Conservative awakening in Hungary

About a year and a half ago I created a folder devoted to “internal divisions” within Fidesz. At that time there were a few signs of differences of opinion among the top Fidesz leaders, which to me signaled the possibility of a chink in the armor of this monolithic party. I was wrong. In no time Lázár, Kövér, Balog, and some others buried the hatchet–if there ever was such a thing as a hatchet in the first place.

This time there can be no question. An internal opposition has emerged, comprised of politicians who had once occupied important positions in Viktor Orbán’s governments. Even earlier, one had the distinct feeling that people like Foreign Minister János Martonyi, who served Viktor Orbán faithfully for eight years, István Stumpf, who served as Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office between 1998 and 2002 and since July 2010 as a Fidesz-appointed member of the Constitutional Court, and Tibor Navracsics, former head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation (2006-2010), minister of justice and administration, deputy prime minister (2010-2014), who was “exiled to Brussels” in November 2014 to become European commissioner in charge of education, culture, and youth, disapproved of Viktor Orbán’s growing shift to the right, his foreign policy, and his illiberalism. But there was little or no public display of their dissatisfaction. It now looks as if their concerns have become grave enough to overcome their reluctance to turn against the regime they so faithfully supported earlier.

About two weeks ago János Martonyi and István Stumpf delivered lectures at a conference organized by the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum, where  Martonyi took issue with Viktor Orbán’s attachment to “ethnic homogeneity.” In February of this year Viktor Orbán, in a lecture delivered at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce, had talked quite openly about “safeguarding the ethnic homogeneity” of the country. Later, during his last trip to Poland, at the joint press conference with Prime Minister Beata Szydło, he repeated his vision for Europe and for Hungary that included references to ethnic homogeneity. Martonyi said he couldn’t reconcile Orbán’s concept of ethnically homogeneous nation states with the fact that three or four million Hungarians live outside the country’s present borders. Martonyi is right. Orbán’s ideological struggles with the European Union led him to an irreconcilable contradiction on this issue.

István Stump was even more outspoken. He criticized the limits the Orbán government placed on the competence of the constitutional court. He was specifically talking about the suspension of the court’s competency over economic matters, which he called “an open wound on the body of Hungarian constitutionalism.” He also complained about the practice of retroactive legislation, which “in the long run, eliminates the maneuverability of future governments.”

Then there is Tibor Navracsics, who said that “the Soros Plan is not part of the European Commission’s agenda.” That upset Zsolt Semjén, KDNP deputy prime minister, mightily. In a radio interview he declared that Tibor Navracsics, as a European commissioner, knows that “his colleagues, his surroundings, people as well as organizations, are not only in the hands of George Soros, but also in his pocket.” Semjén accused Navracsics of disloyalty and called on him to decide where his real allegiance lies: with his own country or with the international community. Navracsics didn’t seem to be intimidated and called Semjén’s reaction “hysteria” which leads to wrong political decisions. Semjén’s attacks on Navracsics, however, continue unabated. Only today one could read that Navracsics’s denial of the Soros Plan is being used by the opposition “as a knife in the back of the government.”

One of the harshest critics of the Orbán government is Géza Jeszenszky, minister of foreign affairs in the government of József Antall (1990-1994), who during the first Orbán government (1998-2002) continued his political activities as ambassador to the United States. In 2011 he was named ambassador to Norway and Iceland. In October 2014 he resigned because he disagreed with the government’s attack on the Norway Fund, which achieved nothing and ruined the relations between Norway and Hungary for some time. Jeszenszky is no friend of George Soros who, in his opinion, was “an unfair adversary of the Antall government,” but he finds the anti-Soros campaign “shameful.” He believes that Orbán’s “aggressive” foreign policy is wrong and his pro-Russian orientation dangerous. He gives many interviews in which he doesn’t hide his true feelings about the Orbán government. He even expressed his willingness to help the opposition parties with his advice and support. Naturally, Jeszenszky’s criticisms couldn’t be left unanswered. Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, described Jeszenszky as being “in a state of political dementia.” Magyar Idők was brief and to the point: “Whoever is (was) Géza Jeszenszky, he should be ashamed of himself.”

Meanwhile, more and more former politicians and professionals who used to work for the Antall and earlier Fidesz governments are ready to join the efforts of the opposition to dislodge the present government. Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist at the University of Pécs who used to work for the Fidesz think tank Századvég, announced his intention to run as an independent candidate for parliament if all the opposition parties would support him. Given the disastrous Fidesz administration in the city, I have no doubt that Mellár could easily win one of the two parliamentary seats from Pécs.

Some of the disenchanted conservatives: Attila Chikán, László Sólyom, and Péter Ákos Bod / Source: Magyar Nemzet

Péter Ákos Bod, minister of industry and trade in the Antall government (1990-1991) and later chairman of the Hungarian National Bank (1991-1994), has been a severe critic of the Orbán government for a couple of years. By now he is openly talking about the need to remove Viktor Orbán from power because he fears economic disaster if the present government prevails. In order to appreciate the significance of Bod’s present stance, one should keep in mind that in 2006, when Viktor Orbán was desperate because he realized that his party might lose the election again, he offered the post of prime minister to Bod between the first and second rounds of election in the hope of reversing the trend. So, Bod’s presence at an LMP event where Bernadett Szél announced the party’s cooperation with a small, right-of-center party called Új Kezdet (New beginning) established by György Gémesi, mayor of Gödöllő since 1994, is significant. It shows Bod’s total disillusionment with Viktor Orbán and his regime. György Gémesi’s decision to work together with LMP is also noteworthy. Gémesi was once an important MDF leader.

Analysts have been saying for years that the Orbán regime cannot be removed only by the left-of-center parties. Disappointed Fidesz voters who most likely would never vote for MSZP or DK must have their place in the sun. The awakening of these conservatives might be the harbinger of a new, truly right-of-center political formation that could help stop those far-right forces that Fidesz let loose on the country.

October 25, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
exTor
Guest

I dont understand the implication of your “truly right-of-center” phraseology in the final paragraph, Éva. Are you saying that the critics of Viktor Orbán are (or were perceived to be) fake rightists?

Who (besides Jobbik) are “those far-right forces that Fidesz let loose”? What I’ve heard about the Fidesznik critics of Orbán automatically puts them to the left of Fidesz. I suppose that you’re suggesting that people such as Navracsics are (still) right-of-center.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Observer
Guest

Sorry to butt in, but since Orbán has adopted extreme right narative and many of such practices, these critics fall closer the center by default.

Observer
Guest

There has been gradual change in the mood of middle class Budapest i know. I dont hear Fid talk, some supporters i know are mum or offer half hearted “explanation”, others turned Jobbik Good and lambast Orbán.
To be sure, even in this strata many diehards remain and probably sensing the decline turn more vicious and irrational. I suppose it’s worse in the countryside where only gov propaganda is heard/seen.
I wish a real conservative formation was launched, e.g. György Gimesi seems an upright man and potential leader, but nothing of significance yet. And the only thing Orbán understands is force.

dos929
Guest
Although the emergence of the internal opposition to Orban is a welcome event, one keeps wondering about these smart conservative politicians that only in late years discovered Orban’s devilish agendas. I am not a ‘smart politician’ like them, as yet only a complete naive novice couldn’t see where the Orban regime is leading the country. When back in 1998 during Orban’s first tenure they stopped taking minutes during government sittings, to me at least, it was the ‘thin end the wedge’ to a totalitarian regime. And there were many others during 1998 and 2002 that should have opened the eyes and minds of those smart conservative politicians, such as the 2-year financial year in order to hide the bad economic management, the making of ‘State Secret’ for decades to come (!) of many decisions to hide their corrupt practices, etc… (Do many still remember the Saab Viggen affair???) I for one always looked bewildered on Martonyi, as how could he serve such a regime and tarnish his good name under Orban… And this opinion of mine is relevant to the other ‘suddenly seeing the light’ conservative intellectuals as well. Whilst their stand now is a positive one, without doubt, still… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Well since Saab Vigen affair was noted. This article demonstrates how totally useless Hungarian attempts have been at having a modern military https://mno.hu/belfold/magyar-gripenek-vegre-bombakkal-2423480 For those who do not read Hungarian the article basically says that Saab JAS 39 Gripen aircraft Hungary began leasing in 2003 and arrived starting in 2006 did not have functioning air to ground smart bomb capability until the last month even though Hungary had paid Saab to have that capability for years. Hungary originally had 14 Gripen fighters but lost two in training crashes (not discussed in the article). None has ever been in actual combat or used by NATO in Afghanistan over the 11 years Hungary has leased them (not discussed in the article). Hungarian pilots are still in the training phase using the air to ground GBU-12 laser-controlled bombs these are made by Lockheed Martin in Texas and cost around $21,896 each (not mentioned in the article either). This technology actually goes back to the 1970s and was used by US forces in the Vietnam war (not discussed in the article). One very big problem the article also does not explain to the Hungarian public is that solely laser-controlled bombs are a technology of… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

Should be General Dynamics obviously.

pantanifan
Guest

Interesting article. I agree that Fidesz is not a monolithic party and there are intelligent people in it: Navracsics, Szájer, Pokorni and back in the old days Mártonyi and Járai Zsigmond (ex-Finance Minister). Also agree that this is the most likely way of stopping Fidesz excesses and their attempts to avoid dealing with real political issues through diversionary tactics.

The problem is there is no real leader among the names mentioned: Navracsics is certainly intelligent enough, but doesn’t seem to have the driving personal ambition and hungriness for power of many politicians.
Just one thought from left field: Lázár János recently announced that he was thinking of leaving the government if Fidesz wins again in 2018 and also made a veiled criticism about too much PR and not enough substance in politics. I’m certainly not a fan of his, but believe he would do (almost) anything to get his hands on the top job, and surely he couldn’t be any worse than current Deputy PM Semjén, who seems to be a growing influence, and describes Soros as the Devil (in which case what does that make Mr. Orbán?)

Marty
Guest
Fidesz is actually monolithic for all practical purposes. More monolithic than any European party known by Western observers. These old conservatives people (Mellár, Bod etc.) are irrelevant now. They hold no position of influence at all. They were once useful, did their share in supporting Fidesz but now are irrelevant, this is why Orban doesn’t care about them. As to Fideszniks, mind you Martonyi, Pokorni, Szajer and Navracsics all 100% support Orban (OK, Navracsics was a bit more critical in connection with the Soros campaign, but that’s all, do you think he has problems with the African-style kleptocracy or bad policy decisions?). These people are not and never were an internal opposition or a separate faction which Orban would’ve needed to take into account (like with the MSZP all those “platforms”). They are not moderate, nor liberal, they are loyal drones to the system who could successfully fool so many people for long (the fidesznik with the human face). Fidesz is a party that belongs to Orban. It’s his. You are extremely naive if you think Fidesz is divided or Orban has problems with influential people around him. To the contrary, Orban is more powerful than ever. And if he… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

“dictatorship is only just maturing, the late stage or decline are still far away”
You might be 99% right, so please come up with suggestions for speeding up OV’s system in the direction of it’s end?

PS: anybody mentioning Pokorni as ‘critical’ should note, that he was the one mostly pushing the undemocratic use of the national kokarda during the 2002 election campaign; and what’s even worse never ever excused for that!

Farkas
Guest
– Martonyi took issue with Viktor Orbán’s attachment to “ethnic homogeneity.” – I think that there is incredible confusion among Hungarians between the notions of ethnicity and language. Ethnically Hungarians are a mix of Slavic and Germanic ethnicities, with goodly infusions of Romanian, Gypsy, Jewish and Turkic, as well as other elements. Given that it would be most rare if not entirely impossible to find among Hungarians descendants of the original conquerors of the Carpathian Basin, it is utter nonsense to babble about any kind of a specific Hungarian ethnicity. Language is another matter. Hungarian language survived the dark centuries primarily in the Eastern, Protestant reaches of the country. After the language reform in the early part of the 19th century, the use of the Hungarian language became the par excellence marker of Hungarian identity, and this was clearly reflected in the Hungarian census practices during the Dual Monarchy. Ethnic Germans, Jews, Gypsies, Ruthenes, Slovaks, Serbs, Croatians, Slovenes and Romanians assimilated and adopted a Hungarian identity primarily by adopting Hungarian as their first language. Following Trianon, Hungarian Jews got locked out of this arrangement, while after the regime change it was the turn of the Gypsies to get locked out… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

What better way to challenge the downward spiraling staus quo than by those from within and revolving around the big wheel. And especially by those who hear an echo within their consciences that says all politics at bottom is moral. and what they are acquiescing to by their silence is ultimately resigning themselves to rule by despots.

But more important the integrity and intellectual courage they would show can pack more power behind the actions which can move the country toward a better positive alignment of values against the wretched realities. If they can pull it off , their ‘re-evaluation of values’ cannot come at a more precipitous time for the tumbling country. Time to step up in the big game.

J Simon
Guest

Hungary needs a strong democratic opposition. The names mentioned here are simply not strong enough to form a political alternative.

Ferenc
Guest

OT
Gorka Oct.25 on BBC Radio 4 interviewed as chief strategist for the campaign ‘Make America Great Again’ about some current matters, a.o.Republicans (RINOs?), ‘fake’ news, Russian dossier
Item starts at 1:32:50 into the program http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099v2yq
Interested in opinions from people on the (US) ground.

PS: he has been on Hungarian M1 also, now searching for the content

Ferenc
Guest

Gorka on M1 news Oct.24 basically trying (together with M1) to refute the speech by US Ambassy Chargé d’Affaires a week ago, Oct.17, at MUOSZ. So last week only some Fidesz reactions, not the critical words themselves, and now one week later a far-fetched reaction from a doubtful source…
Item with video – https://www.hirado.hu/videok/gorka-sebestyen-idobe-telik-amig-az-amerikai-adminisztracio-atveszi-az-uj-elnok-politikajat/
PS: apart from the obvious BS he’s producing, the difference in his voice (English compared to Hungarian) struck me (again), on the BBC he seemed to deliberately lower his voice to come over more powerful.

Guest

A bit OT – but relevant for Fidesz and other politicians and prominent people in Hungary:

A detailed article on the work and the problems of the German office that keeps and analyses the 100 miles of Stasi records.
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/how-stasi-archive-handles-potentially-incriminating-information
Now compare this (already more than a billion € has been invested in this over the years) with the Fidesz policy:
No lustration, no access to the secret police records – because we got a lot to hide!

Michael Kaplan
Guest

A useful report and many interesting comments, especially about “Hungarian identity”, which in reality is language based vs. some unique band of people. Additionally, my sense is that many Fidesz supporters are increasingly disappointed. A wide ranging coalition will be necessary to displace Fidesz. Some of these conservatives could possibly help end this regime. despite some of their limitations. This is similar to what is going on in the USA, where some conservatives are leaving the Trump regime. (I use the term regime as neither Orban or Trump honor the “normal rules” of democracy).

petofi
Guest

What an utter dreamscape.
One would have more chance or removing the mafia from the Bronx, or a flesh eating disease from a human body…than to remove Orban and Fidesz from Hungary!

And so it should be.
Soweth and Reapeth.

Hajra Magyarok!

petofi
Guest

“Awakening?”

What ‘awakening?
The only question is whether conservatives take their anti-semitism with salt and pepper…or just take it raw…and red..

HAJRA MAGYAROK!

wpDiscuz