Hungary's far-right set for poll surge

By Thomas Land, April 8, 2010
Members of the Jobbik party march in Budapest. The party is expected to become the second-largest party in parliament this month

Members of the Jobbik party march in Budapest. The party is expected to become the second-largest party in parliament this month

Hungary's extreme-nationalist Jobbik party is widely expected to become the second largest party in parliament following the two-round national election set for April 11 and 25. The outcome will be of enormous concern to the Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in eastern Europe.

The ruling socialist minority administration is expected to be routed by the electorate. Its erstwhile liberal coalition partner, which once enjoyed widespread support from Hungarian Jewry, will probably disappear. The populist, ultra-Conservative Fidesz party will grab power with a landslide majority. And it will be pushed further to the right by the vigorous, nascent Jobbik party, whose prospective parliamentary deputies have promised to take their seats donning the menacing black uniforms of the banned paramilitary Hungarian Guard.

The party currently has no seats. Their gains may exacerbate the current upsurge of antisemitic agitation by neo-Nazis exploiting the poverty and unemployment caused by the economic turmoil of the credit crunch.

Shortly before the elections, the windows in the Budapest home of Chabad's Rabbi Shmuel Raskin were stoned by unidentified assailants during a Passover seder. And in Tiszaeszlár, a deprived region of eastern Hungary, a neo-Nazi rally has sought to revive an infamous blood libel case that was dropped in the absence of evidence by the courts in 1882-83.

Peter Feldmájer, chairman of the Association of Hungarian Jewish Religious Communities, the country's biggest Jewish organisation, says that antisemitic abuse has not been this high since the 1940s.

There is no statistical evidence yet of Hungarian Jewry responding with mass emigration. But the community abounds with anecdotal evidence of recent graduates settling in Israel and the UK, and their parents considering their options on the depressed local property market with the intention of joining them as soon as possible.

George Konrád, the international best-selling Jewish novelist, blames Viktor Orbán, the Fidesz leader and now prospective PM, for creating a "political monster" by persistently encouraging the far-right in the hope of absorbing its supporters into his own camp.

But Judit Lakner, a well known children's author (and Mr Konrád's wife), hopes that the entry of the far-right into Parliament will force Fidesz towards the middle-ground of politics and enable it to become a powerful, proper Conservative party hitherto lacking in Hungary.

People close to Mr Orbán believe that he is not an antisemite - just addicted to power. Hungary's Holocaust Memorial Day was initiated by a previous Fidesz government under Mr Orbán in 2001. Mr Orbán himself is widely believed to have at least one Roma grandparent, linking him to a minority loathed by the Hungarian far-right even more than the Jews.

Fidesz has been campaigning with a populist promise focused on restoring Hungary's past greatness, without revealing meaningful aspects of its policy priorities. By contrast, Jobbik has published a legislative programme that includes the restoration of the defunct Gendarmerie, a brutal, antisemitic security force that served as a major instrument of the Holocaust, deployed in the deportation of some half a million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Last updated: 1:27pm, April 8 2010