Should the democratic opposition embrace Tibor Navracsics of Fidesz?

Júlia Mira Lévai is a liberal journalist and author, who was a regular contributor to the now folded Galamus Csoport online news site. On Monday, she wrote a column for the news magazine, in which she referred to recent comments by Tibor Navracsics, a Fidesz politician and currently the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, as a “bombshell.”

Mr. Navracsics declared during a radio interview that the Orbán government, of which he was a former minister, is misleading the public in the campaign leading up to an anti-migrant referendum in September. “The government’s communication, in which it claims that the EU wants a quota for illegal immigrants, is not accurate,” said Mr. Navracsics.

I do not believe that these are “fighting words,” though Mr. Navracsics is absolutely correct in pointing out that the government must differentiate between illegal immigrants and those who apply for asylum, adding that establishing a European quota for member states to distribute refugee claimants poses no risk at all.

“I believe that this is an absolutely acceptable solution,” added Mr. Navracsics, of the quotas for refugees.

Tibor Navracsics

Tibor Navracsics

According to Ms. Lévai, Mr. Navracsics’s critique of the Orbán government suggests that “his position in the European Union is more important than following Viktor Orbán’s politics.”

Ms. Lévai is undoubtedly right, and Mr. Navracsics–though a more moderate voice in Fidesz–is not alone in this type of opportunism. Where I believe that Ms. Lévai may be mistaken is in the following suggestion:

“Although we cannot see the end game, Mr. Navracsics’s statement will obviously play a role in determining how extensive the process of internal crumbling will be within Fidesz, as well as how visible this will become. (…) This will also depend on whether Mr. Navracsics will receive adequate support from those quarters that should offer him support, namely from the parties of the democratic opposition.”

Ms. Lévai believes that it is unlikely that the opposition will support Mr. Navracsics, because the democratic parties are “engaging in cynical politics.” The author believes that the opposition is misleading voters by claiming that the referendum, which they are boycotting, is the first possible step in a grander plan on the part of Mr. Orbán to remove Hungary from the European Union. In this reading, the referendum could be used as a way to gain a mandate for an eventual Hungarian exit from the EU.

Péter Szijjártó, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has already confirmed that there are no plans for a so-called “Hunexit.” And, indeed, why would Mr. Orbán ever want to leave the EU as such, when the motor of any investment in Hungary is based on EU cohesion funds and when the prime minister can proceed with the dismantling of rule of law, with no effective response and little real interest from the EU? Mr. Orbán has the best of both worlds–he is “in” when convenient, and “out” when it is not. This is ultimately what the opposition parties are referring to in their response to the referendum.

The opposition boycott of the referendum is a realization that the only way to score a small victory against Fidesz is to keep turn-out so low, that it makes the whole outcome invalid and suggests that Mr. Orbán can no longer use anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia as a red herring, to distract people from systemic corruption and the crumbling health care system.

Ms. Lévai may be correct in noting that the Hungarian opposition is not willing to promote and defend socially liberal and inclusive policy ideas and does not dare to use the referendum campaign as an opportunity to share these liberal ideals with the population. The opposition knows that these ideals are not popular today and that people are driven by fear of the other. But I cannot see much rationale in having the opposition somehow embrace and support Mr. Navracsics, purely because as EU Commissioner, he realizes that he can no longer accept and condone the rhetoric and xenophobic policies that characterize his political party back home.

The problem is that Mr. Navracsics, though more moderate than many in Fidesz today, played an integral role in dismantling rule of law in Hungary. During his brief tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he began the process of gutting the ministry of career diplomats and bringing in those most loyal to Fidesz. Mr. Szijjártó may have completed this process, but it was Mr. Navracsics who started it. Additionally, even if Mr. Navracsics goes rogue, rather than issue milquetoast statements, he no longer has much weight in the ruling party back home.

The opposition is right to keep its careful distance, at least for now.


In another piece of news: on Sunday, Fidesz won a municipal by-election in the working class, left-leaning town of Dunaújváros, despite the fact that this should be good terrain for the left and that the ruling party’s previous councillor had to resign when he got embroiled as a suspect in the murder case of a local businessman. Fidesz’s candidate won 36%, followed by the Democratic Coalition (21%), Jobbik (17%) and the Hungarian Socialist Party in an embarrassing fourth place, with just 8.5%. MSZP barely received more votes than the tiny Dialogue for Hungary party, which won 7%. Obviously, DK exceeded expectations, but these results, in a left-leaning area, spell trouble for the opposition.


  1. Avatar Charlie London says:

    Re the elections – as ever the opposition couldn’t organise a pi**-up in a brewery. Even if LMP change tack the opposition won’t organise. Same old, same old.

    Navracics was rejected for the post of citizenship – but ended up with the portfolio of culture, education and youth!!

    Education! With Hungary promoting Wass and Horthy – you have to wonder what EU is up to?

    He us still close to Orban – and has been tucked out of the way in Brussels.

    I would like the Hungarian opposition in Parliament to boycott Orban’s elections in 2018 – by taking part in the elections and refusing to take their seats. (Opposition is pointless anyway in Orban’s Commocracy parliament – it’s just a private -members bill factory.)

    Imagine the stink in Europe?!

  2. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Navracsics is one of the many Neanderthals that seems to have survived in this little linguistically, culturally isolated corner of the world called Hungary. His entire political career is a monument to his pedigree. No doubt – he can be counted on to show a slightly different “profile” from Orbán, when political circumstances warrant it. He may indeed be one of the more “moderate” of the schleps around whom a FIDESZ 2.0 may coalesce and thrive for another decade. Pokornyi could be another, but hey, why not Áder, Kósa, or Rogán ? There is no shortage of more pliable Neanderthals in Hungary. Neanderland has such a bright future.

  3. Avatar György Lázár says:

    The Navracsics family is not “Hungarian”, he is an ethnic Croat who speaks Serbo-Croatian. He gave speeches in Serbo-Croatian and he even spoke about the atrocities of Horthy’s henchman at Novi Sad in 2013. He is an interesting character, careful double-talker. In Hungary he follows the party line set by Orbán, in Brussels he is cautious critic.

  4. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Most Hungarians, like Navracsics, are not purely “magyar” – and there is nothing wrong with that, it should be celebrated, rather than forgotten, or covered up, as most Hungarians are so fond of doing. Hungarians are a “multi ethnic people” that pretends to be racially, ethnically pure, in order to manage it’s local geopolitical affairs. Tibor Navracsics’s Croatian ethnic background does not alter the fact, that he is no fan of political diversity. He cleaned 200 diplomats out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a couple of years ago, like the good janitor that he is, for Orbán. He is performing the same function in Brussels. Sanitizing the air around his boss, all the while wearing a bib, so he won’t spoil his Armani suit. I have followed Navracsics’s political path very closely for a quarter of a century. He is one of the reasons why Hungary is not a constitutional democracy but a rule of law violator.

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