Is a different kind of politics possible? One where cynicism is not the norm? One where the interests of ordinary people and of the environment have greater weight than those of big money? One where long term thinking is more persuasive than short term populism? A growing number of people around the world seem to think so.
In Hungary the LMP has just become the first green political party to achieve parliamentary representation by making it over the 5 percent threshold. LMP stands for Lehet Mas Politika meaning 'another kind of politics is possible'. It is a significant success. Since the end of the Soviet bloc Hungarian politics has swung from 'right' to 'left' and back in a destabilising pendulum motion (nb this is different to New Zealand, where we tend to amble from 'mildly right' to 'more right' and back). While the election in Hungary has just been resoundingly won by Fidesz, a right wing party led by the controversial Viktor Orban, the election of LMP members has the potential to be a catalyst for a deeper political/cultural shift in Hungary and beyond.
In Western Europe Green Parties have been very successful, including participating in a number of coalition governments, but this has been less true in Central and Eastern Europe. This is surprising, given the terrible ecological and social legacies of Marxist-Leninist communism. Marx, like mainstream capitalist thinkers, saw the environment as essentially without value until transformed by human activity. The drive for industrialisation in what was then a technologically backward Russia and in its occupied zones meant that the environment was brutally sacrificed for the revolution. Environmental standards were often even more lax than under capitalism.
The end of communism has brought its own problems. Some of the more foresighted communist chiefs reinvented themselves as capitalists and proceeded to buy up at a bargain price the national resources that were being privatised under the advice of people like our own Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. Those people now exert considerable influence in a number of post-communist countries, which itself fosters a sense of cynicism and despair among ordinary people. The desperate economic circumstances that a number of them face are also helping to foster a growing neo-fascist movement in some places.
So it is surprising that in ex-Iron Curtain states, until now Greens have only achieved parliamentary representation in the Czech Republic, Latvian and Estonian. Green politics tends to be a politics of hope and action, an antidote to fatalism. The slogan of the Australian Greens of a few years ago expresses it nicely: Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Politics. I would have thought it an attractive message under the circumstances.
Some people say that green politics is the politics of the wealthy and that poor people have no time for protecting the environment. However this does not explain the growing movement around the 'environmentalism of the poor', in which the 'global south' is becoming the site of many of the most crucial environmental battles. Poor people and especially indigenous communities are struggling to defend their local communities and local ecologies in the face of highly profitable 'development' because they understand that it is the poor who usually bear the brunt of ecological degradation, poor decision-making and political corruption.
The election of LMP suggests that things may be changing. However, just as it has been difficult for the NZ Greens to put a brake on the unsustainable follies of both Labour and National governments, with only a few MP's it will be difficult in the short term for LMP to have a big impact on the Hungarian Government. Their job is bigger than that though. Their real task is to build a better understanding of green thinking - what a sustainable economy would look like and how people's lives would be improved by it. They have to build a green constituency.
In the context of Central Europe, this also means helping to build a regional green movement. The cyanide spill into the Tisza River in 2000 by a Romanian / Australian mining consortium demonstrated that environmental problems respect no national boundaries. Central Europeans have a history of fighting for each other during their uprisings and revolutions. Now they have to work together on an equally important task, to demonstrate that regardless of national differences and circumstances, another kind of politics is possible.