Translation of interview with Momentum Movement leaders Miklós Hajnal and Anna Orosz appearing in index.hu under the title “Those who steal the country blind have no player among us” on January 24th, 2017.
They collect 35,000 signatures against the Budapest Olympics in under four days, but see that many don’t sign their initiative because they are afraid the government will take revenge. They think it important that there be a fair airing of past agents, and will not allow former members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party to join their party. They cannot imagine cooperating politically with existing parties because they see that the entire opposition has given up. However, they would be happy if in the spirit of democracy Viktor Orbán would help them collect signatures, We spoke with Momentum Movement heads Anna Orosz and Miklós Hajnal.
The Budapest Olympics is a divisive issue. Why did you feel that you needed to use this for your political debut?
A.O.: Because we are talking about an insane amount of money. The impact study says 2-3 trillion forints, which is one-fifth of the annual budget, and 700,000 per household. The Olympics should be an event that takes place in the spirit of democracy, but the public opinion poll shows that support for this is not unequivocal. We think it is not necessary to hold the Olympics in Budapest in 2024, or that in any event we should ask the people. This is a matter behind which our entire membership wholeheartedly stands.
Did it occur that it is not fortunate to start with a negative message opposed to something?
A.O.: Of course, it came up, but the slogan is just that: “No to the Olympics, yes to the future.” With this we want to call attention to the importance of there being well-equipped hospitals and chalk in schools. In addition to the Olympics, we are emphasizing five things: education, housing, health-care, livelihoods and infrastructural development. We believe that first these five things need to be resolved, because there are burning problems that are not possible to ignore. Instead of dealing with the Olympics for the next eight years, we should deal with solving problems in these areas.
Consistent with the government’s rhetoric is that once again the Budapest intelligentsia does not dare to dream big and to create something global.
M.H: Since we appeared on the scene, they have continuously portrayed me as a patrician boy of Buda, even though I’ve never lived in Buda. We don’t pay any attention to attempts to label us, probably they will use much more rude ones, but that doesn’t matter. We intend to see this through to completion. Anyway, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. If we look at the anti-Olympic actions in Boston, Hamburg, Rome or Kracow, then we can see that we are not the first ones to state these principles. But the diagnosis that we offer is a degree harder. If they thought in Boston that there are other priorities, then this is exponentially more true in Hungary.
A.O.: Hungary is a small country. The Olympics would be a huge economic burden.
How does Momentum stand in terms of spreading in the countryside?
A.O: We have a lot of members who are from the countryside but study in Budapest, who repeatedly warn us not to remain within the Budapest organizations. We have devoted a lot of resources to continuously (forming) organizations. We already have a basic organization in Szeged. We were in Miskolc not long ago, where scores of people gathered and we held a very successful event. Apart from NOlimpia, this is what ties down our capacity.
Precisely how to you imagine building a base in the countryside?
M.H.: It’s no secret that there is a work group of ours that deals with expanding the network. There is also a plan to travel around the country after the NOlimpia campaign. Obviously, at first we would like to visit the larger cities. The goal is for us to map the local problems that anyone could solve without having for example to change a law. The point is for people to feel that there is a low threshold of everyday activism that can be done for the country. We would like to create these small circles countrywide. By the way, in connection with NOlimpia, many of my acquaintance in the countryside say that they would like to be in Budapest this one time to have a say in this important question.
So far Fidesz has been able to build bases in the countryside with the civil circles. Later Jobbik did so with the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda). How do you imagine actually activating people in Rásonysápberencs, Tiszavasvári, Nyírbátor?
M.H: The important thing is that we do something collectively. If we paint a fence, then we paint a fence. What is sure is that this would mean more at resident forums than making a presentation before them. From this point of view the civil circles and the Hungarian Guard were disappointing. They had momentum for a certain period, but then they got stuck when the resources from above dried up or for lack of interest. What is needed is a weekly theme or communal action that mobilizes everyone, and we will see what kind of result this leads to. And we want to do this in accordance with our own values.
For example, if one wants to call attention to how difficult it is for young mothers to return to the labor market, then we can help them with that by arranging for someone to watch her children for two hours each week while she looks for a job.
Is the babysitting a spontaneous idea or is that a thought-out policy?
A.O: This is a spontaneous idea, but organizing local actions in this manner is part of a long-term strategy. We see that more and more are joining from various civil organizations. There are a lot of them and they have unbelievable resources. Fit pensioners in their 70s who are happy to help students with their math homework. We would like to connect the demand with the supply.
Even though the Olympics is a national issue, won’t Momentum still be very focused on Budapest?
A.O.: We thought it very important that a national referendum be held on the Oympics, but the Curia (Hungary’s highest court) shot down this initiative on the grounds that it was a Budapest matter, and only the capital city would withdraw the tender. But we think that since the Olympia is to be funded with the country’s money, everyone should be involved in the decision.
The Hungarian Socialist Party (NSZP) also said a few days ago that it wants a countywide vote on the issue. Do you support this?
M.H.: From this point of view the government could figure out some subtle way for holding a countrywide referendum, which by itself would be a success for us, because they would ask the people’s opinion. That would mean that society initiates, and the government conducts reactive politics.
Recently there has been news that someone on Facebook is encouraging people to submit invalid signatures in order to complicate the validation of the signatures. How realistic is this danger?
A.O: We have to pay close attention. On the one hand we are writing in the data from the residency card, on the other we are preparing to collect far more signatures than are needed to ensure at least 138,000 are valid.
M.H: Many are afraid to sign the page, or even to give their identification over to somebody. In part because they know the data by heart. This is a risk factor, and for this reason we need to collect more than 138,000 signatures.
A.O.: Those activists of ours who are knocking on doors say that there are a huge number who would gladly sign, but fear someone will find out and that some harm will befall, for example, relatives of theirs working in the state administration.
What can you say to them?
M.H.: That 35,000 have already signed and that it is certain that you are already connected to one of them. If there is any grounds for these fears, then it no longer matters, because the domino will simply fall.
Can you persuade those who fear with this?
A.O.: The reactions are mixed. There are those who are emboldened by it and have signed in large numbers.
LMP and Együtt are helping to collect signatures, what would you say if MSZP and DK would also join in?
M.H.: Jobbik and Fidesz are free to join . . .
A.O.: In fact, we are encouraging everyone and would be happy if Viktor Orbán would also help collect signatures.
M.H.: By the way, we do not know how actively LMP is collecting signatures, or how many they’ve collected to date, but we would be curious about the numbers.
The Momentum chairman says that “they have nothing in common with discredited politicians.” Can NOlimpia not also be like that? Who counts as a discredited politician. Gyurcsány?
M.H.: The failure of the entire political elite is that they cannot say that they succeeded in improving the country. It is possible to complain as a member of the opposition, but they have their own responsibility. If the opposition had done a better job, they would have come to power by now. We think these people have given up, but obviously anyone can get behind the initiative.
A.O.: Obviously we cannot talk about political cooperation. That is why we created this organization, because not one of the political parties currently available were acceptable to us, and we did not want to join any of them. That fact that we say in this matter, who wants to may help, does not mean that we would undertake to form a community with them on any level.
Let’s say you get into parliament in 2018 and you could replace Fidesz by forming a technical coalition with MSZP and LMP. Would you agree to this?
M.H.: We would not form such an alliance. We are traveling our own path, and we want to formulate our points of view on the issues. If we get in, and there will be a matter where the government agrees with our opinion, then we will vote with the government. If there will be one where the opposition agrees, then we will vote with them. But faction discipline is an interesting thing. I think this has also paralyzed the system a bit. We rather think that assemblymen should vote the interests of their constituencies.
But for now we are not there, we are just an association. The greatest challenge comes now with attempts to stigmatize us as a liberal, south-Buda, civil, youth organization, and they are not willing to handle us on the same level.
And why aren’t they right, for example, why do you reject the “civil” codeword?
M.H.: There are countries where civilians do not involve themselves in politics, but these are military dictatorships. Anyway, it is the most natural thing in the world for someone to undertake a political role as a civil.
A.O.: We don’t want to deal with these labels, because their time has passed, they played themselves out. It is better to deal with the impact of globalization and automation. As for who is right wing, who is left wing, who is a traitor and who is a Hungarian, we don’t want to deal with these.
Of the existing parties, who is not part of the worn-out political elite.
M.H.: Of the parties in parliament, they all are. They have all existed for many years, and the results are at best tiny, temporary flashes of light. Their support is measured at 15-20 percent, but they were able to do very little. Then we will see later how much we can accomplish. But if somebody continuously fails, and is not willing to acknowledge this and deal with something else, it only belongs in this category.
In what respect is Momentum not compatible with LMP?
A.O.: We do not consider them to be an effective opposition. They are not capable of toppling the National System of Cooperation (NER). That is why we are not joining any existing party, but creating our own organization.
M.H.: We do not necessarily have a problem with their message but with the lack of oriented activity. We see that they got into parliament and lost the strength and the enthusiasm.
What is the situation with Jobbik?
M.H.: It demonstrated its ability to act and build a national network. This is what is needed in Hungary organizationally. When it comes to messages and principles we do not agree with them, but operatively we have to acknowledge that a party needs to organize so that it does not merely concentrate on Budapest and the larger cities.
LMP also has a number of countryside organizations but these are like phantom companies.
They do not operate well. We do not see them involving the local communities in their decisions.
Don’t you think it dangerous to further divide the opposition with a new, tiny, but active actor, and that in the end all you will succeed in doing is directing the waters to the Fidesz mill?
M.H.: We don’t only want to address those who previously voted for LMP, Fidesz or Jobbik, but would not do so now. We see that there are four million people who have never been called on, but if they would go to vote, then you would have a two-thirds majority here like a house. Our base is not necessary the same. We are not in the habit of organizing our communities on a marketing point of view. In the case of NOlimpia, it was clear that it was go if anyone signed the petition in Budapest.
How do you support Momentum?
A.O.: Small and medium-sized donations. These can be accessed at our website. We collect membership dues, which is 1000 Ft, but who wants to may donate more. From our 140 members 3-400,000 Ft comes together every month. There are contributions in kind as well. One member brought a coffee maker, another paid for our magazine rack. And many work as volunteers. From the website to the Facebook page there are a lot of things that we could not have paid market rate for.
M.H.: 10 million Ft came together for the campaign over the past two weeks. The largest offer was 200,000 Ft. It’s on the website but not written from who. We don’t want to be secretive, it’s just that in Hungary today it is not easy to support a political party if you live from the market at the same time, because if the powers that be don’t like this, then they come and they make life difficult for your business.
If I am not mistaken, Momentum will accept new members in March. What will be the conditions for joining, and is there an upper age limit?
M.H.: The only criteria is that you cannot be a member of another party.
And if yesterday I was still with Fidesz, can I join Momentum tomorrow?
M.H.: It is certain that you will get stuck in one of the filters, and the HR workgroup will speak with you. There’s a form you have to fill in which consists of administrative questions. Where you went to school, what organizations you belonged to so far, etc. For example, if somebody was a member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, they may not join us. But apart from that it is easy to meet all the criteria. Obviously there are suspicious signs, for example if somebody attended a certain university in Moscow. We will be more perspicacious in such cases than we would with Corvinas.
You repeatedly stated over the past few days that Momentum is not an ideological organization. If you don’t identify with the left or right, what is the common base that ties your members together?
A.O.: All of us believe in equal opportunity, in the doctrine of accomplishment, and we would like to form a healthy national image. We would like to reconcile these three things.
In practical politics while governing there are areas where you cannot avoid the right-left-wing divide. Would Momentum introduce a graduated tax system?
A.O.: We think the taxation of low incomes is disproportionately high, so in any case we are thinking of a movement towards a progressive tax system.
M.H.: There are a lot more solutions than a progressive tax, for example the tax-free minimum wage, or on the side of consumers the decrease in VAT can also increase redistribution.
A.O.: We see that the housing supports affect the upper classes, which we think is not good. It is also necessary to deal with the fact that many live in housing poverty, they are the ones who should be helped primarily.
You have a 300-page program which has yet to be made public because you are waiting for the right moment. Is it not naivety to believe that these programs count when public political debate takes place on the level of whether XY is a clown or not?
A.O.: We do not want to adjust to ourselves to what is happening presently in public life. We think it is absurd that Fidesz had no electoral program in 2014.
But it did, they said they would continue.
A.O.: It is complete nonsense that there are practically no signs of technical arguments in the current politics. We think decisions pertaining to technical questions should be derived at in partnership with experts.
With what would you be satisfied in 2018?
A.O.: If we get into parliament, with as large a percentage as possible.
If you manage to defeat Fidesz, what would you do about the enrichment of the Mészáros-Rogán-Habony circle?
M.H.: One of our first steps would probably be related to the agent files. I don’t believe it is necessary to do more than to restore the independence of the general attorney’s office, open the agent files, and then let the courts do their thing.
A.O.: We would like a health account of the past, because this is not about what our grandfathers did here, everyone’s grandfather and grandmother.
That is prior to ’89. But what about accounting for the period between 2010 and 2018, of the twenty years prior to 2010?
M.H.: This has to be done the same way as the EU does in the case of the Metro-4 subway line. It is also necessary to look over the ground distribution stuff as well. Obviously, whoever comes to power can better see what others tried to make invisible before. Providing they don’t destroy the documents, but in that case that would be the crime. From this point of view, it is not possible to really come out a winner, but it is sure that the reason we do this is because we want to remain at home.
Let those go abroad who have stolen enough that they can live anywhere in the world. Those people have no place here at home.