Taking the Ball

Jobbik President Gábor Vona (Orange Files photo).

          Jobbik President Gábor Vona           (photo: Orange Files).

On January 31, 2015, President Gábor Vona of the radical-nationalist party Jobbik presented his annual “appraisal of the year” (évértékelő) address in Budapest (source in Hungarian). Below is an Orange Files translation of an abridged version of Vona’s speech:

Hungary is in trouble. How often do we hear this on the street, in our everyday lives, on the television, everywhere. For this reason, this phrase has become worn out, often it means almost nothing―it is an empty cliché. I would nevertheless begin my speech with it: Hungary is in trouble. And what’s more, big trouble. . . .

(For the entire translation, see Gábor Vona Appraisal of the Year Speech—January 31, 2015). 

Jobbik President Vona’s address was similar in theme, outlook and tone to those that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has delivered for years, even as Fidesz president before his return to power as head of government in 2010 (see: Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State; Prime Minister Orbán’s Speech to National Assembly – May 10, 2014; Prime Minister Orbán’s Speech to Supporters – May 10, 2014; Vlad Beyond Reproach; and Notable Quotes: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán). The Vona speech shares the following specific attributes with many Orbán speeches: 

—Emphasis on the notion that “Hungary is in trouble” in order to exploit the ingrained political hysteria of Hungarians as a means of garnering political support (see The Phony Realist);

—The claim that “the type of liberal democracy that gained power over Hungary in 1989 is not a functioning system” and that “the system of the past 25 years became exhausted and failed” and “was built upon lies”;

—The allegation that “Brussels currently rests on profit-oriented foundations from which the West can exploit the eastern states and as glass beads offer a little support in exchange”;

—The precedence of the “community” of the Hungarian nation over the individual (“the multitude of people”);

—Reference to God and Christianity forces unifying the Hungarian nation;

—The assertion that “dramatic international transformation” has placed Hungary in a perilous position “at the intersection of global conflict”; 

—Rejection of the “the unilateral world domination of the United States”;

—The insistence that “Hungary must develop and independent Russian policy” and “remain neutral” in the renewed conflict between the West and Russia.

—And the contention that “the fate of a quarter million Hungarians in Ukraine has come into doubt” and criticism of the policies of the latter country toward its Hungarian minority because it has “humiliated and threatened them and circumscribed their rights.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking to supporters outside the Hungarian Parliament Building after taking his oath of office for the new parliamentary cycle beginning in 2014.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking to supporters outside the Hungarian Parliament Building in May 2014 (photo: Hungarian News Agency).

Both Vona, as the leader of Jobbik, and Orbán, as the leader of Fidesz, have long articulated these common attitudes and positions (see Follow the Evil Twin). However, the speech that Vona delivered on January 31, 2015 lacked the central element that distinguished the Jobbik president’s previous discourse from that of Prime Minister Orbán: expressions of collective antipathy toward Hungarian Jews and Gypsies (see Notable Quotes: Jobbik President Gábor Vona).

Over the past few weeks, Vona has distanced himself from anti-Gypsy and -Semitic racism. On February 9, 2015, he issued a statement condemning “in the most resolute manner possible” the anti-Gypsy Facebook posts of a newly elected Jobbik municipal-council member from Mezőtúr and required him to move into the house of the Gypsy leader of the party’s local chapter in nearby Hajdúszoboszló for a period of three days (source in Hungarian). On February 11, 2015, Vona said during an interview on the opposition television station ATV “Maybe I expressed myself somewhat angularly on certain matters, but I don’t think that I [ever] made any anti-Semitic statements” (source in Hungarian)

Vona has presumably attempted to divest himself and Jobbik of the mantle of racism in order to appropriate in its full material and spiritual form the political program that propelled Fidesz to landslide victories in Hungary’s past two National Assembly elections in 2010 and 2014, but which the Orbán government has been compelled to moderate considerably over the past few months as the result of pressure from the United States and the European Union, specifically Germany (see Back in the Fold?, The Spectacular Fall and Teutonic Shift).

Gábor Vona’s gradual transformation into the leading proponent of many of the Hungarian nationalist tenets and policies that Viktor Orbán skillfully employed to attain an unprecedented degree of power for a head of government in a Western democratic state after 2010 has arguably been one of main factors behind Jobbik’s steady rise to all-time highs in opinion polls since October and Fidesz’s drop to multi-year lows over that same period (source in Hungarian).

The phenomenon of a political leader renouncing his formerly explicit racism in order to consolidate his authority is not without precedent in Hungarian history: in his first speech after becoming prime minister in 1932, the former leader of the anti-Semitic Racial-Defense Party (Fajvédő Párt), Gyula Gömbös, declared “To the Jews I openly and frankly state: I have revised my opinion. I wish to regard those Jews who recognize a community of fate with the nation as brothers and sisters in the same way as I do my Hungarian brothers and sisters” (source in Hungarian).

And indeed, although he did much to incorporate Hungary into the authoritarian political sphere of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, Prime Minister Gömbös initiated no measures that served to directly impair the rights or otherwise harm the interests of Hungarian Jews during his four years in office from 1932 to 1936. 

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