On August 27 Ferenc Gyurcsány published a lengthy article on Népszabadság‘s op/ed page that turned out to be a shortened version of the original, which was published the following day on Galamus.
The article, “Angels or Demons,” spawned the kind of upheaval that normally follows Gyurcsány’s writings or speeches. His political adversaries and antagonistic journalists in Index and HVG attacked the DK chairman as someone whose time has passed and who has no right to speak on behalf of the Hungarian left.
The most vehement criticism came from Viktor Szigetvári, once a close associate of Gyurcsány, who now as co-chairman of Együtt-PM sees Gyurcsány and his party as a threat to his own political aspirations. His feelings about his former boss became especially evident during an interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd. The reaction may have hurt Együtt-PM’s slim chances at the forthcoming municipal elections. After all, most anti-Fidesz voters would like to see a common front against the current regime and instead they see nothing but strife.
The second criticism came from the old-time MSZP leadership, from Imre Szekeres, who made it clear that they do not need any advice from Ferenc Gyurcsány.
What was in Gyurcsány’s article that so upset the other two democratic parties? He declared that in the long run “the optimal goal is the creation of a unitary Democratic Party.” According to Szigetvári, what the opposition needs is not so much one large party as a “new kind of politics.” Szekeres answered that what Hungary needs today is a strong socialist party. If one can believe the latest public opinion poll, DK’s projected results in the elections (8%) are very close to those of MSZP (11%) while Együtt-PM is trailing with 4%. Szigetvári was especially upset about the timing of the article. There’s no question. Ferenc Gyurcsány was trying to bolster support for his own party, which couldn’t have pleased the other party leaders.
The English translation of this controversial article appeared in Free Hungary.
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We politicians, just like most of our compatriots, are neither angels nor demons. Of course, there are some amongst us who are naive like angels, who are idealists and endlessly fair, just as some of us are clever as hell, and are flirting with sin – they are pure mercenaries.
The years of anxiety are coming. They are coming not because this is what we would like to happen, but because Hungary’s political community is split in two. Our motherland is virtually became separated into two countries when it comes to dreams, visions and the deepest-held beliefs. And there is nothing between those two countries. Or, if there is anything there, it is indecisiveness, indifference, apathy and resignation. The situation is indeed dramatic – many say it is hopeless. We have come to a crossroads now.
“Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is built upon the model of Vladimir Putin’s Russia” – Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Newsweek and Time, and currently a columnist of the Washington Post and host on CNN has just written this in The Washington Post. In one of his essays dating to 1997, Zakaria indeed wrote about the threat of illiberal democracy, but he would have never thought that a leader of a European nation would ever use the word ‘illiberal’ as a decoration.
Orbán’s actions in the past years all show that the Hungarian Prime Minister introduced such a regime in Hungary which can be best be described as ‘Putinism’. The regime’s main elements are nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and a firm hold over the media. Orbán is following into the footsteps of Putin in that he eliminates the independence of the judiciary, restricts the rights of individuals, talks about Hungary’s ethnic minorities in nationalist terms and muzzles the press – Zakaria notes, and then specifically highlights in his article the advertising tax aimed at making the private TV channel RTL Klub‘s functioning impossible.
“Zakaria believes Orbán is on the same path as France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders or Britain’s Nigel Farage, who all are Putin’s admirers” – 444.hu claimed in its report on Fareed Zakaria’s article. Since then the author has also shared his conclusions with the viewers of CNN.
Our Hungary – which is also my Hungary – is completely different: It is a liberal democracy. I know that many are already fed up with it, but I repeat it once again: We believe that we Hungarian citizens – as free and independent citizens – are the basis of the state. The state is a product of us, and not the other way round. We are independent, but not isolated; by our very nature, we create smaller or bigger communities, we have families, we are surrounded by friends companionships, we live in cities and in villages, we are Hungarians and patriots. We adapt to the rules created by us in our communities, we also make sacrifices for them if needed; however, we stay with our conviction that the individual is above all else, and that he/she shall not be compelled to submit neither to his/her family, nor to his/her nation, but that he/she is rather the creator of those entities.
That is why we would like to create a state that lets us live free, a state that does not interfere with our religious, political, cultural or sexual preferences, and one that is actually not allowed to do so. We want the state’s power to be regulated and limited by the law. That is why we aim for a state under the rule of law, for a free press, for the free exercise of religion and for the separation of powers. We wish to have an independent judiciary and prosecutors who operate in accordance with the law. We stand up for the freedom and for the protection of property as well as for competition and a market economy. We do not believe in pure economic liberalism (we never had it before anyway), which only secures the power of the strong. We want a state that is efficient, that assumes social responsibility and one that can guarantee, regulate and monitor fair competition – so to say, what we want is a European-style republic. There are no compromises. It is either the one or the other. Either Orbán’s illiberal democracy or a European-style, civic liberal democracy. There is nothing in between.
We can see that most of our compatriots are not satisfied with their lives – they are fatigued and disappointed. The average Hungarian, if there is such, is tired of politics, has contempt for us politicians, and turns away from public affairs. The average Hungarian wants simple things: A safe, secure job, better pay, future for the children, free enterprise, a secure present and a predictable calculable future. And, of course, he/she would like to be part of a successful community, and that is why wants a strong Hungary, so that he/she could view him-/herself as a proud citizen and also his/her compatriots as proud citizens of such a country.
But we are far from that. And since many, in fact, a great many people became disillusioned by the new Hungary that was brought about by the regime change these people are now looking for new ways and new answers. Because the leading ideology of the regime change was liberal democracy, parliamentarianism and a state under the rule of law, and a market economy, and because until now we have been searching for the opportunities to improve living standards and ascend in conjunction with the European Union, now strikingly great numbers of people are turning their backs to all this in their state of disillusionment. They are already running counter to the past two and a half decades and would be willing to march on the side of Orbán in the opposite direction. We can see it, perceive it and we say it now: They are marching in a historical dead-end street.
I do not have any ideas capable of saving the world. In my Őszöd speech I promised “fucking good books” from the Left. Actually this is not what is going to happen now. I want to suggest very simple things only.
Please do not give in to the despotism, and do not make any explanations as to why Orbán is right! Orbán actually sees the majority of our problems; maybe he was even faster in spotting them than we were. In this regard, he is a capable politician indeed. Why should we deny it? His answers, however, stupefyingly derail our country from the path of success that we hope to achieve. One must simply realise that while our country is sinking deeper and deeper, Orbán and his subserviently obedient cronies are amassing never-before-seen fortunes, influence and power. A few are standing on the burden-laden shoulders of the many. That is the regime of Orbán like. Do not make any compromises! We must resist! Some must do it quietly, some loudly. Some with moderation, some with fury. Everyone in on the way he/she can. Just do not submit to it, do not accept it, and do not give it up. Because if we did that, it would mean giving up on ourselves and our homeland. Is this what you want to do?
Do not believe that the state is almighty! We the people are the solution and the secret. The fact that we want something new, that we want to have a better life, and that we are willing to work more and in a different way, and to pass many a night thinking, learning, and fighting against our own failings, fears, laziness and envy. Of course, do not yield to selfishness, to the circumvention of the law that applies to and obliges everyone. Dare to look ahead further than tomorrow, dare to search for everything that will also make also our children and grandchildren rise!
Because many are the tired, and indeed as it seems as though time is running out, there is great demand on both sides for politics’ magic wand, for revolutionary passion, for the “we will erase the past once and for all”-type radicalism, and for shock therapy. The polling booth revolution and the false system of national cooperation are also forms of shock therapy – a kind of a nationalist, despotic and anti-European shock therapy. Those on our side who demand liberal market reforms would also reposition Hungary by a big rush. But we simply would not survive another shock therapy. Do you see, now, that barely anyone believes by now that a weaker state, less social welfare and increased individual self-sufficiency could obtain a majority amongst voters? And not because all these would not be necessary, but simply because our spiritual power has vanished, because we had depleted our reserves, and because there are millions that are just vegetating and now they not only do not want to, but are actually no longer able to take on more responsibility for their lives. In this country, almost everybody is seeking for help. From the state, from local governments, parents, children, from anyone. Meanwhile – occupied with our own misery – we grow more selfish and more indifferent. The only way out is towards accepting and taking on greater social responsibility and towards a more responsible way of market-based competition. Yes, indeed, the ideal of a social Hungary and a social market economy must be resurrected. Well, I could also call it a European-style, democratic and social Hungary characterised by a market economy and the rule of law. Where people align and cooperate with each other, where the wealthy assume greater social responsibility, where jobs are safe for workers and employees, and where civic society is stronger. Let us create such a country!
Dare to respect the people, and do not think that we Hungarians are of a special mould, which would render us better than others! We are in fact not better than any other nation. We are different, but not better; however, we are not worse either. We are civic democrats. Everybody matters, regardless of which nation or ethnicity he/she belongs to. Of course, we protect our national heritage, our language, our history, and we do all this virtually across borders; however, Hungarian statehood – within the meaning of public law – solely extends to the dramatically decreased territory of post-Trianon Hungary. It is a painful fact, yet it is a fact. And rejecting this historical fact is not a patriotic act, but instead an act of adventurism.
Do not give in to clericalism! Belief in God is the essence and miracle of life for many people. Yet others believe in the People, and are doubtful of the existence of God or the Creator. Who knows who is right? It is not the state’s business to decide a polemic concerning the deepest sense of life, because it equally represents all those who believe in God, all those who are doubtful of God’s existence and all those who are atheists, i.e. all of its citizens. We demand a state and a government that considers as its mission – without intending to force any kind of religious belief upon us – the service of the universal good and the promotion of mutual understanding between citizens having various world views. Do not want to be missionaries, and especially not in the name of the state, as Pope Francis – a humanist currently sitting on the throne of Saint Peter – has so warned us!
Let our children be free! Let them see the thousands of colours and interpretations of this world, let them have their doubts and their – many times shaking – truths. Let them play and make mistakes, let them wander off, get lost and find their way home. Let them be doubtful, let them be pioneers, inventors, and discoverers of new ways. Dare to teach them about the past, and let them teach us about the future.
Do not fear the people that who are different, and do not fear strangers and foreigners! Show interest for their difference, look for the similarities with them, and be intrigued by their different way of thinking, culture and mentality, because those might make us better too. It is not enough to protect Hungarians, but they should also be improved, and oftentimes the greatest help may come right from non-Hungarians. Behold them, but do not bow before them just because they come from faraway lands!
Yes, be liberals! Or, if you like it that way, be humanists. Dare to behold the people who are just like us! They are fearful, they are glad, they are confident and they become disheartened. They are like us: They love, hate, hope and get helpless. They all are people. Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Serb, Šokci, Ruthenian, Russian, Austrian, French, German, English, American, but I do not wish to go on. Dare to be human in a universal sense and stay Hungarian with an open mind and with a readiness to understand!
And, as democrats, be capable of taking care of each other! Do not expect more from others than what you expect from yourselves! Demand as much change from others as you can change. More questions and less categorical statements. This is what might bring us closer to a better world, to a better Hungary. Is this too simple? Not at all. It is more difficult than you would think.
You might, of course, say that this is all fine, but how will this lead to a new, strong, and democratic Hungary? Now I have to give you a wake-up call: Slowly – and the road will be winding, with many errors, and in the beginning with only small – yet much hoped – successes. There is no magic pill.
The all-important question is whether we will be able to offer – in accordance with European and civic democratic values – a new political alternative in the coming years. The country is bleeding from a thousand cuts, so we will be confronted with a number of unresolved issues as regards health care, education and the pension system; there is really no way back to 2010 after the past four years. We have to say different things and in a different manner, and if we already learnt the word then also I dare to use it: From time to time and in some sectors we will need unorthodox solutions and political innovation. This, however, will not work in such a way that we sit down in a corner and someone will suddenly shout out loud “Eureka, I’ve found it”. No. We can only create the framework and the life of the new republic in free and open debates.
We, of course, respect our voters – they have the ultimate power. But if the majority of our democrat supporters just continue to be growl and grumble, saying that they cheer for us when they stop us on the street or in a Tesco store, adding that we should hold on, well, this way we will never make it. Even if it hurts many, I say it that if you do not organise, if you do not establish influential public forums and circles for your villages and towns, then we will simply never get ahead. Talking politics in coffee shops and quiet discontent will never get us anywhere. If you do not organise resistance and protests against the selfish mayors of the Orbánist right-wing regime, if there are no protests and petitions in the future either, then we will always stay the hopeful second. Do you want to fight or look for alibis? Make up your mind!
If we are right and Orbán’s regime is unsustainable, then the regime will sooner or later go away, and so will its leader. Whether it will be a noisy collapse or a slow downfall with a gradual retreat into minority status, I do not know. There is one thing, however, which would surely not serve our interests: Upheaval, rebellion, or any kind of violence. We must resist, fight and prepare for Orbán’s downfall. But, do you not also see that we are not yet ready to handle the post-Orbán situation? Our present weakness is Orbán’s single best trump card. Because back in spring, too, it was not him winning, but it was us losing. Because we are divided, old-fashioned, lacking in ideas and weak. Hungary deserves not only a better government, but a better opposition as well. We, too, need to become better. That is what I am working for.
The current election system forces a situation whereby the democratic parties must unite or face extinction. Either uniting or ‘political death’ – it is that simple. We will have to join forces for the 2018 general election, too, unless the election system changes – but since that would run counter to the interests of Fidesz, I would be surprised to see the pressure that was put on us (and that is binding us together) being loosened. The optimal ultimate goal is clear: Establishing a uniform Democratic Party. But in view of the stumbling preparatory negotiations for the local government elections, and the alarmingly low level of willingness to compromise, I think that we are still very far from this – which is really sad, but this is how it is. There are, of course, intermediate solutions as well. We could form a party union with a joint board while preserving the partial autonomy of the democratic parties, or we could set up even looser forms of cooperation with permanent inter-party consultations, and with forums and institutions to that end. In such a way and with such a speed as the political, personal and cultural conditions allow all or any of them.
Making alliances, resisting, developing programmes and primarily taking care of one another – that is the task. The Hungary of the future awaits us. We should tarry not!