Tag Archives: radicalism

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

Hungarian university students and politics

As voters go to the polls across the European Union to vote for parliamentary representatives, newspapers are full of stories about the rise of the far right. Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank, just released a study which predicts that “in a number of countries (France, Great Britain, Denmark) these [far-right] parties may even finish in first place and in some others (Netherlands, Hungary, Austria) may come in second.” It is possible that the European Parliament will see the formation of a significant pro-Russian, anti-EU group.

Hungarian societal attitudes provide especially fertile ground for right-wing extremism. Prejudice against minorities and foreigners in general is very high in Hungary, 44% of the adult population, while in Germany that figure is 11%. I think one can safely say that widespread prejudice, intolerance, and xenophobia occur mostly in countries where little or no attention is paid to civics. In Hungary civics is at best an afterthought. (By the way, a model of how to make civics engaging can be found on the website of iCivics, an organization founded and led by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.) Hungarian college students are either politically passive or, worse, they despise politics.

A new book edited by Andrea Szabó and available on the Internet analyzes the attitudes of young people who are currently studying for a higher degree. When they were asked how they would define the word “politics” they offered the following answers: 1.strife, tension (6%); 2. lies, scam, fraud (21%); 3. a curse word (15%); 4. corruption, stealing (12%); 5. power, self-interest, responsibility (9%); and 6. government, parliament, democracy (16%). I fear not too many high school teachers read sociological studies such as this one, but these responses should make them sit up and take notice. Hungarian students desperately need to learn the basic precepts of democracy and its institutions. They should also gain an understanding of the European Union and how it functions.

Statements in the survey designed to gain insight into the students’ attitude toward democratic values also resulted in worrisome answers. The first statement was that “the democratic system is better than any other.” Among the students surveyed 42%  agreed, but 23% stated that “under certain circumstances a dictatorship is better than democracy.” Equally worrisome is the large number (23%) of those who are utterly indifferent to the kind of regime they live in. Finally, the researchers reported that 6% of the students believe that the Hungarian situation is so bad that it would be better to introduce a dictatorship in the country.

Interest in politics is also very low among Hungarian university students. They show less interest than did students in the 1970s-1980s. Then 12% said that they were “very much interested in politics.” By the late 1990s only 3-6% answered in the affirmative. And since then the situation has deteriorated further. The same research team that prepared this volume published a study in 2008 when they found that only 2.5% of young people between ages of 15 and 29 showed any interest in political matters. This is a very low number. Hungary is next to last among the 22 countries that participated in the survey. The Czech Republic came in dead last. Denmark led the pack, followed by Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, and Iceland. Even Russia was ahead of Hungary.

So, it’s no wonder, given this rejection of current political life and politicians, that Jobbik with its sharp attack on the establishment and with its easy answers to very difficult questions is popular among Hungarian college students. In 2013 Jobbik was the most popular party (17.3%) closely followed by Fidesz (16%). Last year at least, Együtt14-PM did quite well (13.7%) and LMP also received a fair number of votes (7.7%).  The socialists have insignificant support among this age group (3.1%).

Andrea Szabó defines three prototypes of university students as far as their ideological orientation is concerned. She calls pro-Fidesz students the “Tusványos” generation, named after the yearly Fidesz gatherings in Transylvania. These students are ardent Fidesz believers who accept everything handed to them by the “late Kádár generation,” a term coined by Ákos Róna-Tas for the generation of Viktor Orbán and his followers. The second group consists of Jobbik sympathizers, whom she names “the kuruc.info generation.” And finally, there is the much smaller “critical mass generation,” those who feel close to LMP’s green and anti-capitalist leftist politics.

Unfortunately, the Orbán government’s radical reshaping of the Hungarian educational system and its insistence on blindly following accepted norms will only add to the popularity of Jobbik because it feeds the personality traits of those who are attracted to radicalism: authoritarian impulses, lack of inquisitiveness, nationalism, and intolerance toward others.