Recently, the Alexander Palace announced an open day which the Teachers Democratic Organization and the students who stand next to them, with the participation of Lili Pankotai, wanted to use for protest.The action got off to a perfect start, teachers and students with banners and subbed T-shirts lined up in a winding queue in the square so they can get into the building and voice their opinions on the statuslaw. But then something happened that no one seemed to be prepared for: Katalin Novák appeared and started talking with the protesters. What happened after that is a textbook example of how standing for a good cause can fail.
Whatever you may think of Katalin Novák, one thing is undeniable, she has been practising her role as a politician for years, and it is clear that her party’s experts started preparing her for how to behave when she meets people who do not sympathise with her and her political views long before she was elected head of state. And she has not disappointed in terms of the required behaviour: she asked in a quiet, direct manner, and made it clear that she understands the plight of teachers and the dire state of the education system. And then Lili Pankotai spoke. At first glance, it would have seemed that everything was going to be all right, after all, what she asked was a relevant question: what did the head of state think about the state’s lack of money for education. Katalin Novák, giving a perfect answer, said that she agreed that the money for education was not enough and that more money was needed, in addition to EU funds. In short, she answered her questioner as an equal, gave a substantive answer, and spoke outside the Fidesz narrative for a minute. However, for the rest of the conversation, emotions prevailed. The students could not handle it, they laughed at the head of state and attacked her as a person. Giving her the opportunity to put herself in the role of the good samaritan who wanted to help, but in return she was attacked. So she was able to leave the scene victorious.
In such a sudden political situation, such behaviour and communication is a mistake. But it is not the fault of Lili Pankotai and the students. But the fault of the political actors who leave the students on their own, who do not prepare them for such situations, especially when these students are fighting the battles that these politicians are supposed to be fighting. The parties’s attitude to this is not new, it has been around practically since the NER.
Over the last thirteen years, there have been several young people who have taken on the Orbán regime with fresh, youthful vigour and unrelenting fury. Let’s remember Dorottya Karsay (who sang the anthem of the 2011 protests, “I don’t like the system”), Dóra Polgár (who organised the Student Network), Veronika Kövesdi (who marched against the NER in the colors of Együtt), Blanka Nagy (who became known during the protests against the 2018 overtime law). All of them got caught up in the opposition hype, celebrated by the parties, praised by the opposition intelligentsia, they became the current saviours who will renew politics, attract young people and thus overthrow Viktor Orbán. Then, of course, it did not happen. Viktor Orbán is still in place, and most of the opposition still exists to some extent. It is just these young people who are no longer around politics. At the moment, Lili Pankotai is the new comet, the new hope. Who knows for how long.
The question rightly arises: why is this so? Why are young people who are active and willing to take action disappearing from public life? Because the task of young people who want to challenge the system is not to directly confront Katalin Novak or Viktor Orbán. That is not their league and not their job. It is the job of young people who are critical of the system to learn, to gain experience and to share it with their peers, because they are the ones who can say in a credible way why they do not like the system and what can be done about it.
The question rightly arises: why is this so? Why are young people who are active and willing to take action disappearing from public life? Because the task of young people who want to challenge the system is not to directly confront Katalin Novak or Viktor Orbán. That is not their league and not their task. It is the job of young people who are critical of the system to learn, to gain experience and to share it with their peers, because they are the ones who can say in a credible way why they do not like the system and what can be done about it. That is how you can build an organic link between a party and young people.
It is the job of the professional politicans of the opposition to go directly against Viktor Orbán in any possible way. But if they are not effective regarding this at least they should at least be concerned with providing young people who are politically active with a real opportunity for preparation, training and experience. Not just a few hours of a guided tour of the parliament building in Budapest or Brussels, with a few selfies together at the end, not just a few supportive insta-lives at the protests. Instead of that, they should run a real political school for young people, where they are trained in what it means to be in politics, how to communicate and how to deal with the opponent in a political conflict. This is light years away from the reality of today’s hungarian opposition.
What the opposition parties have been doing for the last thirteen years to young people who are openly opposed to the system is like Obi-Wan Kenobi, after revealing to Luke Skywalker that he is Force-sensitive and has powers, immediately thrusting a lightsaber into his hand and sending him at Darth Vader and the Emperor, saying “You are the new hope! Defeat them! At the end of the battle, I’ll meet you here at the Millennium Falcon and we’ll take a selfie with Han and Chewie.” Fortunately, Obi-Wan had not become a member of the Jedi Council by chance, he knew that a Padawan’s youthful ardour was not enough to succeed, it would take learning and experience to become a Knight who could defeat the Sith Lord. Unfortunately, we have yet to see any Obi-Wan Kenobi in the opposition parties. Let us hope that they are just living out their reclusive lives on some outlying planet and that the time will come when they will join the young rebels. Because as Leia Organa said, “This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”