Péter Jakab: Jobbik must become Hungary's largest trade union
Has he ever thought that he, a man of Jewish origin, could ever contend for Jobbik’s leadership? Why did “Roma crime” lose its ethnic nature? Will Jobbik change its name? Can he give Jobbik’s soul back after it was taken away by the movement’s transition into a people’s party, according to former president Gábor Vona? What’s his take on MP Ákos Hadházy’s “horsedick” sign, considering that Mr Jakab often busts Fidesz MP’s chops, too? In-depth interview with Péter Jakab, who has just announced his withdrawal from the race for Jobbik president Wednesday morning.
DISCLAIMER: This interview was recorded before we learnt that: Péter Jakab will not be Jobbik’s president after all.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Jakab posted a Facebook message announcing that he had withdrawn his candidacy on account of the national assembly’s decision which did not endorse his proposal to extend the mandate of the National Board to two and a half years, i.e., until after the 2022 national elections. “Since Péter Jakab originally tied his candidacy to this modification of the party’s statutes, he kept his promise and withdrew his candidacy for president,” says the party’s press release which Mr Jakab posted on his Facebook page. Consequently, the party’s National Assembly asked the National Board to withhold summoning a national congress to elect officials and to complete its term until May 2020. So Jobbik will have its next congress and elect officials in the spring of next year, concludes the party’s release.
Can you react in one word or at most in one sentence to the following names or notions? The first is Viktor Orbán.
Destroyer of our nation.
“Don’t let it be lost!”
Can I give the same answer? Question mark again.
Viktor Orbán’s playmate.
A task to solve.
I love the Borsod region but I don’t like beer.
What’s your favourite drink then?
Mineral water. I do like fruit beers which the public doesn’t consider as beer. It borders on blasphemy in their eyes. I don’t like the taste of beer.
Talking at a 23 October commemoration, you said “let’s reunite the nation because that’s the only way we can win”. Do you think you’re helping this reunification by giving the Prime Minister orange-filled pies [the Hungarian name of this type of pie sounds like “downfall” and the ruling party’s colour is orange, so giving the PM an orange pie implies that his party is soon going to fall] or dry pasta?
I’d like to show Viktor Orbán the way, I want to show him the cause of his downfall: Hungarian people have had enough of hatemongering, tyranny and intimidation. If Orbán could finally understand that, Hungarian people could get much closer to each other. In order for that to happen however, he should stop polarizing us and start governing the country, which would be a giant step towards uniting this nation. That’s why I gave him dry pasta, too. I wanted to remind him that the Hungarian people, the Hungarian nation deserves better than this. Hungarian people shouldn’t be subjected to humiliation. They should be helped. As far as the orange pie is concerned, I gave it to him to teach him that if he humiliates the Hungarian people, it will lead to his downfall.
After all that, Jobbik can hardly attract pro-Orbán Fidesz voters if your party’s faction leader constantly keeps trying to humiliate Viktor Orbán in the Parliament.
I think many Fidesz voters cast their ballots for the opposition mayoral candidate in these local elections - because they had had enough of hatemongering. I don’t know if Fidesz still has an intellectual supporter base and even if it did, those people certainly don’t vote for Fidesz any more. Their intellectual level is far above that of [Fidesz vice president] Szilárd Németh, for example.
So Jobbik doesn’t need those who are still Fidesz voters?
Fidesz voters are the victims of the Orbán regime: just like others, they work for starvation wages and their relatives are dying in hospitals too. We do need to help them even if we they are pained by some of the truths we say, for example that Viktor Orbán is nothing but a dishonest horse dealer who sells out his own nation by offering Fidesz voters as cheap slave labour to western multinational companies.
What food package will you be kind enough to give Viktor Orbán next?
They do need food in Fidesz, as far as I can see. I gave a bag of dry pasta to Viktor Orbán but Máté Kocsis hogged it. So I took two orange pies this time. One for Máté Kocsis so he doesn’t need to take it from his boss, and one for Viktor Orbán. Lo and behold, Gergely Gulyás took the orange pie from Viktor Orbán’s desk this time. It’s hard to feed so many empty Fidesz mouths but the voters still have plenty of orange pies for them in stock for 2022.
Do you think a broad opposition coalition can beat Fidesz in 2022?
We need to clear the field for one-on-one challenges in each electorate. We have two and a half years to create the winning formula. It wasn’t easy before the local elections but the direction always pointed towards ousting the government.
Do you think you need a joint opposition list of candidates?
The joint opposition list could work if it contains integrative personalities that are acceptable for both pro-left and pro-right voters, too. I only lost to my Fidesz-delegated opponent by 127 votes in the national elections in Miskolc and it was largely due to the fact that local citizens (not just Jobbik supporters but left-wing voters and without any nausea, too) considered me as an integrative person. It’s a huge challenge to find these personalities.
Who do you think could fit the bill?
They don’t necessarily need to come from the world of politics. For example, it was a school principal Pál Veres in Miskolc. When you’re up against a regime, you need everyone.
Is Péter Jakab integrative when he’s being thrown toilet paper at?
Fidesz thinks I’m dangerous so they send provocateurs to do the job so that they can take the proper shots for their propaganda newsreel. I was expecting attacks from Fidesz trolls if I run for Jobbik president.
So is this acceptable?
It’s not acceptable in political culture but Viktor Orbán brings this kind of uncivilized politics to the Hungarian nation and his example is unfortunately followed by so many because they don’t live for the nation and they are hand-fed by Fidesz.
Do you think Ákos Hadházy’s “horsedick” sign is acceptable in our political culture?
Definitely not. I don’t even understand what he wanted to achieve with this. I don’t think there’s any point throwing obscenities around, and I have no idea who he could reach out to with these messages positively. It’s the negative messages and hatred that people have had enough of. They are longing for solidarity and cooperation.
So you don’t like O1G either? [O1G is a coded message often used in Hungary to criticize and insult PM Orbán, literally comparing him to semen.]
That’s the anger of the society. I don’t know who came up with it but he can’t have been a politician.
[Businessman and former Orbán confidant] Lajos Simicska started it.
The society felt this message expresses its anger. The solution is not to stifle this anger but to run a good government to prevent the society from becoming angry.
Back in 2010 did you think that any person known to have Jewish ancestors could ever run for Jobbik’s president?
Back in 2010 I wasn’t thinking about becoming Jobbik’s president. I was focusing on addressing a social problem affecting my environment.
What was this problem?
The issue of Roma and Hungarians living together. I was a teacher in Miskolc where all students had Roma origins. I got such an insight into the essence of the reality there that I thought we need to prevent the present of this microcosm to become the future of Hungary. So I started seeking out the political community that was brave enough to even say that this problem existed.
Is there Roma crime in 2019?
It has lost its ethnic nature. The society lives in such misery and there are such low-life groups of our society where the total lack of any prospects drives people to choose a life of crime, regardless of their ethnic origins. The biggest criticism for the government is that some people are convinced it’s not worth taking a job because they can’t make a living on their wages anyway. In fact, they can make a much better living in a segregated environment where they take away what others have instead of creating something themselves.
Why do you want to become Jobbik’s president now? Why not right after Gábor Vona left?
Because I feel there is a voter demand for that now. For the first time on my campaign trail, I felt that people believed Hungary needed my work. So I felt it was my duty to take a step forward. In order to do so however, I also need the support of Jobbik members. The upcoming congress, where we elect officials, will give us the answer. (This is the congress that was postponed until May - the ed.).
Why is Jobbik better off with Péter Jakab than the other presidential candidate Andrea Varga-Damm?
I don’t want to compete with Andrea Varga-Damm. I consider her a sister-in-arms rather than a competitor. I don’t see a big difference between her vision of the future and mine. In today’s Hungary all honest people must give each other a helping hand and Jobbik has to play the kind of integrative role we need for amassing the social force that can replace this government, regardless of what ideologies we believe in.
How much does it matter in today’s Jobbik that Gábor Vona endorsed you in his interview for Azonnali?
I’m happy about that but I need our members’ green light to let us make Jobbik a leading opposition force again in 2022 or even sooner.
What are Jobbik’s relations to Vona like now?
I don’t know of any relations between Gábor Vona and Jobbik. Vona has positioned himself outside the party political sphere by now. That’s why I said at the beginning of this interview that he was a philosopher. He focuses on socio-philosophical issues outside the front lines of party politics. I can understand that he keeps his distance after the way he was treated, but the banner needs to be carried on.
What’s your take on Vona’s new proposals? Do you support his idea to free municipalities from political parties?
Our job is to urge everyone to participate in Hungary’s public life. It doesn’t matter very much if they do it in NGOs or political parties. However, if you’re talking about municipalities without political parties, you might be promoting passivity because many people can only do politics in the framework of parties. If the local political party system is dysfunctional, the solution is not to throw it in the trash but to mend it.
The other Vona proposal is to erect a statue for Roma heroes. Can Jobbik support that?
In my eyes, everybody who shed their blood for Hungary is a hero, regardless of their origins. It’s not your origin that matters but your sacrifice for your homeland.
As a president, whose advice would you rather seek: Tamás Sneider or Gábor Vona?
I am interested in everybody’s opinions who has made achievements in this party.
Gábor Vona once said he took away Jobbik’s soul by turning it into a people’s party. Will you be able to give it back?
The party has a soul now, too.
Didn’t Gábor Vona take it away?
I never knew how to interpret that statement. Souls are given by God who will one day call it back - people can’t take such a thing away. Political parties always change and progress. So Vona is right when he says what doesn’t change dies: that’s what happened to the Polish cavalry when they charged at the German tanks. What we offer Hungary however, is not a heroic death: it’s resurrection.
What is Jobbik today?
It’s a modern, national people’s party. We have our ideology: we follow the Christian, national and conservative principles but that’s not what matters the most. We believe that the people we want to represent are a hundred, a thousand times more important than ideologies, which means that as long as I’m president we will never ask anyone if they are pro-right or pro-left. All we’re going to ask is how we can help. It’s very convenient to discuss ideologies and philosophies in a cigar smoke-filled room but the fact of the matter is that the man in the street is struggling for survival. We should be fighting for the people’s welfare so that senior citizens, students and workers could prosper rather than the likes of Lölő [pro-government businessman Mészáros] or [Győr’s scandal-ridden mayor Zsolt] Borkai.
So if I understand you correctly, Jobbik already has an ideology but it’s not important. What’s important is to lend a helping hand to the people. This sounds more like some kind of a political Red Cross than a party.
Jobbik has to become Hungary’s largest trade union. We have to represent the people of the street: unions are weak, leftist parties have largely lost their credibility while Fidesz destroyed our society where 50 per cent belongs to the lower middle class and 25 per cent is sinking into poverty. In other words, we don’t have a financially and intellectually free middle class. We have to create it, for which we first need to dismantle this regime that treats Hungarian workers as cheap slaves.
Jobbik shrank to 6 per cent in the EP elections in May while the Democratic Coalition and Momentum managed to grow. How can Jobbik become a decisive force again?
Brussels seems very distant for an average Jobbik voter. On the other hand, local councils are very close, that’s why Jobbik could improve by 3.5 per cent on average in the county lists on 13 October compared to 26 May: there is a demand for a characteristic political movement that wants to represent everyone. People want a party which, unlike the satellite parties that toe the line, refuses to make compromises with the regime.
But how will Jobbik get stronger, what’s your strategy?
Our strategy is to reach out to all the people. That’s why I said what matters is the people not the ideology. If I put up a sign saying Péter Jakab is a right-wing national conservative and so is Jobbik, it would come across as if we didn’t actually want to represent anybody but ourselves. But that’s not true. We want to represent all Hungarian people. With credibility. Compared to the governing parties so far, we certainly have credibility.
So if you want to represent all the people and the man of the street is so important for you, would you attend the Pride as the president of Jobbik?
But it’s in the street, too, and if you want to represent everybody, you should represent them, too.
The sexual orientation of another individual is none of my business. It’s a private matter that belongs to the home. On the other hand, it is my business if such an individual demonstrates disorderly conduct or violates the accepted principles of morality: in such cases they must be prosecuted based on the current legal regulations. By the way, I have voters who identify as homosexuals and condemn the Pride because they believe that some of the participant’s ostentatious behaviour causes harm to their community.
Is Legion Hungaria’s rainbow flag burning equally condemnable?
Everybody’s otherness must be tolerated.
Even that of Hungarists?
As long as they don’t break the law of Hungary. Instigating fear in others is obviously a violation of the law.
Is Jobbik considering changing its name as part of the new strategy? We’ve heard it through the grapevine...
I did hear that too but I am not convinced it’s necessary.
So are you campaigning for keeping the name?
I am campaigning for having a very massive content: we need all honest Hungarian people to oust this government.
But can you really find western allies with the Jobbik name, which still carries the far-right label in the international media? Wouldn’t National People’s Party or perhaps Freedom Party be better names?
This could be a subject of a legitimate discussion. For me content is more important so that we can conduct our political activities as a modern national people’s party. Fidesz has already been liberal, conservative and it’s far-right at the moment - yet they have always kept the Fidesz name.
So you will keep the Jobbik name.
I can neither confirm nor deny that.
How long will your transition into a people’s party go on?
The transition into a people’s party, the way Gábor Vona wanted it, has been completed. The pillars are set up, my job is to open the gate as wide as possible for the disgruntled Fidesz and pro-left voters.
When was the transition completed? Did the Roland Fodor-led local Jobbik group in Győr back out of the opposition alliance before or after the transition into a people’s party was completed?
Their case is a clear indication that Fidesz can infiltrate anywhere. Our job is to reject traitors from our communities.
Do you think there are some more land mines like these hidden in the party?
Fidesz senses the impending collapse of the central field of force, and it’s trying to polarize those who want to cooperate with each other both at the local and the national level. They can find blackmailable or corruptible people in any community - it’s the responsibility of these communities not to tolerate them.
Do you agree with Gábor Vona that you need to find causes that Zsolt Bede and Ágnes Vadai could support?
I’d love for Hungary to be a cause like that.
“Vona is like a singer of a band who is not just a star but a songwriter, too. He was shot down, he quit the band and now we’re left without a singer. We’ve been looking and we’ve found a good singer, Péter Jakab but he needs a good team because he can’t write sheet music. This is what Jobbik’s main creative expert Pál Losonczy told Azonnali. Would you like to write sheet music?
I’d like to work in a team. I like it when there’s not just one composer but there’s a teamwork to find solutions for either the party or the whole country. People have had enough of one-person leadership. Our education system can’t raise intellectual and creative children unless they learn to work in teams.
What are your leadership qualities that would make you a good president for Jobbik?
I can offer my work over the past few years as reference.
You need to make some pledges, though.
I can make no other pledges than my achievements so far.
What happens if Jobbik elects Andrea Varga-Damm as president?
Nothing, at least from my point of view.
And from the party’s point of view?
They will use Plan B, provided that I am Plan A.
Was there a time when you considered Viktor Orbán as a good leader?
In his term in 1998-2002, when he listened to the advice of the real intellectuals rather than the likes of [government advisor] Habony.
When did you lose your confidence in him?
In 2006 when he just lay idly by after [former PM Gyurcsány’s] Őszöd speech.
But he dismantled the cordon and called for demonstrations in Kossuth Square...
What I felt at the time was that it’s very bad for the country if the PM can tell into the face of the people that he lied to win the elections while the opposition fails to do anything about it. What he should have done, you ask? I don’t know, I wasn’t actively involved in politics at the time. What I did know was that Viktor Orbán was not the solution.
So you’re a disappointed Fidesz supporter, too.
I did support Fidesz between 1998 and 2002. Now I think they are Hungary’s biggest enemy. It’s often said that Jobbik came to life because Gyurcsány and the left are evil. The way I interpret it is that Jobbik came to life to fight thieves but now we are up against murderers who came to rule us in the meantime. So our job now is to knock the knife out of the murderer’s hand because this nation has no more time to waste when Romania’s living standards are higher than Hungary’s, which used to be the leader of the region...
Is it really higher, though?
Eurostat says so. You have to see the direction things are going. Corruption may still be higher in Romania today but it’s certainly not tolerated there. If a policeman fails to take measures against a corrupt criminal, the policeman will be held to account, too. If the Minister of Tourism Affairs asks for a 10 per cent kickback there, they throw him in prison for six years. Corruption is persecuted there. Here it’s expected. It’s a system error there while here it’s the system itself.
Yet the masses often demonstrate against the government there but not here. Why?
I kind of feel that Hungarian people have put a price tag on corruption. That’s the origo, the reference point: the premise is that everyone’s corrupt. I want us to have a different premise: that Hungarian people are honest and stand up against any corrupt person who steals from their home budget.
Talking about Romania: why does Jobbik have so few Transylvanian Hungarian voters even though this party was perhaps the loudest advocate of their cause?
Because Transylvanian Hungarians fell victim to Orbán’s politics, too. He says I will vote for Fidesz if I get some money from them. What we would like to give the Transylvanian Hungarian community is not money but autonomy to make sure that the Romanian state meets its obligations to preserve the Hungarian identity there. Orbán never aims to promote communities which can think - he does the same thing to the Hungarian groups abroad that he does to public service workers in Hungary.
You referred to Romanian living standards as a positive example. Which Central Eastern European country do you envy for its development or post-Communist path that could be an example for us?
The tragedy is that nearly all of these countries are in an enviable situation compared to us: we have sunk from the leading position of the region and we dropped to the last place.
Each country did it in a different way, though: Slovakia adopted neoliberal reforms to join the Eurozone while Poland’s national conservative PiS has been investing all the money in infrastructure recently. Which do you like more?
We should be our own reference point, not others. At last we must walk the past of honesty: if you’re honest and a good student, if you are talented and hard-working, you will advance in your life while those who wangle and use illegal means will be put behind bars.
There’s a book on the shelf in your office, it’s called Attila’s grandchildren. Is it yours?
I haven’t had the time to rearrange the office.
So is it a Kipcsak heritage left behind by your predecessor Márton Gyöngyösi?
Being a history teacher, I might as well keep this book in my office. I’ll dip into it.
Which is your favourite historical era?
The prehistoric age.
Because there’s so little we know about it?
That’s where there’s perhaps the most room for research and it’s the least polarizing. We don’t get lost in the world of ideologies there. Politics is a kind of evolution, too - something that will lead us to ousting Viktor Orbán.
Author: Marianna Hutter & Martin Bukovics / Azonnali.hu