“We bother them. We know what century we are living in, and what the challenges are. And we want to meet those challenges.” – Bernedett Szél, co-chair, Politics Can Be Different
On Saturday, the day after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his annual State of the Nation speech to a crowd of Fidesz-KDNP faithful, parliamentary green party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-chairmen Bernadett Szél and Ákos Hadházy took stock of the current situation in Hungary and their party’s plans for the future.
Szél began by introducing LMP as “a community of civilians, activists, environmental protectionists, legal defenders, women, university students, physical laborers, system-change period politicians and young politicians.”
Accusing the old political elite of having betrayed the country, she said her party wanted to “move beyond the old arguments and to offer new solutions” and that “LMP’s past is Hungary’s lost future.”
“We are the ones who are outraged over how they misled Hungary. We are the ones who want to take power out of the hands of those who deceived us, and who abused what they got by weakening the country,” said Szél, adding that her party wanted to “take Hungary’s future back from those who are stuck in the twentieth century, and continue the same arguments of the 1990s.”
“In 2016 we have reached the point where the public mood has fallen to the level of the 1980s. There is only the appearance of order and prosperity which exists only in government propaganda. It is no wonder people born after the system change don’t even know what to make of the past 25 years,” she said.
The LMP co-chair said the legacy of the system change following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 is that those who benefited from it were those “who put their hands on public property in a timely manner, whether we are talking about privatization under the Socialists, or the feudal-like expenditure of public funds under Fidesz.”
She blamed Hungary’s political elite for the fact that those born after the system change “are not going to struggle to preserve the legacy of a system they do not consider their own.” She said the children of those who have lost their faith in the post-communist system have, in turn, lost faith in their ability to bring about change.
Striking a decidedly populist tone, Szél called for the Hungarian people to be properly compensated, not only for crimes committed under communism, but for the “crimes, irresponsible behavior and failures” of governments following the system change. Without explaining what she has in mind, she said that without this compensation, the country would not be able to overcome its “paralysis.”
“Hungary today is not the Hungary we expected. The system change claimed too many victims. They said they would protect us but instead they exploited us. They said we would have a say but instead they shouted us down if we had an opinion. They said that we could form a community but they only had themselves in mind. And what they said was communal, ended up being stolen,” said Szél.
She condemned the mainstream political parties of the right and left for their complicity, and warned that, while citizens tend to express their anger and disappointment by turning away from politics, “this will not always be the case.”
“The government today does everything it can to keep people away from getting involved in politics, but if this is how they want to escape being held to account, they will not be successful,” Szél warned, adding that “a political struggle is taking place in Hungary.“ As an example, she noted that LMP and other parties were helping the Momentum Movement collect signatures in support of a referendum on whether Budapest should withdraw its application to host the 2024 Olympic Games.
A new direction
Szél said her party intended to “break from idiotic policies and take the country in a new direction” and that the politics of the past 25 years was about “limiting people’s political aspirations” whereby parties tried to “form the people in the image of the party, whereas the reverse should be the case.”
“Politics in Hungary today is endlessly embittering, repulsive and extraordinarily selfish. LMP wants to break with this. Our goal is to call everyone back to politics in order to attend to common matters, because there is no other way to renew Hungary,” she said, adding that “Hungary today needs idealists” who “don’t want to achieve the impossible but the better.”
“If we strive to achieve good then it becomes our compass needle, and we will not leave the path, and we will get closer and closer to that which we all strive for,” said Szél, warning that in the absence of this “there are no values and no principles that lead us on the road, and the consequence of this is always the bitter mistakes.”
A change of fate?
Szél accused the governments of the past 25 years of denying Hungary and Hungarians the opportunity to bring the most out of themselves.
“The good news is that the change has arrived” in the form of “newer powers” of which LMP is a part, she claimed, adding that what Hungary needs is nothing less than a “change of fate.”
“The so-called political elite has occupied Hungary and is draining our energy. Hungary’s task is to free itself from these draining powers, otherwise we will never be able to get off the embittering circular wheel.”
New political powers are needed
In Szél’s opinion, “those who destroyed the world are not going to be able to help resolve the crisis” and “new powers are needed for this.”
Referring to Orban’s comments following the election of Donald Trump, Szél said “the Orbán government is incapable of making Hungary a sovereign country, because if we need someone’s permission to do so, they will not be able to change the roads we have been on. We don’t want to follow others. We don’t want to catch up. We want to proceed according to standards we set for ourselves.”
“This is what we demand in the name of Hungary and all Hungarians,” said Szél, claiming that “LMP is the opponent of the old world” and that it seeks to change the conditions limiting the possibility of change.
An end to working poverty
Szél said that in a “renewed Hungary there is no room for working poverty,” which, in her opinion, could be “eliminated tomorrow.”
“We can reach the situation where those who work eight hours a day can live from the wages,” she said, adding that her party intended to introduce a progressive tax system that would enable everyone earning an average wage to live better.
In addition to exempting minimum wage earners from taxes in order to rise them to the level of subsistence (without burdening employers), Szél said LMP would increase the wages of public sector workers and introduce new family policies that would make it possible for anyone who wished to start a family to do so, including launching a program of rental apartments to help address the serious shortage of starter housing.
Szél said only serious improvements to public education will enable Hungary to avoid the downward spiral in wages, and her party would allocate 20 percent of the annual national budget to public education, roughly HUF 350 billion (USD 1.2 billion).
Focus on SMEs and small farms
“Hungary can only be successful if companies are successful,” she said, pointing out that small- and medium-sized companies in Hungary find themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis multinational companies. “In a healthy economy, there is room for everyone, but I also think that small and medium companies deserve to receive the supports they need … real performance, ideas, creativity and hard work” should be the determinant of success and not political connections or corruption. LMP was the party of women and those who believed women were entitled to earn as much money as men.
With regard to countryside development, Szél said “Hungary can only be successful if the countryside is successful too.” She accused Fidesz of “looting and destroying small farmers in the same manner it strangles half the country.”
“The key to improving the countryside lays in the hands of the small farms,” she said, claiming LMP would limit the amount of land any one person could accumulate, and would give agricultural supports exclusively to small farmers.
“We wouldn’t just create workplaces but stop the depopulation of the countryside.” LMP would “ensure that good quality Hungarian products end up on tables of Hungarians.”
Szél told the audience that “21st-century answers are required for 21st-century problems,” and for this reason, were LMP to come to power, it would shut down the Paks II project. “The majority of Hungarians believe in renewable energy,” she said, pointing out that green energy would create many jobs and decrease Hungary’s dependency on foreign countries.
Szél concluded by claiming that “old politics are not sustainable” and she called on LMP to take its rightful place. Upon coming to power it would be necessary for her party to (1) assess the damage, (2) clear away the rubble, and (3) make way for the new. “This won’t be easy,” she warned. “In fact, it will be as great a challenge as bringing about the system change.”
Szél was followed by Politics Can Be Different co-chair Ákos Hadházy, who said the country and the political opposition were depressed.
“More and more Hungarians are aware that what is happening around them is government-organized serial theft on a scale for which there is no example in history,” said Hadházy.
The anti-corruption crusader said the problem with corruption is not that it is an “ugly thing,” but rather that the money abused by corruption is needed to solve problems such as health-care and public education. He denied the idea that corruption somehow stems from the Hungarian character and that nothing could be done about it, saying it was for the Hungarian people “to demand an end to corruption.”
He called for Fidesz MP and government commissioner for Roma matters Florián Farkas and others to serve jail time for his role in the theft of EU funds earmarked for Roma affirmative action.
The biggest scandal ever
“Where there are a lot of frustrated and depressed people, even successful people don’t feel good,” warned Hadházy, who called last year’s elimination of the public health fund “the biggest scandal ever,” but one that went largely unnoticed. He also criticized the government for going on a HUF 300 billion spending spree at the end of last year, pointing out that with this money “they could have doubled doctors’ and nurses’ wages for a year.”
Hadházy said LMP’s two main goals were (1) defeating the Fidesz-KDNP government in 2018, and (2) changing the direction of the country.
He criticized the government for spending “huge amounts of state money unlawfully on government propaganda, which we can call brainwashing.”
“They sell the idiotic success propaganda as though it was the glory days of communism of the 1950s,” said Hadházy, adding that “the propaganda’s billions maintain prostituted journalists” as it “made independent journalism impossible.”
In his opinion, placing thousands of billboards proclaiming that reforms are working is a misuse of public funds for which Antal Rogán, Hungary’s so-called minister of propaganda, should be held accountable.
Hadházy called on the Hungarian people not to be afraid, saying “the government should be afraid instead of us.” He warned that the 2018 elections will not be fair, as “the government is spending 50 billion telling people how wonderful everything is in Hungary.”
“We’ve had enough of them. Our children are studying from trashy books. Our parents are dying in filthy hospitals. The villages are dying out. Mentally ill people are driving us apart. There is no room for life in our lives. Police steal on the corner when they assess fines that a lot of people work for an entire month to earn.”