The state of votes
From a movement into a new generation: Momentum's present and future
Baksay Boglárka|translated by: Dorottya Böröcz
Just a Momentum, nothing more
Kaszás Gábor| translated by: Dorottya Böröcz
Baksay Boglárka | translated by: Dorottya Böröcz | 2018. March 27. 10:10
Hungarian politics may take a radical turn in April 2018: after eight years, the governing Fidesz (right-wing conservative) party will face its challengers again. Besides the permanent actors of the last cycles - such as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalíció) or the right-wing radical Jobbik - a new party emerged on the horizon of Hungarian politics. Momentum Movement set off on a new course and burst as a comet into the public scene, with high chances of reaching the parliamentary threshold in April.
Momentum was founded in 2015 and gained recognition two years later with its initiative, called NOlimpia. At that time, it was merely an association, but its activists gathered 266,000 signatures with joint efforts, calling for a referendum on whether Budapest should present a bid to organize the Olympic Games. The government eventually backed off and withdrew its bid for the 2024 Olympics. The movement soon transformed into a centrist party, representing a new color on the Hungarian political palette: rejecting left-wing – right-wing and the liberal-conservative categorizations. Momentum stands for a special policy, promoting the global market, integrated education and the protection of borders as well.
Momentum builds upon young people in particular and tries to address them since it is itself a newcomer on the Hungarian political scene. According to a 2016 survey by Policy Solutions, among the Central European countries (Poland, Bulgaria, Austria, Hungary) Hungarian youth is the least satisfied with its life and opportunities. 32.1 percent of the respondents said that they were dissatisfied and 7 percent was completely disillusioned. The former is four times, the latter is seven times higher than the respective percentages among Austrian young people. The peculiarity of Momentum lies in the fact that it addresses the politically inactive youth that turned apathetic and makes young people feel like they can improve their opportunities by working together, a new horizon can open before them. As stated in the Party's program, it aims to lead Hungary into the 21st century and plans to achieve this by establishing common goals. Momentum has been focusing on the unfulfilled dreams of the last 28 years, because – as opposed to the government's claims - Hungary's performance has not improved, it has rather deteriorated.
The program focuses on twelve key issues, including the financial and professional background of education, sustainable development, reforming the pension system, reforming the labor market, modernizing the healthcare services, equal treatment, Europe-friendly policies and family-friendly allowances. It also devotes a separate chapter to the elimination of system-wide corruption, which is particularly relevant in view of recent events (such as the Elios-case or the disappointing results of the recent corruption survey by Transparency International). The party emphasizes - like numerous other opposition parties - that increasing corruption hinders Hungary's development, the current system is unsustainable.
Therefore, Momentum’s policy addresses both the challenges of Generation Y and vital problems of the whole country. However, the program has been challenged by many to contain empty promises, and that the funds are lacking to implement it. The party replied on its website so that the information was available to all, by publishing a list of items where and how it would concretely cut the budget first. Such cut expenditures would include, for example, the moving of the government to the Buda Castle, the Paks2 nuclear power plant project (Russian investment project), the large and overpaid state apparatus, the Belgrade-Budapest railway construction, the distribution of credits through Eximbank or the costs of the several newly built football stadiums. By eliminating the items listed above the state budget is calculated to increase by approximately 306 billion HUF, about 945 million EUR. According to the 444 news portal’s information, 150 experts were involved in the program’s creation, therefore it is incorrect to state that the proposal is unfounded and is merely "thrown together". It is obvious that Momentum takes politics seriously, fulfills the role of a real opposition, and does not just plan for the period of a single election cycle.
It is important to note that because Momentum is a very young party, reaching the parliamentary threshold would be a huge success. It’s critics like to describe it as a passing, weak movement. Therefore, it is worth exploring the history of Fidesz, the current government party. After the formation of the current governing party in 1988, it worked as a generational alliance organizing demonstrations on various important social issues - just like Momentum. Two years later, in the first free elections, it became a parliamentary party, but could only form a government in 1998 (in a coalition with the Hungarian Democratic Forum - MDF and the Independent Smallholders’ Party - FKgP). The critical voices are unfoundedly referring to Momentum as a passing mirage due to its pioneering spirit since our current government also began its existence in a similar party structure.
Overall, Momentum is more than just a simple party, the “movement” term is no coincidence. President András Fekete-Győr said in an interview on 24.hu: they believe in the power of the community, among other things, their extensive volunteer network distinguishes them from other parties; young people that work day and night without being paid, distribute stickers and collect signatures at Momentum’s counters. The members of the Movement organize communities at home and abroad by knocking on sympathizers’ doors. According to András Fekete-Győr, the movement could not work without its activists, this is the only way they can get to the voters because Momentum lacks the strong financial background and influential supporters that other opposition parties have.
They differ from other political figures in not nominating a Prime Minister candidate before the elections, which does not preclude the party from getting into the parliament, forming a government or a coalition with others. They now think in an innovative framework that is not organized around one person; a group of ten "generational ambassadors" would represent the interests of the country and the population. Among them are "an EU diplomat resettled from Brussels, a rural Roma mayor, a disabled civil activist, a conservative rural student, a US-Hungarian dual citizen, and a mother with several children. They are the ones who together can represent the whole nation"- says the party's statement in January.
Momentum is a credible opposition because it is dynamic and human. The party does not propagate that its policy is the only feasible option, its attitude towards voters and other parties is much more realistic. András Fekete-Győr said: "you need to vote for somebody you can believe in, who brings hope, who fulfills his promises and acts”. Regardless of their results in the April elections, Momentum plans for the long term. The party announced the other day that after the signature-collecting period they would negotiate with the LMP-Új Kezdet (Politics Can Be Different - New Beginning) opposition parties. Momentum - regardless whether it reaches the 5% parliamentary threshold in April 2018 - advocates a real and effective policy and prepares for being in the opposition, if Fidesz would form a government again. Momentum has grown from a movement into a new political generation, which is "the last bastion for the youth who stayed in their home country".
Kaszás Gábor | translated by: Dorottya Böröcz | 2018. March 27. 10:10
For those who were socialized in 21st-century Western-style societies, total indifference towards public issues and disillusionment with the leading elite has become a daily experience. Some groups try to solve this contradiction by positioning themselves as "third way" or "centrist," declaring war on the left-wing - right-wing division that is proclaimed as a creation of the 19th-20th centuries. However, can such a political community operate in the long term, which tries to get onto the political palette by subjectively cherry picking those values and personalities from both sides that it likes?
The year 2017 might have proven to be more innovative on the European stage than ever before; many movements emerged on the old continent. Undoubtedly the most successful among them was the "En Marche" in France that was founded by president Emmanuel Macron and could form a government. The new wave in Hungary has manifested itself in the "Momentum-phenomenon", but it is still unclear up to this day whether this kind of organization can flourish in the special Hungarian microclimate. It is not a promising sign that even the fundamentals are very unstable.
This power that burst into the public scene like a comet at the beginning of last year, recites well in its own program the lesson and main objectives of contemporary liberalism (for example gay marriage, supporting abortion, pro-globalization), and tries to season this with a hint of conservatism (Hungarian diaspora) and green-party aspirations.
With their new momentum, they managed to address certain social strata, especially in the beginning. They mainly gained the sympathy of urban graduates under the age of 40. Their action radius is likely to extend only so far. In the history of the Third Hungarian Republic, it is probably the first party that considers it important to represent those Hungarians that have temporarily or permanently moved to Western-Europe. Their ideological diversity can create embarrassingly controversial statements, often causing serious headaches to their sympathizers.
It is also important to note that there is no "market gap" for them at home. There are various organizations and groups already that articulate their mixed views. With some more crystallized points of their program (for example education, healthcare), the opposition is already bombarding the media day by day, loudly and repetitively enough.
With the NOlimpia campaign in January-February 2017, Momentum undeniably and correctly recognized the importance of getting involved in specific causes and of political agenda-setting. After successfully completing the project, however, their initiatives without any exception, resulted either in failure or in indifference. Their catchy slogans of "Stop Orbán and Moscow!", "Let's Get Hungary Started" and "We belong to Europe!" did not reach the threshold of responsiveness of most members of society.
It is necessary to mention here how counterproductive it can be to effectively represent a destructive message, as there is a high price to pay for choosing momentary advantages over long-term perspectives. In the spring of 2017, the party was at the height of its popularity due to its initial freshness and the (from Momentum’s perspective) triumphal signature collection, some polling organizations measured its popularity up to 3%. After its ideological-managerial weaknesses surfaced, this rapidly eroded to 1%. Not to mention the crucial fact that, by derailing the Olympic Games, Momentum probably successfully alienated a group of people (that supported the Olympic games) for a long time, which is quite unfortunate for a freshly founded movement that tries to gain the trust of the widest range of voters possible.
Besides the ideological desperation, another reason behind Momentum’s plummeting since last autumn, are the internal conflicts that exploded in the party management. Angry departures, leaked internal correspondence and exasperation characterized the movement, all of which culminated in a “private war” between the president András Fekete-Győr and vice-president Tamás Soproni, although both parties denied it. The apparent ceasefire that was set until the elections only delays important personnel and strategic decisions that would be vital for their survival in the near future.
The Momentum Movement cleverly tries to distance itself from the left-wing, liberal parties that are slowly falling to atomic pieces and from Jobbik that struggles with the ideological and moral difficulties of becoming a people’s party. Paradoxically, however, getting into the Parliament could mean the life for the Movement. It is impossible to say how long the patience of the party’s supporters’ lasts. If they are let down in April, the party will not be able to plan ahead for more than a month from micro-donations. And there is still another year to go until the municipal elections.
According to the current state of affairs, this new Hungarian political organization may prove to be extremely short-lived, unlike "En Marche". Although they both seem to find their “centrist" identity in combining ideas and politicians, the French are undoubtedly backed by greater governmental experience and circle of supporters. This recent Hungarian initiative is expected to remain simply an interesting footnote in the early 21st-century Hungarian history.
Baksay Boglárka|translated by: Dorottya Böröcz
Kaszás Gábor| translated by: Dorottya Böröcz
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