On the 13th of October, 2022, there was a conference held in Magvető Café, organized by Republikon Institute, by the title “Is there still city self-governance in Hungary?”
Following Gábor Horn’s opening remarks, Gergely Karácsony, Budapest’s mayor spoke about the state of city governments in Hungary. He concluded that despite the ever-worsening situation, they managed to work as true city-governments. He praised the response the opposition city leaderships gave during the difficult years. While he voiced his worries whether Budapest can make it through 2023 if the energy crisis, deepens, he noted that love for the community and the strength that comes from this can help then weather the difficulties ahead.
The roundtable that followed discussed the future of city governance, moderated by Dávid Király, leader of Republikon’s Budapest Workshop. Joining the discussion were Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest, László Csőzik, mayor of Érd, Ilona Matkovich, mayor of Vác, András Nemény, mayor of Szombathely, and Tamás Soproni, mayor of Budapest’s 6th District.
The first question pertained to whether independent city governance still exists in Hungary. Csőzik noted that it is slipping away, as the dwindling resources and tasks being taken away make daily function ever more difficult. Matkovich noted that the most painful losses were the supervisory role over construction, and the maintenance of schools, while leaving public nutrition as their task provides constant tension. Nemény is not optimistic but noted that the populace has faith in city governments, and that crisis-management showed them more effective than central authorities. Soproni had no answer to the question, but sees city governments as essential for public discourse and connection with the general population.
When asked what they were their proudest achievements, Karácsony noted changing the public’s thinking on public spaces, transforming public transport, and refurbishing public housing to make it available to homeless workers. Csőzik mentioned the changing of public sentiment about their town, community building, and paving roads. Soproni said he was proudest to their communication, their promises kept, and changing public spaces. Nemény also noted changing public transport, as well as social programs. Matkovich was proudest of her team, restoration of historic buildings, and infrastructure projects.
When it came to discussing the relationship between municipalities and the government, Soproni and Matkovich spoke of similar experiences of no communication. Nemény also bemoaned the government’s unwillingness to communicate, despite existing channels. He said they can only work together with government aligned mayors, but they have no say in the government’s decisions. Csőzik mentioned how hard they tried getting through to the government, but to no avail, as they have been blacklisted. Karácsony emphasized the unprecedented nature of the government trying to actively sabotage the city governments.
They all spoke highly of their experiences as mayors, but both Matkovich and Nemény mentioned how important it was to know when to stop. They both mentioned how they always wanted to be mayors, and even Karácsony rated it higher than his tenure in Parliament. Soproni and Csőzik emphasized the service mayors provide, and how differently meaningful it can be than other forms of public service.
The final topic was the 2024 elections, which Soproni is pessimistic, as he worries the opposition parties will get competitive with each other, instead of cooperating. Nemény thinks the two elections will effect each other, as Fidesz will focus on winning the EP election, but it might provide an opportunity to build coalitions between the cities. Matokich noted the absence of a joint platform and the joint demonstration of their abilities in national politics. Karácsony thinks the two elections must be treated separately, and instead of parties, people should run under local umbrella organizations. Csőzik wonders what the role of independent media is going to be, whether there will be a primary, and if it would not be better to run as independent candidates, free of party affiliations.