Tag Archives: voting rights

Hungarians oppose the Orbán government’s policy toward ethnic Hungarians living abroad

Originally, I considered writing about the “gala interview” that László Kövér gave to Magyar Idők yesterday. I must admit that this decision was based mostly on the couple of reactions I read, which insisted that Kövér’s interview was the craziest he has ever given, that it’s becoming apparent to everyone that the president of the Hungarian parliament is not quite normal. Index, ahead of the interview’s publication, was sure that the interview would have “exciting” parts, while a journalist from Pesti Bulvár, a liberal internet site, was flabbergasted after reading it.

So, foolish me, I thought this interview would give us new insight into Kövér as well as into the latest mindset of the Fidesz leadership. Perhaps I have developed an immunity to everything that comes from the characters who are running the country at the moment, but I found nothing new in this “gala interview.” I guess what shocked the journalists of Pesti Bulvár was that Kövér announced that he wouldn’t be surprised if the European Union collapsed in his lifetime. Kövér is 58 years old, so the timetable is pretty tight. Aside from this prophecy, Kövér repeated his belief in the conspiracy of certain clandestine powers (háttérhatalmak) that, at the time it was first floated by Viktor Orbán a year ago, consisted of the U.S. government, the Clintons, George Soros, and the civic organizations financed by him. By now the composition of this group of evil spirits has changed somewhat. After the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, “a certain segment of the intellectual, political, and economic elite” joined the conspiracy because “they are trying their best to hamstring the democratically elected president.” So, instead of the U.S. government, Kövér considers the American liberal elite part of the hidden powers that run the world. I fail to see what is new in all that.

On the other hand, there is something that is worth discussing. A new poll was just released showing that Hungarian citizens living in Hungary have serious reservations about the financial assistance given to ethnic Hungarians who live in neighboring countries. They also reject their participation in Hungarian elections.

Those of you who follow the discussions among readers of Hungarian Spectrum may recall that only a few days ago I expressed my personal misgivings about giving voting rights to people who have possibly never set foot in the country. They don’t live and work there, but now they have the right to determine the political fate of the country, possibly at the expense of those who have to carry the political and economic burden of it. Ex Tor especially took exception to my position, saying that there can be no citizenship without voting rights. At that time I looked at the electoral laws of several European countries and found that most of them do in fact grant voting rights but that there are exceptions. In any case, I believe that the Hungarian situation is unique, if for nothing else but the large number of votes expected from the neighboring countries. If the government’s plans materialize, about ten percent of all votes cast would come from abroad.

Now let’s see the results of the poll Publicus Institute published for Vasárnapi Hírek. Just as I said earlier, my hunch was that Hungarians wouldn’t mind giving citizenship to those who can prove Hungarian ancestry but who were born and still live in another country, be it one of the neighboring countries or countries such as Canada, the U.S., France, or Germany. The majority, however, object to certain privileges these ethnic Hungarians receive at the moment. They resent the sizable amount of money that is being spent on projects in the neighboring countries to benefit ethnic Hungarians. They oppose their entitlement to various social benefits in Hungary. They have serious objections to the voting rights of dual citizens. They consider the present law, which makes a distinction between new dual citizens and Hungarian citizens who work abroad, discriminatory and unfair. And when it comes to spending billions on the football academy in the Szekler-inhabited area of Romania, they are really up in arms (-81%).

Anyone who’s interested in all the details of the poll can visit Publicus’s website. Here I will summarize only the most important findings. On the whole, there is strong support (68%) for granting dual citizenship to those who want to become Hungarian citizens, but backing for the legislation that granted it varies greatly, depending on party affiliation. Fidesz and Jobbik are strong defenders of the measure, while the majority of MSZP voters object even to dual citizenship as a concept. (Publicus has the habit of putting all left-liberal parties under MSZP.)

The situation is entirely different when it comes to the fabulous amount of money the Orbán government spends on ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and Slovakia. The majority of respondents disapprove of the policy of providing social benefits similar to the ones they receive to people who have never lived in the country. People feel strongly against providing dual citizens with pensions, paid leaves for new mothers, travel discounts, and welfare benefits (60-70%), but somewhat strangely 55% would provide them with healthcare. When it comes to the reasons for Fidesz’s generosity toward ethnic Hungarians, the majority of the Hungarian voters cannot be fooled. Or at least only Fidesz voters (57%) believe in their party leaders’ altruism. The most skeptical bunch are the Jobbik voters (77%), closely followed by MSZP (74%), but uncommitted voters are not far behind (63%). The fact that new dual citizens can vote via mail as opposed to Hungarian citizens working abroad, who must travel miles to reach the embassy or a consulate, is considered to be discriminatory and unfair by 81% of the people. On the crucial question of voting rights, 57% of the respondents indicated their opposition to the present practice.

Although the Orbán government’s “national policies” (nemzetpolitika) are unpopular, the government considers the “investment” worthwhile, as is obvious from its frantic spending on Hungarian ethnic groups lately. The government spends hand over fist on those “sisters and brothers” abroad who are squarely in the Fidesz camp. The extra votes Fidesz expects to receive from them are considered to be crucial in the forthcoming election. Moreover, since there is no independent oversight of the incoming ballots, their numbers can be manipulated, depending on need. Let’s not forget that Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in 2010 was announced after the foreign votes were counted. It was highly suspicious then, and it will be equally suspicious if a similar situation occurs in 2018.

August 20, 2017

Orbán’s anti-refugee propaganda is a roaring success

I think it is time to report on the incredible hate campaign under way in Hungary in preparation for the October 2 referendum on the nonsensical question: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” The outcome of this referendum is of the utmost importance to Viktor Orbán even though it has no tangible consequences. The government is sparing neither money nor energy to ensure that the referendum is valid (that is, that more than 50% of the eligible voters participate) and that the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of the government’s position on the refugee issue.

The official campaign begins on Sunday, August 13, but the government, as usual, has paid no attention to the campaign laws of the country. For months it has been conducting a kind of “informatory intelligence drive” to prepare voters on the subject of the referendum. Of course, this is just a fancy name for illegal campaigning. For months now the government has paid for newspaper ads as well as for TV and radio spots. A month ago several huge billboards appeared in a format similar to the earlier ones that “sent a message to Brussels.”

All “messages,” this time to the Hungarian voters, start with “Did you know?” and end with “Referendum, October 2, 2016.” Let’s take them one by one and fact-check them. (1) “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis more than 300 people died as a result of terror attacks in Europe?” (2) “Did you know that Brussels wants to settle a whole city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary?” (3) “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?” (4) “Did you know that the Parisian terror attacks were committed by immigrants?” (5) “Did you know that just from Libya close to one million immigrants want to come to Europe?” (6) “Did you know that last year one and a half million immigrants arrived in Europe?”

One of the six billboards carrying anti-refugee messages

One of the six billboards carrying anti-refugee messages

As is obvious, government propaganda used a number of tricks to scare the population. For example, how big is a city? Hungary has a very long list of settlements designated as cities. Balatonföldvár with a population of 2,064 is a city, and so is Budapest with 1.75 million. I couldn’t find any with a population as small as 1,300, the number of refugees Hungary would have to take in.

One can also find outright lies among these assertions. For example, between November 2015 and July 14, 2016 there were 259 terror victims in Europe, not more than 300. I suspect that the government propagandists included in their number the victims of the terrorist attacks in Turkey. As for how many Libyans want to come to Europe in the future, this is mere speculation.

And a takeoff "Did you know that they consider you 100% stupid?

And a takeoff:  “Did you know that they consider you 100% stupid?”

The accuracy of these slogans, however, is irrelevant as far as their effectiveness is concerned. A year and a half has gone by since Viktor Orbán began a concerted hate campaign against “the migrants.” His efforts have been spectacularly successful. In Hungary 76% of the respondents now link refugees with terrorism. Moreover, 82% of Hungarians surveyed are convinced that refugees will be a burden on the social system. Viktor Orbán can be proud of his propaganda.

It has never been in doubt that those who vote in the referendum will overwhelmingly support the government position. The only question is whether the referendum will be valid. It was for this reason that some of those opposing the government and Orbán’s handling of the refugee issue urged a boycott of the referendum. Unfortunately, as usual, there was no cohesion among the democratic parties. Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció sent a clear message from the beginning. All of its leading politicians spoke with one voice: a boycott is the only reasonable reaction to this totally useless and misleading referendum question. The others were less explicit. MSZP politicians are well known for airing their personal opinions without taking into consideration the party’s official position. Or, often, the official position comes too late and by that time voters have heard three different opinions coming from three different MSZP politicians. Then there is LMP. In her incredible performance at the Fidesz-organized Bálványos Summer Free University, Bernadett Szél supported Fidesz’s call for a ‘no’ vote. By now, the party has settled for the position that “they have no opinion on the subject.” Their followers can vote (or not vote) their conscience.

At the beginning of August Závecz Research conducted a telephone survey to find out whether people intended to vote in the referendum. The enthusiasm is tremendous. At the moment the majority of population (54%) plan to vote. If they actually follow through, the referendum will be both valid and, from the government’s viewpoint, stunningly successful. Only 19% of the population claim they will stay at home. Another 23% haven’t decided yet. Of those who intend to vote, 85-90% will vote “no.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the survey is a table that links voter intentions  to party preference, especially those who decided to boycott the referendum. It looks as if only DK’s message was effective in that respect. Almost 70% of its supporters got the message and will boycott the referendum; another 20% are still undecided. MSZP with its mixed messages only managed to confuse its followers: 30% will boycott, 37% are still undecided, 17% will go but don’t how they will vote, and 11% will vote and will vote “no.” One commentator went so far as to state that “Orbán can win this referendum only with MSZP votes because there are not four million Fidesz and Jobbik voters.” But “other parties,” where LMP most likely figures large, may also contribute. Only 23% will boycott, 27% will support the government’s position, and 36% haven’t yet decided whether they will go to the polls.

Závecz Research’s survey most likely underestimates the size of the number of voters on October 2 because, for obvious reasons, they couldn’t conduct a poll among ethnic Hungarians living in the neighboring countries, among whom fierce government campaigning is taking place at present. Perhaps 100,000 ethnic Hungarians will vote on October 2 in addition to the bona fide inhabitants of the country. In 2014, 128,378 of them voted in the national election and they overwhelmingly (85.49%) supported Fidesz. The government has made it extremely easy for them to vote in Hungarian elections and referendums. Without much oversight they can vote by mail while Hungarians born in Hungary but currently working somewhere in Europe, the Americas, or Australia can vote only at Hungarian embassies or consulates, often very far from their home. The Orbán government is adamant on the subject. It even used its overwhelming majority in the Constitutional Court to support the indefensible: to maintain a distinction between Hungarians depending on their domicile. They must know what they are doing.

August 9, 2016

What does the Demokratikus Koalíció stand for?

On September 3, I wrote about an opinion piece by Tamás Bauer, vice-chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Its title was “Electoral mathematics: The Demokratikus Koalíció’s position.” Bauer argued for DK’s right, based on its numerical support, to receive at least 8 or 9 electoral districts. He added that DK’s positions on many issues differ from those of both MSZP and Együtt2014-PM and therefore it deserves a parliamentary caucus.

At the end of that post I indicated that I would like to return to DK’s political program because relatively few people are familiar with it. I had to postpone that piece due to DK’s very prompt answer to MSZP. On the next day, September 4, I posted an article entitled “The current state of the Hungarian opposition: Negotiations between MSZP and DK.”

Over the last few days it has become obvious to me that Ferenc Gyurcsány has already begun his election campaign.  Zsolt Gréczy’s appointment as DK spokesman signaled the beginning of the campaign, which was then followed by several personal appearances by Ferenc Gyurcsány where he began to outline his program. Surely, the amusing video on being a tour guide in Felcsút, “the capital of Orbanistan,” was part of this campaign. So, it’s time to talk about the party program of the Demokratikus Koalíció, especially since only yesterday Attila Mesterházy answered Ferenc Gyurcsány’s letter to him. I elaborated on that letter in my September 4 post.

You may remember that one of the sticking points between the two parties was whether DK is ready to have “an electoral alliance” as opposed to “a political alliance.” Gyurcsány in his letter to Mesterházy made light of the difference between the two, but as far as the socialists are concerned this is an important distinction. Yesterday Attila Mesterházy made that crystal clear in his answer to  Gyurcsány which he posted on his own webpage. According to him, a “political alliance” means the complete subordination of individual parties’ political creeds to the agreed upon policies.  In plain language, DK “will have to agree not to represent its own political ideas during the campaign.”

Since DK’s program thus became one of the central issues in the negotiations it is time to see in what way DK’s vision of the future differs from that of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM. Here I’m relying on Tamás Bauer’s list of the main differences.

(1) An MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM alliance following an electoral victory will only amend the new constitution and the cardinal laws that are based on this new constitution. The Demokratikus Koalíció, on the other hand, holds that the new constitution is illegitimate because it was enacted without the participation of the opposition. Therefore, according to DK, the new constitution must be repealed and the constitution of the Republic must take its place.

(2) MSZP-E14 by and large accepts the policy of Viktor Orbán on national matters and would allow people living outside of the borders to vote in national elections. The Demokratikus Koalíció rejects this new law and would put an end to these new citizens’ voting rights.

(3) MSZP-E14 does not seem to concern itself with the relation of church and state or the Orbán government’s law on churches. DK would restore the religious neutrality of the state and would initiate a re-examination of the agreement that was concluded between Hungary and the Vatican or, if the Church does not agree to such a re-examination, DK would abrogate the agreement altogether.

(4) MSZP-E14 talks in generalities about the re-establishment of predictable economic conditions and policies that would be investment friendly but it doesn’t dare to reject such populist moves as a decrease in utility prices or the nationalization of companies. Only DK is ready to openly reject all these.

(5) MSZP-E14 accepts the tax credits that depend on the number of children and therefore supports an unjust system. DK, on the other hand, wants to put an end to this system and to introduce a system that treats all children alike.

(6) Együtt2014-PM opposes the concentration of land that is necessary for the creation of  a modern and effective agriculture. The policy of small landholdings was the brainchild of the Smallholders Party, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hungarian agriculture after the change of regime. MSZP is against foreign investment in Hungarian agriculture. The Demokratikus Koalíció intends to liberalize the agricultural market. DK thinks that agricultural cooperatives should be able to purchase the land they currently cultivate. It also maintains that foreign capital should be able to come into Hungary in order to make Hungarian agriculture competitive again.

(7) The attitude of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM toward the conflicts between the European Union and the Orbán government is ambiguous, while the Demokratikus Koalíció unequivocally takes the side of the institutions of the Union against the Orbán government.

These are the points that Tamás Bauer mentions. But as the Gyurcsány campaign unfolds more and more differences will be visible. For example, only yesterday Gyurcsány talked about his ideas to abolish the compulsory retirement age and to financially encourage people to demand higher wages in order to maximize their pensions after retirement. During this talk in Nyíregyháza Gyurcsány made no secret of the fact that his party is working on its election program.

So, it seems to me that the Gyurcsány campaign has already begun. Maybe I’m wrong and Gyurcsány will give up all his ideas and will line up behind MSZP-E14, but somehow I doubt it. Even if he tried, he couldn’t. Temperamentally he is not suited for it.

Meanwhile, an interesting but naturally not representative voting has been taking place in Magyar Narancs. Readers of the publication are asked to vote for party and for leader of the list. DK leads (52%) over Együtt 2014 (29%) and Gyurcsány (54%) over Bajnai (32%). Of course, this vote in no way reflects reality. What it does tell us is that the majority of readers of Magyar Narancs are DK supporters. Something that surprised me. If I had had to guess, I would have picked Együtt2014.

As for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s visit to Felcsút, I wrote about it a couple of days ago. The video is now out. This morning I decided to take a look at it because from Zsolt Gréczy’s description on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd the whole scene of Fidesz cameras following them everywhere sounded hilarious . At that time the video had been viewed by about 5,000 people. Right now the number of visitors is over 53,000.

Clips from The Godfather are juxtaposed with scenes from Felcsút. The video ends with the wedding of Vito Corleone’s daughter. While Gyurcsány is narrating the enrichment of the Orbán family, two people, one of whom is the Fidesz regional secretary and the other perhaps the cameraman of the Puskás Academy, follow him everywhere and record his every move and word. Definitely worth seven minutes of your time.

Since I am no fortune teller I have no idea what will happen. A couple of things, though, I’m pretty sure of. DK will never agree to drop Gyurcsány as their party leader. And Mesterházy indicated that this might be one of the MSZP demands for an agreement. Or at least that Gyurcsány not be DK’s top candidate, or possibly any candidate. Otherwise why would he have asked: “Are those media predictions that the Demokratikus Koalíció plans to nominate the chairman of the party, Ferenc Gyurcsány, for the second slot on the list true?”

At first reading I didn’t notice this linguistic oddity. The letter is addressed to “Dear Mr. Party Chairman, dear Feri” and continues in the second-person singular: “te.” Now that I returned to the sentence in order to translate it, suddenly I noticed that Mesterházy switched from “te,” which in a personal letter would have been normal, to “Ferenc Gyurcsány” in a letter addressed to Ferenc Gyurcsány.

What will the final result be? I have no idea. Let’s put it this way, it’s much easier to predict the outcome of Hungarian soccer matches than the outcome of opposition politics.

Hungarian domestic attitudes toward voting rights of outsiders

The forthcoming election will be a hot topic in the next few months, and the voting rights of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries will be a continuing subtext. So today let’s look at how the citizens of Hungary feel about non-residents by the tens of thousands voting and perhaps deciding the outcome of the election.

We can safely say that the overwhelming majority of the electorate disapproves of the idea, and that even includes a large portion of Fidesz voters. And, as we will see later, people’s negative sentiments have not changed in the last two years.

The politically naive might ask why on earth Fidesz-KDNP insisted on granting voting rights to dual citizens. The answer is simple. Party strategists consider the pro-Fidesz votes coming from abroad, especially from Romania, important, perhaps even vital, to the party’s success in the 2014 elections. At the same time they most likely ascertained through their own polls that Fidesz supporters won’t defect over the voting rights issue.

In light of these findings it is more difficult to understand Együtt-MP’s opposition to abolishing the voting rights of dual citizens without domicile and steady employment in Hungary in the event they are victorious in 2014. One would think that Gordon Bajnai’s party would take advantage of their potential supporters’ strong dislike of the Fidesz-introduced piece of legislation that serves only Fidesz’s political interests.

In any event, let’s see the results of three polls measuring the electorate’s attitude toward voting rights. All three were conducted by Medián. The first was conducted between May 7 and 11, 2010, that is before the enactment of the electoral law.  The next Medián poll was done in July 2012 and the third in November 2012. I’m very much hoping that Medián will follow up with another poll after Hungarians hear more about the possibility of electoral fraud as a result of a (perhaps intentionally) sloppily written law. But given the results of the past three polls it is unlikely that Hungarians’ enthusiasm for the voting rights of non-residents would suddenly soar.

In May 2010 19% of Fidesz voters disapproved of granting both citizenship and voting rights to Hungarians in the neighboring countries and only 30% approved of both. The rest, 46%, supported dual citizenship but without voting rights. So, 65% of Fidesz voters surveyed were against granting voting rights to Hungarians outside the borders. 62% of MSZP voters opposed both citizenship and voting rights and only 5% approved of the Fidesz plan. Jobbik voters were split on the issue: 35% of them wouldn’t grant outsiders anything but 35% of them were happy with Fidesz’s plan. Those without party preference also overwhelmingly opposed voting rights. Only 13% supported the government’s plan. All in all, 71% of the adult population were against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship. Only 23% supported the proposed law that included both.

The July 2012 poll inquired about other aspects of Hungary’s relations with the neighboring countries, especially the Hungarian government’s involvement with party politics in countries in the Carpathian Basin. As soon as Fidesz won the elections the government unabashedly supported certain Hungarian minority parties and ignored or actively worked against others. This particular poll concentrated on Romanian-Hungarian affairs and specifically the Hungarian government’s support of small parties that are politically closer to Fidesz than the largest Hungarian Party, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (UDMR). Medián wanted to know what Hungarians think of direct Hungarian involvement in political campaigns outside of Hungary’s borders. In addition, Medián inquired about people’s opinion of the government’s support of insignificant political groups in Romania as opposed to the largest Hungarian party, RMDSZ. And while Medián was at it, they included a question testing whether their May 2010 findings about Hungarians’ opinion on the voting rights of people of foreign domicile had changed at all.

The overwhelming majority (78%) disapproved of the government’s involvement in the politics of its neighbors. As for Fidesz’s support of smaller Romanian-Hungarian parties that are closer to the Fidesz leadership’s heart, even Fidesz voters were split on the issue, with 50% supporting the Fidesz strategy but 37% disapproving. In the population as a whole only 24% thought that supporting small political groupings was a capital idea while 52% thought such a strategy was self-defeating. A rather large number of those surveyed (24%) had no opinion.

As to the issue of citizenship and voting rights, more than two years went by and nothing really changed. In May 2010 71% disapproved and only 23% approved, in July 2012 70% still disliked the idea but the supporters went up a bit, from 23% to 26%. Not really significant.

In November 2012 Medián conducted another poll. The overwhelming majority of MSZP, LMP, DK, MSZP, Együtt 2014, and undecided voters rejected that section of the electoral law that grants voting rights to dual citizens. Although a relative majority of Fidesz (55%) and Jobbik (53%) voters supported it, in the population as a whole those who opposed it were still slightly over 70%.

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting of outsiders on national elections

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting by outsiders in national elections
blue = approval, red = disapproval, gray = doesn’t know

DK is the only party that openly declares its opposition to voting rights. MSZP’s program indicates that they sympathize with DK’s position. But Együtt 2014-PM insists that they will not touch the status quo created by Fidesz for its own political gain. I fear that this issue might be one of the thorniest between MSZP and Együtt 2014-MP during the negotiations.

Given public opinion in Hungary, I think it would be an unnecessary gesture to leave this part of the law on citizenship intact. Moreover, flying in the face of overwhelming public opinion against this legislation might irritate some of Együtt 2014’s supporters who by the largest margin (87%) among any of the parties rejected the idea of voting rights.

The first draft of a “party program” of the Hungarian democratic opposition. Part II

Yesterday when I left off I was talking about the opposition’s concern over the very low Hungarian birthrate, which is resulting in a steadily aging population. At the moment the Orbán government is discussing a scheme by which every woman over the age of 18 who gives birth to her first child would receive a sizable amount of money–the most often heard figure is 300,000 forints–in addition to a flexible scheduling of the subsidies already given to women after childbirth. Most people don’t think that this scheme would make families rush to have children given the current economic situation. As I mentioned, the democratic opposition doesn’t have any better ideas on the subject except that they want to put an end to the current unfair distinction between legally married and unmarried couples who have children. In addition, they promise to put an end to child hunger.

Naturally, they pay a great deal of attention to the welfare of the large population over the age of 65. They promise not only to raise pensions to match the rate of inflation; they also plan to reintroduce a “premium” that would be indexed to economic growth. They make a renewed promise of free public transportation to everyone over the age of 65. They would also again allow pensioners to work while drawing their pensions and would allow people to work beyond the retirement age. Out of these promises the only one I object to is free public transportation for everybody over the age of 65. I think that forcible retirement is untenable in a democratic society and that in certain professions it is outright injurious to the public interest. I am thinking of judges and university professors, for example.

The next topic of the provisional party program is healthcare, and I must say that it is one of the weakest points of the program. Here we have only vague generalities. I understand, however, from a television interview that the hospitals would remain in state hands and that the new government would stick with a single centralized state insurance system. Only yesterday I was listening to an interview with Erzsébet Pusztai (earlier MDF, now a member of Lajos Bokros’s conservative party) who was won over to the idea of privatizing healthcare. What does she mean by that? Basically, that doctors would be the owners of their own practices. Having doctors as state employees guarantees failure, she contends. I tend to agree with her. Therefore I don’t expect any great positive change in the quality of Hungarian healthcare as a result of a change of government. In the first place there is no money to raise salaries and, even if they did, the problem lies not only with low salaries but with attitudes.

The MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM negotiating team / MTI, Photo Lajos Soós

The MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM negotiating teams / MTI, Photo Lajos Soós

Naturally, the democratic opposition wants to put an end to the Kulturkampf introduced by the Orbán government and they make all sorts of promises of state subsidies to make culture readily available. As for the state of the media and the media law, which they surely want to change, they said nothing about MTV, MR, and Duna TV. I’m afraid that these organizations would need a complete change of personnel; otherwise the new government will end up with a far-right state media of low quality.

The Internet wasn’t left off the list either. They promise to pay special attention to making broadband available everywhere in the country and to encourage Internet usage and computer literacy.

These two parties at least don’t want to take away the voting rights of the new Hungarian citizens from Romania, Ukraine, and Serbia. The reason I didn’t include Slovakia here is that Slovakia introduced legislation that forbids dual citizenship and therefore there were very few people who applied for Hungarian citizenship and, if they did, it was in secret. I personally wouldn’t support that right and from what I read on the subject a lot of people would vote along with me on that issue. The document does make special mention of the democratic forces’ opposition “to the use of  the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries as instruments of Hungarian political parties,” but as long as voting rights are ensured there is no way of preventing party politics from spilling over the borders. On that issue, I’m with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció.

Finally, the democratic opposition pledges its support of European values and Euro-Atlantic cooperation. They realize the changing nature of the European Union, but Hungarian national interests must be protected in cooperation with and not against the European Union. Hungary wants to be a partner in the building of a stronger and better European Union.

* * *

Commentators, on the whole, responded positively to the beneficial effects of the joint declarations and the parties’ willingness to work together. Most of them think that once the first step toward an electoral alliance is taken the number of undecided voters will drop and support for the opposition will increase.

In addition to this document the opposition came out with another one that deals with the nomination of MP candidates. I will spend some time on that document in the future, but until then suffice it to say that this particular document pretty well ensures that there will be a single common party list, which is an absolute prerequisite for any success against Fidesz at the next election.

Breaking News: Sándor Csányi, CEO of OTP, the largest Hungarian bank and the premier holder of Forex mortgages, dumped almost 2 million shares yesterday, allegedly to invest in his other businesses. OTP stock has been under pressure recently as a result of rumors about a new government scheme to help the approximately 100,000 people who are currently incapable of repaying their Forex loans. This generous assistance would come at the expense of the banks. Since details of the plan are unavailable, we don’t know how large a haircut the banks would have to take, but the hit might be substantial. I guess that Csányi, who by the way has been a big supporter of the prime minister, decided to bail while he still had some equity left. In the wake of his mega-sale (and I assume that sooner or later we’ll find out who was on the other side of that block trade–again, rumors are flying), OTP stock lost about 9% today.

Coming to an understanding with Viktor Orbán and his followers?

Yesterday’s post didn’t excite too many people. But how can one compete with Trianon? Who cares about the LIBE Commission’s report and the 500 some proposed “amendments,” mostly from Fidesz MPs and their Hungarian friends from Slovakia and Romania? On top of it all some people didn’t even get the details although I gave a link to the amendments that are available on the Internet.

But isn’t it the case that these amendments are a hundred times more relevant to the fate of the Hungarian people than absolutely useless discussions of a treaty, however just or unjust it was, that cannot be altered? Revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungary’s interwar foreign policy and some people were convinced, as was John F. Montgomery, U.S. ambassador in Budapest in the 1930s, that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject.” Well, it seems that some Hungarians are returning to the very same insanity that led Hungary nowhere except to another lost war, the loss of millions of its people, and a series of absolutely tragic events. But there are always people who are incapable of learning from past mistakes. Just like the Bourbons.

So, discussing Trianon endlessly and crying over Hungary’s misfortunes are dead ends. The Venice Commission’s opinion and the LIBE Commission recommendations, on the other hand, are of the utmost importance. The outcome of the investigations of the Hungarian government’s reshaping of Hungarian democracy into an authoritarian or even worse regime affects the very future of Hungarian democracy.

Let’s talk a little bit about the fate of Hungarian democracy. Some people are convinced that true democracy no longer exists in Hungary due to Viktor Orbán’s “renewal” of the country. I know that a lot of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are certain that Viktor Orbán and his ilk will be running Hungary for the next twenty years. They are certain that Fidesz is unbeatable because the party communicates better, because all the state institutions are in party hands, and because the new electoral system is designed to keep them in power. By contrast, the opposition is fractured and lacks a charismatic leader. So why bother to do anything?

This defeatist attitude may be misplaced, especially since almost half of the electorate at the moment either doesn’t know or doesn’t divulge its political preferences. The various social groups that have been injured in one way or the other by the “renewal” measures of the Orbán government are numerous: civil servants, teachers, doctors, judges, university professors, artists, writers, and people receiving the minimum wage. One could go on and on. At the moment all these people are shaking in their boots, fearing for their jobs. They are afraid to go out to demonstrate. Surely, hidden cameras will reveal their identity. Fear has returned to the country.

But there might be a tipping point when all the grievances converge and serious opposition to the government breaks out. Who could have said on October 21, 1956 that in two days there would be an open rebellion against the Rákosi regime in Budapest? Or two weeks ago who would have thought that there would be street fights between young Turks and the police? Most likely nothing that drastic will happen in Hungary, but the possibility of a broad common front cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the opposition must be ready for such an occurrence. Moreover, the democratic parties have to come to some kind of an agreement concerning their attitudes toward “the accomplishments” of the Orbán government. Of course, I’m using the word “accomplishments” ironically.

What I mean is: can there be some kind of compromise between Fidesz and its democratic opposition? Because if not, says one school of thought on the subject, the present political division will only be perpetuated. Others are convinced that there is no way any kind of compromise is possible: Orbán’s autocratic rule cannot be “balanced” by those who believe in liberal democracy. Oil and water don’t mix.

Let me go back a bit to history and linguistics. I use the word “compromise” for “kiegyezés.” Indeed, when we talk about the historical “kiegyezés” of 1867 between Austria and Hungary in English we use the word “compromise.” The Compromise of 1867. However, the German word for the same event is “Ausgleich,” which means not so much compromise as “settlement.” Austria and Hungary settled their differences. So, according to a number of politicians, including Gordon Bajnai, the opposition must sit down with the politicians of Fidesz and settle their differences.

A settlement in the offing? / calgaryfoodpolicy.blogspot.com

A settlement in the offing? 

Bajnai, in an interview with Die Zeitenvisages an electoral outcome in 2014 in which the united opposition achieves a modest victory which “would be an opportunity for a kind of national agreement for fair negotiations.” He wants “to cross party lines to reach a consensus” and has no intention of turning everything back to the pre-Orbán period. After watching Viktor Orbán up close and personal ever since 1998, I would like to see just one occasion when he was ready to come to a “national agreement.” We all remember when in 2002 Péter Medgyessy, then apparently on the advice of Ferenc Gyurcsány, tried to extend a hand to Viktor Orbán. He called this approach “filling the trenches” or “burying the hatchet” in English. He got nowhere. He was only rebuffed.

The latest attempt at “appeasement” (at least this is what I call it) on the part of Gordon Bajnai is asking for forgiveness for the referendum of 2004 when the Fidesz-supported idea of giving citizenship to Hungarian nationals living in the neighboring countries was rejected with the active support of the government parties. Since then the Orbán government’s super-majority voted for citizenship, which includes voting rights. Bajnai feels that this right cannot be revoked. Thus, the citizens of Hungary must live with perhaps a million extra votes of people who have no real stake in the outcome of the election and don’t have to bear its consequences. That is a very large number when only about four million people vote at national elections.

Bajnai, in the hope of extra votes from the other side, is giving in on many other issues as well. For example, he made special mention of the Day of Unity (in other words, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon) where he talked about three-fourths of the territories and two-thirds of its population Hungary lost. Of course, these numbers are correct, but failing to point out that the majority of this two-thirds were not Hungarians was a mistake. Talking about Trianon as a “tragedy” is again only adding oil to fire. He is hoping to come to an understanding on “the trauma of the Soviet occupation” and “the trauma of the Holocaust.” No wonder that the headline in HVG declared: “Bajnai compared Trianon to the Holocaust.” I don’t think that the loss of territories and the loss of lives can cause the same trauma. The last sentence of Bajnai’s communiqué stated that “we will have to close the period that meant the silence and abuse of Trianon.” That to me means that he promises the Hungarian nationalists that Trianon will remain a topic of debate. Keeping Trianon alive will also stoke the self-pity that is so injurious to the Hungarian psyche and that should be discouraged.

But that’s not all. Gordon Bajnai said the following about anti-Semitism and the Orbán government in Berlin the other day. “There are many problems with the government but one cannot claim that it has anything to do with antisemitism and racism.” One doesn’t have to go that far in seeking “national consensus” or “settlement” with Viktor Orbán and his followers. After all, Orbán’s attitude towards both is far from unequivocal.

That is the Bajnai approach, which in my opinion is utterly mistaken. Devoted Orbán followers will not vote for the democratic opposition because Bajnai supports the voting rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries. It is also unlikely that a devoted supporter of Fidesz will be terribly impressed with  all that mea culpa on the issue of Trianon. But the voters of the democratic opposition may lose trust in him.

In the next few days I will outline some other ideas about what the opposition should do concerning the Orbán government and its supporters.