(Un)Changing Hungarian Politics
“Each nation has a government it deserves. If for some reason, stupid or wicked people are sitting on the neck of wise and honest people, then the people will send those low-grade guys to the pits of hell as soon as possible. But if a vicious government remains in its place for an extended period, it is certain that the fault lies with the nation.”
It is uncertain who this quote stems from, but it was the most used quote I have seen as a response to the Hungarian elections this past Sunday. And while one can say that it is dramatic, even overused, it has a rationale behind it. The opposition expected a different outcome.
With FIDESZ receiving 48% of the votes and securing two-thirds of the parliamentary seats once again (133 out of 199), the only thing that has changed is the distribution of the opposition seats. Jobbik, the strongest opposition Party with an anti-Semitic past, desperately trying to rebrand itself, received 25 seats, 2 more than last time. However, the socialist party MSZP received fewer seats than in 2014, while LMP, the Green Party, increased its number of parliamentary representatives by three MPs. Momentum, a new party founded in 2017, which, still as a Movement, in 2016 boycotted the Budapest Olympics, was first seen as a point of light in new opposition. They got no seats. I originally wanted to write, we all expected a different outcome. It seemed like everyone I talked to was on the same page. We cannot go on longer with the current government. Even with a weak opposition, if enough people voted for one of the opposing parties, we could have made a difference. It even seemed like it was going to work. Living in the Netherlands, I had to go to the Hague to vote, and seeing the rows of people waiting to cross the circle next to their candidate’s name made me feel hopeful. Participation numbers were producing record numbers until 5 pm, and I went home feeling good about it.
Then the numbers at 7 pm got lower. Participation did not overrule the record participation of 2002 with 73.51%. And the results followed at night. Was I naïve? Was I really hoping for a lower majority of FIDESZ this year? Let’s be real, the opposition would probably not have won anyway. But lowering the two-thirds majority of the governing party seemed feasible. Yes. I believed that people have had enough. I believed that the signs around me, in my environment, showed that there is a wind of change. I believed that record participation numbers meant that opposition favouring people were more mobilized. I was wrong. More people were mobilized, but that proved to be in favour of FIDESZ. Their propaganda and campaigns against migrants, Brussels and George Soros worked. They made people fear and presenting themselves as the only party that can protect its nation from the outside world secured them votes. It is not that hard, though, when the campaign rules are changed so that the government has the sole right to ‘advertisements’ up until a certain point before elections. And while FIDESZ could argue that the government’s ‘campaigns’ were rather informative billboards, and therefore totally legal, it is hard to see them as such. FIDESZ, thus, represents the majority will of the Hungarians. That was more concerning to me than Party politics. If people want change, they vote acting like it. However, it is clear they do not want change. At least not concerning the government. They want to change regarding security measures and socio-economic matters, all in line with FIDESZ though, who the majority voted for before as well. It seems like I am part of the minority now, the latter represented by those votes for the Hungarian opposition. I did not think that I was part of the minority, seeing that Hungarians moving abroad make up around 10% of the population. Hungarians are moving to Austria, Germany, the UK, or the Netherlands in search for a better life. But the elections show we are the minority now.
And I say fine. If Hungarians want it like this, fine. The quote already said a nation gets the government it deserves. They re-elected Viktor Orbán for the 4th time. Now third time in a row. They think he is good for our country. Fine. It is their choice. Just how it is my choice to study abroad, to live abroad because chances for making a good living seem better to me somewhere else. But if it is their choice, then I do not want to hear the complaints from FIDESZ voters that have to wait for hours or days for a doctor’s check-up. I do not want to hear their complaints about waiting months for an operation because there are not enough doctors. I do not want their complaints about seeing empty football stadiums that were most likely built from EU money, for nothing, while families are struggling to get by. Then I do not want to hear their complaints about not getting enough pension and freezing during winter because gas bills are too high. Just to name a few. But in the end, I understand. What do you do when you are living on a day-to-day basis, have lived through socialism and even capitalism, dictatorship and now the democracy, with failing governments after each other? Who do you believe in? What are your outlooks on life? Hungarians are tired. I am tired of this too, even though I am 21 years old. And it is hard to fight this government. They are not stupid. They know exactly how to ensure their power, you have to admit. They know how to change the Constitution, which they did, and they know how to oppose the EU in ways that they cannot act upon immediately. They know the system in and out. You know, know the rules well enough to be able to break them. However, the world watches, and it makes me feel like I am not part of the minority anymore. It might seem like another day, another week for Hungarians, living under the same rule they have lived under for the past eight years. But it is more than that. Acting on its own sparks reactions. I personally think that it will not be long until there is an international backlash. In his victory speech, Orbán said that every piece of doubt and uncertainty is gone now. It is true. Even if they themselves were fearing securing their two-thirds majority based on the voices of opposition supporters, they now have nothing to fear. Clearly, the opposition was not strong enough. The government can go on with their policies in the same way as they were doing it until now. The uncertainty now lies in how far they will go in the next four years. One could argue that the fault lay with the opposition. If they would have united, more votes could have been secured and thus fewer votes would have gone to waste. Uniting the previous extreme-right Jobbik party with the Left could have represented a course of actions, but even cooperation between the Left-Opposition seemed difficult. Yes, you cannot just ignore the political spectrum and ideologies, but the elections were not about minor ideological issues. If the urgency of changing the government prevails, then the opposition should unite.
But it is what it is now. And while Hungarians themselves might not see the consequences of this on the international scene, it has strong implications in national, as well as European external relations, but even and most importantly on EU politics. For example, Hungary’s solidarity with Poland and the unity of the so-called Visegrad group, which comprises also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in obstructing common immigration policies, is becoming more and problematic at the EU level. A lot depends on Orbán, who presents an even bigger threat to the European Union than before. What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine.