On the whole I take on board Martin Thomas’s criticism of the conclusion in my article ‘Caesar marches on in Hungary’ (Solidarity No. 446). In fact, I wanted to avoid the idea of a united bloc of ‘sort of liberal-ish parties’ by using the expression ‘left-oriented coalition’.
Clearly the situation in Hungary is extremely discouraging. I haven’t been back to Hungary for something like 5 years and it is difficult to write about this kind of political landscape when you no longer have your ‘ear to the ground’ as it were. Indeed it is indicative of the problems in Hungary that most of the people I once knew have left the country or retreated into a kind of ‘silence of the lambs’ or internal exile.
One of the big questions is: where will the forces of an autonomous left-wing opposition come from? The Socialist Party, as I said in my article, is utterly bankrupt, mainly because of its appalling record when in office – a number of its most prominent members are out-and-out Thatcherites – and the stench of corruption which permeates the top and middle levels of the party; all of which has contributed enormously to the national drift to FIDESZ (who are, of course, just as corrupt!). There are some in the ranks of the Socialist Party who still believe in the basic ideas of socialism and it is quite possible they could be drawn into some kind of anti-FIDESZ united front but, as an organisation, the Socialist Party is part of the problem not the solution.
When I lived in Hungary (1991-2000) I occasionally met with a group called the Left Alternative and attended a few of their conferences (at one of these Ken Livingstone was a keynote speaker). They were mainly a discussion group which, I hasten to add, is not to be sniffed at – there was a lot to discuss and since 1989/90 the situation for the left has been monumentally difficult. I don’t know if they still exist but I mention them to demonstrate that the idea of centres of resistance, however small, is not an impossible dream even in the unfavourable conditions prevailing in Hungary.
If an anti-FIDESZ united front could be built by left-wing activists it would, I’m sure attract some Greens and possibly some of the better liberals from the ‘liberal-ish’ parties. Nor should it be ignored that, at the level of fighting for civil-rights, some of these individuals have honourable records, going back to the 70s and 80s. I know little about the situation of the trade unions in Hungary today but I suspect it is not good. Even by the early nineties the trade unions had seriously fragmented.
Again I agree with Martin – ‘there is no quick fix’. Last point – the academic study Martin quotes is very interesting and the redefinition of the left-right spectrum is indeed ‘strange’ at first sight. I think there are few places in Europe (Northern Ireland is one that springs to mind) where history weighs so heavily on the present as it does in Hungary. I hope that the editors of Solidarity would consider a longer more in-depth article from me in which I would like to explore this history and why/how this ‘strange’ situation has arisen and also try and say a bit more about ‘Christian nationalism’ and ‘Orbanism’ in Hungary.