On Sunday, January 26th, Britain braced itself to receive some controversial visitors. Led by Gabor Vona, members of Hungary’s Jobbik Party planned to hold a rally outside of the Holborn tube station. What might have been seen as a standard expression of free speech instead became a highly conflicted event due to Jobbik’s status as the most powerful right-wing (and vocally anti-Semitic) group in Hungary, and its visit being planned for the eve of Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day. The British government was unresponsive to the demands of many citizens to prevent Vona’s entry into the country, including a Hope Not Hate petition that gathered 14,000 signatures calling for Vona to be prevented from entering the UK. Although officially the event was allowed to go on, protestors from organizations such as Unite Against Fascism prevented the rally from taking place in its originally planned location, blocking the tube station entrance and forcing the police to secure a location for Jobbik’s rally at Hyde Park, where Vona spoke for twenty minutes to a group of about 100 party supporters.
The wariness that many British citizens demonstrated against Jobbik is not unwarranted. This self-proclaimed “Movement for a Better Hungary” enjoys considerable influence. It is the third largest party in Hungary, holding 43 of 386 seats in the national parliament and steady support rates at about 10% – numbers which afford the party a considerable amount of power. British MP Andrew Dismore labeled Jobbik “the most powerful outwardly fascist political party in Europe.” Indeed, Jobbik considers itself to be the foremost advocate for the protection of “Hungarian values and interests.” The party advocates a sweeping and comprehensive nationalist platform that rejects the influence of foreign investors in Hungary, instead calling for the empowerment and defense of Hungarian agriculture and industry against globalization. The party stands in favor of democracy, strong police force to promote public order, and to return Hungary to the “rule of law.” In accordance with their more protectionist views, the party has proposed several bills demanding that Hungarian farmland only be sold to national citizens and to limit the size of individual land holdings, to which the party claims that the Hungarian president has been unresponsive.
The party’s radical nationalist views, however, are not the factor that has lead to the controversy and anxiety surrounding it. Accusations of anti-Semitism, anti-Roma, fascist, and even neo-Nazi ideologies have made the party controversial, feared, and detested by many. Although Jobbik has protested against claims of its anti-Semitism and was even quoted in an Economist article as welcoming “all Hungarians who stand up for their country,” its actions are, in many cases, speaking louder than its words. This blatant contradiction was made most apparent when, in 2012, Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi called for a national registry of Hungarian Jews in order to “assess…how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk for Hungary.”
There is much to fear when it comes to Jobbik and the resurgence of anti-Semitism, anti-Roma tendencies and general xenophobia its growing popularity heralds. After watching these strains of hatred culminate in the devastation of World War II, anti-Semitism and the like have since been repugnant and intolerable to a vast majority of Europeans. Since the 2007 economic recession, however, the presence of extreme right-wing groups across the continent has surged, and Jobbik does not stand alone in the far-right of Europe’s political scene. From France’s National Front, to the UK’s British National Party, to Greece’s recently violent Golden Dawn, the Guardian claims that some pollsters predict Europe’s far-right parties to take up to one-third of the parliament seats in next May’s election.
The question remains, how can the same group whose leaders have called for a registry of Jewish citizens posing a threat to national security claim that it is not anti-Semitic? Better yet, why do they even care in the first place? What is notable about the recent resurgence of far-right political parties in Europe is not their prejudiced platforms and policies they represent – in fact, frightening comparisons can be drawn between the groups of today and the nationalist groups that heralded WWII. What has made these parties so successful is their conflation of these standard “anti” tenets with the types of welfare policies advocated by many of Europe’s center-left political parties.
Jobbik’s advocacy of anti-Semitism and Roma hatred is derived from their conception of these ideologies as rational and essential means to the greater party ends, namely, nationalism and protectionism, and achieving the type of society for which a substantial number of Hungary’s disillusioned voters are yearning. The leaders of Jobbik and similar groups endorse outwardly anti-Semitic policies that they see as advancing their goal of self-proclaimed “radical patriotism.” However, as demonstrated by Britain’s outcry against the Jobbik rally, the rest of the world is still haunted by the gruesome spector of WWII and refuses to associate prejudice with progress.
This perspective makes it possible for these parties (as well as their growing constituencies) to promote such obviously anti-Semitic ideas, when they are not directed as an act against Hungary’s Jewish population, but rather as a response to alleged “blatant efforts to eradicate the nation as the foundation of human community.”