Tag Archives: opposition parties

Is LMP in cahoots with Fidesz?

On October 17 Egon Rónay of ATV’s Start interviewed Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP. The occasion was the demonstration organized by Párbeszéd (Dialogue), Együtt (Together), and LMP (Politics Can Be Different) that had taken place the day before. Considering that by that time four of the left-liberal opposition parties had decided to celebrate October 23 together, the conversation soon turned to LMP’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with the others. What followed was a lengthy tirade by Szél against Ferenc Gyurcsány, whom she considers responsible for the very existence of Viktor Orbán as a politician. As she put it, as long as Ferenc Gyurcsány remains on the political scene Hungary will be stranded with Viktor Orbán.

Backbiting is unfortunately an everyday affair in Hungarian opposition circles, but Szél’s outburst was unusually acerbic and ill intentioned. A day later, on the same program, Zsolt Gréczy, DK’s spokesman, indicated that Együtt, led by Viktor Szigetvári and Péter Juhász, and LPM, led by Bernadett Szél and Ákos Hadházy, with their refusal to cooperate wittingly or unwittingly were assisting Viktor Orbán’s government.

LMP’s decision to collaborate with Fidesz on the issue of the constitutional court’s newly elected judges led to a really ugly scene between László Varju of DK and the whole LMP parliamentary delegation of five plus András Schiffer, the architect of the Fidesz-LMP deal. The LMP politicians crashed Varju’s press conference, which was held in the parliament. Soon enough the press conference turned into a screaming session in which Varju called the five LMP members of parliament “collaborators.” In turn, Schiffer said that AVH, the dreaded Hungarian secret police between 1945 and 1956, was “the spiritual predecessor” of the political leaders of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Moreover, he accused them of inciting anti-Catholic sentiments by criticizing Balázs Schanda, one of the new judges, who writes almost exclusively on legal questions concerning religion. The hapless Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, tried in vain to end the exchange of accusations. He eventually got involved in the cacophony himself.

In the middle of the battle. András Schiffer enjoys it immensely

In the middle of the battle. András Schiffer enjoys it immensely.

Today an article appeared in index.hu which might explain, at least in part, the ferocious LMP attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány. According to the news site, sometime in early November LMP commissioned a poll to ascertain the views of the Hungarian electorate on the current government as well as on leading opposition personalities. From the survey LMP learned that three-quarters of its own supporters reject any cooperation with Ferenc Gyurcsány. They consider him an obstacle to unity. I don’t know whether this finding surprised LMP’s leadership, but it really shouldn’t have. DK’s liberal ideas on economic matters and its acceptance of globalization are in stark contrast to LMP’s far-left socialist ideas.

Even so, I don’t believe that LMP’s refusal to work with the other opposition parties on the left is the result of its supporters’ intense dislike of Gyurcsány and his ideas on the free market economy. Gyurcsány is only an excuse. LMP’s founder, András Schiffer, from the start made it clear that LMP alone would defeat the Orbán regime. I’m almost certain that even if Ferenc Gyurcsány gave up politics this very moment LMP still wouldn’t be willing to work hand in hand with the others.

Overall, the poll apparently found that 46% of those who side with the opposition think that Gyurcsány is an obstacle to the defeat of the Orbán government while 45% think that “the presence of Gyurcsány is necessary for the removal of Orbán from power.” That is a tie, says index.hu, but since LMP voters are so anti-Gyurcsány and therefore anti-DK, it is good politics to launch an attack against the party.

According to the survey, 45% of the electorate as a whole would like to see a change of government while 43% support the present Orbán government. Naturally, 94% of Fidesz voters are still loyal supporters of Viktor Orbán. The same level of fervor is manifest in those who today would vote for an opposition party. The situation is very different among the large group of Hungarians who haven’t found a party they would gladly vote for. Forty percent of them would like to see the Orbán government disappear, 26% would like it to stay, and 34% have no opinion. This untapped group of undecided voters should be the primary target of the opposition, but any effort to woo the undecided will be effective only if the opposition can create a unified force, speaking with one voice. Cacophony guarantees defeat.

LMP’s poll also measured the popularity of five politicians: Bernadett Szél (41%), László Botka (34%), Ágnes Vadai (32%), Ákos Hadházy (31%), and Ferenc Gyurcsány (26%). This finding is especially interesting because only opposition politicians are being compared. I found the relatively low rating of László Botka especially surprising considering that he was declared to be the most popular MSZP leader, the one who could lead his party to victory.

A few hours after the index.hu article appeared István Ikotity, an LMP member of parliament, denied the existence of the survey, adding: “In my opinion, LMP shouldn’t be preoccupied with the opposition. We shouldn’t pay attention to the recognition and support of certain opposition politicians. Our position in relation to DK has remained the same. Nothing has changed.” His denial was not very convincing, but I believe him when he says that LMP’s attitude toward DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány hasn’t changed at all.

Let’s assume for the moment that LMP did commission this survey and that its politicians, seeing the results, decided to tip the scale against Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose standing in opposition circles is a practical tie between his supporters and his opponents. In that case, I think one can argue that LMP is a collaborator of Fidesz, not just because it assisted in enlarging the constitutional court which opposition parties, including Jobbik, find illegitimate but also because it purposely sowed discord among the opposition parties which will only weaken the anti-Orbán forces. András Schiffer, the creator of LMP, decided to call his party “Lehet Más A Politika” (Politics Can Be Different). If LMP is indeed involved in such a dirty, indecent game, it should be the last party on earth to bear that name.

November 29, 2016

The Hungarian opposition remains in disarray

A week ago, on Thursday, the Hungarian opposition parties, with the exception of LMP and Jobbik, got together to discuss the issue of holding a primary election to determine the relative strength of the parties when it comes to choosing candidates for the 106 electoral districts. This is the pet project of Párbeszéd (Dialogue), the latest name of Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), whose best-known politicians are Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Zugló (District XIV), and Tímea Szabó. Another small party that embraced the idea was Együtt (Together), the party Gordon Bajnai organized before the 2010 elections. It is led nowadays by Viktor Szigetvári and Péter Juhász. Együtt, despite its name, shows very little inclination to work together with others. Szigetvári and Juhász said they will not be part of any effort to forge a joint campaign against Fidesz. They will go their own way. Depending on which opinion poll one consults, support for Párbeszéd and Együtt among active voters is about 1-2% each.

A week ago Együtt showed up for the first meeting because, as the party leaders explained, they are ready to talk about primary elections, which they consider a good idea, but that’s as far as they’ll go. And indeed, they didn’t attend yesterday’s meeting. Instead, they sent an e-mail informing the others of their decisions.

The opposition leaders on October 23. Népszava optimistically predicted that the opposition's cooperation is imminent / Photo: Ádám Molnár

The opposition leaders on October 23. Népszava optimistically predicted that cooperation among the opposition parties was imminent / Photo: Ádám Molnár

At the negotiating table were some parties and party leaders very few people have ever heard of. I have in mind in particular two tiny parties, both of which can be placed on the far left. The first is the Balpárt, established in 2014 and led by Szilárd Kalmár, a former MSZP member with close ties to Tibor Szanyi, who is known to belong to the left wing of the party. The other relatively unknown entity is Attila Vajnai’s Európai Baloldal-MMP2006 (European Left-Hungarian Workers’ Party 2006), a party that was created from Magyar Munkáspárt (MMP), the unreformed successor of MSZMP. According to the party’s Facebook page, they have 1,818 followers. From the party’s name it is evident that Vajnai’s problem with Gyula Thürmer, chairman of MMP, was Thürmer’s pro-Russian orientation. Moreover, since then, MMP has made a sharp turn to the right. I have encountered Vajnai on the internet and found him to be a surprisingly reasonable, intelligent man.

In addition to these two, the following parties took part in the first round of discussions: Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP), Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt, Párbeszéd, Magyar Liberális Párt, and Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (MoMa/Modern Hungary Movement). After the meeting was over, the parties released a statement saying that “the negotiations were conducted in a constructive atmosphere and the parties agreed to resume the search for solutions” a week later.

And so yesterday the parties, with the exception of Együtt, got together again. Reporters waited outside for news once the negotiations were concluded. But part way through, the delegation of Gábor Fodor’s liberals left. There are two complementary versions of what happened to make the liberals leave the negotiating table. The first is the statement that appeared on the website of the party signed by Anett Bősz, the party spokeswoman. It claimed that Ferenc Gyurcsány stuck to his earlier veto of MLP’s participation. She charged that the negotiations are dominated by Gyurcsány, who accused some people of finding their own positions and parties more important than their homeland. Of course, he meant Gábor Fodor. The other version comes from the spokesman of Párbeszéd, Richárd Barabás, who announced that there was no formal vote. The liberals decided to leave after objections were made to their participation by Gyurcsány and MoMa’s Lajos Bokros.

The source of the dispute lies in Gábor Fodor’s decision to urge his followers to go to the polls and vote “yes” at the referendum as a sign of their determination to vote for Europe. His argument was that boycotting the referendum was a passive act, while his suggestion was a proactive move and therefore more determined and resolute. The other side argued that the referendum question was phrased in such a way that it was almost impossible to vote “yes” and therefore Fodor, wittingly or unwittingly, was assisting Orbán in making the referendum valid. The “yes” votes were just a small fraction of the total valid ballots cast (1.6%) and hence didn’t influence the outcome in an appreciable way. But the suspicion was that Fodor’s real goal was political: to demonstrate the strength of his party through these “yes” votes.

The second party, if you can call it that, that left shortly after the liberals was the Balpárt. It was again Gyurcsány and Bokros who objected to their presence, this time on ideological grounds. Their Wikipedia entry, which I assume was written by the party leadership, says that “the crucial role within the party’s ideology is Marxism but they don’t reject other radical left-wing social democratic directions and their representatives.” Otherwise, they compare themselves to the German Die Linke, the Greek Syriza, and the Portuguese Blocot. From the party’s online newspaper, however, a much less acceptable ideology emerges. They call ’56 “a black exclamation point in the history of the movement of the left.” It was a failure “because our late comrades were incapable of holding fast to the experiment that was launched in Russia in 1917.” In brief, after the Stalinist interlude, the Hungarian communists should have remained faithful followers of the Soviet experiment. I have to assume that Bokros and Gyurcsány also read this and similar writings in the Munkások Újsága (Workers’ Paper).

So, by the end, only MSZP, DK, Párbeszéd, MoMa, and Európai Baloldal-MMP2006 remained at the table.

Yesterday a caller to György Bolgár’s Megbeszéljük (Let’s Talk It Over) program made what I considered a good suggestion. He said that the parties should agree on an independent moderator who would chair these meetings. He suggested Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ. Bolgár subsequently got in touch with Kuncze to ask what he thought of the idea. Kuncze responded that the party leaders wouldn’t be too keen on him. Nor would he be eager to accept such a role. But he thought that direction should be given to the discussions. Without a moderator it is inevitable that one of the stronger personalities, like Gyurcsány, will dominate the discussions. There must be somebody who runs the discussion and insists on the Hungarian version of Robert’s Rules of Order. Unfortunately, I doubt that this idea will float. It’s hard to imagine the participants agreeing to have an outsider chair their discussions or, even if they agreed to this in principle, being of one mind as to who would serve as chair. It’s not the most harmonious lot.

November 4, 2016

Tamás Bauer on the task of the Hungarian opposition

I think I already mentioned a series of interviews that György Bolgár of Klubrádió initiated about a month ago. Four times a week he asks public figures critical of the present regime what advice they would offer the opposition parties to enhance their chances of winning the national election in 2018.

Until now none of the ideas of the well-known commentators or former politicians inspired me to summarize them here. But I thought the advice of Friday’s guest–Tamás Bauer, a professor of economics and former SZDSZ politician (1994-2002)–was well worth sharing.

First, I have the highest admiration for Tamás Bauer. He is a clear thinker and a man of the highest principles. Back when Zsófia Mihancsik’s Galamus was still in existence, Bauer wrote article upon article on vitally important topics, each of which was an intellectual delight. I don’t remember any of his articles I couldn’t agree with. Unfortunately, nowadays he writes only rarely, mostly on the pages of Népszabadság.

Bauer Tamas

He began the conversation by noting that Bolgár’s original question concerned only the 2018 election. But one has to widen one’s perspective, Bauer claimed. It is wrong to place the 2018 election at the center of the opposition’s thinking about Hungary’s political future. He would be a happy man if Viktor Orbán were to lose the next election. He would be even happier if he lost an early election this year, as Gyurcsány predicted. But Hungarians must first ask: “In what kind of country do we live?”

To win an election is the most normal goal for any opposition party in a parliamentary democracy. But to the question “Do we live in a democracy?” Bauer answers no. Even the functioning of the parliament is questionable. The reality the opposition parties must face and loudly proclaim is that “today there is no democracy” in Hungary. Democracy functioned for twenty years, but after 2010, on the basis of a “well-thought out, deliberate plan,” Viktor Orbán eradicated it.

The next task is to define the nature of the existing regime. Bálint Magyar calls it a “post-communist mafia state,” Rudolf Ungváry “a fascistoid mutation,” and László Bartus in his latest book a “fascist state” pure and simple. All three argue convincingly, but Bauer prefers to describe the regime as “tyranny” (önkényuralom) that is steadily moving toward dictatorship. Just to remind everybody of the dictionary definitions of “tyranny”: (1) “Unjust or oppressive governmental power”; (2) “A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.” There is no question that, at the moment, Viktor Orbán has absolute power to single-handedly decide the fate of the country.

So, what’s the next step? Bauer can’t think of a tyrannical regime in the twentieth or twenty-first century that was removed as the result of a free election. What happens is that tyrannical regimes become weakened, spent, and are eventually forced to negotiate with the opposition forces. This is what happened in Greece, Spain, and Portugal. And, of course, this is what happened in the former Soviet satellite countries where the communist parties eventually had no choice but to sit down and negotiate. In all of these cases change occurred as the result of a negotiated settlement followed by election.

So, the task of the opposition parties is not to prepare their strategy for the election but to “create a situation that will lead to the possibility of holding an election” that can shake the foundation of the regime. A “freedom movement” (szabadságmozgalom) should be established that can fight the present tyrannical regime. The opposition forces must inculcate society with the realization that they don’t live in a democracy.

But to be able to do that, the opposition parties shouldn’t act as if they operated in a democracy. If the opposition parties don’t consider the new constitution legitimate, they shouldn’t offer amendments to it. If the constitution is illegitimate, the amendments are as well. And one shouldn’t submit amendments to the constitutional court for review because it too is an illegitimate body, filled with Fidesz functionaries who were appointed without consultation with the opposition.

On the day that thugs prevented MSZP’s István Nyakó from turning in his referendum question József Tóbiás, the party chairman, said something to the effect that “this morning when I woke up I thought I was living in a country of rule of law.” “Where does this man live?” asks Bauer.

These politicians behave as if they lived in a democratic country. The opposition parties (but Bauer is talking mostly about MSZP) shouldn’t initiate parliamentary debates. They shouldn’t interpellate. Under the circumstances the whole procedure is a mockery, especially when the member of parliament finishes his interpellation with the words: “I’m expecting your esteemed answer.” Or, when opposition politicians refer to Viktor Orbán as “miniszterelnök úr” when speaking with journalists.

At this point Bolgár interrupted Bauer and asked what he thought of boycotting parliament altogether. Boycotting parliament is something people are increasingly talking about as a possible answer to the present political situation. Ferenc Gyurcsány, for example, suggested it as a reaction to the referendum scandal at the National Election Office. Bauer very rightly pointed out that a boycott shouldn’t be introduced as an answer to one particular grievance. After all, if the regime buckled, it would do so only on one particular issue. The referendum case is only a symptom, the real problem is the whole tyrannical system. As for a total boycott, at the moment Bauer wouldn’t support it, although he added that it might be necessary in the future. On the other hand, he is convinced that the opposition members of the Budapest city council should have boycotted the body in 2014 because it was only a few weeks before the municipal elections that the government changed the rules of the game to ensure a Fidesz victory, without which the party would have lost the city.

What the opposition has to do is to let society know that “we are alive.” It is not true that the Orbán regime is a “mafia dictatorship.” There are two million people behind Fidesz, and the party has a distinct worldview with nationalism, anti-capitalism, and hostility toward the poor as its components. What the opposition should do is to take contrary stances on all of these issues, unlike now when the socialists in particular dread dealing with government positions they think their voters also support. “Such behavior must be rejected.” For example, MSZP endorsed voting rights for dual citizens just because they feared a backlash. They also must take a clear stand against all anti-capitalist measures–for example, lowering the cost of utilities because the whole scheme is economically and even morally wrong. The opposition should fight resolutely against nationalism and stress Hungary’s adherence to European integration. Finally, it should be a vocal defender of the poor and the downtrodden as opposed to Fidesz’s support of the upper middle class.

Finally, Bauer touched upon the question of cooperation among the parties on the left since almost every commentator stresses the necessity of such collaboration. Yes, Bauer says, these parties should work together, but not just before the election as they did last time and as they plan to do now. It is very difficult to forge cooperation in the middle of an election campaign. Collaboration should begin immediately. Every demonstration should be supported by all parties unlike in the past. For example, today’s demonstration outside the Várkert Bazár where Viktor Orbán delivered his yearly “state of the nation” speech was supported only by Együtt and PM. Even that way, they had about 2,000 vocal people demonstrating against the Orbán regime. Imagine how large the crowd would have been if both MSZP and DK had supported the demonstration.

If these parties listen to Bauer, which I doubt, they should start joint demonstrations against the proposed referendum on the quota system and against the fence that Orbán wants to extend along the Romanian-Hungarian border. They have to show that there is strength on their side. They have to show a political alternative on the basis of which one day they will most likely be able to negotiate with the weakened tyrannical regime of Viktor Orbán. But first, the opposition forces must weaken it until Orbán and company have to throw in the towel.

February 28, 2016

The sorry state of the Hungarian opposition

I stumbled on today’s topic this morning when I read one of András Stumpf’s vitriolic articles that appeared in Mandiner on February 12. It was about a piece on a relatively new blog called Nyugati Fény (Western Light) which, according to Stumpf, referred to him, along with Zsolt Bayer and András Bencsik, as “a Fidesz propagandist nobody.” The author specifically objected to an article by Stumpf in which he talked about the “hysteria” that was created by the opposition around the topic of “child hunger.” Stumpf called the description of his article unfair because Nyugati Fény portrayed his attitude toward child hunger as cynical. After reading Stumpf’s original article, I came to the conclusion that Nyugati Fény’s comments were largely justified.

Stumpf was deeply offended and immediately began to search for who could possibly be behind Nyugati Fény. It didn’t take him long to find his answer. Back in December the right-wing Pesti Srácok reported on a tweet by Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair of Együtt (Together), claiming that Nyugati Fény is DK’s “party blog,” written by three prominent DK politicians: István Vágó, Zsolt Gréczy, and Viktor Mandula. Szigetvári repeated his accusation on Facebook.

This time Nyugati Fény tore into Viktor Szigetvári. The occasion was Szigetvári’s negative comments on Ferenc Gyurcsány ideas about political strategy that he decided to share with the editors of Magyar Idők. In his Facebook note he claimed that Ferenc Gyurcsány himself admitted that the “communication team of DK” supervises Nyugati Fény and another new blog called Európa Kávézó. According to Szigetvári, Gyurcsány even organized a meeting for him with Viktor Mandula, who during their talk suggested that if Együtt stops criticizing DK, the anonymous blogs will cease their abusive comments against his party and Szigetvári himself. After this revelation he immediately attacked DK, whose behavior he considered dishonorable.

Illustration accompanying the article against Viktor Szigetvári in Nyugati Fény

Illustration in the article against Viktor Szigetvári in Nyugati Fény

I believe this single incident speaks volumes about the state of the Hungarian opposition. As for whether Nyugati Fény is in the service of DK or not, I doubt it. Several articles published there simply don’t fit the picture we have of Gyurcsány’s party. As Júlia Lévai, a frequent blogger herself, pointed out in a comment to Szigetvári’s post, such articles as “The liberal migrant policy is clearly a failure” couldn’t possibly have been written by one of the politicians of DK. Or, what about an article in which the blogger attacked György Kakuk, one of the leading members of the party? István Vágó himself wrote a comment to Szigetvári’s post in which he recalled that he had written several times that he has nothing to do with Nyugati Fény, but “it seems that Mr. Szigetvári writes his posts without paying any attention to the comments.” As for Európai Kávézó, it is most likely written by someone who is an uncritical DK supporter. For example, one of the articles is titled “Gyurcsány shows the way.” But, of course, this doesn’t mean that the blog is the product of DK’s communication team.

There is friction among all the parties on the left. Magyar Idők gleefully announced on February 3 that “the left wants nothing to do with Gyurcsány’s program.” Szigetvári made a statement to the government paper in which called his party’s solutions, unlike those of Gyurcsány, “sober and moderate.” “We don’t believe in free water or a flat tax.” There can be no collaboration on the basis of such a program. Együtt has its own program, its own alternatives, and its own candidates. Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM/Dialogue) announced that it is not interested in the programs of other parties. Keep in mind that each of these two parties has only one percent support. The socialists (MSZP) also said that they pay no attention to the other parties. In fact, Chairman József Tóbiás talked about this in an interview he gave to the government mouthpiece.

The depth of the division among opposition parties is highlighted in an article about a roundtable discussion organized by the Republikon Intézet on the topic of holding primaries ahead of the elections, during which possible candidate for the premiership could emerge. As the reporter said, “after about half an hour the representatives of MSZP, DK, PM, and the liberals were exchanging personal attacks.” Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) told Bence Tordai of PM that he should be more modest because he talks as if his party had 40% of the electorate behind it. Tordai shot back: “perhaps more modesty should be shown after the last twenty-five years.” Soon enough it became evident that these people are incapable of cooperation even though they know that alone they are incapable of winning the election. Szigetvári’s Együtt didn’t even send a representative. That LMP wasn’t there surprised no one.

And I haven’t even talked about the Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (MOMA) of Lajos Bokros. Bokros was severely criticized lately by the other opposition parties for organizing a demonstration on his own protesting the planned amendment to the constitution that would allow the government to declare a state of terror threat and assume widespread powers. Again, the parties pointed fingers at one another. MOMA charged that the other parties simply didn’t support it, while the others claimed that MOMA never asked them to participate. The number of demonstrators was predictably small.

The sad part of all this is that when one encounters these people individually in interview situations they come across as sympathetic, intelligent, and reasonable. Their views are not terribly far apart. Yet when they begin to denounce each other, one feels frustrated and loses hope that they will ever be able to form a united front against the present regime.

It may be Valentine’s Day, but love is not in the air in the Hungarian opposition.

February 14, 2016

Political action and the critical mass

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.

crowd1

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.

January 21, 2016

Demands for Viktor Orbán’s resignation

Today is one of those days that I have no idea what will happen between beginning to write this post and uploading it. One thing, however, I can be pretty sure of: I don’t have to worry that by tomorrow morning Viktor Orbán will not be the prime minister of Hungary. Although that is what the opposition would like to see.

This morning’s editorial in Népszabadság demanded Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s resignation. And, indeed, Szijjártó’s situation was deemed so grave that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself came to his rescue. At a press conference in Sopron he said that he was the one who decided that all government money invested in bonds issued by private financial institutions must be withdrawn immediately. He announced his decision at the Thursday, March 4th cabinet meeting. The Hungarian National Trading House subsequently withdrew 3.8 billion forints from Quaestor on Monday, March 9th. That very evening Csaba Tarsoly, CEO of Quaestor, announced his firm’s bankruptcy.

The problem with this story is that it doesn’t jibe with earlier statements of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade that praised the Trading House officials who “acted conscientiously when, observing the market developments,” they opted to withdraw Trading House’s money from Quaestor. Because, according to the letter the ministry sent to cink.hu, there was real panic in the first days of March “when the majority of Quaestor’s clients began withdrawing their assets.” The problem with this explanation is that it is not true. There was no outward sign of trouble at Quaestor at the time. Once Orbán decided to bear the odium of what appeared to be insider trading on the part of government agencies, the ministry discovered that its earlier explanation did not accurately reflect the situation and that in fact the prime minister’s version was the correct one.

Many political reporters were stunned when they heard that Orbán had decided to be the fall guy in this scandal. “In the first moment I didn’t understand how [Orbán] could do something like that,” László Szily of cink.hu saidM. Kasnyk of 444.hu at first couldn’t believe that the story was true. After all, with this admission Orbán threw himself into a quagmire of monumental proportions with a possibly serious political fallout. But it seems that Viktor Orbán is confident about his invincibility. He thinks that his position is secure and that he has nothing to fear. Given the Hungarian parliamentary rules he is probably right, although the opposition parties appear to be united in demanding his resignation.

As we learn more about the events leading up to the collapse of Quaestor, it seems that the Fidesz political leadership had been aware that Csaba Tarsoly’s financial empire was in serious trouble for some time. A high-ranking member of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus told an Index reporter that it was likely after Buda-Cash’s collapse that there would be other bankruptcies. He specifically mentioned Hungaria Értékpapír and Quaestor, both of which subsequently failed.

But let’s return to why Viktor Orbán decided to speak up. Most likely because he realized that Péter Szijjártó was in big trouble. He had illegally invested government assets in a shaky private business venture and then, presumably equally illegally, had withdrawn 3.8 billion forints just before Quaestor’s collapse. Orbán gave this young man a critically important position, one that he was not prepared for. But Orbán is not the kind of man who would ever admit that he made a wrong decision, and therefore it would never occur to him to remove Szijjártó from his position. Also, Szijjártó served him with undivided loyalty for such a long time that perhaps Orbán feels obliged to defend him.

Viktor Orbán announcing that it was him who ordered the withdrawal of government assets from Quaestor

Viktor Orbán announcing his decision to withdraw government assets from Quaestor

Let’s take a quick look at the opposition parties’ reaction to Viktor Orbán’s announcement. Párbeszéd Magyarországért/Dialogue for Hungary (PM) was the first to announce their decision to press charges against government officials who, they believe, are guilty of insider trading. Tímea Szabó, co-chair of the party, naively said that they will demand the audiotape of the March 4th cabinet meeting. Good luck! As far as I know, no records of Orbán’s cabinet meetings are kept in any shape or form. Orbán made that decision already in 1998 when he first became prime minister. He didn’t want to become a second Nixon.

Együtt/Together decided that, while they were at it, they might as well send Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, into retirement alongside his old friend, the prime minister. DK is also pressing charges, and they “would like it if the prime minister would assume financial responsibility with his own assets” for the losses at Quaestor. LMP’s spokesman, a practicing lawyer, talked about insider trading, which is a serious crime and for which long jail terms are normally handed down. He even offered an explanation of what might have happened. In his opinion, it was through the close relationship between Szijjártó and Tarsoly that the information leaked out and spread within the Orbán administration. He also raised the possibility that with the ministry withdrawing about 20 billion forints, Szijjártó may have been partially responsible for the collapse of Quaestor. Gábor Fodor of the Liberális Párt (LP) wrote a letter to the prime minister which Orbán will have to answer at the latest in three weeks’ time. Fodor wants to know exactly how Orbán ordered the ministers to withdraw government assets from private firms. Was it in a letter and, if yes, who were the addressees?

Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (MoMa), the party of Lajos Bokros, called the Hungarian state under Victor Orbán a “den of criminals.” He called attention to the seriousness of insider trading for which “in the United States and in Great Britain people receive very long jail sentences.” In Hungary, he claimed, important government officials are involved in such practices. Bokros also wanted to know “how the ministry of foreign affairs and trade has extra money to invest.”

Several MSZP politicians talked about the case and they all called for Viktor Orbán’s resignation. Jobbik’s János Volner, chairman of the parliamentary committee on promoting entrepreneurial activities, plans to convene a meeting where he expects Péter Szijjártó and the leading official of the Hungarian National Bank to answer the committee’s questions. If they don’t get satisfactory answers, they are ready to go as far as the European Union.

Fidesz is stonewalling. The party “doesn’t fall for the socialists’ provocations because after all it was the left that in the socialist broker scandal [i.e., the Buda-Cash collapse] abandoned the Hungarian people.” And in any case, “it is MSZP, Gyurcsány and Bajnai who are involved in the network of brokerages.” I have no idea what the Fidesz spokesman is talking about here.

The last piece of news I read before sitting down to write this post said that MSZP is inviting all other opposition parties to a meeting tomorrow. We will see what the reaction to this call is. If they manage to form a common front, it will be a first.