The Empire Strikes Back

Terry Black's Facebook profile photo.

Terry Black (Facebook profile photo).

On November 10, 2016, the Andy Vajna-owned, pro-government TV2 television station broadcast a report entitled “Gábor Vona’s Secret Life” [Vona Gábor titkos élete] in which transgender performer and former gay adult-film actor Terry Black (Mihály Rácz) alleged that he had seen the president of the radical-nationalist Jobbik party engaging in homosexual acts at gatherings of Hungarian intellectuals in the early 2000s (source A and B in Hungarian).

The pro-government commercial media, including Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and the Árpád Habony-operated lokál.hu, carried the TV2 report, which was broadcast just two days after Jobbik National Assembly representatives had followed through with their threat not to support the government-sponsored proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law that would have prevented the European Union from resettling Middle Eastern and African refugees in Hungary if government “residency-bonds” were not first eliminated (see Updated: Amendments to the Fundamental Law and The Hungarian Investment Immigration Program).

Shortly after the broadcast of the TV2 report, Gábor Vona’s wife, Krisztina Vona-Szabó, published an open letter on her Facebook page to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s wife,  Anikó Lévai (source in Hungarian):

According to the freshest “news” in the pro-government press, Gábor regularly participated in homosexual orgies during his university years. At the time when we were engaged. Naturally I understand that there is great confusion, resentment and vindictiveness, because the amendment to the Fundamental Law submitted by Viktor Orbán has failed. However, no matter what the sides think of this, it still cannot be a reason to humiliate a family and try to discredit my husband with fabricated personal-life character assassination and totally groundless lies. . . . Since I see no other solution, I ask you as a wife and a mother to stop your husband. Obviously it is not possible to influence Viktor Orbán on the political stage. I presume that you might be the last person he may listen to.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: "I am a proud heterosexual" (photo: Magyar Narancs).

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: “I am a proud heterosexual” (photo: Magyar Narancs).

On November 11, Jobbik President Vona held a press conference at which he denied Terry Black’s allegations, declaring that he was a “proud heterosexual” and that the TV2 report and its coverage in the pro-government media had been an act of revenge for his party’s decision not to support the Orbán-submitted proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law (source in Hungarian). Vona stated during the press conference (source in Hungarian):

Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men. This was Viktor Orbán’s civil circle [Polgári Kör], the Alliance for the Nation civil circle. Since I have left this circle, I don’t know how the work of this circle continued. While I was there, I experienced no movement of this type [homosexuality].

TV2 report "Strange Photo of Gábor Vona."

TV2 report “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona.”

On November 14, TV2 broadcast another report, entitled “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona” [Furcsa fotó Vona Gáborról], which showed a photo that Terry Black had posted on his Facebook page of the Jobbik president standing in an intimate pose with a man. The TV2 report cited Vona’s statement quoted above, though only the first sentence: “Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men” (source A and B in Hungarian). The pro-government media empire, as previously, carried the report.

"A proud hetero": photo from Terry Black's Facebook page.

The “strange photo.”

The opposition website 444.hu discovered that the “strange photo” in question depicted a supporter congratulating Gábor Vona at a 2009 Jobbik party event (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 14, the head of Prime Ministry Press Office, Bertalan Havasi, responded to the open letter than Vona’s wife had written to Orbán’s wife (source in Hungarian): “As a political official and Hungary’s head of government, Viktor Orbán is used to attempts to discredit him through groundless lies and fabricated personal-life character assassinations. . . . Some can handle this in a manly way and others choose to hide behind the wife.”

On November 15, Jobbik National Assembly representative Dóra Dúró announced that the party intended to sue TV2, Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and lokál.hu for “falsification of news” in connection with the reports suggesting that Gábor Vona had been engaged in homosexual activity in the early 2000s (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 15, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority announced that it had made no decision regarding whether to initiate an investigation of the TV2 reports (source in Hungarian).

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The Jobbikization of Fidesz (Act I): Reinstatement of the Death Penalty

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (right):

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) speaking at April 28 press conference (photo: MTI).

On April 22, 2015, a 21-year-old clerk was stabbed to death during the robbery of a National Tobacco Shop in the city of Kaposvár (southwestern Hungary, pop. 65,000).

During a press conference on April 28, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in response to a question about the murder (source in Hungarian):

Although we believed that we had settled questions connected to the Hungarian criminal code and criminal prosection when we introduced the three strikes and life imprisonment without parole, the issue of the death penalty must be kept on the agenda in Hungary and we must let it be known that we do not shy away from anything.

The death penalty has not been applied in Hungary since the country’s Constitutional Court declared capital punishment to be unconstitutional in October 1990. Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union furthermore prohibits capital punishment in EU member states, including Hungary.

The Radical nationalist Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, is the only National Assembly party in Hungary that officially advocates reinstatement of the death penalty. Jobbik has steadily gained support in opinion polls conducted over recent months to become Hungary’s second-most popular party behind the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) alliance (source A and B in Hungarian). Jobbik moreover won its first head-to-head National Assembly election in April in voting for a vacated National Assembly mandate in Veszprém County (source in Hungarian and see Two-Thirds Minus Two: the Jobbik Breakthrough).

Orbán’s suggestion that his government might consider restoring the death penalty provoked criticism from both the democratic opposition as well as his own governing alliance: KDNP Vice-President Bence Rétvári announced that the party rejects the death penalty for religious reasons, while many Fidesz officials also voiced fundamental opposition to capital punishment (source A, B and C in Hungarian).

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (photo: europedecides.eu).

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (photo: europedecides.eu).

European Union leaders also challenged Prime Minister Orbán’s apparent espousal of the death penalty: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “Mr Orbán must immediately make clear that this is not his intention. If it would be his intention, it would be a fight” (source in English); and European Parliament (EP) deputy Jörg Leichtfried referred to the death penalty as “barbaric and an infringement of European law” (source in English).

On April 30, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and EP political-group leaders asked the body’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to convene “to address the situation in Hungary as a matter of urgency [regarding] the statement by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about a possible restoration of the death penalty” (source in English)

Later on this same date, Prime Minister Orbán “assured President Schulz that the Hungarian government has no plans to take any steps to introduce the death penalty. Prime Minister Orban further assured the President that the Hungarian government will respect and honour all European treaties and legislation” (source in English); and Prime Ministry chief János Lázár said during a press conference that, although he personally supports the death penalty, “We will honor the values of the European Union. Democracy and democratic debate represent such fundamental values, thus the EU cannot reject any debate regarding the difficulties and problems of people” (source in Hungarian).

Orbán said later during a subsequent interview on Hungarian Radio that the government would like to promote the introduction of conditions within the European Union that would enable “all nation states to themselves decide on the death penalty” (source in Hungarian).

Prime Minister Orbán presumably floated the unrealistic prospect of restoring the death penalty in an attempt to stop the recent migration of voters from Fidesz-KDNP to Jobbik through expression of support for one of the central elements of the radical-nationalist party’s political platform. The prime minister and his government will likely continue to pursue this tactic as long as Jobbik presents the greatest challenge to Fidesz-KDNP’s political power. Over the long term, use of this tactic could serve to substantiate the old Hungarian maxim: “That which belongs together grows together” (összenő, ami összetartozik).

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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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Follow the Evil Twin

The pretty extreme Hungarian nationalist.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The Orbán government likes to pretend, primarily for external consumption, that it has thoroughly distanced itself from the radical-nationalist opposition party Jobbik

“If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in May 2013 (source in English). 

National Assembly Speaker László Kövér, Orbán’s right-hand man, told the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Hírlap in July 2013 that “Jobbik, the HSP [Hungarian Socialist Party] and the liberals are striking a single chord in terms of their conception of the rule of law and their political morals. They proclaim as one: the worse it is, the better!” (source in Hungarian). 

The really extreme Hungarian nationalist.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona.

The Orbán government does not acknowledge that since coming to power three and a half years ago it has carried out the Jobbik political program almost to the letter. 

Before the first round of the 2010 National Assembly election, Jobbik published a party platform entitled “The Jobbik Government’s First 10 Measures.” 

The FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party-controlled government and National Assembly have implemented eight of the ten measures stipulated in the document, though specifically cited none of these in the party alliance’s 2010 electoral program (source in Hungarian).

Below is an Orange Files translation of the March 2010 Jobbik platform with notes regarding the Orbán government’s subsequent implementation of each of the specified initiatives (see original Hungarian version of the Jobbik program). 

Jobbik English Good

1. Parliamentary immunityThe Orbán government has not conducted a wholesale repeal of parliamentary immunity.

2. Tax and contribution cutsThe Orbán government has implemented tax and contribution cuts. 

3. Conversion of foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints: The Orbán government has passed legislation making it possible to convert foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints, first announcing their consideration of this measure in March, 2013,  three years after Jobbik proposed it in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

Imposition of bank tax: The Orbán government has introduced a tax on banks operating in Hungary. Prime Minister Orbán first announced this tax as part of his government’s Economic Action Plan on June 8, 2010, three months after Jobbik proposed such a tax in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

4. Utility-fee cuts: The Orbán government has conducted two centrally mandated cuts in utility fees. The government announced the first round of utility-fee cuts in December 2012, two years and nine months after Jobbik proposed such cuts in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

5. Taxation of multinational companies: The Orbán government has imposed extraordinary taxes on companies operating in the energy, telecommunications and retail sectors. Prime Minister Orbán initially announced these taxes as part of his government’s Second Economic Action Plan on October 13, 2010, seven months after Jobbik proposed such taxes in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian).  

6. Reducing the Pensions of former high-ranking communist-party officials: The Orbán government has withdrawn the pension supplement from those “whose actions before 1990 were incompatible with the democratic system of values.” The government first made reduction of pensions for former communist officials possible in the Transitional Provisions of the Fundamental Law adopted on December 30, 2011, one year and nine months after Jobbik proposed such taxes in the party’s election program. The National Assembly approved the law stipulating such a reduction in pensions on July 2, 2012, two years and four months after Jobbik published its 2010 election platform (source in Hungarian).

7. Tying social assistance to public work: The Orbán government has tied receiving social assistance to public work. The National Assembly approved a law requiring those who receive secondary unemployment benefits or social support to accept public work if offered or lose these benefits in July 2011, one year and four months after Jobbik suggested linking social assistance to public work in the party’s election program (see The Fluorescent Army). 

8. Amendment of the Land Law to prevent foreigners from buying arable land: The Orbán government has adopted a new Land Law, which Prime Minister Orbán said following the passage of the law in June 2013 would serve to ensure that agricultural land in Hungary “remains in the hands of Hungarians” (source in Hungarian). The government began talking about the need for such a law in June 2012, two years and three months after Jobbik advocated the adoption of a new Land Law in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

9. Reconstitution of the gendarmarie: The Orbán government has not reconstituted the Hungarian gendarmarie (csendőrség) abolished in 1945 as the result of the force’s role in the deportation of Jews from Hungary the previous year. 

10. Guaranteeing Hungarian citizenship for Hungarian minorities: The Orbán government has passed legislation expediting the process of obtaining Hungarian citizenship for Hungarian minorities living in the countries surrounding Hungary. The government first announced this measure on May 3, 2010, about six weeks after Jobbik proposed the measure in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

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In addition to the proposals contained in the above Jobbik election program, party President Gábor Vona publicly advocated three further initiatives following 2010 National Assembly elections that later came to serve as cornerstones of the Orbán government’s economic and political policy. 

New Constitution 

Speaking at the annual Jobbik May Day celebration in Budapest on May 1, 2010, less than a week after the second round of National Assembly elections, Vona declared (see video in Hungarian starting at 4:18): 

Hungary has not had a constitution with legal continuity from a historical perspective since 1949. We are not proceeding along a constitutional path. We live within the framework of a Stalinist patchwork constitution and nobody has talked about this in parliament over the past 20 years. Well we will. 

In May 2010 the Orbán government had not yet announced that it would introduce a new constitution in place of that adopted in the second year of communist dictatorship in Hungary. In fact, Fidesz Member of the European Parliament and future president Pál Schmitt insisted between the first and second rounds of National Assembly elections in April 2010 that the party did not intend to “drastically alter” the existing constitution and would only make “required modifications” to it (source in Hungarian). Prime Minister Orbán first announced that his government would initiate the adoption of a new constitution on May 25, 2010, three weeks after Vona intimated that Hungary needed a new constitution. 

Eastern Opening 

Also speaking at the May 1, 2010 May Day celebration, Vona said (see video in Hungarian starting at 8:45): 

Since the time of Pál Teleki, for seventy years, nobody has declared Look east Hungarian! You are an eastern people. You are the most western eastern people. If Hungary were to build strong relations in Asia, in eastern countries . . . I am not thinking of the Middle East just in case anybody should accuse me . . .  it would present us with political, economic and cultural opportunities. Many countries there consider us to be brothers. We should try to benefit from this. This is one of the most important national strategies for us. The next century will be Asia’s century. And the country, Hungary, that recognizes this and has the chance to take advantage of it—that country will become the heart of Europe.

Although Orbán began to talk of strengthening relations with China while still in opposition (source in Hungarian), he did not begin to openly advocate reorienting Hungary toward the east until the late fall of 2010 and his government did not begin to refer to this shift as its Eastern Opening Policy until the spring of 2011 (source A and B in Hungarian).

Nationalization of Private Pension Funds

Finally, Jobbik President Vona made the following statement to the Hungarian News Agency MTI on September 3, 2010 in connection to the first 100 days of Prime Minister Orbán’s government (source in Hungarian):

It can be clearly seen that even with a two-thirds majority in its possession, the government does not dare to deal with questions such as renegotiation of the debt, the critical review of European Union membership, putting a stop to the tax evasion of multinationals or even the nationalization of private pension-funds.

Prime Minister Orbán did not initiate his administration’s nationalization of private pension funds in Hungary until October 13, 2010, six weeks after Vona criticized his government for failing to do so (source in Hungarian).  

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The Orange-to-Black Continuum 

The Orbán government does not acknowledged that it has essentially implemented the policies that only Jobbik publicly advocated at the time of 2010 National Assembly elections. Prime Minister Orbán and his subordinates would like to maintain the illusion, perhaps self-deception, that their political thinking differs greatly from that of Gábor Vona and other Jobbik leaders.

Neither has Jobbik highlighted the fact that the Orbán administration has carried out its program for fear that doing so could drive the party’s voters into the Fidesz-KDNP camp. Perhaps foreseeing this prospect, Jobbik President Gábor Vona assured shortly after the 2010 general election that “Jobbik will remain a significant force even if Fidesz implements the complete Jobbik program” (source in Hungarian)

In parliamentary opposition, Jobbik has either supported the Orbán government’s policies or opposed them on the grounds that they were too moderate or failed to serve the intended objective. 

Jobbik supported the government’s nationalization of private pension funds, bank and sector-based taxes, utility-fee cuts, elimination of pension supplements for former communist officials and conversion of foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints, though sometimes expressed reservations (utility-fee cuts should have been twice as high, forintization of fx loans was “aspirin for the dying”).¹

Jobbik did not support the legislation making eligibility for social assistance contingent upon acceptance of public work for technical reasons and opposed the Fundamental Law due to the Orbán government’s exclusion of other National Assembly parties from the framing process (“Fidesz embezzled the procedure of constitution-making,” Vona said).²  

Jobbik vehemently opposed the Orbán government’s Land Law, not because the party disagreed with the stated purpose of the legislation to ensure that agricultural land in Hungary would “remain in the hands of Hungarians,” but because it claimed that the law would promote foreign ownership of such land. (Jobbik parliamentarians occupied the National Assembly Speaker’s rostrum holding a sign reading “Playing Hungarian Land Off to Foreigners: Treason!” before Fidesz-KDNP representatives adopted the law). Source in Hungarian. 

Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik are both political outgrowths of Hungarian nationalism and its main contemporary manifestations—rejection of western culture, rejection of the western free-market and rejection of western liberal-democracy.

In terms of concrete policy, Jobbik and Fidesz are virtually indistinguishable. The only true difference between them lies in the severity of their language and proposed means of attaining common objectives and their attitude toward religious and racial minorities in Hungary.

Jobbik is simply a somewhat more radical and outspoken, explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy version of Fidesz.

¹See sources A, B, C, D, E and F in Hungarian.

²See sources A and B in Hungarian.

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