The Kremlin Connections of the Hungarian Far-Right

MIN READApr 20, 2015 | 14:52 GMT

An anti-demonstrator lifts a home-made picture with a Swastika and photos of the party leaders and representatives of the nationalist party of the Hungarian Parliament.

An anti-demonstrator lifts a home-made picture with a Swastika and photos of the party leaders and representatives of the nationalist party of the Hungarian Parliament, during a demonstration of the nationalist party in Budapest downtown, nearby the parliament building on May 4, 2013.


In 2009, after the escalation of the Georgian-Russian crisis, Political Capital was among the first to call attention to the positive orientation towards Russia of East European far-right parties. Subsequently, in April 2014 Political Capital indicated that with the assistance of European far-right parties' pro-Russian policies, the promotion of Russian interests couched in national colors is proliferating throughout Europe, and also demonstrated that with their votes cast in the European Parliament, far-right and far-left parties pledge allegiance to Putin and his regime. The Russian state's political influence across Europe has clearly increased in recent years, on the "mainstream" and the extreme side as well. According to the newly published study of Political Capital, Hungarian far-right party Jobbik is among Europe's staunchest allies for Kremlin.

While the Orbán-cabinet pursues a pendulum politics, it is of outmost importance for the Kremlin to exert influence on the Hungarian far-right and especially on Jobbik, which has become the country's largest opposition force. In addition, the Kremlin has a vested interest in pushing the political spectrum in a more Kremlin-friendly direction and exacerbating public discontent with the West.
Kremlin finds the Hungarian far-right extremely valuable, for at least three reasons.  First, Russian stakeholders can channel more direct influence on Jobbik than on Fidesz. Jobbik's foreign policy standpoint can be almost totally derived from Russian interests, so as their energy policy relying totally on Russian gas and nuclear energy. Second, Jobbik is gaining popularity, and after an electoral success on a by-election in Hungary when they came first  in an indivuidual constituency, they have a strong chance to become governmental force in the future. Third, Russia has a vested interest in exacerbating public discontent with the West, and indirectly destabilizing the European Union from inside, and Jobbik proves to be a useful tool for these attempts.
Jobbik, a party of university students established in 2003 reaching out to almost 20% of the total Hungarian electorate, advocates not only the Russian position uninhibitedly, but seems to be a tool of the information warfare and secret service machinery of the Kremlin, with a member of the European Parliament, Béla Kovács, who is charged with espionage to Moscow and her wife having strong connections to Russian secret services. Along with several others far-right forces in European Union such as Front National in France, Golden Dawn in Greece or the Freedom Party in Austria, Jobbik not only helps in the division, destabilization and de-legitimization of the EU and its member states, but also in the legitimization of the Russian regime, for example with election observers at Kremlin-organized elections. Similarly to other European far-right parties, Jobbik also legitimizes the Russian regime by sharing a set of conservative ideological values with Russia's current official state ideology. By them, the EU is seen as a declining institution and a puppet of the US, while the Eurasian Union envisioned by Russia is a realistic, value-based alternative. At the EU-Russian Interparliamentary Work Group's 2013 meeting in Kaliningrad, MEP Béla Kovács asked a representative of the Russian Federation Council: "What is the future possibility of an EU member state initiating accession talks with the Eurasian Union?" Jobbik would certainly "reassess" Hungarian membership in NATO, calling for a referendum, and would rather favor "neutrality" of the country in the conflict between West and Russia. In order to help spread pro-Russian views regarding the Ukranian conflict, the party launched a series of public discussions in Hungary in 2014. Also, Jobbik consecutively tries to put pressure on the Hungarian government in order not to fulfill its EU and NATO duties, which in this case involves stepping up against Russia.

The Russian state's political influence across Europe has clearly increased in recent years, on the "mainstream" and the extreme side as well.

Jobbik's election program described the development and maintenance of good relations with a "Russia wielding increasing influence" as vitally important. The party took a similarly unequivocal position regarding the country's energy policy, it put its support behind the South Stream project and the new Paks II nuclear facility financed and built by Russia. In April 2014, under the supervision of Béla Kovács the first off-site meeting of the European Union and the Russian Federation Energy Parliamentary Work Group was held in Hungary where Gábor Vona announced that Europe must break out of the dominance of the USA and finally has to stand on its own feet and develop its independent Russian policy
Surprisingly, this blatantly pro-Russian standpoint cannot be explained at all with  the demands of the voters, that just show in the opposite direction.  Pro-Russian attitudes have not and still do not characterize the majority of the population, and not even the far-right voter base that has expanded significantly in recent years. According to a Medián survey conducted at the end of 2014, 48% of Jobbik voters would side with the United States, and only 27% would side Russia.
Furthermore, Jobbik was at the beginning strongly anti-communist and anti-Russian political force. The party's and its media's turnaround began following 2005 when Béla Kovács with a strong Russian background (his party members called him KGBéla) joined the party. The first loud public declaration of support for Russia came in 2008, at the Georgian-Russian war. Kovács soon became the head of the party’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet and Member of the European Parliament after the 2009 European elections. Through Kovács, the president of Jobbik Gábor Vona could establish contact with high-level Russian stakeholders and made a series of official trips to Moscow since then, when he always welcomed at a high diplomatic level. 
Beside the advantage of being supported by a superpower (a rare luxury for far-right forces), we have a reason to assume that Jobbik had other advantages of this relation as well. Jobbik's murky financial background prior to 2010, the surprising pro- Russia turnaround of them and their media, as well as the funds provided to the party by Béla Kovács in the early days of Jobbik altogether raise the suspicion regarding this party's Russian financial support.
Russia might see Jobbik and the more extreme organisations connected to them as a useful tool to destabilize not only the Hungarian and European political landscape, but the region as well. Jobbik legitimized Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine and propagates Transcarpathian territorial autonomy for Hungarian and Rusyn minorities living in Western Ukraine with rallies, statements and organization-building attempts among ethnic Hungarians. In the early stages of the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, MEP Béla Kovács acted as an "independent" European observer in the March, 2014 Crimean referendum. Márton Gyöngyösi, the secretary of the party's Foreign Affairs Cabinet and vice chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, monitored the presidential election of the Donetsk Republic in November 2014.  President Gábor Vona asked the governing United Russia party to support the establishment of Hungarian-Rusyn autonomy in the Trans-Carpathian region during his official visit to Lower House of the Duma in June  and reiterated his claim again in Moscow in November 2014. 
Russian influence also visibly extends to paramilitary organizations to the right of Jobbik, especially when it comes to the destabilization of the region.  The more an organization and its infrastructure are beyond mainstream politics, the easier it is for the Russian state to exert its direct influence in its purest form. In the hands of a Russia bent on destabilizing the region, these organizations and their organs may become dangerous instruments and may present political and national security risks, even though the support for such efforts is marginal. While there is no official information on Hungarian citizens joining the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, the extremist organizational scenery around Jobbik sees a historical opportunity in the Ukrainian crisis to reclaim the Transcarpathian region of Greater Hungary lost after WWI. Russia-supportive far-right blogs, websites and Facebook sites not only trying to fuel secessionist sentiments amplifying voices calling for taking back Transcarpathia and Transsylvania, but has been also spreading the recruitment propaganda of the Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine.  
In the meantime, whether intentionally or by accident, the Hungarian government is more likely to promote rather than hinder Russian propaganda efforts through its policy measures and political discourse. Jobbik's role has been evident in this context as well; the far-right party regularly tries to steer the government in the direction of pro-Russian policies, especially when it comes to the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, as the largest opposition party, Jobbik poses a political risk to Fidesz, with the far-right party continues its "de-demonization" (a la Front National in France) strategy to re-brand itself as moderate alternative to the governing party. 
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