“It is unacceptable for those in power to use state money to foment a mood of civil war. . . . This administration sets off passions which it then must calm through internal and external opposition . . . Since 2002 politics has been about control over EU funds and their distribution, and about which power group gets possession of this huge money.” – György Földes, historian
Translation of Attila Buják’s interview with György Földes appearing in the May 4th, 2017 edition of 168 óra entitled “Beyond blaming Putin” (Túl a putyinozáson) (pp. 15-17).
The method of speaking foisted by the ruling group on the country dividing participants into traitor and patriot “kuruc” and “labanc” (respectively, those who supported and opposed Hungarian independence from Austrian rule-tran.), makes the people woefully stupid and is, moreover, a suicidal technique. Anyway, the palm of a prime minister may not itch (i.e. he may not develop the urge to strike someone-tran.). György Földes, the director of the Political History Institute (PTI) spoke to our newspaper about this as well. We asked him what chances the left-wing have in the political discourse developed by Fidesz.
You are the one who coined the expression “The Cold War.” What we see in politics and media campaigns is no longer a civil war, but rather the taking of hostages or a reckoning. Is a city university really so terrible an enemy?
Obviously, they suspect there exists a dangerous threat in Central European University difficult to define and want to brutally eliminate it. Under normal circumstances, no matter how international, a university cannot be dangerous, of course. According to our current knowledge it constituted no conspiracy or secret threat either to Orbán or his system.
The opposition was so surprised by the attack it didn’t even know what to do with it.
The parliamentary parties are happy they still exist and remain at all. At the moment that is their only interest. Of course, they could get farther if they could find a solution to their main problem: what military formation to assume in 2018 for the election. At that time the struggle will look different. In this manner, “reducing the source of danger” is left to Fidesz as a security task. A kind of fire drill. The potential bases must be liquidated. CEU also appears to be such, and if I can speak closer to home the Political History Institute as well. The holy war against civil organizations and the destruction of CEU and PTI is a deliberate series of actions. The attack on civil organizations is the most disingenuous. It threatens the commercial sector which dare not give money to independent organizations, then it takes the latter to task for accepting funds from abroad if they wish to survive. Together with the media campaign that is currently unfolding, it is a spiritual downward slope for which there is no example in the past 27 years.
Hungarian intellectuals squander tremendous energy defining the nature of the system. The opinions vacillate between dictatorship and illiberal democracy. Is there any point to this?
In fact, defining this is not easy. Calling it a simple dictatorship is a superficial approach. I say that the NER (National System of Cooperation-tran.) is an authoritarian system that operates within a parliamentary framework. There are three elements worthy of emphasis. The most serious is the abandonment of the future, and the disappearance of elements of sustainable development. It can be precisely seen what money is spent on and what it isn’t, and where resources are taken from. The ideological bomb is nationalism and populism. These are well known weapons and, as I see it, they are difficult to give up. And who dares to deny it must also calculate with the consequences. An avalanche may start that can no longer be stopped.
How do you mean?
It is not possible to create an internationale built on one another’s nationalism. If we think it through, what happens if Poland follows us? What happens if nationalists come to power everywhere? Either the European Union will collapse, or Hungary will withdraw to the second line where, with its vulnerable economy, it will quickly wallow for lack of resources. Even the European right-wing sees that there is need for a cultured left. With regard to this country, nation, in view of dangerous tendencies, the opposition must appreciate that the situation is worrying but could become even worse at any time. If every party wants to build its political image, they will be incapable of effectively struggling against the system. Humility is required. I am convinced that Hungarian society has long known what Fidesz is about but does not dare to replace it. It is afraid of something worse. That is why exposing Orbán day after day amounts to mindless quibbling. It is necessary to find a new political language. The current one was forced on us by this administration. So long as we accept it and use it, we will be unable to step out of the power square.
Was the awful media campaign against Soros the intellectual product of Fidesz?
In the language of politics and the media today the members of the Hungarian political elite are either agents of Soros or Putyin. So where does that leave us? We need to step out of this. We need to finally provide a program. Or at least something to hold on to. Because the people are clueless. That is our responsibility. It is not enough to say “these people need to leave.” Nor is it promising to continue as we left off in 2010 and restore constitutionalism as a program. We have to offer a political program which emphasizes social justice. Here there is much to add. Just one example: the rights of economic and social representation are practically missing from Hungarian politics. We live in a country where collective bargaining is a matter of good faith. Politics gives no room for negotiation or compromise. There is no political training either, although it exists throughout the world. And since they oppressed the municipal governments, there is no prestigious cadre there either. The only organizational forum that offers hope, and where young people also appear, is the civil sphere. Orbán is beating around in the right place.
Didn’t the orgy of anti-Soros campaigns give you sinister ideas?
I don’t want to blackmail the present with the past, that is not the task of the historian. The manner of speaking which the ruling group has imposed on the country and which divides participants into diametric opposites (traitor-patriot, kuruc-labanc), makes people woefully stupid. Let’s leave it at that. This is a suicidal method, and one day it will backfire on the party who presumptuously initiated it. It is unacceptable for those in power to use state money to foment a mood of civil war. The palm of a prime minister may not itch. This administration sets off passions which it then must calm through internal and external opposition.
What has the political fight over the past one and a half decades been about? Was there any point, or objective to the chaos?
Since 2002 politics has been about control over EU funds and their distribution, and about which power group gets possession of this huge money. It is for the EU money that Fidesz has fomented a mood of civil war since 2002.
Is the current opposition also fighting for this?
No. Their situation is more difficult. It is not enough to systematically change the societal system of redistribution. It is necessary to to create the conditions for society to rise up. This requires humility. Less pettiness, reasonable self-control. Every opposition actor should accept some kind of minimum program. If the new generation left-wing is not willing to come together with the old, then they need to find a compromise. The possible actors need to negotiate, because the task can be realized. The one result would be, and I saw it again not by chance, if the left- wing would step out of the vulgar discourse.
Over the past few weeks a fast wave of uprisings swept through. What is the reason that the opposition could not channel any of these trends? To put it cynically, they were incapable of using this for political gain.
This is what we have been talking about. If the left-wing participants cannot work out a worthwhile cooperation, they will be ground between two mills. I understand that the young generation does not want in any way to return to the period before 2010. I also understand that they hold that liberalism responsible which led to the Fidesz administration. The goal is not for the CEU protestors to accept Botka or Molnár. The goal is only for them not to attack each other, because there is an important task. The country must be prevented from further sliding.
They have to tolerate each other?
They must display mutual patience and at the end of the process vote as one. By that time it is desirable to agree on questions of policy. To quote Lukács’s bon mot “it is not necessary to conspire about politics, but about policy.”
There are those who do not respect the Botka program.
Those intellectuals are making a mistake who reject Botka’s left-wing populism out of hand. Maybe at first “let the rich pay” sounds uncustomary, but we have to see in Botka’s actions the spirit and the attempt of renewal, and that the left-wing wants to address the real losers and is trying to collect new voters. This cannot happen without radicalism.
Is it possible to defeat the government with peaceful means?
I consider the “dictatorships cannot be defeated in elections” thesis to be a self-destructive thought. It is good for absolving the intellectuals from the rope of political struggle. It’s like our saying: “Eventually they will fail somehow.” If we were to trust in a revolution and a violent solution, that would only divert the water to their mills. Those who want a socially committed democracy in Hungary must do more than root, even if they are intellectuals. I do not believe they are preparing to use force, but words stated in politics should be taken seriously. Not because they are necessarily true, but because they express something.
The decisive momentum in the 1989 system change was an uprising of journalists. If we look at the current press world, does self-consciousness remain in Hungarian journalism? Are they able to throw off their party shackles?
As a former chairman of the Free Press Foundation, I had to observe from close up the destruction of Népszabadság. Looking at the crimes of the past few years, the destruction of Népszabadság is the one irremediable scandal of the current administration. Correctly informing people today is more important today than any time over the past decade. Expect neither more nor less from the media.