Gabor Vona
Gabor Vona Reuters

The seemingly strange link between the European far right and Islam emerged again recently over reports that Gábor Vona, the chairman of Hungary's ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, praised Muslims during a visit to Turkey and called for his country to reposition its foreign policy eastward.

The Morocco World News reported in early November that Vona even told a Turkish university audience that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” On a speaking tour of Turkish colleges, Vona also highlighted Hungary's ethnic and blood links with the Turks, recalling the once-enormous Ottoman Empire which conquered Hungary and stretched as far west as Vienna. “We’re not coming to Turkey to build diplomatic and economic relations, but to meet our Turkish brothers and sisters,” Vona declared, according to Vona praised the personal friendships he has enjoyed from various Muslims throughout his life, including a Palestinian who attended his wedding as a guest.

He also threw down the gauntlet by making a sharp distinction between his views on foreign policy and those of other Western nations. “The West does not tolerate seeing my party support Turkey and other Turanian peoples, such as Azerbaijanis, in international conflicts.” [Turanians refer to an allegedly mythical people who originated somewhere in Central Asia and migrated westward thousands of years ago. Many Turkish nationalists believe they are descended from these peoples and dream of forming a new Pan-Turanian empire stretching from Asia to Europe.]

In addition, Vona separated himself from other far-right European leaders who generally disdain Muslims, particularly Turks, who now form significant ethnic minority communities in several Western European states. “Africa has no power... South-America [suffers] from perplexed identity due to their much congested societies,” Vona said on his party's website. “Considering all this, there’s only one culture left which seeks to preserve its traditions: It is the Islamic world.”

In a broader context, Vona suggested that a nationalistic, conservative society founded on both European and Asian (Eurasian) principles would comprise ideal statehood, in stark contrast to the neoliberal, multicultural, consumerist Western countries, which he perceives as trapped in a hopeless and perhaps irreversible decline. “We have been urging... the improvement of ... relations with Russia, China, India, Central Asia and the Muslim world,” he said on his website.

Vona claimed that the conservative, traditional societies of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia treasure family, faith, patriotism and their ancient cultures, in contrast to the West, particularly the U.S., which he accuses of sinking into moral and spiritual decay. "Some European countries and especially the nations of Asia still preserve a lot of the universal human traditions,” he told a Turkish college audience. “We need to be able to integrate the essence of the European as well as the Asian mentality. The practical European and the profound Eastern approach need to shape us together.”

Vona proposed that three modern states already embody this confluence of cultures – Russia, Turkey and his own Hungary. “These three nations are European and Asian at the same time, due to their history, fate and disposition,” he said. “These nations are destined to present the Eurasian alternative." Vona said Turanism can help create a powerful alternative to the decadent and weakening West. "'This is our common mission and the universal task of Turanism: to build a bridge between East and West, Muslim and Christian and struggle together for a better world,” he declared. “We must show that Christians and Muslims are not enemies but brothers. Perhaps none else than us Hungarians and Turks are able to do that; but we are, because we are connected by our common blood.”

Founded only 10 years ago, Jobbik – which means "Movement for a Better Hungary" -- espouses strong opposition to immigration and carries a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism and homophobia, but cannot be dismissed as a lunatic fringe organization of misfits. Indeed, in the recent Hungarian parliamentary elections, the party snagged one-sixth of the popular vote, granting them 47 out of the 386 seats in the National Assembly, making Jobbik the third-largest party in Hungary (only France's far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen performed better at the polls, among right-wing extremist parties on the continent).

Dr. Dieter Dettke, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington and a former Woodrow Wilson Center Scholar, who has conducted extensive research on Jobbik, told International Business Times that the party’s core supporters comprise both the younger generation and the better educated, and that they are primarily motivated by nationalism as well as by a desire to lash out against the status quo.

On his website, Vona admits that some members of his party adhere to anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration views, but no more so than members and supporters of both Hungary's ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban or the country's mainstream Socialists, MSZP. He also declared Islam is the most able force that can resist the “unipolar” world order advocated by the United States. Vona conceded that most other far-right parties in Europe do not share his passion for Islam. "Obviously, in countries such as Austria or France that are suffering from the problem of immigration, [it is] very difficult [for them] to consider the Islamic world as an ally in the struggle against globalism,” he said. “I can understand their anger. But they also need to understand that based on the behavior of [some]… the entire Islamic community of half a billion can't be judged.”

Vona also cautioned that he is not calling for the mass conversion of Christians to Islam, nor does he necessarily support further immigration of Muslims into Europe. In a December 2010 interview, Vona expressed neither endorsement nor opposition to Turkey’s long-denied application into the European Union, but assured that he didn't fear its ramifications, citing that the Turks now enjoy a buoyant economy and powerful military. “Immigration needs to be regulated to make sure that we don’t end up where Germany is, but besides this, the Turkish membership [in the EU] wouldn’t pose any danger for us, but the exact opposite,” he said. “In my view, we could gain a key ally in Turkey against certain European groups under the influence of the American-Israeli lobby. One thing seems certain, Turkey could be Hungary’s key ally.” (Interestingly, Vona himself wants Hungary to leave the EU, describing financial dependence upon Brussels as a kind of colonialism and even “enslavement.”)

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Vona has also reached out to the Muslim nation of Iran. Not surprisingly, Jobbik has praised Iran's strident anti-Zionism while condemning Western sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program and allegations of sponsoring state terrorism. “The Persian people and their leaders are considered pariahs in the eyes of the West, which serves Israeli interests,” said Marton Gyongyosi, Jobbik’s foreign policy chief. “This is why we have solidarity with the peaceful nation of Iran and turn to her with an open heart.” (Gyongyosi is notorious for having called for the registration of Hungarian Jews, describing them as a potential national “security risk.” He also lambasted Zionism as a “threat” to global peace).

Jews in Hungary and elsewhere are concerned by Jobbik’s flirtation with the Iranian regime. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League in the U.S., wrote in 2011 that anti-Semitism “binds” the Hungarian ultranationalists with the ayatollahs of Tehran in a “nexus of hate.” “That is all they have in common,” he added.

Jobbik is determined to increase Hungarian bilateral trade with Iran, which has plunged from $400 million to $40 million – a 90 percent drop -- since 2000.

Coincidentally, next year will mark Holocaust Remembrance Year in Hungary, the 70th anniversary of the deportation of at least 450,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps. “We know that we were responsible for the Holocaust in Hungary,” Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics told a Jewish conference in Budapest. “We know that Hungarian state interests were responsible.”

The ruling Fidesz party, which, through coalitions, controls two-thirds of the parliament, dwarfing Jobbik’s 47 seats, has condemned anti-Semitism in the country repeatedly. (As a bizarre aside, last year it was revealed that Csanad Szegedi, a senior Jobbik leader and member of the European Parliament, was himself Jewish and that his grandmother, Magoldna Klein, was a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Dettke commented that Szegedi is now leading a normal life as a Jewish Hungarian). There are no more than 100,000 Jews residing in Hungary – down from about 800,000 in 1941. Roma (Gypsies) are far more numerous, representing as much as 10 percent of Hungary’s total population today.

Dettke said the party is seeking to establish a role with mainstream right-wing parties. “But because of its anti-Semitism, its pro-Islam attitude and its quaint ideology of Turanism, Jobbik is not acceptable for many other right-wing political parties, in the UK, Netherlands for example." But Dettke noted that Jobbik has some significant leverage in the Hungarian parliament – already it has imposed its will on a number of issues on the Fidesz majority, including provisions for a passport for every Hungarian abroad and a surtax on multinational companies, as well as Orban’s increased geopolitical focus on the Middle East and Asia.

Dettke adds also that, given Jobbik’s not-insignificant popular support, Orban has to pander to them – to a degree. “Orban pays a dangerous game of copying and at the same time trying to outflank Jobbik,” he said. “This could lead to [the] legitimization of Jobbik,” adding that Jobbik could draw even more votes both in Hungarian national elections as well in the European elections next May.