“This leads to a general sense that all politicians are corrupt and all parties are corrupt, so why don’t we just stick with Fidesz. . . . It is incredibly dangerous.” – Gergely Karácsony
Gergely Karácsony, Budapest District 14 mayor and co-chair of the opposition party Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért), appeared on ATV’s Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk) Monday night to discuss the public’s perception of corruption and the government’s upcoming anti-EU refugee quota referendum.
Commenting on a recent study by Transparency International Hungary, Publicus Institute and Corvinus University, Karácsony said he does not believe that every politician is corrupt, but he certainly understands why a majority of Hungarian youth are so distrustful of their country’s political system.
“Naturally, I understand [why so many young people feel this way] and it’s hard to argue against this because whenever you open a newspaper or watch a news report, you see there is a new corruption every day,” Karácsony said.
According to him, citizens must tread carefully when forming their opinion of politicians. He says there is an element to corruption that acts as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, “if the people believe that every politician is corrupt, then eventually every politician will become corrupt because they will believe that there is no point in conducting clean politics.”
All this, Karácsony said, will contribute to a general acceptance of the notion that politicians cannot do their job without becoming corrupt.
The opposition politician was asked by the host whether he personally had ever been approached to take part in some kind of corruption.
Karácsony said yes he had, indeed, been approached.
As the mayor of Budapest’s Zugló district, Karácsony said his office has been approached by businessmen to engage in corruption in instances where the interests of the local municipality and those of the local business have clashed.
He said these solicitations occurred early in his mayorship (which began in 2014), but such offers from local businessmen have since ceased as it became clear that his office would not engage in such practices.
When it comes to a politician’s responsibility to take steps against corrupt activities, Karácsony said it comes at a huge risk to politicians who dare stick their necks out.
“[A politician who stands up against corruption] inevitably steps on the toes of people who can do much to make their life difficult,” he said.
Ultimately, voters needed to be less concerned with what party a politician belonged to, and they needed to start respecting politicians based on their character.
“I’m confident that there are respectable politicians in Hungary and I hope there are still Hungarian voters who find it important to view these politicians based on their character, voters who are not concerned with whether the politician belongs to Fidesz, MSZP, PM or anything else.
“If a Fidesz politician is busted for corruption, Fidesz does not even argue that the politician wasn’t corrupt. [The party] simply says ‘but look at how much the Socialists stole!’ In other words, Fidesz’s approach to corruption is that corruption is a natural element to the political system. In fact, even András Lánczi, Fidesz’s main ideologue, admitted this.”
According to Karácsony, by disarming the public’s concerns about corruption through relativization, Fidesz is inherently and deliberately casting a shadow of distrust over the entire political system.
“This leads to a general sense that all politicians are corrupt and all parties are corrupt, so why don’t we just stick with Fidesz,” he said. “It is incredibly dangerous for this sense to emerge.”
Karácsony said it is the duty of the media to be equally critical of politicians representing all points of the political spectrum.
As the government continues to blanket the country with propaganda – television ads, billboards, newspaper and social media advertisements – so, too, are some opposition parties beginning to mount a counter-offensive to what many legal scholars and politicians are calling an utterly senseless referendum.
For Karácsony, the referendum is nothing more than an attempt by the government to distract voters from the very real problems plaguing the economy, the education system and health care, plus the ongoing corruption.
“This referendum should not have even been permitted, and [voters] should not even take part in it,” he said.
Unlike Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), some opposition parties are taking a hardline stance towards the referendum, calling on voters to boycott what is likely currently the most divisive political issue among opposition parties.
Dialogue for Hungary (PM), Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMA) and Together (Együtt) are calling for an all-out boycott because they do not consider the referendum to be legitimate.
According to Karácsony, the position of these three opposition parties is much more “courageous” than the message being sent to voters by opposition parties who have kept this issue at arm’s length.