Introducing two young civic leaders: Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss

At this moment another demonstration is taking place in Budapest. Again thousands are out on the streets. This time they’re demonstrating against the Orbán government’s effort to steal the private pension savings of those 60,000 people who four years ago when the government decided to “nationalize” the accumulated savings of 3 million people opted to leave their savings in private funds despite all sorts of threats.  As it turned out, their decision was wise. These funds did well over the years and by now the average investor has 3.5 million forints in his account. According to estimates, if the government manages to get hold of the savings in these pension funds, it will reap another 200 billion forints. Admittedly, this is a great deal less than the 3 trillion that was brazenly expropriated in 2010, but it looks as if the Hungarian budget is in desperate need of new sources of revenue.

Although it is too early to write anything meaningful about this latest demonstration, it offers an opportunity to say something about the recent demonstrations in general and to acquaint readers with two of their organizers. First, rumor has it that, appearances notwithstanding, the Fidesz leadership is worried about the long-term effects of the demonstrations on Fidesz’s support and image. Apparently, next week the party’s top brass will get together to discuss the situation.

Early on, Fidesz politicians thought that if they retreated on the question of an internet tax the demonstrations would disappear. They were also happy to hear that the organizers of some of the demonstrations don’t want anything to do with politics. Yet there are signs of grave trouble because dissatisfaction with the government is widespread. “Today we don’t really know whom we should appease.”

Here I would like to introduce the organizers of the Facebook group “We will not be silent!” To focus on this group is especially timely because I just learned that one of the speakers of the November 17 gathering in front of the parliament building, Balázs Nemes, who was asked to speak at today’s demonstration, refused to participate because not only a civic group but a political party, Együtt, is involved. And this group doesn’t want to cooperate with any existing parties. In their eyes, the parties are all the same. This group was the one that immediately rejected “the advances of Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK.”

Some of the more seasoned politicians of the democratic parties, for example, Gábor Kuncze, reacted to Balázs Nemes’s November 17 speech rather heatedly on television. He objected to the speaker’s condemnation of the entire period between 1989 and 2014. ATV decided to have Kuncze meet Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss, another organizer of the group. On Sunday the three appeared on Antónia Mészáros’s “Szabad szemmel” program. It was a very informative twenty minutes. My conclusion was that it is unlikely that these particular young people will be the catalysts of regime change in Hungary.

My problem with them was not that they are inexperienced and somewhat ignorant of the political events of the last twenty-five years, but that they didn’t grasp Kuncze’s simple, logical explanation of why their ideas were fallacious. Although the conversation was about 20 minutes long, here I will concentrate on two points that Kuncze made. The first was his description of the difference between the first twenty and the last five years. The second was his emphasis on the necessity of parties and politicians.

The position of Nemes and Kiss was that the earlier governments did something so terribly wrong that it inevitably led to Fidesz’s illiberal governance. Kuncze’s position, on the other hand, was–which he tried to explain at least two different ways to no avail–that yes, past governments didn’t do a good job and the electorate punished them for their bad governance. They lost the election. The problem is not the two-thirds majority but what Fidesz did with it in parliament. In 1994 the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition had more than a two-thirds majority, but the Horn-Kuncze government did not change the constitution or the electoral law, did not appoint party hacks to the constitutional court, and did not build an illiberal state. When the people of Hungary voted for Fidesz, they did not anticipate what was coming. After all, Fidesz did not have a party program. In fact, Viktor Orbán said not a word about his plans. So, the present government’s governing style is not the necessary and inevitable result of the bad governance of earlier governments.

I kept watching the faces of these two young people, and it seemed that they didn’t understand what Kuncze was getting at. Nemes muttered something about a “qualitative” difference between the earlier governments and the one today, but he didn’t grasp the essential difference between them. As for Petra Kiss, she, in my opinion, is even more hostile to everything that happened before 2010. She is also more naive about what one can achieve without parties and politicians. As Kuncze pointed out, if they want to remain involved then sooner or later either they will have to make peace with the present democratic opposition or they themselves will have to create parties. Kiss dreamily announced that for the time being they don’t want to do anything concrete. They just want young people to remain engaged. This is a fine idea, but surely it is not enough if these people are serious about sending the Orbán government packing. She also stressed that “there should be many, many parties,” as if she were totally ignorant of the current electoral law that precludes the existence of many small parties against the Fidesz monolith. All in all, I doubt that these two new stars of the November 17th demonstration will be ready by either 2016 or 2018 for serious roles in a new political constellation.

As for cooperation among the various groups, the prospects are not auspicious. The organizers of the demonstration against the internet tax refused to cooperate with the “We will not be silent!” group. Balázs Nemes was invited by the organizers of today’s demonstration but refused to participate. Meanwhile, their Facebook page is full of criticism of their position. Most of the comments talk about the necessity of cooperation between civic movements and parties. Some accuse the organizers of “not hearing the voice of the masses.” Or, “in my opinion this party neutrality is going in the wrong direction.” Critical comments don’t seem to make a dent on this group’s leaders.

I still think that these demonstrations are important and I’m also sure that some of these Young Turks will have political roles in the future, but I don’t think that Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss will be among them.


  1. @Webber
    Well I for one am quite surprised by that interview with TGM. Sometime around 2000-2001, TGM held a kind of public debate called “What’s left of Marx?” He had invited a Marxist professor, I believe it was István Mészáros, to try and convince him (and everyone else) that Marxism was still valid in this day and age. But I distinctly remember TGM not being convinced by Mészáros’ arguments (nor was I, frankly) and him even saying so several times. I don’t know how Marxism somehow became relevant between then and 2009, but apparently TGM began to think so…

  2. Can we ask something of the people who are harassing and endlessly criticizing two young people for their political opinion: How old are they?

    And when people like Kuncze the 60-70-80 year olds have answered that question, we can note the 40-60 year age difference between them and their victims in this case who they attack relentlessly. Calling them naive, unable to understand, muttering, not recognizing the greatness of the pre-2010 MSZP-SZDSZ regime and other criticisms.

    But when was the last time someone, anyone was capable of understanding the thinking, reasoning of an actual young person when they were very old. I think that never happened in history, ever. I think it is not reasonable to expect it either. Very old people will never understand how young people think. That’s just a fact of life.

  3. @tappanch: i just tried to clarify that based on the current plans, and what Lazar’s circle is hinting, the ten hours a day is the likely plan. I cannot imagine the 4 days work week, although some sort of combination is possible. I also wanted to note that this is not “against the current law” as they pick and choose what law they want to imply.

  4. @hantai – Gabor didn’t underestimate the elderly or the middle aged, and he didn’t say anything disrespectful in my view. He just pointed out that some have been pretty hard on one or two young people here.

  5. Totally OT. Maybe Istvan could answer to this. Does anyone know how many German military personnel were sent to Hungary in wwii?

  6. Wolfi that is correct involved were the XXII. Mountain Army Corps ( Hubert Lanz ) from Serbia and Slavonia, the LXIX. Army Corps ( Ernst Dehner ) from Croatia, the LVIII. Reserve Panzer Corps ( Walter Krüger ) from Vienna and the LXXVIII. A division formation usually consisted of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. But by the time Hungary was occupied German Divisions were already undermanned. In theory the German’s claimed each Division had a total strength of 16,500 enlisted soldiers.

    Krisztian Ungvary’s book had very good data on this, but my copy is not at my office so I can’t look it up.

  7. Gabor, being underage – unripe – for the task is one of the unpleasant facts of life, its not question of ‘calling them’ of something, but that they are!

    You like it or not, having a right (kind of) sentiment just isn’t enough. It certainly doesn’t mean that they are wrong altogether, not at all!
    However, one should learn the rules of the game (any game, for that matter) before getting involved – in case of the intention to score some. Otherwise it wouldn’t add up more than a piss off the wind, they’ll appear and will disappear just as fast, unremarkably.

    Today I’ve listened into the broadcast of Klubrádió, where I guess the very same Balázs Nemes expressed his opinion and explained his decision not to speak at the latest demonstration, because another speaker was a member of one party or another.

    Come now, please!
    Being a self-righteous adolescent is more or less acceptable, if it goes as far as your favourite soccer club or hip-hop band, so far as it effect on you and your buddies – I have no objection, still time to grow out of it.
    Nevertheless it looses its flavour when the very same adolescent suddenly think, that the latest events turning around him and he still should act as if it was the subject of another pastime game.
    No, dear.

    The task definitely grew much bigger than you can handle – it’s that simple!

    Without going further and hurt the feelings of the enthusiast youth, I’d like to call the attention of all the involved – and their sympathisers – of the responsibility which came with the role.

    Yes, indeed it is fun to fall into the role of a revolutioner, it is fun to get on the stage and speak (read?) to tens of thousands, but one shouldn’t forget the rules:

    “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.” ( Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

    Or – if I may speak to the adults over there – if someone assuming the role of a revolutioner, must take the responsibility too what comes with it, otherwise just leave it to those , who can.
    It’s more than just a game, you see.

    And it means that one simply must think and act according to the needs of the case, and from there you ceased to be ‘Joe from next door’ and became the face and voice of a movement, and since that time your personal likes/dislikes/preferences does no matter.

    If you can’t take this part, you shouldn’t ever try the other.

  8. @Some1, Istavn

    From my Feb 21, 2014 notes here:

    THere were about 15,000 German troops in Hungary BEFORE March 19.

    The initial occupational force consisted of 8 divisions.
    Three were deployed from Serbia, two from Croatia, two from Austria and one from Poland.

    Two German divisions were redeployed to the collapsing Soviet front already on March 24.

    Number of soldiers in Hungary (outside Carpatho-Ukraine & Northern Transylvania) :

    3,825 on May 1,
    4,816 on June 1

    Ránki Gy: 1944 Marcius 19, Kossuth Kiado 1978, p. 157

    OL Filmtár 13972/57 kk

    There were also front line troops in Carpatho-Ukraine & Northern Transylvania.

    53,425 on May 1
    41,661 on June 1

  9. Reading my comment I realised that I left out an important part: being the member of a party is only one feature, and not even the most important one to being a human being – and a dissatisfied as such, who has every right to participate!

    Come one, there is a rule, that no party symbols and party related propaganda should be present at the demonstrations – and there was none, as far as from the other side of the World I can estimate – but if anybody as a person can be recognised as a member/associate of one party or another should be automatically excluded, by default?

    Somebody in desperate deed of reality check indeed.

    Otherwise one may rightly assume that the newcomers only want to work on the task to take over the roles of politicians, since the issue doesn’t matter to them any longer, only that their view of the ‘changes’ accepted as the one and only solution.

    In my opinion its a really sick attitude to start a movement by excluding one or another group for whatever reason, in spite of they otherwise agree with the goal, but they were ‘involved’ previously here and there.

    It this case they should announce that only virgins – politically, and to be totally safe otherwise too – allowed..!

    Are you really serious?

  10. No comparison to Ferenc Deak.

    BALÁZS NEMES AND PETRA SÁRA KISS complain about other Hungarians.

    What have they done so far? Law degree? Read Deak biography?

    The ATV interview sounded like Andras Schiffer, another non-Deak.

    Without Deaks, Hungary is back to a colonial, feudal state.

  11. Support for Fidesz/Jobbik has remained quite high for a couple years. So let’s just focus on numbers for a second. Support for Fidesz has dropped recently, and this happened at the same time that these new green politicians appeared on the scene. That doesn’t mean that they caused the drop, but there is something new going on.

    I’ll tell you what will not topple Orban: The defeatism that I have sometimes railed against on this blog. So, yeah, Nemes and Kiss don’t know their history. So what? Politics is the art of the possible, and for once, there’s a glimmer that it’s possible to build a democratic movement in Hungary.

    I will take what I can work with, just like Ferenc Deak did. I see nothing productive in gratuitous insults of young leaders. In fact, what really makes me want to support them is the vitriol against them.

    I’d like to invoke the name of Frank Luntz, the architect of some of the greatest GOP victories in the US. His book is called “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.”

    All the brilliant minds on this blog have been writing all sorts of subtle analysis based on a deep understanding of history. All that is important, but it hasn’t gotten us very far.

    Let’s try to work with these new folks and bring them up to speed. That’s a way to really help Hungary.

    I’ve said similar things before and I’ve been shot down. I don’t care. We’ve got to use the tools at hand to fight Orban, and we’ve got to do this together.

  12. @Some1, Istvan

    If we combine combine Ranki’s research above and Krisztian Ungvary’s article,

    we find that the total number of German troops in Greater Hungary in 1944, according to the German commissariat was as follows:

    March 1: 15,000 (I have to check where I got this data from last time)
    April 1: 70,000 (by Ungvary)
    May 1: 57,000 (by Ranki & Ungvary)
    June 1: 46,000 (Ranki)

  13. The German SPIEGEL has an interview with another “protest leader” – Mátá Kereényi:
    Let’s hope his last sentence is true:
    “Orbáns Statement ist jedoch der typische populistische Quatsch, den er immer erzählt – und keiner glaubt ihm mehr. ”

    Orbán’s statement (re the i-tax) is the typical populist nonsense that he usually tells – and nobody believes him any more …

  14. I read this a bit late but still find this debate between Mr Kuncze and the two young leaders very interesting. It might be interesting how they interpret their role of “leaders” of the movement. Are they just “organising”? Are they not by “protesting”(with what aim: “to survive” is brave and even in the national tradition but without hope that national politics will change because for that you need some clear idea of where the change should lead, in practical terms and in particular with the current composition of the society, ie with Fidesz, MSzP and the likes), but back: are they not by protesting and deciding not to cooperate with XX and XX and all others also, doing “politics”? But this is something they have to find out, unfortunately against the “wise advice” of the seasoned opposition politicians. As I wrote earlier, I believe that the older generation should indeed not lecture the young ones about strategy (or anything else related to politics), as the current disaster including the opinions of the younger generation is their work. The young ones might talk differently if politics were less of a dirty word in Hungary and if in those twenty years between 1991 and 2010 a stronger civil society (and trust in that) had emerged. So, perhaps it is not these two people who may develop into more serious politicians and yet they have somehow already entered the political scene and must make political decisions within their movement and in relation to the rest of the political scene. This could make them think about what exactly it is that they are doing. But even if not, if more young people join in, there will be more who are willing to think about or study political strategy and action. The paternalist stance of the elder generation is in my eyes not helpful.

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