Gábor Vona’s interview on ATV: I am willing to apologize for Jobbik’s unacceptable statements

For years, as a matter of principle, Hungary’s left-leaning ATV news network didn’t allow the far-right Jobbik’s politicians into its studios. All of that changed just over a year ago and now party chairman Gábor Vona and other prominent Jobbik politicians are regular guests. Fortunately, most of ATV’s hosts are skilled, shrewd journalists and they are able to scratch below Jobbik’s new, “improved” and more moderate surface, in order to help viewers determine if the party best known for its virulent antisemitism and racism against the Roma minority has truly changed. On Sunday, Antónia Mészáros started off her interview with Mr. Vona by calling into question the authenticity of Jobbik’s moderate turn. She pointed out that the extremist website Kuruc.info was listed as one of the sponsors of Jobbik’s May Day celebrations and that recently, the news site had celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

“We’re not the editors of Kuruc.info, or rather: I am not the editor of Kuruc.info,” remarked Mr. Vona. Perhaps this was a little slip, because it has long been assumed that key Jobbik politicians–notably, Előd Novák–are behind the publication. “And I have noted many times that things appear in Kuruc.info with which I don’t agree and with which I can’t identify,” added Mr. Vona. Ms. Mészáros proded the Jobbik leader a little further, pointing out that Kuruc.info is advertising Mr. Vona’s book on its cover page and the site also publicizes Jobbik events. Mr. Vona said that he would consider ending his party’s relationship with Kuruc.info, as part of his drive to moderate its image and message, although he quickly added that this wasn’t his priority.

Gábor Vona (right) appearing with journalist Antónia Mészáros on ATV.

Gábor Vona (right) appearing with journalist Antónia Mészáros on ATV.

“Our goal is to win the 2018 parliamentary elections. Thank God, our victory in the Tapolca by-election has justified our strategy of turning into a people’s party,” said Mr. Vona. But after receiving a follow-up question from the journalist — who mentioned that Jobbik politician Előd Novák had effectively engaged in Holocaust denial–Mr. Vona noted that he didn’t think banning people from the party was the answer. “We need to address the situation instead. I have declared that I am going to exterminate these wild growths from the party. These actions have no place in a people’s party,” noted the Jobbik chairman.

According to Mr. Vona, Hungary has only two “twenty-first century parties.” These happen to be Jobbik and the Politics Can Be Different (LMP) green party. Interestingly, András Schiffer, LMP’s chairman, was waiting outside the studio, as Ms. Mészáros was about to interview him right after finishing with Mr. Vona. The Jobbik chair believes that Fidesz and the opposition Socialists are constantly re-living the twentieth century, and this is causing hurt and pain to various communities.

Ms. Mészáros, however, didn’t leave it at this. She noted that very recently, Mr. Novák referred to the living, grassroots Holocaust memorial in Freedom Square (Szabadság tér) as a “garbage dump” and added that he is critical of Mr. Vona’s move to the centre. The party chairman admitted that there “debates” within the party, but that this is normal. Mr. Vona added that Jobbik had no intention of dividing Hungarians along religious or ethnic lines.

“There are no conflicts within the party, but there are debates. I always welcome these debates. I see myself as an innovative person, and I would like to see our party make use of new opportunities and progress with the times,” he noted. Mr. Vona added that he wants to focus on bread and butter issues, like education and health care.

Ms. Mészáros questioned the honesty of Jobbik’s move towards the more moderate right. She suggested, quoting a Jobbik politician, that all of this was little more than theatre and that racism remained strong below the surface.

“I am willing to apologize for previous Jobbik statements. Other parties would also have plenty of reason to issue apologies to various demographic groups,” said Mr. Vona, but Ms. Mészáros cut him off, asking if this meant that people in Jobbik would no longer claim that Gypsies were “biological weapons” used by Jews, and that Holocaust denial would no longer be accepted.

“I wish that the media would finally welcome what I’m trying to achieve here,” added Mr. Vona in frustration.

Ms. Mészáros noted that rabid antisemitism is apparent at Jobbik events and on its Facebook page, with an activist only a few days ago commenting that he only likes to see Jews “in the form of smoke.”

“I’m sorry, I apologize and I distance myself from these comments. But let’s finally discuss more intelligent issues,” answered the increasingly flustered Jobbik chairman.

This most recent interview with Mr. Vona suggests that ATV made the right decision when it ended its boycott of Jobbik. Unlike most television stations in Hungary, its reporters and hosts come prepared with quotes, facts and documents, and can put even the much matured Mr. Vona in the hot seat.

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