Four years after the LMP’s triumphant entry into Parliament it seems that the shimmer of the environmentalist party has faded out. Today the LMP (Lehet Más a Politika – Politics Can Be Different) is only a shadow of its former self and will need a miracle to make it into Parliament again.
Their impending failure stems above all from the very political culture whose reform they demanded, from the very beginning, with the Politics Can Be Different slogan. The past four years have impressively demonstrated that, in Hungary, politics cannot be different – not yet at least.
Why not? The political culture of this country is marked by a hopeless polarisation, or, to put it differently, an irreconcilable division into two camps. There is no space in political life for parties that belong neither to the right nor the left. They are inevitably worn out and destroyed between the two fronts. The radical nationalist party Jobbik is something of an exception here, since it lies beyond the spectrum of moderate politics and the voters who fall inside of it.
What the (moderate) left-wing and right-wing parties are indulging in is an endless battle that, with great harm to the country, extends to almost every sphere of life. The borders between right and left camps are virtually hermetic, which naturally casts a shadow over the coexistence of Hungarians within society. And so there are practically two public spheres and, as a consequence, two lived realities.
While one segment of the voting public exclusively consumes media that is well-disposed to the sitting national conservative government of Viktor Orbán, the other segment exposes itself, exclusively, to left-leaning media – the so-called intellectuals and “opinion formers” from both camps are not to be excepted from this self-imposed conformity. They even play a decisive role in cultivating and deepening the dichotomy.
We know these self-satisfied people all too well. They sit in the editorial offices of newspapers and in the studios of radio and television stations, where they engage in polemic against the other camp – some subtly, others coarsely. The worst of it: these people are honoured in their respective political camps as luminaries and moral authorities. Their opinions are sacrosanct in the minds of many and are often thoughtlessly and obsequiously regurgitated.
No wonder, then, that in the midst of such a political atmosphere, instead of entering into a real dialogue, people mostly just talk past each other, mostly in a defamatory, hateful tone. When two people of different political mentalities cross swords it is not so rare for it to lead to a complete break between them – even between long-time friends or relatives.
Referring to the state of development of Hungary, the poet Endre Ady (1877-1919) once spoke of a “ferry land” that travels between the shores of the West and the East without being able to lay down anchor at either. If we apply this metaphor to Hungary’s current political life, then we cannot speak of any ferries, far less of bridges. There are two political shores separated by great distances and a raging current that seems to be virtually impassable today.
The seed for this radical polarisation was probable already laid shortly after the regime change, in the form of the so-called “Democratic Charter” (1991). The now-defunct left-liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), along with intellectuals close to them, were the driving force for it, fearing that the conservative government of József Antall was trying to build an authoritarian system behind a veneer of democracy.
The left kept questioning the democratic mindset of the conservative camp during the first government of Viktor Orbán between 1998 and 2002. This led to the political trenches being further deepened. After his loss in the 2002 parliamentary elections, when Orbán sought to strengthen the cohesion of the right-wing camp – by bringing the “Civil Circles” into being – the polarisation took on still more intensity and acuity.
The highpoint of the corrosive division of Hungarian politics was probably reached after Ferenc Gyurcsány’s notorious Őszöd speech became publicly known in September 2006, when political passions boiled over and a mood of near civil war seized the country. The left’s current demonisation of the second Orbán government is only the logical consequence of these developments. Hungary is now trapped in a vicious circle.
Of course, the politicians bear the lion’s share of responsibility. In part, they are also prisoners of a political logic that grows out of the specific realities of Hungary. There doesn’t seem to be any way out of this trap. The reason: the tone is set by the same politicians, and also the same intellectuals and commentators, who have made the political culture what it is today. Substantial changes will have to be made by a new political generation, with both the tools and the will needed to break out of this us versus them mentality.
To conclude with one more point on the LMP: even if they fail during the elections on 6 April the party must be credited with at least trying to practise a different kind of politics.