A new political community has grown out of the recent wave of popular anti-government protests that broke out in Spring, and it’s calling for a complete overhaul of Hungary’s election system. If no vote in Parliament on electoral reforms takes place before October 23, the group has already called for non-violent acts of civil disobedience in opposition to what it considers an undemocratic election procedure which gives Fidesz an unfair advantage.
The movement, called Közös Ország (Common Country), was founded by Márton Gulyás, an activist and host of popular YouTube vlog Slejm. As of April this year, the movement had around 100 members — but then Gulyás was thrust into the political spotlight when he attempted to throw a bottle of paint at the presidential palace in protest of President János Áder’s decision to sign the controversial Lex CEU. Gulyás, along with friend and accomplice Gergely Varga, was jailed for three days and sentenced to 300 hours of public work.
Soon after, Gulyás and Varga appeared at a large demonstration at Budapest’s Szabadság square, where he announced that Közös Ország would launch a campaign to reform the electoral system. Since that announcement, the group’s ranks have swelled to around 1,500 members.
(Listen to the Budapest Beacon’s podcast with Gulyás and Varga here:)
The group will prepare a campaign for the cause throughout the summer, and has indicated that the campaign will begin on August 20. They are also planning to negotiate with political organizations on the matter, and will have a concrete legal proposal ready for submission to the National Assembly by September 20. According to 444.hu, the group hopes to have the support of a parliamentary party by then which would make the formal submission of the law to the assembly to vote on before their October 23 ultimatum.
October 23rd is a national holiday in Hungary. It commemorates the beginning of the 1956 Uprising, when Hungarians rose up against the Soviet-ruled communist system.
A video was recently released by Közös Ország which brought figures from across the political spectrum together in their common demands for electoral reform. Politicians from the (far) right and left, civil society figures, social scientists, actors and musicians, educators and others all acknowledged their essential political differences — sociologist András Hajós said in the video: “It could be that we don’t agree on anything, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that on one thing, we all think similarly: there should be a fair and democratic election system.” — and called on all opposition parties to come together to develop a proportional election law to be submitted to parliament.
Hungary’s current election law, passed before general elections in 2014, has been widely criticized as putting opposition parties at a disadvantage. The law was passed with the exclusive support of the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition.
Preparing for civil disobedience
“There is enormous creative tension within the people, much more will to act than it looks like from outside,” Gulyás said of the movement. He warned anyone who joins the Közös Ország movement that they should expect attacks from government political figures and pro-government media, but said that people are much more afraid of what will become of the country after 2018 if nothing changes than of TV2 making a slanderous report about them. (Gulyás himself was the subject of personal attacks and slander by pro-government media after his trial in April gained widespread attention.)
The group doesn’t have its sights set only on Hungary’s election laws; changes to party financing rules, and laws regulating state-owned companies and public media have also been mentioned by Gulyás as goals of the movement.
He told 444.hu that the acts of civil disobedience promised by the movement in the event that no changes are made to the electoral system by October 23 are not the ultimate aim of Közös Ország, but will rather be used as a “last resort” if all other options have failed.
“We’re not going to get into what every opposition organization has gotten into until now, which is that if they don’t fulfill our goals, we silently withdraw,” Gulyás said.
The group’s call to action has already been addressed with alarm, and conspiracy theorizing, by the government. At a National Consultation forum in late May, propaganda minister Antal Rogán warned of an “international organization” which aims to “clear out those governments that stand in the way of unregulated, uncontrolled immigration. To do this, they are trying to break down order and destabilize those countries.
“There are training centers in Hungary where they are preparing activists for whom the organization of civil disobedience will be the goal in the Fall,” Rogán continued. “A new phenomenon follows – if the protests don’t work, they will occupy public institutions and banks for the express purpose of provoking some kind of attack by the police.”
Gulyás rejected Rogán’s characterization of Közös Ország as a “training camp,” and said the group doesn’t wish to overthrow the government, but is fighting for a fairer election system. He emphasized that the formation of a proportional system would not mean that Fidesz must “disappear and never again play a role in public life.”
“What we are saying,” he continued, “is that Fidesz should be able to receive exactly as much of a role in public life as its support in society allows. That will obviously be a lot less than its present weight in public life.”