On June 26 Hungarian Spectrum published an essay by Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister of Hungary and currently chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. The essay elicited great interest. The readership that day was double of the daily average. The post also prompted a large number of comments, including quite a few questions. I wondered whether Mr. Gyurcsány would agree to answer questions posed to him by readers of Hungarian Spectrum. A few days after I approached Mr. Gyurcsány’s office I was happy to report that he had agreed to answer all the questions I forwarded to him. My thanks to Mr. Gyurcsány for his willingness to participate in this exchange of ideas.
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time4change: Mr. Gyurcsány, how can we persuade the EU to stop funding Orbán’s corrupt government? And if it takes throwing Hungary out altogether, how soon can this happen?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: DK has asked the European Commission to restrict the government’s exclusive rights over the use of EU monies. We don’t want to lose the development funding, but we wouldn’t like the money to end up with the oligarchs close to Fidesz.
time4change: When Hungary joined the EU in 2004, it was under your leadership, as a PM with a clear understanding of the importance of forging strong links with the West, and with an enlightened vision for Hungary to develop as a proper democracy. Under the mafia leadership of Orbán, your vision and all your hard work have been almost entirely eroded. I believe that one of the reasons the UK, and probably other countries too, are disenchanted with the EU is because it does not abide by its own principles of democratic values, as evidenced by the continued funding of Hungary in the full knowledge that the moneys have created and continue to do so, an aggressive mafia oligarchy. How can this continue and why is the EU so inept at putting a stop to it?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Talking to EU leaders, I believe that they have had enough of Hungary or rather the Hungarian government. At the moment there are too many problems at once and they don’t want to add a lengthy conflict with Hungary.
LwiiH: Fun, I suppose we should list questions here. (1) Given the level of institutionalized and even legalized corruption that exists in Hungary, is it possible to elect anyone who has not been tainted? If so, how can the electorate be assured that any candidate is clean?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: What I can tell you is that I was accused of many things, but no one ever said that I used my influence for my own enrichment. DK is clean, and I think the same of Együtt, or PM, or LMP.
LwiiH: (2) How would you deal with past cases of legalized corruption. That is laws were passed by those involved in order to legalize a corrupt practice or to allow them to be involved in dealings where there is a clear conflict of interest.
Ferenc Gurcsány: You are right about Fidesz not simply stealing public money. They have also stolen the legislative process, thus making stealing legal. This has become the legal norm. Still, with the restructuring of the prosecutor’s office and the removal of the supreme prosecutor, a legal proceeding may begin to explore layers of corruption, the way it is being done in Romania today.
LwiiH: (3) What is your current feeling on legitimacy of the current constitution. What are your plans to fix it and why isn’t anyone talking about it.
Ferenc Gyurcsány: It is unconstitutional for anyone to strive for exclusive power of authority. Fidesz at the moment is doing just that. If someone without any input from society writes a new constitution, then that constitution is not legitimate. This is the situation now in Hungary. Still, one can change the constitution only in a constitutional manner, for which at the moment there is unfortunately very little prospect.
LwiiH: (4) Why do we not see very much in the way of opposition to the campaign against Brussels regarding the upcoming referendum. And how is it that the state is funding only one side of this campaign?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: We will campaign forcefully and visibly in the fall. It is unfortunately true—and this was also true during our time—that there is no common practice of a government—any government—giving monetary assistance to those groups that support a opinion contrary to a government-initiated referendum.
Julian Edmonds: Mr Gyurcsany, what would you say to the c. 200,000 Hungarian citizens living in the UK who have now just suddenly been made to feel a lot less welcome there?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Oh my, this is a very difficult question. But if the EU stands by its current position, that is if the Brits want the free movement of goods and services, then they will have to accept the free movement and employment of people. In this case EU citizens may live and work in their chosen second homeland peacefully and in security.
Julian Edmonds: Is now the right time to come back and start trying to change Hungary for the better?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: I didn’t return because I never left. ☺ I have no doubt that from a historical perspective we are right, but I do know that it is very difficult to gain a majority for this change. But my party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, and I are working on the project.
Stevan Harnad: Mr Gyurcsány, let me first express my admiration and appreciation for your courageous perseverance in the face of the unspeakably unjust vilification campaign to which you have been subjected by Viktor Orbán and his followers.
My question is whether you have any new plans for unifying the democratic opposition in light of Brexit and the changed leadership of MSzP?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Thank you very much for your kind words. My opinion hasn’t changed in the last two years when I first suggested that the democratic opposition parties should unite in a new Democratic Party. Then the answer was a quite vehement rejection. But I’m certain that we will go in this direction.
Roderick S. Beck: Mr. Gyurcsány, Hungary had the highest per capita real GDP in Communist Eastern Europe when the Wall fell. Today Czech per capita real GDP is 20% higher. And the gap is even greater on a disposable income basis due to Hungary’s world record VAT charges and 45% social taxes (employer pays 25% and employee pays 20%). The consumption per capita in real terms is about 25% to 30% less than in the Czech Republic.
Clearly the policies of Left and Right over the last 27 years have failed.
What do you propose today that is different?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: There are no big secrets, in my opinion. What one needs is a predictable economic policy, increase of labor productivity, much better education, increasing wages, incentives for investment.
wrfree: Thank you Prof Balogh for enabling this very interesting ‘exchange of ideas’ with Mr. Gyurcsany. It is evident here that those very intimate with Magyar history and the actual wielding of power are providing insights towards understanding the big questions facing Magyarorszag today.
Real good questions above. Mine go along these lines.
A. With the current political situation in the country what is the future of ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ institutions in the country? A ‘blip’ perhaps because of ‘acute’ events or get ready for more of the axe with all the consequences of that?
And B. What underlies the propensity of Magyar political life after the experience of ’56 to not really ‘get dressed’ for strong democracy and its traditions? It would appear that the clothes were ill-fitting. Does it mean the tailors are to be blamed, those who shape its form in the country? Or is perhaps underneath governments and the people just don’t ‘understand’ it thus affecting its traction in getting pulled along within the country?
Thank you. Personally, I wish you success in your future endeavors.
An American of Magyar parents who gave me a rich heritage of Magyarorszag, its lands, history and people. I treasure my ‘Europeaness’ and hold it close. I easily walk the two worlds thanks to my parents.
Ferenc Gyurcsány: The change in the political system brought along freedom and independence, but millions have been disappointed because their personal lives have become more difficult. As Bill Clinton said: Democracy must deliver! If we cannot provide a better life for millions, then people will view democracy as an opportunity only for the elites and will abandon it when someone promises prosperity. Orbán realized this and is doing exactly that. There is no other possibility but to combine democracy with increased opportunities. Of course, I know that this is easier said than done.
Charliecharlieh: London Calling!
As a Londoner I would like you to know that I voted for you – well DK – at the last election. My Hungarian partner and I drove specifically to Hungary the day before to cast my vote – and she allowed me to put my cross in the DK box. We photographed the ballot paper for display in our Hungarian home.
I voted to counter the votes of those who neither live nor pay taxes in Hungary – I call them the ‘Trianon’ voters. I voted in a very rural part of Hungary and the excitement was palpable – and the calls in the street and the people punching the air shouting ‘Fidesz’ was sickening.
I therefore expect my question to receive especial attention from you as is the custom in Hungary – I paid heavily for my vote!
This is my question.
Engaging in Orban’s warped parliamentary debates is neither democracy – nor worth the effort, where most legislation is presented through private member’s bill which you and others don’t even have time to read before voting – I believe this was the reason you cast a vote recently, against your intention.
Engaging in this farcical game legitimises Orban’s ‘government’ which I call an authoritarian government in transition – a Commocracy.
Would you consider forming – or causing to be formed – an umbrella opposition which can unite as a clear opposition option on the ballot paper?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Thank you for your vote. I’m working on a common alternative to the democratic opposition against Orbán. This is what my party is working for, but the process is slow.
Charliecharlieh: I would then ask you to refuse to take your seats – and persuade even Jobbik into the ‘big tent’ – so as to show the Hungarian people, the EU and the world what is happening in Hungary?
This is the only effective response to Orban’s government. The people need to wake up from a bad dream.
The next steps would need to be considered carefully but I am sure it would lead to a second – more honest election – with parallel legislation being passed by the ‘umbrella’ government to ‘unwind’ Orban’s stranglehold, for example, on the basic law or constitution.
Ferenc Gyurcsány: I don’t think that we should leave parliament. Who would benefit from a one- party legislature? But I also don’t think that we should cooperate with Jobbik in an institutional sense because we are talking about a party infected by neo-fascist ideas. Of course, I don’t rule out the possibility that in a new legislature Jobbik would also support a change of the current constitution.
Webber: If the democratic opposition win the elections in 2018, how should they go about dismantling the Orbán system? What should be done first, and why?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Legality can be created only by constitutional means, and that means that we can change the present constitution only if two-thirds of the legislators agree. Clearly, this is the goal.
Pappp: (1) Can (if yes, how) the democratic opposition parties avoid the “mutyi” when it comes to holding fideszniks accountable? (Given – among others – the fact that many MSZPniks are clearly in bed with Fidesz and Fideszniks will have unlimited funds to buy the generosity of leftists?)
Ferenc Gyurcsány: We established a new party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, because we would like to create and serve a decent and transparent world. But I see decency, for example, in Együtt, in PM, even in LMP. The rule is simple: a politician doesn’t steal under any circumstances. It is not so difficult to follow that principle.
Pappp: Does the democratic opposition have by now (because historically it did not) the human resources in law who (1) at least understand the workings of the legal system (constitutional court, prosecution etc.) and (2) who can lead and execute, given their professional respect, charisma and determination, the fundamental rearrangement of the legal system (ie. within the prosecution it is not only Polt who is thoroughly corrupt, the entire constitutional court is not much more than a Fidesz party chapter etc.)?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: It will be hellishly difficult to dismantle Supreme Prosecutor Polt’s world. I know the plans of the opposition, but perhaps you will understand if for the time being I cannot share them with you. I’m sorry.
Pappp: 3. Are there many in the democratic opposition who want to conclude a “grand bargain” (a kiegyezés) with Fidesz (leaving top Fideszniks unprosecuted and/or leaving the current constitutional setup basically intact in exchange for some support in amending some laws or the Basic Law)?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: I don’t believe that one can or should conclude a deal with the Orbán-Kövér-led Fidesz. If there is another line-up, then it is possible that we could return to the ideals of the republic and constitutionality together.
Pappp: 4. Does he think that the democratic opposition now has the cleverness to drive a hard bargain with Fidesz, given that in the past it was always, but always Fidesz who fooled, duped, purchased the MSZPniks (whether it was the election of constitutional court judges who somehow later switched ideology or the forcing of MSZP to accept the crown in the Parliament or the standing of the pengefal at Terror Háza or the Turul statute in district 12 despite that fact that they lacked construction license in the first place etc. etc. etc.)
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Today it is not MSZP that dictates the politics of the democratic opposition. The picture is much more colorful. This is exactly our guarantee: that we cannot and must not make unprincipled compromises with Fidesz.
Pappp: 5. What can the democratic opposition do with about 800,000-1,000,000 ethnic Hungarian votes (voters) who, though smaller in number back then, voted 98% Fidesz in 2014? Is this advantage Fidesz has at all surmountable, if yes, how?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Actually far fewer people voted in 2014. We hold that only those should have electoral rights who live in Hungary on a permanent basis or who lived in Hungary in the not too distant past.
Jean P.: Mr. Gyurcsany,
It seems to me that the migration of people from poor overpopulated countries to rich underpopulated countries is in accord with a general law of nature once called horror vacui. The greater the differences in population density and availability of life necessities the greater is the driving force for migration. The driving force is now immense. Can an individual be blamed for obeying a natural law and migrate?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Come now! If we don’t do something against the flagrant differences between certain regions of the world then the migratory pressures will remain. People want to live. One cannot blame them for it.
Jean P.: According to socialist thinking all people are equal and differences in fortune should be compensated by society. The unfortunate should be helped. Does this thinking apply to migrants? If yes why only migrants? Why not everybody in poor overpopulated countries?
The socialist dilemma is that altruism will ruin the altruist society. So why talk about it? I noticed that you didn’t.
Ferenc Gyurcsány: A really complicated question. I don’t think that all differences can be eradicated. Well being created by talent, diligence, and work is justifiable.
István: I would ask Mr. Gyurcsány if he believes that the current Fidesz government will step up its evolution towards Putin’s Russian Federation and eventually break with NATO?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Putin looks upon Hungary as the weak link of the European Union. Unfortunately, this is actually true. But as far as I can see from the activities of the Fidesz government, they don’t want to exit either from the European Union or from NATO. They only play a dangerous game by tugging on the whiskers of the lion. Of course, this is an expensive game.
Mutt: When Gyula Molnar, the newly elected president of the MSZP was asked about the possibility of the cooperation on the left he said “there has to be one challenger [of the FIDESZ] but it’s too early to tell how can we achieve that”. Do you know how can that be achieved? Would the DK endorse the candidate of another opposition party in 2018 if that candidate has a better chance to be elected?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: Yes. One must nominate the person who has the greatest chance of victory. It is immaterial to which party he belongs.
Alex Kuli: The political system created by Mr. Orbán in 2011 bears a lot of similarities to the Democratic Party machine that took root in Chicago a century ago, later perfected by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and his family. The similarities include rewards for party loyalists (especially in the form of jobs), party control over private business, legal coercion, political pressure on the media, cheap populism (rezsicsokkentes), and public stigmatization of anyone who diverges from the party line.
In both systems, party organizers use these tools to ensure that voters cast ballots for the power elite. The key to making this work is a strong citywide/nationwide political network in which the party maintains close, personal contact with individual voters.
To this day, there is only one Republican alderman out of 50 on the Chicago City Council. In Hungary, the opposition managed to win just 10 of the 106 constituency seats at the 2014 elections, even though opinion polls showed that a majority of voters were dissatisfied with Orban’s governance.
In your essay posted on Hungarian Spectrum last week, you envisioned a system of “competitive social networks in which parties, advocacy groups and virtual communities work together based on their own beliefs and their own solutions.”
My question for you is:
Since Orban controls both a Chicago-style political machine PLUS a strong virtual network, how can the opposition hope to compete with Fidesz without a nationwide, brick-and-mortar organization – the kind the MSZP and SZDSZ used to have, and Jobbik has successfully created? Defeating Fidesz will require no less than a ballot-box revolt, and it is very difficult to organize a revolt by email alone. How can opposition leaders hope to overcome their negative public image, acquired both through their own shortcomings and Fidesz’s eternal propaganda campaign, unless they galvanize voters through personal, consistent and competent contact?
Ferenc Gyurcsány: There’s no doubt that in thousands of ways we are at a disadvantage, but even more fetid regimes than Orbán’s have collapsed. Of course, it is not immaterial when and under what circumstances that will occur. Especially what they leave behind. We have no alternative but to show that there exists another possibility: a democratic, European Hungary. It is not easy. I know. But we are doing our jobs without any compromises that would affect the essentials.