In short, populism encompasses all those questions that certain people don’t want to talk about. It should come as no surprise then that, in our western world, politics, the press and media are suffering a sharp decline in popular trust. I am a democrat. The EPP is a democratic party, and the key to the decades of political success of its member parties – like CDU-CSU, Forza Italia, Les Republicains, Partido Popular or Fidesz – is that they always listen to the people. We haven’t pursued abstract doctrines but represented our voters, designed our policies in a pragmatic manner and served the people. The recent French and German events are valuable lessons that teach us not to abandon the politics of listening to the people. We must not cede territory to those speaking mumbo jumbo, who see the worst in everything but have no answers or solutions to the difficult problems. There are such parties in Hungary, too, on both sides of the political spectrum. We struggle against them for what we believe is a righteous cause.
Fidesz is the EPP’s fifth most significant and second most successful party. Besides the member party from Cyprus, we are the only ones who are not forced into compromises that would suppress, weaken and diminish the political values of the EPP because our mandate (which includes, of course, the Hungarian Christian Democrats) is strong enough to govern alone. Recognizing our own strength and popular support enables us to fight more fiercely and directly for the EPP’s goals. We are aware of our responsibilities, even if sometimes our own colleagues hold us accountable for their permissive compromises.
Fidesz is a party with decades of governmental experience and since its foundation in 1988 against the communist system, it has never been content with following the well-beaten path or experimenting with long-expired tactics that are doomed to fail. Discovering new paths has never been easy, especially when there is still a great many who are interested in sustaining the old, rusty order and fail to realize that without change and innovation we could lose everything we achieved. We don’t live by the ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality. Those who are incompetent, avoiding conflict and lazy won’t take the world forward. They will never solve problems. Lack of trust in the state and political institutions prevails all over Europe, and it might lead to popular disappointment in democracy itself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. What people witness is that the institutions elected by a majority, institutions that are meant to represent their interests are ever more impotent, have less influence, because their power is weakened by international organizations and treaties, unelected judiciary bodies, economic conglomerates or even organized crime. When making important decisions and taking innovative, sometimes unorthodox initiatives, Fidesz always strove to involve the people in the decision-making process in order to regain the ability to act based on power that represents the majority. According to the long-standing fundamental principle of our party: never look for excuses once you encounter a difficult problem, but instead turn the circumstances around in a way that gets the job done. Eleven years into governance, the success of this policy is clear. But we had to struggle for all of it. Today, many Europeans think of Hungary as an example for creating a work-based economy in a country with a history of high unemployment, where full employment is at our fingertips; where it is possible to make a living without subsidies; where taxes on labor have been decreased; where family support serves social elevation and population growth instead of leading to dependency and poverty; where we protected our citizens from the currency crisis. Where we guaranteed that we will no longer finance our present from the resources saved for the future by putting the finances of the state in order; and where we pulled our country out of the excessive deficit procedure that had been in place since 2004. Hungary is a country where people may walk the streets at night without fear, where there aren’t any no-go zones where even the police wouldn’t dare to enter because the state in Hungary is able to act, it is able to maintain order and protect its citizens. This cannot be taken for granted everywhere in today’s Europe.
You denounce us as populists because you see that our policies mirror the – according to the muzzled language of political correctness – not necessarily correct thoughts of the people. You can’t accuse us of not living up to what we promised the citizens. Over the course of the last seven years we brought down the unemployment rate by almost ten percent, thus putting Hungary among a group of five countries with the lowest unemployment in the EU. On top of that, youth unemployment in Hungary is the second lowest in the EU. We distributed the burden of the economic crisis: we made banks, corporations in the telecommunications and energy sectors pay their parts by imposing higher taxes. Going against the advice of the European Commission, we saved our people from the Swiss franc credit trap just before lightning struck.
But still, what hurts our opponents the most is that we proved that effective border protection is indeed possible and illegal migration can be stopped. (Help must be taken to where the problems are, rather than bringing the problems to Europe!) They spent decades without taking action, pitifully shrugging their shoulders and reiterating that there was nothing we could have done against such an unstoppable phenomenon, nothing but to accept it and adapt to it… We have also proven that people can be involved in decisions that impact their lives and that doing so reinforces democracy. Contrary to your reasoning, this is not populism but the recovery of popular trust in democracy. To borrow a trendy and politically correct English expression: empowering the people – returning power to the hands of the people.
I’ve written such a long letter because as your former student, I respect – along with many others – your opinions and am sorry to see that you have joined a choir that does not seek a way out but instead looks for excuses while forgetting the most elementary duty of every master: measure twice and cut once.
You surely wouldn’t remember the Hungarian student with the Soros grant who attended your seminar, seated in the corner of Senior Common Room at Balliol College, University of Oxford, some thirty years ago. But for that student, coming from a communist regime – despite the fact that he didn’t dare join in on the seminar’s exciting debates due to a feeling of inferiority, culture shock or imperfect English – it meant a great deal to have found a pragmatic theorist with a sociological perspective in the sea of different branches of legal philosophy that seemed irrelevant and scholastic to the problems of his Central European country on the eve of a regime change. That student found Professor Steven Lukes; he found you. At the end of his term, this visiting student returned home and founded Fidesz, which – along with other organizations and with the help of the hard-handed Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the indecisive Gorbachev – helped defeat one of the darkest ideologies of all time, communism.
Yes, I received a Soros grant, and this is what made it possible for me to attend some of your lectures. For this I am thankful to the donor, the University and teachers like you. However, we don’t show our gratitude in the way certain individuals expect us to do so. Not long ago, Guy Verhofstadt, the Flemish leader of ALDE in the European Parliament, challenged Viktor Orbán on the question of how he could reconcile his criticism of George Soros with the fact that he spent a semester in Oxford thirty years ago thanks to a Soros grant. I don’t believe that someone’s way of thinking can be purchased through a grant… This reasoning has a lot in common with what we, the youth who fought against communism, often heard from the enemies of democracy during the period of Hungarian regime change: how did we dare turn against the system that paid our tuitions?
I hope that my thoughts helped you gain a better understanding of what’s happening in Hungary, and that although we have plenty of problems to resolve, you shouldn’t be more concerned about the state of Hungarian democracy than the hardships of your two homelands, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
Your former student,
József Szájer KCMG (Knight Commander of Saint Michael and George)
Member of the European Parliament
Brussels, September 28, 2017
Read Part I of this letter here.
Read Professor Steve Lukes’ letter to MEPs of the European People’s Party here.