The following interview appeared on ATV’s website on July 8 and was promptly translated into English the following day and published in DK’s English-language newsletter Free Hungary. I’m glad to republish it here and urge other democratic opposition parties to take advantage of Hungarian Spectrum to air their views and programs so they can be shared with a wider international audience. The interview was conducted by Ferenc Szlazsánszky and Gábor Vigh.
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According to former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, the idea of early elections is no longer a realistic idea; however, the question should be kept on the agenda. The Chairman of Democratic Coalition (DK) is satisfied with the growth rate of his party, he has no intention of criticizing or swallowing up the Hungarian Socialists (MSZP). Gyurcsány believes that the political left in Hungary is not in its ruins and it is possible to win the elections with 1.8 million votes, which goal is “not far off”. During his interview with atv.hu, such issues were addressed as Gyurcsány’s character assassination, immigration, the chances of a Fidesz far-right Jobbik coalition, and his company, the Altus case.
Last November you said that the political left should enforce early elections for 2016. Do you still believe this?
If we consider what is best for Hungary, than my opinion remains unchanged. Are we close to early elections? I have to reply in the negative but the question should be kept on the agenda. The idea of another three years with Orbán as leader is unacceptable to millions.
Why should the question of early elections be kept on the agenda if it has no reality?
Because it reflects what we think of the government, that we want it to change as soon as possible.
Seeing the modest support for MSZP, DK and Együtt, do you still believe that splitting MSZP apart was the right decision?
Without the challenges that the political left is facing today, exactly because there are several political players, we would be worse off if MSZP remained unchanged. The multi-player situation is what urges us to become competitive alternatives again. In a sense, the political left is experiencing the change that affected the political right in the 90’s.
From a right-wing point of view, these changes had a positive outcome as Viktor Orbán is the head of the government for the third time. The left-wing is in ruins.
I do not believe that the political left is in ruins. There are 1.5 million left-wing voters today. It is strange that Jobbik is “celebrated” by the analysts for its 1.5 million voters, while they believe the left-wing to be over, even though they have the same amount of voters.
Jobbik alone has more voters than the competing left-wing parties.
I do not think that this is true. And there is nothing wrong with competition. It is important for a young democracy to have more than only monolithic large parties. There was always competition and different trends within the Socialist party, from Sándor Nagy to Ildikó Lendvai, from Lasi Békesi to Imre Szekeres, which show themselves more autonomously today. Moreover, I cannot talk lethargically as there are two parties today in Hungary that have recently achieved more support, and one of them is DK. The other one is Jobbik. I’m not happy about that.
The growth rate of DK is not too great: according to the polls, support has increased from 2-3% to 4-6% within the total population and 9-10% within the party’s voters.
And this means half a million voters, and that is indeed great. We have reached this in just three years. New formations led by famous politicians have appeared since then but they all failed to break through. For a long time, all analysts argued that DK will never be bigger than 1-2%. When we became a 5% party, they said all right but that was the limit. Now all pollsters agree that we are around 10% among those certain to vote, and I noticed that the analysts have grown more cautious in their predictions.
Where can you find new voters? DK alone cannot win an election and if it attracts voters from MSZP or other left-wing liberal parties, then it weakens its possible coalition partners. This seems to be a zero-sum game.
Only if we disregard the political differences that exist between the parties, but we won’t do that. It is true that the European civil idea that represents both market economy and social solidarity has more and more supporters, in part from other left-wing parties, and in part from undecided voters. Sooner or later, we will be right. In 2006, there were 2.3 million left-wing voters. Why not find most of them again? DK’s tour around the country serves this purpose, as well.
Many politicians of MSZP are afraid that in this cycle, the purpose of DK is to become more powerful than MSZP and gain the position of left-wing opposition leader after 2018.
If this were true, it would be legitimate, just the same. The party which is not working toward this is either made up or fools or is deceiving its voters.
There have also been harsher utterances: “DK’s goal is to swallow up MSZP”.
How could we swallow up MSZP? No doubt, last year the support rate of the two parties was four-to-one in their favour, and now it is only 1.5-to-one. The main question is not how these 1.5 million voters are divided among the left-wing and liberal parties, but whether this number would be enough to change the government. In this three-part political system, elections can be won with 1.8 million votes. We are not far from this number.
So you do not expect that in case of emergency, Fidesz could form a coalition with Jobbik, or at least a more moderate part of it?
Since we’ve seen recently that in Parliament Jobbik voted together with Fidesz, thus passing two-thirds laws, their coalition would not come as a surprise. However, if they indicated their intention to govern jointly, some of their voters would leave them for exactly this reason. The moderate side of Fidesz rejects the extremist Jobbik, while the majority of Jobbik members want the replacement of Fidesz. Since Fidesz rewrote the electoral law, there is no chance to have some of their candidates back down in each other’s favour before the second round. Thus, I give this scenario only a small chance. In the long run, it’s not in Jobbik’s interest to keep the past-representing Orbán in power.
Many people consider MSZP to be unjustifiably enervate. Back in the day, you used to lash out at the collusion of party treasurers.
I’ll be the last person to criticize MSZP, you will need to find another interviewee for that. Obviously, we had our reasons for leaving. However, out of the ten thousand members of DK, only 20% had a connection to MSZP. This is a completely different party.
You have mentioned that the problem of the left-wing is that it lacks personality. You are one of the most popular players on your side but you have become a victim of character assassination. Can you overcome this?
It is unfair to identify DK with me. This is a political-spiritual gathering place of left-wing, liberal and conservative people. As for me, there have been several attempts at my life. They were unsuccessful, and the growth of DK refutes the success of the character assassination. I wasn’t worth a dime four years ago, and in comparison, our party is constantly growing. In the last month, four new organizations were formed in small settlements, and two hundred experts work on the development of the party’s new program.
However, time is not on the side of the left-wing. Among the younger generation, Jobbik is at 20%, LMP at 15%, Fidesz at 12%, while DK has only 2-3%.
This survey was conducted among university students, which is only a small group of people. At the same time, more and more young people are expressing their interest in DK.
Why is the political left unable to address the intellectuals of the future?
In a historical sense, this period full of disillusionment does not favour moderate parties. It favours radical or anti-elitist parties, which increases the support of LMP among this circle. It is obvious from this same study that an amazing amount of students, two-thirds of those surveyed, want to go and live abroad, therefore they may not even vote three years from now. To these disillusioned university students, who are looking for something to cling to, our moderate voices and the complete rejection of radicalism might seem less attractive. I can understand this. But look at the Greek Syriza. Radicalism may win elections but it cannot govern a country.
Addressing people is part of politics and the political right seems to be more successful in this area. For example, look at the issue of immigration where the governing party and the opposition stand on opposite sides, while 60% of the population would prefer even stricter rules.
For me, this is a question of principle. Deciding on when to give up one’s own views for lack of majority is always a dilemma. In this case, we decided on the simple, humanistic approach after many internal consultations: I am responsible for others, as well. Also, I can argue on the grounds of both Christianity and simple humanism. But this problem, which is a tremendous challenge to Europe, is less direct for Hungary. However, it is possible that the Prime Minister strengthens xenophobe feelings in a country already saturated with tension and thus reap communication and political success. But I don’t think that we have to compete with him. And I definitely don’t consider it functional and fair to hold out our hands when we want something from Europe, but when we have to participate in solving common European challenges, just like in this case, we choose to stay out of it.
I’m not sure that this strategy is dysfunctional: we receive all of the EU funding, while the Prime Minister often represents a position different from that of the EU, and still, contrary to the hopes of the opposition, outside powers did not overthrow him. A part of the population might view this as the Hungarian government “taking our due” and in the meantime refusing to let others order around “the Hungarian people”.
On the one hand, we do not benefit from EU funding due to the corruption of the Orbán government, as they put an unprecedented suspension on part of the aid. Moreover, DK never had the expectation or hope that Europe should overthrow Orbán. This is our job, just like cleaning up the country. As for the concept of “taking our due”, I might seem old-fashioned, but I still believe that there is morality in this world. National selfishness is not right. It can be successful for some time but it still isn’t right.
Most countries do it, don’t they? There are high ideals, but in reality we all try to make the most of everything.
What is enough then? Money? Or that I can look at our nation with a sense of pride knowing that essentially we are good people. A friend of mine just moved to a German village. The village is about to receive a family from Syria for integration. The locals have been working for months to ensure that they have a place to stay and work, and teaching local children several words in Arabic to help them welcome the newcomers. I find this impressive. I would prefer a Hungary like this, but to each his own.
You are criticized for vigorously campaigning against dual citizenship during the 2005 referendum, while being PM, saying that it would be harmful for the nation. Your critics say that while you said our sister nations pose a threat, now you would allow Syrian, Pakistani and Afghan immigrants into our country. Do you think there is a contradiction?
No. They are trying to compare apples with oranges. In Central Europe, political nation and cultural nation unfortunately do not coincide. I believe that automatically granting citizenship on the basis of “blood and clot” and letting people, who do not share the everyday fate of a community, have a say in its policies, is not a good thing. I’d like to make another remark beside the point of principle: two-thirds of Fidesz, which existed for a while after 2014, was two-thirds by one mandate, which was provided by voters living beyond the borders. This is not right. When we speak about a refugee and lend our hand, we do not give them citizenship. In 2013, Hungary only granted permanent residence to 240 people. If a country of 10 million people cannot integrate 240 people, then that country is in deep trouble.
Do you believe that the spread of Islam and terrorist threats pose serious problems? It appeared in several international newspapers that the Islamic State deliberately smuggles terrorists among those seeking asylum.
Today, anyone can sit on a plane and come here with regular documents. These things should not be confused: there are more than a thousand gangs, specializing in smuggling people, that operate on the edge of Europe, and these can only be stopped through a multitude of complicated devices: intelligence tools, strengthening the protection of the Mediterranean sea borders, fair international aid policies – that Europe should have provided a long time ago. Building a fence is a spectacular and attitude forming, but in my belief, it will solve nothing.
This year, sixty thousand people have arrived through the green border to Hungary so far.
They are not illegal but irregular entrants, and the Western world had to learn after the Second World War that they have a responsibility to others, as well. The United States has a very strict immigration policy but at the same time, they have very humane programs, such as assigning 50 thousand green cards based on a principle. There can only be a strict immigration policy when it is balanced by a generous humanitarian side. I do not see this in our government. I see the lack of mercy in their eyes.
Let’s talk about the Altus affair. Don’t you think you would have been better off providing a short announcement about this matter, instead of keeping the issue on the agenda by giving several statements, along with your wife?
Lies cannot be ignored. They keep lying to this day, even if they stopped talking about forbidden party financing and switched to hidden party financing. But this is still not true, as I was the one to disclose this data. And the HUF 1.5 billion is also a lie: it’s allocatied for 4 years, for 10-12 tenders, for which only three international consortiums are competing, and we are one of these. So far, there have been five calls for proposals, out of which our 11-member consortium won one, of a HUF 120 million in value. This project will last until January 2016. Hungary should be proud that such a tender has been won by a consortium that is led by a Hungarian company.
Is it also false that among the members of the Altus-led consortium, there is a company which is being investigated by EU’s anti-fraud office? This was said by János Lázár.
Let’s be very clear: we have no knowledge of this, even after investigating the matter. If such a company would be able to submit a proposal for an international public procurement tender and pass the formal decision making process in Brussels, even though one of the EU institutions had reservations about the company, that would indeed be a huge problem. However, we have no knowledge of anything like this, it is no wonder that Lázár refused to name the company, as well.
On the basis of the above, why do you think you keep being attacked by the government side? Do they see DK as the main threat, after all? Or because of the commission, will you have access to information that would be embarrassing to people close to the government?
This is not true. The reason is that Fidesz is basically led by wartime logic, as if the Prime Minister was heading a war cabinet. A very strong element of the Fidesz cohesion is anti-Gyurcsány-ism. This enemy must be presented from time to time, especially when the power is weakening. A reason why I keep being mentioned is that Orbán knows: he has to take me into account in the long run. And he is right about this.