Tag Archives: András Fekete-Győr

Momentum’s András Fekete-Győr: “We have one year”

A few months ago I received a most welcome e-mail from Aron Penczu, a young Hungarian-born filmmaker and writer who lives in London, who offered his services as a Hungarian-English translator for Hungarian Spectrum. I eagerly accepted the offer. Here is Aron’s first contribution, a translation of András Fekete-Győr’s May 1 speech at a Momentum rally.

I have written several posts on Momentum’s impressive referendum drive, which ended in Viktor Orbán’s spectacular retreat from submitting a bid to hold the Olympic Games in Budapest in 2014.  I also published a more critical article on some of the political mistakes the inexperienced leaders of Momentum have made.

At the moment it is hard to predict the future of this young party, but their initial showing is impressive. According to the latest Závecz Research poll, Momentum has 3% support among active voters. They have, after a few months of existence, more potential votes than all other smaller democratic parties on the left.

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I’m here with you today to tell you what we need to do in the next year. We need to act. I’m tired of bemoaning what’s wrong instead of acting to make things better – because I’m responsible for my future, responsible for my fate.

At first I was alone and felt powerless. Then we began to grow in number, we founded Momentum, and I understood that in a community we’re strong. Powerlessness was superseded by the strength of action. And now I see that we’re many, and that this means nothing’s impossible: together, so many of us and more, we’re capable of starting Hungary up. We believe, unlike Viktor Orbán, that we need to start things up, not stop them.

He wants to stop Brussels. Stop it because he’s realized that under his leadership Hungary will never catch up with it. It won’t catch up with it because he doesn’t understand the 21st century, and he’s afraid that this’ll come to light. That’s why he closes universities, that’s why he holds Nobel prize-winners so cheap, why he destroyed Origo and the county papers, why he blacklists civil organizations and intellectuals.

Viktor Orbán inspires fear because he himself is afraid. He’s afraid that his incompetence will be exposed. He’s afraid of the press and he’s afraid of free elections, but above all he’s afraid of us, the people.

András Fekete-Győr at the May 1 rally of Momentum

Yet we drew closer than ever to finally beginning to catch up with Europe – which we’ve waited for centuries – when, 13 years ago, on the first of May, we joined the EU. But in his fear of being toppled Viktor Orbán is choosing the world of dumbphones, and instead of regulating Uber he’s chasing it away, he wants to introduce the internet tax, he eliminates IT lessons, and he blacklists everyone smarter than he is. He’s guiding the nation towards Moscow.

Instead of the rich, modern Europe he’s making a poor, underdeveloped and oppressed Russia the model for our home. But those of our generation who have come home and those who have stayed at home are taking our fate into our hands and changing that direction. We’ve been in London, Brussels, Berlin, across the whole world, and now the tide is turning: instead of foreign countries draining away valuable knowledge, WE BRING IT HOME.

We’ve come home to implement the models we encountered abroad, because it isn’t the Lőrinc Mészároses but the István Széchenyis who build the homeland. The time has come for those from Kazincbarcika, from Budapest, and from London, the right- and the left-leaning, the Christian and the atheist, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, to recognize our shared national fate, because we have a task. Let’s set aside our animosities, because we’re all patriots, because we’re all valuable constituents of Hungarian nationality, and our task is no less than this: building an entrepreneurial, cohesive, and modern nation in the Europe of the 21st century.

We’ll start Hungary up with the most important resource of the 21st century: the knowledge we’ve acquired. Instead of stopping Brussels, we’re going to catch up with it.

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is a tenantless wasteland with a “Let’s stop Brussels” signboard at its center. Even if you can stoop lower that this, you can’t go further back. Viktor Orbán is building a system of fear on Putin’s model. But we won’t let him succeed. We’re going to dismantle this system and start Hungary up.

We’re not afraid of them and we’ll tell them that. That’s what we’ve been saying with all the past weeks’ demonstrations, and that’s what we’re saying here with you today. We won’t say that it’s easy or simple to overcome an omnipresent fear. But we want a country in which you can plan ahead to 2020 or 2030, not the 20th or the 30th.

They can send skinheads at us, but we’ll talk with them instead of growing afraid. We’re not afraid of them. They can fire us, but we’ll find another job, because unlike them, we’re not corrupt, parasitical politicians.* We are not afraid of them.

They can trot out our parents, our grandparents, our cousins once removed, they can tell us about what they did in ’94, and whom they voted for in ’98 – but we’re writing 2017 and we’re looking ahead, not back. We’re not afraid of them.

They can watch us, they can follow us, they can tap our phones, but unlike them, we have nothing to hide. They can send the taxman to investigate the places and the companies who host us or support us, but they won’t find anything because we’re not robbing the country blind. We’re not afraid of them.

The propaganda machine can lie about us, but this debases them, not us. Advertising companies associated with the government can threaten us, they can even put a policeman by every single poster, but all they’ll get is policemen giving us a hand with our stickers. We’re not afraid of them.

The dean, the director, and the mayor can place pressure on is, but we won’t bend because we aren’t spineless. We’re not afraid of them. And you shouldn’t be either!

We want to tell the girl from Komárom who didn’t dare enter our event when she saw the propaganda-machine outside – because she was afraid they’d see her there and fire her – not to be afraid: we’ll protect her. As we’ll protect those members who have been fired because they joined Momentum.

Don’t be afraid, because we’ll protect you. We’ll help. Together we are strong and loud, alone weak and quiet. Momentum is the kind of community in which we protect each other.

We’re not afraid of them. And nothing frightens them more than that: for seven years, no matter how shamelessly they’ve acted, most of the time everybody’s stayed dumb. They’ve gotten used to thinking anyone can be silenced or bought. But not us. We’re not afraid of them. As they sink lower, so we grow stronger.

Not being afraid is only the first step. The second is to act. We have exactly one year until the spring of 2018 and that’s exactly enough. In one year startups become world-corporations, teams marked for elimination become world champions, unknown poets become national heroes.

In the next year we, Momentum, are going to do everything to dismantle the system of fear. We’re going to work day and night. We’re going to continue touring the country and we’re going to get to every settlement to listen to people and talk with them. We’re going to gauge local and national problems, because we want to answer them together: we’re running a real consultation.

How are we going to achieve this? With you. In two months more than 1,000 people have applied to join Momentum, and we’ve built foundations for more than 100 local organizations. And the number is growing with every passing week. We’re building a nation-wide and active community.

We’re everywhere: locally, on the street, at demonstrations – and we’re going to run in the elections. With a program which offers real solutions to real problems. It’s going to be a program of knowledge brought home and local solutions, which we’re revealing to the country on October 15. We’re going to deliver it on time, as we delivered 266,151 signatures for February 17.

But we also know that a good program is only the beginning of starting Hungary up. We need cells of activity too, and people ready for action, because the state has forsaken us. Our healthcare, our education, and our transport are broken. Our weekdays have become dysfunctional.

Millions of Hungarians are uninterested in national problems because they feel they can do nothing to make things better. We’re sending them a message: we felt like that too, but then we learned that in community there’s strength. The cells of activity are going to yield local solutions to local problems out of local experiences. Join us!

A boy from a high school in Kecskemét told us of how IT studies aren’t offered at his school and so he can’t learn what he wants to. Two others already at university instantly offered to teach him how to program – this is what we call a cell of activity, where stories like this one are born. Because Hungarians want to act: only their hands been tied until now.

We’re starting with the basics, the local, tangible problems, and we’re starting Hungary up with the strength of a community. With the strength of a community – and that won’t work without you. It would be futile for us to pledge to work day and night over the next year to dismantle the system of fear, and to build a livable Hungary, if you don’t come with us. We’re going to rebuild, and we need your help.

Many people are fooled by the system of fear. Those reached only by fear-mongering and the propaganda-machine’s fake news. We can’t fight TV2’s lies, or the daily news on MTVA, or Lokál, but you can. You are our media.

You can get to everyone. Speak to the grandparent, the aunt, the cousin, the godmother, the family friend. You need to tell them that if they want to see their grandchild, and not just once a year, at Christmas, because he lives in London, we need renewal.

You need to tell them that you’re afraid of starting a business because if there’s a branch of the industry that works Fidesz takes a shine to it, expropriates it, and divvies it up among its members. You need to tell them that you’re afraid of settling, of growing roots, because who knows where you’ll live in a few years… You need to tell them that you’re afraid of creating a family, because they close schools, nationalize educational texts, and children can learn only what they intend.

We need to break the wall built around us! We’ve started, and with the success of NOlimpia we knocked out the first brick, but we can only succeed at dismantling it with your help. You are our media. Don’t be afraid of politicizing at lunch. A Hungarian never speaks but endures? Enough of that. We endure with full mouths (when we can fill them)? Never again!

And if you have influence, stand up and don’t be afraid. Raise your voice if you’re a musician and you can see we’re headed in the wrong direction. Speak out if you work at a big company, if you have reach others, because maybe in a few years you won’t be able to reach anyone anymore. Speak, if you’re a radio host and you know exactly where we’re headed.

Stand up if you have influence, whether you’re a gastro blogger, YouTube star, or a conservative intellectual. Don’t wait to realize in a few years that when you could have taken action you didn’t. Act now!

Everyone in their own way: what she has strength for, time for, a desire for. But act. Pin up symbols of Europe, support us, call your representative to account, participate in cells of activity, join us, or be our media.

As for this evening: there are Momentum members among you, ask them for stickers, we have thousands, and tonight let’s correct all the propaganda posters that fall into our paths! Let’s paste over them on the street, on the bus, on trams and on the subway too. Make your mark!

And one more thing. Believe in us. Believe that it can work, believe that one year is enough, and believe that Hungary can be started up. We believe it, and we believe you, and we’ll do everything for our collective goals: believe in our collective strength. Believe in us even if we make mistakes. Believe in us even if one day in a statement we say something stupid. Believe in us, believe in yourselves, because we can only succeed with you.

We have a year. We have hope. We have a choice. Come with us!

*Megélhetési politikusok. See http://hungarianspectrum.org/tag/hungarian-language/

June 9, 2017


What’s behind Momentum? Banal clichés

At the end of February and the beginning of March, I spent a considerable amount of time on Momentum, the new political movement that, with a successful signature drive, managed to force the government to scrap its pet project of holding the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest. I was enthusiastic about this group of young men and women, who struck me as an intelligent lot. What I found especially attractive was that the members of this civic group realized that they could best effect political change by becoming part of the political process. They announced early on their desire to form a political party.

Admittedly, I was worried about their categorical announcement that they would refuse to cooperate with the “political elite,” whom they obviously despised. It was equally worrisome that the chairman of Momentum, András Fekete-Győr, didn’t seem to make a clear distinction between the political system prior to 2010 and the one after. As if this young firebrand wanted to throw out the totality of political change that has taken place since 1989. He talked about instituting an entirely new political system once his party is in power. This statement unfortunately reminded me of Viktor Orbán’s promise in 2010 that his “revolution in the ballot boxes” was the beginning of true democracy in Hungary.

Because Momentum worked so assiduously on collecting signatures for a referendum on hosting the Olympics, the leaders of the movement had little time to give interviews and to share their political ideas with the public. Since then, the chairman of the new party, called Momentum Mozgalom (MoMo), has been giving interviews galore. From these interviews a sad fact emerges: András Fekete-Győr hasn’t got a clue about politics. If he faithfully represents the goals and platform of MoMo, we can forget about this new political formation and the 140 people who apparently make up the party at the moment.

The interview tsunami began on March 6 with Györgyi Szöllösi of “Hungary Live” on Hír TV. In the course of the interview Fekete-Győr triumphantly announced that Momentum is planning to win the election single-handed in a year’s time. Mind you, a few days earlier he admitted that 2018 was too early a date and announced that his party would concentrate on the 2022 election. No probing questions about the feasibility of such an improbable feat could shake Fekete-Győr’s self-confidence. They will be ready to form a government as a result of their impressive electoral victory. The reporter reminded him of an earlier remark: “We haven’t lost our minds and think that we alone can replace the present government.” So, what happened? asked the reporter. Fekete-Győr simply denied that he had ever said such a thing.

From here he moved to even shakier ground when he said that “the Hungarian Left doesn’t have a positive vision of the nation (nemzetkép).” As we know, this is the favorite accusation of Fidesz against the opposition. Therefore, it was inevitable that the reporter would want to know more about Fekete-Győr’s interpretation of “nemzetkép.” Within seconds it became patently obvious that Fekete-Győr had no idea what he was talking about. Eventually he came up with a totally meaningless answer: in his opinion, it means “political peace.” Let’s not even try to interpret this brilliant observation.

Well, that was bad enough, but a day later another interview, which appeared in 24.hu, prompted uniformly negative responses from responsible opposition commentators. First, let’s see what we can learn about Fekete-Győr’s political past from this interview. First, he most likely voted for Fidesz in 2010 when he was 21 years old. “What made Fidesz attractive for me was the fact that it had several convincing characters like Viktor Orbán, Tibor Navracsics, János Lázár, and János Áder.” Let’s not comment on Fekete-Győr’s choice of convincing politicians. Instead, I will be charitable and chalk up his strange taste to his youth. He still thinks, however, that “Orbán is a helluva talented politician who can speak the language of the common man about his coherent worldview.” He supports Orbán in his efforts to keep the refugees out, but it should be done “not so aggressively.” He also approves of the centralization of public education, “but KLIK is not a good answer.”

Otherwise, throughout the interview Fekete-Győr was so arrogant that the reporters eventually asked him: “What feeds this arrogance with which you reject the approach of all the opposition forces, be they Ferenc Gyurcsány or Tibor Szanyi?” Then came the answer: “We are not as arrogant with everybody—if you can call it arrogance—but I have no idea what the hell Ferenc Gyurcsány is still doing in politics. It would be high time for him to get lost.”

It took only a few hours for journalists to comment on this interview. One of the first was my favorite Árpád W. Tóta, who is both astute and witty. He began his opinion piece, titled “Moment, bitte,” with “Neither Right nor Left? And the Left not national enough? Please, tell me something really new.” Yes, we are grateful for not having the Olympic Games in 2024, but “gratefulness is not a blank check or a free ride.” In the rest of the essay Tóta accuses of Fekete-Győr of being utterly devoid of any serious vision and  contends that what he is trying to sell is at best a collection of banal clichés. Tóta is certain that if Fekete-Győr had to explain what a “positive national vision” is, which is missing on the Left but exists on the Right, he would be at a loss. As we could see from his Hír TV interview, Tóta was correct. The self-confident leader of MoMo failed. He couldn’t mutter out an intelligent sentence on the topic because, as Tóta rightly observes, the “concept” is an empty phrase, something Hungarians call a “lózung.” Tóta also visited MoMo’s website where he found the party’s “program” on education and healthcare, which they call their “vision.” There is nothing wrong with the direction, but the program is full of clichés that have been more intelligently developed and more fully proposed over the last three years by several parties on the Left.

Another devastating critique came from László Bartus of Amerikai Népszava, who called attention to some of the most objectionable statements in Fekete-Győr’s interview. I think Bartus is right when he criticizes the young politician’s admiration of Orbán’s ability to speak the language of the common people, which is mere populist drivel. Moreover, Hitler and Mussolini also knew how to speak the language of the people. How can he call Orbán’s illiberal, far-right, anti-Western pseudo philosophy a “worldview,” asks the editor-in-chief of Amerikai Népszava. Bartus finds Fekete-Győr so objectionable that he even defends Ferenc Gyurcsány against his ill-tempered attacks, and Gyurcsány is not exactly Bartus’s favorite. After all, as the reporters reminded him, the electorate decides who stays in politics and for how long, not Fekete-Győr. Anyone who wants politicians to pack up and clear out of public life is not a democrat, says Bartus. Moreover, he continues, “this helluva talented politician who is currently robbing the country blind is not Ferenc Gyurcsány. It was not Gyurcsány who abolished the constitution but Orbán.”

A day after the 24.hu interview came another interview, this time with Antónia Mészáros of ATV. A somewhat chastened Fekete-Győr tried to explain away his ill-tempered and inappropriate comments about the former prime minister. Mészáros, who is known for her sharp intellect and insistent interviewing style, was all sweetness and light. She handled the chairman of MoMo with kindness. I guess she knew that Fekete-Győr didn’t need her help to make himself ridiculous. Perhaps he didn’t realize it, but as a commentator said, “tonight Antónia Mészáros had Fekete-Győr for supper, and once she was full she leaned back and smiled. Her prey didn’t even realize that he was almost completely consumed.”

March 11, 2017

Another attempt to change the political landscape: The Momentum Movement

Even as we all complain about the political lethargy of Hungarians, a new political group has appeared on the scene. These self-assured young people in their late twenties and early thirties emerged from seemingly nowhere. But they handle their new roles in front of the cameras with poise and, unlike some earlier groups, they seem to have well-defined ideas about what they want. Although their immediate goal is to hold a referendum in Budapest to avert Orbán’s folly of hosting the 2024 Olympics in the capital, they are braced for an intensive political role. They call their movement Momentum.

Skeptics would say that Momentum’s efforts to defeat Hungary’s Olympics bid will be in vain. They must collect 130,000 signatures in 30 days in the dead of winter. And even if they get the necessary signatures, the prospect of a valid referendum is slim. Not even Fidesz’s outsize spending was enough to achieve that.

Momentum’s leaders seem to be realistic in their expectations: they will be satisfied even if all they achieve is getting the necessary number of signatures. After all, this would be a first among numerous failed attempts in the past. As for the likelihood of their ultimate success, the population of Budapest is divided on the issue of the Olympics. While about half of the population of Budapest opposes the games for economic reasons, the other half supports them either because of national pride or because they consider the infrastructure investment beneficial for their city.

If the only aim of the leaders of Momentum were to oppose holding the Olympics in Budapest, they wouldn’t have had such an enthusiastic reception in democratic circles. What Momentum offers is something new. The group unequivocally defines itself as a political organization. Why is that so significant? Because until now, newly emerged and promising civic groups refused any cooperation with political parties or declared themselves to be purely “professional” organizations. The leaders of these organizations denied any political motives, with the inevitable result that they became isolated and eventually disappeared. When, for instance, the teachers’ demonstration managed to get 40,000 people out in the pouring rain, it was clear that most of the people in the crowd were there because of their opposition to the government that was responsible for the ruined educational system. The teacher’s movement failed because it was unwilling “to get involved in politics.” Eventually, they noticed their mistake, but by that time it was too late.

What do we know about the Momentum group? I encountered two of the leaders in interview situations on ATV and HírTV, and I must admit that I was impressed. The chairman of the group, András Fekete-Győr (27), is a lawyer who works in an international law office in Budapest but earlier worked in the European Parliament and the Bundestag. The other person I watched was Anna Orosz (27), who studied economics in Budapest and Berlin with work experience in both cities. I haven’t seen a third member of the team, Miklós Hajnal, but I read a long interview with him. He is just finishing his last year as a student of philosophy, political science and economics in Oxford. According to him, about one-fifth of the membership either studied or lived abroad at one time or another and are eager “to bring home the best practices” they encountered abroad.

András Fekete-Győr and Anna Orosz

Momentum has had a longer history than I initially realized. At the beginning of 2015 nine young people established Momentum because “they were convinced that a purely civic initiative is not enough to achieve any systemic change. Therefore, they were thinking in terms of a political community which in the long run can offer itself as a replacement for the current political elite.” Their first move was to organize a get-together in a summer camp, attended by 200 people, somewhat similarly to what Fidesz did in 1985, in order to exchange ideas and hammer out a program. By the spring of 2016 the membership was large enough to establish an association with several working groups. What brought them together was a common feeling of “political orphanhood,” Miklós Hajnal told mandiner.hu.

I assume that if this group survives, we will know more about their political ideas. What I have learned so far is that although they don’t want to join any existing party, they are ready to work with all of them. They are not interested in ideology, and therefore they find labels like “left” and “right” obsolete. They find Viktor Orbán’s “work-based society” a dead end. They wouldn’t participate in primaries, which they consider “unfortunate and misleading.” Otherwise, their social policy strikes me as liberal. Anna Orosz’s historical ideal is Árpád Göncz, while András Fekete-Győr talked about St. Stephen and István Széchenyi. Judging from these references, both liberal and conservative strands are present in Momentum.

A right-wing blogger called the leadership of Momentum nothing more than a revival of the liberal SZDSZ’s youth organization. He reacted to the word “liberal” with the usual intense hatred. He described them as irrepressible and destructive people who keep returning in different guises. Among the leadership he called attention to András Radnóti, Momentum’s coordinator for foreign relations. He is the son of Sándor Radnóti, who indeed was very active in SZDSZ in the 1980s.

Former Prime Minister József Antall’s son Péter, who is heading the government-financed József Antall Center of Knowledge (Antall József Tudásközpont), wrote on Facebook that any associate of the foundation who expresses public support for Momentum’s anti-Olympics effort will lose his job. Those “who want to be independent politically” can pack. This is the son of the first democratically elected Hungarian prime minister after the regime change.

Magyar Idők also noted Momentum’s “attack on the Olympics,” which “is political in nature.” The current Hungarian government uses the words “politics” and “political” as practical equivalents of “treachery” and “treasonous.” One of the officials responsible for the preparation of the Olympics announced that “every time politics has gotten involved in sports, the sports have suffered.” This assertion is especially amusing considering that sports are such an important part of Viktor Orbán’s political arsenal.

I’m really curious what the reactions of other opposition parties will be to Momentum. LMP, Párbeszéd, Együtt, and the Two-Tailed Dog Party have already promised to help in gathering signatures. DK’s leadership hasn’t made any decision yet, but since DK also belongs to the anti-Olympics camp, I’m pretty sure that the decision will be favorable. MSZP, as usual, is divided on the issue of the Olympics, but MSZP’s spokesman promised an answer sometime next week.

As I said earlier, these young people are very self-assured and keep repeating that they are well prepared to enter the political struggle. Anna Orosz said in one of her interviews that “we would like to spread our ideas in ever larger circles and transplant them into reality.” The reporter’s reaction was that “in the next 30 days they will certainly meet reality” on the streets of Budapest. It will be an eye-opener and a challenge, I’m sure.

January 18, 2017