.

Let’s first take a look at nationalism or chauvinism as it informs these young people’s worldview. The study tries to make a distinction between “proud positive nationalism” and “chauvinism or a belief in national superiority.” The distinction, in my opinion, is not so clear as our authors seem to think because among the many definitions of nationalism one can find several that essentially conflate the two. Here are a few: “excessive patriotism; chauvinism,” or  “exaggerated, passionate, or fanatical devotion to a national community.” In any case, these young people seem to endorse the chauvinistic version of nationalism. A rather bad piece of news.

Definitions of chauvinism often contain references to militarism. For example, “militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country” or “zealous and aggressive patriotism or blind enthusiasm for military glory.” So, it’s no wonder that one of Jobbik’s early decisions was to set up the Magyar Gárda, a paramilitary organization. Weekend gatherings and the comradeship experienced there greatly add to the cohesion of the group. They create a community to which young people in particular feel comfortable belonging.

Boys in Magyar Gárda uniform

Boys in Magyar Gárda uniform

And now we can turn to the subject of esotericism. These gatherings also include “lectures,” mostly on what the authors call “esoteric topics.” As these youngsters usually discard anything that is official or mainstream, they often reject whatever was taught to them in school. If their textbooks said that Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, they will instead be attracted to any zany pseudo-linguistics that glorifies the Hungarian language. It wasn’t the speech of some humble hunters and fishermen from the Russian steppe but the language of the Sumerians. This is just one example, but right-wing groups closely associated with Jobbik hold weekend schools where bogus scholars pour utter nonsense into young heads. These esoteric beliefs are also a common bond that hold the groups together. Their beliefs distinguish them from the rest of society. They think that secrets have been revealed to them that are unknown to others.

The important message that we get from the study that questioned 8,000 young men and women is that chauvinism and a belief in esotericism have a strong hold on both Jobbik and Fidesz sympathizers. And Viktor Orbán must know this because he loves to catalogue the unique virtues of Hungarians: they are clever, inventive, chivalrous, and hardworking.

If I had to pick the most important political weapon in Viktor Orbán’s arsenal, I would say that it is nationalism/chauvinism. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it, but it was some well-known Hungarian personage who claimed that “a person can cut firewood on a Hungarian’s back as long as he invokes nationalism.” Alas, it seems to work. What Viktor Orbán has done in the last four years to the majority of his own people would have caused riots in many other countries. Or at least serious opposition. But not in Hungary.

So what can the left-liberal opposition do under these circumstances? Resort to nationalism as a political gimmick? Surely, they could never outdo Jobbik and Fidesz. Moreover, no responsible politician should preach unbridled nationalistic, chauvinistic propaganda in the 21st century. The only solution to me seems to involve changing young people’s attitudes. Admittedly, this is a very difficult proposition when Viktor Orbán has tightened his hold on Hungarian education, but a way must be found because otherwise Jobbik-Fidesz will be in the saddle for decades to come. Since the European Union seems to be a willing partner of Viktor Orbán and keeps supplying him with the money that keeps him power, we can’t expect a collapse of the regime any time soon. The Hungarians themselves have to vote the regime out. But first they must reject the chauvinistic opiate Orbán and Jobbik are feeding them.

The Orbán government’s swift move toward the far right

I wrote about some of the people who received high awards from the Orbán government on March 15, one of the official national holidays in Hungary. They were either racist, antisemitic neo-Nazis or representatives of unscientific, bogus “scholarship” whose numbers have been growing in Hungary in the last twenty years or so. The greatest attention was showered on Ferenc Szaniszló, who received the Táncsics Prize from Zoltán Balog.

I left the story at the point that Zoltán Balog claimed that he knew nothing about Szaniszló’s program on EchoTV. He simply accepted the recommendation of the committee appointed by the Orbán government and made up of right-leaning journalists. Balog also insisted that he couldn’t withdraw the prize. Either Szaniszló gives it back on his own volition or everything remains as is. (I might mention here that when the writer Ákos Kertész made the mistake of saying something derogatory about Hungarians his honorary citizenship of Budapest was withdrawn without the slightest difficulty.) In any case, Balog wrote a letter to Szaniszló in which he practically begged him to return the prize. He did, but only after he delivered another of his harangues on March 18 in an extra edition of Világ-Panoráma. This extra edition was just as long as his other programs, but this time it dealt only with all the indignities he had to suffer from the “szocik” and the “liberok.” One shouldn’t have expected anything else, but at least at the end he announced that he would return the prize–but not to the ministry but to the U.S. Embassy!

Balog might have thought that his troubles were over, but then came the revelation in Heti Válasz, a right-wing, pro-Fidesz publication, that Balog hadn’t told the truth earlier. The committee didn’t recommend Szaniszló for the prize. In fact, as Ágnes Osztovits, who is on the staff of Heti Válasz, revealed, the committee endorsed only one person, a reporter for Magyar Rádió, out of the three who eventually received the awards. In addition to Szaniszló, Márta Ágnes Vertse of Vatikán Rádió was also picked by the ministry against the advice of the nominating committee. Moreover, Heti Válasz learned who promoted Szaniszló and Vertse. None other than the new undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs, János Halász. Balog doesn’t seem to have much luck with his undersecretaries. He couldn’t get along with László L. Simon, who after eight months was fired, and now here is Balog’s own man who immediately gets him into trouble. Both the American and the Israeli embassies officially protested and demanded immediate action in connection with the case.

Szaniszló became an international cause célèbre, although he wasn’t the only one whose recognition by the Hungarian government was questionable. Let’s start with the award of the “Magyar Érdemrend középkeresztje” to Gábor Széles, who is the owner of the very EchoTV that employs Szaniszló in addition to Zsolt Bayer. Széles is also the owner of Magyar Hírlap where Zsolt Bayer is senior editor. Or there is Kornél Bakay, the “archaeologist” who received the “Magyar Érdemrend Tisztikereszt (polgári tagozat)” on March 15. When he was the director of the museum in Szombathely in 2003 Bakay organized an exhibit entitled “Soldiers of Horthy, Arrowmen of Szálasi.” On the basis of this exhibit it became clear that Bakay is “an enthusiastic propagandist of the Szálasi cult.” After a huge outcry the exhibit was dismantled.

The government claims that these awards, decorations, and prizes demonstrate the “Hungarian nation’s recognition of and gratitude to those who represent the best of the nation.” So, let’s see what János Petrás, lead singer of the “nemzeti” rock band, represents because he also received the “Magyar Arany Érdemkereszt (polgári tagozat).” This pride of the nation said at the “Magyar Sziget” neo-Nazi gathering in 2009: “Those people–who are really not human as far as we are concerned–are misfits, inferior somethings. They are gay and they are proud of it….One day this breed will become extinct. They should go somewhere and live together but separately. We will pass a law that will state that we don’t tolerate this perversity.”

It is hard to imagine that all these awards, prizes, and decorations given to people belonging to the far right are simply mistakes. There is a concerted effort to court the Hungarian neo-Nazis. It is government policy. So is the whipping up of nationalist sentiment.

Orbán imitates members of the Magyar GárdaPhoto MTI / Attila Kovács

Orbán imitates the uniform of the Magyar Gárda
Photo MTI / Attila Kovács

This morning I was reading about Viktor Orbán’s latest Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió when I noticed something that might be significant. Normally on such an occasion Orbán wears a suit but no tie. This morning it was brisk in Budapest. During the day, around 6°C. At 7:00 a.m. it was most likely close to O°. Yet Orbán appeared in a white shirt with a black vest. An outfit preferred by people who are close to Jobbik or the far right in general. Journalists noted, for example, that Attila Vidnyánszky, the new director of the National Theater, began wearing this type of outfit lately; he seems to have committed his career to creating a truly “national” theater.

I suspect that Orbán’s choice of clothing this morning was a conscious decision to be identified with the Hungarian far right. The outfit was certainly appropriate, given the content of the speech in which he made no bones about his determination not to accept lectures or limits on Hungary’s national sovereignty from Brussels. As one of the headlines in a paper reporting on the speech read, “Orbán: They shouldn’t phone here from Brussels.” And that was before it became known that José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, will in the future personally oversee all contested issues concerning the amendments to the Hungarian constitution. Perhaps it is not only telephone calls that should stop coming from Brussels. What about money?