Leader of Jobbik: Viktor Orbán is not a democrat
Die Presse: Do you think you have a chance to defeat Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán in the next elections?
Gabor Vona: If anyone has a chance, it's me. This is not a battle cry of some sort, it's just a statement of facts.
Orbán has apparently marked you as his greatest rival. The State Audit Office has just imposed a fine of over 2 million EUR on Jobbik, on account of illegal funding.
One and half years ago, Orbán's attacks on Jobbik crossed a certain line and they keep sinking lower and lower. When we have a debate I feel like I was a gentleman getting in the ring and I was facing a mob kingpin with a machine gun. It goes all the way to character assassination attempting to wipe me out.
Rumours were spread that you were gay.
Their goal was to destroy my political character. For conservative rural voters a homosexual prime minister is unimaginable. Orbán wants to break my spirit. They even stalked my family.
How did you find out?
There was a black car waiting in front of my house every night and followed me closely. They even hired an Italian paparazzo to photograph me taking my son to school. This went on for weeks so we spotted them, too. My son cried.
Why does Orbán take to such means? Jobbik is around 20%. That's quite far from victory.
I am not Viktor Orbán's psychologist but I know him quite well, as a student I was a member of his party. The year of 2002 was a line in his life. The first Orbán government between 1998 and 2002 was the best in the past 27 years of Hungary. However, he still lost the elections. He drew the conclusion that good governance was not enough, you had to wipe out the competition, too.
Why didn't you stay in Orbán's Fidesz?
I had already been a member of a youth organization called Jobbik. When Jobbik became a political party in 2003, it was logical for me to be there. Besides, Fidesz's fight against the Socialist government seemed to lack the momentum. Before leaving Fidesz I was offered the position of spokesman for Fidelitas. The job was later given to Péter Szíjjártó, Hungary's current minister of foreign affairs. Jobbik and Fidesz were closely related at the time. That's why many left-wing people think that today's confrontation is just an act. But it's not.
Today you present yourself as the leader of a modern, patriotic conservative party. Why should I believe this change?
There's no hard evidence that I could put on the table for you. All I can do is to talk to you, look into your eyes and tell you about the change.
Jobbik was anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and racist, inciting against the Roma. Has all that just vanished into thin air?
You can't find any quote like that from me. I overlooked these problems even though I disagreed with those statements even back then.
You were a founding member of the subsequently banned Hungarian Guard, which was clearly an anti-Roma organization.
The Hungarian Guard was founded in 2007 as an opposite pole in the society against the police terror of Gyurcsány's (editor's note: Social Democratic) government.
Terror? You established a paramilitary organization similar to those between the two World Wars. This is a form of disaster.
I know you can't imagine that in Austria but many of us felt that the Gyurcsány government was building a dictatorship in Hungary in 2006-7 to undermine the freedom of expression.
But it's far from the truth. What's your take on it now?
The Hungarian Guard developed quickly. In the meantime, the conflicts between Hungary's majority and the Roma minority were in the forefront. I was inexperienced at the time. I could not keep control of the Guard. I could not control all the events that took place.
Anti-Semitic statements were made by members of your party, which raises your responsibility as the president of the party. Your parliamentary faction leader suggested to make a list of Jews with dual Hungarian-Israeli citizenship, for security reasons.
Anti-Semitism exists in the Hungarian society. You can find it in all political parties.
But you did not do anything to scale down anti-Semitism. On the contrary: your party instigated it even more. .
I didn't feel strong enough to confront this kind approach at the time. In 2013, I decided to quit this circle. You will certainly not find anything on this issue after that.
Your MP Gergely Kulcsár's Facebook post did surface after 2013: he spat on a Holocaust memorial and expressed his regret that the extermination of Jews was incomplete.
This event took place way before 2013, it just became public later. But regardless when it was published, it is intolerable anyway.
Don't you think that many party officials and sponsors still think the same way as they did before 2013?
A year ago, I publicly apologized to all those offended by Jobbik. Today, such acts could not go without consequences.
Did you have an about-face that changed you?
It was a gradual process. Of course, I did consider the option of staying in Parliament for the rest of my life representing a party that has around 15% of the votes at each election. But I decided otherwise: either I govern the country with a people's party or I don't want to be a politician any longer.
Did you think about that you were too radical for even such parties as FPÖ or Front National to form a joint faction with you in the European Parliament?
Yes, I had to see that such parties as Front National and FPÖ could not afford domestically to have closer relations with Jobbik.
Is it easy now to organize meetings with other European parties? Or are you still treated as pariah?
It's still difficult to establish contacts like that.
You wanted a referendum in Hungary on leaving the EU. What's your take on the EU now?
If we had had this discussion in 2012, I would have told you that Hungary would have been better off not joining the EU at all. What I say now is that even though the EU's situation became worse, we still need to stay as members. The crisis of the EU gives us a chance to reform the EU in such a way that we could stay in it.
Your party is rumoured to have close ties with Russia.
We have received neither money nor any other kind of support from Russia. And we would not accept it either, unlike Front National.
Your MEP Béla Kovács was indicted on charges of spying for Russia.
The Hungarian authorities have been investigating Kovács for 4 years. They are probably planning to parade him in handcuffs during the election campaign. I don't know if the charges are true. However, if Kovács is indeed a spy, then I am the biggest victim because my party was affected.
Why were you happy about Crimea's annexation by Russia?
In terms of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, what mattered the most for Hungarians was not Crimea or East Ukraine but the Hungarian minority in the Transcarpathian region. Since the Ukrainian government adopted discriminative laws against them, it seemed to us that Russia might mean a certain counterbalance.
Jobbik used to advocate the annulment of the Trianon Peace Treaty. Do you want a Greater Hungary?
This is a historical idea. In reality what we promote is the autonomy efforts of Hungarian minorities living in the neighbouring countries. This is a completely legitimate goal even in a European context.
Something strange is going on in Hungary. Some people argue that left-wing parties should cooperate with you, a former racist and anti-Semitic party. How realistic is such a cooperation in the elections?
We will run on our own in the elections. We will run candidates in all the 106 single-member constituencies. However, if the parliamentary math allows for it, I will be ready to conduct coalition talks with the two young parties, LMP and Momentum. It might sound a bit big-headed but I am the last stronghold of Hungarian democracy.
Isn't it going too far to accuse Orbán of not being a democrat?
Orbán is not a democrat. This is the conclusion we can draw from the past 7 years of Orbán's governance. He undermines the freedom of the press, the independence of state organizations, private property and the freedom of enterprise, he attacks the NGOs and the autonomy of universities. There are no checks and balances to control the government.
What is the Achilles' heel of the Orbán regime?
This system is built on its popularity. It draws its strength from keeping the society in fear through one single political issue: migration. It keeps Hungarian citizens in a hysterical state of mind. The moment this popularity is gone, the system will collapse at once. This is because it is not supported by any kind of efficient governance.
In what way does oligarch Lajos Simicska support you?
Simicska does not support the party financially but I feel we get more and more airtime in the media outlets associated to him.
Simicska and Orbán used to be close friends and know a lot about each other. Do you think Simicska will come up with something in the campaign?
It might be a point of attacking Orbán in the campaign. But I am sceptical about it. Simicska must measure his steps carefully because Orbán is probably preparing for a fierce vengeance.
The interview was published in Die Presse, Austria, on 26.12.2017