“We need to understand that its not Soviet tanks that keep Viktor Orbán in power–it’s societal apathy. And we can only overcome this apathy if in specific instances we are able to step out of our own comfort zone,” said Gergely Karácsony, the popular mayor of the Budapest’s Zugló district and founder of the leftist Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) party, which today is simply known as Párbeszéd. The 41 year old Mr. Karácsony gave an in-depth interview to the conservative Magyar Nemzet daily in which he called on the left-centre opposition to reach out to democratically-minded Hungarian conservatives who may have been strong critics of the previous Socialist-Liberal governments between 2002 and 2010, but who today see the dangers posed by Prime Minister Orbán’s authoritarianism and are looking for an elusive alternative.
“The crisis of the Third Republic is caused, among other things, by the fact that corruption existed before 2010 as well, and also because unacceptable things happened in the fall of 2006,” added Mr. Karácsony, referring to instances of police brutality during protests and riots in the fall of 2006. “Many voters want to be free of Viktor Orbán, but do not see the left-wing opposition as morally superior to Fidesz,” remarked Mayor Karácsony.
I would take issue with this statement–for all the corruption prior to 2010 and despite serious problems with how the police handled the disorder in the fall of 2006, the Hungarian Socialist Party and its coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats, did not systematically seek to erase all checks and balances, nor did it use legislation and proxy owners to eliminate critical, independent media. In fact, Fidesz built its own media empire (HírTV, EchoTV and Magyar Hírlap) during its eight years in opposition and was allowed to do so.
Mr. Karácsony was vague about how the badly splintered opposition might cooperate in 2018, in order to present a viable alternative to Fidesz in parliamentary elections. He feels that some form of “intelligent” cooperation is necessary, but spoke disparagingly about the joint opposition list created in 2014. “The first step towards cooperation is organizing primaries on the left–I felt strongly about this even in 2014”, said Mr. Karácsony, adding that the rumours about how he and many of his colleagues needed to drink a very strong Hungarian liquor called Unicum in 2014, to swallow the bitter pill of opposition cooperation with parties and politicians that he found problematic, was true. He does not want to turn to alcohol again to ease the pain in 2018.
Mr. Karácsony returned several times in his interview to the events of October 23rd, 2006, when a Fidesz demonstration turned violent and when police brutality led to injuries among some. It is clear that Mr. Karácsony is distinctly uncomfortable cooperating with two politicians on the left in specific, notably former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and Lajos Bokros. The Zugló mayor refers to an article that appeared by one of his colleagues in the weekly paper Élet és Irodalom, shortly after the unrest in 2006. “If conservative democrats feel that we express no solidarity with them, that they can be symbolically and literally beaten up, then this will mean the end of the Republic,” paraphrased Mr. Karácsony an article originally written by Péter Rauschenberger.
Interestingly, Mr. Karácsny, who seeks to reach out to conservatives, is actually to the left of both the Socialists and Mr. Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition in many questions. For instance, Mr. Karácsony is a strong supporter of a guaranteed minimum income for all Hungarians, referring to it as the “most beautiful type of marriage between freedom and social security.” The mayor sees this as the only way to dramatically decrease poverty in Hungary.
I also know from my own discussions with smaller parties and politicians on the hard left of the spectrum–some of whom are interested in participating in an opposition primary prior to 2018–that they see Mr. Karácsony’s Párbeszéd as their closest ally.
The mayor also said that while he is able to cooperate with local Fidesz politicians in Zugló (he has no choice, since the opposition does not command a majority on the district council), cooperation nationally with the governing party is impossible.
“There is no way to work with this party, since it is responsible for holding up this whole debauched regime. If this regime ends, then we must co-exist with those who are affiliated with Fidesz, as well as with millions who still support the party,” remarked Mr. Karácsony.