What now? Civilians versus party leaders

Tomorrow’s demonstration is being organized by a Facebook group called “MostMi!” (Now us!). The chief organizer of MostMi! is Zsolt Várady, a man who two years before Mark Zuckerberg hit upon the idea of Facebook, started iWiW, a Hungarian site. Later purchased by Magyar Telekom, iWiW no longer exists. Várady tried his luck in Berlin but couldn’t quite make it as a software developer. Now back in Hungary, he has been waging a war for some time against the Hungarian tax system which in his opinion is ruinous for Hungarian entrepreneurs.

Várady’s strategy was bizarre. Sometime at the beginning of October he sued every Hungarian party that has existed since 1990, fifteen all told, for being responsible for the widespread tax evasion effectively foisted upon Hungarian citizens because of the existing system of taxation. Quite clearly, Várady does not like parties. The very name he gave to the organization responsible for tomorrow’s demonstration is telling: “Now us!” It implies that all the parties of the last twenty-five years have failed and that the time has come for him and other unaffiliated citizens to take the reins.

What does MostMi! want to achieve tomorrow? “We would like to experience again the same liberating feeling [of earlier demonstrations] after the holidays. To feel that we are not alone and that we dare to raise our voices against this regime.” I’m afraid this is not quite enough. It looks as if MostMi! will be unable to rouse large numbers of demonstrators. As of now only about 10,000 people have indicated they will attend. Of course, it’s mighty cold out.

But there might be an additional reason for the lack of enthusiasm. Speakers at earlier demonstrations talked about the misery of the last twenty-five years and railed against all politicians, no matter their political stripe, while the crowds demanded: “Orbán takarodj!” (Orbán scram!). The civil organizers and the demonstrators were not in sync. Many of the demonstrators are followers of already existing parties. They would vote for MSZP, DK, Együtt, PM, LMP–that is, mostly for the parties of the old “Összefogás” group. These parties want to remove the present government from power. Várady and his co-organizers, by contrast, are working to eliminate all the existing democratic parties while they wait for a new generation of pristine politicians to emerge from their own ranks to eliminate the present regime.

In the last week or so, several political analysts argued against letting civilians take the lead to the exclusion of parties because they are convinced that if parties don’t join the movement, it will end up just like Milla, another Facebook initiative, did. Milla refused to cooperate with established parties and as a result it disappeared, practically without a trace.

It is usually Ferenc Gyurcsány who makes the first move when he sees an opportunity. The Orbán government has been greatly weakened and, in his opinion, it is time for political action. He was the only politician on the left who announced that the opposition should devise a strategy that would result in an election in 2016 instead of 2018. For that, the parties must come out of hibernation and join the movement that was begun by the civilians. They seem to be the ones who can gather crowds, but the crowds are not as politically unaffiliated as the civic organizers think. The very fact that they go out on the street is a political act. And politics needs parties.

goal
On December 22, Gyurcsány asked his followers to join the demonstration once again, but this time with party flags and emblems. The reaction from the MostMi! group was predictable. They subscribed to the Milla template: no parties, no slogans. “Now us!” But who are the “us”?  Even a conservative blog,”1000 A Mi Hazánk,” insisted that parties must make their appearance because otherwise the whole momentum of the demonstrations will be lost. On the liberal side, István Gusztos in Gépnarancs was of the same mind. As he said, “the organizers sooner or later must understand that political parties are civic formations par excellence.” Keeping civilians away from parties is an impediment to their renewal, which will make a struggle against the present regime impossible.

A telephone conversation between Várady and Gyurcsány did not resolve the impasse. Gyurcsány said that DK members and sympathizers who have faithfully attended earlier demonstrations will be happy to join Várady’s goup on January 2, but only if they can show their party preferences. The debate between DK and the organizers continued for days. The other parties, whom Gyurcsány called on to join DK’s example, remained quiet. The main reason for their reluctance was that they don’t want to appear to be following Gyurcsány’s lead. After all, József Tóbás, chairman of MSZP, made it clear that the socialists will never work together with any other party. They will the ones that will form a socialist government in 2018. Obviously, they also reject Gyurcsány’s strategy of holding early elections.

Naturally, the right-wing press was delighted to hear that the organizers “fell upon each other” while the liberals who sympathize with Gyurcsány felt that the civilians “screwed it up again.” Defenders of the civic leaders considered Ferenc Gyurcsány’s decision to be a way of usurping a demonstration that someone else organized. Indeed, by the rules of MostMi!’s game, Gyurcsány was trying to do exactly that. But as a liberal commentator said, “perhaps the rules of the game are wrong.”

The debate ended on December 30 when Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, a leading DK politician, announced that DK activists had received threats by civilians and that, in order to avoid possible violence, Ferenc Gyurcsány had withdrawn his request for DK sympathizers to be able to display their affiliation and affinity with the party. At that time Kerék-Bárczy still called upon the party’s followers to attend the demonstration. A few hours later, however, DK spokesman Zsolt Gréczy said that Gyurcsány had decided that if DK members and sympathizers can’t show their real colors, they will not attend. Of course, he cannot forbid DK sympathizers from attending, but neither he nor Gréczy will be there tomorrow.

Meanwhile criticism of the MostMi! group continues. Another civilian, Gábor Szabó, who has been demonstrating in front of the parliament building for months, wrote an open letter to Zsolt Várady saying that “it would be time to clear up what the real purpose of the demonstration is because the crowd thinks that the demonstration is against the Orbán regime while it seems that the goal of Várady and his collaborators is the creation of a new opposition.”

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Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Did you notice the performance of Vilibor Sincic in the 1st round of Croatia’s presidential race?

Guest

What these demonstrations and the controversies around them demonstrate above all is the utter immaturity, incompetence and impotence of the civic sphere in Hungary.

d'magyar
Guest

Brave Hungarians are needed.
It is time to open a page in decency.
The next great Hungarian must restore the legal system.

Istvan
Guest
In relation to Zsolt Varady I would recommend reading the article Eva linked to on his thinking. I believe there may be a certain level of disingenuousness to Varady. While he discusses tax transparency, I have to wonder if he also believes that if there were more fairness in the corrupt Hungarian taxation system that somehow his and other legitimate entrepreneurs might pay less taxes. Several members of my own extended family, including one whose firm was effectively acquired by the Cayman Island based Danube Fund expressed this type of thinking to me just two weeks ago. I can see nowhere in any of the comments made by Varady any theory or concept of the revenues necessary for the Hungarian state to function and the scope and extent of social welfare this state should provide to its citizens or the expenditures for national defense that should be made by the Hungarian state. If anyone out there can send a link to where he discusses these critical issues I would like to read it. The problems Hungary faces are not limited just to the corruption appearing in various political parties in Hungary, but to all of these political parties lack of… Read more »
koeszmeod
Guest

Shame on DK and its propaganda against the civil organizers!

Lutra lutra
Guest

Shame on Varady and his associates for their political naivety. They want tens of thousands to come out in sub-zero temperatures to protest that life’s not fair, while Orbán can smugly appear on TV saying how “permitting” this demonstration proves that he supports freedom of expression. If the protesters could come up with concrete demands on how to make life in Hungary fairer it might wipe the smirk off his face, but doing that would force the civil organisers to make a political stand too.

LwiiH
Guest

@Istvan, it not about balance, it’s about volume and how much can be skimmed off of that volume. So the goal is to run as much revenue through the government and run the resulting contracts through “friends legitimate” firms so the skimming is all “legal”. Because when you think of corruption you think envelope of cash pass under the table.. that is a truly unsophisticated form of corruption and these guys are very sophisticated when it comes to corruption. Why do you think Fidesz couldn’t convict the obviously corrupt MSzP individuals? Don’t worry, no one in Fidesz will be convicted either when they finally leave office. No one add what is needed, complete transparency in the system of public funding. Watching the MSzP people I know tells me that all that is happening is that they are waiting for their turn at the tap.

As for these movements… it maybe naive but it is a non-violent attempt to over-throw the current system, a system where a non-representative, no longer accountable “political elite” has made it impossible for alternate possibilities when working inside the system. Gy is part of that establishment and therefore cannot possibly be part of the *fix*.

Istvan
Guest
Lwih the question comes down to the percent of total tax dollars not being collected or diverted from the state, that is clearly unknown and was unknown for the governments prior to Fidesz. There is still the question of adequate revenue to provide social supports inclusive of education, health care etc, and national defense. There will always be a given level of corruption and diversion of tax dollars from appropriate purposes in any society, many Hungarian people I think are correctly saying it has gone too far and is unbearable. But just having Tax transparency does not fix the question of adequate revenues, and this issue is not being discussed by the opposition as best as I can tell. MSZP can correctly point to the underfunding of education and social services in Hungary, but the party knows full well it can not tax to the level necessary to fix these problems without more capital flight. Fidesz just says it will all work out in the end due to,economic growth, the Jobbik argues if corruption and the Roma were eliminated all would be well. Just like here I the USA it is easy to oppose taxes and corruption, it’s very hard… Read more »
Guest
@Istvan and @LwiiH I think that the fundamental problem is a combination civic ignorance and naiveté. Hungarian society has no tradition of liberal democracy and no understanding or appreciation of liberal democratic values, and thus of how an enlightened capitalist order is supposed to function, and ultimately that is the root cause of the post-regime change experiment in liberal democracy having got so badly derailed. In Britain and the US it took centuries for an enlightened, reasonably corruption-free market-driven capitalism to evolve and become embedded in a liberal democratic political framework, which then became gradually accepted by the vast majority of Britons and Americans as the best way forward toward a decent and sustainably prosperous society. Hungarians did not have the good fortune to undergo this gradual process and become acclimatised to liberal democratic values to the point where those values became second nature. Instead, their history is studded with feudal, autocratic and nationalist failure right until the regime change in 1989, and it is the features and accoutrements of feudalism, autocracy and a narrow nationalism that are carried forward in their national memory as the natural order of things. Given that it is highly unlikely that Fidesz would be… Read more »
Guest

Of course none of the above is ever likely to come into fruition in the Hungarian political context, given the highly ragmented nature of Hungarian opposition formations with their constant petty feuding with each other, their complete lack of a common value system, whether liberal democratic or not, and their total inability to cooperate on anything worthwhile.

All’s more the pity.

chayenne7
Guest
I Couldn’t agree more with Mike Balint. Thank you for putting in words the things that I couldn’t have put in words so clearly and accurately myself. Yes, the ignorance characteristic of the Hungarian citizens is what really stands in the way of any attempt to lead us out of this terrible situation. unfortunately, the people who are supposed to educate us in the manner Mike Balint has described would probably come from among us, the Hungarian people, and as such would be equally ignorant, or at least completely unprepared for the task. It really shows how everything has gone to the dogs, when my first thought was: yeah, sure, a buddy would get the whole project, take the money and run, leaving the poor participants in the hands of some amateur. I have heard at least the similar cases of EU funded projects in the past months. Everybody knows what’s going on and takes it as the natural course of events. They are only sorry it’s somebody else and not them. Corruption and theft have become the only way to put your hands on some money by now. In all walks of life. You give something, you take something.… Read more »
Peter
Guest

These demonstrators are part of the urban Budapest-based intelligence. They are not hungry, ambitious politicians and they never will be. Thus they are doomed to failure anyway.

However, every demonstration, every new addition to the discourse of opposition helps.

That’s because it makes obvious for average people [at least those who hear about these demonstrations, which is a minority, in rural areas people just wouldn’t know about them] that they are not alone with their discontent. That there are others there, who dare to go out with their discontent and still survive without negative repercussions.

The mesmerizing nature of a dictatorship is such that only slowly, gradually can people realize that the emperor has no clothes (absent a violent overthrow of the regime, of which the non-right wing opposition is fundamentally incapable).

The next elections will be held in more then three years. Even if Orban fails completely or gets a heart attack, it is for Fidesz to continue to govern, that’s their responsibility.

I think these struggles within the opposition are necessary, and there is still time, so I wouldn’t worry.

Webber
Guest
@Eva – You claim politics need parties, and in a sense that is so. But I am sure you will concede that the civil rights movement in the United States did quite a lot without parties. Movement leaders and the mass of people involved were ahead of and outside political parties. In the end, American political parties followed the civil rights movement – they did not lead it. The leading political parties at the time would not have overturned the status quo so dramatically without pressure from the civil rights movement. And that remains the case despite the fact that certain details about certain civic leader’s private lives (such as Martin Luther King’s) appear less salutary. There is no need for the leaders of MostMi, Milla, HaHa or any of the rest to be paragons. And there is no need for these groups to last, precisely because they are not political parties, but civic groupings that coalesce for specific reasons. In terms of disgust with corruption and the status quo in Hungary, I think political parties should follow, not lead. And in terms of analysis, I think it is a huge mistake when these groups are portrayed as competitors with… Read more »
Guest

OT:
The Forint just reached a new “high” 1€ = 318.5 HUF and 1$ = 264.3 HUF
http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=EUR&to=HUF&view=1W

Jon Van Til
Guest
Julie Fisher notes in her important new book IMPORTING DEMOCRACY http://importingdemocracy.org/blog that the democratization process is struggling all over the world, and is often in retreat. (Agnes Kover noted in a recent paper that this process may be seen as part of a “reverse third wave” of the democratization process.) The democratization process works best, Fisher notes, when a combination of forces work together: the presence of a loyal opposition, the willingness to engage in well-conceived protest when needed, and the steady working of civil society organizations. Hungary is currently failing on all three points of this triangle: its feeble political parties provide no loyal opposition to speak of; its protests are unconnected to its political or civil society organizations; and its civil society organizations have been effectively muted by the country’s clever and powerful political elite. In the conclusion of our forthcoming co-edited book, THE HUNGARIAN PATIENT (CEU Press), Peter Krasztev and I write: New and important challenges will be faced by the Hungarian opposition. For one, it will need to rediscover and revitalize its intellectual brain trust. Activist thinkers like Agnes Heller and George Konrad do not grow on trees, and neither do they live forever. Those willing… Read more »
Guest

The last (very important and very interesting too) comments make me feel very pessimistic about the situation in Hungary – it will take a long time probably until the right political environment comes up again.

Again a bit OT – and only for those who can read German:
http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/wunderbar/agnieszka-brugger-studentin-und-gruene-politikerin-a-1008066.html
This is the story of a young woman which at 29 years represents the Green party in the German parliament in defence affairs! So she is the discussion partner for our defence minister (Ursula von der Leyen) which btw is also a woman and thought to be the successor of Mrs Merkel.
And of course I’m proud that she is connected to my home town Tübingen …

Zsolt
Guest
“Hungarian tax system which in his opinion is ruinous for Hungarian entrepreneurs” not only his opinion but also mine. However, every government but also the opposite party is a kind of mirror from the nation and not just the nation who elected but every single citizen in the country. In Hungary, an issue (within the nation) is the lack of honest and open discussion about politics. If A is supporting the ruling party and B is supporting the opposite they do not talk to each other but always trying to argue and defend themselves / the party they support. AND for A every decision / message of the supported party is just taken as true and should not be questioned. All this is visible also on the demonstrations we had in the past months, everyone and everything is just opposite to something else. Nor the civil demonstration, neither the DK/MSZP “combo” are showing an ideal where the country and the people should go. Whatever the FIDESZ say/does DK/MSZP and many others ( like Varady ) are just against it as it was said by the evil. Do not misunderstand me, I am not going on FIDESZ but demonstrating _against_ something… Read more »
Member

Hungarian Human Rights Continue Crumbling

So now, while the protestors keep squabbling amongst themselves, Gergely Gulyas begins to channel Orban’s next bright idea — to curb freedom of assembly (and hence freedom of speech)…

Istvan
Guest

The organizers of today’s demonstration declared their critical objectives on line to be (my weak
translation): “We want the liberating experience after the winter holidays to live again, that we are not alone, that many and more and more of us who would dare to stand up and dare to raise our voices against the current hypocritical system against, in fact, we know what kind of country we want to live instead!

We can have now a country that is both free and in solidarity, because if we do not there are concerns that we can not live any longer in the country without change And we, that is, all of us have to want to change, because for 25 years we have been waiting in vain for this work to be carried out from those who came to represent us.”

That is a massively vague objective.

Member

It is not easy to come with all the answeres in a relativly short time whitout political experience. Nether did so the opposition parties the last four and a half years. How can we crave this youngsters to be up to the challange at once?

Jano
Guest

Webber: That’s exactly right, very well said. However they still need goals. They should come up with initiative (i.e. concrete laws to implement or change) that the crowd can sign up to, prepare petitions about, etc. The message “come here and rant with us” is going to grow old fairly quickly.

HiBoM
Guest
I think Webber makes the point very well. The protestors need to voice their outrage, and frankly, they need to smash a few windows as well. And then parties can and must adapt and adjust to them. But the notion that is shared by some here, that somehow these people are just waiting for the chance to vote for Gyurcsány, Kuncze et al, is extremely fanciful. I see nothing wrong with people voicing their disgust at the opposition because frankly, they are just as much part of the problem besetting Hungary as anyone else. After all, Gyurcsány is not in parliament because he was voted in. He is there because of some dubious back-room deal with MSZP that got him a high place on the party list, gifting him a seat by default. Gábor Fodor, even more outrageously, is in parliament as the head of a party even less “real” that KDNP. So long at the opposition is headed by the very people who were responsible for Fidesz’s landslide victory in 2010, and who are still present in public life because of their incestuous politicking rather than support via the ballot box, the protestors have every right to treat them… Read more »
Webber
Guest

I beg to differ. Outrage can be enough, and Fidesz supporters know it. Orban and Fidesz got their 2/3s-majority under the old election system in 2010 precisely because of people’s outrage, NOT because of their political program. All the opposition needs to do is to be united in promising change, and voter outrage can do the rest.

TeamBritanniaHu
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Istvan
Guest
The translated interview with Zsolt Németh chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs that appeared in the Budapest Beacon on December 31st is well worth reading, particularly this quote: “There are those who believe it is possible to defeat Russia, and all that is needed are weapons, determination and money. But our Western allies need to realize that it is not possible to defeat Russia militarily or economically. The West needs to come up with a worthwhile and uniform proposal with regard to Russia. It is not clear now whether there is a difference of opinion or merely a division of labor under way in what is taking place between the United States and Europe.” The objective in the current NATO/EU conflict with the Russian Federation is not to defeat that nation but to curb its unacceptable behavior that includes annexation of the Crimea based on claims that Putin himself stated go back to the origins of Christianity in Russia. As Putin put it in March 2014: “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis… Read more »
Guest

RTL news had a report on today’s demonstration with some talk by Várady (not very impressive – he’s obviously not a politics pro) and also showed quite a lot of hand-written signs.
The funniest one had just two words:

Orbán
Badfriend

spectator
Guest
My problem with the presently held demonstration and the comments advocating the exclusivity of the civilian movement that in my experience it’s only successful in democracies, when at least the basic set of rules of the game respected. It isn’t the case in Hungary today. As it correctly has ben pointed out by Mike Balint: “Hungarian society has no tradition of liberal democracy and no understanding or appreciation of liberal democratic values,” and it apparent in the behaviour of the political parties just as well as the civilians. For some reason the populace tend to agree with Orbán, that democracy is equals with the dictatorship of the majority, and wouldn’t think further, let alone question the notion. However, as we have have learned, “bolshevism” the proper name of such concept when the rights and interests of the rest of the people largely disregarded, this is not democracy. Having look at it from this standpoint unfortunately I can’t agree with the organisers of the demonstration, nor with some commentators. In my opinion the number of ones supporters never gives automatically right to ignore the opinion of others, particularly when they have rather similar values too, but hey, this is Hungary, after… Read more »
Guest

@Webber

I think that your analogy with the sixties’ civil rights movement in the US falters on two key points. The civil rights movement had clear, sharply delineated aims and objectives. The civil rights movement also presented nd operated in terms of a strongly unified front. Neither is the case with the demonstrators or with the left of centre opposition parties in Hungary today.

Istvan
Guest

Spectator you argue that the foundational operational principle of the demonstrations should simply be “restoration of democracy, nothing more, nothing less.” That is a lot really, some would argue that to restore democracy in Hungary the Basic Law ( constition ) passed by Fedesz has to be recvoked and replaced. But replaced with what, the communist constitution, clearly not.

Just calling for restoration of democracy is an abstraction, There have to be transitional demands that culminate in the restoration of democracy or maybe better said the restoration of the Hungarian Republic. For example Kim Scheppele and others have identified many Anti-democratic aspects of the constition that help reinforce Fidesz rule, can’t any of these provisions be the basis for concrete demands?

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