Viktor Szigetvári’s exit interview

After more than a decade and a half in Hungarian politics, Viktor Szigetvári is leaving the political arena and potentially even Hungary. He gave a self-reflective, candid and elegant interview on ATV in the days after the election. It was devoid of any political spin. Mr. Szigetvári launched his career not as a front-line politician, but as a political strategist. His own political convictions straddle the line between liberalism and conservatism. (His university thesis supervisor was none other than Fidesz politician Tibor Navracsics, who is currently European Commissioner for Education, Culture and Youth.) Mr. Szigetvári served as adviser to Prime Ministers Péter Medgyessy and he managed the successful Socialist reelection campaign of 2006–the first time since 1990 that a governing political party was elected to a second consecutive term in office. Between 2009 and 2010, he was Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai’s chief of staff and he remained connected to a foundation spearheaded by the former prime minister beyond 2010, also engineering Mr. Bajnai’s return to politics and his run in the 2014 elections. This and the party formed for this purpose and now likely to fold, Együtt, were not successful initiatives.

Mr. Szigetvári did what many others are doing after the 2018 elections, which landed Fidesz a two thirds parliamentary majority, even while a majority of Hungarians voted for a handful of opposition parties. He asked himself the question: Do I have the energy and desire to continue the political fight for another four years, until the 2022 elections? He decided that it was time for him to close this chapter in his life.

“There was no demand for that in which we believed–namely a decent, liberal democratic program which does not engage in hate and anti-migrant rhetoric and does not offer simplistic, one byte messaging. We made many mistakes…I always look for who is responsible in myself.  There was no market for that which I offered and that which I promoted as a politician…I have to assume responsibility for this” said Mr. Szigetvári in his interview on ATV’s Start morning show. He noted that after sixteen years in Hungarian politics, it was evident to him that he needed to move on.

In his interview, Mr. Szigetvári refused to blame any of the other opposition politicians and parties, despite repeated questions from the reporter about whether others must share responsibility too.

“Obviously, every opposition party must examine their own responsibility. But if the politics in which I believe, and which I can explain either convincingly or unconvincingly, in a smart way or in a clumsy manner in television studios is not in demand, then personally, after sixteen years, I must bring my political activities to an end,” said Mr. Szigetvári.

Viktor Szigetvári in his last ATV interview.

He alluded to the fact that in the past he has worked in the private sector and abroad, so he is not worried about his own personal future.

“Despite this, there is such a sadness in me, because this is not the Hungary in which I believe…I don’t consider myself naive when it comes to the migrant question, but I will never engage in the type of anti-migrant hate that we are seeing. After all this, I have too little fortitude left in me to continue pedalling this bicycle for another four years,” Mr. Szigetvári explained.

In terms of what he recommends to those opposition politicians who decide to continue in the world of Hungarian politics, he has this to say:

“I would caution them against taking a deep breath and then after a month returning to ATV studios as if nothing has happened, once again producing press releases on the umpteenth example of corruption by a Fidesz politician. Speaking now from the outside, I can say that if the opposition fires itself up with the belief that it can survive on this, they should know that it has already been proven that this is not possible.”

Mr. Szigetvári did note that effective and wide-reaching coordination, fielding a single candidate in all electoral districts, would have at least helped avoid a two-thirds majority. The Együtt politician participated in talks, spearheaded by Ákos Hadházy, that called for an electoral alliance with Jobbik purely for the purposes of defeating Fidesz and then forcing a proper, new election, possibly with a different electoral law, in a post-Orbán Hungary. As we know, this political project failed.

“When outside of Budapest, 70% to 80% of Hungarians vote for Fidesz or Jobbik, then maybe liberal politics is not what is needed. But in my case, I cannot represent anything else. I will never spread hate against gays and I will never speak of refugees as enemies. This is not how I was raised,” said Mr. Szigetvári.

Hearing Mr. Szigetvári’s honesty and straightforward talk was refreshing. Many who were active in opposition politics and the opposition media are now also mulling whether they can or should continue their work for another four years. Some have already decided to bow out. From the perspective of the media, I think of the demise of Magyar Nemzet and the Budapest Beacon days after the election. All of us in this field should reflect on whether or not continuing is a worthwhile effort or a good use of our time. There are so many exciting projects, issues, people and places out there in the world to explore. I hope that Mr. Szigetvári finds one that proves fulfilling.


  1. Elections are over. The responsibility is now on the shoulders of the victors. The losers just fade away, like the gray donkey in the fog. 134 seats out of the 199 was not just a win, but a tsunami. Of course it was by the party bases, hardly would be considered a typical democratic style election.

    But even the notion of the election of individual candidates by name is considered by Hungarians insane. So, there it is folks. It was your way. Now you have to swallow your own choice. There is no second place in democracy. The voters have spoken. It’s over now, at least for the next four years.

    The only question may remain, if the losers are willing to learn from their own errors? Which is being constantly contradicted by the commenters.

    • Avatar David Robert Evans says:

      In sport, or poker, perhaps even love, you might say there is no second place. In referenda or very simple, primitive democracy, what you say might be true. In advanced, sophisticated democracies, it isn’t. The second place people, the opposition, are there to keep those in power in check and to remind the electorate of alternative policy options. As indeed Fidesz so aggressively did when they were in opposition. Sure, reasons for losing should be confronted, lessons should be learned (in this case, surely the lesson is that the rural underclass in Hungary, effectively acting as loyal feudal peasants, need somehow to be attracted to other political messages), but what you say is based on exactly the very limited experience of only partial democracy that, sad to say, Hungary now represents.

  2. Viktor Szigetvari is a gentleman. These are few and far between in Hungarian politics.

  3. Avatar Chuck Kovacs says:

    Perhaps, consolidation of the various factions would have been less lop sided. In the US, regardless of Comey’s fiaco, had Sanders and Hillary had made some agreement, – Trump would have been left in the dust. One reason dairy farmers (in the east coast) have experienced such tough times is because farmers tend to be independent. “It’s my way or the highway”! Regardless of private or public sector, management has to focus on the big picture. The consolidation of candidates commenced too late. Fidesz appers to have had a deeper focus on objectives – and that chess move, won the game.

  4. Avatar StrandedinSopron says:

    “Many who were active in opposition politics and the opposition media are now also mulling whether they can or should continue their work for another four years. Some have already decided to bow out. ”

    There is a bigger picture. I have lost count of the number of people who I have daily contact with either through work or leisure who have expressed the notion that now is the time perhaps for them to leave Hungary and try new. pastures and challenges.

    For sure, the reelection of Orban is not the only reason, economical possibilities are much better for many professions outside the country. But it is *a* reason. It seemed many were holding on the though of 4 more years of the Orban regime has given them the final push.

    I doubt Orban or Fidesz will care of the lose of the young talent, probably welcome it as they are not their core vote. But Hungary, longer term, needs to sort this out.

    • This is bull! No one will leave because of the re-election of Orban, even though some may claim it as “*a* reason”. In fact, thanks to the growth in employment and in wages since 2013, fewer people are likely to leave and more are likely to consider returning. But yes, some Hungarians will leave, in large part because Hungary is part of a union where its net average wages are about 1/3 of the EU average, despite being one of the top performers in terms of wage growth for the past five years. But I should point out that even so Hungary is doing much better than other countries in the neighborhood like Romania for instance, which lost about 3 million people since 2007.

      And as you might observe, even some of the developed nations are seeing a significant exodus of their population to other countries, and Hungary is in fact also home to a significant number of other EU citizens.

      • Avatar Hungarian Free Press says:

        People have left because of a combination of political and economic reasons. I personally know of a half dozen former Hungarian civil servants, for instance, who have left the country and settled/found work outside Hungary. Take just one example: where do you think diplomats and Foreign Affairs civil servants went when in 2014 first Navracsics and then Szijjártó drastically restructured the ministry, ridding it of long-standing diplomats in favour of a new, very young generation of loyalists. I can tell you: those not yet of retirement age often found work in the western European and North American private sector, some ended up in academia outside Hungary, and others in the EU civil service.

        The Hungarian media landscape has also drastically changed in the last 8 years and some journalists left as well. What about in the business world, where Fidesz party connections opens doors, but opposition connections isolates you from almost any opportunity–business development grants, licenses, etc. And that’s just the small to medium-sized business sector. Under this regime, the government first nationalized then redistributed to its cronies tobacco concession rights, completely changing this industry, it nationalized and then redistributed MKB Bank to the Mészéros clan, etc.

        You are truly clueless if you think that economic and political transformation of a scope not seen since 1989 did not lead to out migration, particularly for the losers of this transformation.

        • Yes, people leaving due to personal circumstances, which often come about due to current government policies, but not out of personal convictions, just because Orban won. What you are talking about and what Sopron was referring to are two different things.

          I am sure that when Fidesz will be ousted some time in the future, their favored minions will be out of luck, while the new power structure will favor its own. In my experience this tends to be the case everywhere in the world.

  5. No one could deny the validity of the common saying; “Least government is the best government.”

    Hungary has far too many needless beaurocrats.

    Let them go, or just “fire” them. Let them go to the EU. Save all that money to rebuild the country and help the population ! Orban’s fiscal policies has been an absolute fiasco any way. Stop all that wasteful spending ! Use the money where it’s most needed and be useful.

  6. Avatar StrandedinSopron says:

    “”This is bull! No one will leave because of the re-election of Orban, even though some may claim it as “*a* reason”.””

    I said “a” instead of “the” intentionally. The decision to leave your native land is not one taken lightly and obviously is multi-faceted in terms of the reasons.

    Economic reasons (try working and bringing up a family working in the state health or education sector) and fear for the future are the two main drivers as far as I can see.
    The possible “economic” factors are mentioned above- the “fear for the future” is connected with a fear of what Orban is capable of. You can and people already have lost their jobs in the state sector for standing up to Fidesz. The pressure of living under that kind of stress reaches a breaking point.

    If you don’t accept that Orban is an element pushing emigration then you don’t live here.

  7. „I don’t consider myself naive when it comes to the migrant question, but I will never engage in the type of anti-migrant hate that we are seeing.“

    And this is the Hungarian Problem, good by, Mr. „not“ naive „Migrant“ and good luck in the private sector and abroad. I am sure that when we calculate Hungary’s demographic drama once more in 5 Years it will look even worse.

  8. Mr. Szigetvari is a talented and decent man. I’ve known him personally for about 15 years. He is a good rider, if he has a horse under him. His success in 2006 was largely based on the fact that at that time, the national network of the MSZP still existed, just barely. He was able to apply data-based campaign technologies, a skill he was the best at in Hungary in 2006, on a national grid, that went down to riding levels, and to the smallest village communities. Those days are over. The MSZP neglected to maintain its network, the other parties have never constructed one for themselves. The only politician that understands the basic principles of how electricity travels is Orbán. It’s as simple as that.

  9. @ David Robert Evans

    ” lessons should be learned (in this case, surely the lesson is that the rural underclass in Hungary, effectively acting as loyal feudal peasants, need somehow to be attracted to other political messages”

    I advise caution with this – it’s far too easy to point to the “loyal feudal peasantry” or at the “rural underclass” that is unable to see the light. Yes, Hungary’s inability to follow the path of justice, constitutionalism and sustainable economic development is a product of her political cultural roots. But the common denominator in this failure is not Hungary’s underclass, but it’s political class. In the age of info-capitalism the political superstructure shifts, and begins to erase the boundary between illusion and reality. Liberals are asleep at the wheel, they are being taken to the cleaners by those who know how electricity travels, and can capitalize on humanity’s greater affinity for fairy-tales as opposed to facts. Remember what Roger Stone said. “For most people facts are boring”. Apologies for the shorthand.

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