‘Politics CAN be different’ – Hungary’s Green Party shows the way
Lehet Más a Politika (LMP), the name of Hungary’s Green Party, translates as ‘Politics can be Different’ or ‘Another Politics is Possible’. LMP are part of the EGP and Greens/EFA in the European Parliament . They are an unusual phenomenon in Europe: after an internal split in 2012, the party’s popularity in opinion polls throughout 2013 stood at a low 2%. In spite of this, LMP successfully fought three elections (parliamentary, European and local) during the last year. In a political context where the opposition is struggling to make any inroads against the party in government, they managed to hold on to the 5% threshold necessary to send 5 MPs to the Hungarian Parliament; and improved on their European election results, achieving a respectable 5.4% and electing one MEP. In the 2014 local elections, LMP increased the tally of local councillors who either represent the party or are supported by it as independents, from 63 to 68.
To find out what is behind LMP’s success, Bright Green’s Violeta Vajda spoke to Hajdu Mária, newly elected local councillor for District XII of Budapest and member of LMP’s National Policy Committee.
Violeta: How did you get into politics? How and why did you become interested in political activism?
Mária: There are many people here in Hungary who are apathetic and resentful towards politics, but this has a reason – they got disappointed by politicians. When we first set up LMP I was lucky to meet people who were different, who were willing to take action.
The party originated from a series of philosophical debates held at different universities back in 2008. I remember that on one occasion a highly respected Hungarian politician and thinker, Tölgyessy Péter, asked the audience whether it was possible to bring together 50 authentic and trustworthy people who had not been politically compromised, to create a new party. This seemed unlikely at the time, but I said it was possible. It trns out that I had good judgement because eventually we were able to gather about 200 signatures, and I was part of that original group. In practice there were 15 of us who did the groundwork. This number has now grown to over 600 party members, of which 44 currently work as local councillors.
Violeta: What were the original issues that brought people together to set up LMP?
Mária: My personal experience is that Hungarian society is very divided between a peculiar brand of left and right politics that arises out of Eastern European history and the legacy of the different dictatorships that we experienced. There is no support for good thinking if that comes from the other side of the political spectrum, even if people in essence agree with each other. The divisions run deep and for many years were very skilfully exploited by both the left and the right to gather to themselves a body of voters on emotional grounds.
In contrast, LMP is committed to go beyond this and try to bring together people from different political backgrounds who think that the world’s future, sustainability and the earth’s well-being are such burning issues that we need to act and we cannot be stopped in our tracks by these old divisions. We don’t want to forget those differences between us because they came about for important reasons – we need to heal historical hurts. At the same time we have to look ahead and take into account the bigger picture, not just past injustices.
Violeta: Yes I believe this is particularly important in Eastern Europe…
Mária: I agree. Take Poland or the Czech Republic – there have been similar historical storms that shook their societies and yes, we all suffered a lot. In fact, I think because of this our worldview is completely different, well maybe not completely different but Western Europeans don’t fully understand the legacy of what happened here after the Second World War and you can sometimes notice that when it comes to the patronising way that Western politicians treat Hungary. There are often double standards towards us arising from incomplete knowledge of our history, such as when the hurts arising from communism are not taken as seriously as those from earlier periods like the Second World War.
Violeta: What is it that LMP brings to politics? What are your core policies?
Mária: LMP has three main tenets: sustainability, justice and participation. Sustainability of course means thinking green, that is to say that in every policy proposal we take into account the environment, the human and natural environment, and its sustainability. We want to see the world preserved for future generations, we want there to be new generations and we want to avoid destroying this world that was given to us. So for example when we talk about agriculture we support local and family farming, or when we talk about energy we look for sustainable solutions.
When we talk about social justice, we try to ensure that all our policies are not only for the lucky few who start out in life with better conditions; we always have an eye on equality of opportunity and we seek to make politics that brings the best out of everyone. This applies as much to education as it does to open source internet content.
Finally, participation refers to your first question about people’s apathy when it comes to politics. We believe that policies are always best when people who will be affected by them can be part of their development. If we don’t involve people in the creation of policies, those policies become not exactly illegitimate but less representative of those who voted for us.
Locally, our top priority is sustainability. I think our district has a big responsibility – it is known as the lungs of Budapest, and it is our duty to protect this greenbelt. For example, we opposed a huge project up in the Buda hills where the intention was build a big ski slope with an underground parking lot. We want to ensure that any investment in the greenbelt should focus on increasing people’s ability to enjoy the area, but not damage the environment in favour of somebody’s business interest.
Violeta: What about your latest campaign for the local elections? How was it organised?
Mária: The 2014 local election campaign was an extraordinary challenge because in Hungary it was the third round of elections in one year. Throughout the winter we campaigned for the parliamentary elections, then we had the EU election at the end of May and after a very short summer break we had to go full steam ahead with the local elections. As a party and as individual activists we had by then depleted not only our human but also our financial resources. In contrast to the parliamentary elections, the local election campaign was initially fought ‘on empty’. We got some very small financial support in the form of bank loans so we could print posters and flyers so that made it a bit easier. We fought hard because we believe the local elections were important – we need local councillors to represent our values and the programme that we believe in, but also to gain the experience that will allow us to tailor our programme to people’s needs. Overall, I think we had a great presence and excellent results.
Violeta: As a local resident, I found it impressive that you managed to create such a strong street presence with only a handful of activists. You personally stood every week at the LMP stall in the local market, come rain or shine. I did not see any of the other parties come out on the streets and talk to citizens. Is this kind of campaigning unique to LMP?
Mária: LMP believes in coming out on the street and getting directly in touch with people, with our voters. The only way you can represent people and their interests credibly is to find out what they want and what their worldview is. This requires a constant dialogue and for us, street presence is a must. We are also thinking of doing more door to door campaigning but it’s really hard work. There is not much of a tradition of such canvassing in Hungary. Right now, after the third round of elections, I feel a bit tired so I probably won’t start tomorrow! But I am already formulating questions in my mind that it would be good to ask my constituents.