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Mapping the Hungarian Left: parties and movements

By 2010, after eight years in government the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) had eroded the popularity to such an extent that MSZP lost 60% of its former voters (1.4 million people) and its traditional coalition partner, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) disappeared from the political map of Hungary.

In parallel with the weakening of MSZP and the disappearance of SZDSZ new parties and movements have started to rise in an effort to become inevitable political actors at the time of the parliamentary elections in 2014.

source: Paprikapolitik.Com
source: Paprikapolitik.Com

Along with the Hungarian party system, a new election law was passed by the ruling right-wing Fidesz introducing a one-round system where single-member constituencies make up 53% of parliamentary seats. A new compensation list system was also introduced which also favours major parties against smaller ones. The new system clearly benefits unified political blocks and disadvantages those without an ability to cooperate. In addition, related new laws introduce the institution of voter registration – an unfamiliar and unnecessary institution in a country where precise lists of voters already exist. This legal environment „sentenced to death” small and middle sized parties with weaker ground operations and clearly favours massive political blocks such as Fidesz and to some extent MSZP. The unequivocal consequence of this new system was the fact that the still small opposition movements could not defeat Fidesz in 2014.

FIDESZ challengers on the left in 2014

1) Hungarian Socialist Party [MSZP] (led by Attila Mesterházy) was the leading opposition force and the inevitable challenger of Fidesz in 2014. (However, due to the electoral defeat, Mesterhazy resigned, the new leader now is Jozsef Tobias)

2) Politics Can Be Different (LMP). Due to the left-wing dichotomy of Hungarian politics, voters could not accept the fact that the green party considers itself ‘neither right-wing nor left wing’. Moreover, LMP’s sometimes radically leftist economic proposals do not go down well with the mainstream media and the markets. Also, the party suffers from internal tensions: while the majority of LMP’s voters and its parliamentary group supported some kind of cooperation with the Socialists, most of its members and some of its leading politicians considered it unfathomable. The LMP was in strong cooperation with 4K! – the Fourth Republic Party, one of the new organisations without much popular support. Co-presidents of LMP: Andras Schiffer and Bernadett Szél.

3) Democratic Coalition (DK) is the party of the former socialist Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, mainly addresses older liberal and left-wing voters in Hungary. Mr Gyurcsány and nine other socialist MPs left the Hungarian Socialist Party in autumn 2011 because of growing conflicts with MSZP’s leaders. However, Gyurcsany’s image is so negative in Hungary that it was highly doubtful whether the DK would be allowed to participate in any potential opposition alliances.

4) The „One Million for the Freedom of the Press” (Milla) Facebook group was the most significant new movement in Hungary – even in spite of the fact that it had no formal membership, infrastructural background or political programme. The source of the group’s strength was its ability to mobilise people for the biggest opposition demonstrations and rallies with tens of thousands of demonstrators, its strong connections with the liberal elite and its populist antiestablishment rhetoric. The movement, with its full-throated advocacy for human rights, democracy, rule of law and the rights of minorities addressed the very same urban-liberal voting group that lost its political representation when liberal SZDSZ party lost its credibility and disappeared from politics. However, as the movement was a not an established party for years, so Milla has disappeared from the political arena by now. The leader of the movement was Peter Juhasz, who left Milla and joined Together 2014, became co-chair of Together 2014 and now member of the Budapest City Council.

5) Hungarian Solidarity Movement (Solidarity) addressed completely different voting groups: bluecollar workers and rural voters. Solidarity, which relies on the base of existing trade unions, might have posed a threat by addressing the same voters as the Hungarian Socialist Party, but the organisation did not have a political programme or any significant infrastructure. One of the Solidarity movement leaders, namely Peter Konya became an MP.

6) Patriotism and Progress Foundation was founded by Gordon Bajnai, the independent former Prime Minister of the socialist government between 2009 and 2010. The Foundation’s aim was to draft policy programmes, dealing with the eradication of poverty. Due to the relatively positive perception of his premiership, the media and opinion leaders had been putting pressure for over a year on Bajnai to return to politics and lead the opposition forces. After the poor electoral results in 2014 Bajnai left the political arena and went abroad to continue his business.

The left-wing criticism against Fidesz has been unsuccessful, but a growing dissatisfaction of the society led in October 2012 to the birth of a new movement (or umbrella organisation) called “Together 2014”, which aimed to unite the opposition vote in a bid to unseat PM Viktor Orban. Together 2014 was an electoral alliance between former PM Gordon Bajnai’s „Patriotism and Progress”, the civic movement „One Million for Press Freedom” (Milla) and the trade union-based „Solidarity Movement”.

After the establishment of Together 2014 was announced (in October 2012), the left-wing opposition parties appeared hesitant, both about what it actually stands for, and whether or not to join the coalition. Ex-PM Ferenc Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition Party (DK) immediately supported this initiative, while the leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) declared it would consider joining the alliance.

The Green Party „Politics Can Be Different” (LMP) was divided over the question of joining Together 2014 or just negotiating with Gordon Bajnai and finally LMP split and a new party was established under the name of Dialogue for Hungary (PM).

However, this rainbow coalition of Socialists, Liberals and eventually Greens was unworkable, i.e. they could not come up with a political program that was credible to the Hungarian voters.

However, civil society organisations (CSOs), progressive groups and individuals have already started to violate Fidesz’ policy interest. While democratic institutions whither away, CSOs continued to learn liberal democracy. New coalition of civic groups, movements, trade unions and opposition parties were in the making. There were four issues/major causes where we could have observed more or less massive protest actions and emerging new movements namely:

Massive protest actions

1) Free media/Democracy (Milla)

2) Legal Defence, Solidarity and Democracy (Solidarity Movement and The City belongs to Everyone – A Varos Mindenkie – a key leading figure is: Balint Misetics)

3) Education (University Students’ Network)

4) Change of paradigm (Real Democracy Now, World Revolution, Occupy Hungary)

Besides the above mentioned groupings, there are several smaller and weaker civil movements as well, e.g. the Fourth Republic! (4K!), „One Million for Democracy”, and the „Hungarian United Left Movement” (MEBAL).

A common characteristic of the new Hungarian movements was/is that they tried to keep a distance from the political elite. Unwilling to lose the credibility of their movement, or to be seen as aspiring for power, most of the time they excluded politicians and political parties from their events and actions. At the same time, regarding certain fundamental issues, such as for example the new constitution the movements did occasionally cooperate with political parties.

Before the 2014 parliamentary elections there was a large push on some of the civil protests movements to transform them into political parties and several groups have broken off from Milla and Solidarity and became political party (e.g. 4K! led by Andras Istvanffy).

It is evident, that the role of political parties is decreasing everywhere and it is difficult to address people in this format today. Parties can only represent a kind of partial interest, which is not that of the whole society. They cannot represent plurality or multiple interests. Having civil society replace political parties does not happen from one day to another, even though it is evident that it could represent the interests of society as a whole, and not only partial ones. Obviously, political parties still have a role to play, but alongside them civil society should also be strengthening gradually. If we want to create a non-partisan society in the long run, then we need a very strong civil society that can represent the interests of society as a whole.

Non-parliamentary Left parties 

1) Hungarian Workers Party (Munkaspart) led by Gyula Thürmer
See the details here

2) European Left- Workers’ Party 2006 led by Attila Vajnai

3) The Left Party (in Hungarian: A BAL – Balpárt), is a left-wing socialist political party led by Ádám Galba-Deák. It was formed at a meeting in March 2014. It draws its membership from different civil society organizations as well as former members of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Green Left. See:₍Hungary)

4) 4K! Fourth Republic is a social-democratic political party led by András Istvánffy. It was formed at a Congress in April 2012, and its membership is largely drawn from a predecessor civil organization, also called 4K!. The party had 10 candidates out of 106 in the 2014 spring election, not being able to verify a national list. It is currently not represented in the Hungarian parliament, but thanks to an alliance with LMP won a municipal seat in the 20th district of the capital city, Budapest in the autumn elections.

Matyas_BenyikMatyas Benyik is the Chairman of ATTAC Hungary, which is a national chapter of the international ATTAC movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions. Prior to holding this position he worked for decades in different Hungarian foreign trading companies and was posted twice as a commercial attaché to the foreign service in Turkey and Syria. His career has been closley connected to practical foreign trade deals since the end of the 1970s. Being an economist, a qualified international economic expert, he is specialized in trade policy issues and economic integrations. He participated in several international campaigns against GATS and WTO.