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Editorial: Jobbik still an unappealing alternative

The following is the Editorial column from the April 24-May 7 print edition of the Budapest Business Journal.

This space has often contained strong criticism of the ruling Fidesz party, which has used its two-thirds majority in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and curtail freedoms – creating a lack of transparency and predictability and scaring away investment.

Unfortunately, the party that currently looks best placed to contest Fidesz for power in the 2018 election is an even less appealing alternative: Jobbik, which espouses anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-Western platforms. A big part of Jobbik’s current strategy is to broaden its appeal by playing down its far-right stance, to woo centrist voters. But for all its talk, the party has not changed.

Jobbik’s candidate Lajos Rig won an April 12 by-election for a vacant parliamentary seat in Tapolca – the first time Jobbik has won a seat directly, rather than through the national-list system. Meanwhile, its popularity seems to be growing: According to an Ipsos poll in March, Jobbik was backed by 18% of the respondents, or 1.5 million people, second only to Fidesz, favored by 1.7 million supporters or 21% of respondents. The nearest left-wing party was the Socialists, with 1 million supporters. And Jobbik’s support increases with every new poll, while that of Fidesz shrinks and the Socialists stagnate.

Jobbik’s growth in popularity has been attributed to successful grass roots campaigning that helped the party come across as more mainstream than it really is.

Back in November 2012, Márton Gyöngyösi – the MP who currently leads Jobbik’s foreign policy cabinet – reportedly announced it was time “to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary”. Gyöngyösi backpedalled from this remark, but even today, Jobbik’s English-language website, jobbik.com, which seems to be aimed at softening the party’s image in the eyes of foreigners who dislike hatemongering, still espouses the following position: “We will stop hushing up such taboo issues in foreign policy as the imperial practices of the European Union, the unjust wars waged by the United States, as well as the Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world.”

As The Economist notes of the victorious candidate in Tapolca: “Mr. Rig once shared a Facebook post that described the Roma as the ‘Jews’ weapon against Hungarians’”.

Rig claims he reposted the Facebook item without reading it carefully, but the party’s anti-Roma sentiment seems to remain in the current platform on its website, which says: “We will pass legislation to enable the Hungarian Guard to operate in compliance with the appropriate regulation.”

A uniformed, paramilitary-style group, the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Garda, pictured) deputized themselves for “crime watches” which involved patrolling rural villages and intimidating Roma residents. Closely aligned with Jobbik, the Guard was eventually outlawed, but it seems Jobbik wants them back.

As for the party’s euroskepticism, their platform contains this item: “We will hold a referendum on our European Union membership as well as our relations to the Union. With regard to the latter, we endorse the [anti-EU] Europe of Nations concept instead of the United States of Europe agenda.” Elsewhere the platform states: “Our foreign policy concept attributes key strategic roles to three major regional powers: Germany, Russia and Turkey.”

As a euroskeptic party, Jobbik is naturally attractive to Russia, and in an interview with the mandiner.hu website, party leader Gábor Vona did not deny reports that Russia is funding Jobbik, saying “Jobbik does not acquire any funding in an unfair, dishonest way. Neither from Hungary, nor from Russia or any other countries in the world.”

As for human rights, Jobbik’s published party platform calls for the reinstatement of capital punishment and declares war on the Society for Human Rights, the Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International and other NGOs “that hinder the operation of law enforcement organizations”.

The only thing that has really changed about Jobbik is that they seem like serious contenders in the next elections. There must be a better alternative.