When Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-Chairman Andras Schiffer speaks about Hungary’s broken political system it has the ring of truth about it. Criticized by some as insufficiently charismatic for Hungarian politics, Schiffer belongs to that rare breed of public servant unwilling to compromise his political and moral beliefs merely for the sake of retaining his seat in parliament.
In January 2013 LMP suffered the defection of more than half of its parliamentary delegation and all three of its Budapest City councilmen after back to back party congresses refused to approve opening coalition talks with former prime minister Gordon Bajnai’s Together 2014 movement.
(Together 2014 is a three way alliance of Bajnai’s Haza és Haladás Alapítvány (Home and Progress Foundation), Peter Konya’s trade union based Szolidaritas, and Peter Juhasz’s internet-based Milla Movement for Freedom of the Press. Inspired in part by the 2011 defeat in neighboring Croatia of the ruling conservative party by a grand coalition of opposition parties, the LMP defectors formed a new party, Parbeszed Magyarorszagert (Dialogue for Hungary) which immediately formed an alliance with Together 2014.
After protracted on-again-off-again negotiations with the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) (during which time support for the Together 2014-Dialogue for Hungary alliance fell into single digits) the two leading center-left opposition parties have finally agreed on the terms of their cooperation, although for the time being this does not involve running a joint list of candidates.
The political rally scheduled for October 23 suggests that the grand coalition will eventually include former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition (DK) and possibly even the upstart Social Democratic Party led by Andor Schmuck (if only because the latter is the head of a national organization purporting to represent the interests of Hungary’s 3 million pensioners whose votes are needed in order to win an election).
Since the defection LMP’s figures have been polling in the low single digits. The collapse of coalition talks with upstart liberal party 4K! (short for Negyedik Koztarsaság! or Fourth Republic!) means that LMP now runs the very real risk of failing to clear the 5% threshold needed to remain in parliament in next year’s parliamentary elections.
If a grand coalition of opposition political parties is defeated in next year’s parliamentary elections, it will be in part because many voters share Schiffer’s concerns about Ferenc Gyurcsany and other opposition leaders, including former members of the defunct Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) which dissolved itself in 2010 in the wake of a series of corruption scandals.
In comments made on Friday during an interview with Egon Ronai, Schiffer made it clear that he was prepared to go down swinging and would continue to stand on principle in all matters political and programmatic.
Why do you think a coalition will be formed on October 23rd between MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and (former coalition partner) SzDSz?
We have to see what interest groups and especially what figures want to grasp one another’s hands. We don’t think a national holiday should be used by political parties as an occasion to increase tensions if somebody wants to demonstrate in front of parliament. Naturally, this also applies to the government and those who are organizing the Békemenet (Peace March) and the like. National holidays exist so as to enable us to demonstrate a compelling national political identity. . . . Naturally, LMP will also commemorate this holiday in some way.
With the exception of one or two small parties virtually the entire range of opposition leaders will participate in the October 23rd rally who believe their parties capable of defeating the government. It’s a situation of having to cook with the ingredients you have, even if you don’t like it.
First of all, I would prefer to speak about the Constitutional opposition which includes LMP and 4K! with whom we have no quarrel.
I deliberately left out (radical right wing party) Jobbik.
Secondly I cannot rid myself of the thought that things do not simply happen on their own. The fact that Viktor Orban has a two-thirds parliamentary majority, that he uses it uncompromisingly to create a system based entirely on his personal power, that a radical right wing party was able to march into parliament in relatively large numbers in May 2010–these developments did not come from nowhere. The situation was brought about in large part by the actions of many of the people who are going to be sitting together on the platform on October 23rd. Furthermore, LMP contracted to oppose the system of political patronage that takes us farther and farther away from being a happier country. We need to get passed the system of political patronage. . . . I was afraid last year that we would succumb to the belief that this is the only way it can work in Hungary, and that we would end up like a sticker adhering to one side or the other. What I am not afraid of is being faithful to our mission which is about the possibility of liberating the country from the captivity of oligarchs.
You can’t escape the sticker analogy that easily as you quoted (Fidesz MP and majority whip) Antal Rogan when referring to the opposition’s use of „voodoo methods”.
I believe he was referring to what Szolidaritás leader Peter Konya himself told (television news show) 24 regarding the ceremony he organized (at which he toppled a fake bronze statue of Viktor Orban–ed).
And what about your comments regarding Gyurcsany’s and Bajnai’s responsibility for shooting out the eyes of demonstrators (during clashes between police demonstrators in October 2006—ed.)?
I never said that about Bajnai. Furthermore, I’m not in the habit of raising the issue in connection with the Socialist Party because one or two years ago (MSZP MP) Tamas Harangozo very correctly stood at the rostrum in parliament and put his party in place on this issue. On the other hand the former prime minister (Ferenc Gyurcsany) and his party (DK) will be there who to this day take pride in the police action that took place in the Fall of 2006.
Do you think Gordon Bajnai’s political role in unifying opposition parties changed after the toppling of the statue?
I think on October 23rd last year we saw a staged production in which the former prime minister declared his intention to renew Hungary’s political culture. If I am quoting him correctly he said that “in place of dissent he would introduce a culture of cooperation”. For a few months he maintained the illusion that he was a neutral expert rising about political parties or political interests who was determined to change the political culture that is the product of the last twenty years. I thought his comments were appropriate and said so at the time. . . . . For him to then participate in a divisive action surpassing anything that happened over the past twenty years strikes me as something of a contradiction. Nor was it to my liking that Gyurcsany was burnt in effigy in 2006, regardless of what I think about the Autumn 2006 state police action.
Let’s look at something you persist at. You have just proposed for the fifth time . . . that the issue of former state security agents be resolved once and for all. Is there any chance of this happening by the end of the current political cycle?
With a two-third’s majority it is possible to do many things if the political will exists. I submitted three pieces of legislation over two years. Since Fidesz clearly wants to free itself of the issue on false technical grounds I thought that since the government had tricked parliament (including its own parliamentary delegation) on the issue of making public the files on state security agents, that parliament should take the initiative and define a time by which the government itself should introduce legislation since the legislation I have introduced is not to its liking. . . . My proposal was rejected.
How did you think they would listen to you?
I have no illusions. The government has no intention of clearing up the past or illuminating the past of the state security system, which is tragic because we’re not primarily interested in finding out which of our friends reported us back in the 1970s although that might be important to those affected. The big question is, among the members of the surviving state security apparatus who possessed a lot of capital in the form of sensitive information, how did they influence the various political movements, how did they participate in the destruction of state assets and the theft of the country’s wealth, and in what role did they play in the country’s media, culture, and economy during the crucial transitional period of 1988-1990. This is what we’re curious about because it is relevant to the present and to future elections.
Only two other MPs signed your petition to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate the conflict between the Croatian government and Mol. Why isn’t there cooperation between opposition parties in this matter?
You would have to ask them, although some opposition and independent MPs signed the petition, including (former LMP) MP Gergely Karacsony. You should also ask the government because this matter dates back to 2003. It is not clear to me why the Fidesz-KDNP government should enthusiastically investigate the various events of the eight years preceding 2010 and yet not think it important for the Hungarian parliament to investigate this matter if the Croatian parliament has already done so. I think the country’s honor is at stake. It is not possible for a country to behave in an international criminal manner the way Hungary has behaved the past week.
Do you know why opposition MPs refused to support your proposal?
No. Fidesz does not take LMP seriously. MSZP and Jobbik said they didn’t wish to get involved without giving a reason. Outside of parliament Gordon Bajnai, like Fidesz, immediately defended (MOL CEO) Zsolt Hernadi (whom Croatian prosecutors have accused of involvement in a EUR 10 million bribe allegedly paid to former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader—ed.). A few MPs signed the petition but doubtless not enough for it to pass.
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