The leadership of Civic Control–One Million for Democratic Society is widening the group's political activities. On March 15 the group staged the largest street demonstration against the Fidesz government. At that point they demonstrated against the new media law and for freedom of the press. Today they feel that they have to fight for democracy itself.
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As the memories of the 1989 regime change are fading fast, and while the ruling coalition treats that era as if it was an embarrassing stain on a family’s clean sheet of honor, those of us who had already been politically aware at that time will never forget the liberating thrill of the mass demonstrations and the collective chants: De-mo-cra-cy!
We may have had illusions about the road that lay ahead, about the way parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, pluralism would work. Maybe few of us suspected that liberty was not a condition but rather an endless process whose everyday practice would be trying, tiresome, and filled with personal and collective risk-taking. But one thing we surely did not expect: none of us thought that little more than twenty years after the regime change we would feel the absence of liberty so keenly that we would be back in the streets demanding “De-mo-cra-cy!”. Yet here we are again.
This time, however, we look around in astonishment. Where are our fellow protesters? As the Hungarian Republic’s days are running out, its citizens are apparently uninterested in such abstract ideas as democracy, freedom of the press, constitution, human rights, and the checks and balances that control the executive branch’s power. Granted, these issues are not easy to identify with, especially when one has to work day and night to save the house and the car from being repossessed by the bank or the state and so that food will be put on the table even beyond the 20th day of the month; when one has to be careful what is being said within the earshot of colleagues and the boss and when political views are better kept in secret. But wait a second. Where were we? Oh, right, democracy… indeed.
The coalition parties that govern Hungary today came into power on the strength of hazy promises. Now they are transforming our world at breakneck speed. They justify their actions with their magical “2/3 mandate” while in reality only 37% of all eligible voters’ ballots were cast in their favor. The administration intends to cement its power for decades not unlike the Horthy, Rákosi and Kádár regimes once did. Would this be the “Hungarian model” that we keep reverting to? The reduction of pluralistic society to a “central field of force”? A degenerate parliamentary system built on personal idolatry and dressed up with an opposition that serves at best for decorative shrubbery? A so-called “system of national co-operation” where only those who approve are accepted? An Orwellian Newspeak in which every utterance means its opposite. A "Retirement Fund Protection Plan" the essence of which is that the national budget swallows up our savings? "Independent" institutions led by the same party’s faithful soldiers? A new "value-based" culture where the famous "2/3 majority" – which is capable of pushing through any legislation that comes its way – decides what constitutes “value” and what does not, what should be tolerated, supported, or forbidden, the same way as Comrade Aczél once used to do, what religion is and what it is not, who is a good Hungarian, a good citizen and who is not.
And in the middle of all this sits on his throne the infallible Oracle, the boss of all bosses.
In the heart of the European Union a unique autocratic system is taking shape. One might debate whether it is conservative-authoritarian or more Bolshevik in style. Whether it is modeled on the Chinese one-party system with its expansive state bureaucracy wading knee deep in corruption, offering a cheap, subjugated labor force disciplined by the threat of political and economic sanctions to domestic and foreign businesses. Or is it a replay of the Horthy regime? Some indications for that are historical revisionism, the creation of excuses for the racist and feudalistic mentality of its politicians, engagement in political revenge, the politics of ethnicity, and the introduction of educational and social reforms that create barriers preventing upward mobility. It is a waste of time to look too long for the most fitting historical analogy. But it needs to be stated that a dictatorship is under construction and its building blocks are rapidly falling into place.
“So if it is dictatorship, then let there be dictatorship” – some Hungarians may say – “just let us live a little better already!” But based on what this administration is doing, our lives will not be any easier. Our income will be less, our summer vacation reduced, overtime will not be compensated, everybody will be easier to fire, there will be no career tracks to count on and no labor unions that could protect workers’ rights. There will not be (and there already hardly is) free media. There will be, however, labor camps for the unemployed under the pretense of public works projects; there will be segregation, marginalization of certain segments of the society, labeling, a party-influenced investigative/prosecutorial system, governmental influence over the courts, and deepening conflicts with the neighboring states. A conspiratorial inaction vis à vis the increasingly threatening murderous far-right. The poor will be poorer, and the rich will be even better off.
In a crisis-ridden external economic environment, a fast-reacting economic policy is needed. Instead, the administration focuses on the opposite, on cementing its current economic policies for the long term, tying even the hands of future administrations for many years to come. Those policies include, for instance, the unfair and already failed tax system. The new system turns employer and worker against one another by restricting rights, hence artificially generating conflicts.
Hungary’s hostile stance toward open market competition, the government’s granting of unpredictable politically motivated favors, its mysterious stock purchases all add to the country’s bad reputation in the world.
What kind of future does this regime offer to young people? We can see the trends, the caste-like social structure with its dated ideologies, the impermeable class structure which provides no possibility for upward mobility for the poor, the lack of assistance for talented young individuals all make the system unbearable for them. There has never been a time when so many considered leaving the country. And not only physicians take off. The country will be empty. All who are able to do so are fleeing.
The government is busy building its own sandbox rather than creating an equal playing field for the benefit of all the often mentioned “Hungarian people.” At the moment it seems that these politicians, who had well thought out plans for grabbing, extending and keeping power but who are merely drifting along when it comes to economic policy are in a winning position.
It seems as if the country were paralyzed, under a spell. There is no visible force that could stop the power mongers.
We, members of a civic organization established by some of the organizers and participants of the big press freedom demonstrations last spring have decided to take it upon ourselves to awaken the country from its daze and thereby prevent the ruling coalition from claiming ownership over the nation. We cannot allow the various democratic forces to be governed by petty interests and not talk to one another. We want co-operation. We want to unite everyone who desires genuine democracy, wishes for legal and economic security and a better, predictable future. And all those who believe that this country must be a firm member of the European Union.
Let us think and act like democrats!
The authors are the co-chairpersons of the Civil Control–Let’s Become One Million for Democracy nonprofit organization.
Civic Control–One Million for a Democratic Society