We have to help refugees, fight populism and work with EU says Jobbik deputy

  • Petr Boháček
  • 31.3.2018 14:31

Hungarian Jobbik party is gearing up for the 8 April elections. As the ruling Fidesz party consumed all the political space to the right and adopted tough anti-migrant, anti-EU and anti-Western rhetoric, the traditionally far-right Jobbik had to adapt to the new political landscape. This meant moving to the centre and position itself as an anti-populist, sensible, pro-European and in some regards liberal outfit. Political analyst Tamas Boros could get as much as 100 seats in the 199-member parliament. Party vice-head Márton Gyöngyösi rejected his 2014 anti-Semitic comments as misplaced and dangerous. We had a chance to talk migration, Europe and defence with him in Budapest.

What should Hungary’s defence policy be?
Hungary has a special geopolitical position. It is a 1000-year-old question whether we belong to the East or the West. This long dilemma and clash of civilisations if you will, is true to the entire region, in the Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia. But the assessment differs between the Atlanticist or pro-Russian positions. Our region is undoubtedly at a meeting point of civilisation and that requires a special policy.

We have no other choice than NATO membership and partnership. 


We have been for decades exposed to Moscow’s geopolitical interests. We have been now for 25 years members of the Western society, in the EU and NATO and members of the Atlanticist society. But we are on the periphery. And our geopolitical interests are quite different from the Western countries due to the proximity of Russia and Middle Eastern countries. In Hungary, you have a more cautious approach to defence issues. In contrast, Poland strong anti-Russia position, strong support for NATO. We are more balanced. If you look at Viktor Orbán you might get the impression that we are not a NATO member but some kin dog or Russian ally. Nevermind, that is just Orbán government and their current obsession with some things.

We have no other choice than NATO membership and partnership. At the same time, it must be clear what this membership really means. It doesn’t mean we don't need to spend Hungarian domestic sources on military defence and development. A partnership means we need to stand on our own feet and cooperate.

Does that mean spending the two percent of GDP on defence?
That is something that seems to be carved into a stone that we have accepted as an obligation and a responsibility. I would like some more than 2%. An independent Hungarian army which stands on its own feet and operates on an equal pattern. I know there are size differences and you cannot compare Hungarian military to bigger countries and our capabilities to other country capabilities. But relative to the size and our position we cannot be exposed and rely excessively on other forces. If a country is exposed, then it basically means cannot defend itself.

So Hungary should have a military that is capable of defending the country independently?
As much as possible. I know that in today’s world that is very very difficult. I know that small countries don’t have all the capabilities necessary. Look at Estonia or also the Czech Republic, Estonia does not stand a chance against the Russia army. But as far as the size of the country and its population, I think they have done a very good job in building a competent military staff and a reliable army.

What we cannot have is an underdeveloped military laying back and saying we have signed a NATO agreement and we have Article V and the US on our side.

Does that mean that Hungary should develop its army based on NATO’s or European defence planning that does not work for Hungary but works in a wider multilateral concept?
Absolutely, that is what a partnership is about. There are few superpowers that are completely self-sufficient – the US, UK, Russia, China is working that way. But small countries like ours, especially at this sensitive geographical position do not have any other choice but to rely on our partners and cooperate with them. What we cannot have is an underdeveloped military laying back and saying we have signed a NATO agreement and we have Article V and the US on our side. We have learned many lessons in history when we had partners on paper, but it didn’t exist in practice.

In Hungary and even in the Czech Republic there is a conclusion that we have to look for cooperation in the 21st century. We cannot be self-sufficient in a world that is too complex. It is not about the military but about secret services and soft power, media manipulation, hackers.

Can individual countries in Europe be more active in disinformation?
We could but it is an uphill battle. The world is a gigantic soft power battlefield. We rarely have open conflicts anymore.

And do you see Russian disinformation as a threat?
I wouldn’t call it Russian disinformation. But just disinformation that comes from all sides. I think Russians are just good at it. But equally good as Americans, if you look at how Iraq was taking out with BBC and CNN that made the world believe that Saddam Husain had weapons of mass destruction – leading destabilisation of the Middle East the creation of the Islamic State. It is something that all powers and countries use to some extent. The Americans use it as much as the Russians.

But is it important that they are our NATO and Western allies?
I am not so relaxed of our allies doing this. The US is far away. We have seen in the past 4-6 years Europe’s security neighbourhood destabilise. Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt used to be fairly stable security-wise. I don’t know whose internal meddling it was. But now we have the biggest instability in our neighbourhood we have seen. Qaddafi, Mubarak or Assad are not beacons of democracy and neither was Yankukovych. These people were taken out. Domestic interference in these countries came from the West, from our allies.

Do you perceive that way the situation in Ukraine as well?
Yes. The more I look at it the more I see it as a battle between the CIA and the KGB or the FSB whatever it is called today. There are many questions regarding all the coloured revolution in the region. I think there are signs it is a geopolitical warfare between Moscow and Washington and Europe is just statist to this battle.

So for you, the conflict is US-backed Ukraine soldiers fighting Russia-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine?
That is what it trickles down to in the end. I have been reading many geo-strategists and if Ian Brzezinski has something to say he writes a book about it and you can underline important sections and lines in it. And yes, the US has a clear geopolitical strategy and a very clear position. It is a leading superpower and for long we thought that its geopolitical position is indisputable. And some countries dispute it, which leads to conflicts. What we see today is that a lot of conflicts have geopolitical dimension to it. If you look at MENA, Saudi Arabia, Iran. It seems region but if you look closer you see the global conflicts.

We live in a word of clashing political, economic interest, where energy comes into play. That is nothing new.

In the current geopolitical setup, is the EU then a more appropriate entity for Eastern Europe, is Europe a better global player? Is Europe an alternative to the US?
We have a lot of disputes in the EU but now we have a lot of sensible debate. There are the federalists and those who want more competencies on the national level.

We can complain about Brussels not hearing our interests but we have to represent these interest.


What side are you on?
More power for nation states but close cooperation. But finally, there are debates. Following the Maastricht, there was a consensus that integration must advance as well as the ever-deepening European Union. This strategy has reached its limits with the departure of the Brits. Just look at recent European elections. Now the mainstream is the most critical. We are seen now as a critical party but represent the common sense at the moment compared to the Prime Minister on EU or global affairs.

What are the main differences between Fidesz and Jobbik in EU affairs?
We are saying that we need to get back to the negotiating table and represent Hungarian interests in areas where our country is basically seeing very little benefits. We initiated recently the European Citizens Initiative, which is an institution for eliminating wage differences across the EU. What we have seen that while cohesion is a fundamentally declared objective of the EU, nothing happens. East Europe is not seeing increases in wages. What we have is all our talented people leaving for the West. That is the problem in Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Baltics. We want to solve these conflicts but in a constructive dialogue with the European Union. The problem is that in Brussels our voice is not heard. We can complain about Brussels not hearing our interests but we have to represent these interest. We live in this Communist mentality that somebody will read our mind and guess our thoughts about what we want to have. In a democracy, you have to fight for your rights and your interests. The French, British are great at it, but they have hundreds of years of experiences. Just look at the Commons debate and compare it to Hungarian Parliament debates. It is a quality difference. This is something we have to learn. We have to look at the European Union as an opportunity. There are conflicts there but if you don’t bring in your interests then other countries interests will prevail. And you cannot moan about falling out. Small countries do not have any other option. Our only chance is to find allies. And on the periphery, we have a lot of similar problems – Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic – even some other periphery areas in the West – Portugal or Italy. This is where we differ from Viktor Orban who is completely isolated with his position. He has done a lot of damage in completely isolating our country and marginalising the debate. He is pretty much walking away. Currently, the guesses are that after the election he is going to get expelled from the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and that he is leading the country out of the EU.

I am happy we have good ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin, but we cannot slam the door to the EU.

During communism, we had to fight for some information and now we have to fight to select out of the hoard of pieces of information.

Is Orbán reducing the debate between East and West to the migration issue and actually harming the real problems such as food inequality, wages and so on?

I think so. I think he has realised that politics has to be simplified. Just look at Trump or any other elections, Brexit, French election. It has come down to very simple messages. It appears as if our democracies are incapable of facing complex issues. The world speeds up and you have information dumping – half is disinformation and other half is information of some sort. During communism, we had to fight for some information and now we have to fight to select out of the hoard of pieces of information. But as a politician, he picked up subjects that are easy to communicate and turn it into a simple communication method. To it seems like we have returned to Bolshevik times.

Is migration one of these simplified topics?
Absolutely. In this country, in one of the most critical moments with the collapse of peripheral stability, the issue is there, and you don’t see the end. Now you have migrants from Bangladesh, 20 years ago you would see a Bangladeshi and wouldn’t understand why they’re here. Migrants are coming for economic opportunities. We have to do something with that and it is a very complex issue. We have to re-think the global aid policy. We have to re-think security policy – how do we bring stability into Africa and Asia? It is a complex issue that requires global cooperation. Now Viktor Orban though – I am elected by Hungarian people and talking about global issues and strategies takes time and energy. I want to be elected in Hungary, so I simplify the message to black and white to bring it to IQ 1, to if you want to defend the country, please vote for me. It is as simple as that.

We have to give the helping hand, that is what Christian solidarity and international obligations dictate.


Should the debate be more about development policy, how to invest more aid to Africa and not just reduce it to the migration quotas?
Of course. When there is a fire, you need to extinguish the fire and then see the causes. When there is a migration crisis you have to defend the country, raising the fence, put up border control. Then you have to say, the reason why we need a fence and control migration is to differentiate between migrants and refugees. In case of refugees, we have international obligations – the Geneva conventions and the rest. And we have to give the helping hand, that is what Christian solidarity and international obligations dictate.

As far as economic migrants concerned, Hungary is not in a position to provide a helping hand and say no matter if you come from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Zimbabwe you can come in, we have economic opportunities and we can integrate you.

But based on Geneva conventions, yes?
Absolutely. It is not a question. That is my position but not my government position. The government’s position is that it doesn’t matter where you come from but we cannot accept you. There is a fence, keep away and I am protecting the country from all of you.

There is no other choice than to classify [Syrians] as refugees and issue them a temporary political asylum. 


Does that apply to migration quotas that are about going through the asylum procedure with the migrants?
Yes, of course. It has always applied. If someone comes in and presents their passport showing they are from Aleppo, they are politically prosecuted and cannot return to Aleppo, there is no other choice than to classify them as refugees and issue them a temporary political asylum. From then on when Aleppo is a safe place again we can create a possibility to return them to their country. We have to show solidarity to refugees and respect our international obligation. As the EU we have to start looking at opportunities to stabilised these countries – this needs money, aid, military interventions if necessary to rebuild these countries. I am convinced that every refugee, every migrant wants to have opportunities in their homeland. Hungarians in Hungary, Syrians in Syria. Freedom of movement is great, but it should be something of joy, travel but not economic pressure or necessity. Basically, to refugees, we have to provide a helping hand and rethink our global strategy.

I just finished reading an interesting book by Zambian Dambisa Moyo, an African who writes about African aid. She wrote a book on how Western strategy regarding help to Africa is a complete failure and how Western aid is causing all the damage and is the root of the problem of Africa – supporting corrupt regimes, it is about stealing money and creating economic dependency. She is arguing that the Western aid strategy is a disaster and for 50 years has been the major cause of African depression and Western countries should declare that within five years they will cease all aid to Africa. She also says the Chinese are doing a better job in Africa by bringing opportunity.

(Additional note from the respondent: Due to some misinterpretations of the above statement on migration, I would like to make clear that Jobbik is strongly in favour of the fence protecting Hungary and it rejects the allocation of migrants on the basis of quotas by the EU. It is within the scope of a member state to decide about the number of migrants it adopts. Nonetheless, refugees should be differentiated from economic migrants and obligations under the Geneva Convention fulfilled. In principle, a refugee must be granted asylum, but it's not an automatism. For instance, if a Syrian refugee arrives on foot to the Hungarian borders via the Balkan route, the question arises why this refugee did not apply for refugee status in one of the politically stable countries on the way, i.e. Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.)

In the second part of the interview, we will talk about Hungarian minorities, Islam and global politics.

About author: Petr Boháček


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