The lowest common denominator: What do the opposition groups want?

A few days ago an interesting chart appeared in Népszava. It accompanied an article entitled “The lowest common denominator” about a study published by the Attila József Foundation, an MSZP think tank. The study dealt with opinions held by the opposition parties and civic organizations on some key political issues. Unfortunately the chart is not available online. I got it from the paper’s digital edition, and I think I should share its findings.

The heartening news is that all these organizations hold very similar views on issues. So, the current problems standing in the way of cooperation are partly personal and partly the groups’ attitudes toward the past and toward each other.

When it comes to questions of democracy and the rule of law, all groups (LMP, DK, Solidarity, 4K!, Haza és Haladás) agree that the new government will have to restore it. DK, Solidarity, and 4K! consider the new Basic Laws (Constitution) illegitimate. Haza és Haladás (HH) wants to move toward restoration, but slowly and gradually.

When it comes to independent institutions, all groups agree that the former competence of the Constitutional Court must be restored. DK and HH also specifically mention the restoration of the rights of the Budgetary Council and the independence of the Hungarian National Bank.  HH adds the independence of the courts.

There are no differences of opinion on the media law and the existence of the Media Council in its current form. They all demand a new media law and the abolition of the Media Council. They are unanimous when it comes to legislative actions that are retroactive, a practice often used by the current government. They also see eye to eye on the new election law; they all reject prior registration as a prerequisite for voting rights. Basically, they all want to return to the old system although LMP would like to make a few adjustments. HH mentions the National Election Committee that would need serious revamping. After all, the members are all Fidesz appointees and their tenure is exceedingly long.

On social security, especially on the question of pensions, there are more divergent opinions. LMP would like to raise the age limit and peg pension increases to inflation. DK is much more ambitious. They want to return the money the Orbán government took away from employees’ private pension funds and to restore the private retirement funds alongside  the state’s social security system. Solidarity would like to abolish the enacted laws that decreased the size of pensions hitherto received. 4K! has a rather peculiar idea. According to them, state-owned companies should pay into the social security fund in order to maintain it. HH doesn’t seem to have any explicitly stated plans. They are just very critical of the current system.

As for the Roma question, LMP seems to have the most radical solutions. The party explicitly talks about quotas, though only in the public media. They also would like to set up extensive scholarship programs specifically for Roma youngsters. Solidarity hasn’t paid much attention to the problem and therefore they have no program worked out. DK mentions integration as a goal while HH talks about employment and educational integration. So, the solutions offered are rather vague.

In the sphere of education, DK seems to be the group that spent the most thought and energy on the subject. The reason may be that three of DK’s deputy chairmen have academic backgrounds. DK emphasizes the restoration of the autonomy of teachers, it doesn’t reject tuition but would combine it with scholarships and student loans. 4K! wants to withdraw the educational reform altogether while HH has no specific suggestions but is simply critical of the present situation.

Practically all political formations studied emphasize the necessity of leaving cultural matters to the practitioners. DK is the most emphatic here: “the government has no business here,” they say. LMP, perhaps because of its young membership, mentions state assistance to popular culture. The others don’t have much to say.

Health care is in crisis at the moment, but most groups concentrate on higher wages. It is only DK that goes into some detail. They want to reintroduce co-pay and allow private insurers to participate in the health care system. You may recall that these ideas have been in circulation ever since 2006 when the second Gyurcsány government began revamping the health care system. It was then torpedoed by the joint effort of MSZP and Fidesz. The final blow was the referendum that abolished both tuition and the co-pay of about €1.00.

Most of them agree that Hungarians living in the surrounding countries shouldn’t get the right to vote; voters must live within the borders of Hungary. However, what “The Theoretical and Moral Fundamentals of the Together 2014 Movement” says about the question is a great deal less explicit. According to the document, the granting of dual citizenship “opened a new chapter in the question of national  unity. Therefore it cannot be the goal of the new political era to disenfranchise  Hungarians living outside of Hungary proper. But at the same time we must find legal and political guarantees so that in this new constitutional situation Hungarian domestic politics shouldn’t influence the lives of Hungarians living in the surrounding states.” So, will all new Hungarian citizens be able to vote or not? It is not at all clear from this passage, but I’m inclined to say that Bajnai’s umbrella organization would leave the new law in place.

As we can see from this comparison of opposition groups’ political goals, there are many issues that have been left untouched. However, their positions on important issues are very close. If that is the case, why did Gergely Karácsony (LMP) exclaim only a few days ago that he was in favor of negotiations with Bajnai only to be able to veto his nomination for the position of prime minister? Or why he did he say that he hates MSZP more than he hates Fidesz? All this doesn’t bode well for the future.

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60 comments

  1. Hoping, would it not suffice to either say that sentence or wear something stating it? Nem szeretem a… (perhaps the Hungarians here on the blog could suggest a suitable word for “nazis”). The yellow badge has to my knowledge never been meant positively and would not have been worn deliberately. You may meet people who are Jews and for me this appears to be way too much for them (but not only for them) to meet people wearing these badges. You may hope to make some people think, but I am afraid you can really scare some others.

  2. Kirsten :
    Hoping, would it not suffice to either say that sentence or wear something stating it? Nem szeretem a… (perhaps the Hungarians here on the blog could suggest a suitable word for “nazis”). The yellow badge has to my knowledge never been meant positively and would not have been worn deliberately. You may meet people who are Jews and for me this appears to be way too much for them (but not only for them) to meet people wearing these badges. You may hope to make some people think, but I am afraid you can really scare some others.

    I know what you mean. But the yellow star thing is not my idea… today there was a demo outside the parliament where people put them on… three hundred and something stars were delivered to MPs inside to show solidarity and some MPs did in fact put them on.

    It is being used as a sign of solidarity. Of course the only people likely to understand that are those watching ATV and listening to Klub Radio, so your comments may well be true.

  3. Kirsten has a point. I would hope that any Jewish Hungarians seeing someone wearing a yellow star would understand the point being made, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. You could easily find yourself in a muddle that even a fluent Hungarian speaker couldn’t talk his way out of.

    As for Germany and the 30s, I have often asked myself the same question (and in the 80s, I used to wonder what I would say when my future children asked me what I did to stop Thatcher). The answer is that I did little more than go on protest marches against Thatcher, and in the Germany of the 30s I probably would have done nothing. The very least you would have expected then would have been a beating, and it could have been a lot worse.

    It is one thing for the Danish King to wear a yellow star, but quite another for the ordinary man and woman.

    (My apologies if I offend anyone by comparing Thather’s rule to the Nazis, but in the early 80s it really did feel like dark times indeed in the UK.)

  4. Hoping :

    Haha, got too wound up!!!
    Penultimate sentence should read: How do you say “I don’t like Nazis” in Hungarian?

    Jeeezz… never thought I’d see the day when this would happen again.

    Nem szeretem a nácikat.

  5. Kirsten :
    For me it all hinges on the question of a widely shared vision of Hungary’s future.

    I agree with this. However, I would couple it with a widespread realization that the status quo is not acceptable. I think both are necessary for lasting democratic change. Hungary deserves better!

  6. Hoping, I read now that this is meant as a sign of solidarity. I appears to be meant positively, but I do have my doubts about its appropriateness. This badge is simply wrong, and wearing it as a sign of solidarity for me misses the point that it should have never been worn and that people should not be “marked”.

  7. Kirsten – but it’s not uncommon for something meant negatively to be adopted by the people under attack as a badge of their suffering/unity/etc.

    For instance, both the Quakers and the Suffragettes adopted as names for their movements terms which were originally coined as insults by their enemies.

  8. London Calling!

    Go for it Hoping

    The Jewish community will understand that an outsider – especially an Englishman – empathises with their status in Hungary.

    Now and in the past.

    It is entirely consistent with the English protesting spirit.

    I would join you if I could.

    Regards

    Charlie

  9. But their status is not to wear badges. For me this is thought too much along the Jobbik lines, simply as if one “accepted” this thinking first. As a maximum one could suggest Jobbik to wear “marks” as this appears to be what they like. But for the others? To do what Jobbik suggests, I see no necessity for. But of course, that is my personal uneasiness about the badges.

  10. It’s an interesting topic. Signs and badges can also alter their meaning and become adopted for differet reasons.

    For instance the CND anti-nuclear symbol is now universally seen as a ‘peace’ symbol and appears everywhere. As a CND member from the old days, when wearing that symbol was likely to get you shouted at (as a ‘Commie’!), I still find it incredible that you now find commercially produced clothing with the symbol on it, and people all over the world wearing it without knowing what it really means.

    So, it’s entirely possible for something like the yellow star to shed its original meaning (and association with hatred and shame) and become a universal symbol against anti-Semitism. I suppose we’ll know when (if) this happens when we start to see young Jewish people wearing it as a symbol of pride.

    This seems impossible to me, as the holocaust is still all too real even to people as ‘young’ as myself, but stranger things have happened.

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