Hungarian political experts discuss how to defeat Fidesz in 2018

February 7, 2016

Left to right: Zoltán Kész, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, Lajo Bokros, W. Árpad Tóta, László Kéri
Left to right: Zoltán Kész, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, Lajos Bokros, W. Árpad Tóta, László Kéri

“Hungary today is a macho, masculine country that reeks of soccer changing-room sweat,” said Zsuzsanna Szelényi, member of parliament from the Együtt (Together) party at a conference on Saturday on how to defeat Fidesz in the 2018 election.  Conference chair, former finance minister and Movement for a Modern Hungary chairman Lajos Bokros criticized left-wing “pseudo parties for giving up on defeating Fidesz.”  Political expert László Kéri called Fidesz MP Szilárd Németh an orangutan.  Independent Member of Parliament Zoltán Kész said “this government is a criminal government and that is how it should be regarded.”

Attending the conference were a number of prominent people such as professor of history Géza Komoróczy, former Constitutional Court justice Imre Vörös, former interior minister Tibor Draskovics and former SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats-Hungarian Liberal Party) member of parliament Tamás Bauer, who is an economist and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Instead of once again harping on the fact that Fidesz is dismantling democracy in Hungary, Saturday’s conference focused on how to defeat the ruling party and restore democracy.  Speaking on behalf of the Freedoms and Reforms Institute (SZRI), which organized the conference, József Kajdi said the modified electoral system can be used to defeat Fidesz in 2018 and to restore democracy.

“The goal is to defeat the Fidesz dictatorship in 2018 because Hungary will not survive another four years of Fidesz,” said Bokros, who also chairs SZRI’s board of trustees.  Citing the fact that former communists voted for the National Front in the latest French election, Bokros thinks that rather than divide politicians into categories of left and right it is better to divide them into modernist and populist camps.

Modernists versus populists

He spoke at length about the differences between modernists and populists, believing the two camps to be mutually exclusive.

Populists believe the state is the economic motor and the creator of workplaces and investments, whereas modernists believe the motor to be society and entrepreneurs.  According to populists, the sources of capital investment are state tax revenues and fiscal transfers from “the declining West.”   Modernists believe the source of capital to be savings and profit.

Bokros said believers in modernity do not dispute that the state plays a role in the economy.  But whereas populists want to distribute advantages and disadvantages on a political basis, believing in a large state that undertakes large redistributions, modernists expect neutrality from the state andbelieve in liberal democracy and the spread of freedom, and that only those should be supported by the state who are truly in need.

According to Bokros, populists do not like independent institutions, preferring to trust authoritarian leaders and their cults of personality.  The former finance minister said populists want a closed economy and a large, inefficient, state that is “dirty” and “subjecting”.  Modernists, on the other hand, profess a state ideology that is neutral.  They believe in competition and proudly call for a small and efficient state.

“The populist ideology is xenophobic, non-inclusive and promotes racial superiority and tends towards fascism,” Bokros said.  “By contrast, modern patriots are not nationalists but patient and receptive, who accept and respect multiculturalism.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s populism is modeled on Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, he said.  In these countries freedom of the press was restricted and opposition politicians were regularly killed.  The MOMA leader said such regimes are a dead end, and believers in modernity model themselves on the United States, Great Britain, Germany or even Finland.  Populists consider Count István Tisza, Miklós Horthy and Bálint Hóman as role models, or even Vladimir Putin, Silvio Berlusconi and Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.  “They are the role models of failure,” said Bokros.  “We consider Ferenc Deák, József Eötvös, Ágoston Trefort or Angela Merkel, Ivan Mikloš and Leszek Balcerowicz to be our role models.”

Bokros calls for program-based solidarity

Bokros believes it is necessary for the democratic opposition to run common candidates in all 106 electoral districts.  “We don’t want Fidesz and Jobbik neither in their Nazi nor less Nazi form.” He said the powers of modernity need to advertise a 500-day reconstruction program.  “Part of this would be the restoration of a constitutional, rule-of-law state, a proportionate, two-round electoral system, the restoration of the press and the freedom of conscience, and the fight against corruption.” MOMA “does not agree with populist nationalists in anything” and does not approve of “a government that flirts with fascism.” Bokros said a number of left-wing parties were being funded by Fidesz, and such parties were pseudo parties that have given up on ever defeating the ruling party.

He said that in the interest of restoring the rule of law, modernists had to act as though this was a rule-of-law state in which everyone can vote for their own favorite party.

Zsuzsanna Szelényi (Együtt/Together) said: “We have to be careful to talk not only about taking power.  There are no secret electoral weapons.  To speak of this is only in the interest of Fidesz.” The former Fidesz member before it abandoned its liberal origins and embraced nationalism and populism said “Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian system is the East itself.”  She said that what is needed are citizens and not minions, as Orbán would prefer.  “The stifling authoritarian Hungary is condemned to fail,” said Szelényi, who sees light at the end of the tunnel.  She emphasized the importance of education, as Hungary has neither a sea coast nor oil.  “Here human knowledge is the only resource but Viktor Orbán is building an anti-knowledge system,” a conclusion she said is supported by the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test results.

Szelényi-Zsuzsa

Szelényi said the “authoritarian system is misogynist” and “Hungary today is a macho, masculine state that reeks of soccer changing-room sweat.”  She pointed out that there are no women in government and hardly any in parliament.

Hvg.hu’s W. Árpád Tóta said that since the right wing was “comfortably ensconced in the past, having abandoned the future” there was an opening in the political market that was worthwhile occupying.  He said that for the governing powers the present and especially the future were intangible.  Their positions were rejected by “the annoying quality of life of liberal democracies” and by “multiculturalism.”  Tóta cited Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog’s comments that “they had pushed the bicycle too far” when centralizing education, and that the absence of computers in schools had been blown out of proportion.  He said upstart liberal parties Dialogue for Hungary (PM) and Együtt are “completely hopeless” and they would have difficulty nominating candidates.  The journalist also criticized the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) for failing to accomplish anything since the departure of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, saying that since he abandoned the party “they haven’t been able to write a single line on this clean sheet.”

Tóta said the situation was not entirely hopeless and that in one year’s time it would be necessary to create a shadow government consisting of expert politicians, because at present there are none.  “Opposition politicians should not say that they are not ready to be shadow ministers or shadow undersecretaries,” he said, adding that whoever says this of themselves should look at education undersecretary Mrs. Judith Czunyi, whose accomplishments could be assembled “from potatoes and copper wire.”

Zoltán Kész faulted the opposition for not being proactive.  “The way domestic politics works these days is Fidesz initiates a topic and the opposition reacts,” said the independent member of parliament from Veszprém.  He said corruption might be the topic which the opposition could take on because the government is not only robbing the country but the future as well.  “This government is a criminal government and should be regarded as such,” he said, adding that this needed to be explained to the voters.

The MP said it is necessary to believe that it is possible to bring about change.  He has initiated a referendum to counter corruption because he believes that only the people can prevent Hungary from being robbed blind.  “The referendum could also demonstrate that chief prosecutor Péter Polt does not do his job,” said Kész, adding that they would begin collecting signatures on May 1, and a successful referendum would knock out another brick from the Fidesz wall and show that the ruling party can be defeated in 2018.

László Kéri cautioned that the past six years gave the opposition little reason for optimism.  The political expert does not believe the current opposition parties are capable of defeating Fidesz.  He also ruled out the possibility of the people rising up “even though Fidesz does a lot to warrant this.” Kéri said the lesson of the past 25 years was that movements should not be underestimated.  He spoke of the Democratic Charter and the civil circles.  The former played a significant role in the left-wing victory in 1994  The latter, on the other hand, prevented the right-wing from disintegrating after its defeat in the 2002 general elections.   Kéri stressed that “it is possible to take countless initiatives while in opposition, not just wait for election day.”

“Out of five million potential voters, at least 300,000 understand the significance of a 500-day program,” said Bokros without a hint of irony.   If there were program-based solidarity in 106 electoral districts, then the Fidesz electoral system could be turned against the party, he said, adding that it was necessary to win over three groups: education, public health and transportation workers.

“They have suffered a lot over the past six years, there are many of them, and they meet millions of people every day,” said Kéri. “The problem isn’t that you pushed the bicycle too far, Zoli (Balog), but that you stole the bicycle.  Give it back!” he concluded, to everyone’s amusement.  Tóta said Fidesz supporters would even applaud an orangutan were it to take the stage at a Fidesz public meeting, to which Kéri remarked that it already had.  “Its name is Szilárd Németh.”

Bokros concluded the discussion by saying it was necessary to find those points that would inspire society to restore its own freedom.  He called for modernization, competition, opportunity to choose and educational freedom.  “Let one hundred flowers bloom. The light of the election should be the flash of the possibility of freedom.”