Hungary’s First Black MP: Olivio Kocsis – Cake Interview

by Joe McCann and Virag Eszter Toth
Olivio Kocsis-Cake. Photo: Párbeszéd.

In May 2018, Viktor Orban was overwhelmingly re-elected by the Hungarian people in a landslide victory.

Although Fidesz’s supermajority surprised few, the election of Olivio Kocsis-Cake raised a few eyebrows.

In a country known for being less than tolerant here was a young second generation immigrant who had confunded everyone to claim a seat for The Parbeszed (Dialogue) Party.

As soon as we heard Olivio’ story, Pulse knew we wanted to interview him.

Last week we headed to the White House & sat down with, Olivio.

In an exclusive interview, Olivio discusses Hungary’s increasingly deteriorating relationship with The European Union, his views on immigration & what he thinks of Brexit.

Can we ask a little about your background? 

I was born in Budapest. My mother is Hungarian. My father came from a little African country. It’s a former Portuguese colony. He came here to study economics & he met my mother. I grew up in Budapest. I went to high school here and studied sociology and history at the catholic university.

What was it like growing up in the 80s & 90s in Hungary?

In the 80s there was a socialist regime. A one-party system. Almost the same as today. Here was the soviet army so it was not an independent country. We learned Russian in elementary school but I’ve forgotten it completely. Cheers and that’s it. That’s my Russian knowledge. But I was a little child so I don’t remember much.

Probably I experienced a lot of Lenin & Kádár pictures on the school walls. He was a Hungarian leader in this period.

Was it difficult?

You know it was a peaceful time as every Hungarian citizen had a job. It was an obligation to have a job. There wasn’t a lot of crime on the streets because the police were everywhere. It wasn’t a free society but it was stable, quiet and peaceful compared to nowadays.

And how did you get into politics?

First, I went to catholic university because I was a progressive & I wanted to know the other side. It was my intention to see what was going on. At that time, I was planning to become involved in Hungarian politics but not as a politician, more as an advisor or something like that. But after I graduated, I worked as a radio broadcaster. I had two radio shows & one of them concerned equality for all people. The other show was about sustainability. The name of the show was After Tomorrow.

So, I was very interested in these two hot topics. The shows were broadcast on Radio cafe which was the third most popular radio channel in Budapest so we reached a lot of people. 100,000 listeners tuned in when I was on the air. It was a popular radio program. But you know that was the period when Jobbik was growing rapidly. I felt there was more I could do so I decided to become a politician in 2009. I joined the LMP.

I was helping the LMP when they were running for parliament. Then I joined Gergely Karácsony (the former PM candidates) team. He is currently the mayor of one of the biggest Budapest districts, Zugló. And the campaign was successful as LMP got 7.5% of the vote when we were only expecting to get 1% before the election. It was a huge surprise for us to get to the parliament & afterwards I was elected as a local reprsentive in the sixth district. And I was a local MP for four years.

And the other reason I became an MP was my grandfather. He was a soldier in the Second World War. Hungary sent their army to the Don river in the Soviet Union and more than 200,000 of the countries soldiers died. It was a huge shock for Hungary. My grandfather was there but he was very fortunate that before the battle he had a lung infection. When I was a child I asked him why Hungary was involved in this conflict and he always said because of stupid politicians. Because of stupid politicians. And that was one of the reasons I got into politics as I think I am not stupid.

Why did you leave the LMP?

You know there was a dilemma in the LMP if we should work together with other parties on the left. I believed we should all work together but a lot of people in the LMP said no way & that’s why we split and created the new party Dialogue for Hungary.

Can you tell us a little bit about The Parbeszed party and what they stand for?

We are a green left party. We are standing for basic income. We think it’s important to save the environment.

I would like to introduce internet voting so those living outside the country can vote.

Our first aim though is to unite the opposition parties as the Hungarian electoral system is not proportional. Whoever controls the parliament depends on who wins the most electoral districts. So, the opposition parties must work together as they are unable to beat the Fidesz candidate alone. As there are five candidates against one candidate. To win we have to create the situation where there is one candidate against Fidesz in each district.

Do you think this is possible as this was a major issue during the last election?

We have the same problem as we did in 2013. The new parties like LMP, Momentum etc. do not want to work with the old parties such as MSZP.

What are the other main problems facing Hungary today?

The Hungarian health system is broken. Everyday a lot of people die due to infections in hospitals. There are not enough employees & there is not enough money.

The government does not care as they just think that the most important issue is refugees.

The other big problem is the education system has not evolved & it is old fashioned. Children do not get the knowledge they need in the 21st century. They are not able to compete with graduates from other Eastern Europe or Western European countries. It is quite dangerous because in 20 or 30 years we are in big trouble.

Another thing we must manage is that particularly in rural areas a lot of people have been excluded from society. They don’t have jobs, education. They just have this common work. They receive 50000 Huf a month but they need to work for that. And that’s all the income they have so they are really poor. They rely on the Fidesz leadership in these areas so they must be loyal to receive even this small amount of money. And this is a huge problem for the opposition parties as these people will vote for Fidesz. They depend on Fidesz. They don’t like the situation but they need that money so they vote for them.

I think too that we have a problem with The European Union as because of Viktor Orban’s politics we are becoming increasingly isolated. Our party are afraid that due to this, that The European Union may exclude Hungary.

Do you believe that could happen at some point?

It could happen. For now, the fact that we are a part of The European Union protects our democratic values. If we are excluded then we could become like Turkey, Belarus or North Korea. That’s our biggest fear.

And do you think Fidesz would want to leave the EU?

Not yet as currently, Hungary receives a lot of money from Brussels. But after 2020 we will begin to receive less money. After that happens I can imagine Orban saying ok that’s it. Goodbye. So that’s the danger.

One thing I found surprising during the election was the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the government. It was everywhere you went. Even if you put on a YouTube video, you’d receive an advert denouncing refugees. Was that something that shocked you or had you come to expect it?

No, I was shocked by this. In Hungary, Fidesz used the govt resources to spread this message. In England during the Brexit campaign, UKIP & a few Conservative politicians were saying we should leave the EU. It wasn’t the entire Conservative party. Here in Hungary the entire govt said we don’t need refugees and all refugees are terrorists and we should be afraid of them. They used state resources as their own private money. This meant the opposition parties did not face off against one party, they faced the state.

It was a fearmongering campaign. They associated refugees and terrorists because of the attacks in Western Europe and Fidesz said so they could come here. But the refugees just wanted to pass through Hungary. It was a big lie and it was quite successful.

But I think Fidesz didn’t win the election because of this refugee campaign but instead as the opposition parties did not have a common vision. We did not have common candidates or a common strategy, so it was a complete disaster. However, this campaign increased prejudice & stereotypes of refugees in Hungarian society.

It is quite apparent in Hungary that there has been a mass exodus of young people leaving the country in search of better opportunities. What can be done to either make those people stay or make those have left return?

That’s one of the other reasons Fidesz won as these young people would never vote for Fidesz but they are in Western European countries right now. More than half a million young Hungarians are outside of Hungary.

This is Hungary’s other major problem as more than one million people live outside the country and now we have a severe lack of skilled & educated employees which will be a big problem as this is what big companies need.

I’ve only been an MP for one month and I have raised this issue in four different speeches. It’s a very important issue for me & I have asked the government to act but Fidesz believe there is no problem. They say it is natural for young people go West for experience. That is their answer.

I believe however these people will never come back because of the low salaries, lack of opportunities here and the mood of the country.

As an politician looking in from the outside what are your views on Brexit?

I was very sad as I thought that the British public were very smart and they don’t make silly steps. There were several political errors.

There was Nigel Farage who in my opinion is a political gangster. A couple of mainstream politicians like Boris Johnson & Michael Gove joined with Farage & without that, Britain would probably not have left.

I believe David Cameron should have been stronger in this situation and he just allowed himself to be forced into the referendum.

And it is quite funny as the British people voted to leave because of Eastern European Immigrants. That’s their refugee.

You are the first black MP ever to be elected in Hungary do you feel any extra pressure?

Well my presence in parliament is quite symbolic. I want to reduce prejudice and stereotypes within Hungarian society. I want to help poor people to show them that ok my skin colour is different but I am a good MP.

As for pressure.

Sure, I feel pressure. If I was a jackass or something like that the Hungarian people would think that black people are stupid. Because I’m the first I have to be nice & almost perfect.

To expand on that, is there a racism problem in Hungary?

I think after this xenophobic campaign that xenophobic views are worse & more dangerous than before but I don’t think that the Hungarian people are more racist than for example other Eastern European countries.

They just have a lot of prejudice against the Roma’s. They are victims of hate crimes and xenophobia.

But with Arabic, Asian & black people there is no issue.

You can’t compare Hungary to France or Great Britain. It’s never been a multicultural society.

But as I am born in Hungary and speak the language as my mother tongue the people say “ok he is Hungarian”.

A different colour but he’s Hungarian.

Let’s end on a fun note. What are your hobbies?

My hobby is politics, I go home and watch political television (laughs) No, I like to play football and I also have a Golden Retriever.

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