The Christian Democrats in Hungary: KDNP and Zsolt Semjén

I haven't said much about Zsolt Semjén, head of the practically non-existent Keresztény Demokrata Néppárt (Christian Democratic People's Party), although on one occasion I analyzed a rather unfortunate speech of his in parliament. I don't remember writing anything about the party itself although it had an interesting history and in the first half of the 1990s was a small but functioning party. So it's time to remedy the situation.

The party was founded in 1943-1944 by Catholic intellectuals and office holders in the Catholic Church, but during the Szálasi period it was illegal and several of its leaders were imprisoned. Immediately after the war the party still couldn't function and therefore was unable to participate in the 1945 elections. By the next year, however, KDNP managed to receive 64 seats in parliament, thus becoming the strongest opposition party against the broad coalition of Smallholders, Social Democrats, the Peasant Party, and Communists. By 1949 the party was defunct. Its leaders were forced to flee abroad because they refused to cooperate with Mátyás Rákosi in the show trial of József Mindszenty, the Prince Primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church.

In 1989 the party with an almost entirely new cast of characters was reestablished, and at the first elections the party received 6.46% of the votes, translating into 21 seats. It was one of the parties that belonged to József Antall's coalition. Four years later the socialists won the elections and the Christian Democrats with 7.03% of the votes (22 seats) became an opposition party. In 1996 KDNP managed to annihilate itself through internal bickering, with the final result being that one group from the party became closely associated with Fidesz by 1998. In 2005 an election cooperation was signed between the Christian Democrats and Orbán's party. A year later Zsolt Semjén, the leader of this KDNP fragment, convinced Viktor Orbán who originally wasn't too keen on the idea that the Christian Democrats should form a separate parliamentary faction. By that time there really was no Christian Democratic Party. But once the decision was made to form this parliamentary caucus, it had to have one defining characteristic: it had to be bigger than that of SZDSZ. And indeed, twenty-three Fidesz members were chosen to sit with the Christian Democrats.

Although initially Viktor Orbán may not have been enthusiastic about a separate Christian Democratic parliamentary delegation, I think that it out worked well for Fidesz. First of all, they could double their representation in the parliamentary committees. Second, there seems to be a certain division of labor between the two parties. What Viktor Orbán cannot say is uttered by Zsolt Semjén. Because KDNP is more radical than most Western European Christian Democratic parties.

Zsolt Semjén doesn't strike me as an intellectual giant. According to his biography on the web site of the Hungarian Parliament, he received a diploma in sociology and later got a degree in theology. He is considered to be the political spokesman for the Catholic Church. According to rumors it was the Catholic Church that insisted on a separate parliamentary faction for KDNP.

Lately Semjén has been in the news quite frequently. He gave an interview in Magyar Hírlap and also appeared on HírTV last Friday. He had several messages for the present government. Among them the most telling is that one must not try to tangle with the Church because failure is guaranteed to anyone who dares.

The Fidesz-KDNP alliance is, I suspect, subject to renegotiation. For instance, if Fidesz wins the elections, would Orbán still want a separate KDNP caucus? Would Semjén want more–that is, some kind of a coalition arrangement? I doubt that the Fidesz leadership would view this as desirable. Once Fidesz had to resort to a coalition with the Smallholders and it wasn't a happy marriage. Back then it couldn't be avoided because without the Smallholders party Orbán couldn't form a government. Today things seem to be pointing in an entirely different direction.

Another question is how much influence Semjén would have over policies. My feeling is: not much. As it is, I can't imagine that Semjén's parliamentary speeches are not censored prior to his getting up and delivering them. Yes, the wording of these speeches is strong but most likely approved from above.

In Semjén's recent interviews the following themes dominated. First and foremost, the question of the Benes doctrine. "We will not allow the Benes doctrine to stand." I wonder what on earth they can do about it. A second key issue for Semjén and his party is the dual citizenship of Hungarians in the neighboring countries. According to one young political scientist, "this is easier [than abolishing the Benes doctrine] because that could be handled internally." I disagree: it cannot be handled unilaterally.

Semjén also mentioned "the brutal discrimination against the churches and especially against parochial schools." He claims that the government takes 200,000 Ft away from every child who attends parochial school. According to the ministry of education this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. But KDNP must represent the interests of the churches, especially the Catholic Church.

As for the general state of Hungary, Semjén came up with this description: "The country now resembles a sick person whose arteries were cut in both arms. One arm's artery is the national debt that is by now more than 80% of the GDP, while the other's is the multi-national companies that are taking profits out of the country. Meanwhile the government's remedy: take iron pills because this is good for producing blood."

The Benes doctrine, Hungarian minorities, the interest of the churches, attacks on foreign companies. That's more or less "the program" of KDNP led by Semjén. It is a rather thin program promulgated with inflammatory words.

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John T

The state of politics in Hungary today is truly pathetic, but to some extent, a society gets the politicans it deserves. I’d always thought that Hungary would be a couple of generations behind in it’s political thinking. But given recent developments with the rise of Jobbik, it seems to be at least three or four. That coupled with the “sheep” mentality and the lack of objective thinking in the country, is really dangerous. And I don’t see anyone capable of rescuing the position.

John T

I’d also say that this apparent wish to alienate foreign companies and investors is suicidal. When the likes of Mercedes and Audi decide to move production elsewhere, what will take it’s place – the answer is nothing. A city like Gyor will be decimated as not only the Audi employees, but also the local component suppliers go to the wall. And what will replace the likes of Tesco or Auchan – nothing on the same scale. Just thousands more joining the dole queue. Hard to believe that Fidesz are right of centre when you look at their economic policies.


“The state of politics in Hungary today is truly pathetic, but to some extent, a society gets the politicans it deserves”
That, my friend, is a truth that everybody knows but wishes they didn’t.
For my part I absolutely back Hungary’s desire to help out the Hungarians who have been caught out in the border fiasco, nevertheless they should start by worring about and consequently helping Hungary first and formost, sadly this would probably mean for them to all step down.
It all comes down to what John T said: it’s up to the people to chose the politicians they deserve, some countries out there have great political systems, why not Hungary then?

John T

Spot on comments Henry

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