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Understanding the ’new Jobbik’

April 27th, 2015

Ever since party leader Gábor Vona set out to re-brand Jobbik as a relatively moderate party refraining from racism – a process which began at the end of 2013 and has recently accelerated –  commentators have pondered whether or not the change is genuine or just a face lift. And most importantly, whether Jobbik has a real chance of winning the next parliamentary elections in three years’ time.


On Mandiner, philosopher Gábor Kardos believes the change is real and substantial and is due to the fact that by now Jobbik represents very diverse strata in rural and urban Hungary. He goes so far as to assert that Jobbik addresses the everyday concerns of simple Hungarians more directly than the mainstream parties. Left-wing strategies against it have been futile because they tried to brand Jobbik as a fascist and racist organisation. This was too abstract and unconvincing for people who met Jobbik activists in everyday life. In effect, Kardos remarks, by merely describing Jobbik as ‘Nazi’, “we have treated part of today’s Hungarian society as hateful aliens, just as extremists treat Gypsies or Jews.” All the more so, since Jobbik is spectacularly trying to push its own hardliners into the background and concentrate on “civic values” rather than slogans and ideologies. The philosopher followed the Tapolca by-election campaign on the spot and describes Jobbik activists as “sexy”, with enthusiastic and fashionable young people, very much unlike the usual stereotypes of the Jobbik base as the losers of rural Hungarian society who blame various ethnic minorities for their own lack of success. He calls on analysts to “understand the new Jobbik”, which may well win the next elections in 2018, unless the rest of the political parties pull themselves together sufficiently with a renewal of their own.

On HVG.hu, László Seres also believes that Jobbik leader Gabor Vona might become Hungary’s Prime Minister in three years’ time, but argues against the therapy put forward by Kardos, whom he describes as an analyst “close to LMP”. He still believes Jobbik must simply be rejected rather than accepted as a normal partner in the debates over Hungary’s future. “It will be difficult to defeat Jobbik by peacefully discussing with them about agriculture or the multinationals.” He compares Jobbik with Hitler’s NSDAP party, saying that it also propagates “a leftist agenda with a racist supplement.” They also hate America, Israel, globalisation, the multis, the markets, consumption and liberalism. He describes Jobbik’s aspiration to become a “people’s party” a clever PR move devised for the dumbest. He quotes radical Jobbik MPs who openly say that there is a division of labour between the leadership and the hardliners, and that it is only the party’s “shape that has been streamlined” not its content.

In Barikád, Jobbik’s unofficial weekly, editor Sándor Pörzse MP reassures his readers that the party leader doesn’t want to get rid of the hard-core. Gabor Vona, he recalls, promised to “cut off bastard offshoots”, which has been widely misinterpreted “whether on purpose or not.” Vona  is misrepresented as someone who wants to get rid of “the old Hungarian Guard line”, Pörzse continues, and concludes that “there is no old Guardist line or a new Jobbik line. What is new is communication.”

In the same weekly, Mátyás Balczó explains that Jobbik still considers “Gypsy crime” a burning issue, and has not abandoned its criticism of Israel. Some mistakenly believe, he continues, that Jobbik was created as a Nazi party, and the leadership has now abandoned that extremist strategy in order to grab power. In reality, Balczó says, Jobbik was never a Nazi party, although “the eyes of some of its members do mist over whenever they see a swastika”. When Vona said that racists and anti-Semites should find another party for themselves, Balczó suggests, he was referring to right-wing extremists who wanted to divert Jobbik from its own line, but have been unable to build their own party. The party leader, Barikád’s commentator concludes, did not intend to excommunicate those who “put forward justified arguments against Gypsy crime or used matter of fact arguments against the penetration of Israelis in Hungary.”

In Demokrata, political analyst Tamás Lánczi believes that Jobbik’s successes are due to the fact that the other two main parties have been concentrating on mutually attacking each other. This created an opening for the radical right-wing party, because it was no-one’s target. Fidesz lost two successive by-elections this year because some of its voters wanted to express dissatisfaction with its policies, he explains, but not because they wanted a change of government. In an analysis of earlier election results in comparison to public opinion polls, Lánczi suggests that dissatisfied voters tend to return to their favourite parties as national elections loom. In today’s Hungary Jobbik and the left-wing parties are deemed equally unfit to govern by a large majority, therefore the pro-government analyst doesn’t think that either stand a real chance of winning the elections in three years’ time, barring spectacular mistakes by Fidesz and the government.