Protesting alongside Jobbik is a risky move for the liberal opposition

There is no doubt that Jobbik, once a party of the far-right, now appears to be a more palatable choice for moderate conservatives than Fidesz, which today occupies the extreme right in both its rhetoric and policy. Whether the rejection of the far right represents a genuine change of heart on the part of Jobbik or merely a cynical move is, however, open to question. On Friday, Jobbik will hold a protest against a clearly politically motivated action on the part of the State Audit Office, which if not overturned, will bankrupt the party and make it unable to contest elections in 2018. “Let’s protest against the construction of the Orbánist dictatorship,” notes the promotional material for the upcoming demonstration. The small Együtt, Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and Momentum parties have all pledged to participate in the Jobbik protest out of solidarity, even though each party falls on the liberal or the centre-left side of the political spectrum. The liberal opposition needs to exercise caution when deciding whether to march hand-in-hand with Jobbik.

Gábor Vona, a Hungarian flag and the words: Viktor Orbán has not only attacked Jobbik, but also Hungarian democracy.

Jobbik will be using torches during their Friday evening march. For me, this brings back memories of Jobbik from its hard right days, when it unleashed the Magyar Gárda paramilitary group on the country. I remember watching a torch-lit Jobbik march in the streets of Budapest in 2009, as well as seeing photos of similar marches by the uniformed Magyar Gárda, striking fear in Roma communities. Gergely Márton of writes about the dangers for Gábor Vona, Jobbik’s increasingly soft-spoken and moderate leader, in tomorrow’s march. If symbols of the party’s far right past rear their ugly heads at the Friday protest, Mr. Vona will lose much credibility in arguing that Jobbik is, indeed, a bona fide and respectable conservative force. I would argue that the impact on parties like Együtt that march alongside Jobbik would be equally devastating and would probably further disenchant an already unmotivated liberal and left-centre voting base.

Even if Jobbik no longer had any extremists in its voting base, it would take next to no effort for a handful of Fidesz party youth to show up with extremist symbols, pretending to be fascistic Jobbik supporters.

Mr. Márton notes that Mr. Vona’s challenge on Friday seems almost insurmountable. He must at once draw a massive crowd in support of the party, so as to demonstrate that pollsters have been underestimating Jobbik support (which is currently languishing at around 15%, well below their 2014 election result). And whilst drawing a massive crowd, Mr. Vona must also ensure that embarrassing extremists stay home. Yet the larger the crowd, the greater the risk that someone will show up in an old Magyar Gárda uniform, with an anti-Semitic placard or some other relic of the far right.

On Friday evening, Jobbik will march to Fidesz party headquarters in Budapest’s Lendvai utca. This is a relatively narrow street and tight space, so a smaller-than-expected crowd will not look as discouraging, as if Jobbik would have decided to protest in the expansive Kossuth Square outside Parliament. During the party’s October 23rd commemoration, held on a rainy and cool day, the crowd was very small. Mr. Vona must hope that Friday, his call will have resonated with a much broader demographic and, indeed, with the right people.

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