The big news of the day is that András Schiffer, co-chair of LMP (Lehet Más a Politika = Politics Can Be Different), announced his irrevocable decision to retire from politics. He is resigning as leader of LMP’s parliamentary delegation immediately, and at the end of August he will quit parliament altogether. In a long farewell interview to Index he gave several reasons for his departure from politics, the most important being “the lack of intellectual support that would provide stability to a party with a critical attitude toward the existing system.” In plain language, he lay the blame for his own political failure on those intellectuals who in the past stood fast in support of democratic parties but who now don’t aid his efforts against the political system of Viktor Orbán. Veranus, the blogger with strong opinions and a sharp tongue, reacted to this accusation: “I as a former LMP voter and someone who has watched the party’s fortunes over the years with sympathy can tell you the reason for the lack of intellectual support: your hysterical autocratic behavior. You screwed up.” Well, he used a slightly stronger verb.
While Mandiner.hu, a right-wing site, is full of comments that are quite sympathetic to Schiffer and express regret at his departure, those who, according to Schiffer, should have been his supporters rejoice that at last the man who refused to cooperate with other democratic parties before the 2014 elections was at last out of the way. Klára Ungár, formerly a Fidesz and later an SZDSZ member of parliament, remarked on Facebook that “surely LMP without him will be more successful because [Schiffer] is an extraordinarily unpleasant man.” Zoltán Lovas, one of the organizers of the vigil in front of the statue of Archangel Gabriel against Orbán’s falsification of history, rejoiced over “the disappearance of one of the most repugnant and contemptible characters of the past few years in Hungarian domestic politics.” György Csepeli, a well-known sociologist, attached the following post: “I would also add the adjective ‘heinous.’” Tamás Bereczky, an HIV activist, remembered “little Schiffer from elementary school where he had the reputation of being a little dotty, an aggressive, priggish meschugge.”
The people who can definitely be categorized as belonging to the intellectual elite, the ones Schiffer most likely counted on, dislike him for several reasons. First of all, they consider LMP under his leadership a useful tool in Viktor Orbán’s hands. 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 are convinced that Fidesz helped Schiffer’s party gain parliamentary representation in both 2010 and 2014. The only question is whether there was some kind of a secret deal between Orbán and Schiffer or whether Schiffer was simply a “useful idiot.”
Because of Schiffer’s unyielding attitude LMP already split once in January 2013, when eight of the 15-member parliamentary delegation left to form a party of their own. I suspect that the real reason for Schiffer’s resignation now is that he no longer has the majority of the party leadership behind his policies. The reason for the party strife is probably the same as it was three years ago: the majority of LMP leaders no longer believe that Schiffer’s “go it alone” policy can succeed. Schiffer in his interview was fairly successful in hiding the real reason for his resignation. There was only one sentence that gave him away: “In LMP an organizational culture has developed in which even informal influence is a curse word.” In party debates his support for an issue is actually “counterproductive,” he complained in the interview. Therefore, he added, the party will be fine without him.
There was one member of the left-wing intellectual elite, Gáspár Miklós Tamás or TGM as he is known in Hungary, who was waving his hat while saying goodbye to András Schiffer. TGM’s admiration for Schiffer is not at all surprising. Schiffer made LMP a party that is against globalization and multinational corporations. Schiffer’s LMP is a socialist party and therefore close to the heart of TGM, who still believes in some form of utopian socialism. He believes, like Schiffer, that the politics of the 1990-2010 period were just as bad as the regime of Orbán.
I think it might be useful to summarize a speech Schiffer made in August 2015 at a party gathering to which, for some strange reason, Schiffer invited László Kövér. In this speech he claimed that the cooperation between foreign capital and the communist capitalists resulted in the failure of the country’s economic convergence. He talked about oppression and the exploitation caused by globalization, which threatens nation states. 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 green politicians who are “green on the outside but red on the inside.” Surely, Schiffer’s radical socialism couldn’t possibly appeal to Hungarian liberals and moderate social democrats.
And there is another “sin” for which a lot of liberals will not forgive Schiffer. When in May 2011 the prosecutor’s office charged Ferenc Gyurcsány with “abuse of office” in connection with the Sukoró real estate swap, it was on the basis of a complaint filed by András Schiffer in October 2009. Of course, Viktor Orbán would dearly have loved to send his political opponent to jail, but he preferred to have Schiffer’s name attached to this particular dirty trick instead of instructing his commissioner to launch the court case against Gyurcsány. Clever fellow. Supporters of Gyurcsány simply cannot forgive Schiffer for his involvement in this case, especially since Schiffer has never felt the urge to file a complaint charging Viktor Orbán with “abuse of power.” Most people feel that he should have apologized to Gyurcsány since he went after him on the flimsiest of charges. That’s not going to happen. Schiffer hates Gyurcsány about as much as Orbán does.
Finally, I should add that I also dislike András Schiffer. I disagree with what he stands for politically, and I find him objectionable as a person. I join those who think that his departure is a blessing for the true opponents of Viktor Orbán’s political system.