To launch its campaign for Hungary’s parliamentary election, the far-right Jobbik party, accused by critics of anti-Semitism, chose as its venue a former synagogue with a plaque on the wall commemorating 500 local Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The reaction was unsurprising: opponents turned up outside the synagogue in the city of Esztergom to protest at Jobbik’s presence, they heckled party leader Gabor Vona as he arrived, and the confrontation was broadcast on the evening news.
It was seen as another publicity coup for Jobbik on its path to entrenching itself on Europe’s political landscape, and for not much more than the $50 hourly cost of renting the former synagogue, now a municipal community centre.
When Jobbik shocked Europe four years ago by coming third in Hungary’s parliamentary election, many of its opponents predicted the party would soon implode.
It hasn’t. It is preparing to run in Hungary’s parliamentary election on April 6, and polls show it rivalling the leftist opposition for second place. The latest poll this month gave Jobbik 15 percent, not far from the 15.8 percent it won four years ago.
The party’s standing offers clues as to what might happen elsewhere in Europe as the continent gears up for elections to the European Parliament in which nationalists such as France’s Front National and Greece’s Golden Dawn are expected to perform better than ever.
Dozens of interviews and days spent at Jobbik campaign events point to the secrets of its staying power.
It deftly exploits disputes, such as the one over the synagogue, for free publicity, has managed to paper over the internal splits that have torn other far-right groups apart, and has built up a well-drilled, highly effective ground operation that bypasses traditional media to connect with voters.
“When we got into parliament in 2010, the experts said radical parties were often one-hit wonders,” Vona told Reuters at a news conference in February. “Jobbik proved it was a stable, long-term participant in Hungarian politics.”