The rise and fall of LMP’s András Schiffer

During the life of Hungarian Spectrum I wrote infrequently about LMP (Lehet más a politika = Politics can be different), and not only because it is a new party. I developed a real dislike of one of its leading members, András Schiffer. Or to put it slightly differently, there were times when I found his judgment sound. At other times I violently disagreed with him. One point of contention was his rejection of any cooperation with the other democratic parties.

I wrote about him and LMP twice at length. The first post, on March 27, 2010, was about LMP's party platform. The second, on November 14, 2011, dealt with the by-elections in District II when LMP's refusal to support the independent candidate backed by MSZP resulted in a huge Fidesz victory. In the first round LMP's candidate, Gergely Karácsony, received 15% of the votes and Katalin Lévai 25%. In the second round Lévai received almost 35% while Karácsony dropped to 6%. The message the electorate sent was lost on András Schiffer although I think that Karácsony himself understood that the party's decision on that occasion was dead wrong.

Many commentators and ordinary observers of the political scene found LMP suspect. The first problem was that LMP, which is allegedly a "green party," grew out of an environmental group called the "Defense Association." It was this group that suggested László Sólyom as a candidate for the presidency. After a certain hesitation Fidesz endorsed Sólyom who had a visceral hatred of Ferenc Gyurcsány and showed definite partiality toward Fidesz. Mind you, it didn't help him when it came to his renomination for a post Sólyom would have gladly continued.

LMP's success in 2010 cannot be denied. Out of nothing within a year the party managed to get enough votes to send a fifteen-member delegation to parliament. In the Hungarian electoral system each party has to gather a certain number of endorsements to get on the ballot. Until the last minute it looked as if LMP would not be able to run in Budapest because of an insufficient number of signatures. Then, in the last few hours, a miracle happened. As LMP candidates were out collecting signatures on the streets people rushed to add their names. Rumor had it that Fidesz came to LMP's rescue for obvious reasons: splitting the MSZP votes in Budapest where both MSZP and LMP were fairly strong.

It seemed to me right after the elections that LMP saw itself as a party standing between Fidesz and MSZP. András Schiffer became the leader of the parliamentary delegation, and soon after the opening of parliament he invited Viktor Orbán for a friendly chat. Schiffer also maintained good relations with Jobbik. What connected Schiffer to Jobbik was the LMP politician's misplaced conviction that peaceful demonstrators had been beaten by the police at the instruction of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Schiffer's position coincided with that of Jobbik and thus the two parties cheerfully participated in a parliamentary subcommittee set up in order to prove Gyurcsány's guilt.

In parliament the LMP delegation sits right next to Jobbik's much larger group, and even Gergely Karácsony who was described to me by a Hungarian journalist friend as "one of the more normal ones in LMP" declared that a temporary coalition should be formed by all opposition parties. That would naturally include Jobbik. The democratic parties were outraged: how can the democratic opposition cooperate with Nazis, they asked. But Karácsony explained in one of his interviews that he knows those Jobbik MPs and there are many decent people in the group.

Recently the media started pressuring Schiffer. Ever since the details of the new electoral law became known, it was clear to everybody that there is no way of winning the elections against Fidesz unless there is prior agreement for close cooperation among the democratic parties, including LMP. Schiffer was conflicted: he would say something one day, something else the next day. For instance, one day he said that he would cooperate with MSZP but never with DK and Gyurcsány; the next day he said that he wouldn't even cooperate with MSZP because LMP alone would be able to win the elections in 2014.  I should mention that according to Ipsos's latest opinion poll, only 4% of the electorate would vote for LMP. On the third day he announced that LMP would cooperate even with the devil in order to get rid of Viktor Orbán. And he said all that with such hatred in his voice that it was frightening. Schiffer seemed to share certain characteristics with Viktor Orbán that I found abhorrent.

In the last week or so more and more articles appeared in the Hungarian media indicating that not all was well within LMP. These rumors were followed by the resignation of Virág Kaufer, an LMP MP, and a few days later the announcement of Gábor Scheiring, another LMP member of parliament, that he was resigning to finish his Ph.D. dissertation at Cambridge University.

And finally, I must mention a most unusual letter that appeared on Galamus by Anna Schiffer, aunt of András. The title: "Letter to my nephew." It begins "Dear Andris" and continues by saying that Aunt Anna tried to get in touch with "Andris" via Facebook but nephew had removed Aunt Anna from the list of his friends. Aunt Anna explains that she is not an MSZP fan but she is worried about nephew's Gyurcsány phobia and by some of his remarks about cooperation with Jobbik. She feels that she must say something. "Neither your great-grandfather nor your grandfather would have cooperated with extremists under any circumstances. They were decent left-wing politicians who suffered as a result of their moderate views at the hands of the extreme left. You bring shame to their name with your politics." Aunt Anna finished her letter by quoting László Majtényi's speech at the January 2 demonstration with a twist. "It is better to be a voluntarily departing leader of a democratic party than a politician who is kicked out." Well, it seems that "Andris" got the message. He stepped down as head of the LMP caucus.

Szakasits

The great-grandfather

And the great-grandfather Aunt Anna was talking about? Árpád Szakasits was a journalist and social-democratic politician who was arrested in 1950 and received a life sentence. He was released only in 1956. He died in 1965. His daughter, Klára Szakasits, was András Schiffer's grandmother. She wrote about her father's fate at Rákosi's hands in 1987. It is interesting reading.

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whoever
Guest
OK, neutral observers need to handle what Eva has written here with gloves. Firstly, most importantly. The circumstantial details around Solyom are fairly irrelevant and the fact that he disliked Gyurcsany made him quite normal. And he wasn’t a party member. Secondly, the overall tone of this post – the reference to ‘one of the more normal ones’ (perhaps who is closest to Eva’s own neoliberalism?) – it’s tactically inept, if you do wish to see more unity amongst the opposition, to write an attack such as this. On the one hand they are the weakest link, ‘only’ 4% in the polls. On the other hand they need to join with other opposition forces NOW. In fact this reflects that the LMP do have quite a lot of credibility, that they are generally sensible and decent – perfect, no. But in a bleak political landscape, they have conducted themselves extremely well, and are rightly seen by many foreign observers as an ethical organisation. In fact the most recent polls of definite voters now show them at 9%. Finally, and least importantly, I am under the distinct impression that social democrats who opposed the communist system (Anna Kethly) had no great… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “Secondly, the overall tone of this post – the reference to ‘one of the more normal ones’ (perhaps who is closest to Eva’s own neoliberalism?)”
I actually like Karácsony and I’m not responsible for what my journalist friend said about LMP.
On the other hand, I don’t think that Sólyom’s behavior in any way was normal, but at least one can say that he paid for it dearly. He did everything in his power to help Fidesz to come to power. So, now he can cry buckets full about what happened to his constitution.
As far as Szakasits is concerned, yes he belonged to the left wing of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party while some of the others mentioned here belonged to the right wing. At the end it didn’t matter, did it? I guess the question was how to deal with the situation. He made the wrong choice but as it turned out that there was no right one.
In any case, this is not about Szakasits but about Schiffer’s aunt who obviously sees the life and fate of her grandfather differently.

Member
Funny to read that professor Balogh got another girls scout badge on her vest: neoliberalism. Her certainly seem to advocate economic freedom, but I’m not sure where the neoliberalism comes from. Also interesting that especially my countrymen who get annoyed by the analisys are always looking for tactics and see attacks where the author just expresses personal views. This paranoia seems to be the basic fabric of the discussions about politics. I didn’t know much about Schiffer and couldn’t care less about his relationship to Arpad Szakasits. I always thought the name of the party was a joke. As many of us joked about it “Politics Can Be Different” was obviously “Politics Were Not So Much Different”. I would never vote for a green party because the naive antiglobalization or anti-multi views would cause damage to the economy on a scale close to the great Orban experiment (this will provoke Peter’s wrath). But I have to say that some of their ideas were very impressive. They really seem to be an “ethical organisation” by promiting accountabilty in politics. What they did in front of the parliament a few weeks ago was a very ballsy thing. It was also sad in… Read more »
Member

There is an outrageously funny blog post on the Orulunk Vincent blog (“Vincent! Happy?) about the LMP. Sorry Hungarian only.
http://orulunkvincent.blog.hu/2012/01/14/lehet_a_politika

Petofi
Guest

The article on Schiffer has neglected to mention the most disgraceful thing about him: that when Bajnai had stepped out
to show his readiness to be involved, giving hope to the opposition,
Schiffer was quick to deflat that hope by declaring that the LMP
would not join with other opposition parties to unseat Orban.
Doesn’t that smell a little fishy?
Does Schiffer have an Orban picture in his closet?

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Although Eva is right, that this post is not about Szakasits, but even a few words about the man should include that he was instrumental leading the absorption of the Social Denmocratic Party into the communist regime, for which he was rewarded by being named the first president of Communist Hungary.

whoever
Guest
I would describe Eva’s well-known support for the ‘full monty’ Janos Koka-Ferenc Gyurcsany package – including virtual privatisation of social security – as indicating her support for neoliberalism. But as I hope she is aware, I don’t find these political differences as indicating she’s a terrible person. ‘Neo-liberal’ isn’t meant as a form of hate speech. These are normal differences of opinion on some matters, and I agree with her on others. One of the positive things in the last year or two is that people such as Gyurcsany are being more honest – not pretending to be socialists, and then in practice, doing something else. In fact the LMP’s situation is worrying for the opposition in general, no matter what their mistakes may have been, as the LMP have been on an upward trend recently. They’re generally happy to work with the ‘new’ left opposition of Szolidaritas, 4K and ‘1 million for free speech’ but they’ve had difficulty with considering co-operation with the ‘old’ MSZP left. Why? Read between the lines of what many of the old guard in the MSZP are saying, and they still think they have the main role in the opposition, that somehow, between now… Read more »
Paul
Guest

OT – good coverage of the recent loony right demos on the Contrarian Hungarian:
http://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/far-right-protests-in-budapest-jan-14-2012/#more-2024
They are few and mad, of course, but this is still worrying. Fidesz is desperately pushing the theme that the problem is not what Orbán is doing/has done but the way the rest of the world is ganging up on Hungary.
This is an idea that will appeal to many in Hungary and will very easily be taken on board and believed (it’s exactly the propaganda I am already getting from my in-laws).
Not only is it an argument that seems right to them, it is also very hard to disprove (on their terms), and it has the advantage that they don’t have to admit that Orbán got it wrong or that they made a mistake in voting for him.
They weren’t conned, he IS right, it’s the Hungary haters who are destroying Hungary – the Jews, the banks, the multis. And when it all goes tits up it won’t be Orbáns fault – if they’d left him alone his plan would have worked.
How on earth do you argue against that?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

About neoliberalism and LMP. Reaction to Mutt Damon mostly.
To tell you the truth yesterday when I first read about my neoliberalism I didn’t even know what “whoever” was talking about and therefore I didn’t really answer his post properly.
Mutt explained very well what I very much disliked in LMP in addition to Schiffer’s rejection of cooperation and too friendly attitude toward Jobbik.
I also agree that what they did a couple of weeks ago was really fantastic. It called international attention to what is going on in Hungary and yes Gyurcsány’s presence was handy in this respect.
I don’t think that they will disappear just because Schiffer is gone. In fact, their popularity may grow. Their anti-globalism and anti-market attitudes worry me also and therefore I could never vote for them. Not that I vote on Hungarian elections.

Member
Schiffer’s biggest weakness was the belief or policy that Orbanism could be challenged effectively from within the Orbanist system. There is no longer any point attempting to work within the framework of a constitution or indeed a parliamentary system which will not permit now or in the near future any attempt (within Hungary) to roll back the developing soft Fidesz state grab and dictatorship. That being the case, what’s left for the democratic opposition? Civil disobedience and outside pressure on the regime’s access to international finance. The latter now has a momentum of its own and we can only sit back and hope for the best. Regarding the former, if the situation remains as it is, then the opposition should boycott all future parliamentary and local govt elections. They should refuse to participate in any event or process which legitimises the Orban Regime. They should also give guidance for those citizens bothered enough about how to make effective hits against the State- eg I got my tax return forms from NAV (formerly APEH) on Friday, how about if I and 1000s of others simply didn’t send it back- would that have an effective bureacratic or even financial effect on the… Read more »
enuff
Guest

Paul,
what about the future of their grandchildren? what kind of HU will they grow up in? can you share their foresight?
I really want to understand and learn more.

Kirsten
Guest

oneill: “how about if I and 1000s of others simply didn’t send it back- would that have an effective bureacratic or even financial effect on the regime’s machinery?”
That depends on how ‘obedient’ the police is. 10,000 cases is probably too much for the police to strictly enforce the law. But it depends also on the capacity of Hungarian civil servants that could be used for enforcement of tax collection, or the speed that courts could fine you etc. To me this idea sounds promising only if the number of disobedient citizens is very high; any individual action of this kind without being protected as e.g. an MP appears to be brave but perhaps not effective enough.
I thought that the set-up of ‘alternative institutions’ could make sense, but of course for that you also need a substantial number of people and it is certainly even more complicated to organise than tax return protests.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
whoever: “Which perhaps makes Andras Schiffer a more brave and unusual individual, for questioning his own background.” Well, this is where we differ. I’m getting thoroughly fed up with all these “democrats” who are bravely looking at their ancestors’ sins or who themselves suddenly discover they had been fierce fighters for freedom in the Kádár regime. The article Mutt suggested is also partly on this topic. I visited Hungary a lot in those days and also subscribed to very many publications in addition to journals on history (ÉS, Társadalmi Szemle, Valóság) and I didn’t see throngs of people demanding democracy. I don’t blame them. First of all, oppression was not really visible the way we think of oppression and therefore only a small bunch of intellectuals (later SZDSZ founders) spread their ideas in samizdat form, reaching very few indivisuals. People, on the whole, were satisfied with their lot until the second half of the 1980s. But let’s go back to Szakasits. To tell you the truth I haven’t spent too many sleepness nights over his career but pray, tell me, would it have mattered if there was no Szakasits? Do you really think that he in any way added or… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “That depends on how ‘obedient’ the police is.”
I have the feeling that not much. Gergely Karácsony (who will most likely take Schiffer’s place) told in an interview that while they were waiting in the police station, the police and the MPs together were cursing the Orbán regime.

enuff
Guest

anyone seen this “Így készült Schmitt Pál doktorija ” ?
http://youtu.be/9hMOUWTn6r0

Kirsten
Guest

Eva, my understanding was that in Esztergom the police did what they were asked to do…

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I would like to call attention to a short article on Galamus by a reader, László Pap, who claims that even the translation of Schmitt’s dissertation most likely wasn’t done by Schmitt. Whoever did the translation wasn’t familiar with sport terms in Hungarian and it seems Schmitt didn’t even bother to correct the wrong terms. Pap’s argument sounds convincing:
http://galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=112549%3Avedhetetlen&catid=65%3Aaz-olvasok-irasai&Itemid=101

Member
Eva: “One didn’t have to overdo it and become party functionary but it would have been utterly useless to conspire against the regime. Not only it would have been pointless but also, let’s face it, there were no customers for their messages. ” That’s exactly it. THis is what I keep saying over and over. Almost every single person benefited from the Kadar era, some more, some less. Some left Hungary because of the era, but some remained and choose not to do anything. For the few who done something had no audience. Very similar situation as it is now. Here is my very recent personal story about this. When the Milla (one million for democracy) formed on Facebook early last year, I went and signed up. As I was looking through the names and photos of the members, I came across a familiar person. I recognized this women who worked at the same place as I did in 1984 (+- a year). Where I worked a small group of us “conspired” against something very fishy, that ended up us being required one by one to show up at the Communist Party Headquarters and in the local City Hall. Some… Read more »
Member
About Szakasits …. Who cares. I find it funny although that when “whoever” find Solyom’s part in the article not neccessarry, goes on greta length to talk about the Szakasits connection. THe letter was written by Scmitt’s aunt and she has any right to write whetever she pleases, and not a single one of us understand why she uses that “bait” with her nephew. As for neoliberalism… It always surprises me that when people run out of reasons they try to come up with some title, some name that can be written on a box and try to massage the truth until it fits into the box. Eva very clearly stated that “I am liberal when it comes to social issues but quite conservative when it comes to economics and finances.” (Jan 7) Now how far someone tries to massage this, I have no clue. WHat is wrong with being socially liberal, I have no idea, so I just do not understand why someone needs to push it as some extreme of the devil. I do not think Hungary’s current problem rests with people who socially liberal, quite the contrary. Most of the posts written on this blog attacking Eva… Read more »
whoever
Guest
Contributors to this site have always added value to the content, and I think Eva would recognise this. I didn’t criticise Eva for being socially liberal, but I and others have said before, that what is considered a ‘social liberal’ in Hungary is very different to that in the West. I see no connection between the economics that Eva advocates, and that of social democrats or even most US Democrats. If she believes in ‘live and let live’ it’s fine, but then she has always dogmatically supported Bajnai and Gyurcsany, whose policies resulted in disaster for many people in Hungary. What she writes should be seen in that light, especially given the partial, biased nature of Hungarian politics. Account for previous opinions and maybe, just maybe, the spell of political dysfunction can be broken. The phantom here is of the mass poverty and degradation of public services, going on since 2006 – what I don’t read on this blog or in the radio broadcasts of Nick Thorpe. So what kind of liberal is Eva? Well, strictly speaking ‘conservative’ economics might mean ‘classical’ economics which probably means neoliberal economics. I have no connection to Fidesz. The idea of a united opposition… Read more »
whoever
Guest

I posted an excerpt from a book edited by Denis Healey, but the chapter in question was written by Antal Ban, MSZDP Minister for Industry in the postwar administration. We can question his neutral standpoint, it’s only one account, but I didn’t edit any of his words. We can interpret them as we like, if we have an interest in history. Once again, I thought adding different views of Szakasits would help add insight and depth to Eva’s post. If, on the other hand, this blog is only receptive to the views of the ‘establishment left’ in Hungary, I might not bother in future. I did think it was better than that…

An
Guest

@Whoever: ” The idea of a united opposition is great, but on whose terms? ”
Now that would be the trick, on nobody’s terms. They should express unity on what they can agree on (I wrote about it in an earlier post in another thread, so I am repeating myself) – which would be along the lines of reestablishing the democratic state in Hungary with appropriate checks and balances. (and, I’d also add, to regain credibility, they should also agree on being committed to reduce corruption in cronyism in Hungarian public life, e.g. make party financing more transparent).
So these are the basics I think most opposition groups should and could agree on. This could be a foundation for a loose alliance to get rid of OV. They don’t have to agree on everything (economic policies, how to handle poverty, etc), but can have their own programs addressing these issues.

sackhoes contributor
Guest

The idea of a united opposition is great, but on whose terms? Should it be back to Gordon Bajnai, or something else?
Charles Gati in Heti Valasz offers 5 scenarios for removing Orban from premiership. http://hetivalasz.hu/vilag/charles-gati-5-pontja-44756
1. Loosing the 2014 elections.
2. Fidesz moves up the elections to 2012 or 13 to renew is popular support, but looses that election.
3. The economy continues to worsen and the EU/IMF agreement fails to materialize. High cost of running the government and popular opposition leads dissident Fidesz leaders to remove Orban and Matolcsy and replace them with a true conservative (as opposed to populist) government.
4. To bolster the new government (in item 3), it would invite well known experts like Bajnai, Bokros, Peter Bod Akos (and I would add Jarai).
5. Civil war breaks out if the majority of the populace looses faith in Fidesz and truly understands the depth of the economic disaster.
Personally, my hope is for item 3.

Member

I completely agree with An. An united opposition simply needed to remove the current government from power. THe common goal here is to restore democracy, restore the flow of information (I mean the truth), remove any signs of nazism from political life. THese are the basics that all democratic party can agree with. All the other stuff should be worked out as secondary to these.

whoever
Guest

I also agree with An. But there are problems in the details. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, I haven’t looked at the new electoral system in great depth. But I understand people would have to vote for individuals and a list. So it might mean an LMP supporter in Pecs would need to vote for the MSZP candidate. Or a leftist MSZP supporter might need to vote for someone in the DK. Could this actually work? (Open question. I really don’t know)

Member
@Whoever “this blog is only receptive to the views of the ‘establishment left'” Muhahaha …. good one. @Sackhoe My money is on option number 1 if the country doesn’t default on the interest payments. The arrogance, messianism and incompetence were rampant in the past two years and nothing will change. All the other options require effort and that is not the strong suit of our distinguished MPs. For me the Schmitt affair is the most shocking proof of this. No matter what will happen they will look you in the eye and say … don’t worry, we are the good guys. This is an identity crisis question for them: they cannot go from the great Hungarian to the loser Hungarian in a few weeks. Even if we default and the quality of the life will significantly worsen we will only see a lot more protests on the street but that will be it. Perhaps a firebomb on Gyurcsany’s house if the FIDESZ Goebbels’ decide to shift into high gear. Again, the only option that requires no work is losing the elections in 2014. By the way the latest news in the Schmitt saga is that he didn’t even translate the… Read more »
Member

whoever: “I haven’t looked at the new electoral system in great depth. ” In my humble opinion wherever possible they need to balance out who will run against Fidesz and drum up support behind the most promising alternative. Does this mean that some place MSZP, LMP or DK have to step down in order to support the most promising candidate? Yes. If it is possible to win the election against such a rigged constitution, the winning coalition could “outlaw” this garbage, and call for a new election if needed then write a proper constitution or vice versa. I think those are the details that need to be hammered out now, in order to show an united interest and an united front.

whoever
Guest

Mutt Damon – you misquoted me as making a statement, whereas I used a conditional ‘if’. I hate it when people do that. In fact, I’ve been reading this blog for about 6 years or so. If it were always orthodox, or if Eva’s writing were that bad, I wouldn’t be here. I didn’t like this post so much. Am I allowed to say so, or does it break the rules?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “Or a leftist MSZP supporter might need to vote for someone in the DK. Could this actually work? (Open question. I really don’t know)”
I wouldn’t work that way. But there would one ticket: let’s calle it “Democratic Opposition” in which all democratic parties would participate.

Member

@whoever Sorry, I apologize. It’s wasn’t really quoting you or skewering. You also said “I did think it was better than that…” I thought you’re joking.

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