"We are not looking for scapegoats, we are looking for solutions" – Politics Can Be Different (LMP)

July 30, 2016

Photo: MTI/Mohai Balázs
Photo: MTI/Mohai Balázs

“We are not looking for scapegoats, we are looking for solutions. . . . What’s happening now isn’t governing but rather staying-in-power-politics and it is ruining the country and keeping Fidesz in power. This is the thing for which we would like to offer an alternative.” – Ákos Hadházy, co-chair, LMP

The following interview with LMP co-chairs Bernadett Szél and Ákos Hadházy was published in the July 28, 2016, edition of conservative print weekly Heti Válasz.

  • The two politicians say they can win the 2018 election;
  • LMP is more Fidesz than Fidesz; and
  • LMP will not get into bed with the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) despite former co-leader András Schiffer leaving the party.

Mr. Co-chair, how did you arrive here today?

Ákos Hadházy: By car. I’ve been planning for quite some time to switch over to the train but the Szekszárd-Budapest line is much faster with an automobile.

Then let’s talk about the airplane.

Á.H.: It is possible in theory because I have many kinds of piloting licenses, but it would only be worthwhile if I could land the plane on Kossuth Square… But I’m afraid I could never bear the position that would make this possible.

LMP’s former co-chair, András Schiffer, did not even have a driver’s license. And someone arrives who can fly a plane. Isn’t this shift very stark? Not to mention the environmental footprint left by planes.

Á.H.: It is a big shift, but I am proud of my ability to fly a plane. I enjoy all kinds of driving. In my youth, I wanted to be a train conductor. With regards to the environmental footprint, that is a fair question, but you first tried with sailors and that did not constitute a polluting form of travel.

That’s good to know. Has there been talk at LMP about any future changes to the name or brand of the party?

Bernadett Szél: No.

Á.H.: Interestingly, I received a proposal a few days ago…

Why is Bernadett Szél smiling?

B.Sz.: This what base democracy is. Ákos and I agreed to never making conflicting statements…

Á.H.: This is true, so I will be more precise. No, it has never happened. Although someone recently suggested we change the name to Politics Can Be Different! — and I can appreciate that.

That is not a dramatic change. Does Bernadett Szél like it?

B.Sz.: I am satisfied with the current form because Politics Can Be Different was never a question, it was a statement. This coincides with what the goal is: to broadcast that we are a positive power that can shape the future.

The reason why I brought this up is because many have commented on Schiffer’s departure as proof that politics cannot be different, LMP cannot overcome the threshold, and the chairman is fleeing.

B.Sz.: This is an incorrect interpretation. I do not believe in the kind of parties that are tied to personalities. If there was ever a party where there are changes, it is LMP. It is enough to remember back to when Dialogue for Hungary (PM) broke away. But our fundamental idea never changed.

Á.H.: András’ decision is proof that politics can be different. What other party have you seen where a politician resigns from his seat in parliament, giving up his salary simply because he is convinced that that is the right thing to do. It also is not true that he is leaving LMP because we are counting on his work.

I will say something else then. The previous co-chair said there is no need for in-house media, but then Reflektor.hu was launched. Its editor-in-chief is former mayoral LMP mayoral candidate Ákos Csarnó, and the official publisher is the Fényszoró Média Foundation which was set up by LMP politicians.

B.Sz.: And what if I added that we are also thinking about launching our own television station in our modest situation… These efforts are not about LMP deliberately carving out its own servile media outlets. We, too, have our own community that we want to speak to. Unfortunately, we are successfully being squeezed out of the pro-government media outlets, so alternative media has become more important. I can’t even remember the last time I was on public television.

Ákos Hadházy could talk about that.

Á.H.: Yes, specifically public radio. On July 18th, when I arrived at the studio for a scheduled interview, the producer came out and told me that there will not be an interview, “we’ll find you sometime.” Well, thanks a lot.

That is an ugly story. So your response is an old one.  “Let’s just have our own media”.

B.Sz.: That comparison is absurd. We do not operate in a manner where we take over public media with public funds and then generate propaganda instead of news in the public’s interest.

Is Reflektor not financed by public funds? Surely, it does not make money on the market.

Á.H.: It operates entirely on private donations and volunteer support. Less of the former, and, to the best of my knowledge, more of the latter.

How many members does LMP have?

B.Sz.: We have 1,800 members and assistant members, but our registered sympathizers nearly come to 30,000. Our youth wing, The Future Can Be Different, was launched one year ago. We lost lots of members when the LMP-PM split happened, but we are now growing. We feel how the public sense has changed during our countrywide tours and we have never had so many interested people approach us as now.

Do you have enough built-up faces? You lost your most well-known politician with Schiffer’s departure.

Á.H.: We do not want to downplay the importance of marketing, but this is precisely the kind of logic we are trying to avoid. We are not building people up simply to suit our desire for taking power and we are not trying to sell “political detergent” because that would not serve our long-term aims or the interest of the nation. Furthermore, with me personally, one of the party’s most recognized members became the party co-chair. I can also say that this recognition is unfortunate because people only know about me because of [my] CorruptionInfo [press conferences]. I have been forced to hold more than twenty-five of these. This is what I feel is so lacking from the opposition, to have someone explain corruption and how billions are lost in a way that people can understand, and for someone to explain that this money is really missing from education, healthcare, and rural development.

What will make “billions” more understandable?

Á.H.: Let’s consider the example of public media. Taxpayers are paying HUF 90 billion (USD 315 million) annually but get nothing in return except for propaganda. This is an incredibly high number. The people have a much easier time imagining numbers like HUF 10-20 million as opposed to the tens of billions that disappear. So, I did some calculations: if only HUF 20 billion was spent on the government’s television channels, the remaining money could be used to give 60,000 people HUF 1 million, or we could just give 90,000 disenfranchised children scholarships of HUF 1 million. You could buy a hundred million rolls of toilet paper for the hospitals with HUF 10 billion, and despite the infections, toilet paper is still missing from the hospitals.

The Hungarian opposition have always been world champions in one thing: breaking down large government spending to the smallest possible unit, assisted breathing machines or rolls of toilet paper. Are you sure you want to have black belts in populism to make a stronger message than the Socialists?

Á.H.: We have to show somehow that one billion is a lot of money and that the budget is something that affects us all. This is not populism, LMP rejects this. Today, populism means to demonize the problems, the EU, the multinational corporations, the refugee issue. We are not looking for scapegoats, we are looking for solutions.

B.Sz.: And we do not measure ourselves to what the rest of the opposition parties are saying. MSZP should be judged based on what it has done in government, not on what it says at press conferences. Populism must be rejected, but it’s a fact that we must communicate in simpler terms. Earlier, our party prospectus was over 200 pages, now it’s only 85. Our politicians that come from academia and civil society are trying to give meaningful answers while we are competing with people who do one-word politics. One of them says rezsicsökkentés (government-mandated price cuts on public utility providers), while the the other says cigánybünőzés (gypsy crime). What should we say? Global warming?

Beyond the catch-words, one thing is definitely needed if you want to do politics: money. LMP receives HUF 170 million in state support, but the few million forint donated by your supporters is not good for much. If your sponsor, Richard Field, was to show up tomorrow, what would you say to him?

B.Sz.: We would thank him, and say we do not need it.

Á.H.: We will prove that we can do politics without dirty money in a transparent manner with small donations. We have no plans to involve rich people or people in the background.

Currently, LMP is being led by a Catholic lady from a conservative family and Calvinist former Fidesz male. Is this a club for disappointed right-wingers?

B.Sz.: No, our membership is very mixed and it would be an oversimplification to say something like that. We are trying to do a synthesis of values; in Hungary, there is less and less point to dividing between right and left.

Á.H.: I agree. If we are talking about values, the most important to me is the middle class. It is worthwhile to achieve the goal of returning to the middle class, because it is vital that we have many self-conscious, independent, and well-trained people in Hungary. If I only look at the goal of the creating the middle class, LMP is more Fidesz than Fidesz — that is, we are much more committed to this goal like the old Fidesz was.

Your party congress adopted a resolution to run alone in the election for the purpose of ousting Fidesz and renewing governmental politics. These are nice words, but Medián and Nézőpont put you at 4 percent, and Publicus puts you at 3 percent. You can’t be sure you’ll even get into parliament.

Á.H.: We certainly will!

B.Sz.: We are considered a Budapest party but we are focusing on mobilizing in rural Hungary. We will not give up on reaching the wider Hungarian society despite the label that has been stuck on us.

If in 2018 LMP is the weight to tip the scale, would it join a coalition? Perhaps with some larger left-wing conglomerate, or, as we published in our paper two weeks ago, would you consider a plan B coalition with Fidesz without Viktor Orbán?

B.Sz.: I cannot deny that we have a long road ahead of us. I had one request of the new co-chair, that he get the work done. We are already seeing the effects of our countrywide tour and we see that we have huge reserves in the countryside.

Á.H.: And let’s not forget that goal of the opposition should be to win over the governing party’s voters. I am so surprised when I see opposition leaders who talk about the 2018 election being lost. They cannot let that go.

MSZP’s new president, Gyula Molnár, ousted the incumbent József Tobiás with his policy of “opening”, and said he would invite the leaders of all democratic opposition parties over for a “Sunday lunch.” Will you have lunch with Gyula Molnár?

Á.H.: Coffee maybe, but Sunday lunch is reserved for my family. He is not a member of our family, and I think Molnár is trying to court the Democratic Coalition. We wish them good appetite at their lunch. We will not take part in any shared maneuvering with the left-wing parties, that is also why we are staying away from the opposition primaries should they decide to have it. The opposition powers should not avoid having shared ideas, but it’s also important that they not only have “shared” things, and that they have shared ideas that extend beyond divvying up parliamentary mandates.

B.Sz.: We are only willing to work together with other parties on concrete issues, just as we did with MSZP on the land issue. We will never forget that we got into parliament as an opposition response to the Gyurcsány-Bajnai system. We got to see them up close and we do not want any kind of association with them. But I will never forget the spirit with which we declared that we would behave like a constructive opposition after the 2010 elections, then the disappointment we had with our parliament group afterwards. What’s happening now isn’t governing but rather staying-in-power-politics and it is ruining the country and keeping Fidesz in power. This is the thing for which we would like to offer an alternative.