Hungary: The radical left against Bolsonaro’s friend

First published at Revista Movimento.

The recent revelations about Bolsonaro’s refuge in the Hungarian embassy have put that country in the spotlight in Brazil for the relations of its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, with reactionary parties and personalities around the world. Orbán has been in power since 2010 and his Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Union) party now controls 54% of parliament, enabling countless legal maneuvers to allow him to remain in power. At the same time, it is increasingly stepping up its attacks on labour rights and workers’ organization, as well as persecuting the feminist and LGBTQ+ movements, and promoting institutional racism against the Roma community and immigrants.

In this context, we interviewed Aram Shakkour, national leader of the Szikra Movement (Spark), one of the main organizations of the Hungarian radical left. Present in youth struggles, the housing movement and the defense of democratic agendas, Szikra elected its first parliamentarian in the last parliamentary elections. The party is also part of the Green Left Alliance of Central and Eastern Europe, a coalition of organizations founded around solidarity with Ukraine and criticism of the positions of the bureaucratic left in the region. 

In Brazil, it was revealed that, a few weeks ago, former president Bolsonaro sought shelter for two days in the embassy of Hungary, a country presided over by his ally Viktor Orbán, to escape possible arrest. He is being investigated for various crimes, such as corruption, total negligence in the pandemic and an attempted coup d’état to keep himself in power even after his defeat by Lula. Who is Orbán? What is the country’s far-right government like?

I would describe Viktor Orbán as an authoritarian neoliberal. He was part of the democratic opposition in 1989, and he is active in Hungarian politics since the beginning. He began as a liberal, and became a self-described conservative when the biggest conservative party collapsed in the 90s. The current Orbán government is the 5th, and he has been in power since 2010, besides between 2015-2018 with a supermajority which allows him to change the constitution or election laws any time he wishes. Orbán’s politics is similar to other right-wing populists, he uses minorities, immigrants as scapegoats to distract the politics from the problems caused by his policies, his underfunding of public services etc.

What are the social forces supporting the government?

I am not a social scientist but the best describtion in my opinion is Gabor Scheiring Accumulative State. In short, shock-therapy and deindustrialization caused a lot of casualties here in Hungary (like in most places of Eastern Europe) and Orbán was able to ride this dissatisfaction, especially after the liberal-left alliance disaster governance between 2006-2010. Orbán makes the country into a tax haven to multinational companies, and also keeps the workforce cheap by cutting union-laws and worker rights for both multinationals and his own Hungarian ruling capitalist class, so they can accumulate more wealth. His flat tax system and highest VAT in Europe makes the poorest of people here pay the highest taxes. And he uses nationalism as a counterweight for the social forces trying to counter his policies.

And the opposition? How is it composed?

The opposition is similar to any other divided opposition in a system made for two dominant party. The most similar may be Turkey or Serbia, but there were also similarities with Poland. It is made mostly of liberal-neoliberal actors, although some of them are trying to move into a more social-democratic direction. The dominant party right now is DK, lead by one of the most hated Hungarian politicians, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Momentum which is an alde-macronist centrist party, and countless micro parties from green-left to central-right wing. The far right also rose in the last election, it is around 5-10%, and also the joke-party called Two Tailed Dog party also carries a lot of protest votes, around 5%+. They tried to run separately (2018) and together (2022), both failed.

The Hungarian regime is currently one of the least democratic in the European Union. What is the institutional situation in Hungary today?

Most of civic life and media is dominated by Fidesz. There is a free press, but it is limited, and under constant attack by Fidesz with policies and money. The voting system is FTPT, which makes coalitions against Fidesz a must, but also lot of times absurd or impossible. Fidesz can also change the constitution any time they want, from changing voting rules to repressing any rights they want. Public institutions are barely functioning, they are underfunded and people are pushed to private institutions all the time, for example in healthcare.

And what are the prospects for the radical left?

Our movement, Szikra tries to grow a lot of ways, for example András Jámbor, our MP has a lot of programmes in his constituency, he helps a lot of people in the struggle with debt collecting agencies, and also with energy-renovations in his district. We will also have some candidates in local-government elections in June (myself in the VIII district Budapest). I think the radical left prospects here are in building parallel institutions like Jámbor does, or getting into local governments and showing what the state “should do” with its citizens. In this region, Mozemov and KPO are both good examples for this, especially the latter.

Orbán and Bolsonaro are part of an international far-right network with Trump, Milei and others. How do you see this global phenomenon and what are the ways to tackle it?

The way I see it that they have a far-right “international” with the same talking points and fake threats they make up. If I knew for sure how to tackle this I would be prime minister right now :). But I think we are in a similar situation as in the beginning of the 20th century, at least in the prospects of the Left. The way the Left could tackle right-wing populism is if they find a way to talk about the real problems of the people, to tackle with the dissatisfaction of neoliberalism and living crisis. Also, in my opinion, while I love left-wing populist like Sanders, the takeaway from their movements should be that the Left needs at least a decade of consistent building to be able to challenge right-wing populist, not just momentary waves. The victory of the CHP in Turkey this weekend may be a good example, but also Lula’s victory in Brasil.

In the last few days we’ve received news about major protests related to corruption in the Orbán government, led by a dissident named Peter Magyar. How might this affect the government?

Peter Magyar is the ex-husband of our ex-justice minister, Judit Varga. The last 2 month were turbulent in Hungary: with the help of the President Novak Katalin and Judit Varga, a paedophile-helper was pardoned last year, who worked in an orphange. This was kept a secret, but because of an error it was leaked to the press. Both Novak and Varga had to step down because of the unrest.

So then came Peter Magyar, the ex-husband of Varga, and made a famous interview in Partizan. He was part of NER (orbans system) as recently as the beginning of this year. He said that he is dissatisfied with corruption and the pissing away of the public money, and also that his ex-wife was “martyred” so Orbán can survive the paedophile scandal. It is an unusual situation because nobody is this public about their views in the Orbán-circle. He said most “problems” are because of the propaganda, and the propaganda minister Antal Rogan (who is the right-hand man of Orbán). 

He also leaked a tape last week, on which his ex-wife admits that Rogan had manipulated papers in another scandal (the Völner-Schadl case, were eviction and debt agencies were able to make money off from people with debt illegally, making fake eviction, having unjust laws etc. its a case which our movement, Szikra had also a lot of fights against)

It is not unusual in Hungary to have a right-wing messiah figure in the opposition, it happened as recently as 2021, when the opposition pre-election was won by an ex-Orbánist guy, Marki-Zay Peter (who after that was slaughtered by Orbán in the election). Peter was able to ride the wave of dissatisfaction in the past 2 month, he was in a good position to do so with him having dirt on the system and also generally being a good spokesperson. It is impossible to tell how this will play out, it could be a momentary buzz (like MZP, or Momentum, or Gabor Vona, Gordon Bajnai were in the last 14 years, all right-wing neoliberal messiah types, somewhere similar to Macron), or could be something bigger, because it looks like his team was able to learn from the failure of similar figures. We will have to see, the way we see in Szikra that Peter Magyar could be good to weaken Orbán’s absolute power, but he has a neoliberal agenda (like privatization of healthcare) and we do not support that.

Aram Shakkour is a leader of the Szikra Movement, a radical left party in Hungary. Bruno Magalhães is editor of Revista Movimento, coordinator of the Rede Emancipa de Educação Popular and a member of the International Commission of the Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES/PSOL).