Waiting for the opposition

In recent months, the air has become cleaner, the home office has operated, gardening has become a fashion, home cooking and slow food have regained its charm, and musicians have started composing hilarious Trianon songs.

But Hungarian politics, like some dirty, smeared river, reached another chasm, its vortex accelerated. Viktor Orbán authorized the parliament to authorize Viktor Orbán with a special mandate to govern. What we have known so far has become clear: only what he wants happens in the country.

Based on our historical knowledge, we expected the tyrant to disrupt parliament, send MPs home, and then enjoy the joys of a state of emergency. Black pudding eats and rests in the shadow of the Operational Group. At the request of his family, he assembles one or two IKEA furniture, but if he fails, he expels the Swedish company from the country. He sends police officers to some retired, rural scare-mongers and then, before going to bed, acquires some more prosperous private companies.

This is not exactly what happened, but another hybrid solution was created – which can only be explained by the twisted Hungarian common sense. Viktor Orbán governs with decrees during a state of emergency, but the parliament continues to function alongside it, as if nothing had happened, and passes laws. There is no difference between the end results of the two types of legislation, so either governance by decrees or parliament is superfluous.

Orbán, on the other hand, feels he has struck two birds with one blow with this parallel solution. Regulatory governance satisfies his old desire for full power, and at the same time can show the people, in a formal, institutional sense, who the boss is. By maintaining the apparent functioning of the Parliament, he pretends to the West that there is still some remnant of the rule of law here, after all, his “little” power depends on the whims of the parliament elected by the Hungarian people.

At this point, the question inevitably arises: what is the opposition looking for in parliament? Why do they assist Orbán’s hollow game? What does the parliamentary opposition mean by the concept of ‘resistance’, whose flag has been raised high and marched into parliament after the lost elections of 2018?

The tyrant introduces the state of emergency, but leaves the Potemkin Parliament, to which the “democratic opposition” says, okay, boys, let’s play the new role assigned to us once we’re in the play. Out of gratitude, Orbán raises their salaries so they don’t change their minds. Leaving no one on the side of the road, the parlor opposition gets some candy for helping in maintaining the System of National Cooperation, in the ‘best supporting actor’ category.

A real democratic opposition would have stood up at the moment the Authorization Act was passed. They would have left immediately, saying they would come back if parliamentary policy made sense. Until then, they turn directly to the voters, keeping the medically prescribed distance from the ice-cold breath of Fidesz.

The Orbán regime cannot be understood without the functioning of its corrupt opposition. The system works not only because of the loyalty of their followers, their representatives, their oligarchs and their purchased state leaders, but also because the opposition infected by tyranny offers no alternative. They tend to tolerate slaps, humiliations. The opposition would be able to provide an alternative if it stepped behind the screens of the hypocritical system. Until they do, they are abusing the confidence of their constituents and, in this sense, worse than Fidesz. Orbán made no secret of what he would do, so Fidesz voters know what they are voting for. But the opposition often does the exact opposite of what its supporters expect of it.

The disappointment is significant. Voters see the parliamentary opposition – respect for the exception – as part of the System of National Cooperation. The opposition can only become credible if it filters out from its ranks the people of the system, the compromisers and the corrupt, that is, all those for whom “Who values his pathetic life higher than the honor of his homeland” (as Sándor Petőfi, the 19th century romantic poet put it famously). But even this would only be the first step, because after that, with united action, a vision, a future, hope must be given.

This has certainly not been the main thrust in the last ten years. For a long time, civilians were stronger than parties, and Milla’s big demonstrations in 2011-12 not only defended democracy, but also articulated that dissociated opposition politicians should leave. While waves of protest erupted from time to time — for example, in 2014 against the Internet tax, in 2017 against the expulsion of the Central European University (CEU), in 2018 against election fraud, and then against the slave law — the movement momentum gradually subsided. It became clear that the Orbán regime could not be overthrown by non-violent means of movement, thus diverting attention from opposition parties.

Few would have believed when the Democratic Coalition (DK) was formed in 2011 that by the end of the decade Gyurcsány’s (former socialist premier) party would be one of the leading forces in the opposition. However, the party president, who regularly ranks in the back in popularity races, proved to be a persistent and shock-resistant politician. The only problem is that Gyurcsány’s main project was not to defeat Orbán, but to redistribute the opposition cake. He wanted to defeat the MSZP, he succeeded, but we lost ten years because of that. Gyurcsány is not a parlor opposition politician, he is the real opponent of the Orbán regime. On the other hand, however, his activity strengthened Fidesz for many years, because compared to ‘resident evil’, even Orbán seemed more acceptable to many.

While Gyurcsány seems to be a life-long president in his party, who has no challenger or alternative – and runs DK with Klára Dobrev (his wife) as a family business – the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) is a seemingly democratic party in which six party presidents took turns in ten years. But democracy is not the first thing that comes to mind about socialists. The successive presidents tossed each other as hot potatoes as if they were at their expense. They did not join the heyday of the MSZP to run a real political career, but because they thought they would have a good life in the party. They are not so much politicians as more political entrepreneurs. For them, the essence of politics is a serious challenge, such as speaking in front of tens of thousands of people and encouraging potential supporters.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work for them.

In the case of several members of the MSZP presidency, it is uncertain in which team they play, i.e. with whom they co-operate. Maybe the mayor of Szeged, László Botka, would have had a chance to step out of the role of gray eminence, but at the decisive moment it turned out that he was a small field player. The most bizarre was the solution of József Tóbiás, who – as a left-wing politician in the European sense – attended the meetings of the Hungarian parliament from the Canary Islands.

The performance of the generation of opposition politicians did not live up to expectations. Real movement politicians (Péter Juhász, Péter Kónya) and many experienced professionals (Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári) all failed. The once promising green party (LMP) was torn in two, András Schiffer’s schizophrenic trend – which combined left-wing rhetoric with opening to the far right – fell into its own right. The president of the far-right Jobbik, Gábor Vona, who entered parliament in a Black Guard vest, tried to understand democracy too far away. By the time he realized that he had to retreat to the middle because Fidesz had implemented his far-right demands, his previous themes were obsolete. Both the LMP and Jobbik came up with the need for a separate pole, which not only failed them but helped Fidesz to another two-thirds of the parliament, and then their internal cohesion was broken. Since the departure of Jobbik’s president, Jobbik has slipped down and the most talented politicians of the LMP (Bernadett Szél, Ákos Hadházy) have been persecuted by the party’s internal inquisitors.

The history of the Hungarian opposition in the 2010s is a sad game from which lessons must be learned. The relative strength of the DK, the success of some politicians in the Dialogue, the emergence of some excellent young politicians at Momentum, and a few other notable individual accomplishments remain the last resort.

The opposition politician of the decade is undoubtedly Gergely Karácsony, a left-green leader, who in both thinking (technical coalition with Jobbik), determination (exit from the LMP and formation of the Dialogue), tactics (cooperation with the MSZP) and in the introduction of innovative democratic procedures (pre-elections) has preceded his rivals. His conscious political career has progressed from MP through district mayor to winning the position of Mayor of Budapest.

The opposition is hopeless without the promise of hope. And hope can come not only from moral purity and political unity, but also from determination, nationwide organization, and a convincing vision. The opposition successes of the 2019 local government elections and especially the conquest of Budapest showed that the victory of pro-democracy forces is not impossible. Opposition forces must have a common vision of what the program of a new, democratic regime change should be.

More and more people are asking for this from those who still have a voice. Those who could claim have already lost their voices.

András Bozóki

(András Bozóki is Professor of Political Science at the Central European University. In 1989, he participated at the Hungarian roundtable negotiations and served as Minister of Culture of Hungary in 2005-2006.)

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