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.
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.