László Bernát Veszprémy
László Bernát Veszprémy

A deal with the devil: how the Hungarian Left embraced neo-Nazi Jobbik

During a recent interview by Tucker Carlson with hardliner Hungarian right-wing PM Viktor Orbán, Carlson asked the following question: “Your opponents are a coalition of former communists and antisemites. Is it strange to see the American left rooting for a coalition that includes antisemites?” Orbán replied: “Yes, let’s say if you would have asked me several years ago whether could it happen that the ex-communist political forces and the antisemite right is forming a coalition and running together in the election against a pro-Israeli and pro-American, pro-NATO western-oriented government (…) my answer would have been no, it’s impossible.”

It is quite likely that most American viewers had no idea what Carlson was referring to. The reason? The global left-wing media has been completely silent about the fact that for the upcoming 2022 national elections in Hungary, the local left has entered a formal alliance with the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. The deal is as follows: before the 2022 national elections, opposition primaries will be held in each constituency. The candidate who wins these primaries goes on to face the candidate of Orbán’s Fidesz during the real elections. All other opposition candidates must drop out of the race, and all parties must support the winner of the primaries. This way opposition voters will have to vote for the common candidate if they ever want to beat Fidesz – even if said candidate is a former or current neo-Nazi.

All Hungarian left-wing parties are included in this alliance with Jobbik: Democratic Coalition (DK), which is a party supporting the idea of the “United States of Europe”, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the liberals (Momentum), the Greens (LMP) and the tiny Dialogue Party (Párbeszéd), which, despite its small size, is led by the most likely opposition PM candidate for 2022, the current mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony. While there are minor ideological differences between these left-wing parties, all of them are included in the alliance with Jobbik, and therefore for the rest of this article, I will simply refer to them as the left-wing opposition, and to the alliance as the opposition alliance.

Before just three years ago, Jobbik was under nigh-complete boycott by the left-wing parties. Then came 2018 electoral victory for Orbán’s Fidesz, a landslide success that withered the hopes of the opposition parties to defeat Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister without forming a big tent coalition. To those critical of an alliance with Jobbik, DK politician István Vágó, who ran during the 2019 municipal elections with the logo of Jobbik on his election billboards, replied: Fidesz is the greater evil, so there are reasons for the alliance with Jobbik. Vágó has since removed his Facebook post announcing his being supported by Jobbik. Those who dare break the Soviet-type silence surrounding the details of the left-wing alliance with Jobbik are branded traitors, kapos or worse on the left.

We are talking about the same Jobbik whose MP Márton Gyöngyösi called in 2012 for background checks on Hungarian Jewish citizens. “I think now is the time to assess how many people there are of Jewish origin here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament who represent a certain national security risk of Hungary,” he said. For his words, he ranked No. 7 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s year-end list of antisemites. We are talking about the same Jobbik whose MP György Szilágyi held a speech in 2013 defending far-right football fans who had placed a sign in the stands in memory of László Csatáry during a match. Csatáry played a serious role as a police officer in the 1944 deportations to Auschwitz.

But has Jobbik changed? Can a party like this change enough to be accepted as part of the left-wing coalition? Jobbik has certainly made some steps in that direction. In early 2020, the party elected as its new president Péter Jakab, a politician open about his partial Jewish ancestry. He is now Jobbik’s PM candidate. But the “change” seems superficial and deceitful. Márton Gyöngyösi, the politician who called for background checks on Jews, is now Jakab’s deputy. MP György Szilágyi, who was so enthusiastic about protecting the memory of a Hungarian perpetrator of the Holocaust, is still a member of the presidential board of Jobbik. He is now running for the primaries, this time with the support of at least three left-wing parties. In addition to Gyöngyösi and Szilágyi, Jobbik is still full of former extremists, who can’t all be named here: let it be enough that the current opposition alliance includes numerous antisemites running with left-wing support. This is not to say that antisemitism doesn’t exist on the pro-government right, but behavior like this has consequences among Orbán’s followers, while antisemitic candidates are embraced by the left.

The most important question is: can the unholy alliance of neo-Nazis, greens, liberals, and socialists defeat Viktor Orbán? The 2019 municipal elections, where Fidesz lost Budapest to the opposition (Jobbik did not run a candidate against Fidesz in the heart of Hungarian liberalism; all other parties supported Karácsony against Orbán’s man, István Tarlós) has proven that the alliance can work. Polls nowadays place both the opposition alliance – together with Jobbik – and Fidesz at around 50%. For a country branded totally undemocratic and a quasi-dictatorship by most of the Western media, Orbán truly has something to lose in this election. What will be the fate of minorities in Hungary – Jews and others, such as Romani and homosexuals, against whom Jobbik has waged a war for the first 15 or so years of its existence –, once a supposedly left-wing government with neo-Nazi elements comes to government? Only future can tell. Right now, those who still remember the fear generated by Jobbik among minorities in Hungary can only pray that these extremists will never enter the government on the side of their left-wing allies.

About the Author
The author is a Hungarian historian holding an MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from the University of Amsterdam, currently doing a PhD in the history of Zionism at the ELTE University of Budapest. He is the former deputy editor-in-chief of Neokohn.hu, a Hungarian-Jewish news portal, and a founding member of MIMC, the Hungarian-Israeli Media Center Organisation.