Tea or coffee? Yes, please!

[HU] December 15-én a magyar értelmiség egy zsákutcában találta magát: szolidaritását fejezze-e ki egy széljobbos párttal? Az ilyen történelmi törések, amikor a kotyogós duruzsolását és a reggeli újság melegét egy dilemma feloldásának megrögzött kísérletei árnyékolják be, kivételes pillanatok. Különösen e komor félperiférián, ahol a dolgok általában nyilvánvalóak és magától értetődőek, ahol az ellentmondások még mindig csak várják, hogy átlépjék a hírhedt magyar józan ész határait. Személy szerint rendkívül érdekesnek találom ezeket a kivételes időket, amikor ilyen dilemmák bukkannak fel – amikor a szilárd erkölcsi táj széttöredezik, és kétségbeesett szubjektumok keresnek valamiféle újra fellelhető bizonyosságot. Úgy gondolom, hogy a bizonytalanság ezen átmeneti pillanatai többet mondanak arról, hogy kik vagyunk, mint amikor azt gondoljuk, hogy valamit tényleg tudunk.

On the 15th of December the Hungarian intelligentsia found itself at an impasse: whether or not to express solidarity with a far right party. Such historical ruptures, when the dinging of the moka pot and the homey softness of the newspaper are disturbed by obsessive mental attempts to break a deadlock are exceptional moments. Especially in this gloomy semiperiphery, where things are usually obvious and self-evident, where contradictions are still waiting to be processed at the borders of the notorious Hungarian common-sense.

Should we support the strongest opposition party, Jobbik (a far-right party), should we engage in solidarity against the anti-democratic governing party, Fidesz (a far-right party)?

I think these moments of undecidability tell lot more about who we are rather than when we think that we actually know something.

I personally find these exceptional times, when such dilemmas emerge, extremely intriguing – when the solid moral landscape is torn apart into fragments and perplexed subjects are wandering desperately for the redemption of some certainty. I think these moments of undecidability tell lot more about who we are, rather than when we think that we actually know something. These are the few of the occasions when people engage in dialogues that they couldn’t have imagined before. Thus, not only does our recent predicament (who are we at this specific historical and geopolitical moment) glimmer through the unstable stages of this social daze, but also the quest for fixation, for stability, for meaning. Who will we be tomorrow? How are we to live?

The Dilemma

A Few months ago, the State Audit Office[1] began to investigate the funding of the far-right party, Jobbik. On the 6th of December SAO announced that Jobbik is expected to pay a fine of 331 million forints (1,055,890 euros) by receiving illegal party funding. Additionally, Jobbik’s party funding will be reduced by half (cca. 330 million forints). This fine could make it impossible for the party to run in the next election in 2018. The investigation concluded that Jobbik received billboards for its outdoor campaign at a suspiciously discounted price in the spring (an in-kind contribution equivalent to the total of 331 million forints). The funding came from a legal person, that is prohibited by the provisions of the Party Code effective from 1 January 2014. The contributor was Lajos Simicska, a former, discredited oligarch of Fidesz. Simicska, before he stood behind Jobbik, had been a good friend of Viktor Orbán, current Prime Minister of Hungary, for decades and also a key figure in building the economic empire of the national bourgeoisie.

On the left: Simicska and Orbán in 1998 / On the right: Simicska detained by the police after writing “Orbán is a dick” on his own billboards. (2017)

On the one hand we are dealing with a hallmark of corruption: Jobbik could advertise at a criminally low price at Lajos Simicska’s poster places. But on the other hand, the legal investigation of the State Audit Office was more, than problematic.

In 2010, Fidesz received even better discounts from Lajos Simicska’s billboard company than Jobbik now. According to Fidesz’ own statement, only 984 million was spent on the 2014 parliamentary election campaign, although according to Transparency International’s calculations it should have been at least four billion forints (12.8 million euros). Transparency International asked the SAO after the 2014 elections to compile the party’s self-declared campaign expenditure with their study. The SAO then informed the organization that their hands are tied. Now, in the case of Jobbik, the SAO argued, that the law provides an opportunity for out-of-control checks.

The corrupt funding was spent on an outdoor media campaign targeting Fidesz and discrediting its leaders and oligarchs. (see below)

Gangsters. The boss, the stooge, the liar and the bond salesman

It is more, than evident, that Fidesz is trying to put the biggest opposition party to financial death 4 months before the elections. Since the SAO has withdrawn from the role of an independent public body even before 2014 and has entered into the political space (cf. the timing of the investigation and the lack of similar procedures previously or against Fidesz), Fidesz must have exercised its power over the legal investigation of Jobbik by the State Audit Office (just as it had taken control over the Constitutional Court after 2010).

In sum, the corrupt far-right government tried to undermine its corrupt far-right opposition with antidemocratic means, issuing an irrationally high fine through the investigation of the SAO.

Or as Bálint Misetics put it:

“Here an essentially hegemonic interest group is opposed to a privilege of the most controversial and most dangerous part of the opposition, which privilege, by the way, is only possible because a corrupt capitalist, who has a high responsibility in the extreme power the Fidesz has gained according to his own admission, changed sides from the former [Fidesz] to the latter [Jobbik].” (merce.hu)

But the story is far from over.

Gábor Vona, president of Jobbik, interpreted the situation as a clear sign of the loss of democracy, which threatens the party’s participation in next year’s election.[2] Gábor Vona later announced that they are going to hold a peaceful demonstration on the 15th of December to fight against Orbán’s dictatorial regime, which “tries to close the shutters of democracy and reach his [Orbán’s] long-cherished dream of achieving a de facto dictatorship in Hungary.”

“We reached the deepest position after the 1989 transition and the bottom of the political struggles. In the current situation it became questionable whether Jobbik could participate in the next parliamentary elections,” said János Volner, Vice President of Jobbik.

“I trust that we are increasingly pushing politics to European standards and we can cooperate even if there are differences,” said Mayor of Ózd, Dávid Janiczak, a member of Jobbik, who burned an EU flag publicly five years ago.

It is not that odd to hear the articulation of democratic values and European standards from Jobbik since the party started its rhetorical shift towards the political centre years ago. This candy campaign (one that is not specific to Jobbik as I’ve already mentioned similar tendencies of alternative fascisms) included cute dogs, the sparkling colors of the rainbow, the private life of the party leader and so on.



Jobbik changed its political rhetoric because its main themes were embraced by the Fidesz. For instance:

A lawmaker from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling party posted a photo of a dead pig on Facebook with a reference George Soros. The photo shows people standing over a slain and charred pig, with “Ő VOLT A SOROS!!!” inscribed on the animal. The phrase could translate either as “It was his turn” or as “This was Soros.”

These themes (anti-Semitism, racism, etc.) have of course not disappeared from Jobbiks’ rhetoric – they’ve been only moved from the official messages to the secondary online and offline platforms of the party.

On the 23th of November, 2016 an initiative of László Toroczkai, Mayor of Ásotthalom, former Vice-President of Jobbik has been adopted and promulgated by the the local government of the village in Csongrád County: prohibiting the public implementation of activities related to the Muslim religion and any public expression of homosexuality.
 On the 3rd of August 2017 Dóra Dúró, former Vice President of Jobbik, announced that following the party’s electoral program those who did not complete primary education will not have the right to vote.
 From 2016 on the local Jobbik government of Tiszavasvári brutally violated the human dignity of the local Roma when in an alliance with the Legion of Honour it supported them in harassing inhabitants. The local governments hired extremists to intimidate and regulate citizens.

However, this softening, candy campaign has made its impressions: not only on left-wing voters who have started to imagine the possibility of a coalition with Jobbik, but on credible political figures also, like Ágnes Heller (former student of Marxist philosopher György Lukács) who have called for collaboration with the Jobbik against the regime.

“Let us ask the question: what is the definition of a democratic party? Because at this moment, Jobbik says, that it wants to restore the rule of law. What is not democratic in this? Even if a party stands for right-wing populist views, it can be considered democratic.” (168 óra)

“I’ve lived in America for 23 years and I’ve learned to always talk about what a party is saying now. You do not need to ask what was the motive behind it. We accept what they say at this moment. What they believe or what their plan is, what their second thoughts are is not interesting for me at the moment.” (Mandiner)

As a result, when Jobbik announced the demonstration, it left the “Left” with a dilemma: should we express our solidarity or not? People argued that we should stand with Jobbik because what Fidesz is doing with Jobbik today might be the destiny of another party tomorrow. That is a threat to the multi-party system. About 1300 people attended the protest.

Photo from 24.hu (Bolshevik comrades in the Fidesz! This is the end.)

Three leftist parties, LMP, Momentum and Együtt indicated that they will participate at the protest. All three parties have stressed that they will protest for democracy and not for the Jobbik itself. Two other leftist parties refused solidarity. DK said they won’t support Jobbik as they are “an exclusionary, anti-Semitic, racist party,” and MSZP said, that they are not going to defend stolen money.

As Péter Juhász, the Co-President of Együtt argued: “I obviously reject the politics of Jobbik, but I came to protest against Fidesz. It should be understood that what is happening to them [Jobbik] is the same that usually happens with the Roma and the gay people, this is what human rights demonstrations are about.”

What are we?


“It should be understood that what is happening to them [Jobbik] is the same that usually happens with the Roma and the gay people, this is what human rights demonstrations are about.”

An ultimate end to those grounds from which at least a viable critique would be possible.

This statement in itself is a clear indicator of the loosening tectonics of the social. This is not only the beginning of total insanity, but the ultimate end to those grounds from which at least a viable critique would be possible. What is characteristic of such open wounds of the social that this statement represents (and of which it is a product as well) is the immanent need to take a position/action in this undecidability – Macron or Le Pen? Trump or Hillary? Israel or Palestine? Protecting refugees or borders? EU or Exit? Make your decision!

As Žižek argues[3]:

“In a well-known Marx Brothers joke, Groucho answers the standard question ‘Tea or coffee?’ with ‘Yes, please!’ – a refusal of choice. [O]ne should answer in the same way the false alternative today’s critical theory seems to impose on us: either ‘class struggle’ […] or ‘postmodernism’. […] Here, at least, we can have our cake and eat it.”

In such an era, where the symbolic order of the social is constructed through these pseudo-choices, the real dilemma is not what to choose, but what the dilemma itself tells about us. The real dilemma is what we are today, how we are constituted and interpellated as subjects and what we can learn about the structures that actually do walk the streets[4]. And what is at stake here is not only what the dilemma shows (corrupt state vs. corrupt far-right party and so on), but also what it hides (e.g. poverty, brutal inequalities, structural oppression, discrimination, etc.) and what it excludes.

I have no intention to analyse it in any way and I refuse to interpret the Hungarian situation more deeply. Sorry, but I’m not interested in weighing the possibilities and analyzing the choices we’ve had. It required a huge effort for me to discuss the construction of the dilemma itself in the discussion above. I’m more interested in your answer to this question: what does this dilemma tell about us? What are we? This is the question that Immanuel Kant asked in his ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ (1784). As Foucault interpreted it[5]:

“When in 1784 Kant asked, Was heisst Aufklirung?, he meant, What’s going on just now? What’s happening to us? What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living? Or in other words: What are we? (…) Kant’s question appears as an analysis of both us and our present.”

 I consider Kant’s question as pedagogical per se, but there is more in it than just asking “what are we?”. I assume that there is also a distance in this question of our predicament: a refusal of choice, if we ever had one. In the Hungarian case, that would be the refusal of even thinking about a choice between defending post-fascist parties or the corrupt state or both; between protesting for a “better” capitalist state or engaging in solidarity with a far-right party. Antifascism or anticapitalism? Yes, please!

The pedagogical problem, at least for Foucault (ibid.), would be

“the problem of the present time and of what we are in this very moment. Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are. (…) The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state and from the state’s institutions but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality which has been imposed on us for several centuries.”

The “old mole” (=Marx[6]) would be of course not satisfied with such soft concepts like refusal. From a Marxist perspective, Foucault’s refusal would be only possible through struggle. Trying to grasp the Marxist beard of the critique, I would conclude that in such exceptional moments when a viable critique is almost impossible on the grounds of the presented dilemma, we have to search for different shores, where the dilemma itself appears to be the problem, where not a pseudo-choice appears to be the dilemma any more – in order to constitute ourselves “on another element”.

Marx, in a Preliminary Note to his Dissertation,

“justified his refusal to compromise with existing conditions by invoking the example of Themistocles who, ‘when Athens was threatened with devastation, convinced the Athenians to take to the sea in order to found a new Athens on another element.’ This is not an anticipation of Marx’s turn to political economy. (…) Marx was trying to articulate the critique of a present “beneath contempt” which holds open a political future.”[7]

 There is a political future held open by the present “beneath contempt”. And here I totally agree with Josefine, as stated in her recent post, that it is time to “sit and think about who and where we are”. Let’s stop in front of these exceptional moments at which we are thinking and because of which we are sitting. Let’s sit and don’t waste ourselves in reactivism; but let’s stand up and engage in solidarity with struggles whose social space is outside the realm of pseudo-dilemmas.

Sitting or standing?

[1] The State Audit Office is a body governed by law, which operates independently of government bodies. It is the main financial and economic control body of the Parliament, which performs its task under the Parliament. It controls the management of public funds as well as state and local government assets, including the finances of the parties that manage budget funds. The SAO only makes a finding on which a fine is imposed, which is to be paid into the State Treasury. Perhaps there is no other body in Hungary that can punish, but which has no appeal against its decisions.

[2] However, the far-right party will be backed by another significant amount of money by Simicska, who repurchased the billboards he had sold to Jobbik after SAO’s investigation.

[3] Žižek S (2000) Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, please! In: Butler J, Laclau E, and Žižek S (eds), Contingency, hegemony, universality: contemporary dialogues on the left, London – New York: Verso, pp. 90–136.

[4] As opposed to the anti-structuralist graffito on the Paris walls in May ’68: “structures do not walk the streets”.

[5] Foucault M (1982) The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry 8(4): 785.

[6]We recognize our old friend, our old mole, who knows so well how to work underground, suddenly to appear: the revolution.” The Old Mole

[7] Quote from Dick Howard’s manuscript which we received before his lecture in May, 2017. You can watch the lecture here.

The following two tabs change content below.

Tamás Tóth

Tamás is a researcher in the European Doctorate in Teacher Education programme at the University of Lower Silesia. He holds an Ma in Educational Studies and draws from a wide record of experience in working with Roma communities in Hungary. His research topic concentrates on the critique of ideology with a particular focus on the exclusion of Roma people in two post-socialist, semi-peripheral countries – Hungary and Poland.

Leave a Reply