Taking Down Orbán: If You Can’t Beat 'em, Join 'em

 
Illustration by  Eddie Stok

Illustration by Eddie Stok

 

IT WASN’T THAT HE WAS BORN FOR POLITICS and just had that “lightning bolt” moment of realizing that it was, in fact, his destiny. He had never planned, strategized, or fought for it either. No, András Fekete-Győr ended up in politics by accident. His frustration pushed him out into the street, where he froze his ass off for it.

 
 
They demanded a national referendum over Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s ‘wet dream’ of hosting the Olympics.
 

 

When András first started collecting signatures in December 2016, it was -5°C in Budapest. He and a small coterie of fellow activists were demanding a national referendum over Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s “wet dream” of hosting the Olympics [read more about Orbán’s Hungary here]. Where Orbán saw the potential for spectacle and glory, András and his crew feared a veritable orgy of contracts, kick-backs, and outright corruption. Their cleverly named “NOlimpia campaign” wasn’t given much chance by commentators, but against stark odds, they gathered over 250,000 signatures—more than double what they needed for a referendum.

Eventually, the Olympic bid was withdrawn. Orbán’s biggest defeat in years had come at the hands of a bunch of young street activists.  

“We will never forget that evening, when we managed to make Viktor Orbán surrender. It was a huge surprise for everyone; the opposition, the media and for Viktor Orbán,” András remembers. NOlimpia became a fledgling political party. They called it Momentum.

International media hailed the Momentum movement as the first serious challenge to Orbán and likened the young party to Macron’s La République En Marche! (LaREM). However, not everything worked out as hoped. Momentum did not manage to enter parliament in 2018—a failure that might actually have proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“I think it is an advantage for us. It is completely useless being in the opposition in the parliament in today’s Hungary,” András says. “Instead, we can focus all our energy and resources on the people on the street.”

To right a wrong

András has a secret. In 2010, the now 30-year old activist, lawyer and politician sometimes depicted as “Hungary’s Next Great Hope,” actually voted for Orbán. Then he spent time abroad, and also entered law school.

“We started studying the legislation that Fidesz [Orbán’s party] passed. I completely lost my faith in Fidesz and Orbán,” he says. “At the same time, I lost my faith in politics.” Momentum is part attempt to make up for that past vote, part attempt to give back to others this hope and trust in the system that he himself had lost years ago.

This winter, András and the rest of the Momentum party were back on the streets. But this time, they were not alone in their protests: thousands joined them to demonstrate against Orbán’s new “slave law”—harsh new labor measures that could require workers to put in as much as 400 hours worth of overtime each year. Politicians from all across the opposition protested, and Momentum was at it again with a new petition. Despite the seemingly impossible task of “overthrowing” a rigged system, András remains optimistic.

“I might be crazy, but I am very sure that this community of very young people will govern one day. Politics needs to be resilient. This is one of the fiercest political systems, but we already have tasted victory. We know what it feels like, we know it is possible, and we know it will come again.”

The Olympic fiasco was a personal defeat for Orbán, a known sports fanatic. On the other hand, it was worth a gold medal for the protestors. András might have been forced into the games against Orbán, but he is ready to take up the fight.

 
 
 
 

This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue


This Is Not An Elections Issue
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