Jobbik's Menacing Shadow Over Hungary

When will Hungary step up to fight the anti-Semitism, racism and pernicious conspiracy theories promoted by Jobbik, the country's third most popular political party?

One of the engines behind Hungary's rising radicalism in recent years is the Jobbik party, often dubbed as a neo-Nazi group, and a leading force gathering together the country’s right-wing extremists. As the party has gained in popularity, attacks against minority groups have became fiercer. Jobbik, often mentioned alongside the Greek Golden Dawn Party as the two most influential radical parties in Europe, is associated with anti-Roma, homophobic, anti-EU and anti-Semitic incitement. Greece appears to be waking up - if belatedly - to the threat of Golden Dawn; but Hungary’s civil society and politicians have not yet committed to making top priority the fight against racism, racial stereotypes and obscure but influential conspiracy theories that poison relations between ethnic and cultural groups within the state.

Jobbik's effectiveness is amplified by its excellent organizational skills and its strong, clearly-articulated set of nationalist values. Its activists are ready to respond quickly to political or social incidents; they can crowd-source many people in even remote rural areas to hold protests, and they know how to channel latent aggression, whether in the rich or poor, educated or not.

Jobbik promotes an extreme paradigm of Hungarian patriotism and its favored targets are the State of Israel, the Roma minority and the EU. By tapping into long-held hostility towards certain minorities, the party has become a dangerous nexus bringing together a range of Hungarians whose common denominator are shared racist views.

The party denies the accusations leveled both domestically and abroad of being of anti-Semitic and racist, claiming – in the case of Israel - that they only oppose Israel’s actions as a state and not the Jewish people itself. However Holocaust denial has featured in the speeches of several party members, most recently when a Jobbik MP proclaimed that the Auschwitz museum described events that "may not reflect the real facts of history." Just last year another Jobbik MP stated in the National Assembly that the names of politicians with Jewish origins should be added to a watch-list of public figures who could pose a national security risk.

While Jobbik also denies the accusations of being intolerant towards the Roma minority, its harsh propaganda against the Roma, whom the party commonly characterizes as criminals and lazy, fill the public square.

The party established its own paramilitary organization, the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), which posed as a civilian militia. The members of this organization marched on the streets of major Hungarian towns wearing traditionalist uniforms and fascist-era armbands - an action with frightening parallels to the 1930’s and 1940’s. After two years of operations the organization was banned, but immediately after that a new group was formed, calling themselves the New Hungarian Guard.

One of the most infamous actions of the Hungarian Guard alongside with Jobbik was at a village that has a 20% Roma minority. The radicals claimed that there was a 'Roma-terror' in the country and that Roma committed ‘gypsy crimes’. While Jobbik representatives held speeches in the village, approximately 2000 nationalist activists marched through the Roma area in order to intimidate them.

The two tropes against Jews and the Roma can sometimes be married together. This year when the World Jewish Congress took place in Budapest, party members protested against the event, claiming that Jewish people were planning to 'buy' Hungary. This and similar conspiracy theories are becoming quite popular amongst the growing numbers of Hungarian radicals. One extrapolation of this theory holds that the Roma people are controlled by the Jews; while the Roma are committing crimes, Hungarian society is being diverted from the real problem: The 'Israelis' who are coming to conquer Hungary through financial investment, leaving the Hungarians people as a people to be colonized by Zionism.

In contrast to many typical supporters of right-wing radical parties abroad, Jobbik supporters do not coming from low-income areas with little education. The party is in fact more popular amongst those with above-average income. This is due to Hungary's difficult economic situation: Those with some wealth have more to lose than those without, and thus embrace more easily the nationalist rhetoric that could 'save' them. This is part of the reason that, according to current polls, Jobbik has become the third most popular party in Hungary.

The other parties, populist in nature, are more concerned with fighting each other than treating the Jobbik problem with the seriousness it deserves. However, members of the major parties did step up against Jobbik over the suggestion of listing Jewish politicians. This anti-Semitic initiative resembled too closely legislation from the dark era of the Holocaust and served as a wake-up call for many Hungarian politicians.

But this limited reaction is not sufficient to tackle the problem of the rise of neo-fascism in Hungary. A more open social dialogue is needed to address the issue. Hungarians should shun the errors of communist times, during which the problems of racism and intimidation were swept under the rug.

Far-right radicals like to taunt those who oppose them to go to areas where minorities live to gain a firsthand experience of how they abuse Hungarians and commit crimes. But it is the radicals who should leave their ivory towers of prejudice and face reality. Many of the difficulties cited about the Roma are caused by poverty: Stronger efforts by civil society to integrate the Roma more would allow young Roma especially to get proper education and thus make their way out of poverty.

Fighting fascist populism can only come through encouraging a barely-existing dialogue between minority and majority groups in Hungary, to humanize those being demonized. The mainstream media also has an important role - to step up and actively debunk the racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are disseminated by Jobbik.

There should be no underestimating how dire the situation is. The infamous slogan of the Jobbik party looms over Hungary like a menacing shadow: "God grant us a brighter future." The question is: What they mean by “us”?

Máté Hajba is a Young Voices Advocate and blogger from Budapest, where he is studying law. He is also the program director and youth coordinator at a Hungarian economics think tank and vice director at Polgári Platform, a Hungarian organization that promotes democratic value, and aims to strengthen political engagement and pluralism.

AP