Tag Archives: politicians

Publicus Institute: Civic groups and political parties

Two month have gone by since the publication (in Vasárnapi Hírek) of the Publicus Institute’s opinion poll on the teachers’ demonstrations. At that time the overwhelming majority (76%) of Hungarians sympathized with the teachers and thought that their demands were justified. Publicus decided to expand its inquiry to learn more about people’s opinions of the relationship between civic initiatives and party politics. This is a timely survey because there are many who, disappointed in party politics, are placing their trust exclusively in civic leaders. In fact, in the past at least, organizers of demonstrations practically forbade party leaders to attend their rallies. They were petrified that Fidesz-KDNP would label them agents of the opposition parties.

Such an attitude was self-defeating. In the first place, no amount of protestation would convince the government of their “innocence.” After every demonstration Fidesz found at least one organizer who earlier had had some vague connection to parties. It’s enough to think of an employee of  the Ökotárs Foundation responsible for handing the Norwegian grants to Hungary who, as Fidesz discovered, was at one point a member of LMP. Balázs Gulyás, organizer of one of the largest demonstrations of late, turned out to be the son of an MSZP EP member and a former party member himself. And Fidesz quickly learned that István Pukli, the principal organizer of the teachers’ demonstrations, was once also an MSZP member. In the eyes of Fidesz, everybody who demonstrates against the government is by definition a traitor who wants to topple the legitimate Hungarian government.

The civic leaders who organized demonstrations were also convinced that their supporters would abandon them if it turned out that they were in any way involved in party politics. Therefore before every demonstration stern warnings were issued demanding distance from the opposition parties. This attitude benefited only Fidesz and the government since, in general, one-off actions of civic groups don’t prompt the government to change its mind. Yes, as the result of a mass demonstration that got wide coverage in the foreign press the Orbán government, after a week of confusion and mixed signals, gave up the idea of a steep internet tax . But that’s all civic organizers have managed to achieved to date. The repeal of the law governing Sunday store closings resulted from the doggedness of MSZP, although clearly public sentiment supported their efforts.

If civic leaders feared a backlash from their supporters if they solicited the assistance of parties in their struggle for change, they can now breathe a sigh of relief. We know from the latest poll of the Publicus Institute that a large majority of Hungarians believe that civic groups should work together with parties. So, from here on perhaps leaders of civic organizations might take a few steps toward forging closer ties with the larger democratic parties.

Let’s dig a little deeper into attitudes regarding the relationship between civic groups and parties. Seventy-two percent of the respondents think that although it is natural that civic groups fight for their interests, alone they will not be able to achieve their aims. Sixty-three percent urge cooperation between civic groups and the opposition parties. On this question MSZP and Jobbik supporters, on the one hand, and Fidesz followers, on the other, think very differently. The voters of the former two parties are strong advocates of cooperation (89% and 83%) while the majority of Fidesz voters oppose it.

The Publicus Institute also returned to its earlier topic of the civic movements that have been taking center stage in Hungarian domestic politics. Interest in the efforts of the teachers, doctors, and nurses is still high. Eighty-five percent of Hungarians follow the events and support the organizers’ goals. At the same time, they expect politicians to solve the current problems of education and healthcare. Seventy-two percent of the respondents think that “if no definite steps are taken by opposition politicians, there is no other solution but for civic groups to lead the way.” However, a large percentage of the same people believe that if these groups try to go it alone, their cause will be lost (47%).

Support for the teachers is still high (62%), but lower than it was in mid-February when it was 76%. It seems that government propaganda has succeeded in convincing Fidesz loyalists that the Orbán administration has been doing its best to solve the problems but the teachers are reluctant to engage in well-intentioned dialogue. Twenty percent of Fidesz voters and 10% of Jobbik supporters have been won over by government propaganda. On the other hand, MSZP voters are more determined than ever to see the teachers win their case.

credibility

While people know that without politicians and political parties the opposition forces have no chance of succeeding, they still have no trust in individual politicians. The Publicus Institute chose eleven public figures who have in one way or another been connected with the education and healthcare movements. The question was: “How credibly do the following people represent the cause of education/healthcare?” Among the eleven names there were five politicians: Zoltán Pokorni (Fidesz), Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP), Dóra Dúró (Jobbik), István Hiller (MSZP), László Palkovics (Fidesz), and Zoltán Balog (Fidesz). On the whole, the politicians did badly. On a scale of 1 to 100, Balog and Palkovics came in last, each getting 44 points. István Hiller, minister of education during the second Gyurcsány and the Bajnai governments, didn’t do much better (45 points). Dóra Dúró, the Jobbik politician specializing in education, received 49 points. Only two politicians got more than 50 points: Zoltán Pokorni and Ágnes Kunhalmi. Pokorni, minister of education between 1998-2001, is the odd man out in this group because he retired from national politics some time ago, most likely not entirely on his own volition. He is no longer in parliament and has been tucked away as mayor of District XII since 2006. Ágnes Kunhalmi is, in my opinion, a promising young politician who is the chair of the Budapest MSZP group. She was given the task of focusing on educational matters, although I have the feeling that the party could make better use of her talents.

The star of the civic leaders is Mária Sándor, the nurse in black. Almost 90% of the people know who she is and 75% have trust in her. Other figures in the movement are less well known and received lower scores. Katalin Törley, co-chair of the Tanitanék Movement, got 57 points. Mrs. István Galló, leader of the larger teacher’s union, received 56 points; László Mendrey, the other trade union leader, got 55 points; and István Pukli, principal of the Blanka Teleki Gymnasium, got 51 points. So, all the civic leaders scored over 50 points while only two of the six politicians did so. In brief, politicians have to improve their image if they hope to take part in the upsurge of civic initiatives.

Opposition politicians should make every effort to deflate and combat the long-standing Fidesz propaganda, which unfortunately has been far too effective in besmirching the reputation of MSZP and SZDSZ politicians. Their accomplishments have been underrated and their failures exaggerated. It would be time to stand up and defend those policies that deserve praise. For example, teachers were far from satisfied with the state of education before 2010, and by all estimates most of them voted for Fidesz. Yet today they admit that, despite all the shortcomings, their and their students’ lot was much better before the arrival of Viktor Orbán’s Christian-national regime. Maybe it is time to drive home that truth.

April 17, 2016

Introducing two young civic leaders: Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss

At this moment another demonstration is taking place in Budapest. Again thousands are out on the streets. This time they’re demonstrating against the Orbán government’s effort to steal the private pension savings of those 60,000 people who four years ago when the government decided to “nationalize” the accumulated savings of 3 million people opted to leave their savings in private funds despite all sorts of threats.  As it turned out, their decision was wise. These funds did well over the years and by now the average investor has 3.5 million forints in his account. According to estimates, if the government manages to get hold of the savings in these pension funds, it will reap another 200 billion forints. Admittedly, this is a great deal less than the 3 trillion that was brazenly expropriated in 2010, but it looks as if the Hungarian budget is in desperate need of new sources of revenue.

Although it is too early to write anything meaningful about this latest demonstration, it offers an opportunity to say something about the recent demonstrations in general and to acquaint readers with two of their organizers. First, rumor has it that, appearances notwithstanding, the Fidesz leadership is worried about the long-term effects of the demonstrations on Fidesz’s support and image. Apparently, next week the party’s top brass will get together to discuss the situation.

Early on, Fidesz politicians thought that if they retreated on the question of an internet tax the demonstrations would disappear. They were also happy to hear that the organizers of some of the demonstrations don’t want anything to do with politics. Yet there are signs of grave trouble because dissatisfaction with the government is widespread. “Today we don’t really know whom we should appease.”

Here I would like to introduce the organizers of the Facebook group “We will not be silent!” To focus on this group is especially timely because I just learned that one of the speakers of the November 17 gathering in front of the parliament building, Balázs Nemes, who was asked to speak at today’s demonstration, refused to participate because not only a civic group but a political party, Együtt, is involved. And this group doesn’t want to cooperate with any existing parties. In their eyes, the parties are all the same. This group was the one that immediately rejected “the advances of Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK.”

Some of the more seasoned politicians of the democratic parties, for example, Gábor Kuncze, reacted to Balázs Nemes’s November 17 speech rather heatedly on television. He objected to the speaker’s condemnation of the entire period between 1989 and 2014. ATV decided to have Kuncze meet Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss, another organizer of the group. On Sunday the three appeared on Antónia Mészáros’s “Szabad szemmel” program. It was a very informative twenty minutes. My conclusion was that it is unlikely that these particular young people will be the catalysts of regime change in Hungary.

My problem with them was not that they are inexperienced and somewhat ignorant of the political events of the last twenty-five years, but that they didn’t grasp Kuncze’s simple, logical explanation of why their ideas were fallacious. Although the conversation was about 20 minutes long, here I will concentrate on two points that Kuncze made. The first was his description of the difference between the first twenty and the last five years. The second was his emphasis on the necessity of parties and politicians.

The position of Nemes and Kiss was that the earlier governments did something so terribly wrong that it inevitably led to Fidesz’s illiberal governance. Kuncze’s position, on the other hand, was–which he tried to explain at least two different ways to no avail–that yes, past governments didn’t do a good job and the electorate punished them for their bad governance. They lost the election. The problem is not the two-thirds majority but what Fidesz did with it in parliament. In 1994 the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition had more than a two-thirds majority, but the Horn-Kuncze government did not change the constitution or the electoral law, did not appoint party hacks to the constitutional court, and did not build an illiberal state. When the people of Hungary voted for Fidesz, they did not anticipate what was coming. After all, Fidesz did not have a party program. In fact, Viktor Orbán said not a word about his plans. So, the present government’s governing style is not the necessary and inevitable result of the bad governance of earlier governments.

I kept watching the faces of these two young people, and it seemed that they didn’t understand what Kuncze was getting at. Nemes muttered something about a “qualitative” difference between the earlier governments and the one today, but he didn’t grasp the essential difference between them. As for Petra Kiss, she, in my opinion, is even more hostile to everything that happened before 2010. She is also more naive about what one can achieve without parties and politicians. As Kuncze pointed out, if they want to remain involved then sooner or later either they will have to make peace with the present democratic opposition or they themselves will have to create parties. Kiss dreamily announced that for the time being they don’t want to do anything concrete. They just want young people to remain engaged. This is a fine idea, but surely it is not enough if these people are serious about sending the Orbán government packing. She also stressed that “there should be many, many parties,” as if she were totally ignorant of the current electoral law that precludes the existence of many small parties against the Fidesz monolith. All in all, I doubt that these two new stars of the November 17th demonstration will be ready by either 2016 or 2018 for serious roles in a new political constellation.

As for cooperation among the various groups, the prospects are not auspicious. The organizers of the demonstration against the internet tax refused to cooperate with the “We will not be silent!” group. Balázs Nemes was invited by the organizers of today’s demonstration but refused to participate. Meanwhile, their Facebook page is full of criticism of their position. Most of the comments talk about the necessity of cooperation between civic movements and parties. Some accuse the organizers of “not hearing the voice of the masses.” Or, “in my opinion this party neutrality is going in the wrong direction.” Critical comments don’t seem to make a dent on this group’s leaders.

I still think that these demonstrations are important and I’m also sure that some of these Young Turks will have political roles in the future, but I don’t think that Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss will be among them.

Viktor Szigetvári’s mistaken notions about current Hungarian politics

Heti Válasz discovered me. As it is clear from the article, the journalists of the magazine know who I am, but only as someone who formerly contributed to Galamus and who appeared a few times on Klubrádió. Both were years ago. For example, the last regular article I wrote for Galamus was in May 2011.

This is the first time my name appeared in Heti Válasz. Once before Tamás Fricz, someone who calls himself a political scientist, mentioned me in Magyar Hírlap in connection with his attack on Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton. The Heti Válasz piece is a variation on this theme.

I rarely look at Twitter. I simply don’t have time to follow thousands of tweets. When there is a crisis somewhere I may follow the comments of journalists on the spot, but otherwise I ignore the little bird. Therefore it was unlikely that I would have discovered Viktor Szigetvári’s pearls of wisdom that he finds time to dispense on Twitter. But Twitter decided that I had been neglecting them and sent me an e-mail listing some of the topics I might be interested in. The very first item on the list was a comment by Szigetvári from March 12. It read: “jogilag és tartalmilag kim lane scheppele-nél pontosabb és mégis visszafogott értékelés plankó és herczeg uraktól” (in legal terms as well as in content a more precise and more moderate analysis than that of Kim Lane Scheppele from Messrs Pankó and Herczeg). And he gave the link to an article in 444.

I could hardly believe my eyes. Not because Viktor Szigetvári the private person thinks that Messrs Pankó and Herczeg are better legal scholars than one of the most prominent experts on Hungarian constitutional law but because I found it astonishing that a politician could be so unskilled that he would make his criticism public. A politician should never turn against supporters of his cause. And Scheppele’s views more or less coincide with the opinions of the Hungarian opposition. They, like Scheppele, find many of the changes introduced by the Orbán government unconstitutional, undemocratic, and therefore unacceptable.

I’m trying to imagine a situation in which one of Viktor Orbán’s politicians would openly criticize a leading conservative theoretician who just wrote a glowing report on the Orbán government. I wonder how long this man or woman would remain part of the team. Not a minute, I’m sure. And I wouldn’t blame Viktor Orbán for getting rid of the person. In politics, party loyalty is important. If someone cannot adhere to this basic rule of the game he or she should get out of politics. This is a price you pay when you decide to become a politician. And this loyalty extends to supporters as well. A politician doesn’t weaken his party’s case by calling an argument supportive of that case imprecise and inferior.

confusion3

It was for this reason that I decided to engage in a dialogue with Viktor Szigetvári. If he had decided to admit his mistake I would have left it at that. But he insisted that his open criticism of Scheppele was a most normal and acceptable way of talking about one’s supporters. After all, he has the right to express his opinion. He is mistaken. He as a politician doesn’t have this privilege. He might tell his friends what he thinks, though even that might not be a smart move. In no time it can become common knowledge that X has a low opinion of Y or that X doesn’t agree with the party’s strategy. Soon we may hear from friends and acquaintances that there are huge political differences among the top leaders of the party or coalition. In fact, this kind of talk reached me from many quarters over the last few months.

One could retort that I’m advocating a  monolithic and therefore undemocratic party structure like that of Fidesz. But that would be a misunderstanding. I encourage broad debate, but only inside the party. Every time the opposition parties are accused of not having a unified voice, as is often the case, a pious explanation comes about the virtues of diversity. But that is no more than self-delusion. Especially when the stakes are so high and one’s opponent is a truly monolithic party. Under such circumstances one cannot afford the luxury of speaking in many tongues or criticizing one another in public. That’s why I said that Viktor Szigetvári shouldn’t entertain political ambitions. Unfortunately, as co-chair of Együtt 2014, he does.

From our exchange I came to the conclusion that Szigetvári’s main problem with Kim Scheppele is that she is too harsh on the Orbán government. It seems that Szigetvári still clings to the notion that one can come to some kind of understanding with Orbán’s Fidesz. It is time to wake up. One cannot make a deal with the Fidesz of today. I suspect that Szigetvári is one of the proponents of this mistaken notion just as he most likely had a hand in Együtt 2014’s mad search for the nonexistent “moderate conservative middle.”

Why should we be more moderate in our criticism of the Orbán regime? Why is the more moderate analysis of the electoral law preferable to the harsher criticism of Kim Scheppele? Whom is Szigetvári defending? Viktor Orbán? What is he defending? Orbán’s dictatorship? It looks like it. Szigetvári’s analysis is fundamentally wrong and can lead only to defeat. That’s why I decided to take him on in public.

Young Hungarians are disillusioned and feel helpless

A new study appeared a couple of days ago about the attitude of Hungarian youth between the ages of 15 and 29. Keep in mind that the people who filled out these questionnaires prepared by Kutatópont (Research Point) were born after 1984; that is, even the oldest ones were only six years old at the time of the regime change. The study is available free on the Internet. Naturally, it is impossible to cover every aspect of an in-depth study that is 350 pages long. (And, by way of confession, there was no way I could I read the whole thing in a couple of hours.) But here are its conclusions as summarized by MTI and Origo.

These young people are described as members of “the quiet generation” who don’t rebel against the value systems of their parents. They are inward looking and passive, in addition to being disillusioned. By and large they are at a loss as far as their goals in life are concerned. According to the authors, this generation most resembles the young people of the 1920s and 1930s who accepted the world as is and who believed in traditional values. If the authors are correct in their assessment, these people will soon feel very much at home thanks to Viktor Orbán’s efforts to turn the clock back and rehabilitate the Horthy regime.

Not surprisingly the least rebellious types live in villages where 52% of them agree with the worldview of their parents. In Budapest only 29% are so quiescent. Across the board when it comes to politics, they are simply not interested. Very few people even bothered to answer questions about their political opinions, most likely because they know next to nothing about the issues at hand. Two-thirds of them did not reveal their intentions about which parties they prefer and only 19% of them will most likely vote at the next elections. Naturally, they have a very low opinion of politicians in general, but I’m sure that in this respect this is not a unique group. When I once mentioned that if the change of regime had come a few decades earlier I wouldn’t have minded entering politics, my relatives were horrified at the very thought.

Apparently the quiet generation of the 1920s-1930s had great trust in the government and public institutions. In this respect this group is different. They don’t believe in anything: government, parliament, banks, the president, or the constitutional court. One ought to mention that not trusting the president and the court is a new phenomenon because in the last twenty years these two institutions received high grades from the population. So perhaps this generation is not as ignorant as we assume; perhaps it became evident to them that both the presidency and the constitutional court lost their independence. Or perhaps they just tar everybody with the same brush.

They have so little trust in the system that only 40% of them consider democracy the best possible political system and, although they never experienced it, most of them think of the Kádár regime with nostalgia. Naturally, this is what they hear at home, especially since 71% of them still live with their parents. Only 10% of them are married and only 15% of them have children.  In this age group the unemployment rate is high, 25%. All in all, young Hungarians don’t see any hope and that’s one reason that so many young people have already left the country or plan to do so. But some of them are trapped; they can’t even leave to try their luck abroad because they don’t have enough money to survive the few months while they look for a job.

ApathyOrigo‘s article inspired almost 300 comments and most of them are educational. One can read such sentences as: “In Hungary there are free elections but there is no alternative. I can’t even travel abroad because I don’t make enough money to save. They even took the money I put away in my pension plan.” Or here is another one commenting on this generation’s passivity and their lack of rebelliousness:  “But didn’t they actually want us to be like that? They wanted us to be zombies so the powers that be can lead us in the direction they want.” Or, “in my opinion all generations are responsible for the present one.” Or, “I could have written that study sitting at home…. There are no jobs, there is no social net. This government and to be honest all politicians just create one stupid law after the other. … For example, here is this national tobacco shop affair. Black market, smuggling. I am serious, idiots are sitting up there.”

The accusing fingers point overwhelmingly to the present government. For example, “not everybody can have a job with Közgép, not everybody can have a government subsidy for a horse farm. The great majority of my generation washes dishes in England and elsewhere. This is the situation.” The sentence about the horse farm is a reference to the family of Ráhel Orbán’s husband. Another loudly complains that in Orbán’s NER (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere) decisions are made from above and the people have no input. “If you don’t like it you can engage in an endless fight that you will lose, will drive you crazy, or they will do you in.” These comments support the conclusions of the study.

Zsófia Mihancsik of Galamus also wrote about the study, and she began her article with a number of pictures of crowds who gather at political demonstrations. The one taken at the Demokratikus Koalíció’s latest demonstration was ridiculed in the German-language blog, Hungarian Voice. The demonstrators’ average age seems like 65. The title: “Foto des Tages: Gyurcsány verammelt die DK-Parteijugend” followed by a one-liner: “No further comment…”  But, says Mihancsik, all political meetings are attended mostly by older people, including the pro-government demonstrators. The simple reason for that phenomenon is that younger people are not interested in politics.

I’m not even sure whether this particular generation is less interested in politics than any other of the same age bracket. Yes, there are some who plan a career in politics very early in life. For example, Bill Clinton. Or I had a student who as a junior (age 19-20) told me that after graduation he will enter local politics. He will try to become the mayor of his hometown. And you know what, he became mayor shortly after he left Yale and today he is an important member of the U.S. Senate. There are people like that but not too many. Most of them care not a whit about politics. What is different about this group becomes clear from the comments. As a result of the last five years or so, these people have lost all hope and are disgusted with the country Viktor Orbán created.