Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.
It’s difficult to recapture the sheer ebullience that accompanied the official debut of Fidesz in Hungary. It was a movement of youth in a country that was starting over. It was quirky and full of memorable characters. People of widely ranging political sympathies – liberal, radical, alternative – were attracted to the new organization. Its lack of experience was deemed a strength in a country where experience was somehow compromised by association with the previous regime.
Fidesz started in March 1988 as the initiative of 37 university students. By its first anniversary, it had more than 3,000 members and 70 local chapters around Hungary. When it held its second congress in October 1989, Hungarian television devoted a one-hour summary every day to the conference. In the first free elections in 1990, Fidesz came in fifth and sent 21 MPs to parliament. By 1998, it was strong enough to form a government, but by that time the party had already swung over to the conservative side. It lasted for four years before being ousted by a Liberal-Socialist coalition. Still led by Viktor Orban, one of the movement’s founders, Fidesz returned to power in 2010 and just recently won the elections again in a landslide.
Attila Ledenyi was one of the early shapers of Fidesz. He was in charge of international relations in the organization’s early years. He’s quick to remind me, when we met last May after 23 years, that Fidesz wasn’t a political party in those early years.
“In 1990, for the first campaign, Fidesz was not a political party,” Ledenyi said. “It didn’t identify itself as a party. There was an age limit. It was a youth movement. We were very easygoing about things. Obviously, there were lawyers and economists who were thinking in bigger terms. But generally speaking, our image and self-image were very youthful. Most of us were between 18 and 25.”
Eventually Fidesz lost much of its quirkiness, and Ledenyi left the organization. But he doesn’t look back in anger. “We can be nostalgic for 1988 and 1989 when we had great parties and there were great changes and we suddenly had influence over things that we didn’t have any influence over before,” he told me. “But I was never disappointed by the way things developed because I thought that these parties had to become institutions and the whole electoral system was changing, and if Fidesz wanted to have influence in all this, it would have to become a political party. Beyond a certain point, Fidesz was not sexy any more.”
The turning point for Hungarian politics came in 1994, the second free parliamentary elections. “I was very disappointed when in 1994 the Socialists won,” Ledenyi recalls. “That was a shock for me. After four years, people seemed to forget everything that happened before 1990. The other shock was when SzDSz [the Alliance of Free Democrats] joined the coalition with the Socialists. Many of those people, the Fodor type of people, decided to go in and go under the Socialists even though SzDSz in that coalition was mathematically unnecessary. They were invited only to be makeup on an otherwise ugly face. That I felt was humiliating. It was legitimatizing something that I thought was totally illegitimate. In that context, it was far easier for me to understand the turn that Fidesz was taking.”
In 2002, after the first Fidesz government, history repeated itself and the Liberals once again joined the Socialists to form a government. “When Medgyessy got elected, and mostly because of intellectual reasons, I was very disappointed that we had a prime minister who couldn’t talk, couldn’t properly read,” Ledenyi concluded. “He was almost illiterate. I was very unhappy on an intellectual basis, especially when Medgyessy said that we are a small country and we have to learn how to be small. My life has never been about that. Even if Orban was already hated by a lot of people, by a lot of intellectuals, he was someone who could always stand up and look like something and sound like something and have a vision.”
What did you think was going to happen in 1989?
Nobody really knew what was going to happen. And the big difference now is that people think they know what is going to happen.
Even if they don’t really.
Exactly. A lot of things are still pretty difficult to predict. But in 1990 people were waiting for the unexpected. Now, after 23 years, people assume that they know what will happen. And things have become more predictable in terms of political actors, who haven’t changed much or changed their attitudes. There are no new political elites. The ones we faced in 1990 are the ones we face today, except that then they were new and now they are older, partly in their mentality as well.
Predicting the economic future is easier now than it was then. This is one of the things that make people more pessimistic now. If they had known in 1990 what was going to happen, they probably would have been more pessimistic. That’s the key difference in people’s approach to the near future.
I am optimistic. I’ve done so many things over the past years that I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been optimistic about the future. But that’s my very subjective approach to things. I hope I will carry on being optimistic. That would be a curse — to turn pessimistic suddenly. There are people who are builders and people who are waiters, who just wait for things to happen. The builders tend to be more optimistic. Otherwise they wouldn’t build.
If you think your building is going to collapse…
It’s hard to want to build.
Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
To many of us who were active in politics in the late 1980s — working to change things, starting political movements, and establishing contacts with other movements in the region — it didn’t come as a particular surprise. It was the result of what we saw as a natural development. That’s why I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing. In 1989, we were probably organizing a demonstration somewhere here anyway. But it was certainly good feedback that things were on the right track and were irreversible.
How did you get involved in political activism?
It all goes back to my mother listening to Radio Free Europe all the time. My mother was always the kind of person who couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She inherited that from her parents. In the 1950s my grandparents were pretty outspoken. They were not involved in any political movement because there were no political movements. My grandfather used to be a Social Democrat. When the Communist Party invaded the Social Democrats in 1947-8, he went to the party office and threw in his membership card. Both of them were frightened that something was going to happen with the other one. This was the type of family my mother grew up in, and she was very similar to them in terms of telling me the truth. Back then, when we were going to school, we realized that there were two kinds of truth. One of them was what my mother told me, and the other one was taught in school. So indirectly that’s how I got politically involved.
Then, in March 1988, a friend of mine took me to a meeting where supposedly a youth movement was going to be formed. And it was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. That was the night that Fidesz was established. I’m not a founder. I was there when the founding took place, but I joined about a week later because it took me a couple days to put it all together. From that point, everything became so very active and fast. After the first months of struggling to stay alive, Fidesz started to organize all sorts of things — parties, concerts, demonstrations. We were touring the country meeting with people. In 1989, I already initiated a trip to Prague to meet with fellow dissidents there. That was a great trip, and a good party too.
What month was that?
That was the beginning of 1989 when Havel was still in prison. We met with people like Jiri Dienstbier who was doing some physical work, and a year later he was foreign minister. We met with Jan Urban, with Havel’s wife. They were all hiding. Then I was involved in setting up an international network for Fidesz. You know, I haven’t really thought about these things in a long time!
When you went to that first Fidesz meeting, were you a student?
Yes: a student at the business college.
Did you finish your studies or did you immediately start working for Fidesz?
I did finish. I completed my studies a couple months after Fidesz was launched. I was lucky. At my job, my boss was also very involved. He wasn’t a member of a party. He was just one of those spontaneous resistance people, but in a very clever way. He always had samizdat papers to read. I told him, “Listen, I’m going to be busy not doing my job from this point on.” He said, “Fine.” He gave me a lot of freedom to do my things. I had a lot of time to concentrate on organizing for Fidesz. I’m very grateful. He later joined Inconnu, which was an independent group of artists, because he was a graphic artist.
One of the major moments for Fidesz was when Viktor Orban gave one of the speeches at the reburial of Imre Nagy, and it was quite a radical speech. Is that something you remember as well?
I remember the speech. I remember it all. But in the end, for me, what Viktor said there at the reburial of Nagy and the other ’56ers was something we took for granted. He didn’t say anything other than what we were talking about already in our circles. When he said that the Soviet troops should leave, it was not particularly radical. I was actually surprised by the reactions because this is what we all wanted anyway. It’s just that someone stood up and said it out loud. When people started saying, “Well, it was too radical, he shouldn’t have said that,” I was really angry. When someone stands up and says what everybody had been saying in in a hidden way, we should be happy about it. So, I was pleased, and I was not surprised at all.
You spoke of the two truths — the truth in school and at home. For many people, that was a moment when the two truths came together.
Yes, very possibly.
Maybe that was the shocking part, more than the content of what he said.
It must have been a shock for many. But when those are your natural terms of speaking anyway, every day and every night, then you just feel that it’s a normal thing to do. We knew Victor was pretty outspoken and ready to say what we all thought. And that’s what he did.
You mentioned the first Fidesz meeting, which was a momentous occasion for you. And then organizing the trip to Prague. Are there other moments from that period that jump out at you?
I remember moments. I remember June 16, which is the day when Imre Nagy was executed after the 1956 revolution. It must have been in 1988 when I went to the cemetery to his grave (or where the grave was thought to be). That moment when you feel that you are not only politically but emotionally involved was a very important moment. I also remember being invited to small Fidesz groups in the countryside. They were sitting there waiting for me to tell them what to do. I was like, “What’s your question?”
Let me ask you about the election campaign. One of the most remarkable things for me were the posters. They were so different from other political posters here in Hungary, but even from posters in the United States. They were funny and irreverent. Was that something that surprised people within Fidesz?
In 1990, for the first campaign, Fidesz was not a political party. It didn’t identify itself as a party. There was an age limit. It was a youth movement. We were very easygoing about things. Obviously, there were lawyers and economists who were thinking in bigger terms. But generally speaking, our image and self-image were very youthful. Most of us were between 18 and 25.
In the interview, you told me about the people on the Fidesz board, and they were very young.
The youngest MP we sent to parliament — we had maybe 12 MPs in 1990 – was Zsuzsa Szelenyi who was around 20 at that point. So, it wasn’t surprising at all that such a bunch of young people came up with a young approach to politics. It was easier then. The Poles also had a very good sense of political humor. Here, our campaigning events were parties. We were positive and forward-looking and young.
I remember being in Washington, DC at some theater, and somebody who was definitely not from Europe stepped up to me and said, “Are you from Hungary?” I had one of the Fidesz t-shirts with the image from the campaign poster – Brezhnev and Kadar kissing. She vaguely remembered that this had something to do with Hungary. We didn’t know it was going to be such a hit. It was similar to Orban’s speech at the reburial. It was part of a natural development. It was not surprising at all.
One of the things we talked about 23 years ago was the interesting mix in Fidesz. You tried to explain to me how there could be radicals and liberals co-existing in the same group. Do you remember any particularly happy moments or specific conflicts from those days because of this mix of people inside Fidesz?
In the late 1980s, a typical meeting of opposition politicians would have included Istvan Csurka, who later became extreme Right, and Tamas Gaspar Miklos, who later became very Left. They were all coming together in the same room. I liked that. Emotionally it was tough for me to see people of different political views start to separate and turn against each other. I understood the whole thing. I knew that the creation of political parties came with more sophistication in terms of views. There would be differences about the details, and we couldn’t always be one front. When it became obvious closer to the end of the first electoral term, I decided to leave party politics. A lot of us didn’t particularly like the institutionalization of what used to be a movement. I knew this was a normal development, so I never wanted to stop it. But beyond a certain point, I didn’t want to be part of it.
At the end of the 1980s I really liked that we all took for granted that we were working toward the same goal. There was a lot of cooperation and coming together and doing things together. Later in Fidesz, in 1992 and 1993, Gabor Fodor turned against Viktor Orban, and all these things started to happen. There were two reasons I didn’t like it. One was simple: things were falling apart in front of my eyes. The other thing was that Hungarian politicians never seemed to know how to handle these situations properly. When Fodor left Fidesz, we still went to the same clubs. For years, he wouldn’t say hello. He assumed that we stopped liking each other. That was the saddest part for me. We can be nostalgic for 1988 and 1989 when we had great parties and there were great changes and we suddenly had influence over things that we didn’t have any influence over before. But I was never disappointed by the way things developed because I thought that these parties had to become institutions and the whole electoral system was changing, and if Fidesz wanted to have influence in all this, it would have to become a political party. Beyond a certain point, Fidesz was not sexy any more.
For example, I like to write articles about different topics: politics, art. There was a time when I slowly got involved in art. For someone who wanted to write, belonging to a political party at the same time limited you. Even then, if somebody belonged officially to a political party, he or she was already looked at by many as belonging to the other side.
The dark side?
Yes, every side is the dark side, depending on how you look at it. That was the main reason why I left the headquarters of Fidesz in 1994. I just wanted to be free again, essentially.
Even though your preference was for movement rather than party, was there ever a moment when you thought even briefly that it would be interesting to be in parliament?
Oh no. From the first moment, I saw that these guys were so busy. They had to be involved in things that were definitely not interesting. Zoltan Rockenbauer, who many years later became the minister of culture, was involved in foreign relations in 1992. A lot of times he would come to my office and sit down, studying draft legislation about weird things which he had to learn because he had to deliver a speech in parliament about something he wasn’t interested in whatsoever. To me, it’s not an attractive thing to be a politician. It takes away a lot of your freedom. You have a political boss. You have to be voted for by people who normally you don’t want to talk with. No — not attractive, never was!
In 1989, you were organizing various events and trips. What were your responsibilities between 1990 and 1994?
My closest friend then was Tamas Deutsch, who was one of the key figures in Fidesz and one of the youngest politicians too. It took them a lot of time to convince me to start working full-time in the Fidesz headquarters after the elections in 1990. I kind of felt then that the traditions of being a movement would make it hard to establish an office. But they talked me into this. And it was one of the most amazing challenges. Fidesz had a great office in the former home of an Armenian carpet merchant that had been taken by the Communists. Before 1990, it belonged to the office responsible for religious affairs. But obviously that office was closed down, and the building was given to Fidesz. It had this amazing Communist interior. I even had a direct line to whoever the Party leader was. I went to the office and it was totally empty. I was the international secretary of what was then becoming a party, and the first thing I had to do was answer all these letters. In addition to the joy of being able to create something, the other thing I liked about the job is that it was up to me how much I wanted to work.
That’s a lot of freedom.
Yes, but I’ve learned over the past decade that it’s a risky thing to be your own boss. You tend to exploit yourself much more than anyone else ever would. But then there was so much to do, so much to build, so much that depended on me to decide and to organize. I had to figure out how to involve all those young people, to educate them and give them practice in foreign affairs. It was just a beautiful thing. Now that I see that many of those people who worked in my little group of foreign affairs have become ambassadors and state secretaries. These very young guys had developed into people fit for responsible positions. It makes me feel almost proud.
Like a parent!
Yes, kind of like that.
So, you were mostly connecting with groups overseas: youth groups and parties.
The biggest challenge was how to define ourselves. When we were looking for partners in all the different countries, we had to decide whether we should go with the conservative liberals or the left-wing liberals. We might like what one party did but felt that another party was closer to us in spirit. In the Netherlands, for instance, there are two parties that considered themselves liberal. We kept in touch with both. In certain countries, we kept in touch with even more parties. Later, it started to get more institutionalized when Fidesz joined the Liberal International and, in 1993, organized a liberal world conference. That was the probably the first moment when Fidesz became an international factor. Orban was on the board of the Liberal International, and all these internationally known politicians came to Budapest under the umbrella of something organized by Fidesz. That was a great project. That was also probably the last “liberal” thing that Fidesz did. Shortly after I left the office, Fidesz left the Liberal International and shortly after that joined the conservative group. But that event made us realize that we could be a factor: we could attract and host people from South Africa, Japan, the UK, whatever. That was an important milestone in growing up.
You left in 1994. Have you maintained any connection with Fidesz?
Absolutely. Even if you leave the formal part of the group, these were the people I spent my most beautiful years with. There are emotional links – even when you don’t necessarily agree with them politically. So, not formally, but on a personal basis. The second job I had after Fidesz was with a government relations firm. The contacts, and my understanding of how the political decision-making system works on the inside, were very important and useful.
You said that you recognized that it was inevitable for Fidesz to move from movement to party, even if you were a little disappointed. What did you feel after 1994 about the political trajectory of the party?
It was already in 1994 when I started feeling that political parties and individual politicians became way too predictable and boring. I started to pay much less attention to party politics and to distance myself in a natural way. These were still people that I’d known on a personal basis before, and we remained friends. It has always been easier for me to understand both sides. Some of the guys went Left, some of the guys went Right. If Fodor was happier in SzDSz then fine. If Orban was happier building a different kind of path for Fidesz, that’s fine too. I can see the point in what they do. History, after all, will judge who was more successful. It seems that Fodor was successful in the short term, Orban in the longer term.
I was very disappointed when in 1994 the Socialists won. That was a shock for me. After four years, people seemed to forget everything that happened before 1990. The other shock was when SzDSz joined the coalition with the Socialists. Many of those people, the Fodor type of people, decided to go in and go under the Socialists even though SzDSz in that coalition was mathematically unnecessary. They were invited only to be makeup on an otherwise ugly face. That I felt was humiliating. It was legitimatizing something that I thought was totally illegitimate. In that context, it was far easier for me to understand the turn that Fidesz was taking. As I said, I’ve always remained open to what I considered positive in the decisions that these guys have been taking regardless of their political situation. I can maintain that openness, which is very important. That’s what I consider normal.
A lot of people I’ve talked to have not been able to maintain that kind of attitude. Do you find that you’re rather unusual these days?
No. But you probably select your friends on the basis of your individual thoughts and attitudes. I’m not talking about hundreds of people but a couple people who share these views.
Have you noticed the polarization of attitudes here in Hungary?
Oh, absolutely. The turning point was when Peter Medgyessy got elected in 2002. That was when many of my friendships just fell apart because of political reasons. That was a sad thing to happen.
Can you describe an example of that?
One of my friends, we started to be friends in 1989 and we really liked each other.
You knew each other within Fidesz?
No, he used to work for Radio Free Europe, and later he got involved with the Free Democrats. I’m a founder of the Free Democrats too, from 1988. So, we were very close. Although we didn’t always agree, we maintained a very close friendship up until 2002. We used to meet on a monthly basis, even though we were busy. When Medgyessy got elected, and mostly because of intellectual reasons, I was very disappointed that we had a prime minister who couldn’t talk, couldn’t properly read. He was almost illiterate. I was very unhappy on an intellectual basis, especially when Medgyessy said that we are a small country and we have to learn how to be small. My life has never been about that. Even if Orban was already hated by a lot of people, by a lot of intellectuals, he was someone who could always stand up and look like something and sound like something and have a vision.
I thought that I could openly talk about this with my friend. But he just so furiously hated Orban that he considered anything else was good. He thought Orban was the devil, and anyone who could save us from the devil was good enough. He swung the other way, like a typical Pest intellectual. He started saying and believing that somebody like Medgyessy was a good intellectual. We had very unpleasant discussions about it. And we stopped meeting. He lives around the corner from where I live. We bump into each other a couple times each year. We always say that it would be so good to get together, but we never seriously think that. It was in 2002 that I felt that politics was turning friends and families sharply against each other. That confirmed for me that party politics was not necessarily attractive.
Politics is a special art of communication. I studied PR and communication even in business school where it was my specialty area. Communications has always been an interesting and attractive sector for me. I saw and still see politics in certain places and done by certain actors as interesting maneuvering. But in Hungary, it became so predictable, and there are hardly any professionals in political communications that I would consider top-quality professionals. I could name probably no more than one. What used to be interesting just stopped being interesting any longer. The political maneuvering and communications strategies that are used in the United States — the campaign tools, the creative tricks — there’s very little of that here. So, I’m not attracted at any level to party politics.
When you read — and I imagine it’s difficult to avoid — how the rest of Europe or the U.S. government views the Fidesz government, how do you react to that? Do you think the characterizations are fair, unfair, incomplete?
They’re definitely incomplete — by definition. The point when I learned that we will never be able to paint a clear picture about what is happening in Hungary was at a meeting with a pretty high-level person at the State Department in 1990. He said to us, “You guys, you countries in the former Communist bloc, you should keep together because you’re much easier to handle as a group than when you suddenly become different countries.” That was a lightening bolt moment. Okay, it’s a long way away and it’s a different culture. But these guys – whether it’s the United States or Brussels or Sweden or Timbuktu — will never get a proper or clear picture about what’s happening here. A lot of international politics is driven by party politics. Whoever is in power here will have enemies out there. So, a lot of what I hear is very disappointing, in terms of people trying to judge what is happening here without knowing what’s really going on.
Is there something that really irritates you in particular about characterizations of Hungary today?
When somebody assumes that I’m living in a country that is not free, that is oppressed, or non-democratic. That makes me look stupid.
As in: why would you stay in such a country?
Exactly. That’s annoying. Or doing the things you did in 1989? Particularly irritating is when someone in another country uses the word “dictator.” I mean, we actually know what it was like when this country was a dictatorship, and we know the difference. Anyone who uses that term who lives in a country that has not been undemocratic for hundreds of years, and who knows nothing about dictatorships except for what they see on CNN and read in the newspaper, that’s pretty irritating.
I know that there are things that are strange or even weird that are happening in this country. I do most of my work in art now, and increasingly power is given to a group of people who don’t necessarily pull Hungary into the international scene but rather keep it very local. I don’t agree with that. Although I understand a lot of Orban’s political maneuvering, the way he puts people into powerful positions and suddenly removes them — that’s how he builds his power — when it comes to specific decisions like giving more cultural and political power to people who don’t open up Hungary but keep it closed, that’s something I consider weird. But at the same time, I don’t like it when people don’t do anything about it. There are so many opportunities that are not linked to government sponsorship. I’ve been in art communications and management for 10 years now. If I had been dependent on state funds, I would not have achieved anything.
But there is one thing that no one can question. A massive number of people put Fidesz into power. And three years ago, when those elections took place, nobody could have said that Fidesz was an unknown political group on the Hungarian scene. They were democratically elected. And given the current opposition, it’s likely they’ll be reelected again a year from now. I see politics as a competition, like a business competition or like natural selection. If a party is too weak to put together a proper government, they shouldn’t be elected. Although I might have difficulties a year from now trying to find a political party I’d be happy to vote for, I definitely wouldn’t want to vote for someone that couldn’t get their act together and form a government with a vision.
When you look back to 1989-90, have you had any major second thoughts about your positions or your attitudes?
I would definitely do the same things again. It took those friends of mine a lot of time to convince me to work in the position I was in when we last met. They were right, and I am grateful to them. It kept me involved in something that was happening. Generations die without being able to be in a position like that. Billions of people never experience something even similar to that. So, I’m absolutely grateful for that. I learned so much. Many of my decisions even today are based on the knowledge that I received and collected then. I’m very happy that I was involved, and that a couple years later I managed to maneuver myself out of that job. I can’t think of anything that I regret, or wouldn’t do that I did then.
You said you’ve been working for the last 10 years in arts management. That’s managing artists or art galleries?
It’s mostly creating projects. I started a PR company about 16 years ago. But it was 10 years ago that I started switching my focus toward arts management. We organized exhibitions for art institutions. About six or seven years, it was a turning point in museum history when we organized a campaign for the exhibition hall on Hero Square. Due to our campaign, the exhibition attracted 33,000 visitors in two months. The title was “Masterpieces: 400 Years of French Painting.” That was a turning point because we brought elements of corporate communications into arts management, which is what happens in normal countries. But here in Hungary it was a breakthrough.
That was the point when I got hooked. I collect art and I’m very interested in art. What makes me happy is to work with something I love. It’s hard to specifically describe what we do. Every week brings a new project. We advise collectors. We organize our own exhibitions. We established an art collectors club. We issue a magazine about art collecting that is probably the highest circulation art magazine in Hungary. We put out 15,000 copies, which for this market is big (normally an art magazine here would have a readership of 1,000 people). Our latest and probably biggest baby is an international art fair that we started two years ago. It’s like Art Basel or the Armory Show in New York. It’s entirely contemporary art. We started it two years ago and it has already become the leading contemporary art fair in Eastern Europe. It’s probably the most dynamically developing art fair in Europe.
That’s exciting. When does it take place?
The end of November. It’s called Art Market Budapest. That keeps us very busy.
The last three questions are quantitative. When you look back at 1990 and everything that has changed or not changed in Hungary until today, how would you evaluate that on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?
When you take into consideration what Hungary could have achieved, but has not achieved, it’s a 5. Which makes me pretty unhappy.
Because it should have been better.
Same period of time, same scale: your own personal life?
I would say close to an 8.
When you look into the near future and you evaluate Hungary’s prospects over the next 2-3 years, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?
The fact we can get good stuff like these croissants makes me optimistic about the direction Hungary is going! I’d say a 7. It all goes back to what we are, and I’m probably an optimist.
Budapest, May 7, 2013
The Interview (1990)
Attila Ledenyi has been working for the international section of Fidesz for several months. He gave me a sheaf of materials in English on the organization and also invited me to the Fidesz summer camp. He was, in other words, extremely helpful. At the Fidesz headquarters – formerly the Communist party-controlled National Church Office – we talked about the spirit of the organization
Fidesz is a liberal, radical, and alternative movement of Hungarian youth. “Liberal” means that it supports market principles but with some social democratic elements. If liberal economic aims are fulfilled in society, the standard of living will improve. Yet workers’ defense is needed to lessen the negative effects of unemployment. Because of their belief in the combination of these two elements, Fidesz has not joined either the Liberal International or the Socialist International. “Radical” is the Fidesz style: a way of making politics and a philosophy concerning the pace of change. The organization is against the slow pace of the Democratic Forum. “Certain things have to be done now rapidly even if it causes a decrease in living standards,” said Ledenyi. “Alternative” characterizes the organization’s set of concerns: Green, anti-militarist, and so on.
At the beginning of the reform process, Ledenyi said, some elements of the opposition were not enthusiastic about Fidesz’s participation in the round table discussions. “At that time, we didn’t have time to prove ourselves politically.” People considered Fidesz a youth organization and nothing more. “They didn’t think that we were serious enough.”
I asked about the transition from movement ot political party. Ledenyi corrected me: Fidesz remains both movement and party. “It is difficult to find a harmony between these two things. Politics now is made mainly in the parliament and that is the serious party side of our work. On the other hand, we are still a sort of movement to make young people think politically.” The regional groups still operate as a movement: organizing demonstrations and actions (such as collecting clothes for poor people). Another movement aspect was the academy created to teach democracy and Hungarian history (similar to the Polish opposition’s Flying University of the late 1970s.). It lasted for two years. Its status for 1990-91 has not been worked out.
Was Fidesz still an alternative to the official students’ union (KISZ) or had another independent student union emerged? Unfortunately, he said, Fidesz still served the function of expressing the interests of students. “A political party should not represent students this way.”
The key need for Hungary, he thought, was a new generation of politicians, something that Fidesz is providing. He pointed out that on the Fidesz national board there are three or four “very young” representatives (18 years old). This to provide them an opportunity to become involved politically. Fidesz, then, “is a good school.”
There are 22 Fidesz MPs, average age 28 (youngest 21). How are these Fidesz MPs being received? Because of their radicality and their expertise (many of the representatives have advanced degrees), “we are considered to be the party in the parliament that makes everything move,” Ledenyi said. Recent opinion polls have indicated that Fidesz is gaining popularity. The alliance, because of their agreement with the Forum (guaranteeing two-thirds support for constitutional amendments in exchange for an Alliance president), “has to a certain extent been compromised.”