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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Interview: Jobbik President Gábor Vona

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Jobbik President Gábor Vona (photo: alon.hu).

Below is an Orange Files translation of the final two-thirds of an interview that a journalist from the Lajos Simicska-owned newspaper Magyar Nemzet conducted with Jobbik President Gábor Vona at the end of March 2015  (source in Hungarian). The journalist’s initial question in the translated text refers to Vona’s call in a major speech earlier this year for reconciliation among the sharply divided political factions in Hungary (see Taking the Ball) and to two incidents involving Jobbik officials that surfaced in the Hungarian media recently: Mezőtúr Municipal Council member János Kötél’s anti-Gypsy Internet postings and National Assembly representative Gergely Kulcsár’s spitting on the Shoes on the Danube Bank Holocaust memorial in Budapest (sources A and B in Hungarian).

[. . .]

Magyar Nemzet: Are the Gypsy-inciting [cigányozó] János Kötél or Gergely Kulcsár, who spit on the quayside Holocaust memorial, compatible with reconciliation? 

Gábor Vona: No. However, it is not an accident that these events that took place years ago are emerging just now. The strengthening and people’s-party strategy of Jobbik frighten many people and both Fidesz and the HSP [Hungarian Socialist Party] are interested in trying to push us back into the extremist-party pigeonhole. The cited cases entailed consequences and I think that with time events of this type will vanish from the party. In the instance of Gergely Kulcsár, for example, the party immediately indicated that it distances itself from the action and considers it to be scandalous and unacceptable. I asked Gergely to take a flower to the quay in order to show that he regretted it as well. And, in fact, he did regret it even if many people find it hard to believe him. There is no room in Jobbik for irreverent, vulgar actions that express collective judgement. However, this does not mean that it isn’t possible to speak about, let’s say, domestic Jews, Israel’s policies or even the Gypsy problem.

Magyar Nemzet: Is standing with a flower for the sake of a photograph a true consequence?

Gábor Vona: The most important thing is that we make it clear: what Jobbik is and what Jobbik isn’t. One can lament about whether this measure was sufficient or not. But the most important thing is that we gave expression to this: Jobbik shares in the mourning of all victims—including those of the Jews—and regards insult to this mourning to be unacceptable. And just to put it in parentheses: how many parties usually ask for forgiveness in Hungary?

Magyar Nemzet: Do you sleep soundly? Aren’t you scared that other such instances will surface?

Gábor Vona: Over this, very soundly. The reason I sleep with greater difficulty is the increasing reality of governing responsibility.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you regard Jobbik to be capable of governing?

Gábor Vona: I don’t think that there is any party that is one-hundred percent capable of governing. A party comes to power and strives to meet the challenge. This must be prepared for and if the moment comes we will respond to the best of our ability. We will have no lack of specialists, because we have many talented young people, many experienced old foxes who have preserved their integrity and, finally, there are many specialists in the state administration who have not yet declared that they belong to Jobbik, though if we come to power we can count on them. The year of volunteerism during which our representatives are going out among the people and trying out different sectors is helping a lot in terms of preparation from both a human and a professional standpoint.

Magyar Nemzet: At the same time Jobbik is not accepted in Europe.

Gábor Vona: This is why western opening is important to me. Since 2010 I have been repeating that Hungary must assert its interests in a German-Russian-Turkish triangle. Even Viktor Orbán acknowledged this not long ago. For me and for us there are no and will be no problems in the Russian and Turkish direction—I must establish good relations with Germany. This will be terribly difficult, because the German press is even worse than the Hungarian [press] and passes us off as a neo-Nazi party. However, I would like to show leading German political officials the genuine Jobbik.

Magyar Nemzet: Have you done anything in this interest yet?

Gábor Vona: I have begun to put out feelers, that is, on our part we are open. Germany must face up to our strengthening and decide if it’s willing to engage in dialogue with Jobbik—a people’s party Jobbik.

Magyar Nemzet: Would you still like to hold a referendum on our European Union membership?

Gábor Vona: I think that much has changed in the European Union since we joined and that Hungarian society must be given the opportunity to form an opinion on this. I must emphasize that we are not anti-Europe and that our EU criticism is not visceral. However it must be stated that behind all the gloss the community works anti-democratically and unjustly. For example, that they exploit the eastern member-states and that negotiations are taking place with the United States in secret regarding the planned free-trade agreement. All of this is unacceptable.

Magyar Nemzet: In the event of a referendum will you campaign on the side of withdrawal [from the European Union]?

Gábor Vona: The current EU is not good for Hungary. But this would not be the first question. First we would ask people about modifying the membership treaty and if renegotiation is not possible then the decision about withdrawal must be made.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you consider it to be realistic that we would withdraw [from the European Union]?

Gábor Vona: I don’t consider it to be inconceivable that such a situation could arise in the over the medium term, though in the short term it is not realistic. On the one hand, Hungarian society would not likely make such a decision, while on the other hand Hungary is not prepared for this in an economic sense. Unfortunately, over the previous [parliamentary] cycles governments were so taken in by European Union membership that they didn’t think of a “plan B.” However, I think that this is necessary, because it could happen that we don’t withdraw from the EU, but that it simply falls apart.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you have a problem with our NATO membership as well?

Gábor Vona: This causes a much bigger headache. In may opinion we are looking at a prolonged Russian-American conflict and I am convinced that this [conflict] is taking place in Hungary as well even if not yet with weapons. We do not need this. It would be worthwhile to discuss what kind of relations we must maintain with NATO and it would be possible to open a social debate on this. This is as far as I would go for the time being.

Magyar Nemzet: What kind of relations are you thinking of?

Gábor Vona: There are several versions and even neutrality as in the case of Switzerland or Austria cannot be excluded. But those are very distant questions.

Magyar Nemzet: What do you mean by saying that the Russian-American conflict is taking place here at home as well?

Gábor Vona: It is taking place here at home precisely because Hungary is a NATO member, moreover we have better and better economic relations with Russia. I do not consider it to be inconceivable that the conflict taking place on the territory of Ukraine will escalate again and then Hungary will find itself in a very difficult position because as a NATO member state we would have to enter this war and under certain circumstances wage war against Russia. I would really caution Hungary against this. One point of the four-question signature collection currently taking place pertains precisely to this—that our homeland would remain neutral in spite of [NATO] membership. It is not an accident that according to our signature collectors this is our second very popular proposal behind pensions for men who have worked for 40 years.

Magyar Nemzet: You also reject participation in the action against the Islamic State.

Gábor Vona: That’s right, because such a mission would not merely endanger the security of Hungarian soldiers, but it will raise the terrorist threat of the ten million people living here. We also regard the Islamic State—which I consider to be neither Islamic nor a state—to be an enemy to be defeated, but this is not Hungary’s duty. We will stay with providing humanitarian assistance.

Magyar Nemzet: Somebody has to take action against the Islamic State. Who should this be?

Gábor Vona: I think that it is primarily the duty of the United States and those great powers who armed the predecessor groups of the Islamic State.

Magyar Nemzet: With this you acknowledge that the United States is the world’s gendarme who has the right to intervene anytime and anywhere?

Gábor Vona: It would be really good if it weren’t this way. But one of the most important reasons that the Islamic State is so strong is that the United States armed these groups during the intervention against Assad. The existence of the Islamic State is furthermore connected to immigration. It is to be feared that among the immigrants some could arrive here that are not economic or political refugees, but terror cells. Another question in the signature collection is precisely the clampdown on immigration.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you have any concrete ideas?

Gábor Vona: In the first phase the refugee centers must be sealed so that those who arrive there cannot rummage about freely. However the phenomenon must be handled more thoroughly and profoundly knowing that the refugee question is not a member-state issue.

Magyar Nemzet: What is your [Jobbik’s] relationship with the United States?

Gábor Vona: I cannot say that it is too rosy. Along with Germany, I would like a sound relationship with the United States as well. I would like to make them understand that Hungary is an independent country that would like to take its own path and therefore they should not try to pull us into its conflicts.

Magyar Nemzet: Where does this attempt to put relations in order stand? Similarly to the case with Germany?

Gábor Vona: The two are comparable only in that the American press isn’t too good either. Here, I must frankly say, I have not yet taken any steps either—this will be the task of the coming period. First we must prove ourselves in domestic politics and make it clear to Germany, the United States and everybody else that Jobbik is a potential governing party and, like it or not, you must talk to us is some way. We are open to this. I could not promise that we will be an easy negotiating partner or that you will be able to spread us on bread at these meetings, but I can state that we will be correct, rational and open.

Magyar Nemzet: Will you initiate contacts with the new American ambassador?

Gábor Vona: I don’t want to rush into things, though I think that the moment will come when we will have to meet, if for no other than official purposes.

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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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Uniform Disorder

New Hungarian Guard members march in formation at Stadler Stadium in Akasztó on August 19.

New Hungarian Guard members march in formation at Stadler Stadium in Akasztó on August 19.

On August 19, 2013 the New Hungarian Guard initiated about 100 new members at an abandoned football stadium in the village of Akasztó (central Hungary) before Jobbik President Gábor Vona and a replica of the Holy Crown of Hungary (source in Hungarian).

The Orbán government has two legal means at its disposal to prevent the New Hungarian Guard from holding such initiations or engaging in any other public activity:

— the 2012 verdict of an appeals court that the organization is identical to the original Hungarian Guard banned in 2009, thus its public gatherings violate Hungary’s Law on Assembly;

— and the government’s own 2011 amendment to Hungary’s Criminal Code prohibiting “uniformed crime.”

Yet the government did nothing to stop the Hungarian Guard initiation on August 19.

Conclusion: Incompetence or Hypocrisy.

Either the Interior Ministry’s security and law-enforcement agencies were unaware of the event, which the New Hungarian Guard’s website noted took place with “no police harassment thanks to exceptionally professional organization”; or, more likely, the Orbán government permitted the New Hungarian Guard to conduct its initiation because it does not want to alienate potential radical-nationalist supporters through a crackdown on the Jobbik-supported paramilitary organization a half year ahead of the 2014 National Assembly election.

 

Jobbik President Gábor Vona watches the initiation ceremony.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona watches the New Hungarian Guard initiation ceremony.

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