In the recent Hungarian elections in early April, the one party that increased its popularity with voters was Jobbik, the radical party that stands to the right of the Fidesz government. It increased its vote count from roughly 16 percent to over 20 percent. Jobbik is now the largest radical right party in Europe in terms of the percentage of appeal within the electorate. Jobbik often votes together with Fidesz on government policies, but not always. It has also garnered considerable negative press coverage in the West where it has been accused of racism and extremism.
During this election cycle, Jobbik toned down its messaging and ran as a more centrist party. “Now, for the first time, Jobbik has made real inroads into the prosperous trans-Danubian regions, when the conventional wisdom held that the party would remain confined to eastern Hungary, the poorest part of the country,” writes Jan-Werner Mueller in The Guardian.
Jobbik parliamentary representative Tamas Hegedus believes the party did so well because, more than any of the other parties, it spoke directly with voters and not simply through the media. The electoral war between Fidesz and the main opposition coalition also helped Jobbik’s numbers.
Hegedus places himself in the moderate camp of Jobbik. His resume puts him in a good position to be a bridge builder. He is a former member of the liberal party – the Alliance of Free Democrats – and he also served in the first Fidesz government in the office of the prime minister. An economist, he has worked in the private sector for the global consulting firm, KPMG. He is a thoughtful, urbane man who doesn’t fit the stereotypes of Jobbik as a party of narrow-minded chauvinists.
His thinking on economic issues, not unlike Volen Siderov of Bulgaria’s Ataka party, challenges the conventional wisdom of neo-liberalism. “According to the ‘shock therapy’ ideology, if we went through this process very quickly, there might be a sudden economic drop, but then eventually we would have great long-term development,” Hegedus told me in an interview in his office in parliament last May in Budapest. “The first part happened, but the second part didn’t. In three years, the GDP dropped 30 percent. The unemployment rate went from 0 to a million people. Inflation went up 30 percent. The country debt constantly increased. And most of the country’s national property just disappeared.”
The liberalization of the Hungarian economy benefited multinational corporations. But Hungarian companies lost out, with many of them disappearing during the transition years. “Because of the problems with privatization and liberalization, by the end of the 1990s, the number of foreign companies was much higher than of Hungarian companies — even compared to other countries in the region like the Czech Republic or Croatia,” Hegedus points out.
Perhaps his most unconventional views, which are now part of Jobbik’s foreign policy, concern Turkey. Hegedus is the chairman of the Hungarian-Turkish Friendship Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He and Jobbik see Turkey as a great economic and cultural opportunity for Hungary.
“This issue is a breaking point between us and the radical right parties in Western Europe,” Hegedus argues. “For example, the Austrian Freedom Party wanted to initiate an EU referendum against the accession of Turkey. If there are one million signatures then it becomes a compulsory referendum for all of Europe. They asked Jobbik to join this, and we refused. For us, these eastern relations are more important than the relations with the European radical right parties.”
This opening to the east is not confined to Turkey. “The countries I’m thinking of are China, Russia, and Turkey as well as the Central Asian countries,” Hegedus concluded. “Jobbik has been the pioneer of this notion. But not so long ago, the government declared this its own policy too. Obviously we don’t want a one-sided dependency on such countries. But there is a one-sided dependency now: 80 percent of our exports and imports are with the Western world, especially the EU countries and the United States. What we would like to have is a more balanced market situation — a diversification of our export-import market.”
We also talked about his Euroskepticism, his views on Roma, and the relationship between Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard.
Do you remember the fall of the Berlin Wall: where you were and what you were thinking?
I was 21 years old. We’d been expecting for a few years that there would be a change here. But there was also some nervousness that the old regime would remain. I very clearly remember this time because I was actively involved in politics, even as a teenager. In 1989, the outcome of the events wasn’t clear at all yet. Even later, with the putsch against Gorbachev, there was still a threat that the old system would reconstitute itself. In 1989, only in Hungary and in Poland did certain events signal a transition. In East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, the Communist systems were still very hardline. But the changes in Germany were in the air, so to speak.
I was personally in a special situation because of where I lived. I lived in Heviz, at the western tip of Lake Balaton. And Balaton was known as a meeting place for East German and West German family members. This is where we sensed that the German changes were in the air. As a country boy – and this was how I was experiencing the changes — the Wall coming down was an indication that the Communist system would not return here. There was a great symbolic meaning to it, but there was also a practical meaning. It also coincided with the dismantling of the Iron Curtain between Hungary and Austria. It was a great joy to live through that time.
What did you do as a teenager in politics?
There was no formal political organizing at that time. By “active,” I meant only that I had an active interest in politics and that we had discussions among my friends. In 1989, the first opposition parties formed, and I joined one of them right away. The party I joined was the party that seemed to have most vigorously opposed the Communist regime, which was the Free Democrats. From that time on, I started to actively participate in politics. The establishment of the regional chapters of the parties took place very quickly, particularly the Free Democrats and the Hungarian Democratic Forum.
It was very interesting in the countryside because which party you joined, the Free Democrats or the Democratic Forum, was often accidental. The demarcation line was not so clear. Both of these parties had their roots in the 1980s, and they didn’t seem so very different from each other. This ideological demarcation really only happened in the 1990s. When that divergence happened, many people might have felt that they had joined the wrong party. Or the party might have gone in a direction that they didn’t support. I withdrew my membership when the Free Democrats joined with the Socialist Party in a political coalition.
Your political trajectory has taken you from the Free Democrats to Jobbik. Do you feel as if this is an individual trajectory, or has a group of people followed a similar political evolution?
This has been more of an individual case. I was never close to left-wing liberalism. Within the Free Democrats, there was always also a conservative liberal side, which I felt close to at the time. This was the classic English type of conservative liberal. What changed in my thinking was that I felt that national identity was more important here in East-Central Europe. In luckier countries, some things are self-evident, but we have to struggle for them here. I find the organic development based on Burke and de Tocqueville very compelling, but it can only happen in countries where there haven’t been big breaks. Here there was a 40-year-old dictatorship that destroyed such an organic development. There was a metaphor we used at the time — many people know how to make fish soup out of a fish, but how do we make a fish out of fish soup?
You presumably had a choice which political party to choose after the Free Democrats. Why did you choose Jobbik instead of Fidesz or another conservative party?
During the first Orban government from 1998 to 2002, I was working in the Prime Minister’s Office, not as a politician but as an expert analyst in economic policy, which made a great impression on me. I still believe that, until 2010, that was the most successful time for Hungarian politics. The whole transition process was unsuccessful. Only during these four years was there movement in the right direction. And we hoped that the country would be steered in the right direction after that. In 2002, both the hope and the process were destroyed. Obviously I had sympathy for Fidesz, but after 2002, their politics in opposition caused me great disappointment. Their opposition politics after 2002 was powerless and without conception.
At the same time I met the newly forming Jobbik’s young leaders, and they had great power and creativity, particularly Gabor Vona who at that point was vice president. We became close. From 2002 until 2010, I wasn’t participating in party politics, but I was following politics. I also had a personal relationship with Gabor Vona, and he asked me for my personal opinion. At that point, I felt myself halfway between Fidesz and Jobbik, and many of us were in that position. It was the same with voters. In 2010, prior to the elections, 800,000 people were uncertain about whether to choose Fidesz or Jobbik.
If I were a Fidesz member, I’d be in the more nationalist wing of the party. In Jobbik, I’m more in the center. I’m a kind of a bridge person. I have a good dialogue with the government members and the Fidesz party members. Within Jobbik, I push the party toward consolidation and more moderate politics.
What really decided my participation in Jobbik was when Gabor Vona asked me to participate in the parliamentary elections. I thought about it for a month. And then I said yes. He said in his offer that he was counting on my work within the parliamentary fraction of Jobbik. He needed someone to establish the structure of the parliamentary fraction from zero. In the first two years, I did this job as the deputy leader of the Jobbik fraction. In 2010, I was behind Jobbik’s election program — the writing and editing of it. As a professional, this was very interesting and exciting work for me. I was able to use my earlier experiences as a government advisor. Because of this earlier work, I had an overview of the ongoing economic and social processes.
You said that you thought that most of the transition went wrong, but that there was a correction in the first Fidesz government. What do you think went wrong in the transition, and what went right after that? And what is being done today that goes toward correcting the problems from 20 years ago?
First, we missed an opportunity to open a debate on the renegotiation of the country’s debt. We didn’t ask for and didn’t get any reduction of the debt, which is different from what happened in Poland, where half the debt was forgiven. Even at that point, Hungary had the most debt per capita in the region. We inherited this from the Communist system and carry it on until today. This is a burden that we keep pushing in front of us. We haven’t been able to lighten this in any way. Now, it’s harder even to bring up this issue. There was a moment of grace where we could have used our opportunity because of the role that Hungary played in helping German reunification. Yes, it was a different situation for Poland, since it owed other countries and Hungary owed private banks. But renegotiation wouldn’t have been impossible for Hungary.
Another missed opportunity was the way that privatization and liberalization was carried out. Obviously both of these were needed. We had to move from a planned economy to a market economy. But this was a badly managed process. In one of my favorite books on that period, the author described the tragedy of the transition as one in which the institutions that dictated the plan, like the IMF, had no idea what a planned economy was, and the institution that carried out the plan, the Hungarian government, had no idea what a market economy was. So, the conditions for success were not there on either side.
According to the “shock therapy” ideology, if we went through this process very quickly, there might be a sudden economic drop but then eventually we would have great long-term development. The first part happened, but the second part didn’t. In three years, the GDP dropped 30 percent. The unemployment rate went from 0 to a million people. Inflation went up 30 percent. The country debt constantly increased. And most of the country’s national property just disappeared. At the central statistical institute, the counting of the national property was suspended in 1988. It was obvious that it was necessary to recalibrate that, but to suspend it was too much. It’s a shocking fact that a country that was preparing to privatize suspended the measurement of its property. Therefore we only have guesses about how much of the property has disappeared: probably between 60-70 percent. Which meant that for every 100 units of national property, we only got 30-40 percent of its value. The rest disappeared into failures and corruption.
There were also many times when foreign industries bought up Hungarian companies to close them down and take over their markets. The most prominent example was that, out of the six sugar companies in Hungary, only one remains, and we are now importing sugar from other countries. According to the ideology at the time, the production of these companies was not necessary. Even the buildings were destroyed. And now we’re buying sugar at twice the price that we had produced it earlier. There are many examples like this.
Liberalization, meanwhile, happened in a way in which Hungarian companies were not prepared enough to enter into the global market and international competition. Where this process was successful, companies had a grace period and more time to adjust to this global market. In 1992, with this shock therapy approach, most companies actually disappeared, certainly more than would have happened naturally as part of organic competition. Because of the problems with privatization and liberalization, by the end of the 1990s, the number of foreign companies was much higher than of Hungarian companies — even compared to other countries in the region like the Czech Republic or Croatia.
The fourth thing that has caused great damage was faulty monetary politics. During the transition time, many of the previously regulated monetary processes were liberalized, for instance prices in the energy sector. This caused inflation. It was a faulty diagnosis. In a market economy, inflation happens when there is overproduction. In a market economy, they raise the basic interest rate to cool down overproduction. When this occurred in Hungary, they raised the basic interest rate. But because the reason for the inflation was different here, it actually worsened the situation rather than helped it, and caused an even greater shock to the Hungarian economy. It had a restrictive effect on production, but the inflation rate went up even higher. The basic interest rate was kept at a high rate, and this policy was only recently changed. In one of the achievements of the present governance, it dared to lower the interest rate. People warned that if you lower the interest rate, all these bad things would happen. And they didn’t happen. Because the government had previously kept the basic interest rates extremely high, the commercial interest rate was also extremely high. Hungarian companies could only get loans at a very high interest rate. They competed with multinational corporations that got a cut in their interest rates through their parent companies. For 20 years, the government maintained this artificial handicap for Hungarian companies.
What the Fidesz government did to correct these faulty polices was not radical. Wherever possible, they tried to help Hungarian companies. In 1998, the Hungarian economy looked like it had been split in half. By that time, the multinational corporations that had been invited into the country had established themselves and were exporting a lot. But they were not integrated into the economy. They didn’t have a lot of Hungarian suppliers. They weren’t able to pull the Hungarian economy with them. They functioned like individual islands, and the rest of the economy stagnated. The first Orban government wished to bring that other part of the economy into competition, to help them in the market. For example, the government supported the construction industry, which has the largest amount of domestic added value. Also, they were investing into tourism around thermal baths.
State budgeting was conservative and careful. During the first two years, when the global economy was doing well, they were lowering their expenses. In the second phase, when the global economy was slowing down, they were pumping money into it as part of an anti-cyclical policy. This careful fiscal policy was successful and, as a result, state debt decreased. There was economic growth of 4 or 5 percent, and employment started to grow. From 2002 until 2010, the country was sidetracked economically and, by 2009, Hungary almost went bankrupt. So, in 2010, when we were preparing the country’s economic policies, we had to prepare for a much worse situation than before.
From 1998 until 2002, we were still hoping that we would be able to outgrow the national debt. Contrary to the government, Jobbik no longer believe that. My personal opinion and also Jobbik’s opinion is that we need to renegotiate. Many analyses have been published, even in Western professional journals, that it’s impossible to budget out the kind of debt that we have accumulated. The interest burden is growing at a higher speed than economic growth. We know that renegotiating is risky but we have to try it. We’re not calling for a moratorium on the debt. We won’t stop paying. But it’s possible and necessary to renegotiate. No matter what others say in the political sphere, many countries have been successful in doing just this — Argentina, Serbia-Montenegro. With Greece, Ireland, and Iceland, they weren’t calling it forgiveness, but that’s what happened partially with the restructuring. These countries were at the bottom of the pit. We need to avoid falling to the bottom of the pit. We have to make our debtors understand that if they want to see any of this money, they’ll have to forgive some of the debt. This kind of compromise works in normal market relations where it’s possible to create a rational barter arrangement.
The other issue is privatization or nationalization. The first Orban government didn’t take any steps in that direction. We are more radical in our position in saying that we need to take back state ownership in several key strategic industries that are natural monopolies, such as the energy sector and utilities. This isn’t general state nationalization. It’s just in these strategic sectors. In Hungary, all of the utility companies are owned by foreigners. There’s no similar case like this in other countries. The Orban government is taking steps in that direction, and we support that. But with the strengthening of Hungarian companies, membership in the EU poses a great restriction. The EU regulations actually ban the favoring of national companies. But this is a rational policy for public procurement since the government is spending public money for public endeavors. But it isn’t allowed by EU regulations. We are not saying that all the bids have to be given to Hungarian companies, because that would increase prices. It’s good to have competition. But we should give a bit of a break to Hungarian companies. This actually happens in the EU even though they don’t call it this. In the French or German system, state procurement goes to national companies.
There’s a bit of a difference between us and the government because Jobbik is a Euroskeptic party. We don’t think it would be a tragedy to step out of the EU. We wouldn’t do this irresponsibly, without consideration. But when we were preparing to enter the EU, there wasn’t an all-around analysis of the positive and negative sides of EU membership. Those who supported accession only mentioned how much we’d be paying in fees and how much support we’d be getting in return. In this case, the balance is positive. But if we look at the bigger picture, it’s much worse. A lot of support goes to administration and consultants. And a lot of that money goes to the Western companies doing the consulting and administration. Finally, a lot of the support goes back to the donor countries. They also didn’t analyze deeply whether the investment supported by the EU was rational. If a local government goes for EU support, it doesn’t start from what it needs but from what it can possibly get. Cities and towns got a lot of money to refurbish their main squares. This is very nice. But it might not be the most important thing for the development of the country. So, the support system is not actually based on a rational strategy.
Jobbik believes that we need to remain open to evaluating whether every effect of EU membership is ultimately good for us. If we say no, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are turning our backs on the EU. Even in this case, we would still want to cooperate. But we don’t want this centralization from Brussels. Instead we would create regulations that would favor our country. My views are similar to the UK Independence Party in this regard. We don’t want to close off Hungary. But we also don’t want this huge bureaucracy in Brussels dictating what we do in this country.
In 2004, I actually voted against joining the EU. I don’t believe that the power of Europe lies in its unification. I think the power of Europe lies in its colorfulness. The notion that the larger the entity the more success it will have in the marketplace might have been true at one point, but it hasn’t been true for the last few decades. Over this period, we can see the rise of many successful small countries, like South Korea or Finland. A well-governed country can be successful regardless of size.
Also, in my view, Hungary must be open to Eastern markets. Previously Hungary had really good relations in this region. They need to be either reestablished or newly established. The countries I’m thinking of are China, Russia, and Turkey as well as the Central Asian countries. Jobbik has been the pioneer of this notion. But not so long ago, the government declared this its own policy too. Obviously we don’t want a one-sided dependency on such countries. But there is a one-sided dependency now: 80 percent of our exports and imports are with the Western world, especially the EU countries and the United States. What we would like to have is a more balanced market situation — a diversification of our export-import market.
There’s a lot of coverage of Jobbik in Western Europe and the United States. Not all of it is positive, as I’m sure you know. What are the greatest misrepresentations, in your opinion, in this coverage of Jobbik?
Of course we read these articles. I read The Economist and Time magazine every week. And I run into mentions of Jobbik. We also get a selection of German-language publications. It’s interesting that there’s a difference between the views in the different countries. In Germany and in Holland, the press is extremely negative towards us. But as you mentioned, in most countries, Jobbik gets bad press. It’s described as one of the two most extremist parties in Europe, along with Golden Dawn in Greece. I think this is an exaggeration. It’s true that within Jobbik, or around Jobbik, there are manifestations of extremism. These are mostly verbal outbursts. I’m not happy about them. But this is not the mainstream of Jobbik. We are definitely not more extreme than the National Front in France or the Freedom Party in Austria. If we look at the Dutch Freedom Party, they were outside supporters of government policies that, if we had promoted something similar in Hungary, would have been labeled as extremist. We agree with radicalism but not with extremism. I can sympathize with someone doesn’t like us because they don’t like radicalism. But that doesn’t mean that our positions are extremist.
The biggest misrepresentation of Jobbik is when we are associated with violent actions that have nothing to do with us. For example, there was the serial killing of Roma in 2009. It was obvious from the beginning that they wanted to pin this on Jobbik. But during the investigation, they were not able to show any connection to Jobbik. To this day, the background of this series of killings is unclear. From the beginning, there was somehow a suggestion of a connection to one of the secret agencies whose mandate was to destabilize the country in some way. Of course these are only guesses, because we don’t have any answers. But one thing is for sure — we were neither connected to these killings or agree with them. Also in Norway, there was this mass killing by Anders Breivik. He had connections with certain radical groups. In the press, it was presented that he was connected to Jobbik. But we weren’t at all. From the beginning, we have condemned these acts.
The connecting point that the press has created between Jobbik and these extreme or violent actions is the Hungarian Guard. In the beginning, this organization was created as a satellite organization of Jobbik. But the Hungarian Guard and Jobbik are not the same. And the truth is, the Guard has broken into several factions. Also, whatever the Hungarian Guard is accused of — most of it is not true. I’m not a member and I never was, so I have a more distant view of them. It’s not true that they are violent people. There has not been a violent action that these members were party to. One thing is true: people might find the marches that they are organizing threatening. But they are unarmed. They never had and never will have arms. Wherever the Guard was formed and wherever it was strong, it was in villages where the locals felt that it was not safe and the state was not protecting them.
Whether we like it or not, the villages where there’s a disproportionate number of Gypsies, public safety is threatened. I am aware that the criminalization of the Roma community has many factors behind it, and I can talk more about that if you want me to. But the end result is that there’s a very high rate of criminal activity. There are many villages or small settlements where people fear for their lives. Many times crimes are committed that are not reported to the police, crimes like produce being stolen from gardens. Here in the big city, we might say that this is not a big deal. But for many old people and people who live alone, these gardens provide a lot of their livelihood. It’s unfortunately true that in some part of the Roma community, violence has become a cult. Of course this is not true for all Roma Hungarians. But where a lot of Roma live, there are two or three big families where this surely happens, and this is enough to pose a threat to a village. In many parts of the country, the inhabitants feel that the state is not protecting them and preventing the crime. This was the vacuum into which the Guard stepped. It symbolizes self-protection. But obviously this Guard doesn’t have any right to act. It wouldn’t be good for it to have this right. But it has been representing the wish of people to feel secure.
The typical misrepresentation in the Western papers is as follows. Within the same paragraph, they start out with Jobbik. Then they move on to the Hungarian Guard, which they call a paramilitary organization, which is not true because they are unarmed. And by the end of this paragraph, they mention the serial killing of Gypsies. Although it’s true that Jobbik and the Guard have some kind of connection, neither has any connection to these events. And when it’s mentioned in the same paragraph, it is represented as if Jobbik is somehow the initiator of these events. The only thing we would like is for there to be safety and security, for Hungarians and for Roma. Nobody should have to live in fear.
On the Roma question, I understand you’re focused on the issue of criminality. I’m curious whether you recognize that there is violence or criminality toward Roma as well — attacks on Roma or violent stereotyping of Roma? Do you think there’s a similar situation on both sides? And is Jobbik open to sitting down and talking with representatives of the Roma community to talk about points of common interest?
It’s true that stereotyping of Roma and racism exists in Hungary. But it’s not more than in any other country. There’s 10-15 percent of the population open to the racism and xenophobia. This is the same rate in any other developed country. Above this, there are people who are not racists but have bad experiences with Roma. They wouldn’t have a problem if they had a Roma neighbor or a work colleague who is Roma – if they had contact with middle-class Roma. But it’s true that many people have a lot of negative experiences. There was a poll done not so long ago, which was conducted on whether we should use this term “Roma criminality” to refer to an entire group. The other political parties are questioning terminology like “Gypsy criminality,” saying that there’s no such thing. But 91 percent of people in this poll said that there is such a thing. Obviously you can’t assume that 9 out of 10 people in Hungary are racist.
That’s also what Jobbik is saying: there is such a thing as Roma criminality. They accuse us of saying all Roma are criminals, but we are not saying that. But Roma are overrepresented in criminal activity, and there are certain kinds of criminal acts that are typical of Roma. This is represented statistically, but it is not necessarily true of all Roma.
In the United States, you have this “political correctness” that discourages naming things a certain way. For instance, when I say “Gyspy,” your interpreter translates it as “Roma.” There’s a certain kind of notion that using the word “Gypsy” has a negative connotation, so let’s use “Roma” instead. I think that’s an exaggeration. When I say “Gypsy” there’s nothing wrong with that — it’s what we call them in Hungary, and Roma is what they call themselves in their language. Neither one bothers me — we’re talking about the same thing. Hungarian people are inherently more inclusive and tolerant. Our history shows that many different nationalities have integrated into the Hungarian populace like Romanians, Germans, and Slovaks. Obviously our experiences might be different, and therefore our viewpoints might be different.
The status of the Gypsy population was a failure of the transition process. Of course, one can say bad things about the Kadar system — and I am one of the people who opposed it — but it’s true that there were much fewer problems for Gypsies at that time. The larger amount of the Roma population was employed. Their educational level was unfortunately low, so the work they did was at a low level. But they went to work, received a salary, and had a normal rhythm in their lives. And this had a great effect on public safety. We can say that there was peace, and the criminal acts committed by Gypsies was individual, not en masse.
The first companies to go bankrupt were ones that employed Gypsies, like state-owned construction companies. In market terms, these were not very effective companies. But they provided a lot of jobs. So, therefore, the higher unemployment that appeared at the beginning of the 1990s affected the whole population but particularly the Gypsy population. The unemployment rate among Gypsies is 80-90 percent. It wasn’t their fault that their jobs disappeared. Nobody offered them a different job. The state reacted in a very negative way to that. They should have established companies that might not have been that effective but would have at least employed people. Instead they provided aid to the communities. From sociology we know that such aid doesn’t solve poverty but preserves it. If two or three years pass without a person being employed, it’s very difficult for them to rejoin the marketplace. It’s particularly difficult when whole families are affected. So there are whole generations of Roma growing up without seeing anyone working in their environment. There’s a whole population living on aid, like the so-called “underclass” in the United States.
All this was coupled with the liberalization of the police practice and the judiciary system. This has only encouraged the criminality. Not immediately, but gradually a larger percentage of the Gypsy population got used to contributing to their income through criminal activity, because they saw that there was no deterrent measures taken. Nobody was showing them an alternative. The several factors that contribute are: high unemployment rate, lower education, and this lenient police policy. No matter how complex the situation is there needs to be a quick response. The top priority is to strengthen public safety. People need to be protected. Obviously we’re not eradicating the roots of the criminal activity. But we have made the first important and urgent step. Then it’s important to take further steps that address the roots. Adequate education and jobs need to be provided.
And that arrives at the important question you posed — can we find partnerships in the Gypsy community? Unfortunately, the last 20-something years have shown that the people officially representing the Gypsy population are not interested in solving these problems. Their interest lies in stepping in to “solve” the problems of this vulnerable community. They are managing large amounts of aid. Therefore, they have preserved the status quo rather than solve the problems. The State Audit Office produced a very interesting analysis of state budgeting and how the money provided to the Gypsy community was used. The conclusion: this money didn’t contribute at all to addressing the handicaps of the Gypsy population. It was if we were pouring money into a bucket with a hole in it.
Unfortunately the political parties don’t have any interest in solving this problem. We have seen many examples of buying Gypsy votes. It’s easy to buy the votes of poor and uneducated people. Jobbik wants real change. If there are such people or actors from the Roma community who agree, we would view them as partners. There are some people, but these are isolated cases. For instance, there is a Jobbik chapter in the lowlands of Hungary where the leader is a Gypsy. We are waiting for these actors. But we don’t want to contribute to actions that have no content.
I want to make sure that I ask you a final question about Turkey, which you said is a close interest of yours.
I am a chairman of the Hungarian-Turkish Friendship Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Fortunately, there is a consensus among the parties about Turkey, although we have a lot of debates in other issues. As far as Turkey is concerned, we have a friendly relationship. Last week, I was on an official visit to Turkey with the speaker of the parliament, Laszlo Kover, who was invited by the speaker of the Turkish parliament. Hungary supports Turkey’s accession to the EU. We like Turkey; Turkey likes us. Jobbik’s media coverage is even better in Turkey and Azerbaijan (which the Turks say are one nation in two countries).
Jobbik was a pioneer on this question, and I have a personal interest in Turkey. Turkey has more and more of an international position in global processes, partly because of its increasing economic power. They tripled their GDP in the last 10 years. The Erdogan government has big ambitions. Analysts sometimes even say they have neo-Ottoman ambitions. They are very active in overseas investments in Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Turkey has been a well-managed country over the last decade, but not before that. This government is very successful.
Turkey is especially congenial to me because I believe in the Turanian brotherhood, the Turanian kinship. The official position here in Hungary is that we belong to the Finno-Ugric group, but I think this is partly false. Maybe there is some connection in the language. But in terms of cultural heritage, folklore, music, we are relatives of the Turkic nations – the Turks, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Turkmen, Kirgiz, Uzbeks or Uighurs. I’m interested also in ancient history. I think we have common historical roots in the Huns and Attila. The Turks believe the same, that they are the inheritors of the Huns. We sometimes say that we are all the grandchildren of Attila.
This is an important emotional factor for me. As the chairman of the friendship group and as an economist, I think Turkey is a big economic opportunity for Hungary — not just export-import but also joint ventures. It also has big potential from a cultural viewpoint. But we don’t have enough information. Turks like Hungary very much, but they don’t really know the country except for Budapest. The gap between the potential and the current level of investments is very large, and that gap is the result of a lack of information. If we shared more information, the potential increase could be very large.
Jobbik is a radical right party. However, Jobbik is the only European radical right party that has a pro-Turkey standpoint. The common position of European radical right parties is anti-Muslim and anti-Turkey, especially in Germany but also in the Dutch Freedom Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, and the French National Front. When I joined Jobbik in 2009, it was also anti-Turkish and had all the same stereotypes as in Western Europe. Marton Gyongyosi and I worked to correct this foreign policy. You know, he is not an extremist at all. We were colleagues at the consulting firm, KPMG. He’s not an extremist. This statement he made, which received wide coverage all over the world, was totally misunderstood.
The statement about creating a list of Jews – or Hungarians with Israeli passports.
The next day he clarified himself, and asked for forgiveness from all Jews. He wanted to mention only the double-citizenship politicians. But no one cared to hear that. He is a very calm, moderate person.
We were the two who transformed Jobbik’s foreign policy, with the support of Gabor Vona. He also shared our approach, and he also started to transform the foreign policy of Jobbik. What is important: my nationalism means that I am proud to be Hungarian, but I respect other nations too. That’s different from a chauvinist who hates other nations.
There were big debates on the program about Turkey. I revised the original foreign policy program, and there was a little scandal within the party, but it remained the final version. We managed to convince most Jobbik supporters that Turkey is not an enemy but a friend.
That’s the big difference between us and the right-wing parties in Western Europe: they consider Turks as foreigners. Maybe we’re different because we are alone in Europe as a Turanian nation. We don’t belong to the Latin, German, or Slavic nations. But we have a close connection to Turks. Because of this approach, Turks are similar to us, and not strangers. We can combine our patriotic feelings with our Turanian way of thinking.
This issue is a breaking point between us and the radical right parties in Western Europe. For example, the Austrian Freedom Party wanted to initiate an EU referendum against the accession of Turkey. If there are one million signatures then it becomes a compulsory referendum for all of Europe. They asked Jobbik to join this, and we refused. For us, these eastern relations are more important than the relations with the European radical right parties.
Budapest, May 13, 2013
Interpreter: Judit Hatfaludi