Péter Jakab: It may be a good idea for the opposition to nominate a joint PM candidate

•Jobbik wears neither Nazi pants nor red vests, says Péter Jakab.

•Jobbik’s newly-elected president believes the party is not going to split as its strategy was approved by 87 per cent of the national congress. 

•On the other hand, he wasn’t surprised by the departure of several members who are not interested in the party’s personal, organizational and structural renewal, he says.

•He denies any ideological split between him and any group within the party.

•The people’s party policy excludes any anti-Semitic and anti-Roma acts or statements. The party wants to represent all honest Hungarians, without any regard to their origin or affiliations.

•He wants neither a joint MP candidate list with former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány nor primaries in every constituency. Instead, he proposes to jointly nominate the 106 candidates in the single-member constituencies and the opposition’s PM candidate as well.

Is Jobbik becoming like the Socialist Party?

No, Jobbik has become a people’s party. This process has just finished with my election as the president, which may allow us to reach out to some citizens who used to vote for the Socialists. When I meet citizens I never ask them if they voted for the Socialists, the Democratic Coalition or anyone else. All I ask them how we could help. And if I can solve their problem, or at least they can see that I do my best to solve it, they might vote for Jobbik next time. This doesn’t mean that Jobbik became like the Socialist Party. It just means that we are able to reach out to wider social groups.

That was a clever move to divert your answer but my question was related to the organizational matters. The Socialists have seen several of their politicians leaving the party recently and we have witnessed a  similar wave in Jobbik, too – again. Did you expect this to happen when you were elected as president a few weeks ago?

What I expected was that Jobbik wanted a renewal and the message of the 87% was exactly that. Jobbik wants to go through an organizational and structural change, and that’s what I suggested to do. This community wants to see new faces who are intent on getting ahead based on their merits, rather than using their friendships made in smoky pubs. Obviously, when you start moving old, ossified limbs, they will crack and pop a bit. It happens all the time but as soon as we’re over it, we can start the building process with fresh forces. That’s what’s going on in Jobbik now.

In your speech at the congress you said you expected quite a few people to leave the party in the next two years. Some will be taken by Fidesz, others will just not be able to bear the pressure, you claimed. So which group do the recent leavers belong to?

You should ask them why they left. I don’t see any pronounced ideological differences within the party and I don’t understand any reference to that. I don’t think it’s sincere.

But many of them said they couldn’t identify with the Jakab line. What is it in the Jakab line they can’t agree with?

The mandate of the congress binds us. I laid out the strategy there and then we asked the members if they agreed with it. Nearly 90 per cent said they did. From then on, my job is to keep this line and guide all of us in this direction. If you can come with us, do so, and you’ll be expected to work hard and fight hard, and that’s exactly why I was elected by the members of this community: to fight, because that’s what they want, too. However, if you want to stray to some other path, we wish you good luck and you’re better off taking the other way at the crossroads.

Are there any people whose departure is painful for you?

Those who matter are the ones who stay. I focus on them.

But János Bencsik or István Szávay  must have personally explained to you why they wanted to leave. What ideological conflict caused them to quit?

There’s no ideological conflict within the organization. Those who agree with Fidesz are already in the Our Homeland party or even joined Fidesz. In contrast, those who want to oust Fidesz and conduct a truly national people’s party policy stayed with us. The way István Szávay left was correct because he didn’t join Fidesz’ camp. Instead, he said he was going to take a step back. We thank him for everything he has done for us.

However, he still said he was not going to stay in Jobbik if it follows this route and several others, who work as national politicians in foundations, municipal councils or local groups said the same. Once again: is there an ideological split?

I really don’t see any ideological split. Neither István Szávay nor János Bencsik can have left because of the people’s party line or my alliance policy since they were the ones who had organized the opposition cooperation in Budapest before the municipal elections. So they set the example for the whole party. As far as my national political convictions are concerned, I never said anything similar to what they ascribe to me now.

Still, when Bencsik quit the party he said you told him in the faction meeting that national political issues would no longer be important.

What I said was that Jobbik was going to continue following a pro-right, Christian conservative ideology but our daily policies will be determined by the people’s daily problems. These problems are beyond any ideology: the disintegrating hospitals, unheated classrooms, slave wages and humiliatingly low minimum pensions affect all losers of the Orbán regime, not just pro-right people. I’m sorry if someone is able to twist these words and say that we would not focus on national policy on account of the leftist voters. On the contrary, we are very much going to focus on national policy because we represent the whole nation.

The Jobbik members who left the Debrecen group wrote: “Péter Jakab seems to have handed over the party to Gyurcsány and the key of the party foundation’s treasury to Fidesz.” That’s a serious accusation. Is there truth in it ?

I haven’t heard such hogwash for a long time. Jobbik has decided to go for an organizational renewal, and some people are willing to carry it out and do their best for it, while others simply find it harder to accept. But once again, who I focus on are the 87 per cent and those of the other 13 per cent who didn’t vote for me but want to fight for this country in Jobbik. Because there are some people like that, too.

Let me point out, by the way, that the latest polls show Jobbik moving out of its stagnant position and starting to grow, which indicates that the direction is right. Of course, I don’t know if it’s due to me or the new board but the poll was conducted after the election of officials and it certainly shows one thing: we are able to grow. Another very important thing: Jobbik didn’t grow at the expense of the other opposition parties. Instead, we’ve been able to reach out to new supporters from the undecided voter groups. It’s vital for us to go on like this because even if we add up the current number of opposition voters, it’s not enough to replace this government. We need more voters and Jobbik’s goal is to mobilise indifferent voters in order to oust the government.

So Péter Jakab’s Jobbik is not leaning to the left?

Jobbik is in the centre and our goal is to reach out to every citizen as a people’s party. As a matter of fact, our founding charter already laid it out back in 2003 that Jobbik represents the whole nation, which includes every honest Hungarian person.  In fact, if we want to reintegrate all those who the Orbán regime rejected from the nation’s body just because they are poor and downtrodden such as home caregivers or patients.  The government wants their votes but refuses to treat them as partners.

It might be too early to consider Jobbik’s current growth as a trend but the party did seem to return to the public eye, at least as a theme to talk about. I mean things like your leaked tapes, screenshots, accusations and the people who leave the party day after day. What do these things mean then?

When the government’s propaganda machine focuses on us in a negative way, it’s always a sign for me that Jobbik is on the right track. I would be worried if Fidesz wasn’t attacking us because it would mean they are not afraid of Jobbik. When they try to character-assassinate us and envision a split after each quitter (I can’t even follow how many times we’ve split according to that logic), it tells me that Fidesz is interested in withholding and suppressing Jobbik. They feel danger. On the other hand, you must be realistic: just like any other single opposition party, we are not a threat to Fidesz on our own. The real threat is the cooperation of the opposition. And that is supported by Jobbik’s progress into a people’s party.

Shouldn’t all political parties be aiming for winning the voters’ trust on their own?

I’m not going to drive my community into utopian dreams. Thinking that we could replace the government on our own would be an idealistic approach. The 2018 election clearly showed us what happens when we take on Fidesz alone. If we do the same again, Hungary is bound to fail.  We lost in 2018. But it’s not the loss that matters. What matters is that we learnt our lesson. We got an A+ in last year’s municipal elections and now we have just demonstrated in the parliamentary election of Dunaújváros that we have learnt from our mistakes and this learning curve will help Hungary emerge victorious.

You mentioned that the Fidesz-related media envisions a split in Jobbik. Are you afraid that it may happen?

When you are supported by nearly 90% of the party, you can’t really talk about a split.

But will there be other leavers, though?

I can’t exclude the possibility but it will certainly not break the unity of the majority.

So you don’t find it significant that the party is left by an MP, or key politicians of many years? Or local groups being dissolved?

Local groups are not dissolved. Some members have left and, I repeat, this is normal in a live organization. When there’s a leadership change, it often happens that some people go and others come. Organizational changes always come with personal losses but there are and there will be gains, too: new people are coming to work with us. We need them for our renewal.

This renewal has started with a leaked tape and pressing charges. Hasn’t this case raised some new disputes in Jobbik? 

In my opinion, new disputes would rather have been raised if we hadn’t decided to handle these matters. If these cases hadn’t been brought out to the open, we would’ve sent the message that we didn’t want to make a change, and just sweep everything under the carpet. However, Péter Jakab is not known for sweeping problems under the carpet. I’m known for bringing them out in the open. Talk about it with raw honesty, that’s what we’re here for. And if we are finally able to solve our problems transparently, we will be credible when we say we can solve Hungary’s problems, too.

A symbolic gesture of the change was Jobbik’s disowning Gergely Kulcsár, the party member who had spat into the Holocaust memorial shoes on the Danube bank. You demanded him to resign from his office, to which he said no, then what happened?

Gergely Kulcsár told us that he did not wish to resign from his office. Consequently, we launched an ethics investigation, which will obviously conclude by banning him from Jobbik.

Won’t he leave on his own accord?

No. But if someone refuses to carry out the resolutions adopted by the board, the consequence is that they can no longer stay in the community.

Kulcsár is a symbolic figure because of the weight of what he did, if nothing else. However, there are other Jobbik politicians who have been or are often accused of racism or anti-Semitism. Will they be banned, too?

Everybody can make a mistake and utter a wrong sentence. Being in the limelight 24/7, politicians may experience an unfortunate wording on occasion. On the other hand, some acts cannot be explained away by lack of circumspection. Gergely Kulcsár’s case was exactly like that. Furthermore, it’s an act against humanity, which cannot go unpunished. When we adopted this resolution, we paid back a debt we owed to ourselves and to Hungary for years.

But does this mean that if anyone in Jobbik is accused of racism or anti-Semitism, you will consistently apply the same measures?

Thank God, I’ve never experienced any other act of this weight in Jobbik. Gergely Kulcsár caused serious damage to this community.

So you’re convinced that there are no racists or anti-Semites in your party?

If there were any, I believe they are either in Our Homeland or Fidesz now. We might even see them in the streets together, if they organize yet another Peace March.

What is a new, people’s party Jobbik president to do about the regular and hardly disproved skinhead accusations against former president Tamás Sneider or, for that matter, Lóránt Budai who posted intolerable quotes in social media from Nazi leaders.

You have to give everybody a chance to change, especially if they perhaps acted or posted something rashly and hastily. But there’s no excuse for being a jerk.

But do you expect an apology from those who, in your words, were “only rash and hasty”, or have already changed?

Each case must be evaluated individually. Those who act in a way that is a serious violation of human dignity will have no place in our party. By the way, such acts have usually met their consequences in Jobbik, I was very sorry that it took us such a long time to take this symbolic step in Gergely Kulcsár’s case.

Once again: can you state that racism or other extremism is not tolerated in your Jobbik?

We drew a symbolic line with the Kulcsár affair. From now on, we start with a clean slate because the representation of all honest Hungarian people is clearly part of a people’s party policy but no extremist or racist acts or utterances are tolerated.

Will this attitude resonate among the disgruntled Fidesz voters who are the obvious targets for a centre-right party?

I’m not going for resonations, I’m going for integrity.  I think the honest way is to make it clear that extremist acts are not tolerated in Hungary, let alone in Jobbik. This also applies to the extremism that Fidesz tolerates in its parliamentary group. For example, the furnace feederJános Pócs is still sitting next to Viktor Orbán without any consequence, even though he treated a Roma Hungarian person in a way reminiscent of history’s darkest times.

The Roma are in the crosshairs of the government’s communication in terms of the Gyöngyöspata and the prison compensation affairs, too. Why did Jobbik back the government’s proposal to suspend the payment of the compensations?

There’s a real problem here. In fact, there are many but Fidesz never looks for a solution. Instead, they use propaganda for their own benefit, regardless if it’s the Roma issue, prison business or migration. These are all real, existing problems but Fidesz doesn’t want to solve them, especially not with a national consultation. The prison business is real and it rightfully hurts people’s sense of justice if someone, who was sentenced for an act he committed, can then leave the prison as a millionaire because the conditions of the facility do not meet the European standards. However, the solution is not to launch a consultation on the matter. The solution is that the government should keep its own 2015 promise and build those 8 prisons.

The money they’ve had to pay out as damages on account of the legislation adopted by Fidesz in 2016 could have easily financed building the prisons needed to eliminate the basis of all those compensation claims. Back in 2016 we were the only parliamentary party refusing to vote for the Fidesz bill that allowed for this prison business to happen. We already warned them that the legislation in this form gives room for abuse. What Fidesz is trying to do now is to rectify their own mistake, and we voted for this rectification. However, we still can’t see how the government wants to solve the problem of overcrowded prisons since the budget doesn’t seem to allocate money to build correctional facilities or suppress crime, either.

Refusing to pay out the compensations or ignoring final court orders may, as the deputy faction leader of the junior governing party has already mentioned, involve a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights or the fundamental EU treaties. What’s Jobbik’s opinion on that?

I think Fidesz has been ignoring human rights for a long time, and I don’t mean the prisoners serving their sentences but the honest Hungarian citizens. This government provides humiliatingly low living standards for the people of Hungary. The European Union tends to keep its eyes shut about this matter, though. The European Social Charter and European Convention on Human Rights, which can be interpreted as fundamental EU treaties, clearly state that workers cannot be discriminated in terms of labour law or social conditions in the territory of the EU. Yet that’s exactly what happens: a Hungarian worker doing the same job makes one quarter of what a German worker makes in Germany. Our Wage Union Initiative was targeting this problem so that the cohesion funds could no longer be hijacked by Lőrinc Mészáros and other government pals but allocated to reducing the East-West wage gap.

Based on what you said, it’s the EU’s responsibility to represent Hungarian people. But should the EU also implement the Roma strategy developed by Livia Járóka, who is in Fidesz, by the way? What does the formerly pro-segregation Jobbik say about that?

It’s important not to generate false fault lines between the groups of the Hungarian society. I think the real difference in today’s Hungary doesn’t lie between who is a Roma and who is not. It lies between who is an honest citizen and who is dishonest. We must support all honest citizens. If a Roma person coming from an underprivileged region wants to prosper and live in peace as a law-abiding citizen, then the Hungarian authorities must ensure the security and the Hungarian government must provide a job opportunity allowing them to do so. But that’s not what happens today: there’s no security, there’s no job opportunity, no education, no prospects; they are left with nothing but crime.

Does crime derive from a negligence of the state? 

That’s correct. Honest people must be supported and the dishonest must be led to the path of integrity - that’s the state’s job but it’s not a Roma issue. For example, when 800 thousand Hungarian people can’t get medical care at all, it affects everyone, especially those living in rural villages. The coronavirus is coming and I am looking forward to the government’s response: who should these people turn to? The regime will once again show how it can protect these people, if it can at all.

In his Friday radio interview,  Viktor Orbán just made it clear that although the coronavirus was a major issue, migration was the bigger threat.

Migration interests people because they see the camera shots from Greece, which are used by the government’s propaganda machine (or even by Deputy Minister Szilárd Németh) to plant the idea that it is happening on the Hungarian border. Let me add here that Orbán’s friend, Turkish president Erdoğan is letting go of the refugees halted in Turkey, which can easily turn the migrant threat propaganda into reality. That’s why Jobbik urges for setting up a special border police service, for which we also ask the support of other political parties since it is our common interest to solve the immigration issue.

Does Ferenc Gyurcsány want to solve it, too?

I hope he does, because there’s a very important aspect of the opposition cooperation: we need to make it clear that Hungary doesn’t need migrants but it does need those Hungarian citizens who went to work abroad. The common goal is to bring them back. When everybody on the opposition side fights to make it easier for the people financially, it also means that we want to let people come back home. Those are the goals we should ally for.

Based on what you said, we can’t really see huge ideological differences on the opposition side, including Gyurcsány’s party...

Our job is not to look for the differences now. On the contrary, we should be looking for the national minimum that could bring the opposition camp together. The voters who want to oust this government couldn’t care less about the opposition’s internal debates. They want to see how we can act together.

However, you did criticize the Socialists and, a bit more, Ferenc Gyurcsány in your speech at the congress. Why?

Because I want everybody to understand that Jobbik also represents those who want to oust Fidesz but are unwilling to vote for Gyurcsány. We can’t afford to lose these people on account of Gyurcsány because it’s mathematically impossible to replace the government without them. As of today, Fidesz has 50 per cent of the votes and the opposition has the other 50% combined. If the figures stay the same, there will be no new government. So we’ll need to gain more voters, either from the constantly disappointed Fidesz supporters or from the rural population who want nothing to do with either the pre-2010 world or Orbán.

When you personally meet voters, do they tell you things like “please cooperate with the other opposition parties except Gyurcsány”?

Yes, there’s a wide segment of voters who say “I don’t want Gyurcsány”. However, you must understand that if we give them an option where they can also vote for an opposition list without Gyurcsány on it, that wouldn’t reduce the chances to oust the government. On the contrary, it would just improve them.  Especially as the municipal elections have already shown that the county lists with all opposition parties together performed worse than the combined opposition performance in the constituencies where each party ran separately.

It’s also clear that if the opposition runs a joint list with all parties, the voters who want neither Orbán nor Gyurcsány will have no other option than Our Homeland. I’ve seen a poll showing that such a move could just be enough for Our Homeland to get into the Parliament. In other words, whoever forces the idea of the all-opposition list may ultimately be responsible for bringing the far right into the House.

Have you discussed that with Gyurcsány?

I haven’t but it’s clear that if we give people an option other than just Gyurcsány and Orbán, Our Homeland will certainly not make it to the Parliament, which would be important, not only because of their ideology but for the fact that they always vote alongside Fidesz.

What makes you think that Our Homeland supporters, whose politicians have already left your party, would still vote for a “Gyurcsány-free” Jobbik list?

I have seen polls showing that the majority of Our Homeland supporters have an opposition attitude even though the party’s politicians side with Fidesz. So if we offer them a chance to oust the government and present a credible alternative, they are willing to vote for the opposition.

Don’t you consult the Democratic Coalition’s president in any other matter?

The opposition parties conduct talks but it doesn’t mean that each party has specifically assigned negotiators. I don’t need to get involved until the presence of the party president is required to represent our interests in certain issues.

But what issues could those be?  For example, to find a common PM candidate?

We have to cooperate with everyone in the single-member constituencies. We can’t win unless we jointly support locally acclaimed patriots. This will be the key to success in 2022. And yes, we should find a common, credible, integrative PM candidate with a significant capability of attracting votes. We have to agree on such a person in advance; it’s part of the preparations to replace the government.

Wouldn’t you run one of the list heads as the candidate for PM, like, as some suggested, Klára Dobrev perhaps?

No, the common PM candidate doesn’t need to be a head of either list. We need a highly respected, integrative candidate who could coordinate a programme-based cooperation. That’s the kind of person I have in mind.

So you already have a specific name.

There is a person but I won’t name them until they agree to take the job and until I discussed it with our negotiating partners.

Does that mean that Jobbik doesn’t want to test its candidate in an opposition primary?

I won’t exclude this possibility but I believe it would be a significant waste of resources to run a primary for each of the 106 joint candidates in the single-member constituencies. Primaries are only needed in the districts where we can’t agree on the candidate. All other energy should be spent on beating Fidesz rather than each other. 

Gyurcsány has a different idea, he wants a single, all-opposition list with each name decided in local primaries. Is this a make or break for you?

Ferenc Gyurcsány let the genie out of the bottle with his Facebook post, which I had no choice but to react to. I think it would be more fortunate if this genie could be put back into the bottle on the negotiating table. As far as the opposition cooperation goes, we are walking an untrodden path with very cautious steps. It would be great if people refrained from such public statements that can tear apart the web that has been woven by the various parties for a year.

Would you be willing to run a joint candidate list with Momentum and LMP?

We are open to cooperation, yes.

Isn’t your real goal with your own list to maximize Jobbik’s faction size and independence in the next Parliament?

This is not about Jobbik, it’s about Hungary. What we are offering is the best chance for mobilizing the highest number of voters who want a change. It was clearly demonstrated in the  Dunaújváros by-election which brought a huge success as the pilot project of a future cooperation in the national elections. Although the turnout was low, we beat Fidesz to the ground. The “one on one” strategy has proven to work in single-member constituencies where one opposition candidate faces the government’s nominee. And that’s where the government can be defeated, not in the party lists.

Talking about this by-election, Fidesz supported an independent candidate rather than running its own.

It’s a telltale sign that Fidesz no longer dares to put their logo on a candidate. Also, if you look at the result of the election, no more than one out of 10 eligible voters cast their ballots for the Fidesz-supported candidate. This is a brutal slap in the face, and they will soon get a bigger one because they failed to learn from it. So while we on the opposition side have learnt our lesson and understood why we were beaten in 2018, Fidesz has failed to learn it because instead of saying “fine, let’s solve the problems of steel workers or the healthcare system then”, Viktor Orbán comes up with a State of the Nation address, where he talks about Nazi pants and red vests...

Isn’t he right?

No. Jobbik wears neither Nazi pants nor red vests. Our congress’ decision on the people’s party strategy binds me: Jobbik must not lose its character in the opposition cooperation but we also need to keep in mind that this cooperation is the only chance for Hungary to change.

 

 

Marianna Bíró / Index.hu - Jobbik.com