On 8th April 2018 parliamentary elections will be held in Hungary. The direct stake of these elections is whether the Hungarian citizens will vote confidence, for the third time after 2010 and 2014, to the current government led by Viktor Orbán. In reality, there is much more at stake, since this election is not so much about changing the government, but changing a regime. Since 2010 – when Fidesz led by Viktor Orbán came to power – Hungary turned its back on the European traditions of liberal democracy, rejected the common European values and norms, and defiantly proclaimed an ’illiberal democracy’. Today the Hungarian government glories in the country’s economic growth numbers, while the Word Bank forecasts a much lower pace of growth (https://bbj.hu/analysis/world-bank-raises-hungary-gdp-growth-forecasts-_143766). The Prime Minister grabs all occasions to say that there is in fact full employment in Hungary without mentioning the fact that this is primarily due to the public work scheme, which does not provide any future prospects for its participants and is financed from the national budget – therefore paid by the Hungarian taxpayers. The government has been pursuing an unscrupulous hate campaign using the issues of migration and the refugee crisis since 2015, consciously and systematically deceiving Hungarian society by conflating the concepts of refugees, migrants and linking both with terrorism. The government does not participate in reforming the Common European Asylum System, but rather turned to the European Court of Justice. It fears for ‘Christian Europe’ because of the refugees, envisions ‘islamisation’, builds fences and wants to make the functioning of civil society organisations helping refugees impossible by adopting new laws and even keeps them under surveillance by the Secret Service (https://budapestbeacon.com/stop-soros-bill-main-points/). In addition, according to the Prime Minister, ‘diversity is not a value’ therefore ‘we do not want to be a multi-coloured country’. One of the most influential members of the government missed the ‘white Christians’ in Vienna during his recent visit. It is hardly surprising after all this that the U.N. human rights chief accused Viktor Orbán of being racist and a xenophobe (https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-hungary-un/u-n-human-rights-chief-calls-hungarian-pm-orban-a-racist-idUKKCN1GI272).
The situation is not better in other areas either and I am not referring here to the much discussed lack of independent judiciary or the lack of media freedom, but rather the factors and processes directly affecting the quality of people’s life. I would like to mention only a few examples. According to the European Commission’s report (https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/state/docs/chp_hu_hungary.pdf), health spending in Hungary is well below EU average and this gap widened over the past decade. Consequently Hungary has one of the highest rate of otherwise curable, avoidable deaths in the EU. The latest PISA survey shows the dramatic condition of the Hungarian education system (http://www.compareyourcountry.org/pisa/country/hun?lg=en). Without going into details I would like to highlight one shocking fact: more than 27% of the 15-year old students are functionally illiterate, which means that they cannot comprehend even the easiest texts. Six years ago this number was 17%. I could also mention the fact that from the poorest European regions, four are located in Hungary, more than in Romania or in Greece. However, the biggest problem of all is corruption, capturing and crippling the entire state, of which one of the most influential advisers of the Prime Minister said ‘what is called corruption is basically the main policy of Fidesz’(https://magyaridok.hu/belfold/lanczi-andras-viccpartok-szinvonalan-all-az-ellenzek-243952/). This policy has by now fully matured, as corruption reaches the closest circle and family of the Prime Minister as was also reported by international press (https://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-fraud-office-finds-irregularities-in-projects-linked-to-hungarian-leaders-son-in-law-1515744340). No wonder that Hungary has fallen 10 points in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index taking the 66th place of the list (https://transparency.eu/cpi17/).
One might think that in such an economic and social situation the opposition has a relatively easy job. However, this is not the case in Hungary. On the one hand, the ruling party’s policy has almost two million committed supporters; those voters who are the winners of the government’s policies favouring the upper middle-class, who are susceptible to the xenophobic, nationalist rhetoric, or who are so dependent on the current system that they are afraid to turn against it. On the other hand, the opposition is strongly divided by several conflicts. Throughout Europe we can see that in parallel with the weakening of the traditional catch-all parties and the strengthening of the far-right and populist parties, the question has arisen if democratic parties – especially centre-left parties – should work together with the far-right in the hopes of having a stable government in their country. The Hungarian opposition also needs to face this dilemma. The question is whether to cooperate with the far-right Jobbik – which is currently the most powerful opposition party according to the polls – in order to overthrow the Orbán-regime. One part of the public opinion and democratic parties consider such cooperation acceptable for the sake of changing the government, while other parties strictly reject this approach. Likewise, the opposition is divided by the ongoing ideological debate about the Left. In the last few years, several parties formed in Hungary that consider themselves exclusively centre-left or left. The political arena from the centre to the right is currently dominated by the ruling-party, Fidesz and the far-right Jobbik. There are no new political movements on that side of the ‘aile’; there are no conservative or Christian-democratic parties in the European sense in Hungary today. At the same time, despite all the similarities in their programmes, the parties considering themselves centre-left are unable to agree on a common policy on which the democratic opposition’s electoral victory could be based. And of course the opposition parties are also divided by conflicts between the ‘new ones’ and ‘old ones’. The newly formed parties try to position themselves against the previous political elite, since they consider them responsible for the current situation of Hungary. According to them the current political elite needs to be replaced. All the above barely touches upon the conflicts that make the electoral victory of the democratic opposition challenging.
Meanwhile, we know exactly that Hungary can only be a democratic European country if we, the democratic opposition will be able to build a free, open and inclusive society. We will build a country in which everyone can feel at home, where the aim of politics is not fomenting hatred and fear, or stigmatising political opponents. We will pursue politics that does not exclude, close up or build walls, but is engaged in finding common solutions to the challenges facing Europe and the world. We want a country where there is no place for corruption, for lies or conscious deception of citizens. We want a country that respects human dignity, cultural diversity, the freedom of opinion and of everyday life. We will pursue policies that are in solidarity with people on the periphery of society, that offers them opportunities and a future. We will pursue policies that offer security and protection for everyone. We offer a clear alternative, which leads Hungary back to Europe.
Péter Niedermüller is a Member of the European Parliament (for the Demokratikus Koalíció, Hungary) and member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.