The cooperation of the Hungarian opposition in action

Last night’s scandalous interview with three opposition personalities on ATV’s “Szabad szemmel” deserves a post even if it was only three days ago that I wrote an article entitled “Hungarian disunity a barrier to a political solution.”

In that piece I wrote that I consider Gordon Bajnai’s appearance at the demonstration organized by Péter Juhász of Milla, a Facebook group that has already staged quite a few well attended demonstrations against “the regime,” ill advised. I have serious reservations about Juhász and Milla.

First of all, we don’t know who makes up Milla. We see only one man, Péter Juhász, who seems to be the spokesman; the people behind him remain in the shadows. After Milla became a registered “association” a couple of days ago and Juhász was asked about the group’s membership, he talked vaguely about “the many people who work on the organization of Milla’s demonstration.”

Another problem is that we don’t know where Milla stands. When Péter Juhász is asked about his political views he often contradicts himself. He is consistent in only 0ne respect: he seems to be the enemy of politicians and parties. In his eyes all politicians are crooks, none of them works for “the homeland” or for “the people,” everything they do is done for political reasons. So, by definition, all politicians are guilty of corruption and self-serving behavior. When people point out to him that after all he is a politician too, he admits to that sin, but I’m sure he thinks he is the exception to the rule.

Quarrel / flikr

In the last few weeks Juhász got a lot of media attention, mostly because he hinted that some  surprising event will take place at the demonstration he is organizing. As it turned out it was Gordon Bajnai’s participation in the event. As we find out more and more about the man, what surfaces is not very attractive. In fact, there is something to what Ferenc Gyurcsány said about him: he might be more of a hindrance to the cooperation so necessary in opposition circles than a promoter of it. Last night’s debate pretty well proved Gyurcsány right.

In order to explain some of the contentious issues I have to go back to the end of September when six researchers attached to the Eötvös Károly Intézet (EKINT), a legal think tank, published an eight-point survey of the damage that has been inflicted on Hungarian democracy in the last two and a half years. They also offered some suggestions about how to remedy it. I wrote about this briefly at the beginning of October, promising to return to the document. I still haven’t managed to fulfill that promise, but let me cite here the second of their eight-point agenda that they urge be implemented once the Orbán government is gone for good. The issue is the political appointees who were named in an unconstitutional manner to formerly independent institutions which thus ceased to be independent of government control. So, says the study of EKINT, the independence of these institutions must be restored and “the political appointees must depart from independent institutions.”

László Majtényi, former ombudsman and the head of EKINT, sent this document to all parties and civic groups he deemed democratic, including Milla. In return, Majtényi received an answer signed by Péter Juhász although the letter is written in the first person plural : “we, the organizers of the Facebook group of One Million for Hungarian Press Freedom (Milla).” Juhász’s first question concerned the nature of democracy. He wanted to know to which parties Majtényi and his colleagues had sent the document because “the past activities of the politicians of MSZP and the current leaders of DK call into doubt their democratic commitments.” To support his claim he mentions ” the numerous infractions of the law, mass and routine arrests, restrictions of the freedom of assembly.” As if Juhász were reading from the script of Krisztina Morvai, Zoltán Balog, and Viktor Orbán.

Juhász’s second question concerned EKINT’s contention that political appointees cannot stay in their posts after the restoration of true Hungarian democracy. In his opinion these people were appointed legally and in a democratic country these political appointees cannot be removed. Zsófia Mihancsik very rightly pointed out in an article entitled “Milla-baj” (Million problems) that “on these grounds we could question the legitimacy of the 1989 regime change because it built the legal foundations of democracy contrary to the laws of the socialist system.” In brief, Juhász doesn’t want to realize that democratic institutions have been compromised and hence the legitimacy of their personnel is questionable.

I don’t know whether Tamás Bauer, formerly SZDSZ MP and now one of the deputy chairmen of DK, wrote his article that appeared in today’s Népszabadság before or after the television debatebut I assume before. His criticism is similar to that of Mihancsik or for that matter my own. Milla in the last two years wanted to keep its distance from parties, and that strategy worked. Milla managed to call great crowds to the streets. Initially their slogan was “I don’t like the regime,” but this year they devised a new one, “Let’s end the past.” That implies a negation of the past twenty-two years, democracy and all. This slogan echoes the opinions of Jobbik and LMP. Bauer also calls attention to Juhász’s claim that MSZP and DK, currently parliamentary parties, are not democratic parties. Equating the Orbán regime with  the governments of Antall, Horn, Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai, he argues, is unfair. These governments obeyed the decisions of the constitutional court; they didn’t try to silence the media of the opposition parties; and they by and large acted like politicians in a democratic country. The Third Republic was founded on the principles of a multi-party democracy. But Milla’s Péter Juhász questions these accomplishments. Juhász’s stigmatization of all parties only increases Hungarians’ suspicion of parties and politicians. That is not the solution. In fact, Juhász of Milla is doing a disservice to Hungarian democracy. So, says Bauer, that’s why he won’t attend Milla’s demonstration.

And then came the shouting match on ATV last night. Here I came to the conclusion that Juhász is also unfit to be a politician because of his personality. He completely lost his cool. But even before he got to this point he made some remarks that were unacceptable, at least to me. He twice said that “there is no use replacing the Orbán government if the same situation returns that caused the two-thirds majority.” He accusingly turned to Tibor Szanyi (MSZP) and Ágnes Vadai (DK), pointing his finger at them and accusing them of being responsible for the victory of Viktor Orbán. As we know, the reason for the landslide victory of Fidesz is a much more complex issue than Juhász tried to portray it here. The economic crisis, austerity programs, the irresponsible behavior of the opposition, unrealistic promises, and one could continue.

His opponents were extraordinarily patient. Ágnes Vadai was especially conciliatory, most likely because her colleagues told her not to lose her temper and to show that DK is ready to cooperate with all who are against the present government. So she kept repeating: “But there is still more that binds us than separates us.”

When it came to the cause of the present financial woes of the country Juhász, following the Fidesz lead, pointed to 2002–that is, after Fidesz lost the elections. But we know that deficit spending started with the first Orbán government in 2000 in anticipation of the elections. Of course, Péter Medgyessy added to the troubles with his salary increases, but in 2006 the second Gyurcsány government reduced the deficit considerably. Then, alas, came the world financial crisis. Nothing is as simple as Péter Juhász, the novice politician, thinks. Fooling the people continues. Not only by parties and bona fide politicians but also by quasi-politicians like Péter Juhász.

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64 comments

  1. Also, Juhász also had a very good point when he said that there is a point when the Orban government isn’t worth being replaced. Watching this debate, I’m quite confident that these people will eat each other alive in a coalition without a strong leader throwing the country into a chaos we haven’t seen before. The Slovakian example is a warning, you don’t wanna kick Orbán out just to have him march back in glory after the coalition self-destructs in a year.

  2. Jano :
    Eva: “Then how do you explain that one after the other so-called corruption cases collapse.”
    How did Simicska ended up unharmed after 2002? László Keller failed just as miserably as Budai. And I refuse to believe that it was because Fidesz was such a decent government between 98 and 02

    The judiciary and the police must be to a large extent incompetent, they will not be able to prove anything even if they wanted.

  3. Jano: “I consider the phenomena the healthiest that has happened to Hungarian democracy in a long long time.”

    I am also quite sure that such movements can, as a start, be very beneficial. (And unfortunately the video from ATV could not be easily transmitted, so I judge from what I read here.) I completely agree about the undesirability of MSzP as an important player in the post-Orban Hungary. These two groups should be buried together. But the problem that Eva points to, seems present to me also. An apolitical approach to politics can bring an improvement in terms of a democratic, rule-of-law system, only if it manages at some point to accept the existence of a variety of approaches in a level playing field. Corruption will not be reduced through people being in an organisation that tries to be as far as possible from party politics but by filling important posts in the state (government, parliament, prosecutors, police) by people who are competent and willing to prosecute and punish such behaviour. That people may first have to organise themselves in a “party” with exactly this objective, should not be seen as a problem but as the right thing to do. In such a case, also, the existence of the old, corrupt (and whatever else) parties would also be less of an obstacle, because this new party would, after some time and probably after recruiting also some people with a more “problematic” past than some founders but “professionals” (not meaning professionals in corruption), easily (at least this is to be hoped) gain support of the voters. But we will see, perhaps Milla will soon come out with an organisational structure and a political programme.

  4. petofi :

    Eva S. Balogh :
    Spectator: “If I gathered right, because of the alleged corruption within the MSZP they have to be treated as pariah’s, the ‘original sin’ stays forever indiscriminately, whatever happens?”
    It was beautifully arranged for the time of the elections. I agree with Spectator. Of course there were corruption cases between 2002 and 2010 too but where isn’t? But, as they say in Hungary it was “kismiska” in comparison to what is going on right now.

    Eva & Spectator:
    Ok, suppose I go along with your argument and dampen my anti-MSZP stance, you still have to explain to me why that party stabbed Gyurcsany in the back…if it wasn’t under the belief
    that ‘being outside of power would garner them a bigger slice of pie than in power with Gyurcsany’…?

    Since you asked – as much I know, he wanted paradigm shift within the party – already the infamous ‘Öszöd’ speech stressing this point but he wasn’t strong enough.
    Why I blame him – beside to not stopping and throwing out the greedy comrades – is the hesitation, leaving to build a new party – should have done it years earlier.

    Anyway, as I see it, Péter Juhász far from ready to enter real politics.
    Being passionate and outspoken are fine features, but it takes much more than that.

    Browsing the other comments too, I came to an ‘unorthodox’ (!!!) idea.

    What would make a helluva difference is a kind of ‘Civil Control Authority’ alongside the government – any government, in fact!
    Find a bunch of impeccable, respected people who has still some straight back-bones, rotate them frequently, that bribing them would be pointless, and the ‘civil’ movement would have some reason of existence, besides walking around and making noise. (OK, it was rude, I apologize, but still!)

    Otherwise the Milla’s stance not much better than the proverbial virgin’s at the movies – not here, not now, not that, take out your hand…, not you…!

    What significantly missing – to me – is a clear declaration of values.
    So far we’ve learned, that they don’t want this, don’t want that, etc., but not much more substantial – or I’ve missed it entirely. The proper way – to my taste – would be a couple of very clear guidelines with no room for compromises, regarding what the Milla stands for, and all those who share these values should be able allying themselves, parties and individuals, whoever.

    Aiming for a democratic change and starting with statements excluding quite a few ab start is a very bad message. It means, that we are going to have another wannabe political formation like LMP, what is totally pointless in today’s political spectrum in Hungary.
    In my opinion, anyway.

  5. Jano :
    Also, Juhász also had a very good point when he said that there is a point when the Orban government isn’t worth being replaced. Watching this debate, I’m quite confident that these people will eat each other alive in a coalition without a strong leader throwing the country into a chaos we haven’t seen before. The Slovakian example is a warning, you don’t wanna kick Orbán out just to have him march back in glory after the coalition self-destructs in a year.

    I don’t agree with this statement.
    The Orban government should be toppled, the sooner the better – otherwise nobody will recognize Hungary in a few years time, when Hungarians will trying desperately escape to the land of promises – like Ukraine, and Albania – from the misery at home…

    However, I agree with you regarding: “I consider the phenomena the healthiest that has happened to Hungarian democracy in a long long time.” – that’s why I worry that it’s on the way to be distorted beyond belief.

    Excluding political parties is a rather naïve, wishful thinking, nothing but utopia.
    Having a heterogeneous loosely organized political conglomerate on the lead isn’t really the solution, particularly in a – hopefully – Orban-free environment, with such economy as a legacy to deal with.

    There is no easy answer, I agree with that too.
    What would have a slight chance to success is a kind of technocracy – to clean up the mess, most of all – with parliamentary support from all the democratic parties, as I see it.

    But of course, who cares?
    Right now the National Pissing Contest is the most important task, with competing opposition and imported supporters, cheering up – for wages – our own Semi God…
    (I nearly said ‘Half God” – but it may have seen as invitation for misinterpretations!)

  6. I think it’s time for something well night impossible in Hungary: the grand gesture. Gyurcsany should go visit a hilltop and consult his navel. After, he should speak to responsible members of his party like Bauer and Csaba; declare that he’s leaving politics; and they should invite Bajnai to lead them.

    NEW PARTY: GOOD MAN

  7. petofi :

    I think it’s time for something well night impossible in Hungary: the grand gesture. Gyurcsany should go visit a hilltop and consult his navel. After, he should speak to responsible members of his party like Bauer and Csaba; declare that he’s leaving politics; and they should invite Bajnai to lead them.

    NEW PARTY: GOOD MAN

    I think that this is not necessary. They seem to be in close contact.

  8. Eva S. Balogh :

    petofi :
    I think it’s time for something well night impossible in Hungary: the grand gesture. Gyurcsany should go visit a hilltop and consult his navel. After, he should speak to responsible members of his party like Bauer and Csaba; declare that he’s leaving politics; and they should invite Bajnai to lead them.
    NEW PARTY: GOOD MAN

    I think that this is not necessary. They seem to be in close contact.

    “…seem to be in close contact..” Really?

    So close that Gyurcsany had to yell through an interview that Bajnai had made a strategic error….

  9. petofi :

    Eva S. Balogh :

    petofi :
    I think it’s time for something well night impossible in Hungary: the grand gesture. Gyurcsany should go visit a hilltop and consult his navel. After, he should speak to responsible members of his party like Bauer and Csaba; declare that he’s leaving politics; and they should invite Bajnai to lead them.
    NEW PARTY: GOOD MAN

    I think that this is not necessary. They seem to be in close contact.

    “…seem to be in close contact..” Really?

    So close that Gyurcsany had to yell through an interview that Bajnai had made a strategic error….

    But in the same interview Gy. mentioned that he had told the same the day before to Bajnai himself. I.e. he advised him not to announce his return to politics at Milla’s demonstration.

    Something related to the discussion. Yesterday I watch Henrik Havas’s program called “Civil a pályán.” I really dislike this puffed-up and rude character but occasionally his invited guests are worth listening to. The Milla and Juhász was mentioned there too and although this was a very different crowd from the Avar-Bolgar-Mészaros-Németh program on Monday nights the condemnation of Juhász’s exclusionary and dividing tactics of the opposition was uniformly condemned.

  10. petofi :

    Eva S. Balogh :

    petofi :
    I think it’s time for something well night impossible in Hungary: the grand gesture. Gyurcsany should go visit a hilltop and consult his navel. After, he should speak to responsible members of his party like Bauer and Csaba; declare that he’s leaving politics; and they should invite Bajnai to lead them.
    NEW PARTY: GOOD MAN

    I think that this is not necessary. They seem to be in close contact.

    “…seem to be in close contact..” Really?
    So close that Gyurcsany had to yell through an interview that Bajnai had made a strategic error….

    Strategic error is a strategic error, – what this act really is.
    Otherwise he wouldn’t have said it, if he don’t care, would he?

    Bajnai’s act a strategic error, because from now on he will be associated with a hothead – and be honest, not really serious, wannabe – politician, and while this may appeal to quite a lot of people as a brave and cocky gesture, I am certain, that quite lot will see it as a dissociative step toward the established political parties.

    I consider this as a strategic error too, not only Gyurcsány.

    You may also remember the fact, that Bajnai didn’t want to belong to any party, he most of all a professional with clear ideological view, but not the one who willingly goes into the daily battles as a party leader – different character.

    A pity, really, because your version could have been something, if it ever have happened.
    I don’t think, though that it would work today.

  11. I think there is really a generational disconnect here with regard to interpreting the role of Juhász. He is merely the frontman of a Facebook page, he personally can deliver zero of those 100,000or so likes that Milla has accumulated. But…Milla has accumulated a 100,000 or so disaffecteds- mainly young idealists who are brave enough to put their name down against the Fuhrer and his regime.

    If those 100,000 see the MSZP as merely the less of two evils, then as idealists they won’t see much point in turning out to vote for the “Vote for us, we’re not Orban” party even if it promises them more sweeties in the short-term.

    Where Juhász has got it bang on is with the assertion that there is not been a true democracy in Hungary since the system change. There hasn’t and anyone who claims otherwise is part of the problem not solution. The fact that there are enough young idealists still left in the country challenging the status quo of not just the last 2 years but that which has existed since 1989 gives me a hope that not all is lost.

    Fight the Power and not just the one the Orbanistas are presently employing.

  12. @oneill
    It’s all fine and dandy, but who will govern, who will lead the country out of this madness?

    At his present state the Milla exactly as you said, a “100,000 or so disaffecteds- mainly young idealists ” – far from enough, even far from being significant politically, unfortunately.

    By the other hand it’s a really great thing, that people feel finally that they have to do something.

    “Where Juhász has got it bang on is with the assertion that there is not been a true democracy in Hungary since the system change.”

    – Sad, but true.
    However, as I stated above, aiming for democracy, and among the very first steps setting up limiting and discriminating rules doesn’t add up really – to me.

    If it was true, that it supposed to be a pure civilian protest against the ruling undemocratic regime, then the Milla would go in just as faceless than they require from all the others.
    As it seems, – as is today – the whole action is to establish a wider supporter base, before they enter the ‘real’ politics, because I have no the slightest doubt, that they will, sooner or later, and from this aspect I find this whole charade a bit too ‘artificially engineered’ to be true.

    And I reserve the right to be wrong about it.
    Or else.

  13. “Where Juhász has got it bang on is with the assertion that there is not been a true democracy in Hungary since the system change.”

    And I might add to spectator that the apolitical or party-critical approach of Milla may just only be a continuation in this – searching for the “pure” people (in this case not “polluted” by corruption or “interests”, certainly “selfish”; in the case of Fidesz by “non-Hungarianness” etc.) instead of learning how to accept and balance diverging interests (at least to some extent). I still feel quite positive about Milla and other newly established organisations but from what I read here this appears to be a comprehensible worry.

  14. “At his present state the Milla exactly as you said, a “100,000 or so disaffecteds- mainly young idealists ” – far from enough, even far from being significant politically, unfortunately.”

    I am not sure about that. Concentrated mainly in Budapest and the bigger provincial towns (I am guessing), social media savvy and with not the same knee jerk adversion to outside influences as the Jobbik fascists and Fidesz fascist-lite, they could act as persuaders towards the apathetic, their parents and the older generation generally. But there needs to be a much stronger alternative narrative to that being offered by Orban and Co which is seeping into the mainstream almost by default.

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