CEO and chairman of financial researcher Pénzügykutató Rt., László Lengyel (pictured right), believes Fidesz can be defeated in the future. President of the Eötvös Károly Public Policy Institute, László Majtényi (pictured left), believes the system has peaked and that “a period of stagnation is at hand,” which he says can explain an increase in aggressiveness. Majtényi roundly condemned the pro-government press for personal attacks against him. Lengyel and Majtényi were guests at a podium discussion hosted by the Hungarian Liberal Party foundation on Thursday evening.
“Come together, win a two-thirds majority, and then fight,” said the older man seated behind the Beacon correspondent a few minutes before the start of the program, by way of advising Hungary’s democratic opposition. “I am convinced that a few key people are being blackmailed. Nobody can be that stupid,” added the man, who was no stranger to crowds. The average age of the approximately 50-person audience was over 60 rather than under it.
The discussion was moderated by Klubrádio editor János Dési, who opened by asking Lengyel what he would have advised in relation to the CEU scandal had Majtényi been elected president of Hungary.
“If by some miracle I had been elected, then there wouldn’t be a CEU affair,” he responded, adding that this was “only conceivable if parliament’s brains had passed through some kind of change.”
Were it to occur to them that they cannot do everything, then “probably” they would not endeavor to close Central European University’s (CEU) doors. From Lengyel’s words it was clear that he believes there is no rational explanation for why the National System of Cooperation (NER) attacked CEU. He thinks that with this action far more centrist votes will be lost for Fidesz than extreme right-wing votes gained.
“If they had elected me president of the Republic, then NER would no longer exist,” says Majtényi. Reflecting on what might have been had he been elected, Majtényi called attention to the fact that the Hungarian head of state, János Áder, has a range of rights of which he has not availed himself. For example, he can speak almost without limit in Parliament. In reference to Lex CEU, he said the president could hold an “informative speech” about a bill, such as the one just passed by the National Assembly where he could have discussed university autonomy.
“The autonomy of universities has been a fundamental value of Europe culture since the 13th century,” Majtényi said. The former government commissioner for data protection said the CEU law “is a horrific attack against Budapest.” If the President were to turn to the Constitutional Court with a well argued brief, “then the constitutional justices would be in a difficult position,” he said, and referred to the court under former chief justice (and later president of Hungary) László Sólyom as “world class.”
Lengyel said he was not at all surprised by the coarse steps taken by those in power, believing, for example, that the ploughing under of newspaper Népszabadság could have taken place in 2010. Lengyel said “what they did with Népszabadság is completely logical,” as was “the crushing of the theaters as well.”
However, Lengyel does not think Lex CEU belongs to this category, given that CEU is “not a bastion of resistance,” but rather exercises self-restraint. When the Hungarian universities were purged, or when Ágnes Heller and Sándor Radnóti were banished, CEU students had “kicked the Hungarian professors in the ass.” He said Lex CEU was illogical from the point of view of NER because the international fallout from an attack on CEU would outstrip the gains, adding that the United States has no choice but to speak out in support of CEU. Lengyel believes the Hungarian government is making a huge mistake, adding that “in Viktor Orbán’s place I would reconsider.”
Majtényi disagreed with Lengyel on this point.
“I considered stupid the destruction of Népszabadság,” he said, adding that the attack on CEU “was even more stupid.” He believes the system has peaked and that it had reached “the period of stagnation,” and for this reason “aggression was even stronger.” Even during its ascendancy, NER “referred to moral and political events,” but these days such references have completely disappeared. Lengyel said that in the current situation János Áder ought to have been obliged to receive the CEU rector in the Sándor palace.
“Perhaps the fish refused to take the bait,” Dési said in defense of Áder (an avid fisherman-ed.) to the general amusement of the audience.
“The majority of people are dissatisfied in every way with this system,” said Majtényi, who sees the light at the end of the tunnel, having traveled the country during his presidential candidacy and experienced that “there are embers under the ashes.”
Lengyel said the opposition had achieved three things in the recent past. First of all, it succeeded in officially nominating Majtényi for president. Secondly, “there is a candidate in the running named Botka.” Finally, the Momentum anti-Olympic campaign was successful, after which Orbán “ immediately gave up the Olympics.”
“He also lost the quota referendum,” added Majtényi.
Majtényi argued that Hungarians did not work for their freedom in 1989 but that “this somehow fell in our laps.” But now “all of us must work for the freedom of the country,” and for this reason “we will better appreciate the coming 4th republic. Those who are expecting western forces to save us will be deeply disappointed.”
Although confident NER will fail, it is clear from his words that Majtényi has no idea when this will happen.
“It is possible to beat (Fidesz) in 2018,” said Legyel, raising the stakes. He believes the 2014 defeat was not due to Orbán, but to the “serious, country-losing crimes” of various members of the opposition. However, a sudden wave of refugees or a terrorist attack could greatly increase the chances of a Fidesz victory.
Lengyel said the opposition must campaign on two other matters: poverty — including the demise of the middle class — and corruption. He said the opposition will not get very far with simply “demanding a democratic rule of law state.”
On the subject of his own role, Majtényi said he agreed to be a candidate for president, which he saw through to completion despite the hatchet job done on him by the governing party, whose media he compared to that of a dictatorship. He said that leading online daily Origo.hu “went lower than low,” adding that Magyar Idők and the “general public media” was not much better.
He said he does not want to participate in party politics, but that he could be counted on in the future with regard to the Fourth Republic in the event politics means dealing with common matters. Majtényi agreed with Lengyel that “much is at stake in the 2018 election.”
“The opposition can have a chance if it has already won in spirit well before the election,” he added.
He agreed with János Kis, the first chairman of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), in that he does not rule out that the elections will be fraudulent, or that “after the election a mass movement will begin.” He said Fidesz will have a huge media advantage, including the billboards and signs by the side of the road. Despite this, he believes “the 2018 election has not been decided in the least.”
“In politics a year can be a very, very long time,” he said hopefully.
Lengyel offered the following advice to the opposition: tell Fidesz to its face that 130,000 rental flats could be built for the price of the new Puskás stadium. Lengyel said the opposition needed to ask voters “Do you want for a HUF 2.1 billion stadium to be build in Kisvárda, where 362 people attend soccer matches, or should we insulate every house in Kisvárda and build windmills next to them?”
“It is not possible to talk about the constitution to those who are hungry and cold,” said Majtényi. The same applies to the gypsy question, the Kishantos affair, or the third-world poverty virtually unknown in Europe in which 2 million people live in Hungary.
“Today, poverty very seriously threatens the middle classes,” he added. He said there was a point to linking the fight against poverty to the struggle over the constitution during the election campaign so that in the event of a partial victory, the opposition can claim it has a mandate to restructure the constitutional order. In this regard, Majtényi called attention to the fact that “Orbán has destroyed the constitution he was sworn to uphold.”
He quoted parliamentary speaker László Kövér, who said that if the opposition wins in 2018, then everything will be turned on its head, adding that “it is necessary to make it clear that, yes, everything will be turned on its head.”