Hungary Post – 19 May 2014

Sunshine and High Water, but Little Enthusiasm for European Elections...

In the Budapest sunshine with the Danube rushing menacingly south towards inundated Serbia, the political climate is less frenetic.
As Hungarians prepare for Sunday’s vote to the European Parliament, there’s a sense of election fatigue. Only last month, there was a general election here, won by Hungary’s conservative Civic Alliance Party, Fidesz, led by the controversial figure, Viktor Orbán.

Predictions and Indifference

On Sunday, the turnout here is expected to be low.
The latest predictions are:

Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance, national conservative party): 56%
Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary – radical nationalist party): 17-18%
MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party): 14%

There are questions about whether or not the smaller Hungarian parties will reach the ‘magic’ threshold of 5% needed to send an MEP to Brussels. And in some cases, Hungarian voters are being kept in the dark about which Brussels political groups their politicians will join if they are indeed voted in.

So, a spirit of indifference to this week’s European elections is in the air. And for that reason you are hard pushed to see the faces of the EU’s ‘star’ politicians smiling at you from campaign posters: in Hungary, the faces are very much local.
(It was quite the opposite when I was in Berlin last week, and saw mug-shots of Messers Schulz and Juncker peering at me from many a billboard).

Nationalist Radicals In Alleged Spying Debacle

Meanwhile Hungary’s radical nationalists have hit the headlines in recent days.
One of Jobbik’s three MEPs – Bela Kovacs – was accused in the pro-government newspaper, Magyar Nemzet (15 May 2014), of spying for the Russians.

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A Quick Reminder: Who Are Jobbik?

Five or six years ago, Jobbik was a relatively unknown entity. But in 2009 it won 14.6% of the vote in the European Parliamentary elections and sent three MEPs to Brussels. Shortly after that election, at a meeting in Budapest of like-minded European parties, it formed the Alliance of European National Movements. The founding members included France’s Front National (which has since left the Movement); Italy’s Fiamma Tricolore (MS-FT); Sweden’s National Democrats; and Belgium’s National Front (which has since been dissolved).
In last month’s general election in Hungary, Jobbik won 20% of the vote. Like its euro-sceptic allies, Jobbik wants Hungary to leave the EU. One of its European election posters declares: “Hungary’s economy = Income for Europe”. (It’s worth noting that Hungary is not a net contributor to the EU, so this slogan needs some explanation from Jobbik….)
***

Mr Kovacs – who is number three on Jobbik’s election list and therefore highly likely to be returned to Brussels – has a long both professional and personal relationship with Moscow. He is also well-known in the corridors of the European Parliament for arguing strongly the case for Gazprom. Some of his fellow parliamentarians have indeed expressed surprise that an MEP should spend so much time focusing his attention on a company that hails from a country outside the EU. And there have long been rumours and allegations in Hungary – hotly denied by Bela Kovacs – that Mrs Kovacs (a dual Russian-Austrian national) may have worked for the KGB.

Today Hungary’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security summoned Mr Kovacs to answer the spying allegations. On television last week Prime Minister Orbán accused anyone engaged in promoting the causes of Russia to the detriment of Hungary of being a traitor. Mr Kovacs and his party cry foul. They claim the allegations are politically motivated. This is of course hardly surprisingly, given the timing of the allegations and the closed-door meeting today at the parliament – within just days of the European elections.
After the three-hour meeting, a somewhat dazed looking Mr Kovacs left the parliament saying little more than he had important election campaigning to do. His party leader defended him; others said sufficient evidence of an improper relationship with Russia had been presented to the committee; and yet others said the meeting was strictly private and refused to comment further. The upshot: the committee will look further into the allegations – nothing is definitively resolved.
So – either Jobbik is damaged by the allegations; or its supporters and waverers will be sufficiently incensed by what they may see as political inteference to turn out and vote in even greater numbers for Jobbik on Sunday. All will become clear next Sunday evening/Monday morning.

The Sun Sets – But The River Flows On…

As the sun sets, creating a dramatic orange night sky across the hills of Buda, the tourists, students and musicians continue – seemingly unconcerned – to amble, sing and drink on Liberty Bridge. Perching on the bridge supports, beer cans in hand and looking up river into the orange glow bathing Buda Castle, Mark and Patrick, two 19-year-old Hungarian paramedic students, are clear about where to put their crosses on this week’s ballot paper. “We’ll be voting Jobbik,” Mark says, without hesitation. “Fidesz and the Socialists have destroyed this country over the last twenty four years [an allusion to the time since the collapse of communism]; Jobbik knows how to keep this country’s agricultural sector going; and it rejects globalisation.”
Meanwhile in Fovam Square, two young amateur musicians prepare to perform using only hand clapping to create sound. Dominic and Gary are both in their twenties, both have jobs – and both are equally disillusioned with the political system. “We have no real political choice in this country,” Dominic says. “Fidesz has all the power – too much power – and they support globalisation.”
Gary adds “Decisions are made in Brussels – so our voices simply aren’t heard.”
They’re both undecided if they’ll actually bother to vote on Sunday – and if they do, they may leave it until they’re in the voting booth to decide where to put their crosses.
No one I spoke to had heard of Britain’s UKIP and Nigel Farage.

The sun disappears, and the final illuminations of the day are gone. The Danube pounds inexorably southwards, its flotsam and jetsam smashing against the bridges of the Hungarian capital. And Hungarians ponder, more resigned than enthused, more disconnected than engaged, about what the next chapter of the EU will deliver to them.

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