The radicalization of the Hungarian left

The Hungarian left is showing signs of breaking up into two quite distinct camps: on the one hand, we have two mainstream, establishment parties: namely, the Hungarian Socialist Party, which over the past 25 years has tried to be all things to all people, as well as former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition, which is a bizarre, hybrid concoction of socially liberal politicians and economic conservatives who clamour for small government, whilst trying to appeal to an elderly and mainly small-town voting base. I am not mentioning separately the Együtt party, formerly associated with Gordon Bajnai, as they are largely absent from the political scene and barely reach 1% in popular support, according to the polls.

On the other hand, we also have a much younger and smaller radicalized left, comprised of greens, Marxists, feminists and supporters of urban, alternative cultures. András Schiffer’s Politics Can Be Different (LMP), the Dialogue for Hungary (PM) splinter group, the Che Guevara fans of the Fourth Republic (4K!) and the communists of the newly-formed Left Party (Balpárt) form this second group, which has very little in common with either MSZP or DK and which serves a nearly completely different demographic.

Balpárt is growing rapidly in its levels of activity. This weekend, the party held a workshop and conference in Budapest on Syriza’s victory in Greece and on the hopes of creating a Europe-wide radical left that can actually come to power. The Munkások Újsága (Workers’ Paper) reported on this workshop . What is quite evident, is that despite the relatively small number of people present, nearly all participants were young…at least two generations younger than the average MSZP-DK voter.

The goal was to explore the “overall message” of Syriza’s win, both for the Hungarian opposition and for the European Union.

Szilárd Kálmár, Balpárt’s Budapest vice president, stressed that the atmosphere in Greece is similar to that of a “freedom fight” or resistance movement. The “neoliberal model” is akin to colonization and both southern European and eastern European countries need to strike alliances with other countries in their own regions, rather than wait for Brussels to solve their economic, social and political problems. Mr. Kálmár added that the one element of Syriza’s politics that causes concern even among Hungarian radical left-wingers is its gravitation to Vladimir Putin.

Another young radical, Dániel Szabó, is building the Balpárt’s grassroots organization in Szeged. He traveled to Budapest to speak about how Syriza represents “a post 1968 generation new left,” comprised of green supporters, feminists and communists. The communist platform, according to Mr. Szabó, is especially prominent within the party’s structure. But Syriza has moderated itself a great deal: the party no longer wants to pull out from NATO and it supports a fairly liberal and tolerant immigration policy for Greece.

Founders of Hungary's Balpárt.

Founders of Hungary’s Balpárt.

Zoltán Derecskei, a 34 year old journalist with the Munkások Újsága was the one to really emphasize the difference and growing gap between Hungary’s old, establishment left-centre and the new left. He was critical of the fact that both MSZP and DK distanced themselves from Syriza. This is especially true for DK, which was unequivocal in its condemnation of Syriza’s radical left-wing socio-economic policies around austerity. “Syriza will provide Europe with new momentum”–noted Mr. Derecskei.

Two of the radical left’s key activists – Szilárd Kálmár and Ádám Galba-Deák – both originally came from the MSZP, but have since cut ties with the largest opposition party, in order to build “a new radical Marxist political movement.” They claim that they did try to reach out to prominent politicians on the centre-left, but without any success.

András Schiffer has long dreamed of creating a new, staunchly left umbrella organization, in order to give MSZP-DK a run for its money. With new initiatives and clear grassroots activity on the part of radicalized left-wingers associated with Balpárt, 4K! and the slightly tamer PM, the old guard of Hungary’s tired centre-left may face a new challenge in upcoming by-elections and the national elections of 2018.

The radical left has a good three years to build and organize itself….and to also figure out how it will contribute to the downfall of the Orbán government.

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