The Case of “KGBéla” -- and What It Means for EuropeMitchell A. Orenstein and Péter Krekó
MITCHELL A. ORENSTEIN is professor and chair of the department of political science at Northeastern University and an affiliate of both the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.
PÉTER KREKÓ is the director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute, assistant professor of psychology at the Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences, and a co-chair of the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network PREVENT Working Group.
Earlier this week, as Europe was preparing for continent-wide parliamentary elections that delivered 25 percent of the seats to the anti–European Union populist right and left, Hungary was busy asking the EU Parliament to revoke diplomatic immunity for Béla Kovács, a prominent representative of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, in order to charge him with spying on the EU for Russia. Kovács is also accused of channeling Russian funds to support the establishment of Jobbik, which burst on the Hungarian political scene in 2009 with a suspiciously well-financed campaign for the EU Parliament.
The charges were inflammatory, although perhaps not surprising. In the run-up to this month’s election, Russia is known to have supported anti-EU parties on the far right and far left in an attempt to influence and even undermine the union. One of those parties is Jobbik, which is Hungary’s second-largest party, and whose supporters dress in Nazi-type uniforms, spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, and express concern about Israeli “colonization” of Hungary. And Jobbik’s pro-Russia stance has never been hidden. Its 2010 election program described the establishment and maintenance of good relations with “an increasingly influential Russia” as vitally important. In May 2013, in a lecture at Moscow’s Lomonosov University, Jobbik party leader Gábor Vona characterized Russia, as opposed to the “treacherous” European Union, as the guardian of European heritage.
It has also long been known that Kovács, now known as KGBéla in the Hungarian press, has close ties to Russia. For one, he went to university in Moscow and apparently made a fortune working for a Russian foreign trade company in the mid-1980s and after, returning to Hungary in 2003. Since his election to the European Parliament in 2009, he has often lobbied on behalf of Russian interests in Brussels, where he served on the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and as treasurer of the Alliance of European National Movements, a European collection of pro-Russia far-right parties and parliamentarians. Kovács was a vocal supporter of Russia during the Crimea crisis and served as an international observer of its farcical referendum on joining Russia.