Gábor Vona, president of xenophobic, pro-Russian party Jobbik has announced his intention to turn Jobbik into a mainstream party back in 2014 with this photo.
Before that, Jobbik’s image was this:
But only in April 2016 did Vona decide to take mainstreaming to the next level and remove the more extremist elements from the party’s leadership.
The president of Jobbik has asked four of his vice presidents not to run again for the office – citing his alleged veto right laid down in the party’s rule book.
Confusion and hurt feelings ensued. All four had immediately announced that they would run again at the upcoming party congress because Vona has no right to obstruct their election – but Vona turned out to be right. Jobbik has indeed voted in the little known veto right for the president unanimously back in 2013. It was actually proposed by some of its victims today. (Beware when you ask for a strong leader, folks, I always say.)
By the evening there were only three names on Vona’s purge list: Előd Novák, István Apáti, and István Szávay.
Of the three, Előd “Gypsy Criminality” Novák was probably the most radical and best known. Openly homophobic and anti-Semitic, he made the news with naming and shaming the first newborn of the year for his gypsy-sounding name, damning a fellow party member for not disclosing his Jewish background (that would make him ineligible for membership in Jobbik), and burning EU flags while on Brussels’ payroll.
The veto has led to speculation about a split in the party. It wouldn’t be unheard of given the conflicting needs of a mainstream party “preparing for government” as Vona likes to repeat – and that of a wildly anti-establishment, radical, and xenophobic party such as Jobbik used to be. (In Jobbik, the accusation “you put yourself before the party” is still a thing, by the way.)
But the split wouldn’t be lethal. With carrying the brand name and a more sanitary image, Jobbik could actually grow stronger and pose a real challenge to Fidesz. The more the radicals dismiss him as “no longer what Jobbik used to be”, the better for Vona.
As of April 2016, Jobbik was the second most popular party according to a poll by Medián
Jobbik’s popularity is higher than it would be in an economically healthy country. But building a mainstream party takes more than just posing with puppies and refraining from marching in gypsy ghettos. Jobbik builds on stoking hysterical fear, hatred for various out-groups, bashing the Fidesz-government, and building a desperate desire for a safe and predictable, albeit imaginary past. On government, they would lose some of these tools.
The real question is how Orbán would react to a Jobbik purged from its more embarrassing and alienating elements. Such a Jobbik would cut right into the core voter base of the governing Fidesz. It would be Fidesz minus the corruption, the “pure” Fidesz. (The rumours that Jobbik is now supported by Hungary’s former top oligarch, who spectacularly broke up with Fidesz last year, add to the speculations.)
Orbán never fails to pose in international circles as a defender of Hungary from Jobbik. He claims that his move to the nationalistic right and appeasement of unsavoury ideas is a tool to repel the threat of Jobbik. During its 6 years on government, Fidesz has introduced dozens of measures from Jobbik’s election program. If anything, Orbán is protecting him power from Jobbik, not us from Jobbik’s policies.
As a consequence, Fidesz is rather unsavoury by now. It is also worn out by 6 years on government in a disillusioned country that cannot be kept distracted for much longer by new and new threats such as immigrants.
Maybe Vona is right and the next winner will campaign with soothing puppies, not even bigger threats.
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Featured photo: bouldervizslas.com