For over a week György Bolgár has been conducting a series of conversations with politicians, political commentators, and regular listeners on his popular “Let’s Talk It Over!” call-in show on Klubrádió. The topic is “What is to be done?” given the present political situation. How can the opposition dislodge the political system Viktor Orbán masterfully put in place in the last six years?
Many well-known people were invited to share their ideas, but only a couple of these ideas struck me as workable or promising. There were some who want to send all politicians into retirement and to find new faces, but they neglect to tell us where to find these talented young people with all the attributes of a good politician. Then there are those who have lost faith in politicians altogether and think in terms of civil society exclusively. But again, without parties and leaders it is impossible to imagine a functioning parliamentary system and a modern democratic regime. Still others are split on whether the existing democratic parties should unite as soon as possible to create a new party because, without unity, the splintered opposition cannot possibly win at a national election that was tailored to benefit the government party. Then there are some who are dead against forming a unity party since at the last election this strategy failed spectacularly. These people suggest competition among the five or six opposition parties on the left, the idea being that sooner or later one of them will rise to the top. Almost all people severely criticize the current opposition leaders for their incompetence or for simply being too soft on the government.
I would be hesitant to offer a recipe to the current Hungarian opposition even if I had one. The only thing I know is what cannot or should not be done. I know that without parties and without a strong charismatic leader the prospects of the opposition are slim. I also know that without massive public support behind that party leader there will be no possibility of regime change. In brief, as long as there is no widespread dissatisfaction with the Orbán government, no politician, no matter how talented he is, can wage a successful campaign against the present regime. I also know that at the moment the four or five opposition parties (I leave LMP out of the calculations) cannot possibly unite, even though they agree on most of the political fundamentals. Personalities trump politics. Therefore, I believe that they should carry on for a while on their own, with the expectation that sooner or later one of them will come to dominate the field. According to Medián, in November 7% of the electorate would have voted for MSZP (Magyar Szocialista Párt) led by József Tóbiás and 6% for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK (Demokratikus Koalíció). Each of the other opposition parties–Együtt (Together), PM (Dialogue for Hungary), and MLP (Magyar Liberális Párt)–has only 1% support. So at the moment the race for the lead is between MSZP and DK.
But let’s return to the most important ingredient of success: widespread, strong public support. What is going on in Hungarian education is a perfect formula for political action. A school with an apparently young, forward-looking teaching staff has the guts to put into writing things that have been bothering thousands and thousands of teachers who were afraid to stand up against their boss, the almighty state. After all, brave individuals standing alone are vulnerable. One needs a “critical mass” to be safe.
There comes a moment when everything falls into place. It starts with the few who initiate a move against the powers that be, and then the thousands who are ready to follow join the cause. Once the movement has grown to a certain size, its growth will gain speed. At that point others, who are in one way or the other affected by the initial cause of dissatisfaction, will join. The growing protest emboldens organizations, for example trade unions, that up to that point couldn’t move because their leaders knew that the membership wouldn’t follow them. The time was not ripe.
Once a movement is successful and the government must retreat, others who are in a similar situation within their own profession will be encouraged and will imitate these successful strategies. There will be a chain reaction. If the time is ripe, there is simply no way of stopping it.
Pessimists, and there are many among us, will counter that the teachers’ rebellion will come to naught just as the very promising revolt against the internet tax did once the government retreated. The tens of thousands who went out on the streets, once they got what they wanted, returned home never to resurface. But I suggest that the two situations are radically different. The internet tax was only announced as something to be introduced in the future. So, the demonstrations were of a preventive nature. The teachers’ revolt is something very different. They want to abolish practices that were forced upon them more than three years ago, practices that they find injurious to Hungarian education. What they want is to undo the crazy system Viktor Orbán came up with, which turned out to be unworkable and bad for students as well as teachers. The teachers, supported by their unions and even by their professional association forced upon them by the government, are not satisfied with small concessions. They want to negotiate. Otherwise they will strike. As of now 17,659 people and 207 schools have signed the manifesto published by the staff of the Ottó Herman Gymnasium, and their numbers are growing rapidly.
Admittedly, these are just first steps, but, given the oppressive nature of the regime, I believe the time will come when the majority of the population will realize that the whole system is rotten to the core and that the vast majority of the population are its victims. I don’t know when this realization will arrive, but I’m sure that it will happen. The corruption, the incompetence, the arrogance of this regime will not be tolerated indefinitely. How long will people put up with empty stadiums for billions or an airport for Felcsút, the village where Viktor Orbán spent his childhood, while millions live in poverty? And once there is an awakening, there must be a party and a leader who can gather the dissatisfied troops. The opposition has its work cut out for it.