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Jobbik in focus

December 30th, 2013

Is Jobbik a post-fascist movement or a fringe protest party? Does it pursue a racist and neo-Nazi ideology? How radical is its agenda? Is it comparable to far-right populist parties in Western Europe? In VS, a new centrist online media outlet, popular intellectuals and pundits discuss Jobbik’s ideology and its electoral prospects in a comparative perspective.

Jobbik’s supporters are not Nazi rednecks or losers, Keno Verseck contends. The Budapest-based German commentator points out that many of Jobbik’s supporters are educated middle class people, and the party is particularly popular among younger generations in the countryside. Jobbik can successfully connect to people dissatisfied with the post-1989 liberal democratic political establishment and elites by framing important social issues in a racist and anti-democratic language, Verseck remarks. He continues by noting that the party’s ideology is a mixture of anti-Communist rhetoric, national radicalism and welfare populism. “In a country without the burden of a Communist past, young Jobbik voters would embrace radical left-wing ideas or endorse progressive civil movements,” Verseck speculates. It is, however, unlikely that Jobbik will manage to increase its constituency, since the Fidesz government has co-opted its most attractive ideas by declaring a war on FX loans and making welfare benefits conditional on public work, Verseck maintains.

Kristóf Domina, chairman of the Athene Institute human rights watchdog, which focuses on extremist movements, believes that Jobbik channels the disappointment of the losers of the democratic transition and the market economy introduced after the 1989 regime change. After the collapse of Communism, Hungarian elites suggested that EU and NATO membership would bring welfare for the whole country, but many people in the less developed rural areas have so far not benefited from the transition, Domina notes. He adds that Jobbik can also be seen as a radical party which helps to tame anti-establishment sentiments by mainstreaming social issues which have been ignored by the moderate parties both on the left and the right. Banning Jobbik would thus only further radicalize those people who have lost their trust in the elites, Domina suggests. He advises moderate parties to accommodate the needs of rural middle and underclasses as well as to curb corruption in order to take the wind out of the sails of Jobbik.

Jobbik is a post-fascist protest movement, Gáspár Miklós Tamás comments. Jobbik has no totalitarian ideological core, but rather is founded on popular elements in public memory, the Marxist philosopher believes. He speculates that by connecting anti-establishment rhetoric with the cult of the inter-war period, Jobbik pacifies possible rebels and strengthens the legitimacy of a rather conservative social order.

Sociologist Anikó Félix joins the debate by likening Jobbik to the Greek Golden Dawn party, noting that both far-right movements simultaneously address the losers of the market economy and young middle class people. Félix points out that that Jobbik’s and Golden Dawns’s success are to a large extent the result of their strategy to sell their ideas by creating a new public culture attractive for the young generations. Jobbik is not just a political party, but also the hub of a specific subculture with its own rock bands, symbols, outfit and online social network, Félix concludes.

Although Jobbik has young Hungarians at its grassroots, Fidesz is still the most popular party among young generations, political scientist Rafael Pablo Labanino suggests. It can, however, challenge Fidesz from the right, since Jobbik is very successful in addressing otherwise atomized and apathetic young Hungarians. Although Fidesz has borrowed much of Jobbik’s illiberalism, nationalist rhetoric, law and order vocabulary as well as its proposals to cut welfare benefits, as an opposition party, Jobbik can afford to be more radical in its demands.

Jobbik is both a European and a Hungarian phenomenon,” Péter Techet, editor of VS comments. Techet believes that Jobbik is the Hungarian counterpart of xenophobic nationalist parties in Western Europe – “the far right in Western and Eastern Europe propagate the same hatred, although with different targets”. While Western European far-right parties target immigrants, their Eastern counterparts have national and ethnic minorities in their sights. The popularity of such rhetoric is likely to stay with us as long as the economic crisis lasts, Techet notes. To challenge the far-right, left-wing parties should address the concerns of people concerned about poverty and joblessness by using non-racist language, he suggests.

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