>Hungary for change?


Conversation in a café with a long-term observer of Hungarian politics about the prospects of the Hungarian right: Orbán and Fidesz are big, sprawling and militant constantly seeking to moblize against the Socialist government which they see – very radically – as not legitmate and it is questionable whether they can maintain their current breadth. Orbán, it seems, is personally and politically tired out – the radical strategy of confrontation has led nowhere very much, absorbs political energy and obstructs policy renewal and Fidesz’s big tent does not stretch far enough to outvote the combined forces of Socialist and Liberals but merely makes it difficult to cater credibly for Hungary’s diverse constituencies resulting in vague populism. Despite once champioing the creation of a national middle class, Fidesz is now apparantly lurching towards economic Orbán has recently done Blair-style visits to deprived estates to stress that he is fishing outside the tradition (rural/religious/provincial) waters Hungarian right-wing support.

Fidesz‘s smaller ally, the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) has broken away claiming to represent both the historic heritage of the post-1989 Hungarian right (when as much larger grouping, it formed the core of Hungary’s first democratically elected government after one-party rule) and a more market friendly, socially- and internationally respectable civic-minded conservatism.

Despite cobbling together a minority government and squeaking through a parliamentary vote of confidence, fhe Czech ODS faces a similar strategic dilemma: to confront or accomodate (well, at least talk to) the much loathed centre-left. In the CR, however, there are clearer pathways to left-right co-operation and even Grand Coalition arrangements than in Hungary: the Czech Social Democrats are not a communist successor party, despite the ‘communist’ inclinations right-wing politicians and commentators spot when it suits them, and broad inclusive national coalitions have historical precedents in the Czech lands that embeds them better in the political culture

Could an oversized Fidesz, I wondered, start to erode and fragment? No probably not I was told. Too much time spent studying the stable and stolid world of Czech politics, it seems, had left me with a rather fevered political imagination, although a scenario like Orbán’s sudden departure Haider-style in a fit of pique might trigger a party crisis. ODS at least managed to keep going after the departure of its charismatic founder and his occasional efforts at backseat driving from Prague Castle. Well, I wondered, could the Hungarian Democratic Forum come through the middle like Poland’s liberal-conservative Civic Platform making Hungary’s party politics triangular once again (Socialists vs. Liberal vs. Conservative Nationalists). Again unlikely, it seems. Hungary’s mixed electoral systém makes a widespread small party breakthrough difficult because of the need to win many single member constitutencies.

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