Ildikó Lendvai’s thoughts on the election campaign

I have not talked about Ildikó Lendvai for a long time. I don’t even know how that happened because she has been one of the most important politicians in MSZP; between 2009 and 2010 she was actually the party chairman. But she really made a name for herself as the leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2009. Moreover, this was the job that she enjoyed most during her long and distinguished career.

It is also surprising that I didn’t devote more than one longer post to Lendvai because I personally think very highly of her. I know that a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me because they consider her one of those socialist leftovers from MSZMP.  They say that she should have retired a long time ago and should have let fresh faces take over. But who can match Lendvai’s wit and way with words? Well, Lendvai herself decided not to run again, although for twelve years she was elected with an overwhelming majority in her electoral district of  Budafok-Tétény.

One thing I like about Ildikó Lendvai is her honesty. She doesn’t hide the fact that for a number of years she worked first for the Central Committee of KISZ, the socialist youth movement, and later for the Central Committee of MSZMP.  The Central Committee had a very large staff with several departments and Lendvai worked for the department of science, education, and culture. I might mention that László Kövér also worked for the Central Committee of MSZMP as a researcher in the department dealing with youth. But, as we know, Kövér is a hero of anti-communism while Lendvai is labelled a vicious censor. She was a member of the party between 1984 and 1989 but, as opposed to many others, doesn’t try to hide any of her biographical data.

Within MSZP she is in the liberal wing of the party, somewhere close to those who later formed the Demokratikus Koalíció. Her opinions are similar to those of DK politicians on many issues, including the closest and speediest cooperation between the opposition forces. Although she doesn’t openly criticize either Együtt 2014-PM or MSZP, I suspect she cannot be too happy with all the foot dragging and fighting over who the prime minister ought to be.

In any case, today Ildikó Lendvai wrote her first longer editorial about the next election. She often publishes in Galamus, usually vignettes from parliamentary debates in which she points out the low level of the exchanges and the completely meaningless answers from members of the government to important questions. But this latest writing, which appeared in Népszava, touches on the core of election strategy: what the main message, the main thrust of the election campaign should be.

The title of her piece is “The missing flag.” Because it is usually a “flag” under which people gather when they take up a cause, be it war or peace. Ferenc Rákóczi’s flag said “Pro patria et pro libertate.” The “flag” of Martin Luther King was “I have a dream.” Or, there is Obama’s “Yes, we can.” A flag represents the community, it tells us that we exist, that we are together. The Hungarian opposition, she argues, needs a “flag.”

She recalls that Elemér Hankiss, an influential sociologist in the 1980s and 1990s, recounted the well known story of the garbage can lying in the middle of the road. Most drivers try to avoid it with some difficulty; not many would actually stop and move the garbage can off to the side of the road, thereby helping others.  The one who does is the hero. Today there is a lot of talk about the “missing hero.” People wish there was one clear winner, one person who could lead the troops. But what Hungary needs today is not so much a hero as a flag.

In a sense the democratic opposition does have flags: solidarity, justice, democracy, the rule of law, the Fourth Republic. More than enough. There are programs too. So, there is the cloth and the pole but “we know from the poem of  [Dezső] Kosztolányi that the flag is not only cloth and pole because it means more than its parts.” This is typical Ildikó Lendvai, who for a while taught Hungarian literature and later was the head of a publishing company. The flag, Lendvai points out, arouses feelings in us. She is convinced that the younger generation is not looking for parties but searching for a Weltanschauung: culture, attitude, community, values.

Ildikó Lendvai at the 2010 MSZP Congress

Ildikó Lendvai at the 2010 MSZP Congress

Unfortunately in Hungary it was the extreme right that first discovered this yearning and supplied this feeling of community but, as we know all too well, these slogans are used to arouse our worst instincts. Fidesz continued Jobbik’s tradition of appealing to the senses and perfected it. Fidesz is not popular because it governs well but because it manages to inculcate the feeling of community in its followers.

So, what should the democratic opposition place on that flag under which it marches? Lendvai is aware of some of the counterarguments but suggests nonetheless putting EUROPE on that flag. The slogan could be what a well known journalist already suggested : “Orbán or Europe.” Some of her friends told her that using the European Union as a electoral slogan might be too “intellectual to Aunt Mary” for whom Europe as a symbol of democracy is far too abstract. But “Europe means free movement, the final escape from the Iron Curtain, freedom from passports and visas. It also means choice of goods on the shelves , the freedom of their children and their grandchildren. It means travel and learning.” And all the benefits of democracy translate into easily understandable concepts: the European labor code, its social net, solidarity, responsibility for each other and peaceful coexistence.

Lendvai would go so far as to collect signatures for a referendum about Hungary and Europe. I am not sure whether there is a need for such a referendum, but I agree that the election campaign should make the idea of Europe and Hungary’s place in it its centerpiece.

As for Ildikó Lendvai’s retirement, I will certainly miss her although I don’t think that this will be the last we hear from her. She will remain an astute observer of Hungarian politics.

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26 comments

  1. I’ll gonna miss her just as well, whatever colours she choses to her flag, if any at all.

    The lady owns as much of grey matter all alone as the whole Fidesz caucus combined.
    It was always exemplary how she retorted without going down to the level of her opponents – I truly enjoyed her wit.

  2. That’s an excellent idea, Europe or Orban! Simple and clear. And then perhaps the PM’s party faithful can explain why it would be best for ‘the people’ to lose Hungary’s EU benefits – in simple financial terms that everyone can understand.

  3. My problem with Lendvai is this: If Gyurcsany and DK represent the best of MSZP, than why didn’t she join with them? Why did she choose to stay behind with the back-stabbers and the ‘business-as-usual’ types who had worked with Fidesz in the past?

  4. This entry pertains to the persistence of anti-semitism n Hungary. Somebody once asked what can be done about it. Here’s my suggestion: give what follows to every thirteen year old to read and memorize by heart. After a few years, people will not be so blase about the ‘Give Gaz’ motorcyclists, or be so ready to join the Garda, or be so willing to back Jobbik.

    Here’s the piece that should be disseminated in every corner of Hungary:

    “The remainder were led away by SS Technical Sergeant Moll, the officer of the crematorium. The elderly were loaded onto dump trucks and then dumped into burning trenches while still alive. The remainder were led into the gas chambers. Meanwhile new transports were arriving.

    In front of the gas chamber was a dressing room. On its walls was written in all languages: “Put shoes into the cubbyholes and tie them together so you will not lose them. After the showers you will receive hot coffee.” Here the poor victims undressed themselves and went into the chamber. There were three columns for the ventilators, through which the gas poured in. A special work detail with truncheons drove the people into the chamber. When the room was full, small children were thrown in through a window. Moll grabbed infants by their little legs and smashed their skulls against the wall. Then the gas was let into the chamber. The lungs of the victims slowly burst, and after three minutes a loud clamoring could be heard. Then the chamber was opened, and those who still showed signs of life were beaten to death.

    The prisoners of the special work details [Sonderkommandos] then pulled the corpses out, took their rings off, and cut their hair, which was gathered up, put in sacks, and shipped to factories. Then they arranged the corpses in piles of ten each. After Moll had counted them, they were taken to the ovens, or if the crematoriums were insufficient, thrown into fire trenches. Once it happened that a victim crawled out of a burning trench. He was beaten to death with truncheons. Once Moll put a naked woman in the trench and shot her in the genitals. Another time Moll found a ring on a member of the special work detail. He ordered naphtha poured over him and had it lighted. On another occasion he arranged twelve women who were lined up behind each other in a row, so that their heads were at the same height. Then he mercilessly shot through them all with a single bullet. He hanged a man up by his hands and shot him until his arms were torn through; then he hanged him up by the feet and repeated the process.

    Once an Italian woman, a dancer, was brought to the crematorium. That drunken pig, the roll call officer Schillinger, ordered her to dance naked. She took advantage of a favorable moment, came near him, grabbed his pistol away from him, and shot him down.2 In the exchange of gunfire that followed, the SS won of course. Once Moll took a family of six. First he shot the youngest in the presence of the rest, then he shot the older ones and finally the father and mother. Thousands of women with shaved heads asked about their children and husbands. I lied to thousands of women, telling them that their loved ones were still alive, even though I knew very well that they were all dead.

    JANDA WEISS, Brunn (Brno)”

  5. Fair enough, I mostly agree.

    Still, belonging to a political grouping, which led the country twice to bankruptcy in the last three decades (1988 and 2008) does not make it that easy to find a proper logo. Sorry Éva, I do not want to spoil the party, but this is how many-many people feel in this country.

    And this is what matters, I guess.

  6. grantbg :
    That’s an excellent idea, Europe or Orban! Simple and clear. And then perhaps the PM’s party faithful can explain why it would be best for ‘the people’ to lose Hungary’s EU benefits – in simple financial terms that everyone can understand.

    Orban would heartily wellcome the slogan “Orbán or Europe” because it mentions his name. Negative mentions are better than no mentions. I suggest “Europe or Chaos”.

  7. Max :

    Fair enough, I mostly agree.

    Still, belonging to a political grouping, which led the country twice to bankruptcy in the last three decades (1988 and 2008) does not make it that easy to find a proper logo. Sorry Éva, I do not want to spoil the party, but this is how many-many people feel in this country.

    And this is what matters, I guess.

    The fact is that one way or the other those who blame MSZP for “almost bankruptcy” will have to vote for MSZP one way or the other if they want to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his “excellent” administration as opposed to the earlier ones. One must choose. It is this simple

  8. Max :
    Fair enough, I mostly agree.
    Still, belonging to a political grouping, which led the country twice to bankruptcy in the last three decades (1988 and 2008) does not make it that easy to find a proper logo. Sorry Éva, I do not want to spoil the party, but this is how many-many people feel in this country.
    And this is what matters, I guess.

    Obviously people more interesting in revenge, the continuous blaming of someone else than their own rights and well being.
    Compared to that ‘political grouping’ you mentioned, please, tell, just what distinguish the presently ruling ‘political grouping’ in quality? Do they gave anything to the people – besides let free their worst, the vicious hatred toward just about anybody else..?

  9. Re Spectator’s comment. The attitude described by Max that is fashionable in certain circles is dangerous and self-defeating. In addition to being near-sighted.

  10. Max :
    Fair enough, I mostly agree.
    Still, belonging to a political grouping, which led the country twice to bankruptcy in the last three decades (1988 and 2008) does not make it that easy to find a proper logo. Sorry Éva, I do not want to spoil the party, but this is how many-many people feel in this country.
    And this is what matters, I guess.

    Are you saying that people will vote for Fidesz because of their true words, their excellent economy programs that make most Hungarians better off then under the 2008 government? Honestly? You see there is a single problem, people still not doing their diligence when it comes to their own lives. You would think that after the “swiss francs mortgage” fiasco people would be more prudent, and they will think that the small prints must be read. Nope, they till buy into the marketing, and into the empty words. I only feel sorry for those who actually know or already took the effort to know how empty and deceiving the Fidesz government’s governing is.

  11. A bit OT, but it’s worth to read it from the Guardian.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/02/robert-mugabe-election-zimbabwe-sanctions

    Robert Mugabe, aged 89 (!), wins yet again, this time in a landslide in Zimbabwe, and although the election was a bit problematic (no Western observers, media completely biased towards Mugabe’s party etc.) it will likely get the stamp of approval and Westerm sanctions may even have to be lifted even. Mugabe is smart and has no match in Zimbabwe, this after a well-documented decades of crazyness (although he was perhaps less bloody than his earlier colleagues from the 1960’s-70’s).

    If you think Orban will quit or that he will get tired or that the West will give a damn about the Hungarian elections in 2014 and later you are badly mistaken. Also Mugabe, like Orban is genuinely popular among nationalists.

    Like with Mugabe the upcoming Hungarian elections were decided way before the election day and you will have all the observers in the world who will attest that it was free and fair (ie. new election law, gerrymandeared districts, media bias, campaign finance enabling Fidesz to use unlimited funds etc.)

  12. After the change of regime, voters had kicked out the respective government in three consecutive elections as they hoped for a new start. Instead what they got was the same kind of incompetence and legitimised theft. Voters here do not believe in a clean start any more, hence the huge share of those ‘undecided / not ready to vote’.

    The entire political class has lost its credibility in the last twenty years – and with right so. Domestically there is no legitimate power left to break the unholy alliance between politicians and the criminals.

    It is the West, which should use its leverage to force the country to enter a new, civilised European course. Either by publishing details of major corruption cases lading to the top (Gripen etc.) or by leaking documents on politicians’ connection to Communist secret services (including ones on the incumbent Dear Leader).

  13. Max :
    After the change of regime, voters had kicked out the respective government in three consecutive elections as they hoped for a new start. Instead what they got was the same kind of incompetence and legitimised theft. Voters here do not believe in a clean start any more, hence the huge share of those ‘undecided / not ready to vote’.
    The entire political class has lost its credibility in the last twenty years – and with right so. Domestically there is no legitimate power left to break the unholy alliance between politicians and the criminals.
    It is the West, which should use its leverage to force the country to enter a new, civilised European course. Either by publishing details of major corruption cases lading to the top (Gripen etc.) or by leaking documents on politicians’ connection to Communist secret services (including ones on the incumbent Dear Leader).

    @ Max: You are reiterating many of the opinions that were already discussed numerous times on the blog. I do not understand why do you think it is the responsibility of the West” to force the country” to do anything when its own citizens support the current system. Unfortunately that is what we see. If and when the citizens will try to take control, maybe the West could help. So far I yet to see some large “movement”, a regular “call for justice” from the citizens of Hungary. The largest march actually happened to support Fidesz.
    So beside Hungarians taking the Summer off and waiting for the West to solve a problem, what else is happening? What is your suggestion beside waiting for the West?

  14. I am an Englishman who loves Hungary. and has been visiting the country frequently since 1996. There is now much discussion there of the need for a figurehead, and the sad fact of many people’s (I believe utterly understandable) disillusionment with a democratic system which has only existed for 24 years. The question I would ask is, “Which type of figurehead could be seen to be quite above that system, and represent positive aspiration rather than the endless “yah-boo!” in which politicians indulge?” We in Britain have had such a figurehead doing rather a good job since 1952, and a system doing so with varying success since before the Árpáds arrived, and with some sort of representative parliament in existence for 750 years. That is our good fortune, and no wonder Churchill said that democracy was “the least worst system”, or words to that effect. Could such a figure be found for Hungary? Could it be acceptable? Or is this impossibly naive?

  15. Some1: You have a point. The largest significant “movement” these days is leaving the country.
    When Bernanke finally stops his insane quantitative easing monetary policy and Hungary hits the wall, it could be a wake-up call for many.

  16. Max :
    Some1: You have a point. The largest significant “movement” these days is leaving the country.
    When Bernanke finally stops his insane quantitative easing monetary policy and Hungary hits the wall, it could be a wake-up call for many.

    It could be, indeed.
    The question however is: what’s then?

    There are still the same inadequate/corrupt/or politically tainted/and so on goddamn bunch which call themselves politician – mostly for entirely unknown reason – and the country sliding deeper and deeper down the sewer, practically regardless of the party or political “side” – as it seems pretty likely at the moment.

    Unfortunately I tend to think, that there is no way anymore, that that wake-up call yield some result what would change a single thing.

    As long as people judge someone by the label what someone managed to fasten to someone else – instead of real life experience, that’s the way it going to be.

    As in the present case: Ildikó Lendvai remains the “communist arch-enemy”, while his former colleague in the same institute with the same party membership is the “respected” Speaker of the House, the name Kövér.
    Not to mention the Prime Minister, or the nearest of his gang – nearly everyone served so far both sides of the political libra, some of them all over the whole spectrum already, but it’s perfectly alright, as long as they spitting bile to their former comrades…

    I dare say, that many of the former has much higher moral standard than these bunch of turncoats, who serves only one interest – their own, while the sad millions of mislead people follows them as the Pied Piper, out from Europe for good.

  17. Jean P :

    grantbg :
    That’s an excellent idea, Europe or Orban! Simple and clear. And then perhaps the PM’s party faithful can explain why it would be best for ‘the people’ to lose Hungary’s EU benefits – in simple financial terms that everyone can understand.

    Orban would heartily wellcome the slogan “Orbán or Europe” because it mentions his name. Negative mentions are better than no mentions. I suggest “Europe or Chaos”.

    The Oligarchs or Europe, Dictatorship or Europe?

  18. Eva S. Balogh :

    Max :
    Fair enough, I mostly agree.
    Still, belonging to a political grouping, which led the country twice to bankruptcy in the last three decades (1988 and 2008) does not make it that easy to find a proper logo. Sorry Éva, I do not want to spoil the party, but this is how many-many people feel in this country.
    And this is what matters, I guess.

    The fact is that one way or the other those who blame MSZP for “almost bankruptcy” will have to vote for MSZP one way or the other if they want to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his “excellent” administration as opposed to the earlier ones. One must choose. It is this simple

    If only it were. But since when have the ordinary, uneducated, frightened, people taken such ‘obvious’ choices?

    And why should they replace one bunch of brigands with another lot? Given their past record, why, for one second, should they trust MSzP?

    Perhaps it would be better for MSzP to get their act together first, admit their past, clean themselves up, and CONVINCE the voters that they are a better alternative – instead of just relying on ‘anyone except Orbán’? Since when has that tactic worked anyway?

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