Historian Zoltán Ripp’s analysis of the Hungarian election

Post-election soul-searching and analysis continues in Hungarian opposition circles. I spent two days talking about the remedies offered by MSZP insiders Ildikó Lendvai and István Hiller. Politicians from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, have so far been silent. I understand they are spending this coming weekend analyzing the lessons of the election. On the other hand, DK activists gathered 42,000 supporting signatures, ensuring their participation in the EP election on May 25. Their election slogan, “Europe Is Performing Better,” is a take-off on the government’s claim that Hungary is doing better.

It is extremely difficult to guess how the opposition parties, this time campaigning alone, will do. Turnout for EP elections is usually very low, and Fidesz will most likely get a majority of the 22 seats Hungary is entitled to. Jobbik will probably do even better than in 2009 when they captured three seats, only one fewer than MSZP. The other opposition parties, Együtt 2014-PM and DK, are real question marks because this is the first time they will be able to measure their strength at the polls. Parties need at least 5% of the votes cast to send a delegate.

While the campaign for the EP election is going on, political analysts continue to ponder the consequences of the national election. This time it was Zoltán Ripp, a historian, who tackled the election results. Ripp is deeply immersed in political history, especially the history of the Hungarian communist party in the last fifty years or so. He also wrote a monumental work on the change of regime (Rendszerváltás Magyarországon, 1987-1990), which I find invaluable for understanding the political history of those years.

Ripp was described in a review of one of his books as a historian close to MSZP. Well, that might have been the case a few years back but, as evidenced by an article he published in Galamus, Ripp nowadays has a devastating opinion of MSZP’s current leadership. According to Ripp, MSZP politicians “are “culturally empty, morally dubious, and politically feeble.”

Zoltán Ripp / 168 Óra

Zoltán Ripp /168 Óra

So, how does Ripp see the election and its consequences? The title of his long essay is telling: “Opting for  Servitude.” The essay itself is a subjective description of his despair. Ripp, like most historians, doesn’t think much of the so-called political scientists and leaves “objective” analyses to the talking heads. He is convinced that now, after the election, “the constitutional third republic is gone for ever.” The change of regime is final, especially now that Viktor Orbán with the blessing of the electorate won another stunning victory. One can no longer claim that the Orbán regime is illegitimate. Those who voted for Fidesz reaffirmed its legitimacy.

Ripp, of course, realizes that for the core voters of Fidesz Orbán’s regime doesn’t mean servitude at all. On the contrary, they are convinced that they are performing a service in pursuit of a higher and more noble goal. They are lending a helping hand in the task of elevating the nation into future greatness. Viktor Orbán is described as “the chief shaman, ” “the anointed leader” who knows what he is doing. “Who is the embodiment of what is the best in us.” But, the problem is, Ripp continues, that “the party of Viktor Orbán could have won only in a country where society is gravely ill.” What is that illness? “The lack of democratic culture and mentality.” And that is very basic. Ripp claims that the failure of the democratic third republic was bound to happen. It was practically inevitable.

As opposed to many others, Ripp asserts that it was “not material questions that decided the outcome of the election.” Not that they didn’t matter, but the chief culprit was “the revival of the culture of subjugation.” The return of “resignation,” “assuetude.” And the problem with the opposition was, in Ripp’s view, that they didn’t concentrate on the real issue: that with the election of 2010 came a “regime change.” What was at stake in the election was democracy vs. autocracy painted over with a pseudo-democratic gloss. Ripp fears that the regime put in place byViktor Orbán will stay perhaps for decades. “We can get into a situation from which there is no way out by holding elections.”  Those who believe that there will be another chance in 2018 are mistaken, “they don’t understand anything about the nature of the Orbán regime (kurzus).”

In Ripp’s opinion this opposition misunderstood the very threat that Viktor Orbán’s regime was and is posing to Hungarian democracy. So, what should have been done? How should the opposition politicians have handled the situation? The key word in Ripp’s vocabulary is “radicalism,” but he quickly adds that radicalism is not the same thing as using scurrilous language. There should have been a concentrated radical attack on the illegitimate character of the Orbán regime. Democratic politicians should have announced as their goal the total elimination of the whole system Orbán built in the last four years. Instead, “our brave politicians” only managed to come up with the label of “kormányváltó,” which didn’t even make it to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár as an adjective. It simply means “change of government.” As Ripp puts it, “instead of strategy that great zeal degenerated into a whimper.” On such a basis one could not put together a civic concentration of forces that would have produced enough power for the removal of the Orbán regime. Instead, a coalition of parties was formed “based on cheap haggling.”

Ripp knows that “the intellectual giants of MSZP” will call him an idealist who cannot see farther than downtown Budapest and who talks nonsense because he doesn’t grasp the realities of the countryside. Ripp’s answer is that the democratic politicians had four years to explain to the population the connection between the lack of democracy and the rule of law and the quality of material life. He uses a famous line from Sándor Petőfi to illustrate his point: “haza csak ott van, ahol jog is van.”

What were the sins of the individual actors in the drama? Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “chief responsibility lies in the fact that, although he knew and said a thousand times what was at stake, in the end he accepted the rules of a losing game.” Bajnai’s responsibility is great. He gave up his original ideas and “followed the script of MSZP… He deteriorated into a weakish participant in a political battle.” As for Attila Mesterházy, in Ripp’s eyes he was totally unsuited to lead the battle against Fidesz. “Anyone who did not see that should look for some profession outside of politics.” But, he adds, Mesterházy was not the cause of the crisis but its symptom. What an indictment of MSZP! If Ripp is right, the remedies Lendvai and Hiller propose are useless.

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56 comments

  1. wolfi:
    “The mother took her mentally ill son to the shooting range and let him shoot with semi automatic weapons there – how crazy can one get?”

    She paid with her life for this.

    “And why did she own about a dozen guns – and god knows how many rounds of ammo?”

    Because the US constitution allows citizens to own firearms.

    “And btw the murder rate (per x people) is about five times as high in the USA compared to Canada or Europe …”

    This is a slight exaggeration. If you look up the actual statistics, the US murder rate is three times that of Canada and three times that of Europe. By the way, a large percentage of the US murders is committed by gang members (mostly against other gang members). In Chicago there were over fifty gun related acts of gang violence during the Easter weekend, about eight of them fatal. Many of the murders are committed by drug cartels. The border between the US and Mexico is practically not protected, there are tens of millions of illegal immigrants in the US. Europe, with its well protected borders and total identity check keeps this aspect under tight control.

  2. “We can get into a situation from which there is no way out by holding elections.”

    How do you define the act of “way out”?

  3. gdfxx: The border between the US and Mexico is practically not protected, there are tens of millions of illegal immigrants in the US. Europe, with its well protected borders and total identity check keeps this aspect under tight control.

    I have no idea where you get this information. According to the website of the border patrol they disagree with you. http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%202013%20Profile.pdf

    As to the EU borders. You must be joking. Up to a few years ago the Hungarian borders were open. Border control was done on horseback, and there was no night vision. Hungary was the transport hub for illegal immigrants, and according to me it still is.

    As to the number of illegal immigrants the numbers vary to a few hundred thousands to a few million. My problem with the number of illegal immigrants is that they do not want to be found, so how to quantify this?

    http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/365637/Scandal-of-UK-s-863-000-illegal-immigrants-one-in-four-of-the-EU-s-total

  4. Whatever the relation 3 to 1 or five to one (if you compare the USA with Germany …) without counting those cases of “justified killings” (Stand your ground), my point is the violence taken for granted in the USA. Add things like letting children go on a shooting range …

    Btw we also have gangs in Germany, even the mafia – but even there you’ll find less shooting.

    For us Europeans the level of weapons in use is just unbelievable!

  5. “I’m going to forgive your naiveté on this, oneill–probably your 5th Guiness has touched you a mite.

    The kids are ‘hire’ by Jobbik or Fidesz. All this is ‘show’–the verisimilitude of interest. Jobbik, the caring members of society! They’re putting in time and getting paid for it, either by Russians or Fidesz themselves”

    Do I think Jobbik genuinely care whether some old dear gets her drain fixed? No, of course not, it’s image politics but that’s what works amongst a very immature and under-developed electorate. Are they getting funding from Putyin, Iran? Possibly. Maybe even Fidesz. But you are sadly mistaken if you don’t think the Nazis have a genuinely strong presence amongst the urban and rural youth. Whether they are getting paid or not to show concern is less important than the fact that it is they (not the Left or even the ageing and corruptly bourgeouise Orbanists) who are on the streets showing concern, or at least pretending to.

  6. Ron: “I have no idea where you get this information. According to the website of the border patrol they disagree with you. http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%202013%20Profile.pdf

    Have you ever seen a government agency that would not want to prove, how useful they are? The estimates for the number of illegal immigrants in the US varies between 15 million and 20 million. Also, the lion share of the drugs used in the US gets here through the Southern border. They caught two and a half million pounds of marijuana, 4,000 lbs. of cocaine and 9,000 ounces of heroin. So what? Most of it got through anyway…

    As to the EU borders. You must be joking. Up to a few years ago the Hungarian borders were open. Border control was done on horseback, and there was no night vision. Hungary was the transport hub for illegal immigrants, and according to me it still is.

    As to the number of illegal immigrants the numbers vary to a few hundred thousands to a few million. My problem with the number of illegal immigrants is that they do not want to be found, so how to quantify this?

    http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/365637/Scandal-of-UK-s-863-000-illegal-immigrants-one-in-four-of-the-EU-s-total

    The Schengen border agreement was implemented in Hungary in December of 2007. That changed the non-Schengen border controls drastically. And I keep reading about the many people drowning all over, as they try to get into Southern Europe. With 500 million inhabitants, the estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants in the EU form a much smaller percentage of the population than the 15 million at a population of 314 million in the US.

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