Péter Jakab: I won’t be on the same candidate list as Gyurcsány

What does he think about those who left Jobbik? What is Jobbik today? Why did he join the party? Which opposition politician did he have a meeting with last time? What is his message to disillusioned Fidesz voters? Interview with Jobbik’s new president Peter Jakab.

hvg.hu: It’s almost noon but nobody has left Jobbik today yet, at least I haven’t read it in the news (the interview was recorded last week, after Tibor Bana left the party – the ed.). What happened?

Péter Jakab: I don’t keep records of who left Jobbik because they are not my concern. I focus on the ones who stay and keep paddling rather than the ones who leave the boat. The 87 per cent majority of our congress set the direction for us. If someone strays away to some other path, good luck.

hvg.hu: But most of the leavers could’ve been kept  in the party.

P.J.: I don’t want to keep anybody if they don’t want to stay. If someone wants to take their life or their political activity to a different direction, they must be given the chance.

hvg.hu: This “different direction” is not quite clear. Different from what?

P.J.: Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party is now complete: we position ourselves in the middle, which means that we want to reach out to all honest Hungarian people. So we are not putting the primary emphasis on ideological issues because if we were emphasizing our conservatism, we would be sending the message, right from the beginning, that we don’t even want to focus on the people who identify as non-conservative. Considering the fact that the voters are my employers however, my duty is to try to meet all voter expectations with the means that the voters gave us.

hvg.hu: Including Fidesz, I don’t think there’s any party that doesn’t believe it’s trying to reach out to all honest Hungarian people.

P.J.: What Fidesz wants is nothing but to reach out to its own voters but I don’t exclude the possibility of them or other parties being credible. The voters will decide whether or not they are. We, on the other hand, must maintain our own character while being able to find some common ground with the other opposition parties.

hvg.hu: Yes, that character is exactly what I am aiming my questions at but perhaps we can see it unfold later. I could have started this conversation with a dumb fake question, like are you a Jew or a Nazi, but having observed your recent answers to questions about your identity and world view, let me rather ask why you joined Jobbik.

P.J.: Because I was faced with a social issue. I come from Miskolc where I used to teach at a school with almost exclusively Roma children. The school was established by Roma intellectuals, by the way. There I experienced an undiluted reality which I didn’t want to become the future of my children. And I thought if the present I experienced there was to become Hungary’s future, I must do something to prevent it from happening. Naturally, I joined the political party that at least said that the problem existed.

hvg.hu: What they said was not that the problem existed. They said there was a special notion of crime called Roma crime. And they organized uniformed marches in Roma populated areas. I hope you’re not trying to convince me that these steps were going towards solving the problem?

P.J.: I told you they said the problem existed. I didn’t say they offered a credible solution at the time. It was a cry for help.

hvg.hu: This was when the Roma killings took place and you joined Jobbik around that time. Didn’t you tell your fellow party members that they shouldn’t add fuel to an already flaming fire?

P.J.: When I joined them I was looking for my place in that structure. I wasn’t forwarding messages, I was looking for tasks to do.

hvg.hu: What was your opinion of the Hungarian Guard?

P.J.: It was a social exclamation mark. It was a message for the government that Hungarian people feel abandoned in the crime-infested areas.

hvg.hu: Weren’t you a member of the Guard?

P.J.: No.

hvg.hu: We can call it an exclamation mark but what I discern from your words is that it was not a solution. Don’t you feel that the talk about Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party is just word magic to cover that you were wrong? That the direction was not right?

P.J.: In a certain sense, Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party is an admission that Jobbik was also part of the war trench politics that polarizes our society and doesn’t lead to the solution as it can’t do more than just talking about the problem. However, we mustn’t be content with talking about the problem. We have to solve it. The only way for us to solve it if our party consolidates and opens to such social groups that we used to position ourselves against. We positioned ourselves against the left but if the nation’s survival is at stake, we must be able to cooperate with those that are worlds apart from us.

hvg.hu: Such as?

P.J.: You can’t say we are close to the Democratic Coalition, for example. However, we’re in a historical situation when we must identify the common grounds.

hvg.hu: Let’s not take the common grounds yet, let’s stay with the war trenches a bit more. According to many people’s experience at the time, they were war trenches with the emphasis on “war”. Several social groups may have felt that they would be shot into those trenches, too. Wouldn’t it be easier for Jobbik to apologize to the Roma, the Jew and Budapest’s urban intellectuals the party so often ridiculed?

P.J.: The apology may be expected from those who offended these groups but not from the community as a whole because the community was never anti-intellectual. It was simply looking for the solutions for Hungary’s plight.

hvg.hu: We’re going to disagree on that, of course. It’s kind of hard to join a community without accepting its core messages. After all, wouldn’t it be more advisable to process and tell your story? Otherwise your past will keep coming back.

P.J.: The media will keep bringing it back but voters won’t. When I fell behind in Miskolc by 127 votes in 2018, I practically had twenty thousand votes just like the Fidesz candidate even though the city didn’t have twenty thousand Jobbik supporters. From leftists to undecided voters, they said they can accept the people’s party Jobbik that I represented.

hvg.hu: Jobbik was the largest in opposition at the time so whoever wanted to oust the government, especially in the country, was likely to get stuck with the candidate of the party that had thrown away its extremist clothing. The largest one never has to justify its existence but this position is contested by the Democratic Coalition and Momentum at the moment.

P.J.: The 2018 elections made it clear for us that this contest wasn’t going to be won on the opposition side. In other words, what we need to become is the leader of the forces ousting the government rather than that of the opposition. If you want to become the leader of the opposition, you can achieve your goal by gobbling up the other opposition parties but it won’t make the overall opposition larger.

hvg.hu: Don’t you think that’s what’s going on now?

P.J.: Some people are attempting to do it but if you act like that, you failed to learn from your past mistakes.

hvg.hu: Even as a member of an overall opposition, each party must be able to justify their existence. In other words, what would the overall opposition lose if there’s no Jobbik?

P.J.: The opposition would lose the national character, the provincial force. Also, if there was no Jobbik, Fidesz voters would lose their escape route. If you look at secondary preferences, you can see that many Fidesz voters would still cast their ballots for Jobbik. And this government can’t be ousted without them.

hvg.hu: This ousting is not very likely anyway. In another interview, you poetically said the opposition had to lose in 2018 so that they could learn to win in 2019. Well, I read an analysis of an up-and-coming publicist in HVG, a certain Péter Jakab, and I was pleased to see that at least some people had read the calculations I made back in October, which revealed that the opposition was not in fact getting stronger and the October results were not enough to oust the government.

P.J.: Because we were still unable to reach out to the rural villages. On the other hand, while the numbers might not have changed, the psychological situation did. We managed to break through a psychological barrier and opposition voters now believe we can beat Fidesz in an election.

hvg.hu: Although National Bank President György Matolcsy is not particularly fond of it, let’s stick with maths a bit more. The figures still indicate that the power dynamics has not changed since 2018, and the perceived atmosphere was not so different back then, either. Supporting the government publicly was not a popular thing to do. Almost everyone was bashing the government, but the election results were what they were.

P.J.: The atmosphere was indeed favourable but we failed to realize that we can’t beat Fidesz on our own. We should have agreed to coordinating our candidates with the other opposition parties.

hvg.hu: However, you are for the “one candidate, two lists” approach. Are you suggesting this arrangement to maximize votes?

P.J.: Partly yes, and partly because voters expect us to give them a choice. We mustn’t force voters into a situation where, let’s say hardcore Jobbik fans or disgruntled former Fidesz voters would have to cast their ballots for a list featuring the names of the people they have rejected all their lives. The politicians must offer an option where these voters can help ousting the government without having to say yes to individuals they’ve always said no to.

hvg.hu: Who would be on your list?

P.J.: Instead of the right vs left split, we would prefer the old vs new distinction. So one list could feature the characters from before 2010 while the other list would contain the ones who haven’t been in government and want to prove their worth.

hvg.hu: So, to put it simply, there would be a Socialist Party - Democratic Coalition joint list, and another with Jobbik, Momentum, Politics Can Be Different and, perhaps, Everybody’s Hungary?

P.J.: I’m open to this idea.

hvg.hu: But what if the others aren’t? For example, if Momentum and Dialogue would rather be on the same list with the Socialists and the Democratic Coalition for ideological and cultural reasons?

P.J.: For that matter, Fidesz may still amend the election act to prevent this whole thing from happening. So this is not a fixed system and we will have to adapt to any potential changes, too.

hvg.hu: Perhaps you will, but let’s suppose the current system remains unchanged and all the other opposition parties want an all-inclusive joint list. How would Jobbik react to that?

P.J.: This is just an assumption, there’s no point contemplating about it. There are several possible scenarios, the only certain thing is that one opposition candidate must face the Fidesz representative in each single-member constituency.

hvg.hu: Let me ask it this way then: Can you imagine yourself being on the same list with Ferenc Gyurcsány?

P.J.: No.

hvg.hu: I see. Who was the non-Jobbik politician you last talked to?

P.J.: Lóri Keresztes. (Former Politics Can Be Different co-president - the ed.)

hvg.hu: You’re both MPs, after all. Do you have any contacts with Momentum’s politicians?

P.J.: We have contacts with everyone since the overall opposition must have a roundtable to discuss potential joint actions, common issues or even our common future. There are delegations negotiating, and I’m a member of one of them.

hvg.hu: The public may be unaware of an existing opposition discussion forum or any official delegations there.

P.J.: If we didn’t engage in dialogue, how could we meet the voters’ expectations that the opposition parties should negotiate?

hvg.hu: Is this institutionalized discussion limited to parliamentary affairs or does it involve other matters, too?

P.J.: Both.

hvg.hu: You mentioned your common future. Can you tell me a few words about how the post-Fidesz government would be different from the current one, apart from the corruption and rule of law issues?

P.J.: If that future government includes Jobbik, then it will be the government of the common people rather than a construct of a society relying on wage slavery where everybody toils all day but never makes ends meet. We want a knowledge-based society which is able to compete in the international market by offering high quality. The Wage Union would be a key element in that.

hvg.hu: The common people, especially the “hard-working common people” slogan has a familiar ring to it, and I don’t think any party wants people to be unable to make ends meet. The question is, how do you want to achieve this welfare for the people?

P.J.: The biggest difference is in the economic policy: today our economy lives off our resources. The enormous amount of EU funds were wasted. They were spent on concrete structures instead of innovation.

hvg.hu: All right, but that’s the past.

P.J.: But that’s what we need to change. We don’t want to cast the money into concrete structures. We want to spend it on the people. That’s exactly what the Wage Union is about: instead of living off the resources, we should create them. The only way to do it is if employees are skilled, healthy and have good working conditions.

hvg.hu: Let’s not discuss what or who will be cast in concrete, but you will find it hard to change the use of EU funds if they are withheld or at least cut, which is highly likely to happen after 2021.

P.J.: In that regard, you can’t avoid talking about corruption and holding politicians to account, including a potential confiscation of their assets. Romania confiscated the corrupt politicians’ money and reinvested it into the economy. But we’re already better off if they can’t steal any more.

hvg.hu: Talking about education, let me ask you something as a former teacher: what would you do about the KLIK Education Centre?

P.J.: We need a healthy decentralization: we must provide a much wider autonomy for institution managers. As far as the maintenance of the institutions is concerned, if the municipalities want it, we should give it back to them. I think municipalities should be given more power in general anyway, because they are being bled out right now.

hvg.hu: Going back to the national government, you said in another interview that you couldn’t see yourself as a Prime Minister candidate. Can you imagine yourself leading a ministry in a potential post-Orbán government, though?

P.J.: I can imagine myself as Jobbik’s president and parliamentary faction leader. There’s no point talking about anything else at this moment.

hvg.hu: Some people will have to take the government seats, though.

P.J.: That’s correct but I’m not even convinced they should be politicians. I think they should be professionals. The people want a government of experts.

hvg.hu: Could you tell me some names?

P.J.: God forbid. If I mentioned any names, they would immediately be subjected to character assassination.

hvg.hu: If you refuse to tell me names and you can’t imagine being in a governmental role, you’re left with the only option in the public eye: Klára Dobrev, who does aspire to become Prime Minister.

P.J.: What we should be talking about is not aspirations but a person who could attract votes from Jobbik supporters, disillusioned former Fidesz voters, Socialists and Democratic Coalition fans alike. We will find this person and we will name them in the right moment to hopefully protect them from Fidesz’ heavy artillery. We will have to get all the other opposition parties to accept this person.

hvg.hu: Why just the parties? You could trust the voters to do that, too.

P.J.: In a democracy, in a country under the rule of law, yes. But in today’s Hungary, Fidesz can hack any primary.

hvg.hu: It did work in Budapest last year, though. And it greatly contributed to Gergely Karácsony’s election as mayor.

P.J.: Everything’s easier in Budapest. You can set up your stand in some busy traffic junctions and you can reach out to almost everybody. However, the opposition doesn’t have the resources to get to the rural villages and explain what a primary is in the first place. I don’t think we should allocate our resources to fight with each other, anyway.

hvg.hu: But primaries are quite efficient campaign strategies, and people don’t even need to go to the county capital. It’s enough to travel to the local centre.

P.J.: Of course, we might as well waste the money on primaries, and then, once we’ve done it, we can face one of the toughest regimes of our time.

hvg.hu: Don’t you feel you’re sending the message to the voters that if they want to beat Fidesz, they must vote for the likeliest opposition candidate, but you don’t allow them to have a say in selecting those candidates?

P.J.: The voter expectation I experienced was for the opposition to finally coordinate its efforts. They expected us to do so back in 2018, too, but we didn’t listen.

hvg.hu: Listening to your words and reading your earlier interviews, we might get a firm impression that you want to take Jobbik into a plebeian direction. But you’re also saying that Jobbik is the escape route for disgruntled Fidesz voters. However, those disgruntled Fidesz voters are typically conservative intellectuals. How are you going to handle them?

P.J.: Our professional policies will convince them. Who we need for ousting this government are the masses, though, and they get their information in a different way. They are informed through momentary messages, Facebook posts and street forums. When I tour Hungary and such diverse groups as Momentum and Socialist supporters or even apolitical youngsters come and tell me “Peter, we can finally see a politician we can follow”, I say “yes, and please follow me even if you don’t think you are conservative, as long as you’re honest Hungarian people”.


András Hont / HVG - Jobbik.com