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Controversies over party funding, and over Horthy and Kádár, the two main figures of 20th century Hungarian history

May 21st, 2012

A centrist analyst fiercely opposes the Prime Minister’s idea of suspending public funding for political parties. A left wing commentator believes Fidesz has even broader control over public assets than the ruling party had under Communism. A sociologist shows that Hungary’s Communist ruler is more popular today than he even was during his last years in office. And a grass-roots Horthy-revival sparks furious emotions.

Party funding

PM Viktor Orbán is reported to have asked his fellow Fidesz politicians to consider suspending public party funding for the forthcoming two years. His spokesman said the idea was prompted by the well-known budget constraints.

In his popular blog, political scientist Gábor Török calls the suggestion a crude idea which   would restrict democratic competition more than much of the controversial legislation enacted by parliament over the past two years. In his view, if small parties are deprived of public money, they will find it extremely difficult to reach their audience. Party and campaign finances have been opaque enough already, but if public funding disappears, political parties might simply be bought off by private interest groups. Török cautions the public against believing that politics can be free of charge. On the contrary, he asserts, it is a costly business. “And if we refuse to spend public money on it, someone else will take it over. And then nobody will be able to claim that public affairs are ultimately under the control of the citizenry.”

In the moderate conservative magazine Heti Válasz, Balázs Ablonczy believes the government should be “more judicious” about party funding. He compares the idea to a suggestion in 2004 by the then Socialist Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy, who wanted all Hungarian parties to run in a single block for seats in the European Parliament, “in a show of national unity instead of the usual discord.” To deprive parties of public money might prove enormously popular, given the parties’ bad reputation, he admits. Nevertheless, such a move would strengthen the very traits in parties that make them so unpopular: their links with shady sponsors.

In Népszabadság, Miklós Hargitai suggests that by stripping political parties of public funding, “Fidesz would eliminate the last vestiges of democracy.” The left-wing columnist calls the Prime Minister’s idea a “devilishly cunning plan”, for parties have grown extremely unpopular under the past few governments, and the public would therefore not mind if they were to lose their funding. On top of it all, Fidesz, having won the highest number of votes at the last election, will lose more public funding than all the other parties combined and could claim to be making the biggest sacrifice. Hargitai claims, however, that the governing party has almost unlimited control over public money and consequently its finances would not be in jeopardy. The Népszabadság columnist believes that when it comes to public assets, Fidesz is more powerful than the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ (Communist) Party used to be before the regime change. “There were more power centres then and the opinion of the outside world or even the sense of justice of the population carried more weight than they do today.”

Kádár nostalgia

In Élet és Irodalom, sociologist Mária Vásárhelyi publishes research which suggests that   János Kádár, Hungary’s Communist leader for most of the second half of the 20th century is more popular today than during the last few years of his rule. In an article marking the 100th anniversary of Kádár’s birth, she writes that a majority of contemporary Hungarians consider the Kádár era a “golden age”. Only one third of those asked regard the Kádár regime as a dictatorship. Two thirds of adult respondents remember that period as more humane and secure than today’s world. Young adults who grew up under democracy share their parents’ views and most of them tend to believe that János Kádár played a positive role in Hungary’s history.

Horthy revival

At Gyömrő, near Budapest, a public square has been named after Miklós Horty, who ruled Hungary as Regent from 1920 to 1944. At Kereki, Southern Hungary, a statue was erected to him. Péter Dániel, a well-known left-wing activist poured red paint on the statue, and as a lawyer he faces a reprimand from the Bar Association.

In his blog, moderate conservative analyst Ferenc Kumin criticises the left-wing press for not condemning the lawyer’s act. He recalls Dániel’s previous controversial acts and statements (See Budapost, October 29 and November 11, 2011), and suggests that pouring red ink on a monument is an act of vandalism with a well-established radical connotation.

Left-wingers may argue that Dániel is a lonely activist with no organisation behind him, Kumin admits, but on the basis of an analysis of left-wing blogs and media outlets, he finds it disturbing that the left-wing community has expressed practically no objections to the lawyer’s deed, on the contrary, bloggers who oppose the Horthy-revival, often congratulate him. So far, there has been no left-wing radicalism on the streets of Hungary, Kumin remarks, but from now on, we may have to start getting used to it. In the West, leftist radicals regularly express their emotions by breaking shop windows, burning cars or damaging monuments. “I am not sure if those who applaud Dániel today have realised the price the left will have to pay for this shift in style: they can no longer claim that the left is more intelligent, patient and decent in its choice of arguments.”

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