Vona scrutinized by Jewish intellectuals in Budapest

Visiting Spinoza Theatre patronized by Budapest’s Jewish intellectuals, Jobbik’s Candidate for Prime Minister Gábor Vona participated in a discussion organized as part of the theatre’s political debate series. The full-house event was moderated by the famous pro-left journalist Katalin Rangos, who began the evening by assuring the members of the audience that she would not back off from any issues they may be interested in. Indeed, there were no taboos this evening: she did confront him with all the questions typically asked by those who want to scrutinize the credibility or honesty of Jobbik’s transition into a people’s party.

“I have come here with the hopeful openness that even if we disagree on many things, we could at least hear each other out. This is perhaps the first step we can take,” Mr Vona stated right at the beginning, adding he was aware that the audience might be sceptical about what he was going to say but his goal was to talk about this process, anyway. As he explained, it was not a tactical move on his part but “an intellectually experienced and fully internalized intrinsic change”. “What most audience members probably had in common was their interest in finding out if Gábor Vona’s statements were genuine or all of this was just a deception,” this is how Alfahir news portal described the theme of the evening. The theme is indeed important because no matter how Jobbik’s president emphasizes that his party’s progress results from a fully internalized change if people don’t believe him. Even if, as Mr Vona stressed again, Jobbik’s actions had already demonstrated it several times.

As it was reported in the media, Mr Vona began the discussion by stating that Viktor Orbán’s years in government had taught Jobbik’s president to appreciate democracy in general and such democratic institutions in particular as the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly: since 2010, he explained, he had experienced what it was like to be deprived of democracy, which had a sobering effect on him.

He noted that he had already criticized the PM more harshly in Parliament before. Answering questions on this matter, the president said it had taken him quite a while to be able to confront Mr Orbán this way and ask him really tough questions. As he put it, he needed a certain “balance of mind”, and now that he has found it, he can pose these tough questions. Talking about the PM’s reactions, such as implying that Mr Vona was gay, he said he was happy about them because they showed that Mr Orbán had no real arguments in their debates.

Since Spinoza Theatre’s event series aims to help citizens decide who to vote for next April, it came as no surprise to anyone that audience members focused on such issues as the Hungarian Guard, homosexuals and what Jobbik would do in government. Gábor Vona outlined which of the current government’s policies he would retain, such as the macro-economic balance, the support of families or the voting rights of ethnic Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries; which of them he would stop, such as corruption and the manipulation of the public (meaning, for example, the activity of the government’s media); and which of them he would change, such as the current government’s practice of subjugating the professional management of affairs to partisan politics.

Talking about Jobbik’s past, Mr Vona said that his party had often been stigmatized before, even though it had already had one million voters, and asked: “We don’t really think there are one million Nazis in Hungary, do we?”, suggesting that the Hungarian people should finally abandon this “Nazis vs Communists” stigmatization because this was how MSZP and Fidesz had made a living: one scaring our society with the Communists, the other with the Nazis. “As a matter of fact, there was a very base 20th-century game going on here, and I’ve had enough of it even though I was moving within the same coordinate system, there’s no denying of that,” he emphasized. Nevertheless, he is intent on parting with it even though, he readily admits, there is not such a high demand for this apparently irrational move but “I am still making it happen because I believe in it and because I’ve made the decision that I will either be running the party like this or not running it at all”.  

He added that if his party had not been ready to accompany him on this road, he would not have wanted to be their leader but the fact of the matter was that most of the party members were with him, apart from a few people who left the organization. Mr Vona asserted that all Hungarian people had some painful wound carried over from the 20th century and he asked “let our generation not have to carry these stones, let us open to each other, let us open a new chapter”. As he put it, the grandchildren of the people wounded by Communism or Fascism should be allowed to start a new era in Hungary.

“I can’t ask our grandparents’ or parents’ generations to forget these wounds, God forbid that I should ask anything like that. All I’m asking is to give my generation a chance, an opportunity to move on, to move forward,” he explained. He also pointed out how symbolic it was that 2017 was the 150th anniversary of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, after which Hungary lived in a trustful and constructive atmosphere, yet we had hardly seen the current government commemorate the event at all even though the compromise was one of the best decisions in Hungary’s history and set our country on a course of prosperity.

To illustrate the importance of compromises, he repeated what he had said to a left-wing supporter in a political rally: the citizen had asked Mr Vona why he should vote for him, to which Mr Vona had replied: “there is no left or right any more, that wall is no longer there”.