Yada yada. And next?

The demonstration just ended. I didn’t have a chance to hear all eight speeches, but those I did listen to greatly varied in quality. There were some that demonstrated political naivete and some that questioned the very notion of a market economy, which was described as a system of exploitation. Not surprisingly, the politically most sophisticated speech was delivered by a former politician, Gábor Vágó (LMP). In the speeches of the two organizers of MostMi!, Zsolt Várady and Bori Takács, a frequent refrain was that “we will have to figure out what kind of Hungary we want.” I found this worrisome. It seems that once again Hungarians want to invent something new and unique instead of following the examples of successful democracies that offer their citizens a decent living and security.

According to Abcúg.hu, “this first demonstration of the year was one of the shortest and least eventful of the past few months.” The reporter overheard someone saying that “we have been hearing the same thing over and over,” which is of course true. Speakers complain about the government and about all politicians and parties while the crowd chants “Orbán scram!” The demonstrations, quite frankly, are becoming boring. But the trouble is that the organizers have no idea how to go beyond demonstrations, how to elect a new government, how to create the idyllic Hungary they would like to see after the fall of Viktor Orbán.

There was one speaker, Bernadette Somody, a lawyer who is the director of the legal think tank Károly Eötvös Institute, who pointed out some practical problems facing those who are dissatisfied with the present political situation. In order to rid Hungary of the whole system, the politicians who take over after the fall of the Orbán government must cleanse the government edifice of Orbán appointees. But that will be exceedingly difficult because Viktor Orbán made sure that most of the appointments are of very long duration.

Otherwise, the speeches were full of vague notions about the full participation of citizens at every level of decision-making. A politically engaged citizenry will discuss every issue. Politicians will not be able to make decisions without their approval. I guess I don’t have to elaborate on the impossibility of creating a large-scale participatory democracy in today’s world.

I was greatly disappointed in László Kálmán, He showed a surprising lack of knowledge about anything practical. He said, for instance, that one needs neither a centralized nor a community-based school system. Parents will get together and establish their own. There is a saying in America about those academics who “can’t even tie their own shoe laces,” meaning they are singularly impractical. Well, Kálmán seems to be one of them.

demonstrcio jan2

Although it is a welcome development that there is a growing awareness of widespread poverty and sympathy for the poor, the two speakers speaking for the homeless talked in quasi-Marxist terms that poor Marx wouldn’t recognize. In Hungarian this kind of primitive Marxism is called “vulgár marxizmus.” These speakers talked about the poverty that is inseparable from the capitalist system. There was a lot of talk about exploiters and exploitation. Once the present system is gone, they suggested, there will be an “even distribution” of goods. Another hopeless idea.

And the biggest problem of all: the rejection of party politics. One of the speakers, unfortunately I forget which one, announced that “we don’t need parties but a new alternative.” He neglected to tell us what this alternative is. Several speakers, Várady and Kálmán for example, found all the parties of the last twenty-five years totally incompetent. I am much more charitable. It’s a lot easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than to be on the field in real time. In 1990 an inexperienced crew took over the reins of government in incredibly hard times. The country had a staggering national debt, the collapse of the socialist economic system led to more than a million people being unemployed, inflation was over 30%. Under these circumstances the new government had to lay the foundations of a democratic regime. On balance, they and their successors didn’t do a bad job. For instance, by 1998 Hungary’s most serious economic problems were over. Yes, they made mistakes, but to say that they botched up everything is simply not true.

The organizers’ anti-party attitude went so far today as to refuse Zoltán Kész, the independent candidate supported by all parties with the exception of LMP in the crucial Veszprém by-election, the opportunity to speak. Péter Krekó of Political Capital, a think tank, rightly pointed out that this was a grave mistake. Kész is not a party candidate. He can be considered a civic-minded citizen, an English teacher in town. His slogan is: vote for me and you vote against the two-thirds majority. This election for Tibor Navracsics’s old seat is important for Fidesz also. The government just gave 800 million forints to the city just to make sure that the voters know who butters their bread. And yet the organizers who are so eager to unseat Viktor Orbán didn’t allow this man to speak. Incredibly short-sighted.

All in all, I don’t know where this movement is going. Let’s just hope it’s not another Occupy Wall Street, which fizzled. I was pleased to hear that a large demonstration is planned for February 2 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel is supposed to visit Budapest. But as long as the opposition remains fractured, as long as people’s dissatisfaction is expressed only in the form of demonstrations and not in political organizing, Viktor Orbán doesn’t have to lose sleep. Foreign pressure might be a different story.

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53 comments

  1. @Kristen – A few little additive/complementing information:

    – Just to make it clear, I don’t think that Gyurcsány would be the solution today, even if he really is witty and a great speaker. Let me tell you, he’s also one of the few who can afford to be frank, outspoken and so much as a statesman anyone wish for.
    – However, I am pretty sure that DK is one of the most honest, uncompromising and European party in Hungary.
    Than:
    – Without being aware of what- and why had happened in 2006 and around, one can not see the present events in their continuity and context, can not relate to references still appearing today, and so on.
    – So, if you decide to get familiar with the facts too, here is an objective link, read and make up your mind afterwords, would help, you’ll see.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferenc_Gyurcsány's_speech_in_Balatonőszöd_in_May_2006

    – From the speech it will be rather obvious, why he hasn’t been able to control his party – a clue: his notion threatened the established old fashioned, corrupt and lying carrier-politicians livelihood, they just couldn’t let this happen.
    – Obviously that’s why he left and made his own party, this part is rather simple. In my opinion it happened far too late to cause the impact needed to shake them up, but still.

    – Seeking “common ground between people now supporting Fidesz (and even some of those on the payroll of Fidesz)” is a wrong approach to the problem. You shouldn’t negotiate with the plague, you either cure it or eliminate it. It means, there is no way to leave parts of the Orbanian establishment intact, and hope, they will see the light and accept the rules of the 21-th century liberal democracy – it will never happen. Except of course in case of the usual turncoats with no principles at all. Either you get rid of the nationalsocialist humbug once and for all, or it will poison the life even of your grandchildren. As Stevan Harnad skilfully put it someday: the “Carpathian Carcinogen” can – and will – effect to the minds without enough integrity, and let me tell you, I talking about a couple of millions of people.

    – In my opinion Gyurcsány’s biggest mistake, – beside taking Orbán to a civilised Europeer – was the dreadfully inadequate communications tactic during his time. Relaying on his advisors he trusted in the effect of real values, as opposed to the pure fantasy-world presented by the Fidesz, and it had no effect on Hungarians at all. (They managed to leave out the mindset of the common people, the mentality and intellectual capability of the ‘target group’, so to say.)

    “To dwell on historical injustices, to seek revenge, to demand compensation for all the damage visited on the country only perpetuates the “traditional” approach to politics.” you said.
    Now, this is really sweet! If you just look at the original comment what I used as reference and quoted from, you’ll see, what I mean.
    However, I really hope that you take my comment as I meant it – as opposed to generalisations I tried specifically clear up things, and expressed my opinion to the general public, because I am quite sure that – without dwelling on the past – knowing the facts and circumstances is elementary, in order to be able to digest the lingering accusations and characterisations, and to make a well founded statement to the end.

    And then that statement would worth much more, whatever the opinion would be.
    To me, that is.

  2. @gdfxx, @mikebalint and @Istvan:

    Thank you for your incisive replies – as I’d expect on this blog!

    gdfxx, I don’t fully agree with your take on the history of bad loans: I’d put it more down to capital seeking high yields anywhere it can find them, and a _lack_ of regulation (Glass-Steagall repeal). But we could probably agree that there’s plenty going on in the name of the “market” which is disastrously failing to work for the stated purpose of increasing prosperity for everyone – though we might disagree on the solution!

    I read through your lengthy criticism of the free-market way for Hungary and your suggestion for a Hungarian-specific way instead, but I could not discover anything concrete about these specifics.

    Absolutely. I didn’t offer any. Partly because it’s a hard problem, and partly because the start would be looking back at what’s happened here since 1989 – done by people who lived through it here (though drawing on whatever useful expertise there is around in the world, whether Hungarian or “Western”), rather than a newbie like me.

    Mike Balint, you wrote:

    What is your bottom line?

    I don’t know… my post was an appreciation of this protest (or some of the things said there) as a start, rather than a ready-made finished solution. Perhaps my bottom line would be this:

    I’m definitely on the side of political liberalism, whatever my reservations about what passes for “free-market” economics

    After writing, I thought of the (proposed?) measure documented a while back on this blog: restricting HUngarian graduates from moving abroad for work, by diktat rather than by making Hungary a good place for them to stay. That, as a thought experiment, really drives the wedge between the two things I’m trying to reconcile: what if this restriction was a “Hungary-suitable” solution, at odds with the freedom of movement that I take for granted as part of a liberal society? I wasn’t comfortable when I realised this…

    Istvan, I agree that given the power of the world market non-participation – or perhaps even partial participation on a nation’s own terms – would not be easy. I’m just not convinced that this current fact of life is a benign one. (And I wouldn’t even try to comment on your Hungarian – I’m still at the stage of getting a big kick out of helping out monolingual English speakers in a shop/posta with some rough interpreting!)

  3. @sebt,

    I doubt that the market economy’s “stated purpose” is “of increasing prosperity for everyone”. The only stated purpose of the market economy is to provide a profit to those who seek it. The result is prosperity though, sometimes maybe in strange ways (but generally through creating incentives for people to get those profits). For example, through globalization wages in the US are stagnating or even dropping, but the average Chinese moved from being happy if receiving a bowl of rice a day to a much higher prosperity. Averaging the two items, we probably could conclude that the balance is positive. Isn’t interesting that China, still following the Maoist ideas (actually doing it stronger now, under Xi), is using the market economy to provide prosperity to its people?

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