UAF demands state ban
The leader of a Hungarian far-right party was allowed to visit London - despite protests. Daniel Harvey reports
Jobbik: uniformed wing
The leader of the far-right nationalist Jobbik Party in Hungary, Gábor Vona, made a trip to London last weekend to speak to supporters living here. The Jobbik Party currently has 43 seats in the Hungarian parliament, after achieving a fairly spectacular breakthrough in 2010, plus three MEPs. The Guardian dubbed him “Europe’s most successful fascist”.1
The SWP-dominated Unite Against Fascism managed to organise a petition with 14,000 signatures, which it delivered to home secretary Theresa May, asking her to ban Vona from entering the UK. This was done under the pretext that any far-right presence would likely trigger attacks on migrants and other minorities. It was widely expected that this would succeed, but in the end he was allowed to enter.
Vona’s open letter to Theresa May, dated January 21, explains: “I would like to inform you that the sole purpose of my visit is to address Hungarian citizens only. There are hundreds of thousands living and working in the UK and I would like to present our election programme to them just like any other Hungarian political party.”2 In this way he was rejecting claims made by anti-fascists and others that he was planning to attend a joint meeting with representatives of the British National Party and the neo- Nazi Golden Dawn party of Greece.
When Vona actually arrived, he was chased across London by about 150 anti-fascist demonstrators from the UAF, the anarchist Anti- Fascist Network, and the Brixton Black Revolutionary Socialists. Three separate venues cancelled his bookings at the last moment under pressure from activists and the bad publicity surrounding the visit, the last one only half an hour before the event was due to start.
Holborn tube station was then used as a redirection point by his supporters, but they ended up being trapped inside, unable to leave because of various activists blocking the exits. After some time, and under a lot of police protection, about 100 Jobbik supporters were taken to a rain-sodden corner of Hyde Park, where they listened to a short speech by Vona. They were interrupted by shouts from protestors, one who was videoed shouting, “I’m a Hungarian Jew - you murdered my family!”3
Jobbik has taken legal action against those who describe the party as ‘far-right’. It does accept the term ‘radical rightwing’, but prefers to call itself ‘patriotic’. Its name is a play on words in Hungarian - ‘Jobb’ meaning both ‘right’ and ‘choice’.
The organisation began life in 2002 as a rightwing youth group made up of Christian university students, before being founded as a party in 2003. In 2006 it went into an electoral alliance with the rival Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Only gaining 2.2% of the votes, the leadership rejected the alliance and decided to go it alone.
After this, it never really looked back, achieving its stunning electoral results. It almost bumped the Hungarian Socialist Party out of second place in the 2009 European elections, and managed to squeeze the Liberal Alliance of Free Democrats out altogether.
It has close ties with the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guards), a paramilitary street movement founded in 2007. Members are sworn to “defend a physically, spiritually and intellectually defenceless Hungary”. The Gárda said its aim was to fill the gap left by the Hungarian police, but this ‘gap’ is invariably described as the police’s failure to solve “gypsy crime”.
Vona wore a Gárda jacket at the opening of the parliament in Hungary in May 2010 in defiance of the movement’s proscription in 2009. Even so, the Gárda has kept reappearing under new names, and was prominent in a major protest alongside Jobbik members against the World Jewish Congress held in Budapest on May 4 2013. Jobbik claimed the congress was a “Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary”.
The movement has a distinctly Christian side to it. A favourite minister for this rightwing milieu, Lóránt Heged?s of the Hungarian Reformed Church, was originally an MP for the Justice and Life Party between 1998 and 2003, and he invited holocaust denier David Irving to his church as a “special guest”.
Opposition to Jobbik from the mainstream conservative Fidenz (Hungarian Civic Union) and centre-left Socialist Party has been hit and miss, to say the least. They did take part in a rally in December 2012, in order to denounce a notorious anti- Semitic speech made by Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi. He had called for the state to draw up a list of Hungarian Jews, with a particular focus on those who are in parliament or work for the government, because of what he said was the danger of “control by Israel”.
However, Fidenz has hardly been a consistent opponent of Jobbik. In local government, it has had no objection to forming alliances with Jobbik councillors, and in general has adopted a ‘broad tent’ approach to the nationalist right. Similarly, the Hungarian socialists have collaborated with Jobbik on some issues - for example, a petition calling for government interventions in the energy industry to be investigated was signed by both Socialist Party and Jobbik MPs.
In 2010, the SP actually offered Jobbik the chairmanship of the National Security Committee in exchange for the budget office, which the SP wanted. Both the petition and this deal were withdrawn after the public furore they caused.
This kind of extreme chauvinist politics is nothing new in Hungary - or special to it. In fact it constitutes part of the resurgence of the politics of the 1930s across Europe - from Golden Dawn in Greece, the Northern League in Italy, to the Front National in France. The BNP’s Nick Griffin has actively courted Jobbik, citing what he called a “common core” of shared values between the BNP, Jobbik and Golden Dawn, and calling for an alliance to be formed between them after the European elections in May.4
In the case of Hungary, this recreation of 1930s politics has had a literal meaning in the rehabilitation of admiral Miklós Horthy, whose dictatorship allied itself with Nazi Germany. The above-mentioned cleric, Lóránt Heged?s, has had a picture of the admiral outside his church in Budapest for several years, and in 2013 erected a statue in his honour. Of course, that attracted protests - in this case from many wearing yellow stars, indicating his complicity in the holocaust. Horthy oversaw the sending of 437,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in the space of two months in 1944, most of whom were murdered there.
Apologists claim that this only happened because he was forced into compliancy by the Nazis after his initial refusal. Of course, this is somewhat belied by the anti-Jewish measures Horthy himself introduced from 1920 onwards, beginning with sharply limiting the number allowed to attend university. In 1941 sexual intercourse between Jews and non- Jews was banned. Indeed, it was the Horthy government which introduced the registration system for Jews, like the one supported by Jobbik’s Gyöngyösi, which made it so simple and easy for the Germans to round up the Jewish population.
Anti-Semites in Hungary do not hide their history, as neo-fascist groups in Germany and Britain are more likely to. Some revel in the history of the holocaust in the country. For instance, in 2009 pigs’ feet were scattered over the site of a memorial to the Jews driven into the river Danube and shot by German soldiers in 1944. And the paramilitary Gárda can only have been a calculated replay of the Iron Guard which actively participated in Nazi atrocities in the Balkans.
The strategy of the establishment now appears to be to allow fascists a platform in order to expose them publicly. The best example of this is Nick Griffin’s car crash on Question time in 2009. No doubt, similar thinking underlay Theresa May’s decision to allow Vona into the country to speak. This approach seems to have been partially successful with the BNP, but we have yet to see what will take place in Hungary.
But the popular-frontist tactics of the UAF, whose anti-fascism is broad enough to welcome Conservatives onto its platforms, results in it calling on the state to ban figures like Vona, even though the SWP is aware that such bans set a precedent that can be used against the left.