Among the left-of-center opposition parties it is only the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) that openly opposes extending voting rights to those people in the neighboring countries who acquired citizenship as the result of a registration drive organized by the Orbán government in the last five or six years. The others all join Fidesz in embracing the unity of the Hungarian nation across borders, which carries the right to vote as a given, and they openly disapprove of DK’s anti-voting-rights rhetoric. Critics maintain that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party are only taking advantage of the general xenophobia whipped up by the Orbán government since the beginning of 2015.
Yet opinion polls going all the way back to 2010 when the question of dual citizenship and voting rights was first discussed confirm that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians living within the Trianon borders are against granting voting rights to members of the Hungarian minorities living outside the borders. A May 2010 Medián poll showed that 71% of the adult population was against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship to Hungarians in the neighboring countries. In July 2012 Medián repeated the poll. It showed that, despite Fidesz and Jobbik support, slightly over 70% of the population disapproved of Fidesz’s brainchild. Five years later, in 2017, public opinion was still strongly against voting rights as well as against providing dual citizens with pensions, paid leave for new mothers, travel discounts, welfare benefits, and the very generous financial support that goes to political parties, cultural organizations, and churches in the four neighboring countries: Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.
In 2014 Fidesz’s two-thirds parliamentary majority resulted from the one extra seat the party gained from the dual citizens, 98% of whom voted for Fidesz. By now, thanks to the tenacious citizenship drive conducted by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, whose only occupation seems to be making sure that the largest possible number of people register to vote, it is predicted that Fidesz may receive three or four extra seats from the votes of dual citizens.
Left-of-center opposition parties, fearing a backlash from abroad, have supported the pro-minority “national policy” of the Orbán government, hoping to extend their own influence in Hungarian-inhabited areas of Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. In this spirit, Gergely Karácsony and Gyula Molnár visited Transylvania to assure Hungarians there that the current generous level of support for them will not be reduced after a possible change of government. Moreover, the Transylvanian Hungarians have nothing to fear about their right to vote. In fact, MSZP is thinking of making some changes that would offer them further advantages. For example, whereas now they can vote only for party lists, the socialists would establish voting districts with local candidates to vote for. I find this idea fraught with danger. Given the number of registered voters in Transylvania alone, I can’t imagine that the political leaders of the Hungarian minority would be satisfied with two or three electoral districts in Romania. And what about Serbia’s Voivodina autonomous region? I don’t think that these politicians thought through the possible consequences of such a move.
The trip that Gyula Molnár and Gábor Karácsony undertook to extend a hand to the Hungarian voters in Transylvania was a flop. No, it was more than a flop. The two were deeply humiliated by the chairman of RMDSZ (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség/Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România), Hunor Kelemen, whom they invited to dinner. After the meeting was over, Kelemen, in an interview with a local internet news site, reported that he had told the opposition politicians that they shouldn’t even bother to campaign in Transylvania. “It is a waste of time.”
Molnár and Karácsony were presumably aware of RMDSZ’s solidly pro-Fidesz stance. The leading Hungarian party in Romania considers Fidesz-KDNP’s “national policy” excellent, something that should be continued. “The Hungarians of Transylvania know full well for whom to vote,” said Kelemen. Magyar Idők called the Karácsony-Molnár trip a “suicide mission to Transylvania.” Naturally, the government paper was only too happy to describe the indignity the opposition politicians suffered in Kolozsvár/Cluj and the total commitment of RMDSZ to the Fidesz cause. Kelemen’s party, in fact, is working to advance Fidesz’s citizenship- and voter-registration drive on money provided by the Hungarian government to Eurotrans, a RMDSZ foundation. Given this backdrop, I have no idea what Karácsony and Molnár wanted to discuss with Hunor Kelemen.
Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM), a Transylvanian native, expressed his disgust with Kelemen’s behavior. In his opinion, Kelemen behaved boorishly when he made public the contents of a private conversation. He affronted not only the two politicians but also those who are not followers of Fidesz. TGM as well as others consider Kelemen’s antagonistic attitude toward Karácsony and Molnár, who support voting rights for Hungarian nationals living in the neighboring countries, a political mistake because “the majority of the Hungarian public in this question agree with [Ferenc] Gyurcsány, including a not insignificant portion of right-wing voters.” András Jámbor in Mérce also alluded to Kelemen’s bad political instincts because, in his opinion, Kelemen’s statement “only adds fuel to the fire stoked by the Demokratikus Koalíció because it hopes to gain votes from the general antagonism toward Hungarians living across the borders.” Actually, the fire doesn’t need much stoking, as older public opinion polls demonstrate.
I should add that Kelemen in that interview also stated that there are only two parties with which he refuses to have any formal relations: Jobbik and the Demokratikus Koalíció. Jobbik, given its nationalistic ideology, by and large supports Fidesz’s policies as far as the Hungarian minorities are concerned. When last November the government gave 325 million forints for the continuation of the citizenship drive to RMDSZ’s foundation, Gábor Vona favored the decision, saying that “government support of the Hungarian national minorities is important and has been successful.” Jobbik by now is not a far-right party; in fact, it may be closer to the center-right than Fidesz itself. Therefore, Kelemen’s disavowal of Jobbik doesn’t rest on ideological grounds. It is most likely the result of what looks like a life-and-death struggle between Fidesz and Jobbik.
RMDSZ’s animosity toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Demokratikus Koalíció, on the other hand, is completely understandable. In 2010 there were only three members of parliament who voted against the law that extended citizenship to by now close to one million people: Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, and Tibor Szanyi. Three other socialists–József Baracskai, Lajos Oláh, and Iván Vitányi–abstained. Of this group Gyurcsány, Molnár, Oláh, and Vitányi are members of the Demokratikus Koalíció today. So, there is a long history of DK’s opposition to Fidesz’s “national unification across borders” policy.
Critics of the left-of-center opposition parties often complain about their political leaders’ lack of sharply delineated positions. One such issue is nationalism. It is hopeless to try to outdo Fidesz in nationalist rhetoric. Moreover, should they even try? The trouble is that, time and again, left-of-center parties mimic Fidesz, even in word usage. The Fidesz leadership years ago ordered its politicians to use the adjective “Hungarian” in front of “people,” whether that qualifier was necessary or not. In no time, everybody, including the opposition, was throwing “magyar emberek” around. This is a small example but unfortunately typical. Going to Transylvania and offering more money to buy them away from Fidesz is a hopeless, even disgraceful undertaking.