In the last three days the government propaganda machine has been busy churning out gory stories about the domestic affairs of Péter Juhász, chairman of Együtt. In a way, these latest accusations against Juhász should not have been unexpected. He is a controversial man whose life has been under scrutiny for a long time. Since he was at one point a vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana, he was accused of being a regular drug user. There have also been questions about his finances. His political enemies, who are numerous, found his lifestyle far too lavish in view of his extremely modest income. A father of three small children with a non-working partner, he claimed to live more or less on charity.
One of the problems with Juhász as a politician is that he comes from a civic activist background, and his transformation has not been seamless. He has always been attracted to unusual methods of protest, which I personally found politically futile. A small group of people armed with whistles may make Viktor Orbán uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it is not the most effective way of protesting the increasingly oppressive regime of Viktor Orbán. And Juhász’s efforts to call attention to the incredible corruption in District V (downtown Budapest) were worthy, but I questioned his tactic of staging less than successful anti-corruption demonstrations. These anemic mini-demonstrations only reinforced the perception of the opposition’s powerlessness and lack of followers.
Juhász also has the bad habit of talking too much about himself and his problems. Unfortunately, he is simply unable to refrain from engaging in a dialogue or an argument. Now that the government media got hold of some court records in connection with Juhász’s parting with his girlfriend of nine years and his fight over visitation rights for his children, he couldn’t stop himself from telling the world the exact nature of his encounter with the mother of his children. The case is still pending, and admitting details that may not serve his interest is outright foolish. A give and take between these former partners on the pages of Facebook is also not the smartest move.
The right-wing government media accuses opposition papers of simply ignoring the case because the events described in the court documents reflect badly on one of their own. After all, Juhász, whose party took a stand against domestic violence, is now being accused of physically and psychologically abusing the mother of his children. It is true that relatively few opposition papers ran stories about Juhász. Even Alfahír, the online news site of Jobbik, ignored the story. In fact, János Volner, Jobbik’s deputy chairman who was himself the object a somewhat similar attack, expressed his sympathy for the beleaguered Juhász. One reason for the left-of-center media’s reluctance to cover the story is that they were disinclined to rely on the reporting of government propaganda outlets like 888, Pesti Srácok, and Ripost. They know from experience that their stories are pieced together from half-truths and under scrutiny don’t stand up.
But it is not true that all respectable left-of-center papers ignored the story. Both HVG and Index devoted a couple of articles to the Juhász case. Index’s article is balanced. It quotes Juhász’s own defense on his blog but at the same time reports that Juhász admitted to Index that he and his girlfriend had a scuffle in which the woman could have been hurt. HVG takes a much stronger position in an article by Judit Windisch. It is immaterial whether the accusations are well founded or not, says Windisch. “Juhász lost the political match; from here on he can fight only for his children.” This assessment may be harsh, but I’m afraid it is an accurate description of the situation.
Juhász’s problem is certainly not good news for Együtt, which under his joint stewardship with Viktor Szigetvári has become totally isolated. Gergely Karácsony and Párbeszéd left them and joined MSZP, and in the last year or so a lot of people have abandoned the party. The last person of note to jump ship was Zsuzsa Szelényi, Együtt’s only member of parliament, who left the party partly because Juhász and Szigetvári were ready to strike a deal with Fidesz during the debate over advertising surfaces and partly because she disapproved of Együtt’s inflexibility during the inter-party negotiations.
Today’s papers reported that Együtt is starting a “telephone campaign” next week. Juhász and the Együtt candidate in each electoral district will phone people and urge them to support their party. Whom are these people kidding? Yes, the party will receive financial support from the budget, but they should keep in mind that if they don’t garner at least 1% of the popular vote that money will have to be paid back. In the interim, they only splinter the already terribly fragmented opposition.
Originally, during the MSZP-DK negotiations, two Budapest electoral districts were left open for Együtt and Párbeszéd: District I and District XXI. The assumption all along was that it would be Péter Juhász who would stand against István Hollik (KDNP) in District I, who had replaced the terribly unpopular Antal Rogánas Fidesz’s candidate. Winning the seat in this very conservative district would be a long shot under the best of circumstances, but with this new baggage Juhász’s chances are nil. And there is no one else who can successfully challenge Hollik. The hopelessness of the situation became clear this evening when five contenders for the District I seat gathered for a debate. Hollik didn’t show. His excuse was that these opposition figures are George Soros’s agents.
The interest in the debate was considerable, and not surprisingly most of the questions centered on the candidates’ opinion about the chances of winning, given the fractured opposition, which the gathering amply demonstrated. Jobbik was represented by Pál Losonczy, who is currently a member of the district council. András Győr-Fekete of Momentum would like to win in this district, as would Antal Csárdi of LMP, who in 2014 was LMP’s candidate for mayor and received 5.69% of the votes. Naturally, Péter Juhász was also present, but because MSZP-Párbeszéd couldn’t agree with Együtt about coordinated candidacies, MSZP has its own candidate, Márta V. Naszály (Párbeszéd). Thus, currently there are six candidates, counting Fidesz-KDNP’s István Hollik, to represent the district in the next parliament. This gathering, if nothing else, gives us an accurate picture of the total chaos that exists in opposition forces.
The audience apparently urged them to unite, but only MSZP-Párbeszéd’s Naszály asked everybody to stand behind one candidate who would represent the democratic opposition. LMP’s Csárdi was the most inflexible, and he was met with disapproval from the audience. The overwhelming desire to have a united front is obvious at public gatherings and call-in-shows on Klub Rádió and ATV’s Fórum. If nothing happens between now and April 8, a Fidesz win is inevitable. The only question is just how large a win.