In Central and Eastern Europe’s relatively new democracies, environmental consciousness and its political manifestations are generally weaker than in Western Europe. More than twenty years have now passed since the democratic turn in Hungary, but the revolution in the ‘hearts and minds’ – at least as far as questions of the environment and climate change are concerned – still only shows weak signs of progress.
A very important part of this progress was the formation in 2009 of a green party called Politics Can Be Different (LMP, Lehet Más a Politika). In 2010, in a move unprecedented anywhere in Central Eastern Europe, this green party was able to win seats in the National Assembly of Hungary and thus become a real policy-making force. Green traditions in these 20-year-old democracies are still very much in their formative phase, although nearly all of them have their own green parties. The functioning of these parties might differ from country to country, but all of them may well try to follow the LMP’s path in future as this party is now a case study of how a post-materialist political force can gain influence in a new democracy.
Can Politics Be Different?
The predecessor organization of the LMP was founded in 2008 as a non-governmental initiative by members of many green and social NGOs with the aim of reforming Hungarian public and political life and bringing it into line with the core values of sustainability, justice, and participation. They soon realized that the LMP would have more chances of achieving these aims if it were a political party, and so in 2009 the LMP did indeed become an official political party – and as the subsequent European Parliament elections showed – a political force to be reckoned with as well. Although the new party was not able to get enough votes to win a seat in the EP, it did gain 2.61 percent of the total vote and got the official support of the European Green Party.
In practical terms, the LMP is a centre-left party with an ecopolitical multi-issue approach that leans on liberal, conservative and leftist traditions, follows ecological and radical democratic policies and tries to reach a synthesis of these values.
’The selfish logic of global capitalism has exploited not only the inhabitants of the planet, but also the planet itself. […] Destruction of nature has brought about a new kind of exploitation: the exploitation of future generations by the present generation’ – is what it proclaims.
The party identifies the most important tasks for the Hungarian government as the following:
- Intensive support for energy-saving and energy-efficient investment projects, as well as usage of renewable energy sources.
- The above-mentioned aims should be financed from revenue collected on the basis of the Kyoto Protocol – the government has to earmark these revenues urgently and transparently.
- Establishment of a state Climate Protection Fund to allocate the quota revenue and other climate protection resources.
- Transformation of the tax system in order to incentivize companies and the general public to save energy.
- Elimination of those systems of social support which lead to energy wastage.
- Implementation of the ‘Green New Deal’ economic program to put the Hungarian economy on a sustainable path.
Hardship and Challenges
After the 2010 parliament elections, when the LMP won 16 seats in the 386 member National Assembly, concerns about climate change (and other green issues) have been underplayed by party members. There are three main reasons for this:
With its broad agenda of issues, the LMP not only stands for environmental issues, but also for transparency in political life, the fight against corruption and obstruction, freedom of the press and other rights and liberties, the interests of excluded layers of society, and the fight against social exclusion. In short, this new party (with fewer members and less resources than other parties) has to make a stand on every major question in Hungarian political life, particularly when these questions are about the functioning of democracy itself.
The second reason is the lack of popular support. Public opinion believes that other issues such as the state of the economy, social allowances, the Roma question, or even the issue of Hungarian people living across the border are much more important. Moreover, there is a strong common misconception about the Greens who are seen as strange people who chain themselves to trees and set back the development of Hungary. This is leading them to search for a broader electoral base which has to include not purely environmental issues.
The third reason that impacts on the whole functioning of the LMP is the two-thirds majority held by the Fidesz in the parliament which means that as an opposition party, the LMP (and actually the whole of the opposition), cannot significantly influence parliamentary decision-making.
What Can the LMP Do for Climate Change and Other Green Issues?
The fact that the LMP has to deal with a whole landry list of issues and has to try to maximize its electoral basis does not mean it ceases to be a green party. A good case in point here is the issue of atomic energy that became very important after the Fukushima disaster in Hungary as well. The LMP already stands for the use of alternative energy sources rather than atomic energy. Even if it cannot influence parliamentary decisions at all, it is still able to influence public and political life, draw attention to important issues and promote the topic of climate change.
Another important point is that the LMP is able to mediate between the government and NGOs. Its many connections with cooperating green and other social organizations helps the LMP to get its voice heard across the whole of society. The party also employs civil experts from these organizations which enables them to gain a broader perspective on important issues.