Old-timers offer a helping hand to the democratic opposition

About a year ago György Bolgár invited me for a telephone interview on his Klub Rádió program. At that time he was running a series called “What is to be done?” People were supposed to offer ideas on how the opposition parties could defeat the Orbán government. I put together a short list of items I considered essential for any success at the ballot box in April 2018. I especially emphasized the need for consolidation of the democratic forces or, more bluntly put, an end to the present situation where almost a dozen dwarf parties with very similar programs are trying to defeat a strong and unified Fidesz. I admitted that there are some talented and attractive politicians in these tiny parties but said that in the end they will have to be satisfied with less than leading positions in the opposition since it is only the two larger left-of-center parties, MSZP and DK, that have a chance of getting enough support to make a difference. Although almost a year later a caller said that my position was the only one among the hundreds offered that appealed to her, the immediate reaction was less kind. A young man condemned my ideas in the name of democracy. As far as he was concerned, all tiny parties had the right to compete, and anyone who suggested otherwise didn’t know a thing about democracy.

Today, unfortunately very late in the game, the leaders of these mini-parties are reluctantly realizing that their chances at the polls are nonexistent and that the likelihood of their financial ruin after their very poor showing is almost certain. In addition, the votes cast for them, due to the quirky electoral law, will not only be lost to the opposition but in fact will be added to the votes for the winner. Since these parties are risking their very existence by remaining in the race as independent forces, I assume that soon enough we will see negotiations between them and the three larger parties on the left–MSZP, DK, and LMP, parties that will likely be represented in parliament after the election. It is also questionable how long LMP, with its 7-8% support, can continue to insist that it will on its own beat Viktor Orbán and form a government without making itself ridiculous. Momentum’s situation is truly dire, with its 1-2% support. Just today Momentum lost two more prominent young politicians.

In this fluid situation one can only welcome the group of 11 seasoned members of previous administrations who felt it their duty to help the parties find common ground. They established a movement called “Válasszunk! 2018” (V18), meaning “Let’s Vote.” The aim of the group is twofold. On the one hand, they want to fight the general apathy in the country, the feeling that everything is lost and that Fidesz will win no matter what, and on the other, they plan to offer their expertise to the parties in blending their programs into a coherent whole.

Among the members of the group are several people who served in the Antall and even the first Orbán governments, so it is a politically mixed lot. As Péter Balázs, foreign minister in the Bajnai government and organizer of the group, said, under different circumstances some of these politicians would be arguing in parliament on opposite sides of the aisle. But the situation today has changed. The goal is to defeat a party and a government that is increasingly moving to the extreme right and that has introduced a virtual one-party system. The longer Viktor Orbán stays in power, the harder it is going to be to dislodge him and his regime. In fact, a lot of people claim that winning against Fidesz in a democratic election is already an impossibility. This assertion, strictly speaking, is not correct. If enough people go to the polls and the opposition is capable of offering an attractive program and one single candidate in all 106 electoral districts, the opposition could even receive the majority of the seats, mostly because of the unfair electoral system that favors the majority.

From left to right: Attila Holoda, György Raskó, Péter Balázs, Péter Németh (journalist), and Kinga Göncz at the press conference

The other task, lending a helping hand to the parties in blending their messages into a coherent whole, is much more difficult. Not surprisingly, there is considerable confusion about what the V18 group has in mind. Unfortunately, Péter Balázs doesn’t help the situation by often referring to the group as a kind of “shadow government.” The question is: whose shadow government would it be? At the moment there are two declared prime minister hopefuls on the left, Bernadett Szél (LMP) and Gergely Karácsony (MSZP), while Ferenc Gyurcsány as “the leader of the DK party list” would, in the unlikely event of a DK victory, become prime minister of the country. Or, looking at another possible scenario, Gyurcsány, alongside Szél, Karácsony, and Gábor Vona (Jobbik), would be vying for the top position in a coalition government. Do the three left-of-center parties, with or without Jobbik, want to have a common shadow government? Most likely not, although public sentiment is very much in favor of what the man on the street calls “a government of experts,” the mistaken view that so-called experts would govern better than politicians.

The skeleton program the group offers at the moment is modest and moderate enough that all democratic parties could easily adhere to it. Of course, all parties would like to stop the gaping political divide between left and right, and everybody would like to give opportunities to the poor and the middle class to fulfill their dreams. Who doesn’t want to improve Hungarian healthcare services and education? And yes, all parties and an overwhelming majority of people want to have better relations with the other members of the European Union and would like to belong to the group of the most advanced member countries. Because of these generalized demands, several commentators have already criticized the group.  András Jámbor of Mérce and Szabolcs Dull of Index, for example, found the group’s proposals confusing and most likely ineffectual.

Obviously, the pro-government media as well as their commentators don’t think much either of the people involved or the aims of the group. Tamás Lánczi, a political scientist with Századvég and editor-in-chief of Mária Schmidt’s Felügyelő, called V18 “because of its participants junk car racing” (roncsderbi). Tamás Fricz, who calls himself a political scientist and has a column in Magyar Idők, described the members of the group as “frustrated people” who haven’t achieved the positions they think should be theirs.

Hungarian commentators are too quick to pass judgment on others, and I think we ought to hold our horses for a little while. I find the very fact that such a politically mixed group came together encouraging. I am almost certain that more prominent right-of-center people will gather their courage to join the group. After all, there are several people not yet on the list who are quite vocal in their condemnation of Orbán’s political system. Trying to stop what currently seems like an inexorable drift to an alt-right type of political system in Hungary is certainly a worthwhile undertaking.

January 4, 2018
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Michael Kaplan
Guest

A hopeful and sober analysis even if I don’t agree with every detail. The most hopeful points-in my opinion- concerned the united individuals who were past left, center and right parliament MPs. And yes, the small parties must unite, as you wrote, with the 2 democratic opposition parties, no matter how difficult for them. Democracy as Churchill is alleged to have said is a “terrible system”; the only thing worse is an “undemocratic” system. The small parties need to consider this point of view.

bimbi
Guest

C’mon folks, don’t forget the Hungarians-in-Hell joke:
Satan says that the Hungarians don’t need any guards around their pool of bubbling fire and brimstone “Because if one of them tries to get out, the others immediately pull him back in again”
Éljen a Magyar!!

Guest

That’s a really good bad joke – it already is burnt in my memory … (pun intended)

Member

This joke very often comes into my mind. Was it you, who told it here once in full length?
Than you for that!

Guest

I really don’t want to disappoint anyone here but probably any nation has it joke for its own members, I assume. Sorry for ruining the party, of course.

Guest

I heard the same joke from my Indian friends in Singapore related to Indians though. So I don’t think it is applicable only to Hungarians. Maybe the same joke exists for all the nations on earth 🙂 Let’s not discriminate negatively our nation, please!

Ferenc
Guest

“Let’s not discriminate negatively our nation.”
So please DO something positive, for which people from other countries start scratching their heads: How are those Hungarians doing that, can we do that also??

PS1: did Michael Moore wanted to invade Hungary, i.e.take a good example back to the US??
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_to_Invade_Next
PS2: never heard such a joke here in Western Europe…

Member

Manu mini-parties are formed, because they get tax-free Government money for campaigning, that they pocket, generally almost all of it as a great salary for a shor time and go back to their regular jobs after the elections.

Gabor Toka
Guest

That is the right way to judge V18. But Attila Holoda was in fact a member of the 2nd (2010-2014) Orbán govt, even if only in a junior position (deputy sec of state for energy). Admittedly though, by Fall 2014 there were 102 people in the government with that rank (see https://444.hu/2014/10/01/a-helyettes-allamtitkarok-orszaga), and in 2010-14 there were 40+ sec of states, two of whom turned against Orbán (József Ángyán, sec of state for Rural Development 2010 to 2012, and Zoltán Illés, sec of state for environment, 2010-2014) and are yet to join V18 or any other effort to campaign against Orbán in 2018.

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Milo Yiannopoulos will do the job for the opposition . . . In one day he will achieve more than any opposition parties ever dreamed of. I’m surprised that Orban (who usually has a clear mind) cannot see the political dinamite in him. (I was under the impression that FIDESZ represents basic, conservative human values).
Frankly, I’m shocked!
Yes, Milo should be invited to the Comedy Theatre in his capacity as a funny, clever comedian . . . but to influence Hungarian politics!? 😜 What were the organisers thinking?

petofi
Guest

Melanie-honey,

You really think Orban has a clear mind?
(I heard that his underwear was spotty…)

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Petofi,
Re: Orban’s clear mind
Hmm. . . After all, he’s the PM of Hungary, not you. (I based my assumption on this simple fact) Bummer!

Guest

Hiter was also the “leader” of a country.

ambator
Member

Melanie-honey and Petofi-dude, it should be obvious by now that a clear mind is not a prerequisite to be the PM of Hungary.

Member

Even not prerquisite to be president of the United States of America.

Observer
Guest

At the lower end it’s sort of tricky, shifty, unscrupulous minds + ambitions/complexes, dogged persistence characters are often seen to grab and hold power:. think of row “geniuses” like Stalin, Ceausescu, Zhivkov now Borisov.

Member

Yes, they have no scruples, values, empathy. They have a bigger toolbox, that includes hate mongering, lies, own propaganda media, own judges (in Hungary also own prosecutor).

That’s why ‘Checks and balances’, ‘free media’ and ‘rule of law’ belong to democracy.

These undemocratic tools help them to stay in power and not the terrific properties of e.g. Orbán.

(it all may seem obvious, but must be said from time to time)

wrfree
Guest

Considering some efforts it does seem the opposition parties do seem to care about their ‘flock’ yet current leadership just seems to go about managing to keep snipping all the ‘fleece’ under their noses.

The political ‘Argonauts’ of the left arguably are bereft of a bona fide leader who speaks for all. At this point if they think they have a ‘Jason’ he/she must be considered an ineffective one. The proof is in the results.

Truly in order for the opposition to mount a competent challenge to the autocratic status quo they arguably have to pay attention to three words. Current leadership must pump this into ear canals every day: ‘Lead, follow ….. or get out the way’. Perhaps the start of some powerful ‘checks and balances’ in a democracy melting slowly away.

Guest

Spot on! But let me add that clear mind is not even a prerequisite to become the PM or president of any country on earth! There are so many recent examples.

Observer
Guest

Melanie
Yes, the.Milo invitation looks very messy, but I suspect he will meet only appropriately chosen, e.g. young audience.
You were under a very wrong impression, how can a thieving dictator like Orbán ( there’s no Fid as real party) represent values, he represent vices.

ambator
Member

Again, as usual, these nincompoops are attacking the personal credentials of the people involved, instead addressing the issues at hand. In fact the participating personalities are much better off outside of politics, than inside. Only the mentally thwarted can think that, for example, Peter Barandi, a very prominent lawyer, is angling for a political post where he would probably earn a fraction of his present income. Or that Kinga Göncz, the psychiatrist, would like to swap her nice, sick, patients for the Fidesz’ political criminals.

Ferenc
Guest

“A young man condemned my ideas in the name of democracy. As far as he was concerned, all tiny parties had the right to compete, and anyone who suggested otherwise didn’t know a thing about democracy.”
If that young man considered (and still does) HU a real democracy, he himself didn’t (and still doesn’t) know a thing about it either!

Member

Eva only gave an advice to the parties to unite; she didn’t force them to.
After Evas’ interview the parties were as free to do whatever they want as before.
Democracy lives from different opinions and debates, so it was actually very democratic from Eva to explain her ideas.
The parties have their right to compete, but they also have the right to unite. They have the right to listen to Evas’ advice, as the have the right to listen to the young mans’ advive.
So what’s the problem, young man ?

Observer
Guest

Two Hungarians, three parties … goes the joke and the reality confirms it. Hungarians don’t have a “fair enough” equivalent, uncompromising is manly, jumpy and ready to take offense is proud, teamwork unknown.
Even in business – there are few mid size cos here because instead of growing by M&A companies split as their owners quarrel with each other.
Hun dems have to learn to speak positively e.g. the bottle is half full, drop the ever “original” or bitching Haraszti TGM Lengyel kind, little contribution from there. There are proven basics like:
Party people have to hire and listen to PR , campaign, etc experts.
Involve people, let them show their worth and cut loose the dead wood.
Maintain conscious discipline, serve the cause if not the boss.
Don’t speak to every microphone you see, shut up.
Every time you criticize offer a solution, justify it.
Play with the team, you can’t win alone.
etc etc.
I know this goes against the Hun grain, but I have seen it done. It requires a strong leader, strong enough so that he can listen and delegate. Tall order.

bimbi
Guest

@observer, 4:38 a.m.

“It requires a strong leader, strong enough so that he can listen and delegate.”
But isn’t that exactly what we have? The present guy listens and then delegates to his son-in-law, Mr. Tiborcz, or to his pipe fitter Strohmann back at the family ranch, which is why the latter is now almost a Euro billionaire and grinding poverty is widespread in the rest of Magyarország as we read in yesterday’s Hungarian Spectrum post.
So what was your point exactly?

Observer
Guest

bimbi
I wrote about “Hun dems”, i.e. democrats.
You are right, too much so – we have a dictator. Unfortunately, it seems the dictator have got it right by saying that “the Hungarians understand only force”. The democratic structures of SZDSZ, MSZP and Hungary failed, leaders like Horn, Kuncze or Gyurcsány are badly needed, (mis)perceptions notwithstanding.

wrfree
Guest

I would venture to say that politics when you get down to it is at bottom an exercise in building ‘coalitions’. ‘Cooperation’ appears to be a difficult goal though in the Magyar opposition realm as they have difficulty working as individuals within and between groups. How long the slog continues in that kind of dynamics is anyone’s guess. Nobody wants to jump into ice cold waters. But they should know that once they get over that initial shock the water could be their pool to swim in.

bimbi
Guest

Happy to agree with you.

nvtln
Guest

Are you joking? All the hatemongering Fidesz and Orbán has done they learnt from Gyurcsány and the MSZP. SZDSZ is gone, and MSZP is a joke of it’s formal size because of his insightful leadership. He (most likely) was behind getting rid of Botka as well.

Member

“If enough people go to the polls and the opposition is capable of offering an attractive program and one single candidate in all 106 electoral districts, the opposition could even receive the majority of the seats, mostly because of the unfair electoral system that favors the majority.”

This is important. But people only go to the polls, if there will be kind of a drive and a clearly perceived alternative to the mafia, instead of a bunch of crazy chickens.
This involves:
– one candidate for PM (one face to the customer)
– a shadow cabinet with a plan to free the country and rule the country
– only two party lists (Jobbik/LMP & friends, MSZP/DK & friends)
– one opposition candidate (incl. Jobbik) per district
– a joint or coordinated campain
– optimism and positive vibrations, instead of ‘We hate eachother and have lost anyway’

Of course, here I am only wishfully thinking again. But the more the opposition works in this direction, the better the chances for a good result. And anyway, to do so, is still in opposition hands.
If only they were reasonable…
It’s not so difficult to understand, isn’t it.
The alternative is improving dictatorship, EU-Exit, … ?

Guest

Winston, you’re totally right – but …
Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr!
Surely you know that proverb.

Member

Wolfi: “Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr!”

Sometimes it seems that mankind is mad and God is deaf.
Seufz!

petofi
Guest

@ Winston

God is not deaf. He just loves the mayhem…or, whyfor Trump?

Guest

Orbántoday at the CSU congress in Seeon with Seehofer:
The Bavarian Radio (state owned!) reports on those two “Brothers in arms” – the comments are very critical …
https://www.br.de/nachrichten/ungleiche-waffenbrueder-die-csu-und-viktor-orban-100.html

Guest

The Stuttgater Zeitung reports on Orban’s show in Seeon with the CSU – just as expected:
https://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.ungarns-ministerpraesident-viktor-orban-seehofer-wischt-alle-bedenken-beiseite.3b6f2621-80fb-497c-8ff7-fc2e772e8e88.html
Not more integration is needed but more sovereignty for the EU states – contrary to Macron’s (and Merkel’s?) position.
Nothing new under the sun …
PS:
The SzT remarks that Orbán has his own ideas re democracy and rule of law …

Cujo
Guest
petofi
Guest

This one is simple: neither the Poles nor the Hungaricos are suited for the subtleties of constitutional democracy.

If there’s no cheating, or shortcust, Hungarians want none of it-

Member

“If you don’t agree with me, then you don’t know a thing about democracy” is a rather typical method of arguing in Hungary, especially among opposition types who’ve got chips on their shoulders.

Tiny opposition parties have every right to run in any election. The question is whether it is advisable for them to do so. There is a difference between “rights” and “good tactics.”

My argument, for quite a while now, is that it doesn’t matter who runs in the upcoming election. The opposition parties already missed their opportunity to build an effective campaign in early 2015 or thereabouts. Now, barring a miracle, it’s simply too late.

Member

“They plan to offer their expertise to the parties in blending their programs into a coherent whole.”

Here’s how that works:
1) Gyurcsany insists that the coherent program contain a clause on eliminating voting rights for non-residents. Szel gets angry and threatens to walk out.
2) Peter Balazs offers to mediate the dispute. However, Kinga Goncz accuses Balazs of being anti-woman and insists on arguing alongside Szel.
3) Gyurcsany accuses Goncz of accepting money from Orban to scuttle the negotiations, citing a secret document he purchased from an anonymous source in Bora Bora.
4) Balazs gets pissed off and walks out.
5) Goncz and Szel declare victory over Gyurcsany, who then gives an interview to HVG denouncing Szel as a dilettante.
6) Fidesz gains 15% in the polls.

Member

🙂 (-: (-: €m;… cool scenario.
But,… are there still 15% to gain for Fidesz ?
A proper mathematician counts only up to 100…

Member

Ha! True.

petofi
Guest

Quite correct.
The genius of Orban, primarily, is that he’s discovered how his party (and his party alone) can get 150% of the vote!

Farkas
Guest
I can only come back to the point how eerily similar the Hungarian political palette of 2018 is to that of 1938/39. While the latter did not last long, the former looks set to be cemented into Hungarian politics for decades to come. It all started with the romantic delusions of the Hungarian minority about their unquestioned right to the entire Carpathian Basin back in the 1830s, continued with their aggressive, but completely mindless nationalist delusions during the Dual Monarchy that ultimately blew up in their faces with the Trianon dictate and then culminated in the crime of the Hungarian Holocaust, only for the whole shebang to be choked into their throats during four decades of communist suppression. Psychologically stuck in a kind of semi-feudal state of mind, Hungarians at large have never been able to mentally enter modernity or cope with a free interplay and competition of ideas and opinions in the marketplace of ideas, and to this day the notions of fair play, team spirit and genuine democracy remain just as alien for them as is liberalism, whether in its 19th century classic British sense of moderate conservativism or in the 20th century American sense of socialism/progressivism. There… Read more »
Farkas
Guest

By the way, these three basic lessons are of course just as applicable to the contemporary American and Israeli political scene as to the Hungarian, so let no one accuse me that as a professional curmudgeon I am not an equal opportunity practitioner of prejudice.

:-)))))

Guest

Farkas, I almost totally agree, but …
Not all Hungarians are like this!
My wife is a total Liberal – it’s uncanny how similar we are (and no, she’s not trying to accomodate me, she was like this before we met …)!
And those family members of hers that I know are the same – and they’re not from Bp but a small town in Eastern Hungary!
PS and rather OT:
And she’s also a fan of science fiction and fantasy – and jazz, rock and blues music – went to the (only?) Louis Armstrong concert in Bp many years ago! 🙂
It’s weird, almost uncanny that we met when we were both already over 60 years …
Douglas Adams would have described this as “maximum improbability” … 🙂

wrfree
Guest

Sonething to be said for those three lessons. And just a suggesting variation on the type of ‘insanity’ that is going on as we look at Szent Istvan’s country as it exists in the modern age.

‘Doing the same something over and over again and expecting the same results each time’

And that ‘something’ : When it comes to ‘power’ and political change it would appear players always seem to have that compunction to either ‘steal’ the royal golden high chair by hook or crook or by just simply slitting throats.

Well now for awhile we have seen a modicum of restraint when it comes to the latter. But the business ’38/’39 should give pause then. Once you have the chickenpox always beware the shingles. Yes, ‘sticky’ business.

Farkas
Guest

Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule.

And may I congratulate both your wife and yourself for having so serendipitously found each other after you had both passed 60!! That’s absolutely wonderful!!

:-)))