I would like to return to the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary. It is a 30-page document that shows a thorough understanding of every aspect of Hungarian politics, relating specifically to constitutional issues. Rui Tavares, who was one of the rapporteurs in charge of the document, seems to be fully conversant with the issues under discussion. It is a very thorough document and recommends tough sanctions. The sanctions mentioned in the document are not monetary. It suggests setting up a strict monitoring regime and calls on sanctions based on Article 7 that would take away Hungary’s voting rights. Therefore, I found it incomprehensible why MSZP immediately announced that its EU parliamentary members would not sign the document in this form. I understand that people in Brussels who have been working very hard at uncovering illegal legislative actions by the Orbán government were stunned. If the Hungarian socialists don’t support the LIBE report, it is hard to imagine that the members of the committee will.
The MSZP leadership happened to be in Brussels when the Tavares report was released. Attila Mesterházy told one of the reporters of Népszabadság that “the socialists are committed adherents of the European Union and European integration. However, we don’t support any measures that would be accompanied by a possible withholding of financial resources that would harm the Hungarian people.” At a press conference Mesterházy announced that the party leadership instructed the MSZP EP members not to vote for the report in its present form.
Why it was necessary to make this declaration is hard to fathom. In the first place, as I said, no financial sanction is mentioned in the Tavares document. Moreover, if I understand it correctly, this announcement was made in response to a question from one of the reporters present. I’m no politician but, if I had been Mesterházy, I would have avoided this trap. He could have said that he hadn’t had an opportunity to study the document or that the steering committee hadn’t had a chance to formulate the party’s official policy on the subject. This is a delicate question that needs thorough analysis, and the less one says about it the better.
The Hungarian opposition has been struggling with this issue for some time. On April 1 Gordon Bajnai gave an interview to Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, where the reporter asked him the following question: “The European Commission has threatened Hungary with sanctions because of the idiosyncratic course its government follows. For example, with withdrawal of funds. Would you support such a move?” To which Bajnai answered: “No. One should not punish the people because they have a bad government. Hungary needs EU money to develop, and the country is … still a democracy.” He subsequently visited Brussels and approached EU officials with a request to spare the Hungarian people from financial hardship just because of the policies of the Orbán government.
Mesterházy did the same during one of his earlier visits to Brussels. Yes, the government is trampling on Hungarian democracy, but let’s keep financing the government that without support most likely would collapse. Let’s get billions and billions of euros that the Orbán government can pass on to its supporters and friends. Both Együtt 2014 and MSZP seem to be in a hopeless quandary because they are afraid that public opinion will turn against them if they support EU efforts to defend Hungarian democracy.
Ferenc Krémer wrote a couple of articles in Galamus in connection with the opposition’s dilemma, which in his opinion is no dilemma at all. In the first one he called MSZP “the fifth column” of Fidesz and continued: “We, all of us, even those who didn’t vote for Fidesz in 2010 must take responsibility for the current state of the country. Not one of us can avoid responsibility, especially not MSZP, for Viktor Orbán’s ability to begin ‘the country’s renewal,’ meaning the establishment of a dictatorship. We have no moral basis for demanding from the European Union not to defend its most basic values; we have no right to demand its financing the power of the Orbán clan, the enrichment of the Simicska clan and Hungary’s moral depravity.”
Soon enough came a correction by “nyüzsi” in HVG. (Nyüzsgés means swarming in Hungarian.) Krémer is wrong. MSZP is not a “fifth column” but a bunch of “useful idiots.” This is a term reserved for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they do not understand and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause. “The leaders of the liberal-socialist opposition make asses of themselves right in front of our eyes and undermine their own credibility as critics of Fidesz. They fell into the trap of Viktor Orbán who claims that ‘criticism of Orbán = criticism of Hungary.’ They don’t want the average Joe to suffer, but the average Joe and everybody else is suffering because of the constitutional and economic running amuck of the Orbán government and not because of the dictum of the aristocrats in Brussels.”
Ferenc Krémer today continued his analysis of the situation that developed after the publication of the Tavares report. MSZP leaders deep down most likely realize the impasse they find themselves in, and therefore Zita Gurmai, MSZP MEP, in a radio interview on Thursday did her best not to answer the questions of János Dési who was substituting for György Bolgár that day. The MSZP politicians “are unable to bridge the precipice they perceive between the defense of democracy and the defense of their country. They should realize that there is no precipice between the two. All decisions must be based on that recognition. Therefore all steps the EU takes against the government of Viktor Orbán must be welcome. The responsibility lies with those who are guilty: Viktor Orbán, his government, and the whole of Fidesz.”
The only opposition party that has a clearly formulated policy on possible EU sanctions is the Demokratikus Koalíció. Tamás Bauer wrote on that subject with the title: “Article seven and the Hungarian democrats.” DK is convinced that there is no gap between democracy and the defense of the country. On the contrary, the EU is defending Hungarian democracy and all Hungarian democrats must support Brussels in this effort.
And finally here is a document signed by the leading members of the Democratic Opposition of the late 1980s.
Us and them
Should Europe intervene in our affairs?
Memorandum of the former Anti-communist Opposition
The nation is the community into which we were born, whereas the European Union is the community which we chose for a democratic Hungary. Both are important and even indispensable for us. In the past decades we have struggled to have our innate community (the nation) and our chosen community (the Union) be imbued with the same set of values. We owe responsibility for both of them.
It is not by mere chance that when as opponents of the communist regime we were not yet a member state of the European community in a political sense and just hoped to join it one day, we claimed as a matter of course that the communist regime be confronted with the values of liberal democracy, so blatantly ignored or breached by that regime.
Nothing has changed since.
We reject the populist view that strives to divide and alienate along the “them” and “us” dimension. The anti-European, xenophobic populism of Fidesz is the ideology of an autocratic regime that under a national disguise labels any kind of external demand for maintaining democratic norms as an attempt of colonization.
At the same time, by publicly announcing that the Hungarian socialist members of the European Parliament refuse in its present form the Tavares report dated on 8th of May, which strongly criticizes the situation concerning the rule of law in Hungary, not only runs in the face of the commonly approved set of European values, but also serves to satisfy, instead of rejecting, a populist demand.
Just as we condemn “dirty solidarity” that turns a blind eye to the violation of democratic values under the pretext of party solidarity, we do not wish to be part of “hypocritical solidarity” either, which implies solidarity with an autocratic government. If the present Hungarian democratic opposition is determined to defeat Fidesz in this populist arena and challenge the ruling party that governs in collusion with Jobbik, then it is doomed to defeat itself as well as its own country.
9th of May 2013, Budapest
Attila Ara-Kovács, former diplomat
Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest
Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Róza Hodosán, former MP
Gábor Iványi, pastor
János Kenedi, historian
György Konrád, author
Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education
Imre Mécs, former MP
Sándor Radnóti, philosopher
László Rajk, architect
Sándor Szilágyi, art writer