It has been a while. I had a stomach flu. The Danube flooded to record levels. The first half of the Hungarian elections took place. There was Easter, and spring arrived.
It’s been good, but I do have a complaint. It is in regards to the Hungarian elections. Now that the weather has improved, I’m taking Szóda on longer walks, and this means I get stopped in the street more often by people who think my dog is beautiful or cute or smart or simply the most adorable creature ever to set foot on the sidewalks of Budapest (this happens a lot). As it is election season, however, some of these people will quickly switch the topic to politics. They know I can’t vote here, but that doesn’t stop them from asking me where I stand. Some of these people speak English, but most do not, and I lack the language skills to go into any kind of detail on my political beliefs.
But here is the complaint:
I have no answer for them in Hungarian or English because the politics in this country have no substance. I know that sounds harsh, but I have spent the last month digging for any kind of difference between the four major parties, and all I can tell you is that they hate each other. If I ask someone on the right why anyone should vote for their party, they tell me that the party on the left is destructive, that the party on the left is stealing money from the people, that the party on the left hasn’t done anything good for Hungary. On the other side of the spectrum, if I ask someone on the left why someone should vote left, I hear that the right is short-sighted, the leader on the right is a crazy man, the politicians on the right are all thieves, and the right is bad for Hungary.
Okay, I reply. I’ve heard why Hungarians shouldn’t vote for either side. Now, can anyone tell me why Hungarians should vote one way or the other; can anyone explain a party platform that would give me a reason to consider one party’s philosophy more to my liking than the other…?
There are not a lot of crickets in Budapest, but when everything goes quiet you can hear drunken tourists stumbling through the streets.
I have asked everyone that volunteered their political beliefs (I still think it is rude to ask someone about their politics.), and no one has given me a straight answer. When I express frustration, I get patronized: “Oh, it’s very difficult to understand. You’d have to know a lot of Hungarian history, and then you’d have to know the difference between the city and the countryside, and then…” And it’s all true, but it’s all bullshit as well. True because Hungarian history and culture do define the differences between parties; bullshit because those differences mean nothing today.
Oversimplified: On the left you have the socialists. These were the people who benefited under Soviet rule. A lot of them became wealthy during the privatization. On the right you have a more working-class-friendly party that appeals to nationalist sentiments of a once-great Hungary. With that distinction in place, it is easy to understand why the parties hate each other. It does not, however, shed any light on what these parties want for Hungary as a nation. Everyone promises: more money from the EU, money for the countryside, better employment rates, and improved social services. But don’t ask for specifics, and don’t ask for a philosophical difference. It may be true that the nationalism on the right is a bit more attractive to anti-Semites and other racists, but the two largest parties are far too moderate for such sentiments to force their way into legislation.
So I finish today’s entry with a request. Can any Hungarian illustrate a real difference, a difference with substance that will give me a better understanding of the election that will conclude today? I want to know what kind of government has been elected.