Hungary: Budapest’s new mayor sheds a light on Órban’s “iliberal democracy”

Hungary: Budapest’s new mayor sheds a light on Órban’s “iliberal democracy”

Gergely Karácsony. Picture credit to: Magyar Hang

It’s Budapest, October 2019, and there’s a new mayor in town. Gergely Karácsony is his name, and has physically taken office on October 17th, arriving at Budapest City Hall on a simple city bike, instead of a couched high-end car used by other famous politicians. More relevant still, Karácsony is known for his progressive, left-wing ideas, contrasting with the Hungarian government far-right policies at the moment, under the iron grip of Viktor Orbán, the country’s Prime Minister.

Karácsony has been elected to lead the Hungarian capital, having run against István Tarlós, the incumbent supported by the ruling coalition FideszKDNP. The former’s coalition comprises several liberal and left-wing parties, including his own Dialogue for Hungary. This united opposition has also gained momentum in other Hungarian urban centers, while Orbán’s Fidesz party still controls rural areas (and part of the urban areas, as far as local elections are concerned). This opposition, however, still looks more like a resolute stand against the Prime Minister autocratic regime, rather than a consistent left-wing progressive movement across the country.

Under his time in office, Karácsony will try to fulfill his campaign promises, namely easing the housing crisis, stop evictions and provide care for the most vulnerable. He also intends to “build a free and green twenty-first-century European city”, which means slashing carbon emissions, investing in public transportation, cycling infrastructure and closing the circle on corruption. On income policy, he has favored the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) in Hungary, which is the exact opposite of where Viktor Orbán stands, on that issue. The latter has referred to UBI, in fact, as “an utterly unthinkable approach”.

The term “iliberal democracy” has been coined by Orbán himself, as a compact description of his own regime. Over this background, Karácsony’s policies and the left-wing progressive movement he represents couldn’t be more in opposition to the politics that have swept the country for almost a decade now. It remains to be seen if this movement can stand a chance of taking hold of Hungary in the next few years, along with the promise of a more just and humane social system, probably involving something like a UBI. In any case, Gergely Karácsony is a man to be followed closely at the moment.

More information at:

Imre Szijarto, “Hungarians can’t be bought with potatoes”, Jacobin, 27th October 2019

André Coelho, “HUNGARY: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks harshly against basic income”, Basic Income News, March 21st 2017

Hungary: Basic income related activity in Hungary

Hungary: Basic income related activity in Hungary

In spite of its right-wing government, spearheaded by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, there is already a seed of activity for basic income advocacy in Hungary. A recently formed group, named First Hungarian Universal Basic Income Association, has an active social media profile and has organized meetings and conferences to present and discuss basic income, the latest of which will be held next 23 to 25th of November in Budapest. The Progressive Hungary Foundation is also participating in the event.


There is also a political party defending the basic income proposal, the Dialogue for Hungary. A working group within this party has produced a concrete basic income implementation proposal for Hungary. According to Sarath Davala, co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), “there is a great deal of curiosity about basic income” in Hungary. On the 31st of August 2018, Dialogue for Hungary promoted a presentation where Davala spoke about the Indian basic income pilot, a packed event at which several Members of the Hungarian Parliament were present.


Reference research work on basic income has also been produced by Hungarian scholars. Titled “Basic income as a Realist’s Transformative Strategy”, this work is authored by Gabor Scheiring, Miklós Sebők and Bence Tordai (Hungarian Parliament Member). The abstract can be read as follows:


“Progressive politics needs bold new visions that can be contrasted to current processes of erosion. Based on research conducted at the Progressive Hungary Foundation as well as on already existing policy proposals we elaborate a basic income scheme in line with the recent proposal of Iván Szelényi (2014) that could be immediately implemented in Hungary. In this chapter we first analyze the political rationale of the proposal illuminating the careful balance between desirability, feasibility and achievability. The most important moral argument in favor of the basic income is that it allows a basic freedom and a basic sense of security for everyone (Van Parijs, 1995). These general arguments have been laid out in detail already so we concentrate on the politics of our scheme. Next, we describe in detail the working of the scheme as divided into various eligibility groups and we also present detailed financial evidence that the proposal can be introduced immediately without impairing the balance of the budget. We conclude our proposal by pointing out the social effects of the scheme as well as elaborating the first steps towards implementing the proposal at the EU level.“



More information at:

André Coelho, “Hungary: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks harshly against basic income”, Basic Income News, March 21st 2018

Gabor Scheiring, Miklós Sebők and Bence Tordai, “Basic income as a Realist’s Transformative Strategy”, Research Gate, 2015

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: Basic Income presentation at Degrowth Week (Sep 2)

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: Basic Income presentation at Degrowth Week (Sep 2)

Although basic income has often been recommended as a way to boost economic growth, universal basic income has also been recommended as a way to facilitate degrowth — the deliberate reduction of production and consumption. Indeed, in May of this year, a conference convened in Hamburg on the precise topic of UBI and Degrowth.

As previously announced on Basic Income News, the 5th International Degrowth Conference will take place in Budapest from August 30 to September 3. The previous International Degrowth Conference, held in 2014 in Leipzig, attracted nearly 3000 people.

New this year, the International Degrowth Conference will be held in parallel with a Degrowth Week (also in Budapest), which will include additional workshops, presentations, jam sessions, and more.

While basic income is not mentioned amongst the themes of the conference, there will be at least one Degrowth Week event dealing explicitly with the topic: on September 2, two speakers, Lina Raquel Marinho and André Barata Nascimento, will lead a presentation at Corvinus University on unconditional basic income as a way to achieve degrowth and post-capitalistic society.

See the full schedule of Degrowth Week events here.

More about the relationship between basic income and degrowth:

Clive Lord, “Why basic income can save the planet“, Basic Income News; March 29, 2016.

Jason Burke Murphy, “Basic Income, sustainable consumption and the ‘DeGrowth’ movement“, Basic Income News; August 13, 2016.

Jason Hickel, “Time for degrowth: to save the planet, we must shrink the economy”, The Conversation; August 23, 2016.

Reviewed by Jennifer Lawson

Photo CC BY-BC 2.0 Colectivo Desazkundea 

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HUNGARY: “Revolution of Social Justice” Conference on Basic Income

The Revolution of Social Justice international conference will be held in Budapest on May 21, 2016, on the theme of “the chances of progressive politics and basic income in Europe and Hungary.”

Keynote speakers include Guy Standing (economist, Research Professor at University of London, and co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network), Iván Szelényi (Professor of Sociology at New York University), and Enno Schmidt (artist and co-initiator of the popular initiative for basic income in Switzerland).

The conference also includes two panel discussions on themes related to basic income: the first on basic income pilot projects and how to move from these experiments to national projects, and the second on how to build progressive social and political movements to support (or be supported by) basic income initiatives.

A third panel discussion, featuring a diverse group of national public figures, asks “What’s next, Hungary?”

The conference concludes with a festival–which will include a poem and song recital by Virág Erdős and László Kollár-Klemencz and concert by Kistehén Band.

Attendance is free upon registration.

HUNGARY: Green-Left Party declares its support for basic income

HUNGARY: Green-Left Party declares its support for basic income

Green-Left party in Hungary proposes the introduction of a basic income to which all Hungarian citizens would be entitled.

On February 15th, the party Párbeszéd Magyarországért (“Dialogue for Hungary”) announced in a press conference that it would push for the implementation of a basic income in the country.

The announcement followed a vote of the party congress where 90% of the members voted in favour of the policy.

Under the proposal, children would receive about 80 euro per month, adults 160 euro and young mothers 240 euro. The party promised to come forward with more detailed calculations in support of their proposal’s feasibility in the upcoming months.

The poverty line in Hungary is estimated around 200 euro for a single adult, 830 euro for a family of two parents with two children.

A promise for a “liveable Hungary”

According to co-chair Tímea Szabó, who represents the party in the Hungarian parliament, the country is “terribly ill”, with suffering and lack of perspectives spreading like cancer through society. In this situation, the basic income is also a promise for a “liveable Hungary”, which would also produce positive economic effects, i.e. encourage investments and create jobs by strengthening demand.

Tímea Szabó

Tímea Szabó

Co-chair of the party Gergely Karácsony stressed that such a model would lead to a substantial transformation of existing benefits, thereby reducing bureaucracy and improving existential security for all citizens. He explained that all citizens would be eligible for the basic income, however it would not mean higher income for better off classes, as it would come with scrapping the current flat tax on incomes in favour of a progressive model.

The party announcement provoked a new wave of awareness in Hungarian media, including a long feature about basic income on the website of the national weekly HVG. Last year, a detailed study on basic income (pdf) published by an hungarian independent think tank came out in favor of basic income and seem to have inspired Dialogue for Hungary.

The other green party in Hungary (Lehet Más a Politika, LMP) is also in principle supportive of basic income and the Socialist Party also promoted it briefly during its campaign for the national elections in 2014. However, Dialogue for Hungary is the first Hungarian party with representation in parliament that officially throws itself behind the idea of basic income. The party currently have one seat in national parliament and one seat at the European Parliament.

First step: a minimum income in Budapest

While the party is in great minority at national level, it plans to put word into action through the city of Budapest, whose 14th district is mayored by the party’s co-chair Karácsony. His administration is about to introduce a means tested minimum income model that would ensure that all citizens within the district facing hardship receive at least 85 euro per month – which is 10 euro above the standard social benefit level in Hungary.

With this move, the Hungarian Left-Green Party is joining many of its sister green parties across the world who support basic income, including France, Finland, the UK, the United States.