Karolina Wigura: Popularity of the extreme right in Europe in the past few years has often been explained by the influence of the financial crisis from 2008. As an economist, do you think this is also the case with Hungary? And is the success of Hungarian radical right surprising to you?
János Mátyás Kovács: To tell the truth, I find Jobbik’s program primitive and terribly boring. It recombines traditional motives of national socialism such as protectionism, egalitarianism, romantic anti-capitalism, state interventionism and the like, and complements these with hate speech with regard to communists, the EU, Jewish capital, the transnational companies, etc. In the mid-nineties, I published a paper on what I called „postmodern populism“ to compare new political strategies in Austria and Hungary but at that time even in my worst dreams I would not have thought that I would ever be confronted with the question of „national radicalism“ as Jobbik loves to designate its political course euphemistically. As to the future of Hungarian politics, I was prepared for a kind of soft nationalism with suppressed passions, coded racist discourse, and a few ridiculous neo-nazi groups. In other words, I was prepared, naively enough, for laughter rather than angst and contempt. Today, watching the Hungarian Guard march in the streets, listening to a Jobbik MP who demands conscription of Jews, or opening the newspaper in the fear of seeing just another photo of a murdered Roma child – I think all these badly need explanation that goes beyond repeating truisms on the lack of Vergangenheitsbewältigung or the sad repercussions of the global economic crisis. At any rate, there are hardly any societies in Eastern Europe suffering from the crisis to a similar extent which have to face as well-established nazis as we do. I must admit that I am also fed up with the repeated charges leveled at the „neoliberals“ who allegedly unleashed the markets during the past two decades, causing unbearable inequalities, in particular in northeastern Hungary, a rust belt zone populated by starving poor, most of them Roma.
Let’s go back for a while to what you said about the boredom of Jobbik’s program. How is it possible that a party whose program is so completely uninteresting, is so catchy for voters?
When I say that the Hungarian extreme right is boring, I do not only think of its economic messages but also of the political techniques of mobilization and indoctrination as applied by Jobbik and dozens of its fellow-traveler groups, some of them bordering on terrorism. Boredom does not mean that you would not burst out in anger and disgust in facing the physical or verbal aggression performed by their followers (for instance, seeing those football hooligans who stormed a lecture hall at one university in Budapest the other day, yelling at the striking students: „we wish you will die of hunger washing dishes in a McDonald’s restaurant in London“). Nevertheless, the large-scale use of the Internet for political propaganda, cherishing of the „national rock“ culture, wide-range paramilitary education and organization, ethnic scapegoating, anti-corruption campaigns, pro-Iranian attitudes, and above all the trivial fact that as far as its economic demands are concerned, the extreme right is actually arch-leftist – these are no differentia specifica of the Hungarian neo-nazis however successful they may be. Without trying to deny the policy errors made by the socialist-liberal governments between 2002 and 2010, I am sure Jobbik would not have been able to survive if Fidesz had not followed its first steps with “careful love” as Viktor Orban put it.