The political credo of László Botka, MSZP’s candidate for prime minister

The original article by László Botka, titled “Az igazságos Magyarországért,” appeared in 160 Óra on January 21, 2017. Thanks to the staff of The Budapest Sentinelit was translated into English and published today. I am grateful to the Sentinel‘s editors for permission to make the translation available to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

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The Hungarian left has not been in such a storm battered state during the entire existence of the third republic, yet Hungary has never needed the left as much as it does now.

Viktor Orbán, in power since 2010, has thrust a country that served in the 1990s as a model for democracy in Eastern Central Europe into autocracy. Any democratic political force that defeats Orbán must return to constitutional democracy and the rule of law. However, the Orbán regime has not only dismantled the rule of law and democracy, but also spread a concept of society that is deeply unjust, runs counter to the basic interests of Hungarian people, and which all true left-wing forces must fight against.

The crisis of the left wing is not only a domestic issue. The rapid advance of national populism means progressive political forces around the world have found themselves on the defensive. Talk in recent years has been about nothing else: from the refugee crisis, via Brexit, to the US presidential election. Populists promised those parts of society that have been left behind, or are just holding on, that they can once again enjoy a secure livelihood – through the repression of other groups. Migrants, the homeless, the unemployed, the “undeserving” poor, ethnic minorities, intellectuals who express solidarity with them, and civic activists are all marked down as enemies of the nation. Hungary is at the forefront of all this: here the breakthrough for national populism came in 2010 with Orbán’s “ballot box revolution”.

Photo: Péter Komka

The left is now charged with a historic task: we must put a stop to this far-right national populism, and make our own vision of society attractive once again. Populists cannot solve the crisis that exists on many levels; they only make the problem worse. A populist is like a dentist who does not dare to tell a patient with toothache what the real cause of the problem is. Instead of treating it, he prescribes painkillers. The patient may well get temporary relief, but in reality his condition is getting ever worse. The left will not get anywhere with false remedies. We must be honest, because lying to a patient is dishonorable, the effects of a painkiller are only temporary, and the problem will only return in a more serious form. The Hungarian left must present a vision of a future Hungary that we would all like to live in, somewhere we can live well.

In this piece – which will be followed by more over the coming weeks – I have undertaken to present a vision of how our homeland could become a more just country. By aiming for this goal, the left could finally haul itself out of its deep crisis. We need a politics of equality that is far removed from that practiced by the left-wing in recent years and one that is diametrically opposed to Orbán’s vision of Hungary.

Orbán dreams of a “work-based” authoritarian state in which government representatives have the last word on every issue, even when they are wrong – one where the powers that be promise a well-functioning and developed economy can be built by ending democratic debate. Some observers of Orbán’s system say the prime minister’s aim is to set up an eastern European Singapore, where Orbán could lead the country for decades as father of the nation, and hurriedly join the developed world by cutting back on political debate. To put it more simply, Orbán is offering prosperity and security in exchange for freedom and democracy.

Hungary cannot accept this deal for two reasons. First of all, because this promise is a lie. Hungary will not be the next Singapore. There is not and never will be an Orbán miracle. Instead of building a developing, authoritarian Singapore, there has been a Putinization of the country, where the promise of prosperity only applies to those favored by Orbán. For the rest there is only poverty, hopelessness and abjection – and restricted freedom. We are talking about a system where, according to the Ministry of Human Resources, capable members of society are carrying Hungary “on their shoulders” while disadvantaged people such as the disabled and the Roma are merely a burden. That is, in its own dishonest way, the government is dividing society into those who “pull their weight” and the “carried”. Yet this “carrying on the shoulders” is another lie, because the government long ago abandoned the disadvantaged to their own problems and difficulties. Society under Fidesz is a cast system in which everyone has their own place and fate. Helping the lower casts is in no way an aim of the Orbán state. This cast system is held together by the power principle. Since 2010, Fidesz has built a new feudalism, and with this it keeps Hungary on the margins of the Western world.

Orbán believes in a labor market where workers are diligent producers and desire nothing but a secure place on the production line. This is the opposite of where the developed world is heading. The knowledge-based economies of the modern world can only take off with the work of creative people. The only route to creating a prosperous, dynamic economy is one where the education system sends students brimming with imagination and creativity out onto the path. It is significant that the education budget as a proportion of GDP has sunk to tragic depths under the Orbán regime. A new left-wing government must set out the goal of transforming Hungary into an innovative, knowledge-based economy by markedly increasing funding for, and radically raising, the level of education.

Equally significant is the fact that Orbán has come up with just one idea to tackle unemployment: workfare. But is not difficult to see that no start-up entrepreneurs are going to emerge from among those on public work schemes. Moreover, it is unfortunately clear that there is no path from the prison of workfare to a real job. Orbán’s work-based state is, for hundreds of thousands of people, nothing but a dead end.

Instead of the Orbán state, where social groups are set against one another and divided into winners and losers, we need a state that actively intervenes to help people achieve their goals and, where necessary, ensure a high level of leverage for this recovery. Hungary can only be successful if an ”only the fittest survive” mentality is replaced with one of “we are all in the same boat”.

It is not only because authoritarianism does not lead to prosperity that we must say no to Orbán’s system. Authoritarianism is unacceptable in and of itself. Orbán’s cast system is unjust to its core and its authoritarianism unacceptable. As one of the 20th century’s most influential egalitarian thinkers, John Rawls, put it: justice is more important than any other parameter for evaluating societies. Equally important is Rawls’ view that freedom, equality and prosperity are indispensable building blocks for a just society, so one cannot sacrifice basic human rights in the interests of material prosperity. Therefore, we cannot choose the route of authoritarianism, because there is a better and more moral path: that of freedom and prosperity. Prosperity for the large majority of society – as the example of Scandinavian society shows – can and should be ensured when freedom and prosperity reinforce one another.

From 2018, the next left-wing government must build a successful and prosperous Hungary on a foundation of justice. To further this aim, I offer a vision of a successful left-wing state based on the ideal of equality for all as an alternative to Orbán’s authoritarian state. The three pillars of egalitarian politics are equality of opportunity, relative equality of wealth, and the principle of equal citizenship.

The ideal of equality of opportunity, a cornerstone of all western democracies since the Second World War is nothing other than the rejection of a cast system. The strong conviction is that social advancement cannot depend on others, only our own talents and endeavors, irrespective of whether we come from a rich or a poor family.

The idea of equality of opportunity cannot be reconciled with Fidesz’s politics. Under Orbán’s regime, the wealthy elite spend millions so their children can study in private schools or in Switzerland. For the poorer parts of society, an uncompetitive or downright segregated school is the first, and often the last, station.

With regard to this basic principle, the left should not shy away from self-criticism. The “third way” social democracy of the 1990s and 2000s – for which former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was the standard bearer in Hungary – moved too far from the idea of equal opportunity. The third-way “New Labor” party that will forever be associated with the names of British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and its successors, gave up on material equality and placed equality of opportunity as the exclusive guiding principle. The third way soon turned hollow: it became clear that it had been naive to think that equality of opportunity alone was enough. Even if it had succeeded in ensuring social mobility in education and the world of work, material inequality and social division would not have disappeared. The left believed, and its followers believed, that modernization would create no losers, only winners. The principle of equality of opportunity promised that everyone could find a place in knowledge industry based on high skill levels, but this remained an illusion. The fate of those left out of the modern knowledge economy became ever more hopeless. Nationalist, chauvinist and populist forces picked up on this, and disappointment gave them a way to reach the people.

Photo: Zoltán Balogh

Nor can a society of equals develop when half of the country is mobile, well trained and wealthy and the other is tied to the land, unskilled and owns nothing. We cannot describe such a country as just. Inequality of wealth today is tomorrow’s inequality of opportunity. This situation in Hungary in this regard is serious. A report by Tárki in 2016 showed that 44% of the population owns no property, and 60% are incapable of adopting a middle class way of life. The most absurd thing about all this is that it we find ourselves at this point under the leadership of a government that continually invokes the name of the middle classes.

Despite Fidesz’s chief economic ideologue saying that criticism of wealth disparities arises purely from jealousy, certain social risks can really only be averted by combating economic inequalities. Research has shown that a raft of new problems arise when wealth inequality gets out of control. In societies with high social inequality, life expectancy is shorter, education is of lower quality, social mobility is restricted, and there is a higher rate of mental illness, drug addiction and crime. Hungarians’ terrible state of health and its catastrophic results in the PISA survey are grimly related to the enrichment of Lőrinc Mészáros.

So the promise of equality of opportunity is not enough to improve the lot of the half of Hungarians that have been left behind. We must also strive for relative wealth equality – this is the second fundamental principle of egalitarian left-wing politics. Instead of sports stadiums and the enrichment of the “national” oligarchy, resources must be spent on citizens. Partly in the form of quality education, partly through social security packages that reduce the lack of food and adequate housing, and risks arising from illness of the loss of a job.

Besides all this there is a third pillar to equality that is less often mentioned: the principle of equal citizenship. In a society based on equal citizenship, the prime minister has to wait in line at the baker’s, the post office or the doctor’s surgery just like anyone else. This notion of equality must become the most important guiding principle for the Hungarian left.

The principal of equal citizenship is breached by the emergence of a new cast of powerful and gracious ladies and gentlemen who do not share public spaces with the common people, do not breathe the same air. It is enough to think of the minister in charge of propaganda, who flies to parties by helicopter, or the chief government minister who shoots hundreds of pheasants while hunting with his partners, and who believes that everybody deserves their lot in life. Meanwhile, the system they put in place locks entire masses into poverty and the world of workfare. This is how Viktor Orbán and Fidesz have corrupted Hungary: in place of a nation of fellow citizens, we have become a nation of lords and lackeys. Politicians of the governing party no longer represent the interests of the people, citizens or the nation in the Parliament, merely the private goals of their separate “elite” cast. It cannot go on like this!

I see the most important task of the left as precisely that of recreating the conditions for equal citizenship. We must become worthy of representing the principles and practicing egalitarianism. We must put an end to the era of unprincipled compromise, climb-downs and putting up with things – our political actions must have a moral basis. Egalitarian politics is just, and suitable for lifting Hungary to the level of the developed Western world.

It follows from this that the next left-wing government must also conduct a principled foreign policy. Viktor Orbán swapped a western orientation based on solid moral principles for opportunistic friendships with dictators. We cannot give up the ideal of an open and free Europe in favor of a new Iron Curtain era. A European partnership built on shared ideals is the right policy, and one that serves Hungary’s interests. However much Viktor Orbán might deny it, we belong to the free world.

In my political career to date, I have used the means at my disposal to work for a free and just Hungary and the politics of equality. If I am given the opportunity by the citizens, this is what I would also like to do as prime minister of Hungary.

January 28, 2017
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Member

Lots of “casts” to be recast as “castes,” but not a bad start. Would have been better (1) without the gratuitous potshot at Gyurcsany and (2) more pragmatics than ideology, but as it’s the first of a series of articles, I assume (2) will come. As to one (1), sincere collaboration or even coalescence would be better than the usual petty bickering. Where both the ideology and the pragmatics are desperately needed now is in wresting free from Trump’s deplorable death-grip on what used to be America.

Istvan
Guest
Stevan this is still America and what President Trump is aggressively attempting to do, on immigration and many other issues is well within our historic traditions. Fittingly President Trump has put up a portrait of President Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, a President who forceably expelled thousands upon thousands of native people from their homelands to the accolades of white homesteaders and slave owners who took their land. US President Wilson once in a speech on the eve of WWIsaid: “There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue. …it is great enough to have brought deep disgrace upon us and to have made it necessary that we should promptly make use of processes of law by which we may… Read more »
Member

Well said, Istvan.

But we’ve never had a vile, petty, clueless bar-room blow-hard at the helm (with the only thing that fits in his minute attention span being being personally dissed, and hurrying to diss back).

Or if so, then never when America was so powerful, things were so precarious, and so much was at stake for the entire world.

(I’m sorry I can’t focus on the topic of Orban’s puny pannonia while world-shaking matters are afoot… Hungary is not a cause in all this; it’s just a minor side-effect.)

webber
Guest

Andrew Jackson was a vile, petty, clueless, bar-room blowhard of the first class. He was also a genocidist, a scumbag, and a vicious bastard.
Istvan is right. I HOPE we’ve had worse than Trump. If Trump turns out as bad as Jackson, we will literally weep.
If you don’t know what Istvan meant about Jackson, look up the “Trail of Tears.” Some of the soldiers who were ordered to carry out the Presidential instructions to remove the Cherokee broke down in tears at the pitiful sight of women and children starving and freezing to death before their eyes.

webber
Guest
It’s perhaps also worth saying that Jackson spoke Cherokee fluently. Private J.G. Burnett’s testimony: “Being acquainted with many of the Indians and able to fluently speak their language, I was sent as interpreter into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution and the most brutal order in the history of American warfare. I saw helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning, I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west. One can never forget the sadness and solemnity of that morning. Chief John Ross led in prayer and when the bugle sounded and the wagons started rolling many of the children rose to their feet and waved their little hands good-by to their mountain homes, knowing they were leaving them forever. Many of these helpless people did not have blankets and many of them had been driven from home barefooted. On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘If Trump turns out as bad as Jackson, we will literally weep’

And it would be helpful if Trump this supposed ‘democrat’ would be mindful of Jackson’s dynamism in
chucking the trail of the early POTUS inclination to be from one upper class. He truly was a down home Carolina boy who made good in the US early days. Trump tries to come off with that ‘Jacksonian’ way with the mantra of being a ‘Queen’s’ guy and all that the appellation shoots off. As if he drove yellow Checker cabs or punched a clock all his life. Amazing that the ‘people’ fall for this bit of fantasized image-making. The ‘con’ certainly is in.

Member

I’m afraid I have no idea of what the point of either @webber’s or @wrfree’s remarks was meant to be. @Istvan’s point I understood: there have been terrible, genocidal presidents before. Valid point. My reply was that none had anywhere near the scope and scale of destructive power that Trump has today.

webber
Guest

My point is that a President has carried out a genocidal act against an ethnic group/nation in the past. To me, that fits scope and scale.
Admittedly, there were no nuclear weapons then, and the US was not a world power (I understood your point) but still, what Jackson actually did was incomparably worse than anything Trump has done or proposes to do in the future.

Member

I’m sorry, @webber, but I still don’t understand your point. We have a malign moron in the White House today who is poised to do damage, to people, animals and the rest of the planet, on a scope and scale that no one else, ever, in human history, has done or could ever have done, and you are arguing that Jackson was worse than Trump? Why? What is your point? (@Istvan’s point was a valid, relevant one, which is that America is not without a history of awful, genocidal presidents.)

webber
Guest

When was Trump (yet) genocidal? When did he advocate genocide?
Yes, his policies hurt people.
I think he is the worst president of my lifetime, and that’s saying something.
I still say he is better than Jackson – a lot better.
I hope he doesn’t turn out as bad as Jackson.

webber
Guest

Stefan, I don’t get what you don’t get. A president issues an order to deport an entirely peaceful, and increasingly integrated nation/ethnic group in a manner that left roughly 1/4 of those people dead. One in four. That, FYI, is about the ratio of Cambodians who died under four years of the Pol Pot regime. And you think Trump is that bad?
I think he’s awful, but don’t see him issuing an order (yet) that kills one in four of the people affected by the order.

God help us if he does.

But if you think he has reached the sheer awfulness of Jackson already, I think you’re seriously missing something.

webber
Guest

P.S. And I haven’t even mentioned Jackson’s extermination – literal extermination- of certain hostile tribes. Men, women, children, the old – he killed them all, indiscriminately, brutally, and directly. Trump that bad? God, I hope he does not prove to be that bad.

Member

@webber, what is your point? what is your point? Hitler killed more people than Jackson did. So what? Trump’s only been a week in office, and it’s not looking good: What is your point? Flattering historical comparisons? (Talking about Trump’s-better-than-Jackson strikes me as about as sensible as talking about Hillary’s imperfections — or about those of the democtratic opposition in Hungary — given the microcephalic con-artist now holding the world’s fate in his spiteful little hands.)

webber
Guest

Well, you brought up Hitler, but I might have so:
When someone gratuitously calls a politician “Hitler” or compares something else with the Nazis, is that someone not in a way denigrating the Holocaust? Trivializing it? Downplaying it? I think they are.
The last person I heard using the Nazi Germany comparison was Donald Trump. He was called out on it by the Holocaust Museum and the Anne Frank House.

Saying that Jackson was incomparably worse than Trump is not a minor point. Don’t trivialize genocide, please.

I know you are sensitive to issues surrounding the Holocaust. You are sensitive to the suffering of animals. I am sure that if you reflect a little, you will be sensitive to the genocide against Native Americans.

If you still don’t get it, forget it. I give up.

webber
Guest
wrfree
Guest

Re: Stevan’s question about my point regarding an aspect of the relationship between Trump and Jackson.

In short, Trump isn’t what he comes off as. In truth,a charlatan when it comes to being a ‘man of the people’. We will see how long this fascination with an individual who temperamentally is unsuited to be POTUS.

Ferenc
Guest

Nice words.
Need to be followed-up with effective actions, or will he become the next “megszeppent fiu”……

Don’t know what that means? Check last comments to the previous post!!

e-1956
Guest

Botka is clear, well spoken.
No one can object his arguments.
Recommended closing words:
God Bless Hungary! God save us from the Russian State!

wrfree
Guest

Not sure what the future holds for Mr. Botka. The slate does start with possibilities. But he is ultimately speaking about changing the course of the nation’s political and personal psychology. Tough row to hoe considering the effect of the past on Magyar life. A successful politician today must see with new eyes and lead. I wonder who there can envision themselves after VO and follow through for the better.

wrfree
Guest

A presecriptiin perhaps from the left to help the country move on to better pastures from its ills where its pastures have been eaten up ravenously to feed the current power:

Be honest, caring and trustworthy in endeavors. Don’t sling the bs. Do not try to solve everything immediately. Say what you mean and follow through with the talk. Do more than is demanded. The long haul awaits. Listen. Try to cooperate when it comes to the consequential. If this sounds ridiculous it probably is considering what it is being presented against. Life and reaching goals can be tough. But you know that already.

aida
Guest
If, which I do accept, Professot Harnad is right about the gratuitous potshot at Gyurcsany, the point is much more important. Botka argues that creating equality of opportunity is not the way forward. He uses the example of “New Labour” in the UK to illustrate it. Where is that vacuous movement now? It is a very difficult and ever present dilemma of the democratic socialist movements how to promote the welfare of their poorest and sometimes indolent supporters without terrifying those further up the social ladder by the prospect of high welfare spending which they have to pay through increased taxes, often punitive. Blair’s idea was to generate ever increasing budgetary deficits to fund the dream project which propelled him to power and kept him there for 10 years. His successor hot the buffers by the reality of the capitalist world that the economy is cyclical and you cannot abolish the downturn. I do not know what the appropriate Hungarian solution might turn out to be. I hope however that Botka can achieve translating his message with much greater brevity. I also agree that we should not need to spend any time on Gyurcsany, he is history, just as Mrs… Read more »
Member

Zzzzzzzz…..
Wake me up after Fidesz gets its next 2/3 majority.

Guest

Too many words. Who is it aimed at?

Member

Published in 168 Ora, so the answer is “crusty old Socialists with one foot in the grave.” All Botka does in this article is to flog a horse that’s been dead for around two decades now. His words will resonate with the liberalis ertelmiseg and nobody else.

Ferenc
Guest

Have made here before comments about China in relation to India.
And guess with whom djT wants to be friends: India.
quote of ‘m: “emphasized that the United States considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world”
I hope India’s PM Modi will show his solidarity with ‘blocked’ people by new US travel ban, by whatever means he can (e.g.go to the US, but don’t go to Trump land by NOT wanting to meet ‘m)

PS: quote from ‘s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

Member

Meanwhile, while Botka airs ideology, Orban, not content with destroying NGOs, is going after the unions too: https://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=3306

Ferenc
Guest

OT (just about democracy….)
Searching for some actual info about situation in Czech Republic (their president seems to be supporting djT’s Muslim-countries travel ban), came across the ‘Democracy Index’ made by The Econimist. As usual made it into an infogram about the V4 countries.
Summary for Hungary: 2006 – 2nd / 2016 – last and 4th (as usual….)
Added again Romania in it, and well their gap to Hungary is reducing.
BTW: almost all European are in a downward trend………

Want to see the results yourself? Have a look here: https://infogr.am/24fff846-ead3-478d-888a-6d26471a039e

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