jobbik-tuntetok

Throughout much of Europe the anti-establishment right have been making gains for years and years; from hard-line conservatives of the likes of UKIP to ultra-nationalists such as Golden Dawn. However in the Centre of Europe, in the former communist satellite of Hungary, a far more troubling development is unfurling itself, one that is digging up a politics that the continent had thought it had buried for good.

This week saw the World Jewish Congress (WJC), a meeting of the global Jewish community, being held in Budapest. This seems an odd choice at first, Hungary has a relatively small Jewish population, around 100,000 people and the meeting has traditionally been held in Jerusalem. The reason for why the WJC was held in the central European capital however becomes more apparent when you see what was happening outside the Budapest Intercontinental Hotel. For several years the neo-fascist Jobbik Party has been gaining in popularity amongst Hungary’s disaffected, much like much of Europe is experiencing a spike in far-right anti-establishment movements. The only difference between most of Europe and Jobbik however, is that they are and have always run with an explicitly anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Amongst the 1000 strong demonstration to the WJC are some worrying signs; SS tattoo’s, swastikas and speeches referring to the Jewish community as ‘Israeli conquerors’ accused of buying up Hungary and colonizing it for their own ends as well as similar crack-pot conspiracy theories obsessed with the idea that a Zionist faction is pulling all the worlds strings.
It is for these reasons exactly that the WJC chose Budapest as the host for its event, as an effort to highlight the worrying trend of anti-Semitism in former Soviet Europe.

Jobbik, who now represent the 3rd largest political faction in Hungary, with 43 of the 386 seats in the legislature, have proven adept at mobilizing support among young people, especially through social media. Their attentions haven’t been solely focussed on the Jewish community however. Liberals are often blamed for the countries current predicament, and the countries Roma community has faced harassment from the parties ‘Brown-shirts’, known as the New Hungarian Guard. In fact in the small town of Tiszavasvani, the party won the local elections with the promise to eradicate ‘Gypsy Crime’, thus the prejudices of the party are not purely antisymmetric, but instead paints all its potential political opponents as grotesque caricatures that provide the perfect scapegoat for a country faring no better than the rest of Europe since the 2008 crash, with over 10% of the population currently out of work.

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has been widely criticised, both by the Jewish community (including the head of the WJC) and various European leaders, for not doing enough to confront the issue, instead even attempting to imitate the party’s policies to win back votes. Books written by known anti-Semites have been included into the school curriculum, and Orban failed to identify Jobbik specifically as an anti-Semitic entity in his opening speech at the WJC. Orban’s own reasoning for this does require some consideration, his personal fear being that a total opposition to Jobbik would only give more votes to the extremists and simply make the faction more powerful. However, as the German foreign minister recently stated, “tolerance in the face of intolerance is historic foolishness.” So perhaps the best form of defence for Orban and his conservative Fidesz party is attack, seeking to turn the voters away from such desperate means of venting their frustration, rather than chasing them down whichever dark tunnel Jobbik has managed to lure them.
The EU too has been starting to take notice also. Hungary has been threatened that if the situation deteriorates extensively, it will be threatened with expulsion from the single market, an action unprecedented in the unions history. Germany, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands have also attempted to create new, more direct powers for the European Commission in tackling state racism, however, as of yet these new powers have proved ill through out and ineffective.

Hungary faces a growing problem. As a country with a history of compliance with the holocaust, the growing Jobbik faction marks a dark current to Hungarian politics. Unless it is confronted not only by the Hungarian people and the other parties, but also by the EU and its other member states in a more concerted and positive method, the problem will only get bigger. The end result will be bad for Europe, bad for Hungary and certainly bad for Hungary’s Jewish and Roma community.