This May’s European Parliament elections may be overshadowed in Hungary by the national elections on 6 April, but they’re becoming a rallying cry for radical parties elsewhere on the continent. In Western Europe, Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Geert Wilders of The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom are hoping to create gridlock in Brussels with the formation of a pan-European alliance of eurosceptic parties. Citing anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric, they’ve given the cold shoulder to Jobbik, the most vocal critic of European integration in Hungarian politics. We spoke with Márton Gyöngyösi, deputy leader of Jobbik’s parliamentary fraction and vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to get an explanation for the divisions among European nationalists and to find out what his party thinks about Hungary’s place in the EU.
What is your campaign strategy for the European Parliament elections?
As you’re probably aware we have three elections this year: national parliamentary elections, the European Parliament election and then the local elections. Of course our relationship with the European Union is a very important topic, even on the national level, but it’s not our main focus now. After the national elections, we’re going to jump into a month and a half of campaigning for the European Parliament elections. In 2009, when we ran for the first time, we reached a very good result of 15% and we sent three MEPs. We hope to reach at least that percentage. Our European Parliament program is already well on the way. Unfortunately, we are somehow ostracised from the mainstream media and our messages do not come through. So we use very direct campaigning, with much more emphasis on the internet and on public forums.
What kinds of issues are you hoping to raise concerning the EU in both the national elections and the European Parliament elections?
Just like in a lot of other countries there’s a big deal of euroscepticism sweeping through Hungary. In these times of economic and financial crisis much of the blame has been put on the EU and I think rightly so, given the way this crisis has been managed and the way the EU is transforming itself. I think there is a lot of resistance to the continuous centralisation that the EU has been undergoing since the Lisbon Treaty, since the Maastricht Treaty if you like. I think most of the Hungarian people reject this and I think these elections are going to be very much about the future of the EU. I’m expecting a very eurosceptic result from this country – and overall as well. This is not just Jobbik. I think euroscepticism is beyond Jobbik and Jobbik’s supporters. Already Mr. Orbán is hinting at a very eurosceptic approach. He’s of course pro-EU and has done a lot for Hungary’s accession, but at the moment, rhetorically, he’s critical of the EU. This is of course political tactics. I think the hardcore Fidesz supporters are fed up with the EU and I think Jobbik can expect votes from them. I think that was one of the reasons Fidesz did not want to put the national elections and the European Parliament elections on the same date, although it would have been logical. There would have been a very large turnout for the European Parliament elections, and a lot of people would have cast a protest vote on the side of Jobbik. But they didn’t want a high rejection of the EU. That would have been a dreadful message toward Brussels. A positive message from my point of view.
What do you think are the main dangers of increasing EU integration?
I only see dangers. In 1991 we got candidacy. If we want to cast judgment on the EU we have to look at not only our membership, but the whole accession process. A nation negotiating EU membership with Brussels is given guidelines and forced to move within certain boundaries. This has had a very negative impact on Hungary’s transition process. We were told to liberalise and privatise our economy, which meant that in the scope of about ten years Hungary sold out its entire national wealth. We were told that private capital, private investment and foreign entrepreneurship are going to bring us to paradise in no time. But what you can see is that Western European countries needed Hungary more than Hungary needed the EU. They gained a market of ten million in this country, and hundreds of millions if you look at the whole region. Economically, it’s a very substantial step for the EU. Geo-strategically as well. They pushed the boundaries of Euro-Atlanticism towards the east by hundreds of kilometres. This is what you also see in the Ukraine. But it’s not enough to blame the EU and the nasty capitalists in the West. We had a political elite in this country – Mr. Orbán, socialist politicians like Gyula Horn – who were handpicked for this kind of transitional politics. None of them ever questioned European integration or this kind of economic transition. A lot of criticism can be put on them for managing the transition in a way whereby this country has suffered more in 25 years than in two world wars. We have basically lost all of our national wealth and all our national property. We basically have nothing in Hungarian hands at the moment. It is all in the hands of foreign entrepreneurs and investors who bought up factories and in some cases destroyed them.
What are some examples of this?
Our food-processing industry was completely destroyed. We used to be capable of self-sufficiency in agricultural production. Just to give you one example, we used to have 12 sugar factories. We were completely self-sufficient and we exported 75% of our sugar production. Today we import almost all sugar because production has ceased to exist. There’s only one sugar factory in Hungary and it’s under Austrian ownership. The EU says you cannot produce because there are quotas and the quota is about half the self-sufficiency level… What happened to the factories? They were bought up by foreign companies – French and German companies – and destroyed. Now we buy sugar from the companies that bought them. So they bought a market.
Do you think that Hungary should seek to renegotiate the EU treaties?
Exactly. That’s our proposal. We want a referendum on our EU membership and we want to renegotiate, starting with our membership treaty.
If you were to successfully renegotiate would there still be a need for the referendum?
It depends on the outcome. But almost certainly yes. I don’t think it’s possible to renegotiate the treaties to such an extent that we would find it good and beneficial for the Hungarian nation. It would need a complete reshuffle of the agreement. Given the shape of the EU and Hungary at the moment, I don’t think it’s feasible or possible.
So you think in all practical terms a withdrawal would be necessary?
Yes, through a referendum. We would be supporting a withdrawal. That’s the same position we had in 2004. We were campaigning for a Europe of Nations model where national sovereignty is much stronger and where centralisation is less. In 2004 we also had a very critical approach and campaigned on the No side. What we have seen since has made us even stronger in our belief.
But haven’t you seen positive effects of EU membership – haven’t there been foreign investments or trade relations that have benefited the Hungarian economy?
It’s the balance we need to look at. We have over 1000 years of relations with Europe. That’s not a matter of EU membership. You don’t need to be part of the EU to have good bilateral relationships. The EU could have improved relationships. Once upon a time the EU may have been an organisation that was based on mutual trust and mutual benefits, back in the 1960s or 1970s. But today it is not like that. Today it works more like an empire that has a central interest; the interest of the bigger and older nation-states in the EU. They are looking after their own industrial interests and they subordinate every other nation’s interests to that. I think that’s what causes much of the frustration within the EU. And, of course, mistakes have been made. I think the euro was a complete disaster and a complete mistake. That’s an economic analysis, not a political judgment. I think it was completely premature to have one single currency in such a divergent economic environment. They made a mistake and the solution they looked for was even more disastrous. They should have gone in a completely different direction. Now they’re trying to impose even more of this centralised decision making.
You mean the banking union measures?
Exactly. Fiscal discipline and supervision from Brussels. If a sovereign nation-state wants to draw up its budget that’s a question of sovereignty. Having learned from the mistakes of Greece, Brussels wants rights to override national budgetary policy. That’s complete nonsense. Where is that going to lead us? Some bureaucrats in Brussels who have no clue of the real economic situation in Hungary and what the Hungarian people need or desire are going to override the budget of a government? Monetary policy is centralised. Now fiscal policy is going to be centralised within Brussels as well. National sovereignty has suffered a lot in the past couple of years. It’s no wonder that in every country there is some kind opposition to this direction.
The Dutch politician Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen have called for a pan-European alliance of eurosceptic parties. According to media reports, they have stated that Jobbik will be excluded for being too extremist. How do you react to this?
In Western Europe, parties of this type have a program that we cannot identify ourselves with completely. Their opinion about the EU coincides with ours. I think they have the same idea about Brussels as we do. But there is one big difference between them and us. A common ground between Wilders, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, FPÖ in Austria and Le Pen in France – if I want to generalise, the Western European radical movements – is immigration. They are anti-immigration, and since most immigrants are from Muslim countries they have a very strong Islamophobia and very strong anti-Islamic rhetoric. In Jobbik, on the other hand, Gábor Vona has always been putting forward peaceful dialogue between religions. He has been calling Islam a traditionalist civilisation and pointing out that all traditionalists in the world – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu – should join forces and stand up against liberalism, which is basically an enemy of traditionalism. Through propagating multiculturalism and complete nihilism and valuelessness it is basically undermining traditionalism. In this sense Jobbik is a traditionalist party. Our main enemy is not people who have a different culture or a different religion. The common enemy of traditionalists, regardless of where they come from, is liberalism, which wants to sweep away every type of tradition and culture. It is propagating a very colourful, multiethnic, multicultural environment. I think the division line is between traditionalists and liberals, not nations or cultures. This is one of our greatest arguments with Le Pen and Wilders.
You don’t see them as being in the same traditionalist camp as you are?
No. I think they are complete liberals. Absolutely liberal. They don’t see the point. What they are afraid of is that the liberal values of Europe and of Western civilisation since the Enlightenment are endangered by mass immigration. So they are basically protecting the liberal values of Europe. In this respect we cannot find the same platform with these parties because we see the problem completely differently. I think they are part of the problem. They are political mavericks. As a political idea, it is great to find an enemy, shoot at it and get supporters behind your back, but I think they are getting the point wrong. It’s a very bad sign that Europe’s instincts are not working any more.
So you think they have refused to work with you and called you extremist because of your criticism of liberal values?
That’s the root of the problem. But we can take it further. For this anti-Islamic campaign they have obtained Zionist support from Israel. Every single one of them. Since Islam and Israel, or Zionism, are enemies, they have basically formed one camp. You can see that Strache of FPÖ has made a number of pro-Israeli statements and received Zionist support. Vlaams Belang is even financed by certain Zionist communities. Wilders as well. They see immigration and Islam as the greatest danger, so they got one of the greatest enemies of Islam – Zionism – on their side. It’s a completely logical approach. In Hungary we have a completely different problem. If you look at our statements and what we represent, we have been criticising Israeli politics. We have criticised Zionism as a global phenomenon and the way it functions in the world today.
Do you see a risk of this position morphing into discrimination if you’re singling out Jews as being potential agents of Israel? You did make a statement some years ago that there should be an investigation into government members that havedual Israeli-Hungarian citizenship.
Dual citizenship is a risk. It’s a national security risk. I want to be sure that a Hungarian parliamentarian, member of government or civil servant is 100% loyal and 100% committed to my nation when they are making laws or executing them. Everyone in the world thinks the same. In Israel double citizens are excluded from the Knesset. If Israel does that, then why are they hurt if I demand the same thing for Hungary? In America, it has to be completely transparent. Every member of Congress has to put forward what race, ethnicity and religion they belong to and what citizenship they have. All I want is the same type of transparency in Hungary.
Would you make the same demand of other nationalities?
Of course. If someone has Zimbabwean-Hungarian double citizenship that’s also a curiosity.
Would you view them as a potential national security risk?
It could be. If someone has citizenship it means they swore an oath to a particular country. If you swore an oath to two countries then what is the guarantee that you can exclude your loyalty or your identity when you are making the laws or executing the laws of the other nation? There is a conflict of interest. With Hungarian-Israeli double citizenship I think this risk is even higher than with Zimbabwean-Hungarian double citizenship, because we have heard of malicious intentions from Mr. Shimon Perez when he spoke about the colonisation of Hungary by financial and economic means.
I’d like to move back to the alliance question. Are there any other parties that have a similar mentality to you and with whom you might be able to form an alliance in the European Parliament?
The question of alliance seeking comes after the election. Of course you can make alliances if you have a very close program. It appears that Wilders, Le Pen and Strache have this common program. We don’t have it with them. But we did achieve something about two years ago. Our MEP Béla Kovács formed a European-based party called the Alliance of European National Movements. Since the Lisbon Treaty it is possible for individual MEPs to form an international party – based on individual membership, rather than between parties. This is quite an achievement. It shows that we have some kind of negotiating power. We are the strongest party in the radical movement, so we do get a lot of attention in this camp.
But do you see any specific opportunities for cooperation in the next Parliament?
Even a fraction is very difficult to have because you need so many countries and so many members. But I think it’s a non-issue. It’s such a useless organisation, to be completely honest with you. I don’t think it has such a huge significance whether you are sitting in a fraction or you’re a non-attached member. We’re not going to give up part of our program or compromise on our principles just to gain more money or to speak twice on one of these silly issues that the European Parliament is discussing, like the curve of the cucumber. But, to answer your question, it is going to be a very interesting election, especially because of the rising euroscepticism within the EU. Most of the analysts expect a big rise in the influence of eurosceptic parties within the Parliament. I think this is going to widen the opportunities for some kind of alliance. In Poland there is a new party called Ruch Narodowy (National Movement). We have a very close cooperation with them. We sign common press releases and they come to our national days and rallies. We are also looking at cooperation in Croatia, where various parties are forming a bloc for the European Parliament elections. We have contacts and relationships with them. We are continuously building these alliances. It is this part of Europe – Central Eastern Europe – where such alliance building is sensible and appropriate. With French radical parties or British radical parties we have a very different outlook and very different problems.
Two names floating around the media as potential partners are the British National Party (BNP) and the Golden Dawn in Greece.
According to the media, we are financed by Al-Qaeda or by Russia and Iran. There is a lot of nonsense in the media. With Golden Dawn we have never had any contact. When Gábor Vona went to London they said he was going there to meet Golden Dawn. This is completely crazy. In election time Gábor Vona wants to meet the electorate. There are tens of thousands of Hungarians living in London. He went to meet them and talk about our program. Why would he travel to London to meet Golden Dawn? He would travel to Athens. That’s the media for you. We don’t have such cooperation. On the other hand, the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, did join the Alliance of European National Movements with our MEPs. He’s not a member any more but he was a part of this party.
Do you see a good possibility of further cooperation with the BNP?
Our judgment on the EU is converging. But once again I think their anti-Islamic position is something very difficult to match with our outlook on the world. We are looking for an alliance of traditionalism across the world against liberalism. I think Europe is suffering from liberalism. That’s what we should get rid of first and foremost, then find our own roots, our own values and our own traditions and build on that. Instead of hate and finding a common enemy. That’s not going to lead anywhere. We are not going to get rid of the main cause of our crisis: liberalism, which has basically caused valuelessness and a complete detachment from our cultural and religious traditions.