“Jobbik was never anti-Semitic”

In his annual State of the Nation address, Viktor Orbán talked about a shameful “Socialist-Nazi coalition”, and, to support the PM’s statements, the government’s media once again dug up a 2012 parliamentary speech by Jobbik’s faction leader. On Válasz Magazine’s request, Márton Gyöngyösi jumps back in time to give an account of how his scandalous utterance came to be. He also reveals if the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic is a “Jewish business”, if Israel has the right to defend itself and if the Holocaust is a “Holoscam”. A confronting interview with Jobbik’s parliamentary faction leader.

 

Now it’s the time for the Jewish question.

If you mean we can clarify my attitude to the Jewish community, fine.

That’s exactly what we mean. Let’s start with November 26, 2012. Do you remember that day?

Certainly. Quite clearly. It was a Monday. That’s when I asked that unfortunate urgent question in Parliament which has just been rediscovered by the government’s media.

You wanted to make a list of people “with Jewish origin” who “live here”. Did you just look in the mirror that morning while brushing your teeth and this excellent idea occurred to you? Or how did such a thing come to your mind?

Not like that. It didn’t even come to my mind, actually. And that morning wasn’t the starting point, either. In those days, the Israeli air force had just launched a strike against the Gaza Strip, with many civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. A few days before my speech, Jobbik held a protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Budapest. Gábor Vona presented a list of demands in his speech at the time – one of the demands was that national security risks must be assessed in terms of Israeli-Hungarian dual citizens.

What does this have to do with that Monday?

I had been planning to pose an urgent question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the Israeli bombing of Gaza because the government had released a highly unilateral communiqué, siding with Israel which grossly violated international law. On Monday morning, the board of the parliamentary faction met in this room right where we are sitting now. We always discuss and coordinate the topics of the urgent questions right before the parliamentary session. It is a spontaneous genre and that’s what makes it interesting: you have two minutes to ask your question and then another minute to react to the answer you get. So we were discussing the topics and I suggested I was going to ask a question about the Gaza conflict, which everybody agreed with. There was only one comment from Gábor Vona.

What did he say?

He said that my speech should definitely include one of his demands voiced at the demonstration, the one about dual citizens.

And what did you say?

I said it didn’t fit into this context at all, and you can include only one eloquent question into the two minutes; you can only elaborate on a single idea in such a short time, so I said I’d rather not. However, Gábor insisted, and he was the president and faction leader of the party... I spent hours thinking about how I could integrate this idea into my speech and even when I was already sitting in the Parliament and listening to the other speakers, so just minutes before my speech, I still didn’t know how I could solve it. Then I was like, I’ll start it and then one way or another the situation will be solved...

Eventually you said something different than what Vona asked you. Talking about Israeli-Hungarian dual citizens would have been the kind of standard and implied Jew-bashing typical of 2012 Jobbik.

Israel has a legislation to prevent dual citizens from becoming MPs. No dual citizen can be a member of the Knesset, for example. For understandable reasons, I might add. The United States has a law like that, too. So the demand itself would hardly have been Jew-bashing.

Should Romania remove dual Hungarian citizens from the Parliament in Bucharest?

The Romanian intelligence service keeps a close eye on dual citizens, believe me.

So there should be no Hungarians in the Romanian Parliament, is that it?

We never said there shouldn’t, not even back then. All we said was that we should find out who they are.

Fine, but then why did you suggest to identify Israeli-Hungarian dual citizens only and exclusively, instead of all dual citizens in general?

The whole question was raised in connection with the Gaza conflict in the Parliament at the time, so it came from the topic itself.

And it came from the 2012 Jobbik, too, didn’t it? Let’s not pretend as if bringing up Israel and the Jews had not been typical of your party at the time!

Fine, let’s not. It came from the Jobbik of the time, yes.

But what you talked about was not Vona’s dual Israeli-Hungarian citizens but the potential listing of people with Jewish origins. Was it a Freudian slip?

No. Even those who only know me superficially are aware that I never discriminate people based on their origins.

So the reason why you reject my question is not because Freud was a Jew, too.

That’s not even a good joke.

So how did it happen then? In all that great spontaneity, did you accidentally slip the way you used to do amongst yourselves at the time?

Irresponsibly enough, I undertook a task which I disagreed with deep in my heart, so I couldn’t carry it out, either. That’s all what happened. And even though nobody would believe me now, but it was not typical of Jobbik to bash Jews amongst ourselves behind closed doors.

After his grand turnabout, Csanád Szegedi gave an account of how the far-right, anti-Semitic legacy found a home in Jobbik.

Don’t you think his grand turnabout required him to re-evaluate his past? Few people had so many excesses as he did. In this issue, too. Until he realized he was a Jew, he had gone far beyond what was acceptable. In his case, the energy fuelled the horn rather than the engine.

Well, in 2010 Gábor Vona talked about Fidesz like “it might be more like jaffa than orange”.

Jobbik began to grow and spread in 2006 as a subculture movement. Let’s keep that in mind. And yes, now that this issue came up there’s no point beating around the bush: we consciously played on the racist, anti-Semitic chords at the time.

However, it does not mean that Jobbik, as a political community, was racist or anti-Semitic. We did neither more nor less than what Fidesz is doing today. The difference is that we realized how destructive it was and we rose above it.

So your anti-Semitism was a political product?

Jobbik was never an anti-Semitic party even though we had some members who wanted us to become one. The people who left us and joined the Toroczkai movement or went over to Fidesz were the ones who refused to accept Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party. Niche party politics did bring us success but there’s a huge risk for niche parties: that they fulfill nothing but the needs of a subculture group and only live on the feedback coming from them, serving no other purpose than preserving such feedback. So whether this approach was driven by political rationalism, calculation, or conviction was different for each member of the party.

As a diplomat’s child, you grew up in the Middle East, in Arab countries. Was it where you absorbed some anti-Israel sentiment?

What I absorbed was friendly feelings for the Palestinians. I am very proud to be a Hungarian but what derives from the scenes of my childhood is nothing but my cosmopolitanism, in the good sense of the word; that I can pay respect to all cultures. I lived in Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war and in Afghanistan when the Najibullah regime collapsed – that’s why my sister and I had to go to a boarding school in India. As a child, I already developed an empathy for countries suffering in the grip of the big powers; the oppressed, unfortunate nations. The Palestinians are like that but I could also mention Africa, which is ruined by colonization and modern-day aid policies or such frozen conflicts like Nagorno Karabakh or Northern Cyprus...

Interestingly enough, you did not make a speech in Parliament about them, only about the Palestinians.

That’s not true! I submitted several draft resolutions to the Parliament on each of these conflicts, and I made many speeches but you are apparently not the only person whose stimulus threshold they couldn’t reach. For some reason, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets more attention.

You know the reason.

Yes, and I acknowledge that we also overemphasized this issue back then, compared to its actual effect on Hungary.

And now? Down with Israel?

Israel’s right to exist is no question for us, and they have the right for self-defence, too, but let us call attention to human rights as well. Palestinians are human beings, too. The two-state approach would be the best and most acceptable solution for us, but I’m not the one who will solve this problem.

Back in 2014, 46 per cent of Jobbik supporters believed in an international Jewish conspiracy while it was only 30% in Fidesz. What are the figures now?

I don’t know but I’m sure Viktor Orbán has greatly raised this percentage in Fidesz by now. The anti-Soros campaign before the elections was suitable for inciting anti-Semitic sentiments, too.

How can you of all people say that?!

I’ve just explained you how you can base your politics on instigating negative emotions. It was my personal experience. If there’s someone who knows, it’s me, isn’t it?

Gergely Gulyás called George Soros a compatriot who they will defend if he’s attacked on the grounds of his origins. The Israeli Prime Minister also said the anti-Soros campaign was not anti-Semitic.

I accept that criticizing George Soros and his open society ideology is not at all anti-Semitism, just like censuring Israel’s policies or raising the issue of dual citizenship are not necessarily anti-Semitism, either. However, each of these acts are suitable for instigating anti-Semitic sentiments for political benefit if they are coupled with a careful choreography. That’s the point. And it doesn’t matter how many times Netanyahu pats Orbán on the shoulder as long as the latter keeps saying things like he did on March 15 last year.

I can’t recall it now.

He said: “we must struggle with an opponent who doesn’t fight openly but keeps hiding, who is not straight but crooked, who is not honest but dishonest, who is not national but international, who doesn’t believe in work but speculates with money, who doesn’t have his own country because he feels he owns the world and always attacks the heart especially if it’s red, white and green”. This is the kind of barely concealed populist rhetoric aimed at emotions and stereotypes that we used back then, too.

It’s still the pot calling the kettle black. An ex-pot at best.

No. Now these statements are no longer made by a small niche party with a very limited growth potential and with no other goal than to sustain a political subculture. Today, they are repeated as a mantra by the head of the Hungarian government backed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It’s a party that controls most of Hungary’s media and spends an incredible amount of the taxpayers’ money on spreading government propaganda. So it’s a different situation. The fact that the political left has no means now to step up against this phenomenon is partly rooted in their overreaction to certain earlier statements, such as mine, for example.

Are you still trying to downplay your speech?

It was a big mistake, the indignation was justified, too, but the extent was not. The entire political elite came together in Kossuth Square, from the Socialists to Fidesz, organized by the Faith Church of Hungary. After that, they have no way to effectively react to Zsolt Bayer’s hatemongering or Echo TV’s references to our MP Péter Jakab as “Péter Jacob”, bullying him on account of his name and origin.

Echo TV fired the individuals who called him “Jacob”.

And then Áron Ambrózy and Gábor Megadja proudly cranked it up a notch on their Facebook pages.

It would be awkward to accuse them of anti-Semitism. Ambrózy specifically refers to himself as a “military rabbi” and their laid-back pub-like discussions have really included anything but anti-Semitism.

Echo TV did dismiss them for some reason, though. Of course, I know the reason. I am not claiming that these regime warriors are anti-Semitic. They just fell victim to Orbán’s momentary political interest. His momentary interest is to avoid even the appearance of anti-Semitism in and around Fidesz – since Orbán has once again adopted the mantra that Jobbik is a “Nazi” party.

Even though it was him who told Gábor Vona in 2017 that “you turned an anti-Semitic party into a philo-Semitic party”, so we happened to be philo-Semites in his eyes at the time because his political goal back then was to break the traditional subcultural Jobbik voter base. So these statements have nothing to do with the reality at all, they are always dictated by political interests. Right now, he’s saying there is a red and brown coalition in the making. His goal is obvious: to drive a wedge between the opposition parties to prevent any potential coordination which could enable us to break Fidesz’ rule together.

To counterbalance that, Gergely Karácsony went as far as expressing his opinion on Hír TV that asking to list Jews did not amount to anti-Semitism.

Even Gábor Vona didn’t defend me the way Gergely Karácsony has just done!

I might as well feel grateful but I wouldn’t even defend myself that much: my speech was indeed reprehensible and intolerable. Apparently, he went to the TV studio unprepared, he tried to improvise – and it came out very badly. Just like it did for me in the Parliament back in 2012. So I feel empathy for him. It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re a public figure.

Does the fact that there will be no joint opposition list for the European parliamentary elections mean that Viktor Orbán successfully drove a wedge between you?

No. There’s no point setting up a joint list for the EP elections. It’s a list vote, the whole country forms one single electorate. Coordination will have a significance at the local elections – that’s when we’ll need to find candidates all opposition parties are willing to support. Just like we could back Péter Márki-Zay in Hódmezővásárhely last year. We were the ones to discover him but we realized it was better if he didn’t run under Jobbik’s banner because we felt it was important to collect the votes of all disgruntled citizens – those dissatisfied with Orbán’s regime nationally and with Lázár’s regime locally. And it worked out fine. However, we drew very wrong conclusions from that victory for the national elections. The success got to our heads while the local loss mobilized Fidesz voters nationally.

By the way, were you aware of your fellow party member Péter Jakab’s Jewish origins?

Of course. He told us openly many years ago that his great grandfather was killed in Auschwitz.

Will you send Jakab as an envoy to the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities?

I don’t think we should send a spokesman there as an envoy. I’d rather go myself as long as being an envoy means having a discussion. I’ve never refused any kind of meeting and I would gladly clarify my personal role and my party’s progress in terms of our approach to the Jewish community.

Slomó Köves?

There’s no point trying with him, he keeps repeating Fidesz’ narrative and calling us Nazis. In the meantime, the hard-liners and “wildlings” who left Jobbik are now offered prime spots in Fidesz’ media; the very same people who disagreed with our progress into a people’s party and would have carried on with the subculture line. Today, they are given spots in the pro-government media to grind Jobbik on the grounds that the party abandoned the anti-Semitic, racist, subcultural line – while Viktor Orbán calls us Nazis. It’s not easy to follow... Being Slomó Köves can’t be easy, either.

István Szávay has resigned from his parliamentary seat after a recent audio recording of him bashing Jews. So those underlying reflexes just keep working.

István Szávay resigned, so he took the responsibility for his statements. Politics knows no stronger message than that. There’s no better way to demonstrate that Jobbik has no place for such rhetoric.

You’re lucky you said what you said back in 2012. Not only were you not required to resign, you weren’t even reprimanded by the party.

Jobbik was living a different period at the time, and the excessive backlash against my statement also prompted us to close ranks. Antal Rogán, Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai tremble on the same stage and even the lights of the Colosseum are turned off? It made our community unite in my defence.

So then you figured you’d break out of the subculture, stop bashing Jews and become a people’s party that takes over the government – but it didn’t work out.

The change was partly driven by political rationality, indeed. You can’t grow sustainably and become a governing party unless you’re in the centre. But that’s just one of the reasons and not even the most important one. As the government took over Jobbik’s earlier themes and rhetoric and began to undermine the rule of law, we realized it wasn’t the right direction – and not only because, being the opposition, we fell victim to the System of National Cooperation. The fact of the matter is that if you want to raise the society and the nation, it’s not enough to mercilessly tell the truth, explore all taboo subjects, and offend everyone who is not us. Even if many statements have some seed of truth in them.

Do they now? So Jews are money-grubbers, you’re just not supposed to say it aloud?

That’s not what I meant. I meant that the transparency of NGOs is a legitimate demand. The struggle against uncontrolled immigration benefits Hungary and Europe. However, we also see from opposition that Fidesz’ only real goal is to consolidate its power through instigating fear and hatred.

So after Fidesz’ third qualified majority, you experienced what it feels like to be a Jew.

That’s not the phrase I would use but yes, you could say that. What we may have realistically expected in a democracy was not the elimination of pluralism from the media, the erosion of independence in the judiciary system and the public institutions, the rampant corruption in the economy and a persecuted minority existence exacerbated by penalties. But it’s not our plight that matters: Hungary’s culture also recedes in the process. Culture, in the broadest sense of the word, is what can potentially give rise to a new quality of political class and attitude. However, as long as Árpád Szakács presumes to tell what belongs to the Hungarian culture and what doesn’t, and wants to eradicate those who refuse to line up behind the Orbán government, this culture will not rise again.

You came from the same group as Árpád Szakács. Greater Hungary Magazine, Trianon Review...

These publications represented high quality and filled a void, I was happy about them. Is it a problem if Hungary has a high-quality national publication for those who feel hurt by the Trianon Peace Treaty? In a free country all flowers should be allowed to bloom, from Hungarian Orange to Greater Hungary. The demand for quality will eventually separate the trash from the viable product anyway. The problem occurs when someone suddenly finds himself at the top of a gigantic media conglomerate and he is tasked with passing judgements based on political-ideological aspects and telling who is allowed to perform in a cultural institution and who is not.

Szakács and an exhibition on the Hungarian Soviet Republic were instrumental in Gergely Prőhle’s forced resignation from the Petőfi Literary Museum. Is this nearly a century-old event a “Jewish business” according to today’s Jobbik?

No. Hungary’s tragedy was that it didn’t have a strong leader at such a critical period of its life. There was no Kemal Atatürk, Churchill or Napoleon – someone who could unite the nation and demonstrate leadership on the verge of collapse. So the Hungarian Soviet Republic cannot be put down to “the Jews” although it is some sort of a national characteristic of ours that we like to blame others for all of our mistakes and weaknesses. That’s why the government’s anti-Brussels and anti-Soros campaigns work. They fit perfectly into our national character. Unfortunately, this is what our collective unconscious is like. The government ran a Jungian in-depth analysis of the Hungarian society and built a series of successful campaigns on the findings. It will have tragic consequences. The “good” scenario is that our public discourse will sink even lower. The bad one is what we’ve just seen in Poland: a mayor has already fallen victim to this kind of politics in Gdańsk. We shouldn’t let things go that far.

So the Hungarian Soviet Republic was not unleashed on us by “the Jews”. Have you perhaps gotten so far where the Holocaust is not a “Holoscam”?

Of course it isn’t, and I’ve never claimed anything like that. There was an English journalist who put such words in my mouth and they pressed charges against me but the audio recording provided clear evidence for the court that I had never said anything like that. So I’ve never questioned the number of the victims or the fact of the Holocaust. Neither will I question them in the future. It may be a slow, time-consuming process but the only way to raise a nation is by building bridges, discussing historical injuries and healing the wounds.

 

András Stumpf / Válasz Online - Jobbik.com

 

Photo: Szabolcs Vörös