In conversation with young Polish nationalists in the last decade, I often heard how important a reference point Hungary’s Jobbik party is for them. For some of them, it was a dream to build a party with similar broad societal support.
Currently, the right-wing Confederation is often compared to Jobbik, as many parts of both parties’ programs are similar, especially international policy.
Jobbik held its party congress recently where it chose a new leader, Peter Jakab. The congress helped to demonstrate the party’s deep crisis, as its popularity since 2014 has almost been cut in half. Five years ago, it was the largest opposition group in Hungary and had the support of over a million citizens (20.7 percent). Even in polls in 2015, it was projected to have 25 percent of the vote.
In 2019, in the European Parliament elections, it received only 6.34 percent of the vote, which was barely enough for one mandate. Current opinion polls also point to a continued downward trend for the party.
How did this crisis happen? For years, Jobbik found itself in a similar situation as the Confederation: It was the only right-wing option that leaned to the right of in a country where a right-wing government held an absolute majority. This situation repeated three times for Jobbik in Hungary in 2010, 2014 and 2018, where it lost to the Fidesz party every time.
This led to disappointment within Jobbik’s party leadership. Despite being the second most voted for political force in the country, Jobbik could not participate in power.
The radical concept of attacking Fidesz and voting together with Hungary’s leftist parties began to take hold in the right-wing party. The goal was to weaken Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party to the point that it lost its majority and needed coalition party to continue governing. Jobbik would then become a natural ally to form a government.
When Orbán’s Fidesz party called for an anti-migration referendum and subsequently held the anti-migration vote in parliament, Jobbik, along with the rest of the opposition, stood against the government. The liberals and left voted against the measures because the plans limited migration while Jobbik did so because they believed the plans weren’t anti-migration enough.
This action led to an identity crisis that resulted in a mass movement of voters to Fidesz and a part of Jobbik breaking off to form a new party.
This might not be the end of tensions within Jobbik’s party leadership, as Peter Jakab is the first right-wing politician to have publicly appeared with Ferenc Gyurcsany, the former socialist prime minister disgraced by the 2006 “tapes of truth”.
Jakab is a supporter of cooperating with Gyurcsany’s left-wing Democratic Coalition, which is a position opposed by many members of the Jobbik party who fear a further drift to the left.
Today, Poland’s Confederation finds itself in a similar position. The left remains its ideological opponent and it is in a rivalry with PiS over the right-leaning electorate. The Hungarian example shows that in such a situation, it is easy to make a mistake that voters will never forgive.