Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy: Beyond ideology

May 10, 2015

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The goal of the honest politician and his party is to promote the public weal.  A democratic politician understands the public weal to mean human rights, the rule of law, ensuring representative democracy, the “clean hands” state, and the inviability of private property, just as it means a sustainable, sustaining economy and strong societal solidarity.

The smart man knows that liberal democracy cannot exist in the long run in a country with a weak economy in which people must struggle for their daily survival without hope in the future.  The great tragedy of the past twenty-five years is that multi-party democracy did not bring an increase in prosperity.  The people always voted for the one who promised prosperity.  However, in retrospect the citizens feel as though they were deceived.  The promises turned to lies and the hopes into shattered dreams.   One of the strange results of the series of bitter disappointments is that those who offer a better life at the expense of freedom are the supporters of this unique Hungarian society order.   If one must choose between food and work, and freedom, obviously the majority will choose work and vote for steady income.

It is the responsibility of democracy politics to formulate and introduce to the people that it is much better to live in a free, rule-of-law state than in a dictatorship, although very few repeat this truth like a prayer wheel.  And there is no point either, since what is the point of a republic and a marvelous constitution if my children are moving abroad and I am unemployed with nothing to do or a starving pensioner?   Voters’ trust in democracy can only be won by promising realistic goals involving improvement to prosperity in the near future, explaining the way in a credible, concrete, and accessible manner, and precisely naming the necessary means of achieving this.  Outstanding social scientists or economists and excellent organizations representing civil interests can perhaps allow themselves the luxury of painting the picture of a livable country without compromise, or of simply focussing on separate matters of special importance to society at large.  A democratic political party cannot do this, because its goal is to come to power since it is only with a governing mandate that it can implement measures that will improve the common good while enriching the lives of all citizens.

If we wish to improve the future of ten million people living in Hungary, then we have to make a huge number of compromises and we cannot be doctrinaire.  In a globalized world politicians cause damage to society who stubbornly insist on dogmas of political ideology and stubbornly cling to the “isms” born after the Second World War.   We should acknowledge that it is not by chance that in the western world social-democracy and Christian democracy, conservatism and liberalism, right and left political interpretations and governing practices are converging.  The world is too complicated and the means of improving our lives is too limited to force ourselves and others into a narrow box.

It is neither necessary nor possible for everyone to see in the same way the world, the role of the state, and the relationship between the state and the individual.  Nor should one sharpen the differences between temperate world views.  What is needed are politics focused on the public interest that are normal, sensible.  In other words, value-based pragmatism.

All of this is very true in Hungary today.  Four million people are living in hopeless circumstances, one quarter of them in dire poverty, among them a staggering number of children.  The quality of education is insufficient, there aren’t enough workplaces, the state is terribly corrupt, arbitrariness destroys companies, there is no lending, there are no projects.  All of which merely creates more unemployment.  Public service workers are fighting in complete hopelessness in a self-sacrificial way.  Hundreds of thousands are forced to live as subjects of the Fidesz party state.

Private property, like that of the nation, has morphed into the private property of Fidesz, in which they range freely.  At the same time there is demagoguery and the country is repulsed in the direction of eastern despotism.   And all of this is likely to continue.  Obviously, in such a case what is needed is for a democratic government to undertake a complete state reform after getting back the country from the impenitent mafiosos and restoring the rule of law.  However, realizing the entirety of such a program is a task encompassing one or two parliament cycles, and we cannot responsibly promise a faster process.  But what will happen until then?  How and from what will the people live for four or eight years?  Why do they vote again and again for those who exclusively offer blood and sweat?  Because there are hugely irresponsible and cynical liars offering instant salvation, but not one of them considers himself a democrat. But they do not even appear to the unsuspecting viewer to be the destroyers of our country?  Why shouldn’t the masses prefer to vote for them?

Democrats must offer the often deceived and justifiably disappointed people a program that offers tangible results not only in the distant future, but in the near future.  We must obtain votes based on principles in a non-doctrinaire manner, because in the absence of being in power we have no chance of achieving the good, only at best saying good things while condemning governments we look down on.   We have to admit that uncompromising behavior based on principles could easily throw the country into the arms of Jobbik.  We democrats must strike a healthy balance between long term programs intended to restore freedom and raise the country materially and things that deliver concrete help to people in the short term.

In the spirit of this, on May 1st the Democratic Coalition submitted a proposal consisting of three points.  We want to raise minimum wage to the level of substance income within five years.  We want to guarantee that people receive wages for work performed.  Also, we want to ensure everyone the right to the minimum water and electricity necessary to sustain life.  These questions have nothing to do with political “isms”, social or chritian democracy, liberalism or conservatism.  Or populism for that matter.  These are the needs and realizable ideas of normal people in the middle of Europe in the 21st century.  Naturally, we don’t wish to introduce any of our measures in a manner that will induce shock.  We cannot burden the fragile budget, we cannot decrease public revenues, and we cannot punish any social group.  These proposals do not offer a solution to every burning problem, but would make every day life more livable and a little easier, and would free many of our compatriots from the terrible worries relating to their survival.  If the house is on fire, we save those trapped inside, and we do not ask them first why they were not able to extinguish the flames themselves.  Doctors also tend to those wounded in accidents and those in trouble without conditioning life saving measures on a thorough examination of the circumstances in which they live.  For the same reason where there are a lot of problems, like in Hungary, the most liberal and more reform politicians are also searching for ways to immediately ameliorate unbearable problems before turning to the rational and necessary restructuring of the complete state system.  Because if we do not do it like this, then in the end the social fabric will be so tattered, that the most suitable reforms will easily become obsolete.

Over the next few months DK will be making a number of similar, practical recommendations to the public worker and academic alike.   It is necessary to conduct a detailed and varied professional debate, and we will do so.  Here and now I have only dealt with the declaration of principles because we must demonstrate to a Hungarian society which is endlessly suspicious that we have not lost our humanity.  Let us be more understanding of one another’s problems.  Let’s help here and now so that more people can have a chance of leading a life worthy of human beings.  Perhaps that is what they call solidarity, or social cohesion.   Regardless of which party we belong to or which proud and independent ideology we follow, we are certain to once again miss the opportunity to law the foundation for democracy and prosperity.  We cannot pass this responsibility onto anyone else.  We have to solve the problem together.  Shall we undertake it?