August is usually quiet when it comes to political news. Indeed, we are in the middle of the “silly season” or, as it is called in Hungarian, the “cucumber season.” So, in this environment, a public discussion between LMP’s co-chairman András Schiffer and László Kövér made real waves. Mind you, Kövér’s pronouncements are always scandalous. Many commentators chalk them up to a madman’s outbursts. He is often described as someone who forgot to take his meds or as a clown who can entertain us free of charge. Those who take him more seriously try to find hidden meaning behind his words or, still a daunting task, to figure out what on earth the man is talking about. This time, to add spice to the usual fare, Kövér’s ruminations were uttered at the third summer academy of the Ökopolisz Alapítvány (Ocopolis Foundation) of LMP, Hungary’s green party.
LMP likes to describe itself as an opposition party, and occasionally its MPs do make fiery speeches against the Orbán government. These speeches make László Kövér, the president of the parliament, mighty mad but, it seems, not mad enough not to accept an invitation by the party to engage in a “constructive dialogue.” Oh, yes, Fidesz does have a special relationship with LMP, as Kövér made clear. Although in his view the Hungarian left, just like their comrades in other European countries, turn against their own nation, LMP is different. Its members don’t rush to Brussels complaining about the lack of democracy in their country like the socialists and representatives of DK or PM. Otherwise, Kövér wouldn’t have accepted LMP’s invitation. He would never attend a gathering of the Demokratikus Koalicíó, for example. It was a sign of the meeting of minds that the audience enthusiastically applauded this particular remark by the same person who, as president of the house, on numerous occasions treated the party’s MPs like dirt.
Some observers consider LMP a useful tool in Viktor Orbán’s hands. András Schiffer, ever since the formation of the party, has steadfastly refused any kind of collaboration with the other democratic parties, thereby giving an advantage to Fidesz. Some people actually suspect that Fidesz helped Schiffer’s party gain parliamentary representation. One thing is sure, LMP is always just a whisker over the minimum necessary for a party to sit in parliament. And while ten DK PMs were not allowed to form a parliamentary caucus, LMP, after the party split, was permitted to form one with seven members. LMP has a special place in the heart of the Fidesz leadership. The only question is whether there is some kind of a secret deal between Orbán and Schiffer or whether Schiffer is simply a “useful idiot.”
In any case, Schiffer is treated differently from the rest of the opposition leaders. He got an invitation both last year and this year to speak at the gathering of the Fidesz bigwigs in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. I guess it was time to return the favor by inviting perhaps the most objectionable Fidesz leader, in the person of László Kövér, to an intimate LMP gathering.
It was beastly hot on Friday in Felsőtárkány, just outside of Eger, but the exchange between Schiffer and Kövér went on for an hour and a half. About what? According to the program, the topic was supposed to be the future of Hungary, but it looks as if neither of them have any constructive ideas on that score because the talk was mostly about the past: their warped views of what transpired in 1990 and since. Most of the newspaper accounts give a minute description of Kövér’s version of the events, which actually can be summarized in a few words. The possibility of a regime change was thwarted by MSZP and SZDSZ. They declared the real political force, meaning Fidesz, illegitimate. The country was headed toward a civil war, orchestrated by Ferenc Gyurcsány.
Good luck trying to figure out what this man is talking about because this description has nothing to do with reality. No one questioned the legitimacy of Fidesz, which was from the very beginning an important political player in Hungary’s post-1990 history. As for who called whom illegitimate, I remember Viktor Orbán declaring in 2006 that the Gyurcsány government was illegitimate.
Schiffer not only agreed but piled a few more sins on the socialists. The cooperation between foreign capital and the communist capitalists resulted in the failure of the country’s economic convergence. According to him, in Hungary, alone in the region, an economic structure developed that resulted in the supremacy of the multi-nationals. He talked a great deal about oppression and the exploitation caused by globalization, which threatens nation states. The two great minds have a lot in common. As Péter Béndek, a conservative commentator, noted, “for Fidesz there is only one acceptable socialist, Schiffer.” The co-chairman of LMP is, he continued, a typical representative of those in green politics who are “green on the outside but red on the inside.” Kövér, who was an ardent socialist in the 1980s, most likely shares Schiffer’s view but, as he said during this debate, Schiffer’s radical ideas cannot be implemented.
There was one remark by Kövér that raised quite a few eyebrows. The man who a few years ago said that he would die for his party if necessary announced that he no longer cares about Fidesz. He has three nice adult children, and he just wants to be sure that they have a bright future. Why this melancholic announcement about his party? Perhaps we can find the answer in another remark of his about not becoming a billionaire in the last few years. Is this an admission that something has gone very wrong in his party? Something he doesn’t want to be associated with? Magyar Narancs found it “laughable and infinitely sad that such a sentence can be uttered as an excuse by one of the highest dignitaries of the land.” Népszabadság thought that, in this case, he should resign. And the ever-cynical Árpád W. Tóta couldn’t help making fun of Kövér, who one day “will have to explain to his children why he didn’t even have enough brains to be able to steal.” It was Pál G. Vasvári in Gépnarancs who offered a grave interpretation of Kövér’s disillusionment with his party, which he interpreted as an opening move in the “leaving the sinking ship” syndrome. Kövér said publicly that “he doesn’t care which way Fidesz is going or whether its ship sinks or reaches the harbor. In brief, he doesn’t care what happens to the cargo of oranges.”
With the exception of Bence Horváth of 444.hu, commentators glossed over some important points. One that I find especially frightening came from László Kövér who, while discussing the fate of the still unavailable list of informers working for the ministry of interior during the socialist period, casually mentioned that the new fundamental law/constitution contains the legal possibility of banning the Hungarian Socialist Party. Here is a man who has been fighting tooth and nail against releasing the names of the informers finding solace in the fact that the new constitution could make a democratic party illegal. The very idea that the new constitution was written with such thoughts in mind is bone chilling.
The harshest critic of the encounter, with whom I agree, is a blogger on a fairly new internet site called europakavezo.blog.hu (European Café). In his opinion, Schiffer is no better than Kövér. “The same old gang.” Schiffer, in his opinion, is a dishonorable man who “doesn’t sit down with MSZP and DK politicians” but has no problem having “a jolly conversation with a character who calls others vermin.” Someone who goes to the prosecutors and accuses a sitting prime minister of crimes, an accusation without the slightest merit, but who is not now running to Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt to look into the sudden enrichment of the Orbán family. The blogger has a point. Otherwise, the journalist of 444.hu was struck by “the pleasant banter and the less refined flirting.” Indeed, these two are of the same ilk. The sad thing is that a lot of democrats have been duped by András Schiffer and his co-chair, Bernadett Szél. Time to wake up.