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October 21, 2021

Bad omen for Tokes’ ambitions

Laszlo Tokes wants to form his own party. This is an old ambition. First, he wished to dominate UDMR, whose honorary president he was for many years. Praised for his role in the December 1989 events, he initially had trouble in playing the role of a party president. His discourse was too provocative, his proposals too radical. However, he took profit from the situation and built himself the image of a leader above petty politics, a symbol of the aspirations held by a minority that had escaped from the trauma of the Ceausescu era’s communist nationalism.

But his plans suffered a blow when UDMR joined the ruling coalition, in 1996. A new type of politics, one that reached beyond the ethnic Hungarian party’s self-imposed ghetto and its strict opposition (the Union had even rejected the Constitution of 1991), implicitly marginalised the intransigent leaders, starting with the honorary president himself.

The increasing tension inside UDMR culminated with the decision to withdraw the function held by Tokes.
The first reaction of Laszlo Tokes was to support the creation of an alternate ethnic Hungarian party. This is how PCM was born. Meanwhile, he also set up a ‘civic’ organization – the Transylvanian Hungarian National Council – and its equivalent in the Szeklers’ Land, the Szekler National Council. Strange enough, the latter organisation was more active than the former. Meanwhile, Tokes understood that, once most political demands of UDMR were fulfilled, he had to play for higher stake if he wished to build himself an alternate political career. And he chose to play the card of Sezkler autonomy. As fictions are often the most effective electoral agents, Tokes assumed a role that the leaders of UDMR could not play, given their quasi-permanent presence in the successive ruling coalitions, since 1996 until now.

He used to his profit this context of UDMR getting “pacified” by its association with the Romanian parties. The Union’s leaders initially feared the competition of PCM and were aware of the undisputable popularity gained by Tokes. Actually, he had no trouble winning a place in the European Parliament (EP) – the only independent capable of such achievement. On the other hand, PCM failed to take off, partly because of the legal obstacles skilfully set in place by the Hungarian leaders within the ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, Tokes continued his ascent, also using a favourable conjecture. The old friend of Hungarian radicalism, Viktor Orban, stepped down from his post of EP vice-president, to take over the cabinet in Budapest, designating the “independent” Tokes to be his successor in Brussels. Everything was done on behalf of the EPP, and with the very support of… Romania’s presidential party.

Traian Basescu, who enjoys certain popularity among Szeklers, also wants to keep UDMR in check, as a safeguard against any intention of the Hungarian party to withdraw from the ruling coalition he has created. Now Laszlo Tokes moves forward and wants a new party that will take its electorate from UDMR. This is no simple task. It is true that the Union’s leaders have seen their popularity erode, as some of them are in place for almost two decades. Marko Bela, for instance, is the leader of UDMR since 1993. It is equally true that their high degree of versatility dealt a further blow to their popularity.

But what party can Tokes build, with whom and based on what kind of programme? All the plans of territorial autonomy he produced so far proved to be most discriminatory, hence unacceptable. An autarchy at the very middle of the country is nonsense. More or less, UDMR knew how to satisfy the ambitions of ethnic Hungarian local politicians. A new political class of the Hungarian minority is hard to build overnight, only with resentful people and, possibly, with the youth. Especially as Tokes is not ready to commit himself to a large-scale ideological project. In fact, all the attempts made by various personalities to build a party based just on their popularity failed in Romania.

But the new Hungarian party may pose UDMR more electoral problems than PCM, who lacked such a strong leader. Everything depends on the political ability of Tokes. For the time being, this ability did not become obvious in any such project, so nobody can predict what will happen with this plan in the future. On the other hand, the time of charismatic and authoritarian leaders seems about to end, after the disappointments experienced during the acting president’s terms in office. Building a party to suit a leader is outdated, while promoting autonomy from the armchair of vice-president of the European Parliament is a risky move.

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