Here we are in April 2021, roughly one year before next year’s general elections in Hungary, and, as expected, our opponents on the international media landscape have already begun sharpening their knives. Following a series of attacks from German public broadcasters Deutsche Welle and ZDF (you’ll find these stories here, here and here) last month, it was only a matter of time before one of those always-so-concerned news outlets joins the liberal, anti-Hungary chorus.
While in most cases in the past we had to dodge direct bullets, with an article published yesterday entitled “On the way to the EPP? The astonishing change in the once far-right Hungarian Jobbik party,” liberal German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) throws a curveball: Instead of criticizing our policies every step of the way, they now aim to strengthen our opposition by drumming up positive PR for Hungary’s anti-Semitic far-right. In fact, the article is merely an interview with Jobbik’s deputy group leader Koloman Brenner along carefully designed message lines and plenty of spin.
According to FAZ, the “once far-right Jobbik” now views itself as the ideological successor of – wait for it – Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman. Also, Jobbik is now apparently “pro-European” and “transatlantic.” The article does mention some of Jobbik’s past scandals, including the curious case of “top politician” Márton Gyöngyösi, now a Jobbik MEP, who called for the listing of all members of parliament and the government of Jewish descent in 2012; but deputy group leader Brenner calmly notes that Gyöngyösi has since “cleared up his statement.”
As for other instances when Jobbik politicians demonstrated unacceptable, often outright anti-Semitic and anti-Roma behavior, Brenner said that these were the actions of “young idealists” who “sometimes expressed their dissatisfaction in a very radical way.”
That is perhaps this year’s greatest understatement. Let’s recall some of these occasions when these “young idealists” have “expressed their dissatisfaction.”
Jobbik MP Gergely Kulcsár gained notoriety in 2011 when he spat in the “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” a well-known Holocaust memorial in Budapest. He even sent a photo of it to his fellow party members with a caption. “This afternoon,” wrote Kulcsár, “I felt like I could use some recreation, so I visited this happy place by the banks of the Danube that you can see on the photo. The photo was taken after spitting into the shoe.” Previously, Kulcsár has referred to the Holocaust as the “the Hoaxocaust”. Kulcsár was only excluded from Jobbik last year.
In 2015, after the Hungarian movie Son of Saul won the Academy Award for best foreign film, former Jobbik Vice-Chairman Előd Novák made a promise. “If Jobbik enters into government, it will put an end to the Holocaust industry in the film business as well,” Novák said.
But we don’t have to go back that far in time to find outrageous comments from prominent Jobbik politicians. In the run-up to a by-election last October, the unified opposition stood behind László Bíró, a Jobbik candidate with a disturbing history of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements. Among these, for example, he referred to Budapest as “Judapest,” while on another occasion, he complained that there were too many foreign Jews visiting the spa hotels in his district. And Bíró didn’t simply complain, he did it in a deeply offensive way.
“My dog goes crazy when those with the lice-infested 'sideburns' pass by the house,” László Bíró wrote on social media, referring to the Polish, Russian and Israeli Hasidic Jewish tourists who practice a custom of growing sideburns into payot. In Hungarian, Bíró used the highly offensive word “tetűcsúszdások,” a term that includes a reference to lice. It’s difficult to find an English term that would properly capture the overflowing hatred behind his comment. It suffices to say it was an awful slur. What’s more, in another comment referring to a common Roma family name, Bíró wrote that “the country must be protected not only from the Hassan but also from the Sztojka.”
When reading about Jobbik’s “astonishing change,” one must always keep in mind that while changes in policy and leadership can be made overnight, the values and ideals of a political group cannot be altered from one day to the other – especially when so many of the faces remain the same.