"Orbán acts like a petulant child"

What is the Sargentini report really about? What could Viktor Orbán be happy about? What issues will Jobbik focus on in the EP elections? What to do about fake news? These are the questions we asked from Márton Gyöngyösi, the leader of Jobbik’s parliamentary group.

What is the realistic chance for the Article 7 sanctions being activated against Hungary based on the Sargentini report?

The chance is only theoretical because such a decision would have to be made by the European Council, which consists of the prime ministers of EU member states, and it is unimaginable in such a polarizing issue, especially considering the fact that Viktor Orbán still has some allies left and there are some others who would just not dare to risk launching a practice that the European Union has never applied before. In this regard, the voting rights in the EU decision-making process and the sanction to withhold EU funds are just theoretical. However, it is already a huge punishment for Hungary that we are considered as a black sheep in the EU on account of the report.

The report is clearly bad for Hungary but it seems to have come just in time for the government.

It will stigmatize Hungary for years to come and I think the long-term effects aren’t good for the government either, but they clearly have found their campaign agenda for next year. They keep targeting new scapegoats each year, such as the red star on the Heineken bottle, Brussels or George Soros. Now it’s Mdm. Sargentini’s turn; she is an enemy image who can be named and put on display. Furthermore, she wrote a report from which the government only read the migration issue and immigration policy even though these sections made up no more than one per cent of the document. As a matter of fact, it’s quite hard to figure out why the factual statements on the government’s undemocratic practices were accompanied in the Sargentini report by such sections that just built a theatre stage for Orbán’s performance.

The debate on the report’s interpretation is still going on. We can see how the Hungarian government and the supporters of the report focus on different things. What is the essence of the Sargentini report in Jobbik’s opinion?

It was exactly these differences of interpretation that made Jobbik abstain from the vote on the report in the EP. It’s impossible to say yes or no because the situation is not so clear. We are convinced that the report’s sections on racism and anti-Semitism in Hungary contain completely erroneous statements. The other thing is that the report’s attack on the government in terms of the migration issue is completely unnecessary because, as it is acknowledged by everyone now, we managed the crisis well and the liberal migration policy is being revised across Europe.

On the other hand, the report’s fundamental message is about the constitutional deficit, the elimination of democracy and the rule of law, and it makes factual though incomplete statements on such issues as jurisdiction, the Constitutional Court, corruption or stealing EU monies. No wonder Orbán is not focusing on the content but trying to side-track the debate instead.

For example, that the European Union shouldn’t interfere with Hungary’s domestic affairs? Even though it was him who stressed a few years ago that “no government can hide behind the principle of non-interference”.

Yes, on October 24 of 2006, the day after the unrest broke out against [then Prime Minister] Gyurcsány, Viktor Orbán asserted that the European Union should take forceful steps against national governments falsifying statistical reports, misleading the EU institutions and building their policy on lies, in other words, such acts should be considered as an internal affair of the EU. Ironically enough, the Union fulfilled Orbán’s wish against his own policy 12 years later. Let me note here that the EU should have done so against Gyurcsány, too.

That’s not the only issue where the PM changed his position. Earlier on, he lobbied for a common border protection service and now when it’s on the agenda, he fears for our sovereignty. Do we really need to worry about European mercenaries wanting to override the policies of anti-immigration countries?

Well, Sargentini wasn’t the only one to make a mistake by including the migration issue in her report; the European Union also made a mistake by timing Juncker’s state of the union speech to the day of the vote on the Sargentini report. In fact, the president of the Commission did talk about upgrading Frontex but Orbán’s rhetoric mixed it with some of the elements taken out of the report, creating an astoundingly hypocritical debate from it. [Head of Cabinet of the Prime Minister Antal] Rogán’s ministry quickly found a quote from Merkel which, taken out of its context, could be interpreted as if the EU wanted to take over control and to twist border protection competencies off the hands of national states. However, nobody says Brussels leaders want to take the gate key out of the hands of member states and drop Frontex soldiers on the continent.

When could Frontex soldiers be deployed?

The proposal clearly states that the soldiers would be ordered under national state competency, so no matter where they serve, they could only perform their activities under the laws and command of the particular country. There are two scenarios for Frontex soldiers potentially coming to Hungary: if the country so requests because it has no sufficient capacity to protect the border; or if it is completely clear in a critical situation that we are unable to perform our border-guarding duties. Orbán should actually be happy to have won the battle. There’s no Willkommenskultur any longer. The leaders of the EU have just made a proposal to reinforce border protection services. While being closed to migration, the gates actually opened wide for Orbán. All he should do is to walk right in and reap the fruits of this diplomatic success. Instead, he kicks the negotiating table over and acts like a petulant child.

But if you say that the government won this battle, then how can the election be interpreted as a clash between pro-immigration and anti-immigration groups?

The key to that is that we live in parallel worlds. There is a virtual reality created by the government through its propaganda in the past 2-3 years, where they developed a battleground with a constant virtual struggle going on there. Most Hungarian citizens have not read the Sargentini report, just like they didn’t listen to Juncker’s state of the union speech, and they’re not informed about the contents of the Frontex proposal, either. They could rely on nothing but the Prime Minister’s interpretation, which transferred them into the virtual space created by Orbán’s hybrid system providing the framework for this ongoing debate. The government can no longer re-enter real space because it would be faced there with such issues as the brain drain, the real situation of our healthcare, education or economy, which would not paint quite a nice picture of the government. So it sticks to instigating hatred and fear until the balloon finally bursts.

They have been blowing air into this balloon for quite a while and it doesn’t seem to be about to burst. Or has Jobbik found the needle in the haystack to pierce the balloon with?

I think we must never give up trying to awaken the people to what’s going on around them. I am convinced that just like trees don’t grow to the sky, this balloon can’t be blown forever either. Jobbik won’t take part in the virtual struggle. Instead, we are going to increase the pressure in the real sphere, we’re going to address real problems which could be defined as key issues for the Hungarian nation.

Such as?

For example, our European parliamentary election campaign is going to focus on three issues that could be solved in cooperation with the EU. One such issue is migration where, unlike Orbán, we’ve realized that there are no individual strategies for such a global problem. The border fence was a good short-term solution but a few kilometres of fence along the Hungary-Serbia border cannot possibly tackle a crisis of this magnitude, so we must develop a common strategy. Then there’s the issue of autonomy. What we aim to achieve is cultural autonomy for minorities living in diaspora and regional autonomy for indigenous minorities with larger populations.

Which areas would the latter affect in terms of Hungarian minorities?

Transcarpathia, the Northlands, Voivodina and Szekler Land. In Western Europe, the post-WW2 agreements on minorities largely contributed to peace. If the EU could implement it here, it could be instrumental in the stability of the Eastern European region. Unless the region runs out of people, that is. Which takes us to the third, the social issue that we already raised in terms of the Wage Union, too. The free movement of capital and workers within the EU resulted in the negative consequence that the young people of the Eastern European states migrated to the west. In Hungary, this forecasts an economic and demographic crisis as well as the collapse of the social supply systems.

Would the Wage Union be sufficient to solve this problem on its own?

The problem must be addressed both at national and EU levels. The EU can decide to set a new direction for its cohesion policy, appoint a Commissioner in charge of cohesion and issue monitoring reports to make sure that integration is really taking place. In the meantime, governments must eliminate corruption and invest cohesion monies into projects that increase productivity and competitiveness instead of paving the main squares of depopulated villages. In other words, they should put the money into education and training: areas that contribute to the mental and physical welfare of Hungarian workers.

Is this the way you think you could prevent this government from winning the elections again? By equipping the people with the knowledge to distinguish between real news and the fake news making up the government’s virtual reality?

Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than that. We must realize that Hungary is one of those few countries where the government doesn’t fight fake news but rather generates and sponsors them instead. Despite being financed from the taxpayers’ money, the public media is a key channel for spreading fake news. Also, there are many people who think that if it’s on the evening newsreel, it must be reliable news. It’s hard to compete with that. I think the alternative news sources must develop a counterbalance for that: they must maintain their credibility more than ever before. I’m convinced that these outlets will attract people because readers ultimately keep looking for reliable news sources.

And what’s the role of politicians?

Our task is to step out of this false thematizing space ourselves and create the forums for real dialogue. Either in the real media sphere, in the street, at the door of each house or in an alternative parliament.