Dissension in the already weak Hungarian opposition

It is time to talk again about the opposition parties, especially since next week Együtt – A Korszakváltók Pártja (Together-Party of the New Age) will begin negotiations with MSZP. In case you have no idea who on earth is behind this “new party,” this is the same old Együtt 2014-PM Szövetség (Together 2014 Alliance) that was established months ago by Gordon Bajnai, Péter Juhász of Milla, Péter Kónya of the Solidarity Movement, and the former members of LMP who decided to join Együtt 2014.

But what happened to the party’s name? It took the court that was supposed to give its blessing to the name seventy days of deliberation to decide that the name proposed by Bajnai-Juhász-Kónya was unacceptable for at least two reasons. First, a few days before the Együtt people proposed the name of their movement a couple of people had already turned in a request for the name. Second, the court objected to the word “szövetség” (alliance), although Fidesz’s official name is Fidesz Magyar Polgári Szövetség. So, the group around Gordon Bajnai “temporarily” adopted this ridiculous sounding name. The way the registration of this party is proceeding it could easily happen that by the time elections roll around the party will still not be a party. Bajnai of course tries to act as if all these name changes didn’t matter, but of course they do.

While the hassle over the party’s name was going on Péter Juhász, head of the virtual Milla movement, gave a press conference in which he compared Ferenc Gyurcsány to Viktor Orbán as symbols of oppressive regimes and corrupt politics. Juhász went so far as to call the pre-Orbán times part and parcel of “the current mafia-government.”

vadai agnes femina.hu

Ágnes Vadai / femina.hu

Well, this was too much for the fiery Ágnes Vadas (DK), who addressed an open letter to “Dear Gordon” in which she inquired from him whether he approves such statements from his co-chairman. After all, in this case “you must have been a minister of this oppressive regime for three years; you accepted a position in the government of a man who put an end to democracy in Hungary and you served without raising your voice against this corrupt regime that was in the hands of a political mafia.” The letter is politely but strongly worded. Vadai wants to know what Bajnai thinks of Juhász’s attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány. As far as I know, no official letter reached Vadai as of yesterday, but Bajnai tried to explain his own position without completely distancing himself from Juhász.

Juhász has been the target of severe criticism from many quarters, and criticism was also leveled against Gordon Bajnai for getting involved with him. Back in November 2012 a portrait of Juhász appeared in Origo with the title “A good-for-nothing  activist.” Not the best recommendation for an important post at a crucial junction in Hungarian political life.

Since then others have joined Ágnes Vadai in their condemnation of Péter Juhász. Blogger “Pupu” wrote that he considers Juhász an agent of Viktor Orbán. Another popular blogger, Piroslapok, is less harsh; he doesn’t consider him an agent, just a not very smart man who likes to moralize using false postulates.

Others, like Ferenc Krémer, describe him as a dangerous dilettante who stands in the way of unity in the opposition camp. Juhász makes assumptions about “the political usefulness” of certain strategies without knowing much about the intricacies of the present political situation. In the last few months he succeeded only in driving a wedge between the different opposition parties. So, says Krémer, Juhász is serving the interests of Fidesz because the government party wants to have open disagreements in the opposition camp. According to several commentators, the best solution for the opposition would be the removal of Juhász from Együtt 2014. Then he could expound his theories as a private person. These commentators are sure that the right-wing media would welcome him with open arms.

It seems, however, that Gordon Bajnai is not ready to get rid of him. Or at least this is what he said at a meeting of the Budai Liberális Klub where he had a conversation with Zsófia Mihancsik.  But Bajnai ought to realize that the democratic opposition shouldn’t in a servile fashion follow “the narrative of Fidesz,” which also includes Viktor Orbán’s desire to push Ferenc Gyurcsány into the background.

Meanwhile Együtt 2014 or whatever it is called now is languishing  just as MSZP, LMP, and DK are. Why? Not because people are worried about whether Gyurcsány is part of the joint opposition but because they see disunity, confusion, and a struggle for primacy.

Yesterday Együtt 2014’s visits across the country ended in Budapest. Bajnai had earlier refused to negotiate with MSZP because he first wanted to undertake a campaign tour that was supposed bolster his and his party’s popularity. Ipsos’s May poll results don’t show any great change. In fact, the party dropped from the 4% support it had in April to 3%. I doubt that the June figures will be very different. Yet Bajnai is still stalling. Yes, he will start talks “next week” but the conversations will begin only on Friday. What on earth is he waiting for? A miracle? It won’t come, especially if he sticks with Péter Juhász for much longer.

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63 comments

  1. An – you make a good point about the tax requirement, but remember, US tax laws are passed by the US Congress, elected by ALL citizens, who vote!. Nothing prevents Hungary from passing a law requiring Hungarians abroad to pay taxes in Hungary.

    It’s not the requirement to pay taxes that drives the right to vote, it’s the other way around. Also, do not confuse benefits like pensions, health care, etc. for Hungarians living outside the country with voting rights. If I reside in the US and make no contribution to the Hungarian retirement fund, I expect no pension. Same with healthcare: no contribution – no benefit. I do not, however, wish to give up my most fundamental right of a citizen: the right to vote. BTW, it does not bother me in the least that there are probably tens of thousands of US citizens living outside the US and they exercise their right to vote. It’s their right and it’s the law.

    As far as Mutt’s comment about the 35,000 new citizens from Mexico, my feeling remains the same: citizens vote, non-citizens do not. It does not matter if they came here from Mexico or Hungary. (Giving Mexicans or for that matter Hungarians, who are living in the US illegally citizenship is a different and more complicated discussion and we are having it now.)

  2. An – I should add that while US citizens living abroad are not exempt from reporting their income, but they do in fact enjoy substantial foreign earned income and foreign housing exclusions and the foreign housing deduction. These deductions ($95,000+ income per year per person) are not available for us living stateside. Fair? Unfair? I don’t know. But it is very similar to Hungarians living at home our abroad.

  3. @Sackshoes I don’t think that #1 you can compare US and Hungary one to one in this respect. If a child with American parents is born abroad at age of 18 he must decide which citizenship he opts for. If he doesn’t, he will not be eligible for citizenship. I may add that this child cannot be president either. #2 US is not surrounded by countries with large English-speaking minorities who in the past were not always loyal citizens of the country of their births. (Let’s put aside the reasons for that and look at the phenomenon from the point of view of the majority population.) #3 Hungarian governments in the past had territorial ambitions against the neighboring countries that makes the whole situation rather delicate. #4 Your comparison of 35,000 Mexicans minimizes the problem given the size of the United States and Hungary. In Hungary there are only 8 million eligible citizens out which maybe 5 million vote. The last I heard Semjén boasted about 500,000 new citizens. This in the American example would translate into more than 12 million Mexicans who perhaps hadn’t ever visited the United States but could vote at national elections! Think about it.

  4. What IS crazy is that non-resident non-tax-paying new-Hungarian-citizens will now be entitled to vote in Hungarian national elections … But ‘foreigners’, who have lived absolutely permanently and primarily in Hungary for many years and who pay all their taxes here, will not.

  5. Also, can anyone please tell me on what basis citizenship is awarded ‘beyond the borders’? Does one have to have passport-holding parents? Or does one just state that one is Hungarian? Or are we back to Horthy-era official family-tree and bloodline checks?

  6. Ivan :
    Also, can anyone please tell me on what basis citizenship is awarded ‘beyond the borders’? Does one have to have passport-holding parents? Or does one just state that one is Hungarian? Or are we back to Horthy-era official family-tree and bloodline checks?

    You have to prove at least one parent is Hungarian. I know someone who is Romanian, has a Romanian mother, has never lived in Hungary, doesn’t speak a word of Hungarian, and now works in London doing the usual low-paid jobs.

    But she had a Hungarian father (who left when she was a baby). She managed to get Hungarian citizenship. She thought this would improve her job prospects. She believes the British seem to have a more negative attitude towards Romanian passports than Hungarian ones.

  7. A child of one or two American parents who is born abroad and has his or her birth registered at birth with the local embassy or consulate has US citizenship and is presumed to keep it until renouncing it. Such US citizens are “natural born” and eligible to become President. (John McCain, Republican candidate for President in 2008, for example, was born in the Panama Canal Zone to US citizen parents; George Romney, Governor of Michigan, who ran for the Republican nomination in 1968, was born in Mexico to US citizen parents; neither McCain nor Romney was ineligible.) US citizens may have a second (or multiple) citizenships by birthright or acquired later during their lives (Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann had applied for and been granted Swiss citizenship via her husband’s dual citizenship in the US and CH, but withdrew the Swiss citizenship following some controversy.) The second citizenship is essentially invisible to the US, as it does not affect a citizen’s rights (voting, for example) or obligations/duties (taxes, selective service registration.) US citizenship may be withdrawn when a citizen formally renounces it and the renunciation is accepted, is discovered to have acquired it by fraud, or, in very rare cases (how rare? consider the Civil War or, specifically, the case of Clement Vallandigham), has it taken away, for example for treason.

  8. @Sackhoes Contributor: To an American mind, there is a connection between representation and taxation. Just think of how the US started. In other countries, where citizenship is based on ethnicity, rather than on where one is born, this idea may not be that strong. In a lot of countries those who move to live abroad can keep their voting right. In some countries, there are limitations, though, you may loose your right to vote, but not your citizenship, if you stay outside the country for a certain period. It really depends on the country.

    What makes the Hungarian situation unique, that were not talking about Hungarian-born citizens who happened to move abroad..but about a large population who was given citizenship without ever having lived in Hungary.

    “Also, do not confuse benefits like pensions, health care, etc. for Hungarians living outside the country with voting rights. ” I didn’t, I was talking about taxes.

  9. @Bowen I love your story about the Romanian woman! It just sums it up nicely why it was a madness to give citizenship to the neighbors.

  10. Of course, if Fidesz would have had it at heart to give Hungarian citizenship to “worthy people” they would have found another way.

    Just one example what I believe to be a prospect for Hungarian citizenship:

    One of the specialist workers on my house is an Ukrainian with Hungarian ancestry, speaking perfect Hungarian, but he was only able to work in his specialty (stone walls) for three months on a visitor’s visa – illegal of course (15 years ago), while his wife and children waited for him in the Ukraine. They really wanted to move to Hungary – I don’t know if they made it.

    But of course the only interest of Fidesz is broadening its voter base – and maybe making money like with that crazy idea of giving anyone a residence if he buys enough State bonds.

  11. Bowen :

    Ivan :
    Also, can anyone please tell me on what basis citizenship is awarded ‘beyond the borders’? Does one have to have passport-holding parents? Or does one just state that one is Hungarian? Or are we back to Horthy-era official family-tree and bloodline checks?

    You have to prove at least one parent is Hungarian. I know someone who is Romanian, has a Romanian mother, has never lived in Hungary, doesn’t speak a word of Hungarian, and now works in London doing the usual low-paid jobs.
    But she had a Hungarian father (who left when she was a baby). She managed to get Hungarian citizenship. She thought this would improve her job prospects. She believes the British seem to have a more negative attitude towards Romanian passports than Hungarian ones.

    I know someone in a similar situation whose claim to Hungarian citizenship is through her grandparents, born Hungarian citizens before Trianon in Transylvania, even though they were ethnic Romanians who were too young to learn Hungarian by the time they found themselves on the other side of the border. By that rule, anyone who has a single grandparent who was born in Transylvania one day before the changing of the borders in 1920 has the right to become a Hungarian citizen. If this gets out, there might well be a very large Romanian party in the Parliament after the next elections. Of course, there is a requirement that any applicant speak Hungarian, but the woman I know doesn’t speak it fluently, and your example shows that the rules can be applied subjectively, so if too many ethnic Romanians apply, I bet the rules will suddenly be enforced strictly.

  12. Mutt :

    Ivan :
    Mutt, Bayer would just get his “Peace Marchers” out, and they would almost certainly outnumber. Also, I don’t think it is degrading to cooperate with one’s political opponents. But I don’t agree that questions of one’s ethnicity or religion should even enter into politics in a supposedly free country. Neither should hate. No compromise there.

    No they will not outnumber us. It’s worth trying …
    Ethnicity and religion is unfortunately part of the politics in Hungary. It’s a racists country. So let’s take it from there.
    Regarding hate … let’s see what 500 thousand middle fingers can do and then we can talk about hate.

    Unfortunately, recent history has proved Ivan right, in that no opposition demonstration has yet come anywhere near to the numbers of “peace marchers”. That shows that the opposition has not proven itself a strong motivating force on its own. Most of those who support the opposition are more against Fidesz than for LMP, Együtt, MSZP, etc. (with the exception of Jobbik, which is not part of this discussion). That just says to me that whoever leads the opposition in the elections needs to not be perceived as a strident left-winger, but as someone who will take the parts of the Fidesz platform that are not so extreme and co-opt them, while criticising the parts that are unforgivably anti-democratic. Remember, many polls have shown that Hungarians are more concerned about their economic well-being than their democratic rights. Show that Fidesz will continue to hurt the economy, and show that democracy has done wonders for other European economies, and you can even win with MSZP on your side (but not Gyurcsány, sorry, he’s political nuclear waste).

    Bill Clinton and Obama both showed that seizing the middle ground and painting yourself as a pragmatic compromiser is what works against strident right-wingers.

  13. Stevan Harnad :

    Eva S. Balogh :
    I also suggest to watch this excerpt from Gyurcsány’s speech in front of Imre Nagy’s house. He didn’t exactly spare Viktor Orbán. He called him a Beelzebub.
    http://atv.hu/cikk/20130616_gyurcsany_orban_ne_papoljon_mert_szarabbul_elunk?source=hirkereso

    Here’s a better URL for the whole thing. Gy is brilliant — and the only one who can beat Beelzebub. This video ought to go viral:
    [youtube

    Yes it may go viral – to show how sickening a crazed mind on the brink of a nervous breakdown is. And here we have it, for everyone to see. Even Adolf himself was more reasonable in his most unchained mental state.

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