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Inside Hungary's anti-Semitic right-wing

Jobbik supporters: young, web-savvy, history majors?

A supporter of the Hungarian radical right-wing party "Jobbik" attends a rally in Budapest, Oct. 23, 2009. The words read "my honor is my loyalty." (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — From the looks of its leafy, downtown campus, Budapest's Karoli Gaspar University appears an unlikely venue to hatch a racist, far-right party.

Hungary’s cosmopolitan capital boasts an array of academies like Karoli Gaspar, stocked with international faculties and polyglot student bodies from the globalized, internet-savvy generation that is expected to lead EU-member Hungary deep into the 21st century. This expectation was a certainty until European and national elections over the past year catapulted a neofascist party into Hungary's limelight. Perhaps most stunning about the watershed 2010 vote was that nearly a quarter of all young people (ages 18-29) voted for the far-right party Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary).

In April's nationwide election, Hungary lurched dramatically to the right, with Jobbik capturing 17 percent of the vote. A maverick newcomer to Hungarian politics, the ultranationalist, explicitly anti-Semitic Jobbik traces its beginnings to the history departments of two universities: the privately owned, Calvinist-oriented Karoli Gaspar and the prestigious, state-run Eotvos Lorand, Hungary’s biggest and oldest university. The party came to life there seven years ago as the creation of a cluster of nationally minded Catholic and Protestant history professors and students tasked with bolstering the Fidesz Party’s planks with nationalist historical arguments.

Even though the deepest bastions of Jobbik's support are in Hungary's poor northeastern cities, places suffering from deindustrialization and high unemployment, Jobbik scored surprising well among young people and college students, tapping a deep reservoir of illiberal prejudice. But more than anything — and perhaps a grim bellwether for the region — they say they voted far right out of profound disillusionment with politics-as-usual in Hungary, once the wunderkind of central Europe’s democracies, which joined the European Union in 2004.

I stopped by the Karoli Gaspar to see what Hungary's college kids today are thinking. In the lounge, an innocuous bunch of barely 20-something students were huddled over a cafeteria table piled with books. Four of them voted for Fidesz party, which took office earlier this month. Their reasons for voting Fidesz: the grim economy, government graft and underfunded higher education.

One of the crew, a Budapest native named Nora, said she favors Jobbik: "The Gypsies are a real problem here. They don’t work, don’t vote. Jobbik has a program for this," she said. "The Gypsies won’t get any state support unless they work." She added approvingly that Jobbik backs the death penalty, part of a law-and-order platform that targets Gypsies, or Roma, about 6 percent of the Hungarian population. One of the Fidesz voters at the table, Gabor, said he would consider voting Jobbik in the future, depending on how it matured over the next few years.