Why hate party Jobbik is surging


Among the most closely examined morbid symptoms of growing European antisemitism is the Hungarian political party Jobbik.

The party's arrival as Hungary's second largest political party has brought it extra scrutiny. And despite much international handwringing, the party's popularity is growing - according to some polls by as much as 50 per cent in the last year. Worryingly, much of that growth has been among younger voters.

Close observers of the Hungarian political scene say this has less to do with the party's increasingly disguised antisemitism and more to do with the inevitable implosion of the ruling Fidesz party's popularity.

Two years ago Fidesz, a right-wing nationalist party, and its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, were riding high with a massive parliamentary majority. Jobbik was more of a fringe grouping, nakedly trading on xenophobia using antisemitic and anti-Roma rhetoric.

But, inevitably, Fidesz was blamed for Hungary's continued economic woes and voters began turning to Jobbik, one of whose parliamentarians, Marton Gyongyosi, has called for lists of Jewish MPs to be compiled so that their loyalty to Hungary can be assessed.

"Jobbik is spectacularly capitalising on Fidesz's loss of popularity," says Peter Kreko, director of Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank. Mr Kreko says that this must be put in context. "If one million voters have drifted away from Fidesz, about 200-300,000 have drifted towards Jobbik." The rest are pretty much detached from any party.

Fidesz's decline in popularity leaves it vulnerable from the left. In February, a by-election in Veszprem, in the west, was won by an independent candidate whose primary backing came from a coalition of smaller socialist and left-leaning parties.

In mid-April, a by-election will be held in an area of the country where Jobbik is already strong. There is a high probability that the parliamentary seat will go to Jobbik.

Mr Kreko says that Jobbik's continued success owes much to the playbook of France's Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Front. The Jobbik leadership is consciously trying to de-toxify the brand. Overt antisemitism is no longer part of its pitch. It is dealing with bread-and-butter issues. Hungary is still suffering the effects of the 2008 crash, and Jobbik is focusing on jobs and the international creditors that, it claims, hold the country to ransom.

As in France, the rebranding exercise is working. The party's original base was among the headbanging neo-Nazi element in Hungarian society. Today, the local party leader in the agricultural villages where the party is strongest is likely to be a school teacher or a small businessman who has probably never been in a bar brawl in their lives.

Jobbik no longer needs to win votes by stoking hatred because they benefit from never having actually been in government. Fidesz and the Socialists have a record that includes failure and corruption. "Never having been in power," Mr Kreko says, "they are credible with voters in a way Fidesz can never be."

Parliamentary elections will take place in three years. The question is whether Jobbik can use the crumbling of Fidesz to expand support beyond its current 18 to 20 per cent of the electorate - not to mention whether it will retreat to its original antisemitic rhetoric to win over those extra voters.

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