Two weeks ago, the leader of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party held a residential forum for his supporters in London – the day before Holocaust Memorial Day. Gábor Vona, a charismatic figure, promised jobs in Hungary for expat Hungarians in front of a small crowd of about 100 people. Anti-fascists gathered to stop the gathering, but merely managed to relocate it, perhaps fittingly, to Speaker’s Corner.
In the build-up to the rather meagre event, voices were raised in the UK for denying Vona access to the country. Both in Hungary and abroad, Jobbik has become infamous for fronting policies such as keeping registers of Hungarian Jews and people with Hungarian-Israeli dual citizenship, moving Romas into ghettos and making homosexuality illegal.
As the party campaigns to increase its number of MEPs in the European Parliament election this May, it is worth taking a closer look at their short history and their current MEPs.
Jobbik, or “The Movement for a Better Hungary” as their full name reads in English, is Hungary’s third biggest political party. Since its inception as a student movement in the early 2000s, the group has grown from relative obscurity to becoming one of the principal examples of the contemporary European far-right. They complement policies targeting minorities with a streak of anti-globalisation initiatives.
Describing themselves as “conservative” and “radically patriotic Christian”, Jobbik’s declared goal is the defence of “Hungarian values and interests”. Their campaign to the 2010 Hungarian election was fronted by the creative slogan “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians”. As part of their platform, the party seeks independence for areas of Romania and Ukraine populated by large groups of Hungarians, hoping to form a “Greater Hungary”.
Before 2009, Jobbik had only minor political support. But the elections for the European Parliament that year and the Hungarian election the next year saw their popular backing rise significantly. Currently, they have three MEPs in Brussels and the support of almost 17 percent of the Hungarian population.
Although, rather curiously, one of the MEPs, Csanád Szegedi, left the party after discovering he had Jewish grandparents.
In Brussels, one of the two remaining loyal Jobbik MEPs has had her share of controversy. Krisztina Morvai has in an open letter suggested that Hungarian Jews can “go and play with their own little circumcised pricks instead of slurring me”. In another open letter, to Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, she referred to Israelis as “lice-infested, dirty murderers”.
The last MEP, Béla Kovács, is on his part mostly asking questions in the European Parliament about topics such as car brake lights, font sizes in EU documents and Belgian phone answering machines.
On the party website, the members of Jobbik are more directly extreme. There they, for instance, claim that the Roma population of Hungary is predominantly criminal and “for reasons unknown protected against criminal prosecution”. In the same article they state that: “Members of the Gipsy minority are becoming more and more frequently responsible for killing innocent, lonely elderly people in the countryside, brutally murdering for a minimal amount of money or – as it was the case recently – for a bottle of wine.” Such conspiratory views are a danger to peaceful coexistence.
Violence and militias
Officially, Jobbik oppose the use of violence. However, party leader Vona founded in 2007 the uniformed group Magyar Gárda – an “unarmed militia”. The following year, three leading Jobbik figures left the party because they could not sufficiently distinguish Jobbik and Gárda members.
The Gárda, now deemed illegal in Hungary and dissolved – even though forces are working for its re-emergence – sought to “defend a defenceless Hungary”. Wearing black clothes and army boots, members of the Gárda were by some in Jobbik envisioned to “march the streets with weapons”.
And even after the organization was deemed illegal, one of the Jobbik MEPs wore a Gárda uniform to the first parliamentary sessions in Brussels.
On the grey London afternoon of Vona’s speech, there were no obvious signs of extremism as the Jobbik rally panned out relatively peaceful. Globalisation and economic difficulties was at top of the agenda, and the Hungarian national anthem was sung with pride. Vona did not answer any questions from the media and went swiftly onto other campaign duties.
This April when their national election is held we will find out how Hungarians respond to the various Jobbik displays. Then, in May, we will learn how Jobbik’s antics will affect the European Parliament. These two elections, in the span of two months, may be decisive for the European far-right in the few years to come.
As of today, one Jobbik MEP is no longer affiliated with the party, another one is openly anti-Semitic, while the third apparently spends his time pondering questions of limited relevance. But if Jobbik’s presence in the European Parliament increases, we may get a more vocal group of MEPs.
And that is certainly troubling.