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Shaking hands with Jobbik

March 5th, 2012

Liberal commentators are divided over the meaning of a handshake with the leader of  Jobbik, and the place of the far right party in the Hungarian political landscape. Most left-leaning intellectuals consider any gesture towards Jobbik unacceptable, while others invoke the fact that Jobbik won a place in Parliament democratically.

Political analyst Gábor Török, host of the first of a series of debates between cabinet ministers and opposition politicians, was criticised by a colleague, Zoltán Somogyi  for shaking hands with Jobbik leader Gábor Vona and for smiling at him meanwhile. On his Facebook page, Zoltán Somogyi also asked whether it would be conceivable in any non post-communist country for a cabinet minister to participate in a friendly debate with an extreme right wing leader. Or whether such a debate could ever take place in one of the most prestigious universities. (In this case Vona discussed law and order issues with Home Affairs Minister Sándor Pintér at Corvinus University, Budapest, where Török is a political science lecturer).  Before the latest meeting of the series, left-wing students gathered to insult Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, another leading member of Jobbik, and the debate spilled over onto the pages of the dailies. Gaudi-Nagy discussed justice and legislation issues with Tibor Navracsics, Minister of Justice and Public Administration.

In a front page editorial, Népszabadság condemns the debates between cabinet ministers and Jobbik leaders as the low point of moral insanity. The editor finds it bewildering that a cabinet minister should be confronted over judicial issues by someone who only recently asked in Parliament why Hungarian Jews are entitled to compensation for the death of their relatives during World War II. The left wing newspaper contends that “such a person” should never be invited to represent the opposition, all the less so since he has demanded the disbanding of the Socialist Party. Jobbik leaders can only be treated as respectable politicians at the expense of a clean political discourse in Hungary, Népszabadság concludes.

A debate has unfolded in the meantime between the two political analysts on the issue. Gábor Török posted a reply on his blog, stating that although he did understand the emotional issue, the series of debates served to inform university students and give them access to all relevant (his emphasis) opinions concerning certain policy issues. He thinks we must accept that Jobbik is a party with eight hundred thousand votes behind it, and if opinion shapers were to forbid invitations for its representatives, one might just as well demand that all mention of Jobbik, its policy proposals, its politicians and their speeches or questions in Parliament be banned at the university, including in political science classes.  He also asks whether politicians who “drive the country into misery by stealth,” should enjoy more respect, simply because they are ‘politically correct.’ A political analyst, he argues, should be able to confront and analyse all kinds of political phenomena, and he finds the appropriate occasion to express his own political convictions in the ballot booth. In a Facebook post, Török also asked Somogyi about his own political past. At the last election, Somogyi stood as a candidate and chief strategist for the MDF, a former governing party, which has since ceased to exist. The party’s candidate for the post of prime minister, economist Lajos Bokros, who has been serving as a member of the European Parliament since 2009, invited the Leader of Jobbik to a public debate. Török asks Somogyi what he thought about that invitation.

Somogyi finds this argument unconvincing. He recalls that the debate between Vona and Lajos Bokros was intended to show that the agenda of Jobbik was fratricidal. He quotes Gábor Vona who – according to Somogyi – thanked Gábor Török for having him, and suggested that those who did not want to see Jobbik on stage would do better to tackle the problems that Jobbik voters want to see solved.  (Jobbik is ostracized because of its indiscriminate anti-Roma rhetoric). He concludes that if Vona believes that his party’s existence depends on those problems, then Jobbik is not interested in finding viable solutions, but rather in keeping them on the agenda.

In a news report on the controversy, Népszabadság quotes Fidesz parliamentary floor leader János Lázár telling a morning radio show that such public debates can only serve to „legitimise” Jobbik, and therefore he personally would “think  twice” before accepting a similar invitation.