English translation of interview with civil activist Márton Gulyás appearing in Hungarian print weekly 168óra on January 22, 2017 under the title “Márton Gulyás: the key question is misery.”
Dark years await the left-wing, says Márton Gulyás. Yet this is the condition in which the space opens: Hungary can be the exception where the left-wing has an electoral chance despite world tendencies. However, he thinks that will not be in 2018. Gulyás, who is no stranger to the search for alternative political organizations, believes it is necessary to change themes. The key word is no longer protecting rule of law but preventing an even worse misery.
There is nothing new to what you are asserting. The right-wing tsunami inundated Hungary a long time ago. It’s a fact that we did not calculate with the world moving in this direction or the overwhelming of democracy by right-wing movements. In what do you see hope?
For the most part what I am claiming is that the domestic left-wing will soon be an obstacle to this, in lawful elections as well.
We see no sign of this whatsoever.
This will not be the task of today’s left-wing.
Well then, whose?
A new, modern opposition which is not able to take the form of a party. Fidesz is the best organized political crowd today. It will take a while to organize an opposition capable of moving those political reflexes built on today’s politics. At that time the Orbán system will fall despite every advantage in organization, financial dominance and media. At that time a modern electoral class built on a more just, worthier redistribution will win space that will accept the politically homeless.
A new mass. Isn’t the problem that there has already been too many of them. Won’t this be a problem in 2017?
This cannot be accomplished for 2018. But the period of disappointment and disaffection following Orbán’s victory will be an unprecedented occasion for the left-wing to recreate itself.
Is there any point to contesting the election if others cannot win it? Many say that the key to bringing down the system is a uniform boycott of the elections.
I think this is very late in the coming. After 2014 we were confronted with just how distorted a structure had resulted from the continuous modification of the electoral system, and yet they quietly walked into Parliament, picked up their first paycheck, and with that the legal and moral basis for the boycott ceased to exist. But an even bigger problem is that they did nothing to build a new base. Pathetic political tickle games continue to exist. They are trying to divert left-wing voters here and there to realize an advantage.
Do alternative political structures based on civil foundations exist that are suitable to renew the antiquated party system?
The main thing I’ve learned over the course of my career was that protesting against the destruction of the constitutional order was a fruitless attempt. I learned my lesson and started a kind of base-building. For me the real question today is whether it is possible to force a real political community given the circumstances of today. Is it possible to relegate individual personalities to the background? Can we reach those communities that are capable of taking possession of the political space?
The way is clear. What’s preventing you?
These are a view. The problem with opposition politics is that it is stiflingly organized around parties and media outlets whose funding is suspect. It is not true that people are indifferent. They are very interested in public affairs. But they do not see the link that ties them to politics. Politics gives no answer to people’s low wages, or if they have sustenance problems, or if they cannot teach their children. They don’t see that there is a communal answer to “individual” problems. If we find communal answers to this, then politics will interest them.
Without a party, press or political institutions where can a community go?
Naturally with time there will be a need for political answers, as well as organizations. For parties, for parliament. The party is the penultimate product. But it is not possible to immediately start by organizing a party.
They say the reason today’s opposition parties are feckless is because authoritarian forms of government cannot practically be defeated through democratic elections. There were also elections under Mubarak [in Egypt], just as they hold elections in Russia today.
This is partially true. One can learn from the system change of the previous century. The system did not simply blow up. Next to their writing desks well-intended people also organized. That was an exceptional occasion. There will not be more such occasions. We cannot wait for the Orbán power pyramid to collapse on its own.
[Political analyst] Péter Tölgyessy is in the habit of saying how astonishing it was how few participated in the system change, from which he concluded that Hungarians are indifferent to the idea of freedom.
That is insulting as well as unfair. It is necessary to look at how many parties, newspapers, civil organizations came about. All the while, of course, they did not allow anyone to get close to writing a constitution. If the opposition roundtable takes off, but the media is banned, what message does that send? There is a need for radical publicity. Those accused of being rigid will also be rigid towards politics.
You find lacking left-wing political forms of expression. Many consider this well-intended naivety.
It is so obvious that I do not understand what they find strange or naive about it. Having access to resources is not a right of birth. We need to justly provide access to those who use them. Forget about talking about the top 30 percent of Hungarian society while they look down on those beneath them (gypsies, poor, those dependent on aid), saying they are indifferent and servile. They do not protect the free press, the law and constitutionalism.
Are you an unconventional political actor in connection with politically embedded parties?
I’ve made such efforts in the past. I tried to speak with them. I invited Gyurcsány [Democratic Coalition], Molnár [Hungarian Socialist Party] and Vona [Jobbik] to debate me. They swept me aside with both hands. Only the small parties were willing to debate.
Perhaps they find you eccentric. You said that you wasted years politicizing in defense of legal abstractions. Are civil rights irrelevant?
It came about this way organically. For a long time I thought the liberal agenda had the right to exist, and that the development of domestic civic engagement could proceed on the road of meritocracy. Since then I realized that this is wishful thinking. The key issue in politics is misery. Hungary is living in unbelievable misery and self-destruction. It is not only affected by brutal deprivation but also the precarious state of those belonging to the so-called middle class. Even though there is no crime in being poor. There are community answers to this.
There were also civil initiatives in earlier years. Born peachy (Születtek üde), youth formations (Milla, HaHa). They started well but then quickly died out.
This was not by accident. Not one of them dealt with poverty and social hopelessness. By the way, this was the secret to the rise of the racist Jobbik movement. In case you didn’t notice, in addition to their extreme right-wing statements they attacked the social side of the Órban system. This is a great shame for the left-wing.
Have the alternative movements of the past six years not been the romantic toys of the children of the genteel upper middle class?
Perhaps partly. But I don’t want to berate the defenders of civil rights. In the end everyone is acting useful who weakens the system of NER (National Cooperation System). It’s another question whether there should be more insight, more understanding and more solidarity.
The manner in which Hungarian intellectuals relate to the future is incredibly fatalistic. They speak of the role of a light-tower. They are waiting for the system to expire and collapse on its own. I’ve got bad news. It will not collapse on its own. But every intention, plan, reform and change is destined to fail (this is a consequence of the system change) in which society does not participate. It is not possible to exclude those who will use the rights they receive.
Why wasn’t a viable new left-wing born in Hungary?
The situation is nowhere near to being over. With time there will be. A few years is not long historically. The left-wing subculture is very strong, which the new left-wing will operate one day.
It is difficult to imagine you in parliament. Theatricality and performance is your political trademark.
I don’t wish to be a part of any kind of parliament. I could not be useful there. If I could, I would stand for public policy. But there will be a left-wing party one day with which I can identify in which I will play a role without shame of any kind.
You have been accused of critical exhibitionism.
That is a rather cheap and empty accusation. What is exhibitionism? That I speak into a microphone? I can be accused of many things, but exhibitionism is not a substantive criticism.
What is needed in order to renew the left?
The first step is the most important. There exists in Hungary a party that declares itself left-wing called the Hungarian Socialist Party [MSZP] which is neither socialist nor a party. Meanwhile it completely dominates the political left. MSZP is dominated by a company which is incapable of re-energizing itself.
And if it would be your task to refresh this formation?
That would be a fruitless experiment.
Since the start of the system change, MSZP has caused serious damage that goes undetected to this day. The strengthening of Fidesz, the capitalization of [businessman] Simicska, in which [MSZP treasurer] László Puch played an imprescriptible role — these were all the doing of MSZP. They are culpable for enabling Fidesz to achieve a two-thirds majority in 2010. They are forever interested in no democratic expression ever establishing itself in Hungary that is free of political-economic influence. In the end they even beat [left-wing newspaper] Népszabadság like a drum and allowed it to be lost. But we can also mention the distribution of frequencies and corruption surrounding commercial television, and the ORTT [National Radio and Television Company] parties held with Fidesz. There are crimes stuck to MSZP about which it cannot be said they have any insights or regrets.
I again ask what will happen to the left-wing in 2018?
The disaffection will be huge. The apathy will be terrifying. And then we will reach the point when the left-wing can no longer think about Gyula Molnár [MSZP] and company, Gyurcsány and company. Those responsible for advancing the failed partocracy will be held to account.
About Márton Gulyás: He was born in Budapest in 1986. He is a born rebel. Already at the Berzsenyi academic high school he organized demonstrations against the director. Earlier he was a contracted volunteer with independent theatre company “Chalk Circle” (Krétakör). He was admitted to acting college, but after four months wrote a letter to the rector and left. He played a role from the beginning in the Network of University Student (Hallgatói Hálózat) demonstrations. Changes at Krétakör favored Gulyás’s more political approach, and he went from being a project leader to becoming managing director. He received a lot of publicity from numerous protest actions, and his videos on political subjects can be seen on YouTube. He attempted to create a political umbrella organization under the name Humán Platform.