Tag Archives: Zoltán Fenyvesi

Justin Spike: Hungarian village vents its hatred of refugees

Justin Spike’s article on the recent upheaval in the village of Őcsény first appeared in The Budapest Beacon under the title “Hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the town–Hungarian village succumbs to state propaganda.” In a separate post to appear shortly, I’ll comment on the event and its aftermath.

♦ ♦ ♦

Residents of the Tolna county village of Őcsény in southwest Hungary held an emergency village assembly Monday evening. So many members of the roughly 2,000-person community attended that not everyone was able to fit into the community center. They had come together to discuss what they considered an imminent threat to their village: the arrival of several refugees, mostly women and children, for a few days of vacation.

The residents had gotten wind of the cooperation between a local guesthouse owner, Zoltán Fenyvesi, and the Migration Aid civil organization to bring four rounds of six or seven refugee children with adult chaperones to the village for a week of relaxation in the guesthouse and sightseeing tours in the region.

Upon hearing of the plan, residents convened the assembly, which Fenyvesi attended. The meeting was so hysterical and full of shouting, the guesthouse owner said, that he didn’t have the chance to speak.

The half-broken sign once read “European village” / Source: 24.hu / Photo: Rudolf Karancsi

Later that night, the tires on two of Fenyvesi’s vehicles were slashed.

“The people were so dismissive at the village assembly that the guesthouse owner and the civil organization couldn’t even say what their plans were,” said Őcsény mayor János Fülöp, who has since resigned. “They said things like, ‘These people are animals, they’re not even human. They’re terrorists, they’re going to blow things up and rape the children’.”

Hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the town

Of all the many problems facing countryside villages – “no medical care, the closure of the savings banks and the post offices, no firewood” – what everyone is talking about nowadays is migration, mayor Fülöp said.

“This was only about 30 people, mostly women and children, that would have come here,” he said. “They would only have been at the guesthouse at night, because in the daytime they wanted to bring them to monuments, and to Pécs and the surroundings.”

Fülöp, who resigned his 11-year post as mayor of Őcsény Wednesday night after a special meeting of the local council, insisted that “not every refugee is a criminal and Islamist fanatic. These people received the protection of the Hungarian state, they went through a serious inspection based on international treaties.”

Fülöp said he’d resigned because the village had become divided, and he didn’t want to contribute to furthering the tensions.

“I’ve been mayor here for 11 years, and in that time I remember peace and quiet. No one spat on or cursed each other. That’s finished now,” he said, adding that he thinks the hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the place.

Fenyvesi, the owner of the Csengettyűs guesthouse, agreed.

“I trusted that there would be a normal debate at the village assembly where I could convince the people, but I told them in vain that this was about children. There was no chance for a discussion,” Fenyvesi said.

“They’re not afraid, they’re horrified,” he told 444.hu of the residents. “They said they hate them! They really think that one migrant here will become six, six will become 12, and in the end they’ll take over all of Őcsény and all of Hungary.”

Őcsény residents told daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet that they didn’t believe the refugees would only stay for a few days. One woman said she’d heard they would be moved into vacant houses in the village, and was afraid they’d bring diseases. Another said she’d seen on television how the refugees behave: “They rape everyone.”

One local man on a bicycle approached a Magyar Nemzet journalist and insisted the residents shouldn’t interact with “political monkeys,” since every newspaper and television station works for George Soros. He considers Fenyvesi, the guesthouse owner, a “Soros agent” as well, he said.

A petition is reportedly being circulated in Őcsény which aims to ban migrants from the community indefinitely.

If the shepherds had not been from Bethlehem, but from Őcsény…

According to its website, Migration Aid is “a volunteer civil initiative providing live-saving emergency assistance for asylum-seekers who need it.” The organization recently ran into similar local opposition when it arranged to provide accommodation for refugees in a town near Lake Balaton. At that time, Fidesz politicians and government media insisted the organization was “settling” illegal migrants in Hungarian villages as part of the government-contrived, much-touted “Soros Plan.”

Fenyvesi responded to a Migration Aid ad seeking volunteers to provide vacation accommodation for refugees who have received the official protection of the Hungarian state. He offered his 9-bed guesthouse to the organization free of charge.

It’s not the first time Fenyvesi has used his guesthouse to accommodate disadvantaged people. He said he has often taken in “people in difficult social situations” to stay there for free.

“If I can accommodate poor Hungarian children, and among them very many Gypsy children, I would add, then why not suffering refugee families with children?” he asked. “I’d be really curious that if the shepherds had not been from Bethlehem but from Őcsény, then would Jesus lay down among the cattle to rest in the manger, or somewhere outside like a homeless person?”

But Fenyvesi’s goodwill was met with hostility in Őcsény: after the village assembly, he was threatened and his property was damaged.

“They literally threatened me, that they would separate my head from my body!” he told 444.hu. “In the night there was a huge bang, a brick was thrown at my van. We saw in the morning that six of my eight tires had been slashed. I ask you, if someone is banging someone’s car mercilessly in front of their house in the night, and they’d threatened them before…then will he feel terrorized or not? I wonder, is that terror or not?”

Fenyvesi has decided not to host the refugee children, “not because they terrified me or anything like that, but because I saw those mothers and how shocked and horrified they are and how much they hate, and a mother’s love for her children is above everything.”

He said he doesn’t blame the residents for what has happened, but government propaganda which has incited so many Hungarians to hate.

“And those who threaten me, I’m not mad at them,” he said. “Nor at the tire slashers. Because they’re actually really good folks. They go wild over certain topics and become unpredictable. I think I’m going to discuss it with them; we go to the same bar. Either we’ll come to an understanding or I’ll get life insurance and that’s it. You don’t have to live forever.”

September 29, 2017

The day after: What happened in the Tapolca by-elections?

Most Hungarian commentators that I follow look upon yesterday’s Jobbik victory in the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg district of the county of Veszprém as proof that the political system Viktor Orbán so carefully constructed is now in shambles. In Orbán’s political constellation, there are insignificant parties on both the right and the left while Fidesz rules the center with such a large majority that it is assured an absolutely free hand in legislation. Due to the weakness of the parties on either side of it, this system also guarantees years and years of Fidesz governance. But something went terribly wrong. The “central power,” the present governing party, has been steadily losing voters while one of the “fringe” parties, Jobbik, is gaining ground.

I am less sanguine about the significance of Jobbik’s victory yesterday than most of the commentators. First of all, Jobbik won by only 261 votes over Fidesz. What is perhaps even more important, Lajos Rig won this race only because the voters of the town of Tapolca, who last year solidly voted for the Fidesz candidate, Jenő Lasztovicza, this time decided to support Rig, who is one of them. According to an Index report, the fact that Rig was from Tapolca made a great difference. His Fidesz opponent, from Ajka, is now a high school principal in Várpalota, a town outside of the electoral district. Therefore, the people of Tapolca looked upon him as a stranger. And without Tapolca, Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate, would have won decisively.

Just to give you an idea of how important the town of Tapolca was, here’s a graph that compares the three parties’ results in 2014 and 2015.

The Tapolca results, 2014-2015  /valasztas.hu

The Tapolca results, 2014-2015 / valasztas.hu

A year ago Fidesz won in all fifteen polling stations in Tapolca; these year all went for Lajos Rig. The official election results available on the internet reveal that in Tapolca alone Jobbik received 3,689 votes. Pestisracok.hu, which is a Fidesz-financed site, claims that everywhere outside of Tapolca Fidesz held its own and that since Fidesz lost by only 261 votes Fidesz’s trouble is not as great as it appears on the surface. Others, for example Róbert László, an analyst with Political Capital, are convinced that Jobbik won the election in the villages. László argues that it had been known that Sümeg would vote Fidesz, Ajka socialist, and that Tapolca was Jobbik through and through. Therefore, it was in the villages that Jobbik’s strong showing made a difference. Of the 58 villages Rig won in 30, including some larger villages, while Fidesz won in only 24 smaller settlements.

Map of the electoral district

Map of the electoral district

There is no question that Tapolca’s support for Jobbik made a huge difference and assured its victory. But what pestisracok.hu neglects to factor in is the rate of mobilization which, according to the calculations of the think tank Political Capital, in the case of Fidesz was only 52.3% of its voter turnout in 2014. Although MSZP-DK’s results were abysmal, their rate of mobilization was still higher (70.5%) than Fidesz’s. Jobbik, by contrast, outdid itself: its mobilization rate was 105% of its 2014 number.

Talking about mobilization, here are a few tidbits about the campaign. Yesterday I reported that Jobbik had put an incredible amount of energy into the campaign because they knew they had a chance of winning. It turned out that besides the constant presence of Gábor Vona, the chairman of the party, in the last week or so several Jobbik members of parliament were also on the spot. And unlike the Fidesz bigwigs, who appeared for an hour or so, they stayed for days. In addition, the party had 70 young activists who volunteered their services. The party paid only for their room and board. Fidesz had hundreds of paid campaigners, whose heart was not always in the job. One reporter encountered a scene where a man’s car was full of Fidesz posters but the man assured Vona that he will vote for Jobbik. He just needs the money.

Jobbik’s campaigning strategy was apparently quite sophisticated. Its messages were tailored to local conditions. After checking the needs or gripes of each village, the activists specifically addressed those issues. They made sure that the encounters between the visitors and the locals in the smaller villages were intimate and therefore, for example, although Vona visited 44 of the 58 villages the party kept his itinerary a secret. It didn’t want reporters disturbing the ambiance of the meetings between the party chairman and the locals.

Last Friday, before the Tapolca election, Viktor Orbán in his usual interview on Kossuth Rádió alluded to the fact that Fidesz has “its own polls.” Therefore he must have known that Jobbik and Fidesz were neck to neck. That’s why he decided to visit the district’s three larger towns as the campaign was winding down. Did his visit help the Fidesz cause? We will never know, but his appearance in Tapolca was a disaster thanks to a demonstration organized, it seems, by Solidarity. Orbán is not accustomed to demonstrators who nearly prevented him from delivering his speech. But this is exactly what happened, which didn’t do much for the aura he has cultivated over the years. So, as far as his personal prestige is concerned, his appearance there was certainly counterproductive.

What will Fidesz’s answer be to the challenge Jobbik is posing to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s government? I’m cautious when it comes to predictions, but judging from Orbán’s reluctance to change course and thereby admit a mistake, I don’t expect any great change in strategy. As he said in his Friday interview, “nix ugribugri.”

Well, this expression needs an explanation. Like most of his “sayings” over the years, it is not an Orbán original. György Moldova, a popular Hungarian writer, the author of about 70 books since 1955, published a report way back in 1986 on long-distance truckers. In the 70s and early 80s these were the lucky ones who had a chance to see the world outside of Hungary. Moldova tells the story of a truck driver who is greatly bothered by an infestation of lice. Somewhere in Germany he stops and goes to a pharmacy to get some medication, but he wants to make sure that it is for lice, not for fleas. But he doesn’t know any German. So he comes up with “nix ugribugri,” meaning “not hopping here and there.” Orbán is no flea; he is planning to hold a steady course. He wants to finish what he started and wants to accomplish everything he promised the Hungarian people. But what if the Hungarian people have had enough of his experimentation?

Jobbik won the by-election in Tapolca

Although I watched two political commentators’ analyses of the results of the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election, my reactions here are only first impressions. Perhaps my greatest surprise was the relatively strong showing of Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate, who, as things now stand, lost the election by only 261 votes out of approximately 30,000 votes cast. It was also something of a surprise how poorly the socialist Ferenc Pad did, although after seeing the candidates debate last Friday I strongly suspected that it would not be the MSZP-DK candidate who would win this election.

According to the official statistics, Lajos Rig (Jobbik) received 35.27%, Zoltán Fenyvesi (Fidesz) 34.38%, Ferenc Pad (MSZP-DK) 26.27%, and Barbara Sallee (LMP) 2.05% of the votes. As the votes were coming in, it was apparent that voter turnout in Tapolca, a Jobbik stronghold, was higher than in Ajka, where MSZP is the dominant party.

Jobbik took this election very seriously. For example, Gábor Vona, the party chairman, moved to Tapolca for a good two weeks and campaigned all day long. Although about 600 MSZP activists descended on the electoral district, they campaigned only in the last two days. That is not an effective way to campaign. By point of comparison, on May 6–I know it’s an odd date–the town in which I live will have local elections, and the campaign is already on. In fact, half an hour ago two Republican activists appeared at the door with a complimentary copy of the local service directory and a flyer touting the party’s accomplishments in 2014 and its plans for 2015. I assume the Democrats will follow soon enough, although they usually arrive empty-handed.

Lajos Rig campaigned to the last minute / Origo/ Photo Attila Polyák

Lajos Rig campaigned to the last minute / Origo/ Photo Attila Polyák

People familiar with modern campaign techniques increasingly comment on the inability of the left-of-center parties to wage an effective campaign. Fidesz was a pioneer in the field by borrowing the American practice of door-to-door campaigning. What they also borrowed was something that according to Hungarian law is illegal: keeping lists of potential supporters. MSZP, by not following in Fidesz’s footsteps, lost the “campaign game” some time ago.

Of course, lists are not enough if prospective supporters don’t actually go to the polls, and in the last year or so Fidesz hasn’t managed to get out the vote. Admittedly, turnout in by-elections is usually low. This time only 41.6% of the eligible voters cast their votes, as opposed to 59.9% a year ago. A large number of Fidesz and MSZP voters stayed away, while Jobbik, which got 10,110 votes or 23.49% in 2014, got 10, 354 votes or 35.27% this time around. I guess we will have to wait a bit for a deeper analysis of the figures to find out where the Jobbik votes came from. The detailed data from all the towns and villages should give us some answers.

As I said, I watched the three candidates debate on Friday’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk) on ATV. You may recall that in an earlier post I reported that the Fidesz candidate had initially been ready to participate in a debate scheduled for Thursday but in the last minute he retreated and the event was cancelled. The Fidesz leadership then changed its mind and agreed to a debate, which was broadcast on Friday. I guess they decided that avoiding a face-to-face meeting with their adversaries would give the impression that the party was afraid of its opponents.

Watching the three candidates was an interesting experience. First of all, Lajos Rig, the Jobbik candidate whom I had seen only once before, on a video where reporters confronted him about his tattoo, made a better impression than I expected. On the earlier video he handled the situation very badly and came across as not too bright and painfully inarticulate. This time, by contrast, he was well-spoken. He was also quite aggressive. For example, he was the first candidate to respond to the reporter’s initial question. No hesitation, his message was clear and intelligent.

Zoltán Fenyvesi was too much of a government candidate. His answers sounded as if they had been written by the official spokesman of the party. Given Viktor Orbán’s problems, Fenyvesi might have positioned himself as just a bit more independent. He did, however, deliver the only “where’s the beef” message to the electorate: “If you vote for me, the district will get favorable treatment from the government.” It’s possible that this message resonated with some of the voters. I should, in passing, point out another negative in his debate performance, which probably made no difference in the outcome of the election. He claimed that he met all the mayors of the 60 towns and villages in the district. This claim turned out to be untrue.

Ferenc Pad is soft-spoken and mild-mannered. In the free-wheeling conversation he was usually the last to speak on any given subject. He may have been a successful trade union leader, but I doubt that he was the best choice for a political candidate. Moreover, even though we heard how hard he and his team worked and that he visited every village in the district, it’s difficult to assess how effective all this effort was. I got the impression that on a typical day in the campaign the candidate would arrive alone in a village and settle down in the pub where he would talk to the customers. And that he would strike up conversations with passers-by. That’s not a winning strategy in the twenty-first century.

After today’s election Fidesz will have to pay more attention to the party to its right. Until very recently the Fidesz leadership didn’t seem to be worried about Jobbik. In fact, they often adopted Jobbik’s ideas and presented them as their own, hoping to attract Jobbik voters to their party. It was only about a week ago that Zoltán Balog and János Lázár began referring to Jobbik as a “Nazi party.”  It will be interesting to see what Fidesz comes up in this new situation.

As for MSZP, finishing third in this election most likely won’t help the party find a way out of its present morass. MSZP’s popularity hasn’t moved up one whit since the last election. DK is slowly edging up in the polls, and I suspect that at the moment the DK leadership is not at all happy that they decided to support MSZP’s choice. Whether this defeat will have an effect on future cooperation between these two parties remains to be seen.

Another poll, another loss for Fidesz ahead of a by-election

Three new Medián polls were released today. One is the company’s monthly poll of political support for Hungarian parties. The second is a survey of the population’s assessment of the financial disaster caused by irresponsible management at a number of brokerage firms. And third is a survey of the population’s opinion about the government’s decision to close retail stores on Sundays.

I was looking forward to Medián’s survey of Hungarian political opinion at the end of March because of the forthcoming by-election in the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg district that, according to some commentators, Jobbik has a good chance of winning. In addition, it was about two weeks ago that Ipsos came out with a poll indicating a spectacular growth in Jobbik support in the last few months. I’m relieved to see a second poll with a different set of results.

Here are the main findings of the political poll. Since the end of February Fidesz has lost another 3% of its support. The standing of the opposition parties, however, hasn’t changed, with the exception of DK, which gained 2% among committed voters. People’s opinion of the government’s performance is low. Only 29% think that the third Orbán government is doing a good job. In fact, a majority of the people today think that the Bajnai government’s performance was better than that of the Orbán government in the last five years.

orange = total population beige = eligible voters blue = committed voters

orange = total population
beige = eligible voters
blue = committed voters

Jobbik’s popularity has remained constant over the last year: 15% of the population are Jobbik supporters. But the composition of the Jobbik camp might have changed, since 18% of current Jobbik supporters claim that they voted for Fidesz a year ago. The only thing I found surprising in the survey was the relative zeal of Fidesz voters: 60% of them say that they would definitely go and vote if the elections were held next Sunday. This figure seems high to me in light of the recent Veszprém election where one reason for the devastating defeat of the Fidesz candidate was the refusal of Fidesz sympathizers to go to the polls.

When it comes to the financial scandals, the Orbán government has been trying to pin the bankruptcies and their consequences on the socialist-liberal governments. But it is difficult to blame Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, or Gordon Bajnai for the bankruptcies after five years of Fidesz supervision of financial institutions. Although government communication hammers the “socialist” theme from morning till night, the people aren’t buying it. The majority of the population (56%) find the current government completely or partly responsible for the situation that developed in the last few months. Only 17% of the population believe that the socialists are largely or completely responsible for the collapse of Quaestor and other brokerage firms.

The results of Medián’s survey on the Sunday closing of retail stores are, for the most part, similar to those of Ipsos on which I already reported. But the Ipsos survey did not break the data down by party sympathies. Medián does, and it looks as if even Fidesz voters are split on the issue (48% for it, 45% against, 7% undecided). The majority of Jobbik voters oppose the new law, and an overwhelming number (70%) of socialist and liberal voters are against it. And 75% of those who at present have no party preferences would like to have the stores open. This last figure is especially ominous for the government party.

Back to the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election. This election has become a litmus test for all three major parties. If Fidesz loses (and it is their race to lose), a further erosion of voters will be inevitable. If Jobbik wins, it will be a sign of the growing acceptance of the party, able at last to send a representative to parliament who was elected in his own right. If the MSZP-DK candidate wins, it will strengthen the left’s image as a force that can replace the Fidesz government. After all, this would be the third by-election in which the candidate of the left wins. So, all three parties are putting a lot of work into the campaign.

Fidesz seems to be the most active. Practically all important Fidesz politicians have showed up in the district and, as far as we know, Viktor Orbán himself will make an appearance in Tapolca, perhaps tomorrow. Fidesz at last seems to taking Jobbik seriously, with both László Kövér and János Lázár calling Jobbik a Nazi party. But it is difficult to attack Jobbik in any detail because Fidesz has moved so far to the right in order to compete with Jobbik that the two parties’ programs are almost identical by now. Because of Orbán’s pro-Russian policy, it is practically impossible for Fidesz politicians to accuse Jobbik of being too close to Russia or to claim that Russia is financing the party which is most likely the case.

According to local gossip, Fidesz ordered a survey that showed a massive Fidesz defeat on Sunday, which may explain László Kövér’s remark that the party didn’t have a critical stake in this election. In the last few days, however, the Fidesz leadership must have decided to try to reverse the situation. This is a risky undertaking. If Orbán goes to Tapolca and Sümeg as promised, makes rousing speeches, and Fidesz still loses, this would further undermine the prime minister’s popularity and the belief in his superior political talent.

At the moment it is difficult to predict what Fidesz will do in the next three to four days. As of this morning, it looked as if Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate, would take part in a three-man debate on Olga Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd tonight, but in the last minute he cancelled. This is a surprising move given the party’s earlier decision to show him as a fighting candidate who does not hide from the public as his counterpart was ordered to do in Veszprém.

Parties and supporters of the parties on the left believe that the real contenders are the MSZP-DK candidate, Ferenc Pad, and Jobbik’s Lajos Rig. Jobbik leaders are convinced that the campaign is really only about Fidesz and Jobbik. I have no idea what will happen on Sunday, I can only keep fingers crossed.

A Fidesz full-court press in advance of the Veszprém County by-election

Exactly a week from today the parliamentary by-election in Veszprém County’s 3rd electoral district (Tapolca, Ajka, and environs) will take place. This district has been Fidesz territory for a long time. Jenő Lasztowicza, whose death necessitated the by-election, had represented the district since 1998. Last year the Fidesz candidate received 43.1% of the votes. Both the liberal-socialist and the Jobbik candidates trailed him by a wide margin, with 27.3% and 23.5% of the votes. Today the situation is apparently different. No one dares call the winner. The predictions one reads are merely guesswork. The only polling in the district was conducted by a company that is considered to be a Jobbik think tank. According to its results, the Fidesz and Jobbik candidates are neck to neck while the candidate of MSZP-DK is trailing badly.

The government party seems to be worried about its candidate’s chances. László Kövér, while visiting Tapolca, assured the party’s voters that winning the district has only “prestige value.” One extra vote on the government side makes no difference now that the two-thirds is gone, but what is important is electing a man who can represent the district well. That man, of course, is Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate. Kövér said that Jobbik’s real message is a “Nazi ideology” while the MSZP-DK candidate is just a typical trade union leader. János Lázár was even more hard-hitting: there can be no choice in a race where the Fidesz candidate’s challengers are a Nazi and a communist. On the spot Fidesz activists are working very hard, occasionally using less than honorable methods against the Jobbik and MSZP-DK candidates. Both turned to the police to investigate the unknown culprit who has been distributing below-the-belt Fidesz campaign literature. It is getting ugly and we still have another week to go.

The government also decided to bolster the chances of the Fidesz candidate in Tapolca, where Jobbik is supposed to be strong. The Fidesz government was planning to close the small, inadequate local hospital, a decision that apparently turned even more voters toward Jobbik. The government suddenly found 2.3 billion forints for the renovation and modernization of the facility. A similar bribe didn’t work in Veszprém, and I doubt that it will work in Tapolca. Ajka, the largest town in the district, is an MSZP stronghold, but even here the government is attempting to induce voters to switch allegiance. Fenyvesi announced yesterday that the government will support the Le Bélier company with 507 million forints for a new project that will provide 100 new jobs in Ajka. The latest is that Viktor Orbán himself will campaign in Tapolca, where he is supposed to make an earthshakingly important announcement.

Will all this be enough? It is worth taking a look at an excellent article that appeared in HVG a few days ago: “Facts are hard to argue with: Fidesz in deep trouble.” The conclusion of the article is that although Fidesz is still leading nationwide according to opinion polls, when it comes to actual performance in elections it is doing very badly. Since the last national and local elections 37 by-elections were held, and  Fidesz underwhelmed.

In these 37 by-elections Fidesz-KDNP nominated its own candidates in 11 (two national and nine local elections). It won only three of these 11 elections, and in one the Fidesz candidate ran unopposed. Jobbik has not been doing too well either. Its candidates ran in eight elections but won only two. The Jobbik candidate even lost in Tiszavasvár, which has a Jobbik mayor and which Gábor Vona called “the capital of Jobbik.” On the other hand, MSZP put up candidates in six elections and won in three. These wins were in addition to Veszprém, where Zoltán Kész was supported by MSZP-DK and the other democratic parties. One of the conclusions of this survey is that the democratic parties no longer have to hide behind independent candidates. An MSZP-DK candidate can win with explicit party support.

It was Ipsos that came out with the nationwide results that placed Jobbik only a few percentage points behind Fidesz, which scared not only Hungarians but democrats all over the world. Therefore, I think it is important to look at the results of surveys by five different polling companies taken at approximately the same time.

Fidesz1As you can see, Ipsos’s results for Fidesz seems extreme in comparison to those of the other four.

Fidesz2The same is true about Ipsos’s measurement of Jobbik’s strength between May 2014 and March 15. Medián and Tárki show stagnation or a slight decrease in popularity.

Fidesz3Here it is Nézőpont that seems to underestimate MSZP strength. One must realize that the numbers for MSZP are somewhat misleading because the graphs don’t show DK’s popularity, which stands at 7%.

The problem with Fidesz is that it cannot motivate its voting base. Fidesz employs the most modern campaign techniques, using carefully constructed voter lists, but all this is in vain if alleged Fidesz supporters refuse to go out and vote for the party. HVG‘s article quotes a conversation between a Fidesz activist and a former Fidesz voter in Veszprém:

Good afternoon! On Sunday we are deciding on the successor of [Tibor] Navracsics. Surely, you will come and vote for Fidesz.

Well, let’s forget about that now, OK? I will vote for Fidesz again when I have a watch like János Lázár’s.

Jobbik has always had an enthusiastic voting base, but that was not the case with MSZP. Just the opposite. In the past Fidesz and Jobbik easily managed to get out the vote while MSZP supporters were hard to move, partly because the party’s campaign techniques were so poor. But lately MSZP voters have been ready to go to the polls in order to defeat Fidesz. And DK voters have always been a motivated lot. These parties need to recapture some of the voters they lost after 2008. That will not be an easy task, although it seems to me that Viktor Orbán and his minions are doing everything in their power to make the democratic opposition’s work easier.

Rise of Jobbik and the upcoming by-election in Tapolca-Ajka

The headline of today’s Népszabadság editorial was “Shock.” It referred to an Ipsos poll published yesterday that showed that Jobbik’s popularity is getting dangerously close to Fidesz’s. The government party has a 21% share of eligible voters, Jobbik has 18%, and MSZP has 12%. The newspaper’s editors attribute the steady growth of Jobbik’s base to Viktor Orbán’s campaign against refugees, foreigners in general, and foreign banks and businesses and to his turning up the volume on nationalistic sentiment. Fidesz is steadily losing followers, and lately they seem to be joining the ranks of Jobbik.

What makes these figures shocking is not so much the growth of Jobbik but the rapid decline of Fidesz. Before democratic Hungarians panic, they should remember the results of the national election of 2014 when 20.22% of the voters cast their ballots for Jobbik. Currently what we are seeing is a loss in popularity of the government party, the steady growth of Jobbik, the stagnation of the democratic opposition, and a still large bloc of undecided voters.

The last thing Fidesz needs right now is a Jobbik victory in Tapolca-Ajka, two of the larger towns in the electoral district (which also includes sixty villages) where by-elections will be held next month as a result of the death of a Fidesz member of parliament and where Jobbik is said to be strong. Some commentators believe that all three contenders–the MSZP-DK supported Ferenc Pad, Lajos Rig of Jobbik, and Zoltán Fenyvesi of Fidesz–have an equal chance of winning the race. So, let’s take a look at the political situation in Tapolca, where Fidesz seems to think the election will be decided.

Zoltán Dobó, the mayor of Tapolca, is a member of Jobbik. Apparently his election as mayor was largely due to his vigorous defense of the local hospital that was supposed to be either closed or stripped of some of its functions. Local Fidesz politicians, including the then incumbent mayor, misjudged the situation and took the government’s side on the hospital issue. Dobó’s victory didn’t make the whole town “brown.” Only three Jobbik candidates managed to win seats on the nine-member council, a number that includes the mayor himself. Fidesz is still in the majority on the council. Moreover, Dobó defeated the Fidesz candidate with a margin of only 146 votes.

It seems that this time around the Fidesz brain trust decided that Jobbik is a real threat to a Fidesz victory, which is considered to be a must given the waning popularity of the party and the rise of Jobbik. So, they have launched an anti-Jobbik assault, including a negative campaign against the person of Lajos Rig, currently deputy mayor of Tapolca.

Finding dirt on Lajos Rig is not difficult. A month ago the left-liberal blog kettosmerce.hu discovered Lajos Rig’s Facebook activities, which were full of anti-Roma and anti-Semitic remarks. His timeline included a spate of reposted nonsense: conspiracy theories involving 9/11, Jews who use Gypsies as a biological weapon against Hungarians, and writings about his own race that must be defended against foreign strangers. Not surprisingly, shortly after the appearance of the kettosmerce.hu article, Rig’s timeline disappeared.

But Rig’s problems were not over. This time it was the pro-government pestisrácok.hu that learned that Rig has a tattoo that depicts the SS’s infamous slogan in Hungarian translation: “My Honor Is Loyalty” (Becsületem a hűség). When the journalist confronted him about it, Rig acted dumb, which didn’t seem to be much of a stretch. From the video of the encounter, I have a strong suspicion that pestisrácok.hu‘s information is correct.

Rig acted as if he didn’t even know what the SS was and muttered something incomprehensible about the SS logo being in German while the journalist was using Hungarian words. Three days later, however, Rig discovered that he does have a tattoo in which the two words “honesty” and “honor” can be found, but those words have nothing whatsoever to do with the Nazi SS. Rather the tattoo was inked at the time of his wedding, and the two words are part of his pledge to his wife. In his version of the story, the date of his wedding is included in the tattoo. Of course, the story will not end here. Moreover, with a little effort, Fidesz will undoubtedly find more embarrassing stories about the Jobbik candidate in Tapolca.

Lajos Rig, Jobbik candidate in the Tapolca-Ajka electoral district

Lajos Rig, Jobbik candidate in the Tapolca-Ajka electoral district

I’m not sure whether Fidesz is going after the right guy. By now Fidesz has only one newspaper, Magyar Hírlap, that is unequivocally loyal to the government. It is solely through this media outlet that Fidesz is trying to wage a negative campaign against Ferenc Pad, the candidate of MSZP-DK. So far their accusations have no teeth. Since Pad is on the city council of Ajka, his financial statement is in the public domain. Pad’s only sins seem to be that he owns half of an 80m² (805 ft²) house on a 612m² (6,587 ft²) lot and that he inherited one-sixth of another house of about the same size. Moreover, Mrs. Pad owns half of an orchard with a 29m² (312 ft²) outbuilding. The article is titled “The millions of Ferenc Pad.” I don’t believe that these “revelations” will carry much weight, especially when one considers the circulation figures of Magyar Hírlap.

Recent by-election results indicate that voters are prepared to vote for anyone but a Fidesz candidate. If Fidesz manages to completely discredit Lajos Rig, which I believe they have already pretty well accomplished, it can easily happen that Ferenc Pad will sail in, especially since Ajka, an MSZP stronghold, is the largest town in the electoral district. In any case, Fidesz is in a difficult position and, according to information coming from the upper echelons of Fidesz, they are not at all optimistic about the outcome. But, of course, we still have almost a month to go before the election.