Jobbik’s Gábor Vona made to look prime ministerial in Magyar Nemzet interview

The Magyar Nemzet daily, owned by Fidesz-oligarch Lajos Simicska, who had a very public falling out with his long-time friend and former roommate Viktor Orbán, published a lengthy interview with Gábor Vona, leader of the far-right Jobbik party this weekend. It’s most certainly a long-shot to think of Mr. Vona as a prime minister-in-waiting, but it has also now become clear  through multiple polls that Jobbik is within striking distance of Fidesz. Many HFP’s readers will recall the Ipsos poll that came out on March 17th suggesting that Fidesz had 1.7 million supporters, while Jobbik had 1.5 million. What this means is that when looking at the total population (including the large number of undecided voters), Fidesz has the support of 21% of the population and Jobbik is supported by 18%. With a critical by-election being held on April 12th in the western Hungarian riding of Tapolca (and where Jobbik is widely seen as being competitive in a three-way race with Fidesz and MSZP)), the fact that Hungary’s second largest political daily published a fairly flattering interview of Mr. Vona should come as a boost.

Gábor Vona, leader of the surging Jobbik party.

Gábor Vona, leader of the surging Jobbik party.

In his Magyar Nemzet interview, Mr. Vona attempted to distance  himself from the antisemitism that is part-and-parcel of Jobbik and to continue to build the image of a party that is government-material and that is now ready for “prime-time,” especially with Fidesz sliding in the polls. When asked about how one of his MPs, Gergely Kulcsár, had desecrated the Holocaust memorial on the banks of the Danube in Budapest by spitting on it, Mr. Vona offered the following response:

“The party distanced itself immediately from Mr. Kulcsár’s actions, which it found to be both upsetting and intolerable. I asked Gergely Kulcsár to lay a flower in front of the memorial, in order to demonstrate that he regrets his actions. And he did, in fact, regret what he did, even if many will not believe him. Desecrating the memory of the dead, the notion of collective guilt and vulgar acts have no place in Jobbik. This doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about Hungary’s Jewish community, Israel’s politics or about the Gypsy problem,” noted Mr. Vona, still using language (“the Gypsy problem”) that is overtly racist.

“So having your MP lay a flower before the monument, for the purposes of a photo-op, is considered to be a real consequence for his actions?”–asked Magyar Nemzet’s Mariann Katona.

“Jobbik shares in the grief of each and every victim, including those who were Jewish. It is unacceptable to insult this grief” answered Mr. Vona.

When asked if Jobbik was ready to govern, Mr Vona remarked that “there is no party, which is 100% ready to govern, but must still aim to meet the challenges of the day when it rises to government.” Mr. Vona then noted that it was time to develop a new, pro-Western policy.

“Opening up to the West is important to me. Ever since 2010, I have said that Hungary must stand up for its interests within an axis that includes Germany, Russia and Turkey. We don’t have a problem when it comes to Russia and Turkey, but I must build a good relationship with Germany. This is terribly difficult, as the German press is even worse than the Hungarian: we are perceived to be a neo-Nazi party. I would like to show leading German politicians the true face of Jobbik,” observed Mr. Vona.

The new warm, friendly face of Jobbik? There are more and more photos of Gábor Vona that portray him as a warm, modern, average guy, including this one, which appears on his public Facebook profile.

The warm, friendly face of Jobbik? There are more and more photos of Gábor Vona that portray him as a modern, urban  guy, including this one, which appears on his public Facebook profile.

Mr. Vona has also moderated his anti-EU message. Jobbik’s official position now is not to have Hungary leave the European Union, but to renegotiate Hungary’s accession treaty, provided that there is an appetite for this within the voting public, as determined by a referendum. Mr. Vona believes that the EU is “taking advantage of its eastern member states and that the negotiations with the United States on a free trade agreement are being held in secret.”

“We are not anti-European and our critique of the EU is not visceral. It is not unimaginable that we would leave the European Union in the medium-term, but this is not currently realistic. Hungarian society would not likely support this and Hungary is not economically prepared for such a scenario,” added Mr. Vona.

When asked about NATO, Mr. Vona did not say that he would pull Hungary out of the military alliance, but expressed concern about a prolonged American-Russian conflict and not wanting to be caught in the middle of it. “I cannot rule out the possibility of neutrality, like in the case of Austria or Switzerland, but these are questions for the distant future,” noted Mr. Vona.

The question of the Islamic State (ISIS) came up as well, with Mr. Vona confirming that he wanted Hungary to send humanitarian aid to the Middle East, but not troops.

“We consider the Islamic State–which is neither Islamic, nor a state–to be an enemy that must be defeated. But this is not Hungary’s job. Let’s focus on humanitarian aid,” remarked Mr. Vona. He added that the United States must be the primary player in defeating ISIS, suggesting that the Americans were the ones who had “armed the predecessors of the Islamic State.”

While Magyar Nemzet did ask Mr. Vona some critical questions and while the interview doesn’t come across as a complete walk in the park, I imagine that many MNO readers will leave with a more positive impression of the Jobbik leader, especially as Mr. Orbán’s ratings continue to slip. With Magyar Nemzet soon to lose its government support (through advertising revenue), Mr. Simicska is out to cause his former friend some headaches. And Mr. Vona, who is a significantly more effective communicator than most in his far-right party, may be the man for the job.

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