Meet our Friend from Hungary: Anna Júlia Donáth

Momentum is a centrist Hungarian political party which is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) in the European Parliament. VVD International and Momentum have a special relationship that goes back to the foundation of Momentum as a movement in 2017. Momentum is known for taking a stance in Hungary against the anti-European sentiment of the Fidesz-party of Hungarian prime-minister Victor Orbán. On 8 April 2018, the party obtained 3.08% of the popular vote in the parliamentary elections but Momentum did not meet the threshold for the party to be recognized in parliament. One year later, their success at the European Parliament elections revealed their great potential and Momentum obtained two seats from the twenty-one Hungarian seats. Anna Júlia Donáth is a Hungarian politician of the Momentum Movement. She was elected for Momentum as a Member of European Parliament (MEP) in the 2019 elections. Before Anna became a politician, she studied Sociology in Hungary and Migration and Ethnic studies in the Netherlands. She stayed six years in the Netherlands, before returning to Hungary to stand up for progressive values in her home country.

Was it always your ambition to become a politician?

“Not really, but I was definitely politically committed already from a young age. I joined the Momentum Movement quickly after I returned from the Netherlands. A friend of mine, who also studied in the Netherlands, invited me to join the first summer camp of Momentum. And after six years in the Netherlands I was looking for youngsters in Hungary to get along with. We came together with some 40 youngsters, who were young professionals or university students. During this weekend we only had passionate discussions about politics and developed the idea of establishing a new political party, which resulted in the foundation of Momentum.

When we started with Momentum, I really enjoyed being part of the movement, but I actually never had the ambition becoming a politician. This was probably because I would have been the third generation of politicians in my family. My grandfather and father were both politicians, and from a family point of view it is just not something you want your family to put through. My motivation to become a politician emerged later during the refugee crisis. I studied Migration and Ethnic Studies to finally contribute on solving the problems regarding refugees by working at NGO’s. However, due to several political decisions in Hungary I was not able to do that anymore. Then I realised, if I really want to make a change I should work on a political level. Simultaneously, Momentum as a movement started growing rapidly and then I rolled into politics.”

Momentum takes a stance for liberal values, but to what extent are liberal thoughts still supported by Hungarians?

“Well, this is a tricky question. Most of the Hungarians are liberal in their hearts and this has a historic reason.  They experienced living in socialist state for 50 years, in which there was obviously a lack of freedom. This made the Hungarians carving for more freedom. Our history also showed that we always wanted to fight for our freedom, but of course we were not always that successful, as for example the Netherlands. Hungarians find liberal values as freedom of speech and freedom of religion very important. However, in Hungary, and this is the case in many countries, liberalism became a word with a negative connotation. Nowadays, being called a liberal is in Hungary perceived as something really bad.

Additionally, I believe that in the 20th century all those ideologic labels are useless. I do not really mind how others would label me. You can call me liberal or you can call me feminist, because I want to fight for fundamental rights and the rule of law. You can even call me sometimes conservative because I’m religious and I like traditions. I think many Hungarians agree with these convictions. However, if you label it as liberal then you dispose many potential supporters in Hungary.”

What is the potential of Momentum? What are the party’ s goals for the next years?

“I think there is a huge potential in Momentum. Momentum is not just another opposition party. Everything is routed why and how we started. It started with a group of youngsters with the need of a new party, because they felt that nobody represented them. The European societies are getting older and older. Therefore, the political parties in Hungary and in the rest of Europe are focussing mainly on elderly issues. They simply want to target this generation because it is key to winning elections. Lately, politicians forgot to involve youngsters, and this really harms the democracy in Hungary but also in other European countries. Besides that, I believe that the older generations have left enough marks on today’s society. It is now time for the younger generation to take over. Currently, we have 6000 party members, we have Momentum politicians on many important positions on local levels and we have two seats in the European Parliament. Of course we still have no seats in the parliament of Hungary, but we are looking forward with confidence to the parliamentary elections of 2022. Momentum should unite the younger generation, give them a voice in politics and then it is possible to win many seats in these elections.”

Which subjects are on the top of Momentum’s agenda?

“The most important topics to my party and myself are the protection of the rule of law and the functioning of democracy in general. Specifically, we are focussing on “media pluralism” as a subject that is essential to the functioning of the democracies. Oligarchs close to the government have acquired hundreds of media outlets which then merged into one single entity under the umbrella of KESMA (Central European Press and Media Foundation). You cannot talk of a functioning democracy because the people cannot make decisions based on information given by the media. Nevertheless, this is just one subject on the top of our agenda. We want to change the whole system. So, it is really hard to define the most important topics.”

Why was your campaign at the European Parliament elections so successful?

“This was actually the happiest campaign of Momentum. Our strategy was that we went out on the streets and talked to as many people as possible. We started a debate with people on the street and tried to convince them of our ideas and ideals. We were forced to choose this strategy because we got no media coverage. We got no access to the media, so we had to create our own way of passing on information to the Hungarian people. We were really active on social media, we went from door to door and we tried to address everyone on the streets. It was really intensive and time consuming, but the result [two seats in the European Parliament] made it totally worth it.”

Normally I would ask you: Is there a brighter future for liberal values in Hungary? However, you do not like that label: So, is there a brighter future for progressive values in Hungary?

“Of course, I would not have become a politician if I would not have believed in the possibility of a brighter future for such values. In the 21st century we should be more progressive, and I believe that many Hungarians are aware of this. Everything changes so fast that conservative societies will be left behind. Yet, I am not stating that everyone should be progressive, I do not despise conservative values, because I believe these values deserve to have a place in Hungary society. However, I believe that there is a need for more progressive values and thoughts in today’s Hungarian politics. In a globalised world we should be able to change more quickly than in the past. For me progressive means open-minded. People should stop fighting against a capitalist and globalised world or society. We already live in such a world and society, we should accept that and embrace it. Eventually, this conservative shift will be stopped, and people will come around.”