Historian Zoltán Ripp’s analysis of the Hungarian election

Post-election soul-searching and analysis continues in Hungarian opposition circles. I spent two days talking about the remedies offered by MSZP insiders Ildikó Lendvai and István Hiller. Politicians from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, have so far been silent. I understand they are spending this coming weekend analyzing the lessons of the election. On the other hand, DK activists gathered 42,000 supporting signatures, ensuring their participation in the EP election on May 25. Their election slogan, “Europe Is Performing Better,” is a take-off on the government’s claim that Hungary is doing better.

It is extremely difficult to guess how the opposition parties, this time campaigning alone, will do. Turnout for EP elections is usually very low, and Fidesz will most likely get a majority of the 22 seats Hungary is entitled to. Jobbik will probably do even better than in 2009 when they captured three seats, only one fewer than MSZP. The other opposition parties, Együtt 2014-PM and DK, are real question marks because this is the first time they will be able to measure their strength at the polls. Parties need at least 5% of the votes cast to send a delegate.

While the campaign for the EP election is going on, political analysts continue to ponder the consequences of the national election. This time it was Zoltán Ripp, a historian, who tackled the election results. Ripp is deeply immersed in political history, especially the history of the Hungarian communist party in the last fifty years or so. He also wrote a monumental work on the change of regime (Rendszerváltás Magyarországon, 1987-1990), which I find invaluable for understanding the political history of those years.

Ripp was described in a review of one of his books as a historian close to MSZP. Well, that might have been the case a few years back but, as evidenced by an article he published in Galamus, Ripp nowadays has a devastating opinion of MSZP’s current leadership. According to Ripp, MSZP politicians “are “culturally empty, morally dubious, and politically feeble.”

Zoltán Ripp / 168 Óra

Zoltán Ripp /168 Óra

So, how does Ripp see the election and its consequences? The title of his long essay is telling: “Opting for  Servitude.” The essay itself is a subjective description of his despair. Ripp, like most historians, doesn’t think much of the so-called political scientists and leaves “objective” analyses to the talking heads. He is convinced that now, after the election, “the constitutional third republic is gone for ever.” The change of regime is final, especially now that Viktor Orbán with the blessing of the electorate won another stunning victory. One can no longer claim that the Orbán regime is illegitimate. Those who voted for Fidesz reaffirmed its legitimacy.

Ripp, of course, realizes that for the core voters of Fidesz Orbán’s regime doesn’t mean servitude at all. On the contrary, they are convinced that they are performing a service in pursuit of a higher and more noble goal. They are lending a helping hand in the task of elevating the nation into future greatness. Viktor Orbán is described as “the chief shaman, ” “the anointed leader” who knows what he is doing. “Who is the embodiment of what is the best in us.” But, the problem is, Ripp continues, that “the party of Viktor Orbán could have won only in a country where society is gravely ill.” What is that illness? “The lack of democratic culture and mentality.” And that is very basic. Ripp claims that the failure of the democratic third republic was bound to happen. It was practically inevitable.

As opposed to many others, Ripp asserts that it was “not material questions that decided the outcome of the election.” Not that they didn’t matter, but the chief culprit was “the revival of the culture of subjugation.” The return of “resignation,” “assuetude.” And the problem with the opposition was, in Ripp’s view, that they didn’t concentrate on the real issue: that with the election of 2010 came a “regime change.” What was at stake in the election was democracy vs. autocracy painted over with a pseudo-democratic gloss. Ripp fears that the regime put in place byViktor Orbán will stay perhaps for decades. “We can get into a situation from which there is no way out by holding elections.”  Those who believe that there will be another chance in 2018 are mistaken, “they don’t understand anything about the nature of the Orbán regime (kurzus).”

In Ripp’s opinion this opposition misunderstood the very threat that Viktor Orbán’s regime was and is posing to Hungarian democracy. So, what should have been done? How should the opposition politicians have handled the situation? The key word in Ripp’s vocabulary is “radicalism,” but he quickly adds that radicalism is not the same thing as using scurrilous language. There should have been a concentrated radical attack on the illegitimate character of the Orbán regime. Democratic politicians should have announced as their goal the total elimination of the whole system Orbán built in the last four years. Instead, “our brave politicians” only managed to come up with the label of “kormányváltó,” which didn’t even make it to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár as an adjective. It simply means “change of government.” As Ripp puts it, “instead of strategy that great zeal degenerated into a whimper.” On such a basis one could not put together a civic concentration of forces that would have produced enough power for the removal of the Orbán regime. Instead, a coalition of parties was formed “based on cheap haggling.”

Ripp knows that “the intellectual giants of MSZP” will call him an idealist who cannot see farther than downtown Budapest and who talks nonsense because he doesn’t grasp the realities of the countryside. Ripp’s answer is that the democratic politicians had four years to explain to the population the connection between the lack of democracy and the rule of law and the quality of material life. He uses a famous line from Sándor Petőfi to illustrate his point: “haza csak ott van, ahol jog is van.”

What were the sins of the individual actors in the drama? Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “chief responsibility lies in the fact that, although he knew and said a thousand times what was at stake, in the end he accepted the rules of a losing game.” Bajnai’s responsibility is great. He gave up his original ideas and “followed the script of MSZP… He deteriorated into a weakish participant in a political battle.” As for Attila Mesterházy, in Ripp’s eyes he was totally unsuited to lead the battle against Fidesz. “Anyone who did not see that should look for some profession outside of politics.” But, he adds, Mesterházy was not the cause of the crisis but its symptom. What an indictment of MSZP! If Ripp is right, the remedies Lendvai and Hiller propose are useless.

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“The change of regime is final, especially now that Viktor Orbán with the blessing of the electorate won another stunning victory. One can no longer claim that the Orbán regime is illegitimate. Those who voted for Fidesz reaffirmed its legitimacy.” That is, of course, nonsense. The election was probably more or less free, but not fair. Where the new election law was heading could have been seen as early as the municipal elections in autumn 2010. As a result, the “opposition” should have boycotted it. That would have been a signal that would have been seen also abroad. But they went along and latter muttered: “This is unfair.” Rather sheepish. The rest sounds a little like the “genetic” damage Hungarians are supposed to have, although that certainly isn’t true. Ripp is right on another point, though: The remedies Lendvai and Hiller propose are useless (although bravely idealistic) because Hungary lacks the political culture and the talented people to change the system fundamentally, i.e. at the “grassroots”. As Hungary doesn’t have a decent party-financing law, add to the lack of able political personnel: lack of funds. “Ripp fears that the regime put in place by Viktor Orbán will stay perhaps for… Read more »


All of Ripp’s critiques of DK, EP and especially MSZP and their leaders are valid, but I still believe all analysts are underestimating what the democratic opposition was up against: Fidesz’s fiendishly successful entrenchment of corruption, croneyism and lack of any scruples at a scale that no democratic party or nation in the free world has faced at least since WW II. That, coupled with a shamefully unthinking and undemocratically-minded electorate (including a dismayingly large bent toward bottom-feeding racists).

If anyone thinks that a political campaign (lacking the media as well as the funds co-opted by Orban) could have overcome this overwhelming handicap then let them point to a comparable situation in which something like that worked, by way of evidence. (But if your example does not have a realistic counterpart for Fidesz’s fatal stranglehold, it is just airborne fantasy.)

The only thing that can dislodge Orban’s death-grip is the palpable consequences of all the damage he is doing to Hungary. Try speculating instead on how long that’s likely to take to come home to roost…


@Stevan Harnad

“Try speculating instead on how long that’s likely to take to come home to roost…”

I speculate: 8-10 more years.


OT on OK

Am I the only one on whose nerves OK’s increasing grimacing and theatrics are beginning to become a little wearing?

All that opinionatedness couched in the tired ritual of pseudo-devil’s-advocacy, citizen indignation, journalistic neutrality and a goodly dose of trivial pursuit — when what’s sorely missing is a sense of vision, and even some wisdom.

Still incomparably better than nothing, of course, and a long positive record that still outweighs the present… But Hungary’s situation has never been more dire, and so many historic opportunities for clarity and closure are being lost in favor of light, ludic banter.

(Not to mention that ATV is one of the very few outlets for the leaders of the democratic opposition; their electoral chances would have been better with more help and less hectoring…)

I like these statements like “The lack of democratic culture and mentality.” While this is true, it is also true for other countries as well who really perform better in every way. There isn’t one reason for the left’s loss. But what a true statement: “MSZP politicians “are “culturally empty, morally dubious, and politically feeble.”” Some famous politicians coined the term “leadership material”. Is Mestarházy that? Guess people laughed their ass off in the countryside when they heard that he was a contender, even the lefty voters of Budapest were ashamed that that they had to vote for such a clown. But MSZP elected him. (Not that Bajnai is a better leader, he may be a good manager, but leadership is needed in these times, and the left cannot provide that either). Poor people never had the opportunity to live with their democratic rights (even if those existed) throughout history. These ideas are for then middle class. For the poor these theoretic arguments mean nothing. Most people could not even describe in their own words what democracy is. Why would they care so much? One idea. Hungary’s economy cannot conceivably give work to people in the rural areas, including people… Read more »
While some of Ripp’s observations are spot on, I’m still yet to be shown that “Democratic politicians should have announced as their goal the total elimination of the whole system Orbán built in the last four years” would have achieved a better outcome or a smaller Fidesz victory. People agreeing with this assessment I’m sure voted for the “kormányváltók” anyway. I’ve said it several times and I’m still absolutely convinced that the only way to overcome Orbán is to offer a credible vision of the Fidesz-free future matched with an equally credible image of governance capabilities. The election program whose only element is getting rid of Orbán failed miserably at the polls three weeks ago. Maybe the population wants to see Orbán go, but they are not going to give anyone else a blank check either. I don’t really understand what Ripp is talking about? A cue maybe? On the same note, so many have said in the last few week how bad Mesterházy is. Well, a lot of us actually knew that very well before the election. Why on earth would I have voted for him in the first place? To have him as the new MSZP version of… Read more »
Anne Applebaum has an interesting interview at hvg.hu (in Hungarian) http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140425_Anne_Applebaum_Ukrajna_Oroszorszag She says: “It is obvious that Putin supports the European extreme right wing movements. Is Hungary perhaps unaware of this? The west simply is unprepared against this. It had to face a similar situation last time in 1950-1960’s . …” “A. A.: Miért, az nem nyilvánvaló, hogy Putyin támogatja az európai szélsőjobboldali mozgalmakat? Magyarország vajon nincs tisztában ezzel? A Nyugat egyszerűen felkészületlen ezzel szemben. Ilyennel utoljára az 50-es, 60-as években kellett szembenézniük. Oroszország nagyon rövid idő alatt vált erős, és egyben a Nyugattal ellenséges országgá, erre sem intellektuálisan, sem az elhárítás intézményrendszerét illetően nem készült fel a Nyugat. Oroszországot húsz évig nem vették komolyan, Irak, Irán, Kína, Afganisztán volt a fókuszban.” It is ridiculous that there is minimal discourse about Jobbik’s Russian connections. There is this blog, some cryptic statements in some articles on Index some un-named Fidesz source saying that they have “an overview of Jobbik’s finances” (rálátásuk van a Jobbik pénzügyire) etc. but that is it. But it is not a real issue, not a topic of research. We have to accept that this is the natural order of things. Why? Is Fidesz, as well as the… Read more »


Note the comments (in Hungarian), mostly by real name.



“Yes, Stevan, Olga is wearing a bit thin.”

More than a bit.
Here increasing interruption seems almost like grandstanding–she must inject her continual blatter. Plus, her adamant refusal to acknowledge by name her newsreader lead-in shows her to be a pompous ass.


As noted at the end of the piece, suggested remedies for reviving the MSzP are probably useless. But with their mine-is-bigger-than-yours mentality, the party’s zombie leadership will refuse to die and make way for the next generation, making the Dear Leader’s grip on power that much stronger. Not that it matters.

One can only hope that as the country almost certainly takes an economic nosedive in the coming years, the electorate will turn away en masse from Fidesz.


Video report from a 100% Fidesz village. Almost all inhabitants are Gypsy, the mayor is not, but she lives elsewhere. Half of the eligible voters (101 out of 211) showed up to vote. A lady says on camera that she is not for Fidesz, but she did not vote.

Two third of the unemployed were given money (which is about half the minimum wage on the average) as “fostered workers” at election time. I bet they won’t be as happy from May 1, when the government cuts back on the fostered workers.



The village has 371 inhabitants, 211 eligible voters, so there must be 160 children under 18.
(43% = 160/371).

There are 68 unemployed (32% = 68/211), of which 42 were fostered workers at election time (62%= 42/68)


Oops, I made a mistake. For the unemployment rate, I should have used the number of people between 18-62 in the denominator. So the rate is much higher than 32%.


Magyak’s comments were extremely interesting and as I have admitted I honestly am out of my element in rural Hungary even when playing the role of az amerikai unokatestvére. I do agree that the left in Hungary “accepted capitalism blindly,” especially as it relates to rural Hungary. This comment by Magyak: ” (those who remain in Hungary) will have to find something sure and constant in their lives. They found it in a modern kind of religion, the adoration of Orban. Or they immerse themselves in the Jobbik-type pseudo-history and anti-roma/jew Magyar paraphernalia,” is frighteningly true.

I have talked with my 20 something relatives and gotten the most amazing renditions of crazy racist pseudo-history coupled with half baked schemes to make millions of euros if only I will put up a few thousand dollars. There is deep truth in Magyak’ s post.

PS Eva a lot of pro-union anti-monopoly people in the USA shop at Walmart and will not admit it. Ultimately this sector of the retail industry might be destroyed too by on line shopping, many people here in Chicago are now even ordering groceries on line and having them delivered.

I also have to agree with Magyark’s comments – it really is frightening to see those places in Eastern Hungary which he mentions (my wife’s family is from one of them and they are afraid to leave their house even during the day for more than a few hours …) and even here around affluent Hévíz and the Balaton you have the feeling that there are not enough jobs – and many people who don’t qualify for any kind of job … Of course a lot of those people without any education and understanding of today’s world are Gypsies, but not all of them! And that seems to me an almost unsolvable problem for Hungary: What can Hungary offer these people in the way of jobs besides garbage/used goods collection and selling (Turkálo is a common sight even here) and a bit of agriculture? This problem has been sitting here for 25 years in the open (in Communist times it was well hidden – anyone remember the film :Egeséges Erotika?) and nothing or not much has been done, a whole generation lost! On our street we have an example: A house that was rented out to several Gypsy families (probably… Read more »

Eva, since last night there seems to be something wrong with your javascript for quoting. I not that some comments have successfully appeared since then, but I’m unable to get the wordpress software to work when I press “quote”. (The usual # for commentary number also seems to be missing.)

Rabsag Megvaltas Helyett
Rabsag Megvaltas Helyett

Grim picture.
The Fidesz/Finkelstein(still a hired hand?) rigged the legal/social/financial systems.
The nation lacked brave people to prevent the wholesale oppression.
The most depressing layer is the old educated emigrant class.
They approved the “patritotic” cheaters who promised to erase the soviet satellite past.
Orban has pretended to restore the ideals of the horthy fascism.
It was a lie.
In reality, Hungary got a Fidesz version of russian supported oppressors.


Magyark: “As a result most people vegetate in rural areas.” “people (those who remain in Hungary) will have to find something sure and constant in their lives. They found it in a modern kind of religion, the adoration of Orban.”

I doubt that this is the only solution to the “rural problem” available currently. Agriculture is certainly an area where Hungary – if it tried with more dedication – could make quite some living also through exporting. The Netherlands can export agricultural products, why is Hungary not bigger in the business? Hungarianism and Orban will perhaps for a while be something “constant” in their lives, but so will be that they “vegetate”. It is very unlikely that an improvement in living standards can be achieved by that (but according to what I read, this is perhaps not the goal anyway). For that it would have to be accepted first that we live in the 21st century and not 200 or 1000 years back (with everything that it means for technology and organisation of work and trade).


“We can get into a situation from which there is no way out by holding elections.”

We are already there.


Regarding the video of Palmajor. I loved that video. I think the mayor could teach a thing or two in the Parliament. Maybe Zoltan Balog and Viktor Orban could sit down with the mayor and listen to her. THe video should be played on the usual Fidesz portals, so people will be able to see the difference between the stereotypes and the real world.


Pignon: “It is ridiculous that there is minimal discourse about Jobbik’s Russian connections.

WHat is the discourse about Fidesz’ Russian connections? I think nobody from Fidesz wants to scratch the Jobbik’s connections for obvious reasons…


The two tier healthcare already started in Hungary. Although Orban and Fidesz was going insane when Gyurcsany suggested some minimal payments for visits, now they cooked up a “great” plan. In a non-private hospital treatments of patiences will be taken in “overtime” by the medical staff if they forgo their national healthcare program (that they paid into all their lives). In exchange for paying for the treatment or operation, patiences can get almost instant access to the facility. Never mind that it was the taxpayers who paid for equipment or for the education of the doctors.
Of course we can look it from an other angle. As we all know the free Hungarian healthcare is not really free. Although truth to be told the Orban government too tries to put a stop to the “gratuity”, so far they have been unsuccessful. Now Orban and his Fidesz will kill two birds with one stone as they will be able to stop the “gratuity”, not raise the salary, have the institutions obtain their own funding, but claim that healthcare is still free.

Rev. A W Kovacs

Ripp is not a historian, but a radical communist/socialist moaning about the big loss his pals sustained in the Hungarian election. They had enough of Gurcsany’s corrupt politics, his suppression of speech and rights, and they threw him and his bunch out. They have long memories of his commie type government and locked them out! They see a Hungary that is handling its economics sensibly and life is getting better despite a worldwide recession. Ripp should retire – probably Russia needs a revisionist “historian” to help write their Orwellian post-Stalinist history.

J Grant
“I don’t think that it is the fault of North American or European firms that working conditions in some of the Asian countries are abominable. It is the responsibility of the governments involved which seem to allow their own people to be exploited by their own fellow citizens.” Dear Prof Balogh! I really can’t decide whether you are so naive that you don’t realise why Western owned multinationals outsource their production/factories into the Third World or you do, but accept that fact as an inevitability. I think they do it in order to be able to reap massive profits in the process. What other reason can there be? I hope you don’t think it is charity to provide jobs!! So, if the multinationals’ main motivation is to profit from the appalling conditions, lack of legal labour protection laws etc. in the Third World, how disingenuous of you is it to absolve the responsibility of those very multinationals from at least ameliorating the appalling conditions within their own sphere (ie: in the factories and in wages/socials wage) and demand that those governments should do it ibsread. It is precisely BECAUSE those governments are that negligent, corrupt and care nothing about the… Read more »


“Hungary’s economy cannot conceivably give work to people in the rural areas…”

I’d like to disagree. Where there is a political will, there is a possibility.

What it takes is a land reform (min. 10 ha for each family farm), the original concept of Raiffeisen (rural credit unions), small cooperatives with a national parent organisation for buying fertilizer and machinery and marketing crops – and a few other insights.

The EU and the country I live in (Switzerland) pay small farmers to cultivate the land so that it doesn’t turn into wilderness by subsidising their production.

In parts of Europe, farmers are paid for not cultivating their land because the old agrarian policy led to overproduction in too many fields. However, who owns most land gets the highest closure premium. In the case of Hungary, that is absurd. (It’s probably absurd everywhere…)

Small Hungarian farmers have to be taught how to cultivate labour-intensive fruits and berries which are suitable for the climate and soil and of little interest to the big wheat and maize producers.


See my first comment.


@Rev. A W Kovacs

That sounds like another bag of lies – and ridiculous pipe-dreams – of some hate-speech troll.

Where is Hungary better off now than in 2009 (except the few hundred people that make up the Orbán mafia)? Even the once reliable Central Statistical Office is now cranking out garbage figures (or withholding them altogether).

Dear Reverend A. W. Kovacs, do you have any idea bout Hungary?? “They see a Hungary that is handling its economics sensibly and life is getting better despite a worldwide recession.” In which country are you talking about? “They had enough of Gurcsany’s corrupt politics, his suppression of speech and rights, and they threw him and his bunch out. ” Compared to the institutionalized corruption of Orban and Simicska? Do you want me to tell the names of the bagmen of your beloved Fidesznik politicians?? Do you need info on what the cut (kick-back) they demand these days is? Literally you cannot get any more corrupt than these Fidesznik guys. Have you realized that the US still has not congratulated to Orban on his election victory? How on earth could Gyurcsány or his government conceivably suppress freedom of speech? When Fidesz and his pals owned the print and electronic media already 10 years ago, and Fidesz smartly took over the media authority and it even controlled the state radios and tvs even under the Gyurcsany and Bajnai governments (and it had a majority in the constitutional court even before 2010)? Do you have any idea about freedom of speech or… Read more »

People in rural places do not really want to deal with agriculture as such.

People buy their cabbage at Lidl and Aldi even if it is imported from Poland to Germany and then to rural Hungary. It is still cheaper then all the hassle it involves if one wants to grow it, unfortunately.

“Land reform” meaning the redistribution of land plots is out of the question of course.

Anyway, I do not think situation will improve as Fidesz is beholden to the local land oligarchy whose income and wealth is based on the industrial-like growing of commodity like corn, wheat and a few other crops like rape. The easiest of all agriculture. Anything that involves work and is relatively difficult to market or transport (like chili paprika for which Hungary used to be famous) is disappearing.

Jobbik is just getting started in the rural (always substitute outside-Budapest) places.