The Limits of the Podemos-Model in Hungary

Ever since the massive mobilization against the plan of the so-called “internet tax” suggested by the Orbán-government in Hungary at the ‘Budapest Autumn’ in late October 2014, left-wing pundits started to compare the Hungarian oppositional groups to Podemos, the new left-wing political party in Spain. Podemos was founded only four months before the European elections in 2014, when the party received 8% of the total votes. The debate over the comparison over the Podemos-Hungarian protesters is, of course, driven by the hope of a potent political party on the left.

The Podemos-model can be only partially applied in Hungary for a number of reasons. First of all, the general societal and political participation is lower than in Spain, and it is also true for party membership. Secondly, the traditional symbols and narratives of the left were not discredited in Southern Europe as were in the post-communist countries. Moreover, movements after crises are often interpreted by European analysts and researchers (even the Spanish party’s campaign manager) as something which brings back the real politics to the decision-making process. This means that instead of the background agreements of the elites, the clashes of opinions should be open and public. One should not be afraid of conflicts and emotions, as they go hand in hand with the very nature of politics. The denial of conflicts causes a bigger problem, because in this case the conflicts are not present in the institutions – like the national parliaments – and thus are not open for debate, but instead they appear, for instance, in the field of culture and morality. The gloss over of conflicts is often considered as the main cause of the sweep of European radical right-wing parties. The idea of bringing conflict back to politics lies in the center of the concept of ‘radical democracy’ by Chantal Mouffe.

However, a fundamental component of the Hungarian left wing’s self-image is that they are pursue consensus and rational compliance, at least rhetorically. The leaders of the Podemos are regularly expressing their opinions that more passion should be brought into politics, which is roughly different from the Hungarian left wing’s rational-technocratic tradition. Of course, the new left-wing parties can easily go beyond this rational-consensus oriented stance, but the question is whether it would suit the taste of the uncertain Hungarian voters. It tells a lot, that this autumn, most people were motivated by the topic of the internet tax – here we can find passion – but this is rather an apolitical, practical issue. Furthermore, taking up the theme of conflicts and politicizing it with emotions resembles rather the style of Fidesz.

Hungarian citizens can be more engaged and active in politics, though it is not certain, whether the Podemos-model as a whole can be simply copied. There are differences in the political culture as well as taste, not to mention that for many the radical rightist Jobbik is also an acceptable anti-regime alternative.

An article by Dániel Mikecz

Republikon Institute