Don’t give Jobbik the victim status it craves
Excluding it from Britain would only play into its conspiratorial narrative.
It looks like the British public may soon get acquainted with a genuine xenophobic and quasi-fascist political movement. Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary’s embittered and conspiratorially minded Jobbik party, is set to address his ‘sympathisers’ in London this weekend. It seems pretty clear that the objective of his visit is to provoke a media backlash, perhaps succeed in getting banned from entering Britain, and thus gain even more publicity for his self-proclaimed victim status and for his enraged movement. This publicity value of his trip stands in sharp contrast to the significance of the meeting he is holding in London. Judging by the discussion on the Facebook page for the London gathering, his audience will consist of a tiny number of Hungarian expats who feel threatened by a world they cannot comprehend.
Back in May, I chatted to a group of Jobbik newspaper sellers outside the Feny Street marketplace in Budapest, and I was struck by their eagerness to explain how Hungary had become a victim of an international Zionist plot. They informed me that Israel was literally buying up Hungary on the cheap. They complained about the role of international capitalism and the way neo-liberals were threatening the culture and integrity of their homeland. In another chat I had, with two Jobbik-supporting university students, I was told about the links between this international conspiracy and Hungarian Jews. One of the students insisted she was not anti-Semitic as such. ‘Jews are a problem because they cannot be trusted’, she explained. This belief that Jews constitute a kind of disloyal ‘fifth column’ for interests that run counter to Hungary’s interests is these days held not only by hardcore Jobbik supporters, but by many others, too.
There are understandable reasons why Jobbik enjoys significant electoral support In Hungary. The main beneficiaries of regime change in Hungary were the old Stalinist elites. After the end of the Cold War, they simply privatised their way of life and grabbed a disproportionate share of the wealth of the nation. Corruption became institutionalised, causing a great deal of contempt for the parties of the Hungarian left. In particular, the shoddy record of the former social-democratic regime led by Ferenc Gyurcsány provoked widespread revulsion against the left. This led to the election of the conservative Fidesz government. It also allowed Jobbik to gain 16 per cent of the vote in the last national election.
In the Western press, it is the virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Roma prejudices of Jobbik that excite journalists. And there is little doubt that the pathological hatred directed at these minorities by the likes of Jobbik is far less apologetic and far less restrained than is the case with their far-right counterparts in Western Europe. To some extent, this reflects a difference between the cultures of anti-Semitism in the east and the west. But what is really significant and striking about Jobbik is its synthesis of conspiratorial xenophobia, anti-liberalism, anti-capitalism and aspiration for order. Jobbik supporters do not think of themselves as right-wing. Some of them told me that they want a ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism. Many of their views on economic and social issues sound very similar to the anti-banker and anti-neo-liberal sentiments expressed by followers of the now defunct Occupy movement.
On a one-to-one level, what strikes you about Jobbik supporters is their intense sense of victimhood. They have taken victim culture to its grotesque extremes, wrapped it up in a tissue of conspiratorial thinking, and recycled it in the language of patriotic resentment. Don’t compare them to the Nazis of the past – they may share a common grammar of resentment and hatred with those twentieth-century forces, but they are fundamentally very much a product of the cultural politics of the twenty-first century. This is one reason it would be a mistake to ban Gabor Vona from coming to Britain, as some radicals are now asking the UK home secretary Theresa May to do – because such a ban would unwittingly help to bolster Vona’s claim that he is an embattled victim of dark political forces and of globalisation. He wants us to clamour for his exclusion from Britain; let’s not play his game.
Frank Furedi’s First World War: Still No End in Sight is published by Bloomsbury on 30 January. Visit his website here.
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