Hungary goes to the polls next Sunday in an election that analysts predict will produce a landslide victory for the centre-right opposition Fidesz party. But the race is on for second place between the governing Socialists and radical nationalist Jobbik party.
Weakened by a series of corruption scandals and a nationwide weariness with eight years of lacklustre government, the Socialists are imploding. Gordon Bajnai, the prime minister, has said he will leave politics after the election. Former Socialist voters, especially in the deprived north-east of the country, are turning in droves to Jobbik, whose name is a pun in Hungarian on “the better ones” and “more right”.
Respondents of a poll conducted at the end of March, commissioned by the think-tank Századvég Foundation, gave 36 per cent to Fidesz, 12 per cent to Jobbik and 11 per cent to the Socialists. Which probably explains why in the past few weeks a steady stream of ever-more lurid stories attacking Jobbik politicians have been run across the Hungarian media, first appearing on blogs, before being enthusiastically picked up by pro-Fidesz television stations and newspapers. Fidesz officials say the party has nothing to do with the anti-Jobbik stories. Even though the party is apparently assured of victory, Fidesz leaders hunger for a two-thirds majority that would allow them to make constitutional changes. With such large numbers of voters still undecided as to who to support, there is still plenty to play for.
Jobbik party spokesman András Király resigned after pictures of him at a gay pride parade in Toronto surfaced on the Képviselö Funky blog in Budapest. The pictures, showing him posing and laughing between two transvestites, were somewhat at odds with his portrayal on the party’s website as a family man who spends much of his spare time reading the Bible. Jobbik is also an outspoken opponent of Budapest’s own annual gay pride parade, which last year had to be protected by phalanxes of riot police to prevent violent attacks on the participants.
Soon after this story, a member of the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard) – a now illegal organisation allied to Jobbik, whose members wear paramilitary-style uniforms and march in formation – was discovered to have starred in lesbian pornographic films. Magyar Nemzet, a conservative newspaper, then ran a lengthy article alleging that a Jobbik politician had tried to have his parents committed to psychiatric care after frittering away the family fortune. The media is running a smear campaign as support for Jobbik rises, says Zsolt Varkonyi, a press spokesman. “We are getting stronger and stronger and that’s why there are all these slanders against Jobbik. There is a battle for undecided voters and if they receive this kind of information for weeks they can think there is something wrong.”
It’s ironic that the internet has proved such a popular weapon against the far-right party. Jobbik is probably the most media savvy of all the Hungarian political parties and has built much of its support, which is especially strong among young people, by deftly using the internet to campaign and build its national network. It runs a slick website with information in English, French, German and Russian as well as Hungarian. And despite Varkonyi’s worries, the continous stream of revelations so far has not dented the party’s support.
For many of its voters Jobbik is more than a political party, it is a lifestyle and a radical belief system that is profoundly opposed to Hungary’s political and media establishment. The web and newspaper attacks will likely only confirm its supporters’ beliefs that the country’s leaders are running scared.