Lessons of the Serbian Elections for the Hungarian Opposition

Márton Gyöngyösi


This is the English translation of my op-ed published in HVG on 24 June, 2020. The original text in Hungarian can be accessed here below: 


 Landslide victory for governing parties in the Balkans 


Tragically enough, Serbia’s political system is probably the closest to Hungary’s at the moment. No wonder Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić is such a great pal for Viktor Orbán. 

They are an odd couple: while Orbán’s long and winding road took him from a Soros-funded liberal to a pseudo-nationalist dictator, Aleksandar Vučić worked as propaganda minister for Slobodan Milošević, one of the bloodiest dictators in the second half of the 20th century. 

Photo: https://hvg.hu/

Yes, he worked for the same Serbian dictator who razed half of the Balkans to the ground, had thousands of people murdered and viscerally hated Hungarians, by the way. This is the man who Orbán keeps running to, even during a pandemic. It should come as no surprise since today’s Serbia is similar to us in many aspects: party membership is the way to climb up the social ladder, the free press is harassed and opposition thinkers are intimidated while young people leave the country en masse. Just like in Hungary. The Serbian opposition was supposed to have achieved a considerable result in this system that is so familiar to us. Well, not only did they fail to do so, they actually suffered a tragic defeat. The governing parties bagged over 70 per cent of the votes and only one true opposition force managed to slide a few MPs into Parliament. Why is that? Here are a few lessons: 

1. The election boycott doesn’t work: 

We have heard this argument in Hungary many times: why does the opposition go to the Parliament at all? Some suggest that if the opposition refused to occupy their seats and demonstratively withdrew from politics, the world would finally realize that Hungary’s system is illegitimate. 

Relying on this strategy, most of the Serbian opposition boycotted the election. The result is that the governing parties gained a rock solid two-thirds majority while the opposition just wrote itself off because they will now have even fewer platforms to speak than before. 

Meanwhile, the world is busy congratulating the winner without any concern for a potential illegitimacy. Nobody seems to care that the voter turnout was below 50 per cent. Of course, the winning Serbian Progressive Party is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), just like Fidesz. So withdrawals, boycotts and silent resistance don’t work. 

2. Divided opposition doesn’t work: 

Although most opposition parties voluntarily destroyed themselves with the boycott, some still decided to run. However, since opposition voters were typically informed of the boycott, the remaining opposition candidates hardly got any votes. The largest opposition party, Aleksandar Šapić’s Serbian Patriotic Alliance got stuck below 4 per cent and the only reason they got into Parliament was because the threshold had been lowered. 

3. Independent candidates cannot solve the problem: 

The eternal rays of hope in final desperation, i.e., the independent, non-partisan and non-political candidates appeared in Serbia, too. One of the country’s most famous actors, Sergej Trifunović decided to cast himself in this role and his enthusiastic staff helped him to somehow stumble across the political battlefield. He got less than two per cent. His low result comes as no surprise since he had no network, no embeddedness and no “professional experience”, either. Just like all other trades from truck driving to teaching, politics also has its tricks which you need a long time to learn, no wonder the famous actor failed to become a political talent overnight. His fate was sealed. 

4. The ethnic Hungarian community is now under double oppression: 

The other great “winner” of the election was the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ), the champion of selling out ethnic Hungarians. The party proudly announced that they hadn’t got so many votes for decades even though the Hungarian population had dropped by half in the meantime. 

They failed to mention the reason why it happened: the opposition parties boycotted the election while VMSZ, in cahoots with Fidesz and the Serbian governing party, colonized and intimidated half of the local Hungarian community into a voting machine whereas the other half, having witnessed all that, fled to Western Europe. 

The rest is nothing but election logistics. It’s a shame that Fidesz, its business buddies and such corrupt ethnic Hungarian parties as VMSZ need no more than a few years to achieve what decades of assimilation and oppression couldn’t. Their power just keeps growing while the local Hungarian community melts away. 


With two years to go before the next Hungarian national elections, we had better take a look at Serbia. 

It’s not a good idea to expect miracles, hope for Western help or drive the opposition into a suicide mission. What we can rely on is cooperation and hard work. 

If the 53% of Serbian voters who stayed away from the polls yesterday had cast their ballots, they would have woken up in a very different country today. We can’t allow this to happen to us in 2022. So let’s get to work! We count on you and you can count on us! 

The author is a Member of the European Parliament (Jobbik) 

Related Articles

What should Europe do about a mafia? – The Weekly 14

What should Europe do about a mafia? – The Weekly 14

If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.

read more
The Serbian Elections and its Lessons – The Weekly 13

The Serbian Elections and its Lessons – The Weekly 13

Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.

read more
On the Floyd-Case and Beyond – The Weekly 12

On the Floyd-Case and Beyond – The Weekly 12

Let us be clear at the outset: it is entirely unacceptable when a police officer kneels on the neck of a defenceless person until they suffocate. However, it is equally revolting when some take advantage of the tragedy of George Floyd and use it for their political purposes to annihilate opponents. Brutality of US police is a long overdue problem that roots deeply in American society. It did not start with the inauguration of Donald Trump as some would like to see it, and it is not only aimed at black people. It is undisputedly related to the ultraliberal right to keep and bear arms or the enormous social inequalities characteristic of the US.

read more