Márton Gyöngyösi: Gyurcsány is a bigger obstacle to the joint opposition list than gay marriage

We interviewed Jobbik’s executive vice president Márton Gyöngyösi in the European Parliament building in Brussels. He told us if he regrets to see some politicians leaving Jobbik; if ex-PM Gyurcsány is worse than gay marriage and why foreigners are still startled when they hear Jobbik’s name.

Schiffer is frustrated – this was your reaction to András Schiffer’s Facebook post, in which the former Politics Can Be Different co-president claimed that all opposition parties, including Jobbik, had become like the Democratic Coalition. What’s your dispute with him? 

There’s no dispute between us. I am a bit surprised by the situation, though, because we have a good relationship with András Schiffer. And as for his reference to my ill-formed half sentence back in 2012, I really don’t understand because he was the only one in the entire Hungarian political spectrum to consistently protect me.

Maybe he knows you and likes you so much that he is worried for you not to become like the Democratic Coalition.

I do understand András Schiffer’s frustration stemming from the fact that he was unable to carry his “politics can be different” idea through, and when he saw it couldn’t be done, he left the political arena. I’ve read all his articles explaining why this regime can never be ousted using the traditional party political means. I respect this opinion but I think it’s very steep when a former opposition politician, who left the political arena behind, blames the opposition for all of Hungary’s current problems. It’s a strange notion even if we are not in our best form, beyond doubt. There’s a reason for that.

So you don’t believe politics can be different?

What I believe is that politics can be conducted differently from the way it was done in the past thirty years: more transparently, without corruption, in alliance with the people and creating consensus in terms of key all-national issues. However, you can’t expect me to know what András Schiffer was thinking when he founded his movement.

Schiffer’s idea had an anti-globalist aspect...

I still represent that idea with him, shoulder to shoulder up to this day. For example, we handed each other the baton in the struggles against CETA and TTIP.

The other issue where politics can be different according to Schiffer is that Viktor Orbán cannot be replaced by those who had any leading position in 2010, including Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Jobbik says the same thing. If there’s any Hungarian politician who made their position clear about the number of opposition lists in 2022, it was Péter Jakab.

What would Mr Jakab’s two lists look like? Jobbik on one list on its own and everybody else on the other? Or would Jobbik like to build up some kind of pole around the party?

When Péter Jakab asked for the support of Jobbik’s congress, he told them he would never be on the same list with Ferenc Gyurcsány. But he had another statement, too: “our movement was founded to fight robbers, but murderers sat on our backs in the meantime”. The problem has become more acute than it was in the 2000s.

So can we state that Gyurcsány is not quite as bad as Orbán?

When it comes to the future of our country, we shouldn’t be facing a dilemma between potential alliances with robbers vs. murderers. The problem is clear: there’s a two-thirds majority government that shapes the election law as it pleases. The opposition may agree to coordinate candidates in all the 106 single-member constituencies and set up two or three lists, while Fidesz may as well submit an election bill on Friday and neutralize all these efforts by Monday.

That’s why so many people say that the opposition should run a joint list. Fidesz is not likely to ban that.

That’s true. However, it would be great to oust this government without having to return to the pre-2010 era, letting the same politicians climbing into power on our backs who were responsible for Fidesz’ two-thirds victory in the first place.

But it’s not you who let these politicians climb your back, it’s the voters. The fact that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party is the strongest on the opposition side is a result of a voter decision.

Let me note here that the result was achieved in an EP election that follows a very special logic. However, if we want to replace this government together, we need to divide the labour properly. The Democratic Coalition can reach out to those they wish to attract based on their programme while we, in line with our self-definition which is also reflected in the polls, will reach out to centre-right, conservative, Christian-Social groups, with our wage union initiative, for example.

Jobbik’s wage union is almost like the Democratic Coalition’s European minimum wage.

Not at all. The issue of the European minimum wage is important, but it’s just a small nuance compared to the cause of reducing the East-West wage gap. The common minimum wage cannot be achieved without first implementing the wage union. However, it is a fact that the Democratic Coalition attacked our wage union initiative at first and then, after a few years, they put the wage union’s slogans on their campaign banners in last year’s EP elections.  

Then you should be happy that the Democratic Coalition became like Jobbik.

What I am undoubtedly happy about is that all opposition parties agree with the goals of the wage union initiative now, at least as far as words go. This is recognition of our work and our political activity.

So you are fully convinced that the opposition could attract more voters with two lists.

The goal is to offer an alternative to each and every voter who can’t wholeheartedly cast their ballots for particular opposition groups.

So let me ask again: Jobbik wants to be on one list on its own or would your party like to form a pole together with some others?

This could be the outcome of a long negotiation process.

But what would you like?

If somebody longs for the good old days before 2010, they should be given a chance to vote for a joint Democratic Coalition - Socialist Party list. There should also be another list with the 21st-century parties such as Politics Can Be Different, Momentum and Jobbik.

Jobbik basically follows a conservative social policy while Momentum doesn’t. Just look at gay marriage. Don’t you see such stark contrasts between Momentum and your party that would exclude any cooperation?

I would be the happiest politician if Hungary’s disputes got to the point where gay marriage is a key issue. Momentum is not likely to agree with me on that one, but this is not the most important question in Hungary today.

Is it “Orbán or not Orbán”?

Yes.

But that’s another argument for the joint opposition list. No matter where you stand in terms of gay marriage or your opinion on Ferenc Gyurcsány, the point is that you don’t want Mr Orbán. Or is Mr Gyurcsány worse than gay marriage? 

No. The question of gay marriage is an ideological dispute which is outside the issue of searching for a national consensus. We need to have a national consensus on wanting to live in a democracy, under the rule of law, with a transparent election system that provides equal conditions.

And you wouldn’t have a consensus with Mr Gyurcsány on these issues?

Perhaps we would in these particular issues. But he’s still such a polarizing person in the Hungarian political arena who would make citizens reject the joint list even if they are interested in ousting Orbán.

However, if you do get into government, you would have to give some position to Ferenc Gyurcsány or his wife, Klára Dobrev. Does this upset Jobbik’s stomach?

First of all, it’s a long road that leads to forming a government. We have done a lot of things over the past 6-7 years to become a centre-right party, which allowed this all-opposition coordination to happen. Other parties didn’t necessarily do these things; many of the old parties didn’t go through what we did. So we can now state that this community has finished its progress into a people’s party.

Is the process complete?

This process was completed with the municipal elections.

Is it helped by the latest departures, too?

Back when he was elected as party president, Péter Jakab predicted that some people might not bear the pressure and leave.

So István Szávay, Tibor Bana and János Bencsik couldn’t bear Péter Jakab’s pressure?

The pressure means the challenges they have to meet. The leavers had different ideas about many things and differences of opinion are natural in a party. But members of a healthy community always accept the result of an internal election. 

What is your debate actually about? As an outsider, it’s hard to understand because we thought that when Toroczkai and his group left, the party’s transformation was complete and those who stayed were all dedicated to the new Jobbik.

I cannot give you an answer on why it happened this way.

But did you feel that the “Szávay Clan” was too far to the right of Jobbik’s people’s party line?

You should ask these questions from Szávay and those who left. I would rather not call the group “Szávay Clan” because many of the people who are close to him are still members of our community. For example, János Stummer is often referred to as a member of that group, even though he chairs the Hungarian Parliament’s most important committee, the national security committee.

So he’s not leaving?

He may have been happier about some other results in the internal election but he accepted them. There was some friction in the election...

What was the friction about? It was basically about who likes Péter Jakab and who doesn’t, wasn’t it? Or was it about what direction Jobbik should take?

Everybody has accepted the people’s party line, even those who are now leaving.

That’s exactly why this wave of leavers seems so strange. When Toroczkai and his group left, it was clear that the far right wing is getting detached from the party but now the leavers include such faces as Tibor Bana, who we don’t think is far right.

This dispute is not like that. There may be some human problems. As far as Tibor Bana is concerned, he didn’t run for vice president because Péter Jakab said he would veto it. This can’t have been a good feeling for Tibor Bana even though there was a reason for that veto. But you mustn’t get offended about such a thing.   

Why did Mr Jakab suggest he would veto him?

There are some cases when two people just can’t work together.

Personally, do you regret that you won’t be able to work together with some of the leavers in the future?

There’s no place for sentimentalism in this situation. We are subjected to a war on Jobbik, and it’s been going on for a long time, just look at the fine that the State Audit Office imposed on our party. This is a mentally gruelling process: it’s not easy to be in opposition and in the crosshairs for nine years. Some people get bored or tired of it, they can’t take it mentally and they leave. I want to focus on the ones who stay instead.

So Fidesz is not likely to be behind the latest leavers, unlike in the case of Our Homeland Movement.

I can’t be sure of that. What I am sure of, though, is that Fidesz is behind Our Homeland Movement.

But don’t you think Fidesz bought István Szávay out?

I don’t focus on that. I wish good luck for them.

The latest news is that some Zala County Jobbik members left the party saying that Jobbik was controlled by two dictators. What do you say about that?

First of all, the news was about two Zala County members leaving but one of them didn’t actually leave. The earth will not shatter with this news. I wish good luck for them. If you know Péter Jakab or me, you know that we earned the trust of the congress by presenting the vision of a transparent and merit-based party. All the steps we’ve taken since have moved us in that direction. Ever since I became a MEP, I’ve sent out monthly reports on what I was doing. Dictators don’t tend to inform all their members about their day-to-day activities.

Is it a win for Jobbik when people leave if they don’t want to be a part of it?

If you want to go to battle, you need people who are full of vitality and are eager to do something. If you don’t have these qualities, you are rather a burden.

Aren’t you afraid that the new leavers may form another party?

I think there’s already a surplus of parties in Hungary today. I can imagine Fidesz needed Our Homeland to show for something that is even farther to the right than them, but they almost fall off the map.

Is it fair to say that Fidesz is the far right today?

Considering their latest statements and methods, yes, it is.

So then how can you explain why the European People’s Party still clings to its opinion that you are far right so you have no place in the EPP?

What I feel is that the process Jobbik went through has not been recognized by the EPP or the international public, either.

What can you do so that Jobbik would be no longer associated with the Hungarian Guard, the anti-Gypsy statements or your comment on Jews in Parliament? Shouldn’t you change your name like Gianfranco Fini did in Italy?

The Italian political arena is different: they can easily change their names or ideological lines, Italian voters may be used to it. On the other hand, Hungarian voters think in brands which are imprinted in people’s minds. As a politician involved in foreign affairs, I must focus on forming the international public opinion. Jobbik however, must primarily offer an alternative for Hungarian voters.

And how are you doing in that regard?

Jobbik is an established brand in the Hungarian voters’ minds, and the progress into a people’s party went across to them, too.

And how can you get this message across abroad?

By communicating Jobbik’s progress through a diplomatic campaign. One key element is to emphasize our results in the municipal elections where Jobbik’s candidates won the mayoral seats with an all-opposition support in large cities. Obviously, this could not have happened if Jobbik was still a far right party. We don’t necessarily need to refer to Ágnes Heller and György Konrád but they both said Jobbik had already proven it changed.

But those statements are important kosher stamps.

Well, they are important statements.

Do people, journalists still cringe in the European Parliament when you say Jobbik?

Last July, Jobbik’s name was basically associated with Béla Kovács and Krisztina Morvai. So we did start from a far point, no doubt. One of my tasks today is to change Jobbik’s perception, so when I speak, I must deliver messages that the majority of the MEPs can identify with, even if we don’t agree on everything.

Some people must have identified with Krisztina Morvai when she spoke.

It would be great if the majority of Eurocentric MEPs could finally identify with a Jobbik MEP. They might not agree with us in everything but they appreciate that we represent an intelligent, well-founded and professionally sound opinion and that we want constructive debates. I do get positive feedback on our efforts to change the perception of Jobbik.

From parties or MEPs?

Both. The other day a CDU MEP blue-carded me when I talked about the elimination of the East-West wage gap in the debate of the next seven-year budget cycle. If you raise your blue card, you can ask an ad hoc question from the speaker. After the session, this MEP came up to me and we had a good discussion. When he asked me which party I belonged to, he was surprised, but it gave me a chance to talk about Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party.

If you could choose freely, which European party family would you join?

I wouldn’t join any of the groups at the moment. The radical left GUE/NGL, the liberal Renew Europe and the Greens: no. My primary preference lies somewhere between the EPP and the ECR group. However, the EPP has Fidesz and I can’t sit in the same rows with them. Nevertheless, the EPP is a melting pot where Jobbik otherwise could have a place.

As far as the ECR is concerned, I have observed a significant shift to the right in recent months, which may be due to the Tory exit and the group balance overthrown by the Brexit. Even when Salvini’s Identity and Democracy (ID) group was formed, you could see a certain exchange between them and ECR. First, the Tory exit caused the ECR to start gravitating towards the ID and second, they more openly express their sympathy for Orbán and they are making space for him just in case. This tendency is palpable in the votes, too. I’m also convinced this is a key topic in the Orbán-Kaczyński discussions as well.

To quote you, Jobbik as “a party dedicated to the EU and the reduction of the East-West wage gap”, might not really fit into the ECR which includes some EU-sceptics and neoliberals (i.e., the SaS of Slovakia).

Let me point out that the SaS is neoliberal in terms of the economy but not ideologically. Back to your question: With regard to the ECR, I am still waiting because if Fidesz really transfers there, then I would not join them. Especially because if it truly happens, the Fidesz-Lega connection would most certainly lead to a gravitation between the ECR and the ID. This would generate tensions within the ECR, potentially causing some MEPs to leave the group. The situation that Fidesz is now causing in the EPP can’t be held up until the end of the world. It has to be resolved sooner or later. But this interim state may be good for both sides in a way. Fidesz can claim that it’s not really a member of the EPP any longer, even though it is, whereas the Germans can say they treat Orbán harshly, when they actually aren’t. After ten years in politics and as a leader of a party that has gone through quite a few things, I must say I don’t think it’s possible to handle such tensions in the long run.

Do you think that the EPP will have to split along this fault line some time in the future?

This situation must be resolved somehow sooner or later.

So you expect to see a centre right group without Fidesz; a group that Jobbik could join?

Even that is possible. What I’ve noticed however, is that the EPP has recently shifted towards a leftist, federalist line - in that regard, there might be some truth in what Orbán is saying. I don’t believe in this EPP line, either.

Isn’t the wage union a massively federalist idea, though?

I believe in an essentially confederative Europe. This is the only model capable of resolving the seemingly antagonistic opposition between diversity and unity. The wage union, if implemented, would indeed transfer some powers to the EU. But since it would cause a welfare boost in Hungary, I would be willing to sacrifice a part of our sovereignty in this case.

Federation is best for the periphery. The higher the redistribution, the worse it is for the rich and the better for the poor, logically speaking. A federal Europe would benefit the kind of nations like Bulgaria or Hungary.

It depends on when we arrive at that point. At present, what I see is that Hungary, until it is fully integrated, must have some means to protect itself from the harmful effects. As soon as we entered the European single market, our labour force immediately began to flow out of Hungary. Hungary has no way of safeguarding its economy with protective duties...

That’s why federationists say that we should be focusing on creating a social Europe instead of a Europe of money which has already been realized, so that Europe could become more united and federative at a social level. And that would be in Hungary’s interest.

That’s right but we don’t get any guarantee for that. The biggest problem is that when we joined the EU, we gave up all the means that could have helped us start out on the path of integration. And now we are offered the vision of a federal Europe which is supposed to be based on some common European identity, which I can’t see anywhere. As long as the EU keeps denying its common Christian roots as its identity-forming element, there’s nothing to talk about. Running a Eurovision Song Contest and parroting that the EU is “unity in diversity” don’t make an identity.

But you can still make a social Europe even if there’s no agreement on whether Europe is Christian or not. You need to make decisions on such practical matters as: should the EU continue to control one per cent of member state GDPs, as it does now, or 25 per cent as in the US?

In the US they raise the Star-Spangled Banner and everybody’s tearing up. In contrast, the EU flag as a symbol would never make an Italian, a Hungarian or a Swede go to war. This is the kind of commitment I mean when I talk about the importance of a European identity.

Do you really need an identity to build a social Europe? People may be tearing up from different things but they can still agree on technical issues. The problem with the wage union is not the presence or lack of an identity. It’s that the Germans certainly wouldn’t want it.

I disagree. I think what upsets German taxpayers is that their money is stolen by a government that they keep alive.

They have their own interest in that, too, which leads us back to the point that a federative, more social Europe could be the alternative.

They must have an interest in preventing Europe from tearing apart. That’s why I believe in the idea of a social Europe with solidarity but I think it’s useless to press the federation issue as long as there’s no common European identity. No matter what form we give to the European cooperation, the identity issue is unavoidable. By the way, I have just bought Varoufakis’ latest book and I respect him very much for what he attempted to do.

Then Jobbik may be looking at the wrong place on the right side. What you’re talking about are leftist ideas.

Economically speaking, I might even be pro-left, I don’t think labels matter.

If that’s so, why don’t you join the Greens?

They have a very different socio-political and ideological thinking than mine.

Jobbik is a difficult cross-breed in the European political map: centre-left economic policy, centre-right social policy, promotes a wage union but rejects federalism...

Prepare to be shocked: in the latest debate on the free trade agreements, the far-left GUE/NGL group voiced the closest opinion to mine.

That’s why I’m trying to pull something out of you as to which European political formation or which politician you can identify with. Do you listen to the CDU with your mouth agape? Or perhaps the Czech communists?

I’d rather not say any names because I can already see your next article when you contact the person and ask them: “Jobbik MEP Márton Gyöngyösi admires your speeches, what’s your reaction?” and then they would have no choice but to disown me. But joking aside, we are talking about the very important question how the essence of politics has changed. If being attached to a group didn’t involve certain advantages, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Let me note that I have only benefited from being a non-attached MEP so far: I got what I wanted in terms of speaking time and committee membership as well. The fact that I can now deal with foreign affairs is due to my being non-attached.

What do you mean when you say politics has changed?

When I look at Politics Can Be Different or Momentum, or any other new party, I kind of see the Jobbik phenomenon. Because there are causes where it’s not hard for us to represent the same opinion and even support each other. This is how I view my own activity in the EP as well. I will tolerate a far-left politician contacting me even though there’s only one thing we agree on: our opinions are similar about the free trade agreements. European politics must get to the point where we can promote particular causes together and make alliances across the ideological divide.

Is this the 21st-century politics that Gábor Vona talks about?

Absolutely.

By the way, what do you think about Gábor Vona’s current role? Does Jobbik expect him to come back?

There’s no point delving into that because Gábor Vona made it clear that he gave up party politics.

I don’t think he wants to live his whole life as a vlogger.

But you can rest assured that Vona has given up party politics for good. I am absolutely certain he doesn’t aspire to be president of a party, either.

So doesn’t he float over Jobbik’s head as some kind of a spiritus rector?

No. I have good personal relations with him; it’s no secret that we talk...

Do you analyze Jobbik’s progress, too?

Of course, I ask for his opinion and he tells me what he thinks. But he only does it as a friend, not as an advisor or a person wishing to influence any decisions in Jobbik. He established a foundation to act as an NGO and shape Hungary’s political landscape by promoting certain civil causes. This is an interesting experiment which would automatically be successful in Germany, England or the US. But this genre is still unknown in Hungary.

Does Gábor Vona provide the intellectual background for Jobbik; something Politics Can Be Different lacks, according to András Schiffer?

I wouldn’t say that but there’s no doubt that Gábor Vona’s current activity could greatly help the opposition as a whole and Jobbik, too.

You’ll still be a MEP at the time of the 2022 elections. Does it mean that you don’t want to run for a seat in the Hungarian Parliament?

Besides being a MEP, I’m also Jobbik’s executive vice president. This is unprecedented in Jobbik’s history. Being a MEP often means being sidelined...

Not in Momentum, though.

That’s correct. Last year’s EP election was their first big challenge and they ran their most popular faces so that they could succeed.

Rumour has it that Democratic Coalition’s Klára Dobrev may run for PM in 2022.

That’s right, but it’s a new phenomenon, anyway. Generally speaking, MEPs tend to be detached from Hungarian domestic politics.

What’s your goal: to be more detached or more attached?

As executive vice president, I want to take my share in forming the life of the party.

Many people say you’re the strong man behind Péter Jakab.

The president-executive VP structure means a tandem-like operation: we lead the party together and we determine the party’s line together with the board, as laid out in our statutes.

So you’re almost like a co-president?

We chose a different title for a reason. The cooperation between the president and the executive vice president is strong but I don’t control the processes. I had an active role in helping Péter Jakab to become faction leader, considering the fact that I couldn’t fill that role as a MEP. So it’s perhaps not a surprise that Péter Jakab nominated me as his executive VP. We can work together well.

So are you going to appear in the 2022 campaign as a candidate or otherwise?

That hasn’t been decided yet.

For example, in the foreign affairs area?

Perhaps. But it’s too early to talk about that. First we should find the structure that would enable us to oust this government.

What are the most important steps Jobbik has to take this year to counterbalance the negative effects of the leaving members and the bad poll figures?

There are lots of things to do in Hungary and in Brussels, too. As far as the EP is concerned, my main task is to communicate our progress into a people’s party. I also focus on some other issues, such as the wage union initiative, which is met with open minds, in my opinion. It’s just that these discussions often go astray, and the issue tends to get mixed with the gender pay gap even though the wage union is about the integration of the underdeveloped regions.

In order for Jobbik to represent it efficiently, first you need to put the party in order.

Certainly. But I could still represent this message in all EU forums. The other major issue is the launch of a European public media outlet. This is not to be mistaken for Euronews, which has a different function. If Europe wants to effectively step up against the flow of fake news coming from Russia and the US, which completely undermines European cooperation at the moment, we need to take measures like that. Especially because an independent EU public media would be key for the formation of a European narrative and identity. 

What do you think about the EU’s enlargement? Many people suggest we shouldn’t take on the challenges that would come with Albania, Serbia and Macedonia.

Essentially speaking, I am pro-enlargement, especially since enlargement doesn’t happen overnight.

Hungary was an eminent student and became what it is now...

Which is a good indication that the accession process and the criteria might not have been sufficiently developed. On the other hand, you must see that there’s a geopolitical war going on for the Balkans. There’s Turkey there with a very strong cultural presence...

Russia, too, through the Orthodox Church.

Russian geopolitical thinking has always considered the Balkans as a backyard for Russia to represent its interests. By giving up on the enlargement and excluding these countries from the accession process, Europe would hand over these neighbouring areas on a silver platter to Turkey, Russia and other geopolitical players. After assisting the US in the wrong decisions when they destabilized the Northern African and Middle Eastern states and then Ukraine, too, leaving Europe completely vulnerable...

What do you mean by destabilizing Ukraine?

Ukraine is the field for a geopolitical conflict between Russia and the US; Europe has a secondary role there. The events are unfolding according to Russia’s scenario, which is bad news for Europe. Handling such destabilization efforts has never been Europe’s forte. One clearly visible consequence is the migration wave, for example. Europe fundamentally needs a construct, a narrative that could identify Europe as a united block against other geopolitical powers.

Does Europe need an army, according to Jobbik?

This matter should be a subject of discussion, too. I am pro-NATO: I could only think of a European army as part of NATO, and not as a parallel structure. On the other hand, we obviously need a united European border guard service, and a strong one, too. Frontex is not bad for a foundation but in its current form it certainly won’t be able to accomplish the mission that it will soon be required.

Do the Russians still contact you on account of Béla Kovács or have these relations perished after he left the party?

Béla was the key person for the Russia relations, and his departure has undoubtedly had an effect on them. But it wasn’t just his departure that weakened our Russia relations. There were other factors, too.

So the Russians understood they shouldn’t look for Jobbik.

There were several factors at play there. Viktor Orbán has become Vladimir Putin’s greatest friend: if Russia needs a contact in Hungary, they have the Prime Minister with his nearly absolute power here. 

Jobbik’s Russia policy was widely misunderstood in Hungary. Our principle is that we want to maintain good and balanced relations with each great power, including Russia. As far as Ukraine is concerned, there was only one time when we said the same as Russia: to protect the minority rights of the Russian-speaking citizens living in East Ukraine, Russia said roughly the same as Jobbik said in terms of the 150-thousand-strong Hungarian community living in Transcarpathia. That’s when we started promoting autonomy for the Transcarpathian ethnic Hungarian community. However, this matter, i.e., that of the Transcarpathian Hungarians, was the only thing that helped us establish contacts in Russia. Whenever I travelled to Moscow, this issue was always in the centre of our discussions.

Do you still go to Moscow regularly?

No. Viktor Orbán has completely monopolized Russian relations in recent years.

 

 

Péter Techet / Azonnali - Jobbik.com