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"The old left-wing has been corrupted by the current regime," says Levente Pápa on leaving Együtt

Photo: Index.hu

“Ferenc Gyurcsány, in his own egotistical way, continues to serve the interests of Fidesz. His party’s 8-10 percent makes it impossible for something new to emerge in the opposition. From now on, anyone who supports collaboration undertakes to be their accomplice. I do not want to be an accomplice to the old left-wing. These people do not want to defeat Orbán, they are perfectly satisfied with their current livelihood. . . . The old left-wing elite has been corrupted by the current regime, and Együtt is assisting this. Együtt is no longer what it was when it was started..”

The following interview with politician Levente Pápa appeared on Index.hu on September 21st, 2016, under the title “He will not be an accomplice to the left-wing, Együtt’s deputy chairman resigns:”

There are rumors of friction and conflict within Együtt. You are at the center of some of these. Do you really have that much conflict with the rest of the party leadership?

It’s true, there has been nothing resembling harmonious cooperation for some time.

What was at the root of the conflict?

Mostly issues concerning political strategy and values. At the center of this conflict is whether Együtt defines itself as a left-wing party or an independent entity. Of course, this conflict did not start now, it goes back to 2013.

Party chairman Viktor Szigetvári says Együtt is a part of the left-wing. But you, as deputy chairman, want something else?

Yes, and there is division inside various levels of the party on this issue. I came to Együtt in January 2014 at Gordon Bajnai’s invitation. My final question before joining the party was to Gordon. “Will I be able to criticize Ferenc Gyurcsány for the past eight years just as I criticize Viktor Orbán for his own government?” I asked. “Levi, of course,” Gordon Bajnai responded. Based on this, I rightly assumed that the future of Együtt would be based on building a political center independent of the old left-wing parties, MSZP and DK.

But even back then we knew that the left-wing collaboration would take place in early 2014, and that Együtt would be part of it.

This is how the collaboration was sold to those of us who believed in the creation of an independent center. For example, they told me this was a forced collaboration, and that it was necessary to prevent Fidesz from getting another two-thirds supermajority. It turned out this was a terribly incorrect interpretation of the situation. But the promise was that we would get into parliament and then part ways with the other parties.

And why didn’t that happen?

This is what is at the root of these problems. After Gordon Bajnai left the party, I fought to create our own independent political field. The first challenge was with our joint candidate for mayor of Budapest, Ferenc Falus. Myself, and those standing behind me, really did not want to run a joint candidate, and particularly not him. We believed that we needed to run separately.

Officially, Falus was Együtt’s candidate and he wore Együtt’s logo, but MSZP and DK got behind him.

Five votes in favor, two against, and two abstentions was the vote in our party’s executive board. I’ll admit that I was one of the votes against. And here was where one of the very serious conflicts emerged between myself and a large portion of the party leadership. Later, Falus would step down and our party backed Lajos Bokros — and that was the final nail in the coffin of the cooperation between Együtt and PM. I did not want us to go our separate ways and for this team to be further fragmented. And I also did not want the big left-wing collaboration to help Ferenc Gyurcsány.

In 2015 did you want to be chairman of Együtt to move the party away from the left?

My political program would have been about returning to the original road that Gordon Bajnai mapped out. To say that we got the message in 2014, that we understand how the people feel, that we screwed up, that we learned our lessons, that we will never do anything like that again, and that we will meet in the middle, not on the left. This could have been shown through a change in personnel, not only in terms of content and symbolism. But this didn’t happen. In fact, we did not even mull over the failures of the 2014 municipal elections, which obviously suited certain interests in the internal power struggle.

So, Szigetvári remained chairman. Do you think Együtt will take part in some kind of left-wing collaboration in the upcoming election?

Whatever will happen, Együtt is already considered part of the left-wing, and, informally, it has strong ties to the left. This is unacceptable for me because there has been a lot of whispering for quite some time – and now openly as well – that MSZP is part of NER (Fidesz’s National Cooperation System-tran.). There are obvious signs that MSZP is intertwined with Fidesz. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Attila Mesterházy sabotaged Gordon Bajnai’s candidacy for prime minister in 2013 and 2014. And Ferenc Gyurcsány, in his own egotistical way, continues to serve the interests of Fidesz. His party’s 8-10 percent makes it impossible for something new to emerge in the opposition. From now on, anyone who supports collaboration undertakes to be their accomplice. I do not want to be an accomplice to the old left-wing. These people do not want to defeat Orbán, they are perfectly satisfied with their current livelihood.

What makes you think that the Left doesn’t want to win?

There are many signs of cooperation. From the shady background financial dealings to the chaos evident since MSZP’s party elections, or even DK’s strategy which only seeks to defeat MSZP. It’s just like being in the sandbox, seriously. For a long time we believed that there is simply little talent and strength, but we can also believe there is a lack of will. Hushing this up makes one an accomplice.

MSZP chairman Gyula Molnár recently said that his party is Fidesz’s inexorable challenger.

I get that they want to stay afloat, but I think it is hard to dispute that, based on experience, MSZP has “inexorably” served Fidesz’s interests.

Is Együtt preparing to run with MSZP and DK in 2018?

I think there will be another collaboration, but none of them really want to take part in primary elections. Currently, everyone is talking about moving forward with coordinated candidates (joint candidates, but separate lists). How well that worked in Budapest last time! How else could this end if not exactly like it did in 2014? They will sit down in a room and a few of them will decide.

There are rumors that MSZP and DK have already divvied up the Budapest districts with each other. I will take no part in this.

Have Viktor Szigetvári or other Együtt leaders taken part in any such meeting with MSZP and DK?

I do not know of any such meetings. But we cannot back away from them because we are powerless and it is too late. I did not come to this party so that we could run together with the left-wing in election after election. Furthermore, aside from this, I had numerous problems with several members of the party leadership.

What were the disagreements about?

The primaries, for example, which I suggested at the end of last year in a blog post. Aside from involving civil society, I recommended that we stipulate that no candidate have previously served  as an undersecretary or higher capacity in the government. A member of our executive called me a Nazi for suggesting that.

I am constitutionally indisposed to doctrinal thinking. There are a lot of people in this party with strong ties to the networks of the past and the people of the past, and they primarily want to gain the acceptance of these people. Bound up in this way, there is no chance of creating a new political class.

We also had disagreements on the refugee issue. I was the one who demanded our program include security guarantees. I even developed a conceptual outline for it, but they just swept it off the table. I also recommended something different for the referendum, and I even published it on hvg.hu (invalid ballots and the referendum on EU membership).

I always kept these disagreements in-house, I did not want to take them before the public. Party discipline, loyalty, and a sense of belonging to a community were always important for me, but we have reached the point at which there is no sense continuing like this. When it becomes apparent that our differences are so great, it’s best if we go our separate ways. I can no longer continue like this in good conscience.

What exactly does that mean? Because minimally you’ll get a slap on the wrist from the party for this interview.

It means I am leaving Együtt. Today I am resigning all my political positions, my deputy chairmanship, and as chairman of the party foundation’s board of trustees.

You party will have elections next February, why not just wait until then?

Because there is no long any point. Even if my thoughts were accepted by the majority – which is rather unlikely – the party would break trying to adjust on the one hand, and on the other there is no time left for repositioning. People have it burned into their minds that we are the old left-wing. I have great respect for the work of the well-intentioned people in Együtt, but this construct is bad. The biggest problem would remain: [a lack of] credibility.

So you think Együtt can’t be a credible party?

It can’t because it never adjusted its relationship with the left-wing that is partially responsible for this entire political crisis. The old left-wing elite has been corrupted by the current regime, and Együtt is assisting this. Együtt is no longer what it was when it was started. Együtt has failed to make good decisions after the terrible decision of 2014, and that is why Együtt will not be able to make the right decision in 2018. I have said this ten times in front of various party forums.

How did your peers respond to this when you brought it up?  Did they not understand or did they disagree?

A large portion of them understood, but many said that for various tactical reasons it is not good to ruin the party’s relationship with MSZP and DK because we will have to collaborate with them in the end anyway. When I said we should keep our distance and criticize because we should speak about their issues of corruption, they responded that this isn’t possible because they are our natural partners. I think we need to move beyond ignoring our differences. This is the first step in toppling the Orbán regime.

Did you have too much of Együtt?

This is sort of like a breakup: it’s a long process. You don’t fall out of love from one day to the next. I will not deny that this process has been ongoing for me for the past year, and we have become more and more distant from one another. The many arguments on values and strategies turned into personal problems, too.

What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Why are you now giving an interview about leaving?

This has been incubating inside me for a long time, and I had time over the summer to reflect on the situation with objective people. I like to plan ahead, and I gave myself until early autumn to make a final decision. It was a difficult decision to make, I did not want to make it hastily, but I now feel that I must act.

Will Viktor Szigetvári be surprised when he reads this interview?

He obviously sensed from my many signs of disagreement that something would happen. I don’t think he will be surprised.

Have you talked to Gordon Bajnai about leaving the party?

No.

Did you ever talk about these strategy problems with Bajnai?

I spoke to him about this back during the spring, but he is out, he does not want to get involved.

How many followers do you have in the party? Will there be a mass departure?

I don’t think so, and that is not my goal. I do not want to hurt Együtt, I don’t want this to get personal. I am leaving because I think Együtt is resting on a bad foundation, and the wrong pilings have been hammered down. In this manner the best intentions, work, and valuable seeds have fallen onto barren earth.

Prior to 2014, you worked in finance at OTP before entering politics. Are you completely finished with politics? Are you getting out for good?

I would like to continue fighting against today’s unjust and country-ruining governing power, but only in a meaningful way. I do not want to leave public life. There will be lots of discussions in the coming months because I know that many people want to do something new, they want a new alternative, a new political community. Something that has no ties to the old left-wing does not have to come up with explanations for things that happened in the past.

In the six months we will see whether a new alternative will emerge. But for me, being a politician isn’t a question of earning an income. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to my profession and will earn a living with my knowledge.

So it’s possible that we might see you in another party in the future?

Not in any party that exists today. But I believe there will eventually be that critical mass that stands in the middle and wants nothing from the current regime or the old left-wing. From this it is possible to launch a movement, later a party, that represents the center, one that is patriotic, loves the homeland, one that wants to promote the national interests within Europe rather than against Europe, one that believes in a market economy built from the bottom up, one that believes in the modernization of society, and one that is free of extremism. A party with new players who have not been completely discredited by the past. I would gladly take part in something like this, but I can no longer be a member of Együtt with an honest heart — and doing politics any other way simply isn’t worth it.

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