More than 40,000 Hungarians sign petition for referendum against Budapest 2024 Olympics

In just four days, Momentum Movement and opposition parties that have been assisting them, have gathered 40,000 signatures out of a required 138,000 to hold a referendum this spring demanding the withdrawal of the Budapest 2024 candidacy to host the Summer Olympics, according to Népszava. Activists still have over three weeks to keep collecting signatures. In a separate interview, Anna Orosz, one of the leaders of Momentum Movement, told Index that they must collect far more than 138,000 signatures, as it is all but certain that activists associated with Fidesz will try to foil the referendum by having people sign the petition who are not residents of Budapest, or who do not have proper ID. (Officials with the Budapest Election Committee will verify every name signature.) Another challenge that Ms. Orosz and her colleague Miklós Hajnal are facing is that many residents are fearful of signing the petition, as they are worried about angering the infamously spiteful Fidesz party. Specifically, residents with children or relatives employed as civil servants are hesitant to sign the petition.

Viktor Szigetvári’s Együtt party is actively collecting signatures for the referendum–in fact, Mr. Szigetvári posted a photo of himself on Facebook, remarking that in the frigid, -9 Celsius temperatures he and a party colleague collected nearly 50 signatures in a couple of hours. The Politics Can Be Different green party (LMP) has also been collecting signatures for the past three days, and these are above and beyond the 40,000 gathered directly by the Momentum Mozgalom.

The Momentum Mozgalom is still heavily Budapest-centric, although Ms. Orosz and Mr. Hajnal are quick to point out that many of their members are university students from rural Hungary who are currently studying in Budapest. Both of Momentum’s young leaders realize that Fidesz and the pro-government media is eager to label them as liberal urbanites from upper middle class Buda families, who are out of touch with the needs of “real” Hungarians.

Anna Orosz

Index’s Gergely Nyilas and Tamás Fábián asked the two Momentum leaders if they would be willing to partner with LMP, considering that politically the small green party, which started off as a youthful protest movement, appeals in part to a similar demographic. “We do not consider them to be a competent opposition party in terms of being able to topple the Regime of National Cooperation,” said Ms. Orosz, referring to the term initially used by Viktor Orbán and others around him to define his new political system. “The problem is not so much with their messaging, but with their inability to act. We feel that they entered parliament and lost their drive and enthusiasm,” added Mr. Hajnal.

Mr Hajnal then noted that the situation is precisely the opposite with Jobbik–the party has built a successful network across the country, they are willing to take action, their ground game is solid, but Momentum disagrees with them both on principles and in political messaging.

Momentum feels that it is more likely to attract Hungarians who have not found a political “home” in the past, or those who are now disillusioned with LMP, Jobbik and Fidesz. More so than in previous interviews, it seems that Momentum is distancing itself from parties like the Hungarian Socialist Party, the Democratic Coalition and Együtt. Momentum does not plan to partner with any of these opposition parties ahead of the 2018 elections. Instead, Mr. Hajnal noted that they plan to go on a national tour, focusing first on small to medium-sized towns in Hungary, in order to listen to the local problems of residents in these areas– those that can be potentially addressed by their activists. Momentum then aims to establish small activist circles in these small-town ridings.

So what does Momentum have in mind? Mr. Hajnal, who completed secondary school in English at the British International School of Budapest, studied at Oxford and recently worked for Google in Brussels, believes that it is more meaningful for local activists to paint a rundown fence as a service to the community or to offer a babysitting service to mothers looking to return to the workforce, than to simply give political speeches. The goal is to identify local issues and topics, and then organize residents locally to take action as a collective.

Miklós Hajnal

Momentum will be launching a membership drive in March and the only people who will not be permitted to join the organization will be those who were once members of the pre-1989 Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP). The two young leaders also confirmed that they have collected 10 million forints for their anti-Olympics referendum campaign. Most of the donations were quite small–the largest single donation was 200,000 forints (C$900) from an anonymous donor.

The goal, beyond winning a proposed referendum this year and seeing the Budapest 2024 candidacy withdrawn, is to enter parliament as a new political party in 2018.

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