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DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CE JAMIE LAMORE, INR
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/29/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PINR, PHUM, PREL, SOCI, HU SUBJECT: GABOR VONA AND THE MAKING OF A HUNGARIAN POLITICAL PARTY
REF: A. 2008 BUDAPEST 1209 B. BUDAPEST 00015 C. BUDAPEST 00049
Classified By: P/E Counselor Eric Gaudiosi, reasons 1.4 (b and d)
1. (U) Summary. Jobbik party President Gabor Vona has emerged from obscurity to pursue his ambition to be a prime actor with a leading role on the stage of Hungarian politics. Gravitating from Fidesz, Vona took over leadership of the extreme-right Jobbik party in 2006. Using the Jobbik-created Magyar Garda to "call attention to the serious social problems in Hungary," a media-savvy Vona continues to attract support for Jobbik, in particular among voters in the more rural regions of Hungary. Focused on the upcoming European Parliamentary elections and the 2010 national elections, Vona predicts his anti-Roma, anti-EU, anti-U.S., anti-government, and anti-Semitic Jobbik party will cross the required threshold to earn seats in Strasbourg and in Budapest. As the economy remains at risk and social tensions are on the rise, recent bi-election results in a Budapest district and the popularity of Jobbik's European Parliamentary candidate may confirm Vona's confidence. End summary.
2. (U) Born on August 20, 1978, - ironically, Hungary's National Day - 30-year-old Gabor Vona grew up in rural Hungary, historically a more conservative, inward-looking region. He attended the Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest, earning a degree in a History Department widely considered to be extremely conservative in its outlook. Former MDF MP Kornel Almassy, who studied with Vona at ELTE (and is one of the few alumni we've met who will admit to knowing him even slightly), confided to us that "I'm a conservative, but Vona was off the charts." Initially drawn into the realm of politics in 2002 as a participant in the "Alliance for the Nation Civic Circle" established by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban (and sometimes referred to by MSzP officials as the "Devil's Circle"), Vona gradually drifted away from Orban's Fidesz party towards the extremist Jobbik party in 2004. Vona became Jobbik's President in 2006 and has been working since then to consolidate his grip. Think tank Political Capital observers tell us that Jobbik provoked a battle last fall with far-right rivals - the Hungarian Defense Movement, internet extremist "Tomcat" and others - successfully becoming the single group that dominates the fringe of the political scene. With support from the right-wing websites Kuruc.info and Barrikad.hu, Political Capital believes that Jobbik is building a winning "media empire" strategy.
3. (U) Although deemed uncharismatic and a less-than-inspiring public speaker by many with whom we've spoken, Vona is deemed a very good organizer. Kornelia Magyar of the Progresziv Institute comments that "Vona is not an idiot - but he knows how to appeal to them." Other analysts see Vona "on the right track to pursue his objective to become a professional politician." Anti-Roma, anti-EU, anti-U.S., anti-government, and anti-Semitic, Vona's political agenda is to use "traditional values" to build a "different Hungary" that is outside the European Union and opposed to international capital. In addition to railing against the sale of Hungarian land to foreign investors, he and Jobbik are strong critics of the recent IMF, EU, and World Bank financial support package to help address Hungary's current financial problems.
4. (U) And thus Vona's dilemma - how to effectively pursue his political agenda within the very institutions he opposes. For now, willing to engage in the political game, Vona has reached out to fellow extremist parties in Europe, inviting, for example, British Nationalist Party Chairman Nick Griffin to Jobbik's October 23, 2008 rally commemorating Hungary's 1956 revolution. Vona's recent trip to Moscow - where,
according to him, an eye infection kept him from planned meetings with Russian politicians - received full-page coverage in a conservative Hungarian daily, highlighting Vona's lecture in Moscow on the changing Russian-European relationship. In the interview Vona stated "that Europe has no future without Russia...and if Jobbik has a role in Hungarian foreign affairs we will initiate a dramatic reform of bi-lateral relations with Russia...Russia could be Hungary's strategic partner, and we are obliged to maintain good relations for geopolitical and economic interests."
EP ELECTIONS - ENTER KRISZTINA MORVAI
5. (U) Traditionally anti-EU, Jobbik did not participate in the last European Parliamentary (EP) elections. Indeed, it criticized the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) for doing so. However, this year Vona and Jobbik look to recent by-elections in Budapest's 9th district as a positive indicator of Jobbik's chances in this spring's EP elections. In the bi-election in a normally left-leaning district, the local Jobbik candidate garnered approximately eight percent of the votes cast - albeit only slightly over 600 - placing him third in the voting. After the election Vona commented, "we've become the third force in Hungary, beating one of our main enemies, the Liberal Democrats (SzDSz)." Vona believes that the district elections gives them an important boost leading into the EP elections, arguing that votes for Jobbik will "not be wasted" and Jobbik will place third, enough to send at least one representative to the European Parliament. (ref C)
6. (U) Targeting EP success, Vona and Jobbik have thrown their support behind the even-more-popular Krisztina Morvai as their number one candidate. A criminal lawyer by profession, and a former member of the United Nations' Women's Committee, Morvai has been in the public eye since the violent demonstrations of 2006. Deemed "too radical" by the Civil Lawyer's Committee she founded, Morvai joined, and has become a leading figure in Jobbik. An emblematic figure of anti-government sentiment, Morvai recently led a Jobbik group to the Palestinian Authority's Budapest office to present a petition of support, followed by a sharp, anti-Semitic letter to Israel's Hungarian Ambassador criticizing Israel for "teaching hatred to the world."
VONA, THE ROMA, THE MAGYAR GARDA
7. (U) But Vona's primary focus remains domestic. Making the term "gypsy crime" almost an everyday utterance, Jobbik has a complex "program" to deal with the "issue" - with particular focus on improving public security. Announcing the creation of the Magyar Garda (MG) on March 15, 2006, Vona's original concept was to create a youth organization, but the MG quickly evolved into a para-military organization. Following the initial swearing-in ceremony for 50 members on August 20, 2007, the organization now claims almost 2,000 members.
8. (U) In response to the recent court decision - now under appeal - declaring the MG illegal (ref A), Vona noted publicly that "despite the harsh media and political attacks, Hungarians join the MG because they feel this is their duty, as they love their nation." While Vona and other Jobbik leaders have yet to appear - perhaps intentionally - at the various MG marches through Hungarian villages to protest "gypsy crime," Magyar Garda's chapters in 16 of the 19 Hungarian counties provides an instrument, in Vona's words, to "call attention to the serious social problems in Hungary." (ref B) While the MG gives Vona the needed media attention, several of the Garda's original officers have resigned in protest of Vona's "political agenda." Although the movement has survived, the MG's increasing popularity creates a challenge for Vona's comparatively weak public persona.
9. (C) Comment. With apparently limited financial resources, Vona and Jobbik face significant challenges in launching a broad media campaign for the upcoming elections.
Recognizing that their primary support is in the countryside, their approach emphasizes outreach programs all around Hungary - with a Vona-Morvai tour as a key element. With Viktor Orban and Fidesz focusing on the political center, Vona will likely emphasize nationalist/populist themes to further distance himself from Orban, highlighting Fidesz' pro-Israeli position as well as their negative response to Russia's incursion into Georgia and recent gas shutoff. Banking on their showing in the Budapest by-elections - where Jobbik's post-election billboards read "only the start" - Vona confidently sees an opposition role following the 2010 elections, saying "I am convinced that if Jobbik makes it to the Parliament after the next election, it will win the following (2014) elections." Although observers, including former FM Janos Martonyi, minimize Vona's chances - and often argue that they have benefited primarily from the Gyurcsany government's efforts to cast them as a threat to democracy - the Progresziv Institute's Kornelia Magyar notes that "more voters identify with Jobbik than with the Free Democrats." While we will maintain our long-standing policy of no contact with Jobbik, we will be watching closely as the European Parliamentary campaign further unfolds this spring. Foley