A real people's movement or just a virtual Facebook page? Leaders of the new opposition or just a bunch of political amateurs? The Milla movement is a new phenomenon on the Hungarian political scene, but some have doubts about what they and the Together 2014 coalition can really achieve in the coming years.
One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary: that’s the official name of the movement, though it’s better known by its nickname, “Milla.” Their name is already a target of irony among their opponents: the leaders of the movement envisioned one million people behind their banner even as it launched. After almost two years of existence, they have 101,000 followers on Facebook. This fact - and a number of others - are dilemmas that Milla, now involved in the new opposition movement Együtt 2014 (Together 2014), must solve if they are able.
The real story of Milla did not begin in 2010. Rather, its roots are in the past of its founding father and front man, Péter Juhász. The 41-year-old activist lived a typical life of a Hungarian who came of age after the fall of communism in 1989. Juhász had a degree in communications, and in the ‘90s and the millennial years he launched a number of telemarketing and e-commerce startups. Most of these businesses have failed, some due to administrative and procedural shortcomings that led to their removal from the business-registration rolls. Mr Juhász himself once admitted to the news site Origo that he used to be a "negligent guy."
While Juhász somehow managed to stay in business, he had another life as well: he became the most famous advocate for the legalization of soft drugs in Hungary. As with most European countries, soft drugs are illegal in Hungary, only the nature of criminal punishment has been a subject of debate over the past two decades. Support for decriminalization of marijuana remained limited to a small number of activist groups, and Juhász, who faced a criminal case in 1996 when he tried to bring a small amount of marijuana from The Netherlands to Hungary and was caught at the border, figured among their leaders. The legal process dragged on for seven years, which he saw as an outrage, so he founded the Kendermag Egyesület (Hempseed Association) in 2002 to advocate for the legalization of marijuana. The group organized a number of protests and other initiatives for the cause, and, along the way, Juhász became one of the most prominent figures in Hungarian NGOs and underground, liberal networks. More recently, Juhász has organized anti-racist and other human rights protests.
It is not surprising then that at the end of 2010 a student contacted Juhász to help organize a protest against the new Hungarian media law. According to some critics, the law limited the freedom of the press in Hungary. The protest on Dec. 20, 2010 was a small gathering, but the next day, Juhász launched a Facebook group called Egymillióan a magyar sajtószabadságért. It became the core of and forum for the Milla movement. "I wanted to create a channel for communication" Mr Juhász told the Hungarian weekly Magyar Narancs.
Milla’s Facebook page quickly became popular among critics and opponents of the current conservative government in Hungary, which, despite its popularity and stable parliamentary majority, came under significant pressure at the beginning of 2011 when passage of the new law coincided with the country taking up its six-month turn at the presidency of the European Union. On January 14th, Milla organized a large protest in Budapest against the government, drawing tens of thousands of people, a scale that surprised even the organizers. Mass protests had long been the exclusive domain of the Hungarian center-right, and this was the first time that mostly urban liberals and left-wing supporters rallied against the government in such large numbers. Two months later, on the March 15th national holiday, Milla organized another big demonstration and yet another October 23, 2011. These events presented real opportunity for the hard-core opposition to make some noise, but the many speakers addressing the protests, while apparently enjoying their long-winded intellectual meditations, generally failed to draw up real goals for the movement. Recently, for the October 23rd holiday, they announced events outside of Budapest, but there was no real interest. Ultimately, their only demonstration was in Gyula and saw very limited turnout. Since then they haven't tried to organize anything outside the capital.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, perhaps, but the campaign devolved into
something of a fiasco. One of the two finalists was Dopeman, a so-called gangsta
rapper and harsh critic of Hungary’s conservative government. The other finalist was a rather ambiguous radical, left-wing philosopher. When it became clear that the other candidate would emerge the winner, the organizers came up with some new rules to prevent it, marring the credibility of the election and prompting charges of fraud as Dopeman ultimately became the "alternative president".
sample from his "A strici visszatér" (The Pimp returns) album: "When I see a good p****, I lose my mind and I have to get it / It's OK if I get it for free but no problem if I have to pay for it." Or, "I am not the dream of the family guys, after the daughter her mother is next / You think it's disgusting if we f*** an underage? But if she bleeds then she can f*** too". How a musician known for foul-mouthed, sexist lyrics like these could be the face of a movement that purports to stand for tolerance, human rights and dignity is something of a wonder.
But that wasn’t all. Milla’s most baffling action was a protest against a controversial documentary film about the conflicts between Roma and non-Roma people in Hungary. The film depicts some of these conflicts in ways that the liberal mainstream did not appreciate. The documentary was broadcast on public media but was pulled down after Milla’s protest. The organization, which again purports to stand for freedom of the media, applauded with delight public media’s decision to pull the film. They stated that they hope that such documentaries will not be screened in the media in the future. "Milla has no problem with censorship, only when it is not them who compile the list of media that should be censored” wrote Mandiner’s own deputy editor-in-chief, Ákos Balogh, earlier this year.
These anecdotes illustrate how Milla has struggled to find effective ways to get their message across – or, whether they really have a message at all. The lack of a genuine leader, the immaturity of the organization, and its lack of strategy have all weakened the movement, which could have otherwise spent the last two years growing and gaining momentum.
Milla has tried to cultivate an image of itself as a new opposition movement, not associated with the old and decayed left-liberal parties of the past. But it also lacks common ground with other new opposition forces, except perhaps the common cause to defeat Hungary’s conservative government. The green-liberal LMP, the Szolidaritás trade-union movement, the small but vocal 4K! (Fourth Republic Movement) and the other smaller groups in opposition are still feeling out their positions. And then there is the grand old Socialist Party (MSZP) as well as the small party of the discredited former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, the Democratic Coalition (DK). Milla has emerged as but one of these - although one of the more influential – opposition players in a difficult and complicated game. And its future alignments and political allegiances remain unclear.
As recently as August, some strategists of the new opposition were forecasting a new coalition forming in Hungarian politics around LMP, Milla, Szolidaritás and 4K! However, only a few weeks later, Milla and Szolidaritás joined forces with former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai under the name of Együtt 2014 (Together 2014). They envisioned him as the leader of a new opposition (excluding the radical right wing) aligning against the governing Fidesz. Bajnai, Milla's Juhász and the leader of Szolidaritás were the stars of this year’s October 23 opposition protest. Recent public opinion polls showed Together 2014 taking second place behind Fidesz in party preference questions. The results received broad media coverage, but the survey methodology raised some questions.
Time will tell what Juhász is capable of without the aid of recreational drugs. Tens of thousands have participated in Milla’s protests. A hundred thousand people follow it on Facebook. But will there be a time when Milla, as a movement, really reaches one million supporters? It takes millions of voters to win an election in Hungary. Immature, amorphous movements and organizations headed by "negligent guys," pushed and pulled by slick political operators and enthusiastic, idealist newcomers can take stunning turns in politics. Milla as an organization may have become reality, but for the most part it is still only virtual.