Tea time in Budapest: Hungarian opposition sits down for more day dreaming

While the radical left-wing Syriza was in the process of winning one seat shy of a majority in Greece’s national elections on Sunday, and as another fledgling, anti-establishment leftist party in Spain, called Podemos, is planning to do the same later this year, elderly conservative, liberal and a sprinkling of centre-left intellectuals sat down in Budapest for an academic and abstract chat on how to rid the country of the antidemocratic Orbán regime. Ádám Csillag, a volunteer film producer who regularly attends and captures opposition protests on camera, asked in public why there were virtually no young Hungarians at this Sunday’s meeting of the self-styled Democratic Round table (Demokratikus Kerekasztal – DEKA). The official answer, provided by Zoltán Lovas, one of the organizers: maybe if younger generations of Hungarians see what DEKA is all about, they will end up joining.

Best of luck.

As a lengthy report in index.hu — a liberally-minded online paper of record read by most younger Hungarians very clearly insinuated in its sarcastic coverage of Sunday’s DEKA meeting, the elderly intellectuals and a handful of veteran politicians who dominated the political scene prior to 2010 are even more out of touch with reality than what most Hungarians would have already assumed. For instance — and this is indicative, if slightly superficial — the DEKA meeting started off by standing and collectively singing Ode to Joy, the anthem of the European Union. The participants then sat down and listened to someone sing the Hungarian national anthem. These optics aren’t really helpful. But more than that, this is yet one more sign that the Hungarian opposition is still dominated by an older generation of thinkers who seem to subscribe to knee-jerk eurocenticism, as part of a purely symbolic gesture to prove to all just how democratic, forward-thinking and liberally-minded they really are, and to set them apart from Hungarian nationalists.

DEKA's Sunday meeting in Budapest, with founders Zsuzsa Ferge and Rev. Gábor Iványi (Photo: Facebook)

DEKA’s Sunday meeting in Budapest, with founders Zsuzsa Ferge and Rev. Gábor Iványi (Photo: Facebook)

The problem is that they are also setting themselves apart from younger Hungarians–especially  those around Politics Can be Different (LMP), the left-wing youth of 4K! (Negyedik Köztársaság-Fourth Republic) and many of those who marched in the protests of late 2014. It’s not that these younger Hungarians are anti-EU, but they do have a more nuanced, less idealistic view of the European Union, partly because they believe that it has moved in a staunchly right-wing direction, as of late.

It is telling that beyond the Index report on the DEKA meeting, most major publications simply re-printed what MTI, the state-run news agency, had to say about the event. DEKA didn’t ruffle any feathers and few people noticed what they were doing, despite the fact that among the founders are prominent and generally respected Hungarian public figures, such as Rev. Gábor Iványi, sociologist Zsuzsa Ferge and taxman-turned-whistleblower András Horváth. Prominent veteran participants included László Kovács, a former Socialist foreign minister, Ildikó Lendvai, also of MSZP and Károly Herényi, of the now defunct Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF).

The speakers noted that they wanted to restore democracy and the republic, they wanted a new electoral law, a more socially just redistribution of the country’s wealth and an end to child poverty. The last three goals are at least concrete and they are in line with what one would likely expect from a left-centre opposition. They would also gain the approval of young firebrand Réka Kinga Papp, associated with the 4K! party, who is far to the left of the mainstream Socialists or the centrist Democratic Coalition (DK). The first two points — restoring democracy and the republic — are vague, lofty goals. And posing a further problem is the conundrum of if or how one should participate in the current, authoritarian Fidesz-dominated system if that is clearly antidemocratic and needs to be  overthrown. Every party in parliament today decided to accept and to work within the confines of that antidemocratic system, so are they credible voices for real transformation?

There was no consensus on whether DEKA should aim to create or turn into a new political party, nor was there common ground on whether DEKA should even register as some sort of formal community organization. They did, however, decide to form eight “working groups,” on everything from foreign policy to something pretty vague called “Jövőkép,” which is meant to chart a visionary future direction for the opposition and for the country.

The participants didn’t like the names of these working groups. They also didn’t like the fact that women were under-represented, when it came to naming the chairs for these various committees. One participant, in all seriousness, suggested that a ninth working group be formed called “What We have Screwed Up,” while another questioned the rationale for naming chairs in the first place. Mr. Lovas interjected, in an effort to calm the dissenters, that these chairs were not really leaders, they were merely there to help coordinate. “If we don’t want to call them leaders, then let’s just call them green squares,” Mr. Lovas added.

Then, most unfortunately, participants left with a promise that nobody could keep. Mr. Lovas announced that Viktor Orbán will either resign no later than March 15th, 2015, or he will be removed from power by that date.

But few people will keep them to this promise, as only a handful of Hungarians bothered to even tune in.


  1. Avatar András Göllner says:

    The one thing that may actually produce results – the organization, via volunteers, at grass roots level, of a national political party, that generates support by it’s attentiveness to the concerns of the electorate at riding levels – this one thing, most Hungarian intellectuals avoid like the plague. They prefer to star on the pages of intellectual journals that are read by a handful of people in Budapest, or to give rousing speeches attended by a few thousand in the capital. And oh yes, I forgot, to attend Kálmán Olga’s TV show for a few clever soundbites. Working for the people, by building a cross country network, developing roots among the people, by volunteering to care, to listen and to act – that is something, Hungary’s political class simply cannot fathom. That’s tough work…..

  2. Avatar Robert Ferber says:

    Dr. Gollner is absolutely right. The current situation is really hopeless. The end may come with violence. The government has (emergency/keszenleti) police trained to put down riots, even special armed police in the Parliament.

  3. At least Rev. Ivanyi is someone who is not just speaking empty words ( like the overwhelming majority of the mostly reactionary intelligentsia, and the even more reactionary clerics ) in order to look smart, but really cares about the most excluded segments of society with a humanistic approach. More should follow the example he sets, that would be a start of a real social change in Hungary which is the primary condition of getting rid of the EU’s first fascist dictatorship.

  4. Avatar András Göllner says:

    Iványi is a wonderful spiritual leader – and not a political leader. There is two ways to defeat Orbán – one is by insurrection, whose outcome my produce more pain than gain, or by electoral methods, through an effective opposition. The second alternative is harder, but would most likely produce positive results. The current political theater in Hungary is a slight of hand sideshow, a pseudo competition, like the phony matches put on by the world wrestling federation.

    • There is only one way to defeat or remove Orban, to liquidate that power structure/mechanism that raised him to power and keeps him in it. Otherwise, those who picked and helped him to power will simply replace him with another one. Normal fate for dictators. Alternatively, he can stay and loot the country until the dirty job has done and can stuff his pocket full in exchange for it with a lot of money that will remain in his bosses’ banks even after his sudden and tragic fall and death.

  5. An antidemocratic regime by definition cannot be removed by ballot. The nonsense that it can is exactly the main cause of the failure of the phony-oppostion . Orban and his clique should have been brought to justice for crimes against the democratic, constitutional order of the Republic as early as 2011/12. The so called opposition that missed the opportunity to demand it in exchange for recieving state funding and salaries for their MPs ( by participating on the illegitimate, illegal elections and even worse discrediting those who were warning agaisnt it ) has destroyed the prospects for a humane future for Hungary. Those traitors have their own shares in Orban’s and his fascist maffia’s crimes. Any group that aspires to be the opposition of the regime has to realise that.

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