The Jobbik May Day Celebration

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Always the dilemma for the historico-political observer in Budapest on May 1: which reincarnation of the oppressive twentieth-century isms to observe—the Workers’ Party at its May Day celebration in the City Park or Jobbik at its May Day celebration at Hajógyári [Ship Yard] Island.

This year: the neo-communists are on the rise, there is a new freshness to their red, more young people at their events, though they are still very small—only a half percent of the votes in the April National Assembly election. The neo-fascists are also on the rise, very much on the rise, in fact they form the third-largest party in the National Assembly after getting over 20 percent of the votes in the spring elections.

Really no contest: on the bike and up the Danube to Shipyard Island to see Jobbik.

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Jobbik European Parliament representative Krisztina Morvai.

Krisztina Morvai.

To the Big White Tent just in time to see the end of a speech from Jobbik European Parliament representative and former presidential candidate Krisztina Morvai: she predicts that the European Union may not last another ten years, because such an “unjust and inhumane” organization cannot survive too long. The banner hanging behind her reads “Shall We Be Members or Shall We Be Free?” in reference to an 1848 revolutionary poem from Hungarian national poet Sándor Petőfi. 

The tent is full. The crowd of several hundred applauds, especially when she says if the British don’t want Hungarian workers, then “Tesco go home!”

Morvai still uses the exaggerated facial and hand gestures that make it hard to get a good photo of her. She has also become very plump, though pleasantly so. They say her mother was a top model in Hungary back in the communist days.

Next up: Jobbik President Gábor Vona and National Assembly representative Sándor Pörzse, a former television journalist and present editor of the Jobbik weekly Barikád who smiles like he’s been told a thousand times that he has a nice smile.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Vona uses a very nasty term to describe the Hungarian Socialist Party—can’t remember which one exactly, heard this kind of political invective so many times before it just all kind of melds together in one big destructive and negative jumble. It probably had something to do with filth [mocsok] or refuse because the Jobbik president concludes his statement amid a crescendo of derisive laughter from the audience: “It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the socialists will soon end up in the trash heap of history!”

How on Earth can all of those people sit through these speeches? Must be looking forward to the food and drink, watching the fly settle on the head of the lady in front, thinking of something else.

Take a tour around the grounds as Vona drones on about the newest tragedy to befall Hungary—the expiration of the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in the country to foreigners (i.e., citizens of other European Union countries).

The sound of a swooping jet from a nearby air show; Vona announces with mock relief: “I know that the EU doesn’t have any armed forces.” More applause, more derisive laughter.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and other nationalist wares.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and engravings.

This event has become much bigger and more sophisticated than it used to be: five years ago it had the feel of a village market fair—a few hundred people milling about, cheap wares, cheap attractions, the low-fi blare of oration and music; today several thousand people, dozens of stands with artisan-made Hungarian folk clothing, crafts and implements (expensive nationalist-kitsch), kids cracking whips with men dressed as traditional Hungarian Great Plain herdsmen, professional staging, hi-fi amplification.

The freshly made potato chips are delicious, but salty to the supreme and raise a mighty thirst. One beer is good, two even better at almost the same price as water. Many others have made the same calculation: faces are ruddy, eyes gleam. Spirits are high on this beautiful May 1 afternoon.

Sit on the grassy slope, listen to speech from Pörzse over loudspeakers and he says something that is actually candid and interesting: Jobbik has been unable to form alliances with other radical-nationalist parties in Europe because those from other countries in the region (Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia) are anti-Hungarian due to their Hungarian minority populations, while those from western Europe tend to be “pro-Israel” due to their Muslim minority populations. 

The folly of colliding nationalisms.

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Man dressed as Hungarian herdsman-outlaw speaks to family near stand selling Hungarian folk ware.

Back to the Great White Tent for a few more photos before the long ride home. Vona and Pörzse have turned their sights on Hungarian Socialist Party European Parliament party-list leader Tibor Szanyi, a preferred target ever since he gave the finger to the Jobbik National Assembly caucus during a plenary session of parliament last year. Pörzse says he would debate with Szanyi on the spot, though being a holiday the socialist EP-list leader probably wouldn’t be in condition to do so (in reference to Szanyi’s alleged fondness for drink).

Look down at feet and Krisztina Morvai is there squatting down right there, listening to Vona and Pörzse castigating Szanyi. She is wearing a loose-fitting Hungarian folk skirt and short-cut embroidered blouse. There is a large gap of rather sensuous bareness between them. The top of the crack of her backside is clearly visible (see This Kind of Place).

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Stop at the main stage on the way out: a group of drummers in ancient Hungarian headgear and old-fashioned outfits beats out an ominous tribal rhythm. The desperation of radical-nationalist identity-seeking has begun to transcend the boundaries of the absurd in these parts. Then: young women, many of them copiously tatooed, display evening dresses with Hungarian embroidery and nationalist colors (namely the brown-red of the Hungarian uniforms in the 1848 revolution). Up next: concert from the nationalist rock group Ismerős Arcok (Familiar Faces). Heard them last on Szabadság Square in 2007, lead vocalist prompting audience with refrain, cupping ear and holding the microphone outward to catch the mass response: “Ferenc Szálasi!” (name of the prime minister who headed Hungary’s fascist Arrow Cross government in 1944–1945).

Unlock the bicycles from the security fencing around the stage. The crowd growing for the start of the main attraction, the coarse faces of those who suffer from poverty, ill-health and lack of education. Looking hard for deliverance, they think they have found it in the form of a party, a movement and a cultural force that make them proud to be who they are and tell them that all their problems stem from the foul doings of internal and external enemies. One gets the feeling that this whole thing is going to get much bigger before it starts getting smaller. And there may be hell to pay for it. 

The man standing alongside is wearing a shirt bearing the inscription, both front and back:  “I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew” [Magyar vagyok nem zsidó]. 

See Jobbik May Day Celebration photo gallery.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

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Ides of March

DSC_0643March 15: national holiday in Hungary commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg domination. Along with October 23, the national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, the most important date on the country’s annual political calendar (see The Soft White Underbelly).

All the parties are active, their leaders hold speeches at various places throughout the center of Budapest. Politically involved citizens of the city are out and about, showing support for their side, checking out the adversary, curious to see what scandal and outrage this year’s happenings will produce.

2014: the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance is three weeks away from another landslide election victory. The only question is whether Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will get another super majority in the National Assembly, again giving him the power to implement his legislative agenda without impediment. All else is simply detail: how much will Jobbik gain, how much will the democratic opposition lose? Will Politics Can Be Different even get into parliament?

DSC_0576Across the Franz Joseph Bridge by bike, Orange Files rides toward the annual state commemoration at the National Museum, where Petőfi read his “National Song” at the start of the 1848 revolt. On Kálvin Square only red and white Polish flags: the Law and Justice weekly Gazeta Polska has organized another Great Trip to Hungary to show support for Prime Minister Orbán, just as it did for the second pro-government Peace March in 2012. Images of Pope John Paul II, the Kaczyński twins, banners in Polish, anti-EU signs in English, men in military uniforms, from the Polish-Soviet War perhaps?

Are they aware of Orbán’s rapprochement with Russia?

Through the main gate to the steps of the National Museum to get a good photograph of Orbán. His security has become much tighter than it used to be—it is no longer easy to get a good close-up of him. Standing in the crowd, camera in hand: a bellicose patriotic poem shouted in a shrill voice; a pop version of the “National Song” and some folk dancing; then down the stairs strides the short and girthy prime minister, right on past—dammit!—across a ramp to a platform overlooking Museum Avenue for his speech.

Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you—press back out through the crowd to Museum Avenue, the speech begun in his throaty, constricted voice, a variation of the same one he has given a hundred times before: life and death struggle, identifying the enemies, always in danger, Labanc, Muscovites, global capital: “The weak and cowardly are no longer dealt into the game.”

DSC_0605Something interesting: a copse of orange flags with the heads of Orbán and Putin side by side. A dozen silent protesters, those around them shouting occasional threats and epithets.

“The word ‘utility-fee cut’ would not look good in the National Song, but it is easy to see that just as today the reduction of unjust and inequitable burdens was for them [the 1848 revolutionaries] the first and most important task.” 

“Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”

Orbán makes no direct reference to the upcoming elections. He doesn’t need to because he knows he’s going to win, and win big.

The speech is over, the protesters furl their Orbán-Putin flags and give a short interview to a German-speaking reporter through an interpreter. They say they are associated with Bajnai. One of them has a bloody lip.

By bike toward Lajos Kossuth Street, cannot even find the Politics Can Be Different assembly. The sky is turning oddly overcast, the dust and refuse of spring swirls in puffs of warm breeze.

DSC_0626The Polish march past, there are a couple hundred young people lined up along the sidewalk wearing orange, red and green t-shirts and holding well-made signs that say “Vote Against Jobbik!” They say they are a Facebook group, but nobody seems to know who paid for all the shirts and signs. Fidesz has turned its sights away from the foundering  democratic opposition toward Jobbik in order to protect its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. 

Coffee with an old friend and then the surprise of the day: the democratic opposition has cancelled its assembly due to expected high winds. Organizers in fluorescent vests announce the news on bullhorns. Lajos Kossuth Street is reopened to vehicle traffic. 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they find some way to sink even lower. The reason for the cancellation is not really rain and wind: it is that they have nothing to say, no hope in the elections, no reason for being in their present form. Gábor Fodor and the liberals are down at the Petőfi statue for a separate gathering. There are about a hundred people holding blue flags bearing the image of Lajos Kossuth. Fodor looks tired as he chats with elderly supporters, like he wishes he were somewhere else. 

JobbikOver to the Jobbik assembly on Deák Square. Almost everybody in black; cracked and distorted faces, it has the feel of one-third penitentiary, one-third insane asylum and one-third school for the mentally challenged. The New Hungarian Guard is there. Vona, Előd Novák and the rest are there. At least they have the mettle to withstand a little stormy weather. They know where they want to go and are committed to getting there. And they just might do it.

A billow of red, white and green balloons rises into the air and dissipates slowly into the heavy gray clouds above.  

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The First Little Pinprick

The new mayor of Ásotthalom: Toroczkai leading demonstrators to Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest to hold anti-government demonstration on October 22, 2007 (Orange Files photo).

László Toroczkai leading anti-government demonstration in Budapest on October 22, 2007 (photo: Orange Files).

In by-elections held on Sunday, December 15, voters in Ásotthalom (southern Hungary, population 4,000) elected the president of the radical-nationalist 64 Counties Youth Movement, László Toroczkai, to serve as mayor of the village. Toroczkai, who serves as a Jobbik representative in the Csongrád County General Assembly, ran for mayor of Ásotthalom as an independent, defeating a single rival candidate from the ruling Fidesz party with over 70 percent of the vote. Following the announcement of the election results, Jobbik issued the following communiqué: “Jobbik heartily congratulates its Csongrád County General Assembly representative and president of its ally, the 64 Counties Youth Movement  (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom), László Toroczkai” (source in Hungarian).

Toroczkai is one of the most prominent radical nationalists in Hungary. He gained national recognition as the leader of the group of 1,500 football ultras and political extremists that overwhelmed police guarding the Hungarian Television headquarters in Budapest and laid waste to the building on September 19, 2006. He was one of the main leaders of the frequent and occasionally violent anti-government demonstrations that took place in the city over the subsequent two years.

Toroczkai-led extremists lay siege to the Hungarian Television headquarters in Budapest on September 19, 2006.

Toroczkai-led extremists lay siege to Hungarian Television headquarters on September 19, 2006.

The Toroczkai-lead 64 Counties Youth Movement is the organizer of the annual radical-nationalist festival Hungarian Island (Magyar Sziget) that hosts explicitly anti-Semitic, anti-Gypsy and anti-West speakers and rock bands. Toroczkai, himself, is known for his extremist rhetoric, such as when he spoke openly at the Hungarian Island festival in 2011 of  the “shooting to death” (agyonlövés) of both Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, stating that “We would have done an even greater favor for the Hungarian nation had we shot him [Gyurcsány] to death at the Communist Youth League’s camp when he was ten years old” (source in Hungarian). 

One should not draw overarching conclusions from the results of local by-elections. Nor should one ignore them completely. The election of the radical-nationalist icon László Toroczkai to serve as the mayor of a village in southern Hungary over a Fidesz rival may be the product of purely local, personal politics with no greater political implications. However, it may also suggest that the effort of Jobbik to build the party’s base of support in rural Hungary at Fidesz’s expense through the espousal of tough measures to combat “Gypsy crime” may have begun to pay off.

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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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