What now? Civilians versus party leaders

Tomorrow’s demonstration is being organized by a Facebook group called “MostMi!” (Now us!). The chief organizer of MostMi! is Zsolt Várady, a man who two years before Mark Zuckerberg hit upon the idea of Facebook, started iWiW, a Hungarian site. Later purchased by Magyar Telekom, iWiW no longer exists. Várady tried his luck in Berlin but couldn’t quite make it as a software developer. Now back in Hungary, he has been waging a war for some time against the Hungarian tax system which in his opinion is ruinous for Hungarian entrepreneurs.

Várady’s strategy was bizarre. Sometime at the beginning of October he sued every Hungarian party that has existed since 1990, fifteen all told, for being responsible for the widespread tax evasion effectively foisted upon Hungarian citizens because of the existing system of taxation. Quite clearly, Várady does not like parties. The very name he gave to the organization responsible for tomorrow’s demonstration is telling: “Now us!” It implies that all the parties of the last twenty-five years have failed and that the time has come for him and other unaffiliated citizens to take the reins.

What does MostMi! want to achieve tomorrow? “We would like to experience again the same liberating feeling [of earlier demonstrations] after the holidays. To feel that we are not alone and that we dare to raise our voices against this regime.” I’m afraid this is not quite enough. It looks as if MostMi! will be unable to rouse large numbers of demonstrators. As of now only about 10,000 people have indicated they will attend. Of course, it’s mighty cold out.

But there might be an additional reason for the lack of enthusiasm. Speakers at earlier demonstrations talked about the misery of the last twenty-five years and railed against all politicians, no matter their political stripe, while the crowds demanded: “Orbán takarodj!” (Orbán scram!). The civil organizers and the demonstrators were not in sync. Many of the demonstrators are followers of already existing parties. They would vote for MSZP, DK, Együtt, PM, LMP–that is, mostly for the parties of the old “Összefogás” group. These parties want to remove the present government from power. Várady and his co-organizers, by contrast, are working to eliminate all the existing democratic parties while they wait for a new generation of pristine politicians to emerge from their own ranks to eliminate the present regime.

In the last week or so, several political analysts argued against letting civilians take the lead to the exclusion of parties because they are convinced that if parties don’t join the movement, it will end up just like Milla, another Facebook initiative, did. Milla refused to cooperate with established parties and as a result it disappeared, practically without a trace.

It is usually Ferenc Gyurcsány who makes the first move when he sees an opportunity. The Orbán government has been greatly weakened and, in his opinion, it is time for political action. He was the only politician on the left who announced that the opposition should devise a strategy that would result in an election in 2016 instead of 2018. For that, the parties must come out of hibernation and join the movement that was begun by the civilians. They seem to be the ones who can gather crowds, but the crowds are not as politically unaffiliated as the civic organizers think. The very fact that they go out on the street is a political act. And politics needs parties.

goal
On December 22, Gyurcsány asked his followers to join the demonstration once again, but this time with party flags and emblems. The reaction from the MostMi! group was predictable. They subscribed to the Milla template: no parties, no slogans. “Now us!” But who are the “us”?  Even a conservative blog,”1000 A Mi Hazánk,” insisted that parties must make their appearance because otherwise the whole momentum of the demonstrations will be lost. On the liberal side, István Gusztos in Gépnarancs was of the same mind. As he said, “the organizers sooner or later must understand that political parties are civic formations par excellence.” Keeping civilians away from parties is an impediment to their renewal, which will make a struggle against the present regime impossible.

A telephone conversation between Várady and Gyurcsány did not resolve the impasse. Gyurcsány said that DK members and sympathizers who have faithfully attended earlier demonstrations will be happy to join Várady’s goup on January 2, but only if they can show their party preferences. The debate between DK and the organizers continued for days. The other parties, whom Gyurcsány called on to join DK’s example, remained quiet. The main reason for their reluctance was that they don’t want to appear to be following Gyurcsány’s lead. After all, József Tóbás, chairman of MSZP, made it clear that the socialists will never work together with any other party. They will the ones that will form a socialist government in 2018. Obviously, they also reject Gyurcsány’s strategy of holding early elections.

Naturally, the right-wing press was delighted to hear that the organizers “fell upon each other” while the liberals who sympathize with Gyurcsány felt that the civilians “screwed it up again.” Defenders of the civic leaders considered Ferenc Gyurcsány’s decision to be a way of usurping a demonstration that someone else organized. Indeed, by the rules of MostMi!’s game, Gyurcsány was trying to do exactly that. But as a liberal commentator said, “perhaps the rules of the game are wrong.”

The debate ended on December 30 when Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, a leading DK politician, announced that DK activists had received threats by civilians and that, in order to avoid possible violence, Ferenc Gyurcsány had withdrawn his request for DK sympathizers to be able to display their affiliation and affinity with the party. At that time Kerék-Bárczy still called upon the party’s followers to attend the demonstration. A few hours later, however, DK spokesman Zsolt Gréczy said that Gyurcsány had decided that if DK members and sympathizers can’t show their real colors, they will not attend. Of course, he cannot forbid DK sympathizers from attending, but neither he nor Gréczy will be there tomorrow.

Meanwhile criticism of the MostMi! group continues. Another civilian, Gábor Szabó, who has been demonstrating in front of the parliament building for months, wrote an open letter to Zsolt Várady saying that “it would be time to clear up what the real purpose of the demonstration is because the crowd thinks that the demonstration is against the Orbán regime while it seems that the goal of Várady and his collaborators is the creation of a new opposition.”

74 comments

  1. What these demonstrations and the controversies around them demonstrate above all is the utter immaturity, incompetence and impotence of the civic sphere in Hungary.

  2. Brave Hungarians are needed.
    It is time to open a page in decency.
    The next great Hungarian must restore the legal system.

  3. In relation to Zsolt Varady I would recommend reading the article Eva linked to on his thinking. I believe there may be a certain level of disingenuousness to Varady. While he discusses tax transparency, I have to wonder if he also believes that if there were more fairness in the corrupt Hungarian taxation system that somehow his and other legitimate entrepreneurs might pay less taxes. Several members of my own extended family, including one whose firm was effectively acquired by the Cayman Island based Danube Fund expressed this type of thinking to me just two weeks ago.

    I can see nowhere in any of the comments made by Varady any theory or concept of the revenues necessary for the Hungarian state to function and the scope and extent of social welfare this state should provide to its citizens or the expenditures for national defense that should be made by the Hungarian state. If anyone out there can send a link to where he discusses these critical issues I would like to read it.

    The problems Hungary faces are not limited just to the corruption appearing in various political parties in Hungary, but to all of these political parties lack of analysis of the level of revenue necessary for the Hungarian state to function and the balance of that with the rates of taxation on individuals and corporations within the context of the world and European market structure. If you do not take the discussion to a higher level you end up with rampant anti-taxation rhetoric such as the Tea Party in the USA or various libertarian Republicans such as Rand Paul in the USA without much reality behind the rhetoric.

    It’s always easy to protest against taxes and government waste, it’s far harder to create a movement that will attempt to balance human needs and national defense that the Hungarian state must support or at least supplement with a taxation system that does not create capital flight out of Hungary. As long as Hungary is going to function in the capitalist world it has to address that balance. When I asked about this balance when I was just in Hungary even some intelligent Hungarian investors who are in my extended family seemed to have not thought much at all about those issues.

  4. Shame on Varady and his associates for their political naivety. They want tens of thousands to come out in sub-zero temperatures to protest that life’s not fair, while Orbán can smugly appear on TV saying how “permitting” this demonstration proves that he supports freedom of expression. If the protesters could come up with concrete demands on how to make life in Hungary fairer it might wipe the smirk off his face, but doing that would force the civil organisers to make a political stand too.

  5. @Istvan, it not about balance, it’s about volume and how much can be skimmed off of that volume. So the goal is to run as much revenue through the government and run the resulting contracts through “friends legitimate” firms so the skimming is all “legal”. Because when you think of corruption you think envelope of cash pass under the table.. that is a truly unsophisticated form of corruption and these guys are very sophisticated when it comes to corruption. Why do you think Fidesz couldn’t convict the obviously corrupt MSzP individuals? Don’t worry, no one in Fidesz will be convicted either when they finally leave office. No one add what is needed, complete transparency in the system of public funding. Watching the MSzP people I know tells me that all that is happening is that they are waiting for their turn at the tap.

    As for these movements… it maybe naive but it is a non-violent attempt to over-throw the current system, a system where a non-representative, no longer accountable “political elite” has made it impossible for alternate possibilities when working inside the system. Gy is part of that establishment and therefore cannot possibly be part of the *fix*.

  6. Lwih the question comes down to the percent of total tax dollars not being collected or diverted from the state, that is clearly unknown and was unknown for the governments prior to Fidesz. There is still the question of adequate revenue to provide social supports inclusive of education, health care etc, and national defense. There will always be a given level of corruption and diversion of tax dollars from appropriate purposes in any society, many Hungarian people I think are correctly saying it has gone too far and is unbearable.

    But just having Tax transparency does not fix the question of adequate revenues, and this issue is not being discussed by the opposition as best as I can tell. MSZP can correctly point to the underfunding of education and social services in Hungary, but the party knows full well it can not tax to the level necessary to fix these problems without more capital flight. Fidesz just says it will all work out in the end due to,economic growth, the Jobbik argues if corruption and the Roma were eliminated all would be well.

    Just like here I the USA it is easy to oppose taxes and corruption, it’s very hard to balance tax policy with the pressures of the global market economy. I hate to say it but part of a democratic process is deciding who get screwed by tax policy and to what extent, it can’t be avoided. That is what equilibrium or balance is about in relation to taxation.

  7. @Istvan and @LwiiH

    I think that the fundamental problem is a combination civic ignorance and naiveté.

    Hungarian society has no tradition of liberal democracy and no understanding or appreciation of liberal democratic values, and thus of how an enlightened capitalist order is supposed to function, and ultimately that is the root cause of the post-regime change experiment in liberal democracy having got so badly derailed.

    In Britain and the US it took centuries for an enlightened, reasonably corruption-free market-driven capitalism to evolve and become embedded in a liberal democratic political framework, which then became gradually accepted by the vast majority of Britons and Americans as the best way forward toward a decent and sustainably prosperous society.

    Hungarians did not have the good fortune to undergo this gradual process and become acclimatised to liberal democratic values to the point where those values became second nature. Instead, their history is studded with feudal, autocratic and nationalist failure right until the regime change in 1989, and it is the features and accoutrements of feudalism, autocracy and a narrow nationalism that are carried forward in their national memory as the natural order of things.

    Given that it is highly unlikely that Fidesz would be or could be dislodged from power over the next two or three electoral cycles, and least of all with the two thirds majority that would be needed to reverse Orbán’s parliamentary putsch, a responsible opposition committed to a liberal democratic value system would take advantage of the time available by first of all starting with quietly and systematically educating the public at large, and in particular the opinion leaders and the opinion-makers in the media.

    The preferred method could be highly readable and attractive publications combined with a network of study circles and clubs established in every district, where roundtable discussions over coffee and cake, led by skilled facilitators, would gradually and systematically enlighten the participants, be they peasants, labourers, office workers, academics or entrepreneurs, as to the principles at stake, and why those principles are critical to the well-being of society, then once the workings of a liberal democratic value system and its institutions became fully understood and fully appreciated by a critical mass of people, the question of what needs to be done and how best it would be done, could then be addressed and strategically planned out, and then finally implemented.

    My view is that until a critical mass of people in Hungary become aware of what a liberal democratic and enlightened modern capitalist system and its institutions and daily workings are all about – rather than what Hungarians actually and most unfortunately experienced after the regime change – demonstrations going off half-cocked in the street by relative handfuls of the confused, the disgruntled and the malcontents (or even in the unlikely eventuality of huge turnouts) would be guaranteed to remain futile, failed gesturings in thin air, and no more.

  8. Of course none of the above is ever likely to come into fruition in the Hungarian political context, given the highly ragmented nature of Hungarian opposition formations with their constant petty feuding with each other, their complete lack of a common value system, whether liberal democratic or not, and their total inability to cooperate on anything worthwhile.

    All’s more the pity.

  9. I Couldn’t agree more with Mike Balint. Thank you for putting in words the things that I couldn’t have put in words so clearly and accurately myself. Yes, the ignorance characteristic of the Hungarian citizens is what really stands in the way of any attempt to lead us out of this terrible situation. unfortunately, the people who are supposed to educate us in the manner Mike Balint has described would probably come from among us, the Hungarian people, and as such would be equally ignorant, or at least completely unprepared for the task. It really shows how everything has gone to the dogs, when my first thought was: yeah, sure, a buddy would get the whole project, take the money and run, leaving the poor participants in the hands of some amateur. I have heard at least the similar cases of EU funded projects in the past months. Everybody knows what’s going on and takes it as the natural course of events. They are only sorry it’s somebody else and not them. Corruption and theft have become the only way to put your hands on some money by now. In all walks of life. You give something, you take something. Small favours. I have to share Mike Balint’s pessimism. I don’t see a way out of this.

  10. These demonstrators are part of the urban Budapest-based intelligence. They are not hungry, ambitious politicians and they never will be. Thus they are doomed to failure anyway.

    However, every demonstration, every new addition to the discourse of opposition helps.

    That’s because it makes obvious for average people [at least those who hear about these demonstrations, which is a minority, in rural areas people just wouldn’t know about them] that they are not alone with their discontent. That there are others there, who dare to go out with their discontent and still survive without negative repercussions.

    The mesmerizing nature of a dictatorship is such that only slowly, gradually can people realize that the emperor has no clothes (absent a violent overthrow of the regime, of which the non-right wing opposition is fundamentally incapable).

    The next elections will be held in more then three years. Even if Orban fails completely or gets a heart attack, it is for Fidesz to continue to govern, that’s their responsibility.

    I think these struggles within the opposition are necessary, and there is still time, so I wouldn’t worry.

  11. @Eva – You claim politics need parties, and in a sense that is so. But I am sure you will concede that the civil rights movement in the United States did quite a lot without parties. Movement leaders and the mass of people involved were ahead of and outside political parties. In the end, American political parties followed the civil rights movement – they did not lead it. The leading political parties at the time would not have overturned the status quo so dramatically without pressure from the civil rights movement. And that remains the case despite the fact that certain details about certain civic leader’s private lives (such as Martin Luther King’s) appear less salutary. There is no need for the leaders of MostMi, Milla, HaHa or any of the rest to be paragons. And there is no need for these groups to last, precisely because they are not political parties, but civic groupings that coalesce for specific reasons.
    In terms of disgust with corruption and the status quo in Hungary, I think political parties should follow, not lead. And in terms of analysis, I think it is a huge mistake when these groups are portrayed as competitors with political parties. Protesters protest, and thereby express outrage at the status quo. That is their job. The civil rights movement expressed outrage at the conservative, racist politics of republicans and democrats (esp. southern democrats) alike. Both parties changed, for the better, because of that.

  12. Julie Fisher notes in her important new book IMPORTING DEMOCRACY http://importingdemocracy.org/blog that the democratization process is struggling all over the world, and is often in retreat. (Agnes Kover noted in a recent paper that this process may be seen as part of a “reverse third wave” of the democratization process.) The democratization process works best, Fisher notes, when a combination of forces work together: the presence of a loyal opposition, the willingness to engage in well-conceived protest when needed, and the steady working of civil society organizations. Hungary is currently failing on all three points of this triangle: its feeble political parties provide no loyal opposition to speak of; its protests are unconnected to its political or civil society organizations; and its civil society organizations have been effectively muted by the country’s clever and powerful political elite.

    In the conclusion of our forthcoming co-edited book, THE HUNGARIAN PATIENT (CEU Press), Peter Krasztev and I write:

    New and important challenges will be faced by the Hungarian opposition. For one, it will need to rediscover and revitalize its intellectual brain trust. Activist thinkers like Agnes Heller and George Konrad do not grow on trees, and neither do they live forever. Those willing and able to devote their lives to the development of progressive democracy will need to teach the courses and write the books and deliver the speeches and grant the interviews and attract the resources that will shape the visions of rising generations of activists and participants. New 21st century institutions—web-based think tanks and dialogue centers—will need to be created to formulate creative thought and generate accepted consensus throughout the society—not just in Budapest but in the vast Hungarian countryside as well. And new ways of disseminating policy will need to be discovered and developed and disseminated from border to border, and even beyond.[i]

    [i] Among the creative ideas that have been presented for such a civil society resurgence are the “electronic wall” proposed by sociologist Gabor Hegyesi, which would allow for the immediate consideration of policy initiatives by means of expert and citizen comment and analysis, and the “platform of platforms” proposed by social entrepreneur Gabor Karsai, which would provide a way for civil organizations throughout the country to assert their positions and engage in dialogue with fellow organizations and citizens.

    ************

    There are organizations in Hungary that have sought to advance such visions: Solidaritas in particular, and also the Social Innovation Foundation (SZIA), well described in a chapter in an important new sourcebook: http://www.uk.sagepub.com/books/Book240320/toc

    Chapter 8. Personal, Societal, and Political Conditions of Successful Innovations: A Case Study of the Difficult Survival of the Social Innovation Foundation (Hungary) Gábor Hegyesi, Katalin Talyigás, and Jon Van Til

  13. The last (very important and very interesting too) comments make me feel very pessimistic about the situation in Hungary – it will take a long time probably until the right political environment comes up again.

    Again a bit OT – and only for those who can read German:
    http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/wunderbar/agnieszka-brugger-studentin-und-gruene-politikerin-a-1008066.html
    This is the story of a young woman which at 29 years represents the Green party in the German parliament in defence affairs! So she is the discussion partner for our defence minister (Ursula von der Leyen) which btw is also a woman and thought to be the successor of Mrs Merkel.
    And of course I’m proud that she is connected to my home town Tübingen …

  14. “Hungarian tax system which in his opinion is ruinous for Hungarian entrepreneurs”
    not only his opinion but also mine.

    However, every government but also the opposite party is a kind of mirror from the nation and not just the nation who elected but every single citizen in the country.

    In Hungary, an issue (within the nation) is the lack of honest and open discussion about politics.
    If A is supporting the ruling party and B is supporting the opposite they do not talk to each other but always trying to argue and defend themselves / the party they support. AND for A every decision / message of the supported party is just taken as true and should not be questioned.

    All this is visible also on the demonstrations we had in the past months, everyone and everything is just opposite to something else. Nor the civil demonstration, neither the DK/MSZP “combo” are showing an ideal where the country and the people should go.

    Whatever the FIDESZ say/does DK/MSZP and many others ( like Varady ) are just against it as it was said by the evil.
    Do not misunderstand me, I am not going on FIDESZ but demonstrating _against_ something does not help. Create a clear view, a program and go for it, organise demonstrations etc…

  15. The organizers of today’s demonstration declared their critical objectives on line to be (my weak
    translation): “We want the liberating experience after the winter holidays to live again, that we are not alone, that many and more and more of us who would dare to stand up and dare to raise our voices against the current hypocritical system against, in fact, we know what kind of country we want to live instead!

    We can have now a country that is both free and in solidarity, because if we do not there are concerns that we can not live any longer in the country without change And we, that is, all of us have to want to change, because for 25 years we have been waiting in vain for this work to be carried out from those who came to represent us.”

    That is a massively vague objective.

  16. It is not easy to come with all the answeres in a relativly short time whitout political experience. Nether did so the opposition parties the last four and a half years. How can we crave this youngsters to be up to the challange at once?

  17. Webber: That’s exactly right, very well said. However they still need goals. They should come up with initiative (i.e. concrete laws to implement or change) that the crowd can sign up to, prepare petitions about, etc. The message “come here and rant with us” is going to grow old fairly quickly.

  18. I think Webber makes the point very well. The protestors need to voice their outrage, and frankly, they need to smash a few windows as well. And then parties can and must adapt and adjust to them. But the notion that is shared by some here, that somehow these people are just waiting for the chance to vote for Gyurcsány, Kuncze et al, is extremely fanciful.

    I see nothing wrong with people voicing their disgust at the opposition because frankly, they are just as much part of the problem besetting Hungary as anyone else. After all, Gyurcsány is not in parliament because he was voted in. He is there because of some dubious back-room deal with MSZP that got him a high place on the party list, gifting him a seat by default. Gábor Fodor, even more outrageously, is in parliament as the head of a party even less “real” that KDNP. So long at the opposition is headed by the very people who were responsible for Fidesz’s landslide victory in 2010, and who are still present in public life because of their incestuous politicking rather than support via the ballot box, the protestors have every right to treat them all with contempt and hold them at arms length.

  19. I beg to differ. Outrage can be enough, and Fidesz supporters know it. Orban and Fidesz got their 2/3s-majority under the old election system in 2010 precisely because of people’s outrage, NOT because of their political program. All the opposition needs to do is to be united in promising change, and voter outrage can do the rest.

  20. The translated interview with Zsolt Németh chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs that appeared in the Budapest Beacon on December 31st is well worth reading, particularly this quote: “There are those who believe it is possible to defeat Russia, and all that is needed are weapons, determination and money. But our Western allies need to realize that it is not possible to defeat Russia militarily or economically. The West needs to come up with a worthwhile and uniform proposal with regard to Russia. It is not clear now whether there is a difference of opinion or merely a division of labor under way in what is taking place between the United States and Europe.”

    The objective in the current NATO/EU conflict with the Russian Federation is not to defeat that nation but to curb its unacceptable behavior that includes annexation of the Crimea based on claims that Putin himself stated go back to the origins of Christianity in Russia. As Putin put it in March 2014: “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea.”

    By that standard it would be completely legitimate for Hungary to invade numerous nations that occupy lands that were part of the Kingdom of Hungary under Louis I in the 1300s. The modern world can not function like that.

  21. RTL news had a report on today’s demonstration with some talk by Várady (not very impressive – he’s obviously not a politics pro) and also showed quite a lot of hand-written signs.
    The funniest one had just two words:

    Orbán
    Badfriend

  22. My problem with the presently held demonstration and the comments advocating the exclusivity of the civilian movement that in my experience it’s only successful in democracies, when at least the basic set of rules of the game respected.

    It isn’t the case in Hungary today.

    As it correctly has ben pointed out by Mike Balint: “Hungarian society has no tradition of liberal democracy and no understanding or appreciation of liberal democratic values,” and it apparent in the behaviour of the political parties just as well as the civilians. For some reason the populace tend to agree with Orbán, that democracy is equals with the dictatorship of the majority, and wouldn’t think further, let alone question the notion. However, as we have have learned, “bolshevism” the proper name of such concept when the rights and interests of the rest of the people largely disregarded, this is not democracy.

    Having look at it from this standpoint unfortunately I can’t agree with the organisers of the demonstration, nor with some commentators.
    In my opinion the number of ones supporters never gives automatically right to ignore the opinion of others, particularly when they have rather similar values too, but hey, this is Hungary, after all… Would be totally out of character if there was several group of people who could actually agree on something, wouldn’t it?
    So, obviously some traditions prevail, whatever happen.

    It’s a pity, though.
    Something promising has started, and one might even thought that finally now they all learned the lessons and will do everything to avoid the pitfalls of earlier times, but no such luck, the “traditions” you know…

    Today I have tried to listen in some of the speeches what was broadcasted, but I couldn’t stand it but for a couple of minutes.
    Yes, I know, they are honest, idealist people with the best intentions and all that, but they are frighteningly naive and even more inexperienced, not to mention, they can’t even speak!
    And here I have to disagree with even more people: no, there is no time!
    There is no time to them to learn before their knowledge will be tested in the field of politics, and I’m afraid that would be the end of it.
    You certainly wouldn’t think, would you, when the roof is already on fire you may let a bunch of inexperienced fireman to handle it, and hope that they may learn the trade on the fly?

    There are other thing to consider too. One of them the rhythm and the timing of the demonstrations – or any other action for that matter. It started up quite big as I remember, the next time wasn’t that big, but then it was different slightly, and I’m afraid that it’s going down from there.
    Why?
    It isn’t enough.
    It just plain wrong, when someone will change a regime which allows segregation and the greatest divider of all times with segregative rules by their own: ‘we will tell, who can do what in “our” demonstration’ kind of way.
    Only one condition should have been: that all the participants want the restoration of democracy, nothing more, nothing less.

    It proves one more time, that there is no hope for agreement in Hungary, there is no place for reason and rational pragmatism, there is no common goal, what more important than the pitiful ego of some people of the moment.

  23. @Webber

    I think that your analogy with the sixties’ civil rights movement in the US falters on two key points. The civil rights movement had clear, sharply delineated aims and objectives. The civil rights movement also presented nd operated in terms of a strongly unified front. Neither is the case with the demonstrators or with the left of centre opposition parties in Hungary today.

  24. Spectator you argue that the foundational operational principle of the demonstrations should simply be “restoration of democracy, nothing more, nothing less.” That is a lot really, some would argue that to restore democracy in Hungary the Basic Law ( constition ) passed by Fedesz has to be recvoked and replaced. But replaced with what, the communist constitution, clearly not.

    Just calling for restoration of democracy is an abstraction, There have to be transitional demands that culminate in the restoration of democracy or maybe better said the restoration of the Hungarian Republic. For example Kim Scheppele and others have identified many Anti-democratic aspects of the constition that help reinforce Fidesz rule, can’t any of these provisions be the basis for concrete demands?

  25. @Webber
    As we say in strategic planning: “If you don’t know where you are going, it’s unlikely you will ever get there.” Which can also be supplemented with “If you don’t know what you want, it’s unlikely you will ever get it.”

    Rather than the sixties’ US civil rights movement, I think that it is the 1968 Paris student revolt that would be a far more apt analogy to the the vague though very angry thrashings about hither and thither by the current Hungarian anti-party left-of-centre youth.

    I am not sure the outcomes of the mindlessly extreme left wing Paris student revolt have been all that beneficial, though aged devotees of New Left and post-modernist ideologies and their acolytes are of course still very much around in the media and academia to catastrophically muddy the waters regarding matters of social and environmental policy and issues around aesthetic judgement.

  26. @Istvan and@Mike Balint

    No, I didn’t.
    I argued about the conditions of participation:
    “Only one condition should have been: that all the participants want the restoration of democracy, nothing more, nothing less.”

    Yes, I allow that the sentence – this too – should have been formed more clearly, but I haven’t mentioned the “operational principle” or nothing really in this context.
    So far I reflected to the behaviour of the once and future “political elite” – which is in my opinion a far cry from democracy.

    Also in my opinion having the present motion in Hungary compared to civil rights movements is rather faulty, because the above mentioned movements aimed for a clearly defined segment within democracy, while in Hungary the aim – more or less – ‘regime change’.

    Otherwise there is no way around changing the ‘Fundamental Law’, and I certainly wouldn’t call the prior to Orbán constitution communist, but obviously we have different tastes.

    I agree by the way that a transitional stage must come in between, no doubt, and this period should be freed of party-politics as much as possible, but once again, we are talking about Hungary and I’m wide awake.
    Yes, I agree, the restoration of the Hungarian Republic a much better choice of words.

    However, if I was to organize a demonstration, the calling card would only have contained:

    ‘Come, whoever you are, only if you agree with the restoration of democracy in Hungary!’

    – without further segregating demands. In case, if I was serious enough, of course.

  27. “@HiBoM, you might be right but then forget about getting rid of Orbán anytime soon”

    Will Orban and his corrupt thugs be removed by *normal democratic process*?

    No because the Fidesz mafia has completely destroyed that process and anyone who continues to participate in the sham of Hungarian parliamentary “democracy” is actually delaying the date when the Fidesz fascists will fall.

    So, what are we left with?
    The general populace (as opposed to a couple of thousand of the m/c Budapest elite who think Orban is shaking in his shoes seeing their witty posters and EU flags) taking on the regime on the streets, the villages? At the moment, that day is miles away.

    The Fidesz apologists on here shouldn’t be complacent, don’t underestimate the hatred felt towards Orban and his clique. But the democratic opposition presently sitting in parliament debating the minutiae of procedure and programme with Fidesz/Jobbik need instead to start getting their hands dirty “on the ground”- Orban can only be toppled by mass protest.

  28. I agree with Istvan. There should be clear focus, and even clearer demands. Just like the 12 points of the Hungarian Revolutionaries of 1848 had very concise demands. (I am not saying those points apply here, I am saying the clearness apply.) The masses should stand behind this point and when those demands fulfilled, that would be a good starting point.

  29. @Mike Balint

    ‘May 68 in France involved 10 million workers on strike for weeks, it can’t reasonably be limited to a student’s revolt. But as far as those are concerned, it also can’t be dismissed that the protesters were as much contesting the Right as they were contesting the hegemony of the Communist Party & its CGT labor union on the Left. Some reading may help (not Maria Schmidt), also about post-war French society. You know, where husbands could prevent their wives from getting a passport or opening a bank account until 1965. Where 1.3 million young men were drafted in the war in Algeria. Etc.

    But back to Hungary: the crowd of the netado protests was young, the following ones aged considerably. There is some creativity… but not much, obviously no relay in the workplace, and very little ideology if any. The analogy with ’68 makes no sense.

    I pointed out Sincic’s 3rd place in the Croatian race, because he also expressed a pronounced anti-parties stance with little alternate solutions. We could look at Spain also, where the ‘indignados’ movement has finally been converted into a new party – only it took three years.

  30. We have no argument in this, none at all!
    But when should it come up?
    Prior to a demonstration, when the only point surfaced who shouldn’t do what?

    There definitely should have been a lot of work done before someone steps on the stage. People can identify clearly when it isn’t coherent message what they getting.
    I have spoken with friends from Hungary, who told me after the previous demonstration that no, thanks, it’s not it/them what they were hoping for.

  31. Mike Balint,

    You should just come up with a form of shorthand for every time you want to say, against the prevailing evidence, that Hungarians have never experienced liberal democracy and therefore will never be able to achieve it – maybe just write “my irrational anti-Hungarian bias”, and we will all know what you mean, instantly. Otherwise, you are just being repetitive. Not having much experience with something does not preclude a group of people from being able to understand and master that thing, otherwise we would all be sitting naked in caves in Africa eating raw meat we caught with our hands.

    I recently read an interesting article in the Economist (Christmas edition) that described the divergence between the US and Europe when it comes to holiday and other kinds of time off, and which quite clearly shows that the Anglo-Saxon model of not taking time off is not more productive than the European model, exemplified by France and Germany. I would argue that the leftist demonstrations in those countries in the 1960’s were the impetus of the divergence, and so your disdain for them is borne only by your fringe libertarian views, not an objective understanding of the dynamics of European democratic socialism.

  32. Istvan,

    You wrote: “Just calling for restoration of democracy is an abstraction, There have to be transitional demands that culminate in the restoration of democracy or maybe better said the restoration of the Hungarian Republic. For example Kim Scheppele and others have identified many Anti-democratic aspects of the constition that help reinforce Fidesz rule, can’t any of these provisions be the basis for concrete demands?”

    That is a good idea for a sub-group of the protest, and would make a nice placard. However, at this stage of the game, what is needed is a “big-tent” approach, whereby all who have a problem with the regime should get together and show their dissatisfaction. That should be enough to get the ball rolling, since Fidesz only won 44% of the vote in the parliamentary elections. Once it’s clear that the government doesn’t have the backing of the people, and has been weakened, then maybe some broad, generic political goals can be agreed upon. If there is too much specificity, you will create schisms too early in the process, thus fracturing the opposition (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) or scaring off those who feel disgust or rage but who haven’t shaken off the anti-opposition propaganda. The first rule of politics is “don’t be too specific”.

  33. all can safely recognize that Hungarians failed to find decent politicians, and too many of them fell in the fidesz/jobbik traps.

    the escape will be hard.

    the darkness is blinding.

  34. I do not share the criticism at the civic movement, not even at their disgust at the Hungarian party system. I think all observers of Hungarian politics in the past years have despaired numerous times at the effectiveness and the quality of the opposition parties and politicians. They are simply not convincing in current circumstances, including Ferenc Gyurcsany with all his alleged exceptional wit and talents, but also an amazing ability to divide the society. It has also become increasingly clear that “change” towards a stable, democratic society with joint and shared values will take some time, for instance because these shared values and shared ideas about the concrete shape of a “modern” Hungarian society do not exist (or have not yet been discovered). So, these debates between the “civic” and the “party” opposition are a useful step in that direction. It is part of the process of discovery of shared values and idea. The steps are not “focused” enough to lead to immediate change, yes, but how should a debate be focused if people do not know in specific terms or do not agree on what should be the object of “focus”?

    For me it is sufficiently reassuring that there are still people out there, even coming back to Hungary, to protest and to make a fresh attempt at reaching out to people who are not already organised in the “opposition” parties. They do at least, no matter how naively, try to formulate their ideas and hopefully will make some personal experience with “politics”. It is then necessary not to criticise them for their “immaturity” in political terms (which is a natural outcome of the cynicism that pervades Hungarian thinking about all matters related to “society” and the public sphere in general) but to provide more practical ideas about politics – without falling back to the cosy and cynical “anything goes” when it comes to power. To provide some ideas when exactly it is “correct” (acceptable) to decide in the name of the broad public and when it is not. When do politicians use their powers responsibly and when do they not etc. Apparently questions about which there is neither consensus nor constructive discussion among the Hungarian public.

    That some of those “opposition” party leaders are more opposed to the idea that they have been excluded from power and the “influence over some money flows” than to the idea that there is autocracy in Hungary, I have no doubts.

    A bit late but still: to all of you a happy new year!

  35. The problem is not with the demonstrators, and not with Hungary’s Party SYSTEM, but with the country’s woefully backward political culture. This political-cultural backwardness is visibly demonstrated by the unwillingness and inability of Hungarians to engage in the hard work of creating, developing and cultivating strong, institutionalized and responsive Party roots at local riding levels. Orbán’s opposition feels that the road to winning a national election is by making some heart stirring speeches at Budapest rallies, by their leaders, by writing stirring essays in magazines like Élet és Irodalom, that are read only by a handful of intellectuals, or by having a chat with Kálmán OLga in ATV, that they can subsequently forward to their friends hither and yon to demonstrate what clever fellows they are (and they are almost entirely fellows, I may add. It’s as if women as such do not exist at the party political level in Hungary, or if they do, their job is to serve as cheerleaders to their clever menfolk). Nobody wants to do the kind of work that serves as the basis for mass political parties in Europe and North America. They are all waiting for a Messiah. They see the challenge as a financial one – FIDESZ has money, they don’t. If only they’d have backers that would enable them to plaster every lamp-post with photos of their highly forgettable reps. Ah, what a wonderful world it would be….. This mindset, political-cultural backwardness is the source of the problem. Until Hungary’s democratic party opposition wakes up to the necessity of establishing vibrant, local representation at riding levels, based on the enthusiasm of volunteers, who are in daily contact with and responsive to their local community’s problems and needs, dedicated to mobilizing the local communities to participate in the political process based on rule of law principles, rather than cronyism, graft, and payola, Hungary will remain a democratic backwater and the maffia-state it is right now..

  36. @Google

    Hysterical ad hominem attacks on me do not change either the facts on the ground or the facts of history. And neither does denial.

    I do not suck facts and interpretations out of my little finger. I am in daily touch with some very insightful and well-informed academics and intellectuals in Budapest, and the internet is very far from being my only source of information.

    My comments on this website seem to have inadvertently hit some mental buttons of yours very hard, which I regret, but can do nothing about.

  37. göllnerandras: “Until Hungary’s democratic party opposition wakes up to the necessity of establishing vibrant, local representation at riding levels, based on the enthusiasm of volunteers, who are in daily contact with and responsive to their local community’s problems and needs, dedicated to mobilizing the local communities to participate in the political process based on rule of law principles, rather than cronyism, graft, and payola, Hungary will remain a democratic backwater and the maffia-state it is right now..”

    Perhaps more fitting: Until the politically interested Hungarian wakes up…

    A party system is a reflection of society, it does not “grow on trees”.

    Providing a hypercritical “analysis” of the root causes and an implicit suggestion of the uselessness of all effort is a national sport also. In its consequence it is equally destructive for the citizens’ willingness and ability in participation as the above mentioned “root causes”. Accept that also the Hungarian society is able to change, as many societies have shown before (forget all the ideas about “we are special”, exceptional in good or bad,that is a national myth also, shared even more widely than “nobody has been marched over more often than us”), and that it is for instance you who can try to spread alternative views, interpretations AND (especially) behaviour. In the best case even with some practical ideas how to solve a situation where the majority of people consider “politics” a dirty word, when they have vague notions about a functioning modern political society, and where the existing parties have some political experience but in general perpetuate the cynical approach to all matters elating to society (applying the “law of the jugle”).

  38. @Marcel Dé

    “May 68 in France involved 10 million workers on strike for weeks, it can’t reasonably be limited to a student’s revolt. But as far as those are concerned, it also can’t be dismissed that the protesters were as much contesting the Right as they were contesting the hegemony of the Communist Party & its CGT labor union on the Left.”

    ——————————————————————————————————————————–

    Perfectly true, but I was not referring to the entire May 68 phenomenon, but solely to the student revolt within it.

  39. @Kirsten

    I like your feisty, positive approach to solving the seemingly intractable problems with Hungarian politics and society. Given your understanding of Hungary and Hungarians, what concretely would you suggest for Hungarians to actually do, so they could successfully return to their rudely interrupted experiment in liberal democracy?

    😊

  40. @Mike Balint: even so. French post-war politics had come to a sterile stand-off between Communists and Conservatives.

    The open burst of a Leftist challenge to the Communist Party was a huge thing. Budapest’ 56 had played a role in the disillusionment of older militants and fellow travelers (after the euphoria of the Liberation), but Prague ’68 had a salient influence on a whole generation.

    The PCF never recovered from the French May and went downhill, out-manoeuvered by a Socialist Party brought back from the dead – the latter eventually winning the general elections in 81, something that by design (of the Constitution & electoral system) was’nt supposed to ever happen. And May ’68 also largely contributed to open the spectrum on the Right.

    One may not like the utopia and the excesses, but focussing on those is missing the big picture.

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