Jobbik creatively circumvents Fidesz restrictions on political billboards

Hungary’s ruling regime, which passed a probably unconstitutional law restricting Jobbik and all other parties from buying advertisements on billboards at discounted prices, begins the weekend with a rude awakening. If the opposition party is no longer allowed to purchase advertising space at below market rates, why not just buy the physical billboard altogether, through an advantageous financing agreement with a friendly oligarch? That’s exactly what Jobbik did and in a country where everything is stranger than fiction, you now have a political party that has suddenly become the owner of extensive billboard infrastructure that dots highways, roads and busy intersections.

The new Jobbik billboard features Jobbik leader Gábor Vona in the middle, Viktor Orbán to the left and corruption-plagued Fidesz politician Antal Rogán to the right. The billboard reads: “With you, we will remove them from power — Jobbik: on the side of the people.”

Jobbik, which irked Fidesz by plastering the country with billboards that showed the close-up, black-and-white faces of corrupt and morally depraved-looking Fidesz politicians, promising to boot them from power, is believed to have secured most of these billboard spaces at heavily preferential rates from multimillionaire Hungarian media magnate, businessman and oligarch Lajos Simicska. As our readers will remember, Mr. Simicska was Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s college roommate years ago, a close friend and supporter, up until their spectacular, obscenity-laced falling out two years. Since then, Mr. Simicska appears to support Jobbik’s efforts from the background, although he has turned his Magyar Nemzet daily and his cable television network, Hír TV, into reasonable, measured media platforms that appeal to liberal and left-leaning voters too.

Péter Jakab told the Magyar Nemzet daily that the controversial legislation banning parties from obtaining billboard spaces at discounted rates no longer applies to Jobbik, as the party now owns physical billboards across the country. Mr. Jakab also claimed that his party purchased physical billboards from more than one company, trying to dispel the strong suspicion that Mr. Simicska may have played a central role in this deal. The party spokesperson added that these billboards will be used to promote Jobbik all the time, even when it is not election season. They have no intention of ever offering these for private, commercial advertisements.

The new Jobbik billboards will follow the three themes of the party’s campaign ahead of the April 2018 elections: anti-corruption initiatives, stopping the out-migration of Hungarians by increasing wages and controlling immigration to Hungary by the re-establishment of the Hungarian Border Guard Service. (The Service was merged with the Hungarian police force in 2007, three years after Hungary joined the EU.) Jobbik also promises to do away with residency bonds that Fidesz has allowed wealthy foreigners to purchase, in order to buy access to Hungary and to the EU.

In addition to buying physical billboards, people almost certainly associated with Jobbik have found another way to circumvent the Fidesz law. Hundreds of billboards have sprung up in Hungary that bear the name of no political party or individual politician, but depict Viktor Orbán, Fidesz politician, village mayor and billionaire plumber Lőrinc Mészáros, mysterious political adviser Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán, who is perpetually implicated in suspected corruption, alongside the word “gangsters.” Jobbik’s spokesperson emphasized that his party wholeheartedly agrees with this message, but denies that it is behind the anonymously posted billboards.

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