Zoltán Kész: A strong economy creates a strong nation

March 2, 2015


The independent victor in last Sunday’s Veszprém by-election asks for a 100-day grace period.  He believes Fidesz and Jobbik represent the East, while he represents the West.  He considers the Jobbik danger to be a real problem, but says they have three years to build an alternative.  For the time being Kész does not plan to found a party, however he would like to educate the country about theories of freedom forming the basis for Western democracy, because Hungarian society is enormously lacking in this respect.

Budapest Beacon: Many have attacked you for a post you made five years ago. We will take one or two statements out of the original context:  “I am also a Republican because I don’t think the rich should have to pay everything while in the meantime half the country lives from public assistance. . . . Perhaps one is a more useful member of Hungarian society who does not bear children just for the public assistance . . . ”.  Is this not coded anti-Gyspy sentiment?  I’m not saying that it is.  I’m asking.  In any event many interpreted it as such.

Zoltán Kész: It was absolutely not anti-Gypsy sentiment.  The point I was making is that I believe in a completely different system of public assistance than what exists today in Hungary.

BB: You also wrote that “I’m also radical, because I do not believe in public assistance.  In fact, I don’t believe in equal opportunity either.”

Z. K.: Because people are different, I do not believe in equality.  The entire world is colorful.  Those who want equality, as I wrote back then, should go to North Korea.

BB: But you agree that, even though your intention was not to express anti-Gypsy sentiment, the quote could be interpreted as such?  At least that part about “bearing children for public assistance”.

Z. K.: I do not understand anti-Gypsy sentiment.  As for how others may code it, that’s everyone’s own problem.

BB: If it wasn’t anti-Gypsy sentiment, then why did you later remove the statement from the world net?

Z. K.: It was the personal blog of an English teacher that I took down years ago, not now.

BB: How did Lajos Simicska help the campaign?  Rumor has it that in the villages around Veszprém a significant part of hard-core Fidesz supporters stayed at home, and that the Orbán-Simicska conflict played a large role in this.

Z. K.: It’s conceivable that the Orbán-Simicska conflict was one of the reasons for my success.  It was not necessarily due to the Orbán-Simicska conflict, but for sure that part of Fidesz has had enough of this government.  It is worth examining the results of Hárskút, because there Simicska has serious business interests.  So the assumption underlying the question is that I won in Hárskút. But the truth is that there my government opponent defeated me.  So perhaps that refutes the theory that Simicska indirectly worked for me.

BB: To date you have mostly been known in liberal circles.  On the other hand at Tuesday’s flashmob in Budapest you mentioned the four million living at or below the poverty level.  Does this indicate a social sensitivity on your part?

Z. K.: The past five years are responsible for the fact that there are four million poor people in Hungary, of which one million live in dire poverty.  The events of the past five years have helped a certain segment but not the economy of the entire country.  If the country stood on a strong economic footing it would create a strong nation and there wouldn’t be four million poor people in Hungary.  As I said in my speech on Tuesday, a strong economy creates a strong nation.

BB:  In other words, you are socially sensitive?  One might think of you as a classical hardcore Anglo-Saxon liberal.  You are not known for being socially sensitive.  But your speech on Tuesday attested to social sensitivity.

Z. K.: There is an ideology that I believe in.  At the same time it is necessary to take into consideration what the country needs.  It’s clear to me that it is not possible to introduce radical change from one moment to the next.  But it is necessary to put the economy in order, and incrementally, eliminate step-by-step those problems that have resulted in four million poor people living in Hungary today.

BB: I don’t want to defend Fidesz but there was poverty in Hungary before May 29, 2010 (the day the second Orbán government took office.-ed.)

Z. K.: Without a doubt.  But there weren’t so many poor people as now.  Look at the Eurostat data pertaining to this.  The past nearly five years have led to this.  Secondly, outward migration is also a serious problem: half a million people left over the past five years.  Viktor Orbán sees the problem in inward migration, where it isn’t the inward but the outward migration that is the problem.

BB: I expected (sitting Fidesz vice-mayor) Némedi and you to get at least 80 percent of the total vote.  I was expecting the Ózd-syndrome to the extent that there was a Fidesz candidate and only one challenger that stood a chance, and in this way who wanted to vote for the governing party voted for Némedi and who did not voted for you. Between the two of you, however, you only received 76 percent of the vote.  The Jobbik candidate, Andrea Varga-Damm, although it was obvious that she has no chance of winning, got a seventh of the vote.  Does this not constitute a danger?  Despite the surface appearance does this not project a Jobbik breakthrough?

Z. K.: The proportion of votes for the Jobbik candidate in Veszprém was low.  The villages pulled it up to one-seventh.

BB: You are also a member of the electorate just like everyone else living in Veszprém.  Are we not faced with a huge danger on a countrywide scale in 2018?

Z. K.: This is in any event a real problem.

BB: How can the problem be handled, especially given the impotence of the democratic parties?

Z. K.: We have to build an alternative that would cause people to vote neither for Jobbik nor the governing parties in 2018.  The responsibility of the political opposition is huge, as well as that of civil organizations.

BB: Including you?

Z. K.: Of course.  I also consider myself a member of the opposition.

BB:   In an interview you gave before the election you did not say categorically that you would not establish a party.  Are you establishing a party that would represent the alternative you mentioned before?  The elections are over, so you can freely say so.

Z. K.: I haven’t thought about establishing a party.  I would like a 100-day grace period so that I can evaluate why Hungarian politics are what they are, what can be done in the national assembly, and who it is possible to cooperate with. Following this we can return to concrete matters as to the method by which I can politicize and who I can cooperate with.  I came into politics from civil society.  It’s a huge challenge.

BB: On the subject of who you are willing to cooperate with, directly after it appeared that you were the winner, you gave a short interview in which you said which parties you would cooperate with.  You expressed yourself ambiguously in such a way that your words can also be interpreted to mean that you consider Fidesz a democratic party.  Is Fidesz a democratic party?

Z. K.: I originally stated that I am prepared to cooperate with them in every matter that is good for Veszprém and the other 24 settlements belonging to the electoral district.

BB: Even Jobbik?

Z. K.: I would be happy if Jobbik would initiate something that moves the ship of state forward, including the Veszprém electoral district, but I haven’t seen such an initiative from Jobbik over the past few years.

BB: Returning to my original quesiton: is Fidesz a democratic party?

Z. K.: It was elected to parliament in a democratic election.

BB: If we accept that line of reasoning, then on that basis Jobbik is also a democratic party.

Z. K.: I cannot accept an extremist right-wing party.  My core values are completely different.

BB:  I don’t want to defend either Fidesz or Jobbik.  In any event, it was not Jobbik but Fidesz that weakened the rule of law.  So is Fidesz a democratic party?

Z. K.: The election was democratic.

BB: In 2010, obviously.  But in 2014 as well?

Z. K.: In 2014 also.  Without doubt they weakened the rule of law.  It must be restored.

BB:  You have repeatedly said that you will not be a member of any parliamentary caucus.  Are you not at least considering establishing a party?  Or joining a party?  I’m thinking mostly of the Movement for a Modern Hungary (MOMA), considering that among the other parties it is MOMA that professes the same ideology as you, as I see it.  Gábor Fodor, Tímea Szabó or Ferenc Gyurcsány are also independent national assemblymen, but at the same time all three are party members.

Z. K.: Had I wanted to join MOMA, I would have done so.

BB: Did they approach you?

Z. K.: No. And I do not at all intend to join an existing party.

BB: In an earlier interview you said that as a member of parliament you will remain a civil.  Does that mean you will remain the chairman of the Civil Platform (Polgári Platform)?

Z. K.: I haven’t decided yet. I need to sit down with the Civil Platform to see what possibilities there are.

BB: Obviously, you are aware that an independent member of parliament has far less opportunity to speak in parliament than a member of one caucus or another.  When do you plan to give your coming-out speech, on what topic and in what forum: during the pre-agenda session, interpellation, etc.?

Z. K.: I take my oath of office on March 16 but I don’t expect to speak on that day. With regard to this question, I ask for a 100-day grace period.

BB: I noticed two large strands in the series of fall and winter demonstrations. The one is a left-wing, anti-capitalist direction represented by “Now Us” (MostMi) and “We Won’t Be Silent” (Nem némulunk el) Facebook-based associations.  They organized the November 17 and January 2 protests.  Believers in this strand flush the entire past 25 years down the toilet.  The other, the 60,000 for private pension funds and “100,000 Against the Internet Tax” (Százezren az internetadó ellen) Facebook group, considers private property to be sacred and does not wash together the past 4.8 years with the previous 20.2 years.  They were the ones to first register the October 26 demonstration, and then the largest demonstration to date, the October 28 demonstraiton, but the February 1st demonstration as well.  Do I see correctly that you stand much closer to the latter direction?

Z. K.: Of course.  From the outset they were the ones who asked me to speak at their demonstration, and this even happened on February 1st.  They were also the ones to organize the February 24th flashmob celebrating the end of Fidesz’s two-thirds supermajority.

BB: They are organizing the March 15th demonstration as well.  Are you speaking there as well?

Z. K.: It’s still not sure.

BB: In the neighboring electoral district of Ajka-Tapolcán there will be another parliamentary by-election on April 12th.  However, there the model is different from that of Veszprém.  MSZP and DK are running their own joint candidate, Ferenc Pad.  Jobbik, on the other hand, is much stronger there than in Veszprém. Is Pad certain to lose in Ajka-Tapolca?  You won as an independent.

Z. K.: Ajka-Tapolca has three poles and a completely different structure than the Veszprém electoral district.  I believe Ferenc Pad has a chance of winning. In the October election, Pad won his electoral subdistrict by five votes in a traditional, right-wing part of the city where in 2010 the governing party was victorious.  However, prior to 2010 the borders of the electoral districts in the case of local elections were different, but in those parts the Socialists do not have much to show for themselves in terms of electoral victories.

BB: Are you going to campaign for Pad?

Z. K.: Yes, I promised to help his campaign.

BB: The 3×3 program (summarized below) does not call for the restoration of the rule of law. Why not?

Z. K.: I completely agree that the rule of law must be restored.  That is a goal.  But on my own as an independent assemblymen I am not necessarily the one who should be accountable for this.   However, after 2018 we will restore the rule of law.

BB: For that you will need a two-thirds majority, which will only happen if Fidesz and Jobbik’s combined share shrinks to under a third.  The reality of the current situation requires that we return to the Jobbik question.  Do you not see Jobbik as a very real danger?

Z. K.: As I’ve already mentioned, it is necessary to create another alternative.  We have three years to do so.  Our task is for those wishing to replace the current government not to only see in Jobbik the suitable power.   For this reason I intentionally do not speak in terms of “left- and right-wing” but rather in terms of “West and East”.  The East is Fidesz and Jobbik.  The rest of us are the West.

BB:  How much will you succeed in representing such concepts as the West, freedom and prosperity in parliament?

Z. K.: For now my goal is the 3×3 program, or at least the realization of much of it over the next three years.  In addition, I think it important to familiarize the country with the concept of freedom, which is the basis of Western democracy.  Hungarian society suffers from the fact that the majority of people don’t know what freedom means, or where it leads.  If people talk, they will come to understand and agree with these concepts.

BB: And if you speak about freedom with people, will you also mention that with freedom comes responsibility?

Z. K.: Or course, I will mention that.  It is not possible to lie to the people.  It is not possible to say that we will solve all of the problems instead of them.  That is the point of a Western democracy and the professed values of the Euroatlantic community.

Zoltán Kész’s “3×3 program”

I. Proposals for Hungary:

1. Viktor Orbán is not be elected President of the Republic by two-thirds of parliament in the absence of a republic

2. Launching a country-wide movement for fair taxation

3.  Creating an anti-corruption network

II. Proposals for Veszprém

1. Formulating an alternative budget based on tax cuts

2. Make legal recommendations for the economic operation of public housing

3. Creating jobs through investment

III. Proposals for the countryside
1. Organizing a local movement to oppose country roads becoming a toll road
2. Organizing a system of scholarships to help children learn
3. Creating a foundation to help young people open local businesses