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) 

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