Interview with Zoltán Kész, an independent Member of the Parliament and Honorary President of Free Market Foundation.
Your views have been labelled as right-wing, left-wing, liberal and libertarian. How do you think about yourself?
As a libertarian. I have never denied this.
You are going to speak at the Atlas Network’s and Free Market Foundation’s Liberty Forum in Budapest this September, where conservative and libertarian ideologies will be strongly represented. Where are you on this scale?
In today’s Hungary, these ideologies are completely mixed up, and unfortunately I don’t even see a battle of ideas in the Parliament. There is no left or right wing in the traditional sense and we can’t hold anyone to any ideologies. As an example: the present government considers itself to be conservative when, in fact, it has nothing to do with conservative values. Because by conservatism we do not mean gazing into the past.
As long as we are discussing values, there is a great need for a right-wing liberal party in Hungary. A party which would actually represent civic values and did it not merely as a PR stunt.
You have worked before as a teacher, an entrepreneur, a civic leader, and now as a politician. What motivated you to try your luck in these sectors?
Apart from all these, I have also worked in our family restaurant, I have been a sport commentator, I have written textbooks, and I have even worked as a soccer coach. I considered all my jobs a challenge. I loved all of my jobs and I feel I had at least some successes in all of them.
How did you get involved in politics?
Basically, what motivated me to run in the 2015 by-election in Veszprém were all those things that are happening in this country. In 2010, the then-elected government had a historic chance to use the trust invested in them for something good. But the only aim they had was to pillage the country, to ruin democratic institutions, take over the media, and to desolate the country. I was fed up with Hungarian politics, with the parties, and politicians. I wanted to do something and the by-election presented a good opportunity. I am grateful to the voters of my constituency for placing their trust in me.
Two years have passed since your election victory. Did you manage to retain your enthusiasm?
I am a winner and my enthusiasm never falters. I believe that we can bring about changes in this country. I believe that we can defeat Fidesz even in 2018, but in order for that to happen the parties need to realize that the interests of the voters and the country have priority over those of parties.
You don’t usually emphasize your fundamental principles in the Parliament. How credibly can you represent your own political values?
Now is not the time to talk about ideologies, but to get rid of this company of thieves. There can be hardly any more principled goal for a libertarian today. When we have a normal country, we can gradually start doing politics based on ideologies.
Where is the line between representing values and being able to compromise?
In politics, just like in everyday life, both are important. No compromise should be made without taking values into account.
Alright, but what can you do as an independent politician?
I am in a fortunate situation, as those who voted for me in Veszprém knew that I am running for an opposition seat, and they expect me to hold a mirror up to the governing party both locally and nationwide. I found delight in the constant pressure, the issue-based politics, and the involvement of the local civic organizations. Just to name one: we managed to achieve a multi-party cooperation in Veszprém (unfortunately, without the governing party), joined by countless people, civic organizations, academics and professors, and so we managed to prevent the detachment of the Georgikon faculty form the Pannon University.
How restrained are your efforts in the Parliament without a party or a faction?
I was aware that independent Members of Parliament are held to a different standard on the playground of Speaker Kövér. I’m not whining, rather I utilize opportunities. I play an actual representative role in the sense that I bring the daily problems of those living in my constituency to the Parliament and we managed to achieve successes here as well. As a result, for example, a school gym will finally be built in Hajmáskér, where conditions weren’t proper for the PE classes.
This reminds me: a lot of people complain that the election system is not proportional and it must be changed because it is impossible to win. They are right, it is not proportional and it must be changed, but before that can happen, we must play by the current rules. We must push the limits and we can even win with a lot of effort. After that, we can create a better system.
You openly supported Budapest’s bid for the Olympics, and you received a lot of criticism because of that. How do you perceive the issue now?
The same as before. I deem Olympics an important cause, and I believe a sports event can be organized transparently, without corruption. But the present government is incapable of that – as we see in the case of the World Aquatic Championships.
More and more people are leaving Hungary. Have you ever thought about emigrating?
I lived in the United States – sometimes for a brief period, sometimes longer, but I always yearned to go home in the end. I like living here, I would like to create a normal country and I would like my children to grow up here as well. It is not I who should leave my home, but those who degraded, betrayed, and robbed it.
What exactly do you mean?
We can whine that everything is bad and why, but I won’t do that. We have a historic opportunity in 2018 to get rid of this regime. The voters also know this. We, who do not want Fidesz are in majority. We must seize this opportunity, we must work very hard, present a viable alternative and a positive vision for the voters. We must be competent and – what’s also important – we must set aside self-interest and defeat the mafia government together. It is not the time to be picky and to look for reasons why we can’t cooperate.
We don’t have a lot of time. If we don’t act now, we will entrench the semi-feudal, crypto-communist government. Our current situation is like extinguishing a fire: We shouldn’t care who hands us a bucket of water, the most important things is to put out the fire. We have shown in Veszprém that it is possible to work together, to set the differences aside. And what is the most important: that it is possible to win.
We have less than a year. What else can be done?
The voters know the answer. I frequently go about in my constituency and hear from the people every day that the upcoming election will be about “Fidesz or no Fidesz”. If we think like that, then out of the 106 constituencies we can defeat the candidate of the governing party in 106 of them. This was shown in the by-elections, this is the will of the majority. There is no time to shilly-shally.
What is your vision?
A normal country where there is a dialogue between people who think differently. Where politics and politicians regained respect. Where words regained their meaning. Where the state lets its citizens strive, not ties their hands and over-taxes entrepreneurs and uses armed forces to terrorize its citizens. I would like to live in a country where schools and municipalities are not controlled by a central scrutinizer. I believe that the Hungarian citizens would be much more creative, cooperative, and responsible for themselves and the country in a decentralized state.
Who is your role-model?
This is a very topical question as recently I had the honor to receive an Honorable Mention in Entrepreneurship at FEE’s (Foundation for Economic Education) Leonard E. Read Alumni Award. My getting to know my role model is connected to this organization.
In 2010, I was studying for 3 weeks at FEE’s Summer Seminars, where I learned the story of Thomas Clarkson, who, as a university student in the 18th century England decided to fight for the abolition of slave trade. His perseverance, human greatness, organizational skills, and novel goals always give me strength when I think about it: It is almost as big a challenge to go up against this unscrupulous government as going up against the whole British Empire, as he had done it.
There is more and more talk about Russia’s influence on Hungary and the weakening of our ties with the U.S. What do you think about that?
This is also one of the main topics of the next year’s election. Who do we want to belong to? Russia or the West? The current government betrayed its allies and its own country, Orbán became Putin’s Trojan horse in the EU and NATO. He went to bed with the same Russian power which trumped Hungarian freedom whenever it could during history. We must return to our allies, and we mustn’t appropriate Putin’s politics of hatred. Only within the Euroatlantic alliance can Hungary be sovereign.
You’ve mentioned that you have lived in the U.S. for a while. How different is the mentality of people?
I don’t like generalizing, and I don’t have a good answer. However, I would like to talk about one example. When I was teaching in California I learnt this from my colleagues: Our task is not to show what students don’t know, but to show what they are talented in. Look on the bright side of everything and see how we can make something good and build things. Destruction doesn’t take talent, but building something does.
The article was originally published in Hungarian at: http://kapitalizmus.hvg.hu/2017/07/31/kesz-zoltan-tortenelmi-esely-van-az-orban-rendszer-eltakaritasara/