Balázs Gulyás (right) and Zoltán Vajda (left) are organizing protests for Sunday, February 1st, the day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Hungary, in the Kossuth square. The organizers of last autumn’s protests against the internet tax and plans to nationalize private pension funds believe there is a good chance that a large number of protesters will turn out, 13,000 having already rsvp’d on Facebook. In addition to the two organizers, Ferenc Hammer, Ágnes Heller, Zoltán Kész, Sandor Székely are scheduled to speak. Protests are scheduled for 11 other cities within Hungary and five places abroad.
Budapst Beacon: Let’s get down to business. Is the February 1st demonstration about Merkel’s visit?
Balázs Gulyás: This is not about what we think about Merkel’s domestic politics, but rather showing her that Viktor Orbán does not represent Hungary when he fawns over Putin, and that Hungarians want to remain part of Europe, even if Viktor Orbán does not completely see matters this way.
Zoltán Vajda: I would add that we’ve asked protestors to demonstrate not for or against Merkel but in relation to her visit. We want for Orbán not to hide behind Hungary. When the European Union and the West criticizes us for the way Orbán operates, they are not attecking Hungary. Nobody is attacking. The country is not under seige. They are criticizing Orbán’s policies. That’s one thing. The other thing is that Angela Merkel should not stand next to Orbán on the basis of the two belonging to the same European party, but rather should represent communal European democratic values.
Budapest Beacon: Why is Merkel coming?
ZV: We cannot know the reason for Merkel’s visit as there does not seem to be any beyond the official information. However, the fact she only plans to spend five hours here is telling.
Budapest Beacon: And then Putin comes.
BG: We organized a demonstration for February 6th, but when we learned the actual date of the visit the civil members of the Human Platform indicated that they wanted to organize the demonstration, and we told people to go to the demonstration on the 16th. Unlike the demonstration before the Merkel visit, that one will be critical of the guest politician. By the way, Human Platform’s idea of organizing a march from the Eastern Train Station to the Western one is a clever one, and we will march with pleasure.
Budapest Beacon: Why have the two of you come together with one another but not others, like the organizers of January 2nd’s “MostMi” protest?
BG: I also help with the organization of other demonstrations, and both of our groups promote other demonstrations and we are going to participate in discussions relating to the “Minimum Movement”. The reason Zoltán and I organize many demonstrations together is because the organizers of the December 14th “budget” demonstration contacted both of us, and we saw that we could work well together. Officially I was only a spokesman, but they were very open to my ideas in connection with the demonstrations and in general.
ZV: They were very good ideas! I have a more political response to your question. The personal relationship between us works. We understand and trust one another, and I think that is very important. On the other hand, we both see similarly who the opponent is. There are those who say that the whole 25 years since the system change has been a dead-end street that must be destroyed and that we must start anew. I do not believe this to be the case at all. The opponent for the past five years is Orbán! I wouldn’t even define Fidesz as the opponent. Orbán and some of his political roommates, and the hangers-on connected to them, they are the ones who have captured Hungary. There have been accomplishments and personalities of the system change beginning with Árpád Göncz which I would not like to to discard on the dustbin of history. The multi-party system, private property, sanctity of contracts, NATO and EU membership are accomplishments I do not even question. And I say with total honesty that a lot of people are put off by the fact that we are debating these things. This is the fundamental concept on which we agree.
BG: Along with the fact that, obviously, it is necessary to learn from the mistakes of the 20 years preceding the Orbán system. Actually this is where our point of view varies most strongly from “NowUs”, which stridently refers to “the past 25 years!”. Naturally, they also see that the twenty years preceding Orbán wasn’t all that bad. But we, for example, do not believe that every member of parliament committed a crime just for participating in the work of parliament. I think the question is who participated well and who just collected their salary and didn’t do anything, and who were those who actively tried to hold the government to account.
Budapest Beacon: It’s clear now why you aren’t cooperating with “NowUs”, but what about the others?
ZV: We are open to working with anybody.
BG: On the “100,000 against the internet tax” website we promoted the “NowUs” protest, by the way, and we are promoting them now. And there were some protests which I promoted as though they had been my own.
Budapest Beacon: Then let me put it differently. The Country Assembly Movement (OGYM) appears to have the same objectives, and yet they registered their March 15th demonstration to take place in the Szabad sajto (Free press) street, even though Gábor Szabó is holding his demonstration in the Kossuth square.
BG: I came to know Gábor Szabó as an advisor to Fidesz politician Máté Kocsis. I see that Gábor Szabó has yet to account for the fact that he was the one to initiate the plebiscite in the 8th district against the homeless. Nor do we understand why they are advertising a 100,000-strong protest when only 300 attended his last demonstration.
Budapest Beacon: But you could have stood together in the Kossuth square and then there would have been 300 more demonstrators.
GB: A lot of people are disturbed by Gábor Szabó’s past and his political about-faces. I don’t really understand for example Mrs. Istvan Szöllősi’s role in that, who stood for public office as a candidate for Andor Schmuck’s party and who, before April, was preoccupied with attacking joint opposition candidates, thereby increasing Fidesz’s chances of winning a two-thirds majority.
ZV: Everybody has the same goal, including Gábor Szabó. I don’t question that his intentions are good but at the same time his sense of reality and timing are deserving of criticism. If someone registers a 100,000-strong demonstration in the Kossuth square, they must accept the responsibility that goes with it.
Budapest Beacon: Do you have plans to defeat Orbán?
BG: Protests to date served the purpose of forming a critical public opinion where it was finally revealed that people are not alone in their criticism. It is not necessarily our job to express all the criticism. It’s good if more and more others do so in wider circles. By having completely different civil groups express their opinions, Fidesz lost 1 million voters. At the same time we see that Fidesz is still the largest party by far. We are not at the point where Viktor Orbán will resign tomorrow. The maintenance of these critical public opinions is the most important thing. It helps more and more to see that many government mistakes are covered over by the Fidesz media.
ZV: In under a few weeks Fidesz has lost 1 million voters, and on Sunday it lost two by-elections in what were even small settlements. It is important to realise that people are not coming to the demonstrations as a favor to us. They are not interested in us. They are not interested in having their faith restored. I think they are waiting for us to articulate what they are thinking. By the way, in the past few weeks and months there were three main ideas: Europe, democracy and Orbán scram. We need to come up with a more detailed diagnosis, which we have started doing. Our plan is to start out on the parth of therapy on February 1st. We don’t see it any clearer than this.
Budapest Beacon: Is it possible that Orbán will fall over the course of Spring?
ZV: If we look around Europe (and outside of it), then we can see that it is entirely democratic to bring down a leader from the streets. This works with peaceful means. One runs out of room for manoeuvre if one one always makes bad decisions, there are large demonstrations, and one encounters opposition in many small places. The motorway vignette matter was a case in point. Improvisation after improvisation. The whole thing took a turn for unprepared absurdity. The internet tax was like that also. For minimal benefit they encounter huge social opposition.
BG: We also see that the demonstrations of late have not been on the scale of Tahrír square. But Orbán has retreated on several occasions and now partially in the matter of the motorway usage fee. It made it clear to many people just how bad and erratic Orbán’s governance is if Fidesz had to retreat on so many different issues.
ZV: Let me ask you a question. Could you have imagined a few months ago that Orbán was capable of saying “I made a mistake”? I think not. Or that somebody would have seriously thought (Fidesz oligarch Lajos) Simicska would run in an election? Or that Fidesz leaders would be sending messages to one another via the media and threatening one another?
Budapest Beacon: Lajos Bokros thinks 1 million people could bring Orbán down.
ZV: That is war by numbers. It is not the case.
BG: Continuous pressure is required, which does not depend on how many attend a given demonstration, although obviously that, too, is important. What is needed is for Fidesz to feel in general and Fidesz MPs that they are responsible for the country, and that they cannot say that they were only following orders, because they will have to face the voters later.
ZV: If a district kindergarten doesn’t have a pedestrian crossing, and for this reason 26 district residents demonstrate, that can be as important locally as one million protestors.
Budapest Beacon: On March 1st there will be a country-wide road closure, although you are not the ones organizing this. Many say this limits people’s right of free movement.
BG: The organizers of the road blockade tried to negotiate with the government but this was not successful. The government was contradicting itself. Viktor Orbán says this is a trial run and then the following week under-secretary Janos Fónagy announces that the matter is closed and no corrections are to be made. All of this was achieved with bad decisions and arrogant behavior.
ZV: That’s just the nature of democracy. People have the right to demonstrate and to promote their interests, from this there is still no banning them from travelling abroad. I lived in Paris for nearly two years. There was no public transportation for days because they only wanted to raise salaries 3.2 percent instead of 3.6 percent, if I remember correctly. The people supported this. I think promoting interests is important in a democracy.
Budapest Beacon: Is America attacking?
ZV: For sure America is not attacking my homeland. The criticism pertains to the Orbán government. They took away the right of six people to obtain a visa. In a manner that does not affect me, my mother in law, or Aunt Mary. Targeted, directed, visibly disturbing to them, and I think appropriate.
BG: By the way we still don’t know how Ildikó Vida could afford a villa worth HUF 500 million (sic) (appraisals we’ve seen put the value at around HUF 150 million-ed.) or how much she made working for a company that paid no taxes.
ZV: Or from what Árpád Habony is living?
Budapest Beacon: Is there anything you’re afraid of?
ZV: If something like this happens, then it’s proof that we are on the right path. By the way, we’re living in the 21st century here in the middle of Europe as an EU member, and obviously you are not the first to ask this. Family members, friends, my best briend have asked this already. Isn’t it sad that this question should arise?
About the protest organizers:
Balázs Gulyás is a university student, a sociologist, who is presently working on his second degree in economics. He joined the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) in 2008 after the plebliscite on the so-called “visitation fee” because he was afraid that Fidesz could receive a 2/3rds parliamentary mandate in 2010, which he felt would have serious consequences. For two years he served as the vice-president of the Budapest District 8 MSZP chapter but never held a paid position. (He served on the supervisory committee of the District 8 Social Housing Nonproft Kft. for which he received no compensation). He left MSZP in 2014. In 2009 he created a “Fidesz watch” blog, and in 2014 he organized the internet-tax demonstration by creating a Facebook page entitled “100,000 against the internet tax”.
Zoltán Vajda has been a member of Together since Fall of 2014 and was its candidate for mayor in Budapest’s 16th district where he entered the district city council on the Together party list. He has been an entrepreneur since 2010, operating indoor playgrounds. He launched the “60,000 for private pensions” Facebook group and organized a demonstration after it turned out that Fidesz wants to close the remaining retirement funds and nationalize their assets. He started the action as a private person because a private pension fund can be inherited and he has three daughters, and he did not want the government to deprive them of their birthright.