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A portrait of Jobbik

A review of The Hungarian Far Right. Social Demand, Political Supply and International Context. By: Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász. Publisher: Ibidem-Verlag, Hanover, Germany, 2017.

August 23, 2018 - Adam Balcer - Books and ReviewsIssue 5 2018Magazine

The Hungarian Far Right: Social Demand, Political Supply and International Context, authored by Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász, who are affiliated with the Hungarian think tank Political Capital, focuses on Jobbik – the “Movement for a Better Hungary”. As a matter of fact, Jobbik has seen a spectacular rise of support in recent years. As the results of parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2018 indicate, Jobbik’s support increased from two per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2014. As of now, there is no other country in the European Union, except for Austria, where an extreme right-wing party scores so high in parliamentary elections. (Although, Jobbik’s public support weakened after the elections in 2018 due to the secession of the radical fraction). Hence, a publication that focuses on Jobbik is welcome.

Supply and demand

The title of the book points to two large sets of theories regarding the far right: namely a political supply and a social demand. The latter refers to the ideas and attitudes of the voters who tend to support extreme right-wing parties during economic crises or ethnic conflicts. Supply theories, in turn, focus on such issues as the political scene, election system, the leadership quality of political groups, as well as the organisation of party structures and media environment. As interpreted from the book, Krekó and Juhász argue that social demand is a necessary, but not sufficient, factor for the emergence of an extreme right-wing party.

In their argumentation, they make a reference to the Demand for Right Wing Extremism Index (DEREX), which was created by the think tank they are both affiliated with and which is based on four categories: prejudices and welfare chauvinism; right-wing value orientation; anti-establishment attitudes and fear; distrust and pessimism. Hungary, as we read in the book, has been in recent years a witness to a spectacular rise in prejudices and welfare chauvinism. At the same time, the last two categories saw a certain weakening in intensity.

Clearly, an increase in xenophobia has created more favourable conditions for Jobbik than those that existed in the early 2000s. However, an analysis of many previous DEREX surveys suggests that Hungarians were not that much different from some other Eastern and Central European states, where extreme right-wing parties have received much lower support than Jobbik.

Jobbik geography

To answer what makes the Hungarian case different, Krekó and Juhász undertook a detailed analysis of Jobbik voters. As it turns out, most of them are residents of eastern Hungary, which is less urbanised, more impoverished and proportionally more often inhabited by the Roma minority. Jobbik’s stronghold is certainly in the north-eastern part of the country. Yet the 2018 elections illustrate that the differences in the support of Jobbik in eastern and western parts are shrinking. As the authors correctly note, this decline is a result of Jobbik’s decision to move towards the political centre.

Budapest, of course, remains Jobbik’s Achilles’s heel. In a city (urban area) of three million, support for the extreme political right is relatively small. Also, quite indicatively, Jobbik have more male voters than female. However, contrary to the common understanding, their supporters are not the “losers” of the economic transformation of the 1990s or globalisation. Research data clearly show that Jobbik’s voters are, on average, better educated and wealthier than the national average. In contrast to extreme right-wing parties in Western Europe, those who support the extreme right in Hungary are younger than the average Hungarian.

So what distinguishes Jobbik voters? For sure, they show a higher degree of xenophobia (especially towards the Roma minority), put more emphasis on security issues, are more eager to subscribe to conspiracy theories and they reject pluralism. They are also distinguished by a higher degree of pessimism, limited social trust and anti-establishment attitudes. All said, Krekó and Juhász are very correct in their assessment of Jobbik’s electorate. “First and foremost,” they write, “it seems that Jobbik voters perceive their status and national identity endangered. The middle class Jobbik supporters may feel that their social status is simultaneously endangered from below – by those who are dragging down the better-off members of society (i.e. the “parasites” who live off state handouts which is a stereotype for Roma), and from above by a tight-knit liberal and cosmopolitan elite group (i.e. Jews), who are taking over positions of leadership in the field of economy, finance, culture, media and politics while excluding others who want to become part of this elite. The remedy offered by Jobbik to this threat of national identity is a vision of the nation that is strictly confined and homogenous – both ethnically and in terms of values.”

2006 and beyond

While explaining the Jobbik phenomenon, the authors find more value in supply theories that refer to political processes. Thus they point out that Jobbik was created in 2003, after the electoral failure of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, which was the main right-wing party at that time. In this role, Fidesz supported the development of a variety of right-wing opposition groups – which included foundations, associations, media outlets, festivals and music groups. Many of their members later became Jobbik’s supporters.

The turning point came in 2006, shortly after the parliamentary elections, when Hungary experienced a great political crisis which was caused by a leak of  the then prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech given during a closed meeting with the leadership of his Social Democratic party, MSZP. Gyurcsány’s blunt and cynical remarks concerning the situation in the country caused massive outrage and led to anti-government demonstrations. These protests, in turn, gave rise to Jobbik and similar groups. In the 2010 elections, Jobbik received almost eight times more votes than it did in 2006. That number, in total, was almost 17 per cent. The rise of Jobbik’s popularity overlapped with an increase in anti-Roma xenophobia in the Hungarian society. Quite illustrative are the years 2008 and 2009 when extremist groups related indirectly to Jobbik were responsible for the murder of six members of the Roma community.

Moreover, after 2006 the political crisis resulted in a large economic slowdown (in 2007-2008 the average growth rate for Hungary was estimated at 0.6 per cent). Recession followed – at almost a negative seven per cent. These negative economic trends contributed also to the increase of the popularity of Jobbik. However, as Krekó and Juhász argue, it was the popularisation in the public debate of the term “Roma crime” and the acceptance of the view that “Jobbik poses real questions, while responses are inadequate” that were of key importance for the rise in Jobbik’s popularity.

Krekó and Juhász believe it was this strong anti-Roma rhetoric, combined with social security issues that became the leading motif of Jobbik’s ideology in 2006-2014. The party also skilfully used the trauma of the 1920 Trianon Treaty. According to the treaty, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, while 30 per cent of ethnic Hungarians were forced to live outside the borders of the country (today the number of Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries is over 20 per cent of the entire Hungarian population in the Central Europe). Jobbik’s rhetoric may be described as an “affair with irredentism” which assumes implicitly a change of borders. Another important element of Jobbik’s ideology is Turanism – the notion of cultural community between Hungarians and peoples of Eurasian steppe which was paired with a strong Euroscepticism.

Friend or foe?

In terms of foreign policy, Jobbik has been expressing a very negative attitude towards Israel. It had thus developed co-operation with some Muslim states, such as Iran until the refugee crisis in 2015. Even more importantly, Jobbik has built a very close relationship with Putin’s Russia, receiving significant financial and organisational support from the Kremlin.

After the 2010 elections, Jobbik co-operated closely with Fidesz, supporting it in key votes aimed at building a political system that can be called a hybrid of democracy with elements of authoritarianism. Fidesz used Jobbik as an instrument, taking over many of its slogans to shape the political landscape that is clearly skewed to the right and where it took a dominating place in the political centre. However before the 2014 elections, Jobbik started to move towards the centre, toning down the anti-Roma and anti-Jewish discourse and softening its Euroscepticism (i.e. EU – yes; European federation – no). Clearly its goal was to take over Fidesz’s position on the political scene. Consequently, a conflict between both parties arose.

We need to touch upon some weaknesses of Krekó and Juhász’s book. As Krekó and Juhász rightly point out: “Since 2010, we could see a gradual shift of Fidesz from a nationalist populist position towards the position of a genuine far-right party characterised by authoritarianism, xenophobia, populism and conspiracy theories in the heart of their ideology.” The ongoing evolution of Fidesz towards the extreme right requires – considering the title of the book – paying more attention to Orbán’s party than assigned here. The complex relationship between Jobbik and Fidesz should be analysed in a more detailed way, especially   the co-operation between the two parties in parliament. In fact, even after 2014 Jobbik supported Viktor Orbán’s party on important issues. Given that the book was published in 2017, it covers developments from 2015 and 2016 to a smaller degree than those from previous years. But since the refugee crisis in 2015 we can observe Jobbik’s shift to the strong Islamophobic rhetoric. Meanwhile, Krekó and Juhász only mention this fact briefly without going into it deeper.

The book also makes a few references to the pre-war fascist party called the Arrow Cross Party-Hungarist Movement, which at the end of the 1930s, was supported by a large part of Hungarian society. It would have been worthwhile if the authors explored this area and showed some similarities and differences between this pre-war formation and Jobbik. Considering how important such issues as identity and historical policy are for Jobbik, the book lacks a reflection on how Hungarians today define their national identity and what cultural and historical factors favour the popularity of ethnic nationalism over civic nationalism. Meanwhile, the first one favours national populism. The book also omits any examination on the ideological diversity of right-wing movements in Hungary. For example, Krekó and Juhász believe that Turanism favours closer relations between Jobbik and Russia. However, when it comes to Turanism, from the mid- 19th century to the mid-20th century, the main ambition of the movement was to oppose tsarist, and later Bolshevik Russia, and especially to oppose pan-Slavism which was promoted by Moscow.

Despite these few weak points, the book will be a very valuable read for a long time. It should be recommended to anyone who is interested in contemporary right-wing movements in Europe, especially its Central part.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

Adam Balcer is head of the foreign policy programme at WiseEuropa, a Polish private think tank. He also works as a national researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and is a lecturer at the Centre of East European Studies (SEW) at the University of Warsaw.

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