Hanging by a thread before it all collapses, part 2

Author: Nóra DIÓSZEGI-HORVÁTH Original title:  Hajszálon múlhat, mikor omlik össze
Publication: VASÁRNAPI HÍREK , Photo: MTI – Zoltán Gergely KELEMEN Date: 05/09/2015

Hanging by a thread before it all collapses

A continuation of Nóra DIÓSZEGI-HORVÁTH’s interview with political scientist Zoltan Lakner.

To read the first part, click here.

Will this deliver a face-slap to Fidesz?

Certainly, but in the meantime it is Hungary that will get the biggest slaps. The government surely has incredible self-confidence, or blindness rather, to think that they will be able to always control this ’park’ of measures constantly generating tension. It may only take a hairbreadth for control to slip out of their hands and for the state bureaucracy concerning refugees to collapse for good.

Right now, the campaign is working however; for apart from the issue of refugees there are a lot of other issues on the agenda ranging from distributing land to building a network of spies, and these do not even reach our threshold of perception.

All this simultaneously tells us that the same goes on everywhere. In fact, the main political weapon of this government is bringing about conflicts along the cracks between those in the worst situation. There is an endless quantity of inprocessable issues on the agenda and when we talk of threshholds maybe the idea is that people only see spots and stains from what is going on. While we perceive only shards of politics, someone should piece together the complete picture.

Now really, who should piece it together? The opposition?

Great idea. The politics of the opposition should begin by piecing together these shards and showing that things happen according to the same logic in diverse areas. What undeniably complicates the situation even further is that the majority of society rejects refugees. Standing up actively, showing off a political presence against the government campaign would be important but as everyone knows there is a political risk. It is altogether a different story to know how to refer to this situation. If the opposition sees it as risky to take the political initiative in a number of issues that are otherwise significant for them or if it sees it as risky to become visible, then in the end nothing will remain.

They dont have much in their toolkit, do they?

If I look at this political marketplace in its entirety, the question is whether a democratic party is capable of being interesing to the voters. One of the lessons learned from the first electoral cycle is that being against Orban alone is not enough. More is needed, because Jobbik, which is also against Orban, has become mature, so there is an electoral choice involved even in this. What is more, compared to the democratic opposition Jobbik, as they say, is the „new force.” What’s tragic about this in my opinion is that the country has not been able to realize in as many as five years what is being offered on the side of the democratic opposition but not on Fidesz’s or Jobbik’s part, and not even on the part of pre-2010 political forces.

Something new? Are the parties currently on the left not too worn out to do that?

There will never be a solution in the current set-up. From disconnected political fortresses on a limited political field they keep on shooting at one another as well. Every once in a while, someone raises the flag of cooperation, but trust and actual dialogue about political content are missing. In the meantime, party and civil politics are secluded, and so are old and new milleaus. But if this structure does not offer a solution, one should consider tearing it down.

What alternatives exist? Would it be possible to attempt an early election under the circumstances?

Maybe, but for this to happen, they must come to an agreement first about three or four shared political goals – something that would reveal the boundaries of the democratic side – and then the parties to this agreement must in effect forge an alliance by coming to an agreement about the rules governing an early election as well. The whole thing would reinforce the notion that the opposition – the current or perhaps future groups – could create the impression that it is good to belong to them, even if right now they are in the minority. For as long as public figures in the opposition, visibly and for good reasons, do not feel at home in their own political community it is hard to expect others to join these communities.

Just recently Jobbik was able to defeat everyone in Tapolca during a replacement election. This means something, doesnt it?

– Tapolca is not the whole country, but it’s a warning sign. Jobbik is stronger right now than in the same period during the previous electoral cycle. Yet one can’t really say that they are making advances as easily as a knife in butter. The government has a situational advantage over them because it has the capacity to act. Since however, they play on the same political field, they can attract voters from one another. Jobbik is in the game, and the explanation of this lies in the fact that it has been formulating its politics with conscious awareness since 2006. In the middle of the previous electoral cycle it was obvious that if anyone could challenge Fidesz this challenger would come from the left-liberal side. Today, Jobbik is closer to playing this role. One might say that if we add up the democratic opposition, then it is stronger than Jobbik, but whether we can add them up – whether this could come to be and to have sense – remains a question. And even then we are not talking about catching up with Fidesz.

In the meanwhile society is more and more disillusioned. For a while, at least we took to the streets to protest against the destruction of the NAV (Internal Revenue Office) or higher education. By today, this kind of protest is about to disappear. What is the cause of this?

One thing that makes a significant contribution to this is that the number of causes is very high. There are protests smaller and larger, this is true, but they are not unified and they do not add up, and reach only a limited number of people. Fear is also present, some understandably fear for their job or for the job of a family member. Others think that – as in the negotiations taking place in public and higher education – if they arrive at a compromise, they will not be treaded on and they might still be able to secure a small advantage for themselves. In certain cases, this might be an advantage as small as staying on board. In my opinion, from the very beginning Orban and his fellows have consciously built on the fact that the culture of political participation and protest is elementary, and with these factors lacking, it is possible to shove quite a number of things down society’s throat without encountering major obstacles.

And yet it was the Internet tax that blew the fuse.

That required the coincidence of a number of things. Last year the protests flew on the instigatory impact of three back-to-back elections. And while many will not be happy to hear this, I think that the protests were just as much against the opposition as against Fidesz. Elections had been held and many thought that if that’s all that the opposition parties are capable of, then let’s protest, let’s do it ourselves. That the government broke with [television station] RTL and with Simicska [previous Orban ally and owner of Hungarian media organizations – trans.] was another factor, it made it possible for news critical of the government to reach a wider audience. In this environment, the internet tax was a hit. The point is that the same problems seen among opposition parties were replicated among the organizers of the protest on a smaller scale and in an accelarated manner. Beyond personality conflicts, strategic disagreements are also to be blamed for being unable to form a new political platform.

In this way, the government did not even have to bother with the this – they took hardly any notice of it.

This was not actually an easy period for Orban, but he was helped by the fact that the opposition’s side is something like a sausage that slices itself. Orban does not even get a chance to fully develop a plan of counter-attack by the time the opposition under organization – be that from parties or from the civic sphere – falls apart into pieces. Although strong and effective initiatives can shake the government’s position, the government is also capable of exhausting and dividing opponents who already harbour a tendency to disintegrate.

If this is how we reach the 2018 elections…

… even with weakening support Orban stays in power.

Name Card

Zoltán Lakner
(1975) political analyst

  • graduated as a political scientist from the University of Miskolc
  • studied social policy at the ELTE School of Social Sciences
  • lecturer, since 2003, at ELTE, specializes primarily in the analysis of party and governmental programs and of the political context of social policy-making
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