European parliamentary elections in Hungary

I guess it is time to get back to the present, especially since there will be elections between June 4 and 7 in the countries of the European Union. Hungary can send 22 men and women to participate in the work of the European Parliament; the parliament has a total membership of 736. Eight parties are qualified to compete. MSZP, SZDSZ, MDF, Fidesz, and Jobbik are the well known ones. However, there is the Munkáspárt (the communists) in addition to two new parties: Roma Összefogás (Gypsy Cooperation) and LMP-Humanista Párt that has a green hue. LMP, by the way, stands for "Lehet más a politika" (Politics can be different). As things now stand most public opinion polls predict that only three parties will send delegates: Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. Ibolya Dávid only yesterday predicted that MDF might manage to send not one but two delegates. She based her optimism on a public opinion poll done at the University of Szeged. Most analysts predict a low turnout because most people don't give a hoot about the European parliament or the European Union in general. The majority of Hungarians are euroskeptics. They simply don't recognize the advantages membership in the EU offers. Nézőpont Intézet (Perspective Institute), a political think-tank close to Fidesz, is the only one that is predicting a large turnout. I assume because the political scientists working there think that Fidesz's campaign slogans promising the immediate collapse of the current government in case of a huge Fidesz victory will inspire the Fidesz faithful that is always more eager to vote than the left liberals.

Until now the campaign was fairly lukewarm, especially on the left. Almost as if the socialists had given up. They know that they will lose big and it is not worth putting up a fight or spending a lot of money. Fidesz, as usual, has started campaigning vigorously. The campaign slogans have nothing to do with the European Union. From the posters and the television ads one would think that national elections are coming. The Fidesz slogan is: "Elég!" (Enough!). But enough of what? The European Union? Surely not: enough of the socialist-liberal supported government of experts. Fidesz is hoping that the MSZP loss will be so great that early elections will have to be held. The television ad I saw draws from the negative campaiging popular in the United States. This particular ad reminded me of the infamous Willy Horton ad of 1988 in which the Bush campaign pretty well accused Dukakis of murder by allowing criminals to spend weekends outside the prison. The Fidesz ad begins with a picture of Ferenc Gyurcsány that as the seconds go by morphs into the face of Gordon Bajnai while words like Lying, Raising Taxes, Corruption, Unemployment flash by. Then comes a snippet from the end of an old, staticky film reel. A huge bang, enormous orange letters "Enough! Vote!" I must say that it is a very effective ad even if I find it fairly disgusting. Here's the link; one doesn't even have to know the language:  

As I said, MSZP was not hitting back. Their politicians kept repeating that it is not nice to wage an EP campaign as if it were a national election, but that was about all. Then a couple of days ago I noticed a change. A serious effort is being made to challenge the work of the Fidesz delegation to the European parliament over the last five years. At the top of the list is Pál Schmitt, former Olympic fencing champion. Schmitt likes titles and most likely the money that comes with each position. He is not only a member of the European parliament but also the head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee in addition to being a member of the International Olympic Committee. I don't know anything about his activities on the International Olympic Committee, but I do know that he is a pretty lousy chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee. At one point there was an attempt to unseat him, but he managed to remain and at the last election there wasn't the slightest sign of protest against his reappointment. Earlier his activities in Brussels flew under the radar, it turns out for obvious reasons. A few days ago Schmitt was asked to make an appearance before the Hungarian parliamentary committee on European affairs. MSZP members of the committee asked all sorts of questions pertaining to European affairs from him but he was unable to answer most of them. As it turned out, because of his many other obligations he rarely appears at the parliament's sessions. For example, he wasn't even present when the members voted on the budget. A budget that surely mattered for Hungary.

Kinga Göncz, former foreign minister in the Gyurcsány govrnment, called for a debate between Schmitt and herself. Not surprisingly he refused. He said: "If there is a debate I will do my best to avoid it." Not too subtle! Since a televised debate is out of the question, Göncz is trying to make Schmitt commit himself in writing. She posed ten questions to him in an open letter and added that she was expecting answers by Saturday. I doubt that Schmitt will answer, especially since some of the questions might be very uncomfortable not just for Schmitt but for Fidesz. The MSZP staff has been madly looking through the thin voting record of Schmitt and found quite a few skeletons in the closet. The most interesting to my mind is that Schmitt supported an amendment of the communists that would have limited the employment of Hungarians in other countries of the EU. Interestingly, Schmitt voted against a proposal that would have increased women's rights to remain at home after the birth of their children from a minimum of 18 weeks to 20.

Fidesz has also given elegant places on the EU list to prominent members of the party. Two founding fathers of Fidesz, János Áder and Tamás Deutsch, are the most interesting names. Both men held very high positions in the party as well as in the Orbán government. Of late both men faded into the background; then they resurfaced on the Fidesz list. The Áder nomination has mobilized the other side, and not only in Hungary. One problem is that he claimed that he speaks English. Some enterprising Hungarian youngsters purporting to phone from Brussels taped his responses to their requests for an interview in English. The youngsters' English was not exactly faultless, but it is very unlikely that Áder noticed that problem. Anyone wanting a good laugh should listen to this YouTube segment: In fact, as far as I can see, Áder doesn't speak any foreign language. On the Hungarian Parliament's website he is said to have passed the beginners' German examination. Apparently that means that he has no appreciable knowledge of the language. There is another problem with Áder. The socialist caucus of the European parliament placed him on a black list they call "the list of the most awful candidates." There are twelve names on the list, including Nick Griffin, the British neo-nazi. Áder got on the list because he likened Ferenc Gyurcsány and his finance minister's handshake after the budget passed to the kiss of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. As for Deutsch, no one has tested his competence in English, but at least he passed the intermediate English exam. However, with Deutsch there is another problem. He doesn't always know what he should and should not say. He blurted out that if Fidesz wins the elections some of the important Fidesz people currently in Brussels as well as the hopeful ones like Áder or Deutsch might leave Brussels in the greatest hurry to return to Budapest and once again play prominent roles in the party and government.

Meanwhile the socialists keep reminding the electorate that their members have been very active and have been doing outstanding jobs. MDF proudly announced that between Lajos Bokros and György Habsburg they speak fifteen languages. The socialists emphasize that their candidates speak at least two or three languages. The socialists outright demand the withdrawal of Áder's candidacy because, according to them, he lied about his knowledge of the English language. Gyula Cserey, a young MSZP candidate, is leading the charge against Áder. According to him the most commonly used languages in Brussels are English and French. What will Áder do there? Most likely not much, but I don't that matters either to Fidesz or to the party faithful.

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Interesting to see MSZP mentioning Nick Griffin, most likely because he spoke at a Hungarian Guard rally in 2008. Jobbik’s “head of international affairs” and webmaster lives in England. You can read about it here Maybe he could give János Áder some language tutoring?


Fidesz and Orban seem to be quite clueless about what to do after Gyurcsany stepped down. They still try to make use of the voters’ hatred against Gyurcsány, but I think by next year’s general election Fidesz needs to come up with another campaign idea if they want to be really successful.
Btw, it is not a thing happening only in Hungary that European election campaigns focus on national and not EU politics. It is exactly the same here in Germany. EU politics has a lot of impact on people’s lifes, but somehow there is no public debate about it.


“There is another problem with Áder. The socialist caucus of the European parliament placed him on a black list they call “the list of the most awful candidates.” There are twelve names on the list, including Nick Griffin, the British neo-nazi.”
Much as I don’t like Áder, I have to say the comparison is unfair. It is difficult to overstate how repulsive Griffin is politically. Compare him with Jobbik (the comparison is justified), but not FIDESZ.


“I must say that it is a very effective ad”
This was why impression too, and my unscientific sense is that it captures the mood of the electorate. My impressions of the poster campaigns, are that the SZDSZ – who are normally pretty good at creating adds that speak to their potential voters – have by the weakest poster adds this time. The message is just confused. What is noticeable about the MSZP adds is that the people pictured on them are not recognizable as MSZP politicians. My instant reaction was that they were hiding their politicians because of fear that it would harm them. I wasn’t able to find an MDF add anywhere – Jobbik on the other hand is present; the interesting thing is that LMP-HP adds seem to be everywhere.

Éva: “Good question: where does Jobbik get the money? Even more interesting: where does LMP-HP get the money?” We can ask that question about all the political parties with some justice, given the absolute lack of transparency regarding Hungarian political financing. And in the absence of proper rules regarding disclosures any answers we give to the questions will be necessarily speculative. My own speculation is that Jobbik’s strength probably comes from political networks once close to FIDESZ (possibly within the Polgári körök), who were radicalized and alienated by the FIDESZ leadership’s failure to back the 2006 protests unequivocally. But this is nothing more than an educated guess. The LMP is the most interesting political movement putting forward candidates in these elections. While winning seats next week is probably beyond it (but if they did pull off a surprise I don’t think I’d be entirely shocked), this party, or a movement like it, seems to have a future. They seem to have a coherent support base – young, socially liberal, highly educated and urban; precisely those who four or five years ago might have been expected to opt for the SZDSZ. They are being supported by the European Greens – Daniel… Read more »
Mystery Shopper

What elections? If you look here (not Budapest), it’s only Jobbik who are taking part to any elections.
I was walking down the main street where all the shops are and people go through this place all the time. This is the primo advertising space. I counted all the posters on the both side of the street.
The results:
Jobbik 138
Jobbik was only party to start early, so their posters were everywhere all May. FIDESZ posters arrived a week ago and MSZP posters were placed two days ago.
When Jobbik’s Vona was here in January or February, he already made mention of elections back then. Jobbik has been doing election work all the time. FIDESZ/MSZP election job was mailing one flyer 2-3 weeks ago. Outside of Budapest, these elections only count for Jobbik, other parties doesn’t give a damn about this.
And just for the record; Local disco/vodka buli pub had more posters out there than all the political parties combined. Maybe tells something about Hungarian priorities.