In their Own Words: a Glimpse into ... Klára Dobrev, MEP, Democratic Coalition
Updated: Oct 15
Klára Dobrev is the Democratic Coalition party's (DK) nominee for the opposition alliance's prime ministerial candidate in next spring's parliamentary elections
Photo: Klára Dobrev, addressing foreign journalists in parliament, 6th October. DK Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I'm afraid my one class of teaching “writing articles” to an undergraduates each week takes up enormous amounts of time and energy. Well, the preparation, marking and general administration does, at least. I've realised of late that there are many non-Hungarians out there who have little to no idea about Hungarian politics other than access to one or two state-funded sites in English) or, for instance, Hungarian Spectrum, https://hungarianspectrum.org/ US-Hungarian professor Eva Balogh's tour de force. The former tend to be, shall we say, somewhat biased, while the latter perhaps, feels like “jumping in at the deep end” for all but the more hard-core political observers. It is highly critical of the Orbán administration. But with the opposition alliance's pre-elections, or primaries, going on right now, (for an explanation in English, see https://bbj.hu/politics/domestic/elections/opposition-parties-to-begin-pm-candidate-primaries ), I thought to offer something a little bit lighter, but still valid - for those who prefer to “dip their toes into the waters” (even if it may quickly become apparent that the waters are deep and constantly in flood). This piece is about Klára Dobrev, the wife of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was prime minister from 2004 – 2009. [Gyurcsány at the time was in the Socialist Party. He later broke with them to form the Democratic Coalition [DK], a left-of-centre group that is currently the leading opposition party in the polls, with about 12-14% voter support.] Dobrev, 49, a lawyer and economist, has been an MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament for the Democratic Coalition party since 2019. She won the first round of the opposition primaries with 35% of the vote. Along with her native Hungarian, she speaks Bulgarian (from her father's side of the family), Russian, German and English. For her detractors, Dobrev is simply an alternative mouthpiece for her despised husband, a man who was responsible for “catastrophic” economic policies imposed upon the country under his leadership. She is also an “apparatchik child”, one whose mother was an eminence grise getting rich in the post-communist transformation of the 1990s, and the granddaughter of a much-loathed leading communist from the Stalinist era. She is thus unacceptable as prime minister, and will be easily defeated if pitted against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán next spring. The following is a transcript of a few parts of her meeting with the Hungarian International Press Association on October 6. I hope I have time to write a similar “in their own words” tomorrow on Dobrev's rival for the opposition alliance's prime ministerial candidate – Péter Márki-Zay. (But these things take time!)
The Meeting Journalist Question: How do you describe yourself in political terms? Secondly, can you think of any defining moments in your life or career that [helped] form those political views? Klára Dobrev: Hopefully, it's visible, I'm a very strong social democrat. And if you ask me what are the countries I am looking at, it's mainly the Scandinavian countries. Of course, in Hungary you cannot build a Swedish or Finnish model, but I'm a very strong Social Democrat. Being a social democrat, it means that in the human rights aspect you are liberal, and as you can see, the Social Dems are running a race that sometimes they are more green than the greens. I really do believe that even those measures that we have taken in the European Parliament, at the end of the day, or within one or two years, they will prove to be insufficient for [combatting] climate change. So, social democrat, and that means human rights, liberal, but not in social policy, and with a very strong, rational green thinking for the future. Well, if you ask what determines my views, I've been a social democrat ever since I've been interested in politics, let's say early 20s. I can tell you two very important moments maybe. The first moment was in 2018, after we had a lot of hopes in the elections and Orbán won by two-thirds, even if it was an election when suddenly at 7.00 o'clock everything turned black on the TVs, and in three or four hours, the result came, and nobody knows what happened. And we had a lot of misuse and cheating in those elections. I woke up the next morning, after the election, I thought now I will do everything, and this was the point when we have to do our best, and this was the point when I decided to get into politics in the front line, not just behind the scenes. The European Parliament has improved my political views in a lot of ways. First of all, it was sometimes painful to see how constructively one can talk to people with different political views. Really, tears come to my eyes when I think of the differences between the political cultures of the European Parliament and Hungary. I have not only colleagues, but good friends among the conservatives, I have good friends among the liberals and greens as well. When we have an issue then we talk about the topic and the issue. We have not had policy debates [in Hungary] for the past 10 years, we simply do not debate policy. We do not debate healthcare or education or whatever. There is no way to confront [others[ with different views, or with some experts. So, definitely it has made me a more devoted person in the European Parliament. That's exactly the political culture I'd like to see in Hungary.
Journalist question (Kester Eddy): Getting back to the primaries, if I may. You seemed to be getting on very well, prior to the first round. But then we suddenly get the result with Marki-Zay in third, and not Peter Jakab. And all of a sudden, the two try to do a stitch-up job on you. What does this tell us about the likelihood of the coalition being likely to hang together? Klára Dobrev: Power games are always part of politics. That's not so bad. I don't like power games, I like to go with the people, arguing and solving policy problems. But they can do it, it's not anti-democratic. So, what I'm going to do is the same thing [as usual]: now I'm leaving from here, I'll have a quick press conference, and then I'm going to the countryside [to meet the public]. And that's what I'm going to do tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. But according to the coalition, it's what I told you at the very beginning, this coalition is forced [on us] by the voters. So, it doesn't matter how heated these debates are, and it doesn't matter what kind of power games the others are playing, we are forced to work together, and I'm happy about this. My personality is absolutely capable of working with everyone who has the same goal as I have. So, not at all any problems. I'm quite confident about the second round, hopefully not too confident, but I don't think that a disaster has happened in the past few days. That's politics Diplomat Question: A follow up. <Not totally clear, but on the lines of “Isn't there a risk that the row between the two candidates will alienate your voters from their candidate, and their voters from you, should you win the primary?”> Klára Dobrev: I think this is a temporary [affair], because of course, the heated debates are not only between the candidates, but between the voters as well. Facebook, oh my God, Facebook helps [ie it doesn't] a lot in this. But, I think this is a temporary issue. As I told you, after the primaries the wish of voters in the opposition for change, and the wish to have a democratic Hungary, is much stronger than any favourite party member or any favourite politician. So, I'm definitely sure that 99% of the voters at the end of the primaries will come back as normal, will go on and join the common battle against the illiberal state of Orbán.