Hungarian Opposition: Much Ado About, Well, Nothing

2014. január 16. 13:03
Once again, we find the good old, critical intellectuals lighting the way for a younger generation of left-liberal politicians. This year's election will show whether our renowned, leftist intellectuals or the right-wing Fidesz machine knows more about the thoughts, needs and wishes of Hungarians, and furthermore, about Hungary itself.

"So after a hugely crushing election defeat in 2010, and a clear message that change and renewal is needed, the Left produces a list consisting of 1) Their Prime Ministerial candidate at the last election, 2) The last MSzP Prime Minister; 3) The one before that. Bravo, guys. You've really reinvented yourselves. No baggage there at all. Idiots." (A comment at


Take a look at the picture above.

From left to right, they are: Mr. Gordon Bajnai, once the minister of state for governance and regional development before becoming prime minister; Mr. Attila Mesterházy, who was the Socialist's deputy faction leader before becoming party chairman; Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány, former Socialist prime minister; and Gábor Fodor, former minister of environmental protection.

Was it taken in 2008, when they served together in those positions as part of the Socialist-Liberal government that suffered disastrous defeat in 2010?
This photo was taken earlier this week, January 14, 2014. The occasion, following promises of renewal and a new beginning for the Socialist-Liberal oppositon, was that they finally agreed to submit a joint list for this spring's general election.
Those promised fresh faces of the new left-liberal camp? They're the same old faces. Those who were responsible for a growing sovereign debt, a recklessly loose budget, the weakening of institutions of government and finally for the deep economic crisis from 2008 that nearly led to default - not to mention Hungary's special political crisis after Mr Gyurcsány's infamous lying speech in 2006 - were now back in full complement to pick up from where they left off in 2010. 
So what has happened around the opposition since 2010? Much ado about, well, almost nothing.
After the grand old, post-communist, Hungarian Socialist Party suffered in 2010 its biggest defeat ever, and their long-time junior partner, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), fell out of the parliament for failing to reach the 5 percent threshold, a great opportunity presented itself to a battered and shaken leftist opposition. The failed prime minister, Mr. Gyurcsány, was finally squeezed out of the Socialist Party, but with his never ending political ambitions, he organized a small party of loyal fans and supporters, the Democratic Coalition (DK). The anti-mainstream, green liberals, the LMP, went off on their own path, criticizing both the old elites of the right and the left. 
In the first few intense years of the new conservative government, the politically orphaned, urban, left-liberal intellectuals, students and activists launched civic movements in protest. They had an opportunity to become bigger and more influential, but ultimately, after some medium-sized, half-successful street protests, the initial spark petered out. They lost their momentum. After many verbal and written debates, the civic participation in the renewal of the left remained marginal. A new political party tried to build on the new civic networks, Mr. Gordon Bajnai's Együtt 2014 (Together 2014) organization. Soon, leading politicians of the green LMP joined his circles too, abandoning the core LMP. Mr Bajnai's party was the hope for a new leading force on the left, but the recent career of those at the front of the movement had been a total flop. Finally, from the ruins of the once influential, liberal Free Democrats (SZDSZ), former leaders like Gábor Fodor, with his micro-party, the Liberals, managed to scamper aboard the ship of the united opposition at the last minute.


Read our previous articles about the state of the opposition:
After all that fuss, support for the left-liberal opposition has not really changed in recent months. The Socialists have remained at around 15 percent, while Mr. Gyurcsány's party grew to 5 and Mr Bajnai's force sank to 5 percent among eligible voters. Many would think that a united left would show more strength and gain more support, but then there's the basic fact that their new faces are the old ones. Many younger and more critical sympathizers of the left would not vote for a list that includes Mr. Gyurcsány - and Fidesz can shore up its own support when it reminds voters that the much hated Mr. Gyurcsány is back.
One could ask the question: So, why did the left-liberal opposition even bother to unite? The thing is, the left is crowded with old faces not only in politics but also behind them, in circles of the left-liberal intelligentsia. It's a typical Hungarian phenomenon, though not exclusively ours, that the intelligentsia thinks that they can solve the problems of politics. The Hungarian left-liberal intelligentsia was quite powerful 20 years ago, but times have changed, and Hungarian public life has become more colorful, more fragmented. But the old opinion leaders still think much of their own power, that they can lead the way for politicians. 
And that is what has happened. According to Népszava, the leftist daily, a meeting took place at the beginning of the year in the private flat of the renowned Hungarian composer and critical intellectual, Mr. Iván Fischer. Other members of the critical intelligentsia who were also there, including György Konrád, Ágnes Heller, Sándor Radnóti - all vocal and outspoken critics of the current Hungarian government and its politics - suggested to Mr. Gordon Bajnai that he step back from his aspirations to become the leading figure on the left and accept an alliance with Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány.
It seems that after almost four years of political mish-mash, once again the good old, critical intellectuals assert their influence to show the way for a younger generation of left-liberal politicians. Mr Konrád and company often appear as “independent” commentators in the international media though their affiliations in Hungary are anything but independent or nonpartisan. Really nothing has changed in Hungarian politics over the last few years. But ultimately, this year's election will show whether the nation's renowned, leftist intellectuals or the right-wing Fidesz machine knows more about the thoughts, needs and wishes of Hungarians, and furthermore, about Hungary itself.

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