Ildikó Lendvai: The democratic left must not ally itself with Jobbik

Ildikó Lendvai, the former Chairperson of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Member of Parliament for twenty years (1994-2014), has been critical of her liberal and left-centre colleagues who believe that the only way to topple the authoritarian Orbán regime is to enter into a partnership with the once far-right, but now more moderate Jobbik party ahead of the 2018 elections. Ms. Lendvai’s Hungarian language column appeared in the Budapest-based Népszava daily. This thoughtful piece was translated to English by HFP’s editor, Christopher Adam.


Ildikó Lendvai. Photo: Népszava

Some of my outstanding friends, great thinkers, people committed to personal rights and freedoms have come forward with this idea: the democratic opposition must partner with Jobbik, because only this way will a change in government be mathematically possible. If I were to parrot this view, I would argue: we need to be pragmatic and anyhow, all of this would be only temporary. It would only last until a new electoral law was passed, until a new constitution, until new media regulations were enacted, until state corruption was eliminated, until the main culprits were removed. It is foolish to twist oneself into a pretzel over mere principles and ideology–say even some of those who work with ideas and principles professionally–because the people don’t care about these things. The term “ideology” is rapidly becoming a pejorative, just like the term “politics” has become a curse word too. Even highly trained, bright young people are claiming to be without ideology.

The idea of building an anti-Fidesz alliance with Jobbik is the monster child of the anti-ideologically ideology. This was born from the poisonous mix of hope and hopelessness. Hopelessness, in the sense that the democratic camp is not expanding rapidly enough and is still too weak to bring about a change in government. And it is born out of the hope that things just can’t possibly stay the way they are. Whatever the price, something must be done.

Something must, indeed, be done. But not this–not to replace the pail with the bucket. I have heard a million times the idea of “working the devil” and that even Churchill allied himself with Stalin against Hitler, and so on. A ‘yes’ for Stalin, but a ‘no’ for Szálasi, because while each of them are monsters, Hitler and Szálasi are the carriers of the same virus. You can dialogue with either, but you will contract the same sickness.

I do not want to mention Orbán or Vona in the same breath as Hitler or Szálasi. They do not resemble either. But they do resemble each other. This is especially true now that Jobbik’s president is pulling his party in a little from from the extreme edges. They are now standing in the same area of the chessboard as Fidesz–a party that desires to attract Jobbik’s supporters. The politics of the two parties are no longer distinguishable by the naked eye. “Fidesz is on a roll–it wants to become Jobbik”–wrote an online paper.

What is the point in allying ourselves with one Fidesz against the other Fidesz? However strong the passion and desire, it is not with Orbán personally that we must finish, but rather with his politics. Many people have pointed out that after winning an election without a real program, Fidesz has essentially enacted a significant part of Jobbik’s platform. This included a constitution that refers to the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen (something that Fidesz said not a word about before the elections), obligatory religious or moral education in schools, a politics of the family that disadvantages ‘alternative forms of co-habitation,’ dual citizenship,  the denigration and shortening of trade schools and educational programs, the ‘school police,’ and ‘a politics of the east,’ instead of a Euro-Atlantic orientation. This also included turning the anniversary of the June 4th signing of the Treaty of Trianon into a cult-like day, the removal of the Mihály Károlyi and György Lukács statues, the re-naming of Roosevelt Square, the cult of József Nyirő, Albert Wass and Cécile Tormay, the attack against private pension plans and raising the idea of reinstating capital punishment. If it wasn’t Orbán that had said all of this, then would it be okay?

The gravest sin of the current political course is that it made hatred and prejudice bloom. Should we tolerate another party as it waters the seeds of hate further, with its own set of stereotypes? If the democratic parties approve, bless or in certain constituencies ask its members to vote for the Jobbik candidate, what is the guarantee that this will only be temporary in nature? What is the guarantee that the individual voter will not end up with the party that offers a cheap panacea for all of their problems?

If it was acceptable to vote for Jobbik once, why would it not be acceptable to do so again? What would we say in constituencies that were either implicitly or explicitly given to Jobbik? Should we say that you should vote for László Toroczkai, so that we can send Orbán packing? And then later, if all of this works so well that we have strengthened Jobbik with left-wing votes, should we say that now you should vote for Orbán, in order to get rid of Toroczkai?

It is a commendable goal to bring home to the left those Jobbik voters who are not hopeless racists, because our norms can sensitize them against prejudice. But the only way that this becomes more than merely fishing for votes is if we make it clear that we do not want to align ourselves with Jobbik’s ideas–not even transitionally, not even for a single minute.

If we are not even able to win with Jobbik, then all that is left is the bitter embarrassment. But it is even worse, if we are able to win. How would we govern together, even temporarily, even if we try to hide behind the term “technocratic government,” since the cabinet’s slogans and direction would have to be voted on by this absurd coalition? It is not true that all we need to do is quickly change the electoral laws. For this, you need to amend the constitution, but in the meantime you need to approve a budget, regulations for the beginning of the school year and you need to launch foreign policy initiatives. You can remove two statues, you can pour red paint on one of them and, fine, you can even put a kipa on its head. But then in light of this, do we go and increase the child benefit for parents? For every Miklós Horthy Street do we get an Imre Nagy Square?

A government like this is condemned to defeat. And after it all, Fidesz would rise victorious and would beat its chest, saying that it was the only party not to ally itself with Jobbik.

Yes, it is much harder to win a majority without Jobbik. But sometimes we must choose the more difficult road, because the other one portends nothing but shame and embarrassment.

Ildikó Lendvai

Translated by: Christopher Adam


  1. Avatar Bendeguz79 says:

    That may just be the sure way to crown Orban !

  2. Pingback: Jobbik umjesto Orbána? | Bilten

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *