With persistent double-digit unemployment and a new recession looming in Hungary, one might expect the “Movement for a Better Hungary” to be encouraging job-producing foreign investment. But the ultra-nationalist party, better known as Jobbik, has higher priorities.
Instead of courting American investment, Jobbik’s Zoltan Balczo, the deputy speaker of parliament, recently led a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy to express solidarity with Iran. He accused Israel of manipulating the U.S. government, saying “the tail should not wag the dog.”
This sentiment was more explicitly expressed in an interview by Marton Gyongyosi, Jobbik’s foreign policy chief and co-chair of the Hungarian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “It is not that hard to see the control of the Zionist lobby over U.S. lawmakers and the American President.”
At the protest another Jobbik speaker, Hungarian Reformed Church minister Lorant Hegedus, referred to “Jewish control” of the global media and said Jews were responsible for World War II.
One thing is abundantly clear: it is anti-Semitism that binds the Hungarian ultra-nationalists with the ayatollahs of Tehran in a nexis of hate. That is all they have in common.
Jobbik’s goals are to annex parts of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia where ethnic Hungarian minorities live, to persecute Hungary’s Roma minority, and to promote anti-Semitism.
Iran’s goals are to spread its radical Islamic ideology, to dominate the Middle East, and to promote anti-Semitism.
This nexus emits a faint echo of the alliance between the Nazis and Palestinian Arab leaders seven decades ago.
Jobbik has gone beyond political declarations and is actively developing a relationship with Iran. In January, the Iranian ambassador to Hungary and Jobbik’s leader, Gabor Vona, visited the town of Tiszavasvári (population 12,000), which Vona called, “the capital of our movement.” After Jobbik’s candidate, Erik Fulop, won the mayoral election, he created a uniformed but unarmed “gendarmerie” to patrol Roma neighborhoods to combat what he called “Gypsy crime.”
The Iranian delegation and the Jobbik leadership met in the mayor’s office and discussed strengthening economic, trade and cultural relations; exports to Iran of local poultry and greenhouse vegetables and imports of Iranian dried fruits, pistachios, and saffron; and medical tourism from Iran to Tiszavasvári spas. They announced the twinning of Tiszavasvári with the Iranian city, Ardabil.
In October, Jobbik hosted a large Iranian delegation for a five-day conference to discuss deepening the relationship. Vona declared, “For Iran, Hungary is the gate to the West; and for Hungary, Iran is the gate to the East,” and noted that the Iranian and Hungarian flags share identical colors.
Jobbik may be fringe in its politics, but not in its popularity. In the April 2010 parliamentary elections, Jobbik won almost 17 percent of the vote and has 46 members in parliament, just two less than the second-place Socialists. Recent opinion polls put Jobbik at almost 20 percent, ahead of the Socialist Party.
At the national level, official Hungarian policy is solidly against Iran and supportive of Israel, and the governing Fidesz party maintains an enormous electoral edge over Jobbik, polling at almost 60 percent. But the boundaries of legitimate political activity seem to be disappearing.
Hungary’s foreign ministry ordered their diplomats in European capitals, the United Nations and in the Hungarian embassy in Tehran not to attend Iran’s national day celebrations. Only low ranking diplomats were allowed to attend in other countries, and they were under strict instructions to walk out if the Holocaust, criticism of Israel, or Iran’s nuclear program were mentioned. Jobbik’s response was to send its foreign affairs spokesman, Marton Gyongyosi, to Iran’s embassy in Budapest to give a speech expressing great affection and respect.
The boundary-breaking at the local level is going in the other direction as well. A prominent Fidesz politician, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos, joined a Jobbik delegation that welcomed the visiting Iranians in October, as did Fidesz mayors of several other major cities.
Nowhere else in Europe would a deputy speaker of parliament publicly defend Iran with anti-Semitic speech at a protest in front of a U.S. embassy. Nowhere else in Europe would a co-chairman of a parliament’s foreign affairs committee fete Iran at its national day celebration. Nowhere else in Europe would the capital’s mayor welcome an Iranian delegation.
If the ruling Fidesz party wants Hungary to maintain its reputation as a pro-Israel and anti-Iran country, it needs to enforce party discipline on this issue and criticize Jobbik’s Iran policy as morally wrong and against Hungary’s interests.
We should not take false comfort from the fact that Iran’s only political foothold in Europe is Jobbik, the continent’s most ostracized parliamentary party, shunned even by other far-right parties in Europe. Hungary has one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with over 80,000 people, and Iran has a history of targeting Jewish communities abroad.
Any political alliance based on anti-Semitism deserves scrutiny, but the Jobbik-Iran relationship merits extra vigilance.