Translation of Ilda G. Tóth’s interview with Momentum Mozgalom (Momentum Movement) chairman András Fekete-Győr appearing in the February 9th, 2017 edition of HVG.
“As a university student I imagined that those fellow students of mine would become politicians who learned how to steal in student local government, while an intellectual such as myself would naturally become a lawyer,” says the 27-year-old seedling politician in reflecting on his personal development. He was born into an upper-class family. His father worked for many years as the director of the National Deposit Insurance Fund. “He was a strict, Prussian-like and completely honest person who believed in the person of Viktor Orbán” he says. His mother studied foreign trade but “her job was rather managing the family.” His half sibling, who is six years older, is a lawyer. His younger sister studied medicine. He attended a German-Hungarian bilingual school. He then studied drama and history at Buda’s Told Ferenc Academic High School, where his interests came to focus on social studies. Finally he decided to study law, even though “as someone who is adventurous I suffered from ELTE’s culture of cramming.” After obtaining his diploma, he joined a multinational company “to earn money.” He deliberately organized for himself the opportunity to obtain political experience abroad, first working in the legal committee at the European Parliament, then in Berlin working as an assistant to CSU (Christian Socialist Union) politician Hans-Peter Friedrich. In the spring of 2015 he launched the Momentum Mozgalom (Momentum Movement) together with eight colleagues, which in January set about collecting signatures in Budapest in order for there to be a referendum on hosting the Olympics.
He lives in a downtown flat owned by his family with his French girlfriend with whom he speaks German, but “we watch television series in English.” He lists among his favorite pastimes “socializing and talking with friends. My father was manic about my swimming but I got bored of it, because I already felt at that time that I was a team member, and for this reason voted instead for soccer and volleyball.”
Many draw a parallel between the current Momentum and the appearance of Fidesz on the scene in 1988. Apart from a similar beard, do you sense other similarities with the Viktor Orbán of that time?
I am not in the least bit as narcissistic as he was, even at that time. But the Viktor Orbán of 1988 could have been one of our best friends! I liked the zeal, dynamism and energyy with which he represented his views of that time. If I had lived then, it is for sure I would have joined Fidesz. But I would have left soon thereafter. They organized based on their friends and dormitory. At first I also tried to engage in community building starting with my own community, but in the end those became my comrades in arms with whom I maintained a degree of distance. We are not as radical in our character as Fidesz was at that time, despite being far better organized.
If you want to call out Viktor Orbán, then it would not hurt to develop a political character.
I am very far from imagining myself as a candidate for prime minister. For now the only thing of which I am certain is that I want to play some kind of role that has an influence on Hungary’s future. I like to be in the streets. I love being able to joke with people, tell stories, or tell (MSZP MEP) Tibor Szanyi that he should collect signatures and that this is not a theatre, and that he should not hold a press conference at our expense.
On the subject of theatre, you planned to capitalize on your dramatic abilities in the meeting room. At what moment did you decide to throw your law degree in the corner and become a politician?
I wandered away from law when I joined a famous law firm as an apprentice. I hated being there. The atmosphere was very stressful. That was enough to deter me for life. The following year I spent my university practice in Paris, and on the day of the big coming together of the the political opposition at home, in January 2014, the lightbulb went on. When I saw that, after four years of vehement Fidesz governance, the Hungarian opposition was incapable of running somebody who was credible and offered an effective alternative, then I realized that we needed to take our fates into our own hands.
What did your conservative father say about your illumination?
I was never able to reconcile myself to my father’s hierarchical way of seeing things. He thinks the basis is that the head of the family earns money and leads the family. I, on the other hand, learned from my Muslim girlfriend from Singapore that good relationships are based on equal ranking. Anyway, my parents are proud of me, and my mother even signed our petition. Of course, they did not understand what I was doing in Momentum until I went public. “Son, you need a normal job,” they would tell me.
With such a family background it was easy to volunteer full time and emphasize that you don’t want to work abroad but rather that you want to live at home! You didn’t even have to save up for a flat.
When I went to high school and my father dropped me off in his large official car each morning on his way to work, I always asked him to park it two streets over because I felt uncomfortable. But now I realize there is nothing to be ashamed of, as in my family everyone earns money in an honest manner. At most I should feel bad if, despite learning and living in such circumstances, I didn’t do something for my country. Not a single friend or acquaintance of mine moved home only because of Momentum, and many more plan to come home if we succeed in becoming a political factor.
You mean to say that you are already performing better than the government’s “Come home, youth” fantasy-named action?
I was confronted by my friends living abroad. There were those who did not join because they saw that it is not possible for a person to be a politician and remain absolutely clean and realize their dreams entirely on the basis of their principles.
How much did you have to deny yourself when you worked as an assistant to Hans-Peter Friedrich, whose Christian Socialist Party shares values with Fidesz?
Friedrich was really a strong Fidesz sympathizer but he had no idea how much corruption exists here! It was interesting to watch how Fidesz delegations came one after the other, led by everyone from Zoltán Balog to Gergely Gulyás. I thought to myself: one day we are going to sit at a table across from each other as opponents! I told Friedrich about Momentum. He told me to remember one thing: nothing will come of it without grass-roots support. For me in Germany the real example worthy of emulation was how much big politics were about compromise.
Does this mean you are ready to form a large coalition if necessary? In the end it will turn out that you are a born politician!
It took many months for me to digest the fact that what I want to do now is actually politics. I slowly recognized in myself a character trait that could be useful on this path. I am open and direct, am happy to listen to people’s thoughts and problems. If we are talking about a community, I can be enthusiastic and passionate. Perhaps such politicians are needed in order to renew the political culture and to complete the system change.
Don’t they call you an idealist?
I am extremely positive in my outlook. The way I look at things, I can only benefit from challenges. That is why I sometimes appear arrogant in the press, because I believe excessively, for example that there will be enough signatures, and that in the future we will get into parliament.