András Schiffer: From KISZ to neo-communism?

Just as I suspected, in one short post I couldn’t cover the departure of András Schiffer, the founder and leader of LMP, from politics as well as opinions of him that have appeared since his announcement. Over the years I have written more than a dozen articles about LMP and András Schiffer and yet, after re-reading them, I must admit that I never managed to give a satisfactory portrait of this complex, controversial, divisive man. I guess one day someone will write a book on LMP and the abortive attempt to establish a true green party in Hungary. That book will undoubtedly praise Schiffer, the party’s founder, for being able in two short years to build a party that sent a fifteen-member delegation to the Hungarian parliament. No mean feat. But most of the book will probably be about the constant internal fights within the party and its founder’s unyielding and, in my opinion mistaken, ideology and political strategy.

I suspect that most people would agree with András Stumpf of the pro-government website that, without Schiffer, LMP’s chances of becoming a parliamentary party in 2018 are remote. The party leaders of LMP are naturally much more upbeat. Bernadett Szél, co-chairman of LMP, sounded neither heartbroken about Schiffer’s departure nor pessimistic about the future of the party. She took the news laconically. “I’m old enough to know that if someone wants to leave, one should let him go. Today I can’t worry about this. Instead, I want to make sure that the green party that has grown roots in the country has a future.” She is already organizing a tour of the countryside with a view to widening the territorial base of LMP. Szél in this interview gave the impression of being a liberated woman who can now do things her own way. As for the hard-and-fast rule of not allying LMP with any other political formation, it remains in place as far as I can see.

Photo: István Fekete

Bernadett Szél. Photo: István Fekete

Among those with LMP ties, the greatest admirer is Péter Róna, which makes sense given Róna’s economic precepts, which include anti-capitalist sentiments and ideas of the “népiesek,” a group of people who envisaged a Hungary whose economy would be a “third road” between capitalism and socialism. Róna simply cannot understand the Hungarian intellectual elite’s indifference, or in some cases hatred, toward Schiffer, whom he considers the best and most honest politician in Hungary today.

Endre Kukorelly, who for a few months was an LMP member of parliament in 2010, is a writer. Since I haven’t read a line of his, I can’t pass judgment on his literary talents. But, to me, his political views are muddled. He who quit parliament after a few months hails Schiffer’s decision because it is so much easier to do politics without the shackles of a party. He represents the unproductive view that political parties are evil and that civilians are the ones who will change the present system.

The opinions of most other former LMP members, however, are pretty uniformly negative.

Benedek Jávor, whose activities in the European Parliament I greatly admire, most likely hit the nail on the head when he observed that “the conflicts that led to a split in the party have not dissipated with our departure,” referring to PM members’ leaving LMP in January 2013.

Virág Kaufer, who left LMP in 2012, suggested that Schiffer “take some time off and take a good look at what he created and speak with those who are no longer his supporters.”

Perhaps Gábor Vágó, a former LMP insider, best summarized LMP’s problem. In his opinion, Schiffer’s departure “is not the end of the LMP story. The fate of the party was sealed when it abandoned its critical attitude toward [Orbán’s] system.”

At the end of this post you will find about a dozen links to my past articles on LMP and András Schiffer, from which a fuller picture of LMP’s role in Hungarian politics should emerge. But perhaps I should add a few details that might be helpful in explaining where Schiffer came from.

Schiffer’s first political act at the age of eighteen was adding his name to an open letter addressed to the Congress of KISZ (Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). The letter was dated April 10, 1989. Less than two weeks later KISZ was dissolved. Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány (KISZ secretary), and György Szilvássy (KISZ spokesman and later minister in Gyurcsány’s cabinet) also signed the letter. Schiffer talked about those days in 2014 in an interview with Szabolcs Panyi of Index. “In the spring of 1989, when it wasn’t quite clear which way things would develop, there was only one man in the whole nomenclature of the party-state who put his foot down, even risking his livelihood, and declared that the properties of KISZ and the party must be divided among alternative organizations. This man was Ferenc Gyurcsány. … Gyurcsány proclaimed what many of the opposition politicians didn’t dare: that because of the nature of the state socialist system what they [KISZ and the party] possess belongs to the people.”

Shortly after the dissolution of KISZ, Gyurcsány established a new youth organization called Új Nemzedék Mozgalom (Movement of the New Generation), of which Schiffer became a member. Gyurcsány soon gave up his political activities and became a businessman, but Schiffer remained active and was one of the founding members of a new political movement called Ifjú Szocialisták (Young Socialists). Shortly thereafter, Schiffer retired from politics (for the first time). After finishing law school, he worked for TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he became interested in the green movement.

What changed Schiffer’s attitude toward Gyurcsány, whom he clearly admired back in 1989, were the 2006 disturbances in which he, as an associate of TASZ, took the side of those he considered to be the victims of “police terror.” What happened on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Revolution is a hot potato about which people have widely different opinions. Rightly or wrongly, Schiffer accused Gyurcsány of criminal acts against innocent demonstrators. Hence, his hatred of the man.

His attitude toward Gyurcsány may have changed radically, but he didn’t shed his socialist political views. Árpád W. Tóta, who writes witty, sarcastic, sometime savage opinion pieces, said that LMP has never managed to present a coherent worldview and that “the only concrete position one can make out is a blood-curdling neo-communism. The kind that is becoming sawdust right now in South America.” Tóta portrays Schiffer as someone who wanted to be different simply for the sake of being different. The party was toggling between right and left until it started getting closer to the positions of Fidesz and Jobbik. In brief, in ideological terms Schiffer left the party in a real mess.

Links to Hungarian Spectrum articles on LMP and András Schiffer:

June 1, 2016
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June 1, 2016 9:19 pm

Árpád W. Tóta: “it started getting closer to the positions of Fidesz and Jobbik.” Surely not ethically close to F & J. Nor do I believe that LMP became racist and xenophobic. So minus the corruption and the bigotry, what are F & J? Probably no sense in seeking a coherent ideology to explain Schiffer. He just seems to be an angry (and depressed) man.

June 1, 2016 9:40 pm

Articulate incoherence seems to be the strong suit of most hard left intellectuals, including the likes of Schiffer and TGM on the extreme intellectual left in Hungary.

Hard left intellectuals like Schiffer and TGM never seem to have grown up, filled as they are with deeply held inarticulate resentments and an irresistible childish urge to shock and outrage the bourgeoisie at every opportunity.

The flagship of articulate incoherence in Hungary is of course the ÉS (Élet és Irodalom/Life and Literature), the prestigious left-liberal Hungarian weekly on literature and politics; its flagbearers the crème de la crème of left wing public intellectuals in Budapest.

With left-liberal intellectual leadership mired in articulate incoherence, the travails of the parties of the left in Hungary are hardly surprising. The left-liberal body politic is in effect headless and therefore helplessly floundering, and for all practical intents and purposes totally flummoxed by the Christian Nationalists of Fidesz and the National Socialists of Jobbik.

The old adage of ‘the fish stinks from the head’ still holds as true as ever.

June 2, 2016 8:27 am
And just one personal view on the intersection of political life and writing: ‘Now a writer can make himself a nice career while he is alive by espiusing a political cause, working for it, making a profession of believing in it, and if it wins he will be very well placed. All politics is a matter working hard without reward, or with a living wage for a time, in the hope of booty later. A man can be a Fascist or Communist and if his outfit gets in he can get to be an ambassador or have a million copies of his books printed by the Government or any of the other rewards the boys dream about. Because the literary revolution boys are all ambitious. I have been living for some time when revolutions have gotten past the parlor or publishers tea and light picketing stage and I know. A lot of my friends have gotten excellent jobs and some others are in jail. But none of this will help the writer as a writer unless he finds something new to add to human knowledge while he is writing. Otherwise he will stink like any other writer when they bury… Read more »
June 2, 2016 11:54 am
@wrfree Today 8:27 am That is a very good point, Wrfree, and the recommendation would no doubt work excellently under normal circumstances. However, the problem in Hungary is that the socialists, social democrats and left-liberals can listen until the cows come home, there is unfortunately no market for their ideologies and solutions among Hungarians, apart from a sprinkling of some relatively small and politically uninfluential niche groups here and there, particularly in Budapest and perhaps in one or two larger country towns. The reason for this is that Hungarians have as yet been totally unable to emotionally and intellectually reprocess, digest and assimilate losing WW1 and WW2, the catastrophes of Trianon and the Hungarian Holocaust, and the experience of the two repulsive communist dictatorships that they suffered through in the course of the 20th century, the first for three months in 1919, the second for four and a half decades as colonial vassals of the Russians. In fact, until the regime change in 1989, in all of the 20th century their only real experience of success and victory was the partial reversal of Trianon between 1939 and 1941, with the return of about half the lost territories thanks to Hitler… Read more »
June 2, 2016 6:18 pm

And may I add that part of the problem seems to be that politicians in the relatively tiny liberal democratic factions in Hungary in essence tend to be public intellectuals, whilst those in Fidesz/KDNP and Jobbik are Tammany Hall type ruthless party machine men and women. Under the circumstances it is hardly surprising that in actual political practice the phalanxes of these party machine types run circles around the hapless public intellectuals representing the other side.

June 2, 2016 6:46 pm
You know if Schiffer was say an ‘example’ of the left it strikes me that all the wriggling to do things ‘their’ way or a ‘different’ way just seems to put them in a situation of just being perhaps a delicacy that Fidesz and co feast on. And that is cut up, chopped up chum. It is unhealthy and not life affirming to live life as simply shark bait. For the current leaders of Magyarorszag , political gastronomy is probably the best it’s been since that tasty and succulent gulyas was first made in the kettles on the Hortobagy. It’s evident that the waters all these fish swim in are polluted. I thought there could be a real turn in ’89. But it was short-lived no doubt because I think of the ‘not invented here’ syndromes developing throughout the society. To expect nascent democracy ( that Western ‘construct’) to grow under those ‘Wild West’ circumstances was like expecting to see blood spew out of a stone. And indeed the call for blood and hellfire followed onto the capitalists. And the scabs of that never heal as continual infection helped along of course by Moscow develops towards the US and the… Read more »
June 2, 2016 2:32 am
London Calling! It was a fluke that Schiffer managed to create a party – or was it another divide and rule dirty trick of Orban? Schiffer’s ideology was never going to attract the electorate to achieve the all important critical mass to threaten Orban. Just another political idea that would never saw the light of day – based on no cooperation with anything political. It was different all right! It had built-in failure from the outset. The one feature LMP never had which would always be terminal? Leadership. With an authoritarian heading the party it would never find consensus. Ever. In reading your posts, Eva, to me there is a remarkable similarity in the gestation of LMP with the inception of Fidesz – with the concomitant personality problems of the leader. You say he is a good lawyer? In my professional life I have had to work with many lawyers and have found those who ‘rule their roost’ – authoritarian and never polite – make the worst lawyers. Tyrants. And I watched a few come a cropper simply because they would not admit that they knew very little about IT – to the detriment of their clients. Their callous attitude… Read more »
June 2, 2016 3:03 am

O/T Jobbik announce that they want to stay in the EU!

Can we now expect rapprochement with the EU from Orban as he desperately tries to steal Vona’s thunder?


gedeon bácsi
gedeon bácsi
June 2, 2016 4:17 am

As usual failure has many reasons. But one of the reasons was that – apparently – LMP did not even have the ambition to lead the nation.

I remember that Schiffer explicitly said at one point that he is aiming at 5%, and he does not have the ambition to govern.

Since the Hungarian election system is now very significantly based on first past the post elements and the size of the Parliament was reduced to 200, a party with 5% of the party list votes has 5 people in its caucus that is a 2.5% overall weight.

This is how big an ambition Schiffer had. Imagine the enthusiasm all over the country among activists, let’s work hard, we want to be a party of 2.5%. It’s just ridiculous. People do want to see leadership ability and ambition, they will not vote for lazy weaklings.

June 2, 2016 5:05 am

You are out of tune with regular HS commenters. Go somewhere else.

June 2, 2016 5:06 am

Troll – to be deleted asap!

June 2, 2016 6:48 am

There are two new investigative reports about the traditional mafia with a few links to the new ruling party mafia.

The names mentioned are Tamas Welsz (Thomas Wallace Paar), Portik, Vizoviczky, Sandor Pinter and his confidants, Rogan …

June 2, 2016 7:07 am

András Schiffer is an extremely interesting political character within the context of Hungary, but not within Eastern Europe as a whole. Svetlana Alexievich’s book “Secondhand Time” has numerous characters who ideologically are similar to Schiffer. In fact I have met former Soviet officers ( one of whom lectured at the US Army War College ) who have a severe critique of the reality of Russian Communism, but who also believe that contemporary capitalism on a world scale is deeply flawed. Indeed they are extremely pessimistic that the former non-capitalist nations can re-enter the world market at this stage of its development.

I think Schiffer’s so called “neo-communism” is not that all uncommon within the former Soviet block. In general few who express this level of pessimism for an real integration of the former command economies into the global market attempt to create a political movement. Given the rise of gangster capitalism in Russia, Hungary, and elsewhere there is an empirical basis for this pessimism.

June 2, 2016 8:21 am

I’ve heard several extracts from Secondhand Time and when I can locate my Kindle (!) I’ll get it.

It digs deep into the Russian (elderly) psyche and the attitude of an old communist country.

I am convinced that the failure of democracy in Hungary and other CEE countries (the continent!) is due to how communism has ‘rewired’ the brains of its people.

We are our environment – as Maslow hinted – and our brains adapt to the type of use we put it to.

I believe that this sets the ‘communist’ brain and the ‘democracy’ brain apart.

There have been some fascinating reports from a BBC reporter who has got access to people in North Korea – and he reports that the people truly do believe the things they are told by state media – and those tears and anquish scenes when Kim Il Un’s dad died were mostly genuine. Defectors take years to believe they’ve been duped.

The communist brain may take many years to come around to thinking like a democratic person.

This must explain how Hungarians, and other country’s inhabitants, ‘tolerate’ attitudes and political ‘solutions’ that would not be tolerated in a true democracy.

I must find my Kindle!

June 2, 2016 7:36 am

Péter Szijjártó is still sad and hurt that Bill Clinton said something not nice about the Hungarian government:
“Bántónak nevezte, hogy az elnökjelöltségért kampányoló Hillary Clinton férje azt állította: Magyarország csak nekik köszönheti szabadságát.”

Poor baby!

June 2, 2016 2:51 pm
June 2, 2016 4:17 pm

It’s also on BBJ with an even nicer picture of O – now I wonder who looks more like an Arab migrant there …

What kind of railway cars is Hungary selling? I don’t get it.

June 2, 2016 11:41 am

In reading the LMP citations I’ve found them to be very informative in getting up to speed in the quarrels, concerns and tribulations of small party politics and politicians in Magyarorszag. Thank you Prof Balogh.

Recently read an interview from last year about this time where Mr. Javor was asked on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being optimistic where he stood if Fidesz continues in power. He gave a 2.5. And noted it would be ‘over’ for Magyarorszag in the 21st. Chilling prediction. It would follow then the opposition would have to deem it tiresome and boring to use Parliament as perhaps only a place to meet for lunch.

June 2, 2016 11:56 am

Please note a correction on Javor’s interview. It was done in June 2014 not in 2015.

June 2, 2016 1:32 pm

Totally OT:

My wife just saw on facebook “Greater Hungary” maps – expect more of them and a lot of whining about “Trianon” which happened on June 4 …

I still have to see anything about “Versailles” (the counterpart for Germany) – most young Germans probably wouldn’t even know what this is about …

June 2, 2016 1:39 pm

Dear Eva, well done as always… I am not questioning the validity of anybody’s arguments here but I believe we are missing the substance if we would rely solely on the smokescreen offered by Schiffer and the extravaganza of explanations that followed his resignation. I believe the timing of his departure has considerably more to do with fidASS-Jobbik relationship and the transformation of the latter.

FidASS is the equivalent of an eucalyptus tree in Hungarian politics: it will kill anything that tries to grow nearby… and that is my message to the leftist parties, TMG, the great explanators and alike.

I have to admit: I’d never thought that Schiffer has any relevance in Hungarian politics, but I became utterly suspicious of his motives after the split of the party.

June 2, 2016 2:25 pm

I’ve asked this question here before (I believe …) but got no real answer:

Why doesn’t have Hungary a really “Green” party like Austria or Germany?

When I first heard about LMP I thought they were a kind of Green party, but later I was very disappointed …

June 2, 2016 3:51 pm

The “Green” ideology is thoroughly urban, modern and more importantly bourgeoisie (middle class).

Hungary sorely lacks this modern, independent middle class and this is a reason for many other political problems.

And indeed Schiffer the founder of the party was a many generation urban intellectual, a rare Bürger.

June 2, 2016 3:58 pm

I have answers, Wolfi, but, well… In brief: there is place and space for a green party in Hungary but there are no green politicians in Hungary. All those who pretended to be greens turned out to be impostors, greedy businessman or dirty clones, etc. Too early or too late… as you wish.

June 2, 2016 4:12 pm

At least in Germany the Greens started as a kind of “left” party, they succeeded maybe because they managed to integrate the “bourgeoisie”.

1989 should have been the start in Hungary for them like for the Young Liberals aka Fidesz – but we’re seeing now what came out of that idea …

So maybe Hungarians really don’t want a vibrant democracy – at least a large number …

My wife often gets angry at the backwardness of her compatriots, especially in the country, that’s a big shame!
She’s really frustrated at politics here – but we’re to old to change that.

June 2, 2016 6:21 pm

Unfortunately Wolfi, my generation didn’t feel the need to burden our children with explanations about the dangers of both far right and far left, what we and our parents went through was suppressed to spare our children. We felt it was enough what they learn in school, however, this has been proven to be a big mistake. We are now witnessing the rise of both extremes simply because we didn’t stress the importance of centrist politics. We are in for a repeat of the past because of the complacency of the last two generations.

June 3, 2016 7:41 am

Re: ‘…didnt stress the importance of centrust politics’

With my personal observations looking outside in I agree. I’d also add the inability to project the concept of so-called ‘tough love’ to not specifically to the children per se but rather to those who lead the country. They appear to have not been strongly confronted and taken to task in their ‘steering of the ship’ and as a result the society has been feeling its effects.

Each generation has responsibilities to the next in order to provide some sort of a stable platform for a continuation of a set of defined values within the society. It would appear that there was and continues to be a dimunition of that. If the country had a value-loaded ‘lodestar’ to follow at one time it appears the country has wandered so far from that it seems to have lost its perception of direction. We are seeing a csillag that has blinked out. The atmosphere is simply like a black hole where no light will ever seem to get out.

June 3, 2016 3:55 pm

Re: crooks… I forgot to add the old joke: these green (politicians) in Hungary are like watermelons: green from outside but red from inside out.

June 3, 2016 4:57 pm

Good one. Personally I like vicc. Takes the edge off of well… ‘serious’ things.

Like this:

The “seven wonders of Communism“ makes a point about the economy. Accordingly, in Communism, 1. All had work. 2. Even though all had a job, no one did anything. 3. Even if none of us has done anything useful, the “State Plan” was filled above 100%. 4. Although the “Plan” has been “over fulfilled”, you could not buy anything. 5. Even if nothing was offered for sale, everybody had all he needed. 6. Even if everybody had everything he needed, all were stealing. 7. Although everybody was stealing, nothing was ever discovered to be missing’.

Life sure was interesting and ‘good’ back then. Thing is in some way ‘nostalgie’ is still hovering around. People like and need ‘to be taken care of’. Can’t wait to read the ‘Het Wonders of Illiberalism’ or ‘Democracy with an Autocratic Face’.

June 2, 2016 5:57 pm

Interview with Peter Rona on the future of LMP without Schiffer can be read in Hungarian at

June 2, 2016 6:15 pm

I always thought that Schiffer was not really a politician. I could see him evolving albeit very slowly. He knew that he would have to become more of a populist if he even really wanted to compete, but I think he found himself promoting things he truly didn’t believe in, from the sheer pressure to compete for a leadership role in Hungary. He admired those who had the guts he didn’t have but would take pointers from those same people and not reap the same rewards they did. I personally think he made the right choice, but I do think he should stay an advisor as he has good ideas and the love for the country.