Jámbor: There is no alternative to the Fidesz party state

December 14, 2017

Jambor: There is no alternative to the Fidesz party state
Photo: 168ora.hu/Dániel Kovalovszky

“The governing party is not doing anything other than exploiting the anger and disappointment of the last 28 years to take over every possible institution.  After all, why should an average citizen stand up for the Constitutional Court if he or she never saw, sensed, understood, or had explained to him or her why it is important?” – András Jámbor

Translation of András Jámbor’s op-ed piece appearing in online blog merce.hu under the title “From the blown 1990s to the Fidesz party state.”

The process by which the State Audit Office (ÁSZ) is bringing Jobbik to account at the instruction of Fidesz illustrates well a few things. Essentially one can precisely derive how the elite following the system change inadvertently helped bring about the current situation in which Fidesz, willing to anything for the sake of power, has built a party state.

State auditors are enforcing a rule which was never defined or used. It is a rule that was so useless there wasn’t even a right of appeal. András Schiffer (former Politics Can Be Different co-chair – tran.) illustrates the problem in the following post:

“Regretably, the roots of the problem are hidden in the wording of the law on political parties adopted 28 years ago.  True, that for twenty-some years it never occurred to anybody to abuse the regulation. Section 4, paragraph 4 of the civil law has the following to say on the subject of forbidden support: The party is required to pay the amount into the state budget within 15 days upon being called on to do so by the State Audit Office, or the state budgetary support is to be decreased in that amount. The fifth paragraph says the following about forbidden non-financial support: if a party accepts forbidden non-financial support, its value is determined by the State Audit Office. Nowhere are procedural guarantees or the possibility of legal remedy to be found even though this directly breaches one of the elements of the democratic exercise of power.”

The State Audit Office, which is responsible for auditing parties, did not do anything for 28 years. It was so inactive in this respect, and so neglected to audit parties, that it did not occur to anyone that it takes this task seriously or that there were a few legal problems. This was readily apparent when it was revealed over the course of an the interview with ÁSZ spokesperson Thursday evening on Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk, ATV’s daily political talk-show-tran.) that it received no complaint about abuse of party finances other than Jobbik’s. The fact that there were formal complaints about Fidesz’s campaign expenditures in 2010 does not count because Péter Polt (head prosecutor and former Fidesz MP-tran.) examined the Fidesz candidate in question and rejected the complaint (even though there were concrete invoices and amounts that did not appear in the report on Fidesz prepared by ÁSZ). In this way the State Audit Office, led by László Domonkos, also a former Fidesz MP, did not think that it needed to investigate. It is difficult to account for why they did not examine anything for 28 years.

If the State Audit Office had actually inspected parties’ expenses over the past 28 years and held them to account, these black holes and deficiencies in the regulations would have surfaced long ago, and Fidesz would not have a chance of abusing them now.  But that did not happen. The parties have simply been continuously cutting deals for the past 27 years in order to spend more than permitted (on elections-tran.), receive illegal support, and not to have to report certain contributions. They did not regulate themselves, and we did not sufficiently require them to do so.

Fidesz has not done anything other than use the power and opportunity reserved to it and other parties for the past 28 years by failing to regulate themselves in this area, resulting in 28 years of institutionalized corruption.

This momentum, however, periodically comes back. Fidesz has taken over institutions undefended, devalued, and eviscerated over the course of the political fights of the past 28 years, without any resistance on the part of society. And it is precisely for this reason that the parties have become discredited despite their objections. In this way we are quickly approaching a party state, if one does not already exist. Dictatorship is not a notion that either exists or doesn’t, but a tunnel that can go deeper and deeper, and we are doing this and we cannot know where it ends.

The above developments are taking us deeper and deeper. Who would have thought eight years ago that the Fidesz would simply take over the Constitutional Court, increase the size of the court, take away its ability to decide certain matters, and fill it with individuals who, by law, cannot be nominated? That it would close a leftwing newspaper like Népszabadság, or destroy an editorial staff like Origo’s? That the prosecutors office would jump and play possum as (Prime Minister Viktor) Orbán commands? That apart from the courts, no branch of government or state institution would not be occupied by the party state? Members of Fidesz preside over everything.

The governing party is not doing anything other than exploiting the anger and disappointment of the last 28 years to take over every possible institution.  After all, why should an average citizen stand up for the Constitutional Court if he or she never saw, sensed, understood, or had explained to him or her why it is important?

Democracy and its institutions in and of themselves are not important unless made important to citizens. But we did not do this.

Instead the citizens saw that a struggle of elites was taking place in politics in which individual parties were more and more corrupt and dealt less and less with their lives. The scandals appearing in the media progressively alienated them, while there was less and less public discourse on the subject of political solutions.

Previously developments were headed in this direction, but since 2010 they have done so more and more rudely (which is not unique to Hungarian politics), and the agenda has come to be dominated more and more by tabloid issues generating outrage and clearly showing the ineptitude of politicians. This has discouraged average citizens from participating in politics and expressing their opinions. The whole thing is becoming more and more distant from us and our daily lives.

The masses will only protect the democratic institutions if they expect something from them. And only the masses can defend democracy, the institutions themselves cannot.  But if a democracy does not work well, and nobody wants to fix it, then nobody has sufficient credibility with the masses to demand the repairs in a manner that is believable, immediate, and belonging to them, then (the democratic institutions) are doomed to destruction and domination by authoritarianism.

It is precisely for this reason that it is only possible to turn things around if we are not fighting a rear-guard action to defend individual rotting institutions, but when we instill belief in the operation of a democracy that does not merely protect the elite.

Where the answer to families overwhelmed by FX loans is not “why didn’t you read the small print,” but simply doing away with small print, and banks attempting such things are punished by the state, which serves democracy and the sovereignty of the people. Where democracy does not mean that once every four years politicians distribute potatoes to the poor for their vote, but where everyone has potatoes, and children growing in poverty can imagine the opportunities offered by democracy for them to be the one growing potatoes one day.

The faith necessary to restore democracy exists if individuals also believe that their own lives can be better and that they have a future.  It exists from the sense of security that democracy and the state protects us from the more powerful and gives us the possibility of dreaming, of making plans, our future, and having power over our own lives.

The tragedy of Hungary today is that while there would be actors who are credible, they do not offer an alternative. There is no democratic alternative that would be perceived as protecting democracy and the masses. Truly there is no alternative to the Fidesz party state.

In this way authoritarianism unopposedly breaks new ground and all that remains for us is a cry for help, and the inconsequential statement that if we do not stop authoritarianism now, what comes next?  But for those who never had power, who were left behind by politics, the question has not been interesting for a long time. For them nothing changes.  In vain do we go deeper into the tunnel, for them democracy remains as irrelevant as always.