Anna Donáth, a sociologist by profession, was elected President of Momentum, a liberal, pro-European party, in November. She spoke to the Hungarian International Press Asssociation earlier this week - some excerpts are presented here.
Photo: Anna Donáth, speaking to HIPA on Skype, 15 February, 2022
Anna Donáth - Introduction: Actually, the whole opposition has been in campaign mode for more than a year now, starting with the primaries, which ended in the middle of October and resulted in something unexpected, as the prime ministerial candidate became Péter Márki-Zay, who is not a party leader and who is outside the six-party coalition.
Therefore it took us weeks and months to get in line, to start writing the opposition's common programme again, including Mr Márki-Zay's insights and policy views as well, and to build up the campaign team.
Momentum meanwhile has not stopped campaigning. As a result of the primaries, we have 15 candidates in the individual constituencies, which I believe is a really good result. It also means there is a lot of work.
I believe that running in a coalition has some advantages, namely that each party does not have to focus on all the constituencies. However, each other's local chapters are helping the [individual] local candidates [chosen in the primaries].
Momentum was in something of a demotivated state when I took over as president, as our previous president resigned, which was the answer to the poor primary election results regarding his candidacy as the PM candidate.
However, it doesn't mean that he's resigned from all responsibilities within Momentum, as András Fekete-Győr is the one who came up with the idea of creating a new party, Momentum, and his work in the past five years is highly appreciated.
I joined Momentum in the summer of 2016, and ever since we've been working really closely, and I'm still counting on him.
The past three months, since I became the president, I've been travelling all over the country. Each week, I'm holding forums at least three times in Budapest and three-four times in the countryside, and I can honestly tell you that a majority in Hungary wants a change.
The majority is against the government and against the system. However, it's really difficult to motivate them because, after the past 12 years many opposition voters have begun to doubt whether it's possible to change the government in a democratic setting.
However, especially after this last weekend, because Saturday, 12th February, was the first day of the official campaign, with the collection of the 500 signatures per [nominee] in order to become an official candidate – this is the Hungarian electoral system - and all the candidates were able to collect those signatures within a couple of hours.
I know this doesn't sound anything special, but compared to past elections, like the last one in 2018, when the smaller parties needed a whole two weeks to collect the minimum [number of] signatures in all 106 constituencies, this is really a big deal.
Myself, I've been to Kecskemét and Szeged and surrounding villages and people were queuing, and everybody was really open to us, they wanted to meet us, and especially when we went door-to-door, and it turned out that there is not a village where there would not be opposition voters.
The only question in the next 47, 48 days until the election is whether we can meet as many of them as possible. The moment we give faces to the change, the moment we meet them, then we can turn them to [into] active voters.
There is a lot of work to do, but as far as I can see, although there have been a lot of debates about different issues within the coalition, which I think is completely normal when there are seven distinct actors, trying to negotiate and find common ground. There is a lot of debate, it's just that in the past 12 years we are not used to this, there has been no debate, there has been no looking for common ground, and so on.
But the campaign has started, and the parties and party activists are working closely together, and I think now, [when] we are really getting close to the election, and everybody is doing their best and right now we are going to change the government, because we have to.
Question (Journalist): You were very polite talking about Péter Márki-Zay, does he personally decide about strategy without any internal discussion? It sounds like you don't have a say in any of that.
Anna Donáth: I'm not polite because I want to hide anything, but I honestly believe that we all agreed that however the primary ended, we would team up.
Momentum was one of the first parties to back him in the second round because he started to [attract] new voters, voters who hadn't taken part in the first round of the primaries, and right now we don't have the luxury to not be able to think out of the box.
Of course, if I were to agree 100% with everything he does, we'd be in the very same party, but it's not the case. Yes, he's acting out of his own head. I think he's even said this out loud, so this is not a criticism.
We can never be sure, when he gives an interview or a forum, what he's going to say, whatever is in his heart is in his mouth. It can be dangerous, but it's also an advantage, because it's not just confusing for the opposition and our voters, it's confusing also for Fidesz.
It's really difficult for them to start attacking him because of this. I mean, the main criticism of him, that he's a puppet of [former Socialist prime minister] Ferenc Gyurcsány, I mean everybody would be a puppet of Gyurcsány according to the propaganda machine, because this is the narrative they've been building up over the last one and a half years, so they haven't said anything new about Péter Márki-Zay.
I think, especially this close to the election, we just have to go with it, and I hope he knows what he's doing, because people have decided he is the leader of the opposition, and right now, none of the opposition parties has the luxury to fight against that, because if any of us step out of the coalition or start to be the only one criticising, then that party is going to be punished, because the voters have said out loud that they want a united opposition, to run together, and they decided who is going to lead this opposition.
Question (Kester Eddy): When in Brussels, do you actually talk to your fellow Fidesz MEP colleagues?
Well, not that much. … Every time, I politely say good morning or good evening to them, however, I have nothing to chit-chat about with them, they've gone to far.
It's not about .. I don't want to be too hostile, however, they are giving their face to legitimise a regime which is everything against what I believe. If this regime didn't exist, I wouldn't have started in politics.
There are some issues, when it's about political negotiations, and we have a common standpoint, I'm not going to vote against just because they are from Fidesz.
I'll give an example: when we were debating about the minority safeguards within the European Parliament, we were on the same page, and I was not even being cynical saying that this was a Hungarian issue. For us, it is important.
I was not surprised that they started to say that we were hypocrites, and what we were saying was just political marketing, because the true Hungarian interests depend on Fidesz wishes, and what Momentum does is betraying our country, so what we were saying was a lie.
However, I was always highlighting that no, on this issue there is a united front from the Hungarian MEPs.
[But], I'm not going to pretend that they are my friends, because it's not just policy differences that we have, it's way much more. And I think it has to be highlighted, as I worked really closely with other Hungarian MEPs, even though we disagree on policy issues, but we agree on basic values. We agree on the importance of human rights, on the importance of the rule of law and democracy, and that we have to protect human dignity. These are the basics that all politicians have to agree on, and then the policy perspectives can differ.
The problem is that Fidesz politicians don't agree that everyone is equal. They have divided Hungarian society, they have decided who can be a 'true' Hungarian, they have excluded minorities, sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities.
They have created hatred propaganda just to earn more votes. I think these are really values that divide us deeper than just disagreeing on politics.