Meeting of the MSZP parliamentary caucus

The meeting of the MSZP parliamentary caucus was held in Tapolca, not far from Lake Balaton. It lasted two days; Ferenc Gyurcsány was present only on the first day. On Sunday, he attended a gathering celebrating the eighteenth anniversary of the East Germans crossing the Iron Curtain to Austria with Hungary’s blessing.

The Fidesz’s spokesman, the young Péter Szijjártó, again found over-the-top words to describe the event: "emergency meeting." Actually, it looked to me more like the usual gathering of parliamentary members before the beginning of a new session. The SZDSZ held a similar meeting in Veszprém. The proceedings were not open to members of the media, but by all reports, there were no sharp differences of opinion concerning the agenda for the next few months.

Gyurcsány made a forty-five minute speech which was described either as "eclectic, hard to follow," "boring," and "impossible to quote anything worth mentioning" or "brilliant," "far-reaching," and "one of the most interesting." I guess it all depends on whether you like the man. Some do, some don’t.

From what was told to members of the media by the participants, it seems that Gyurcsány emphasized "order" and "responsibility which must accompany freedom." One of Gyurcsány’s favorite historical explanations for the Hungarians’ singularly irresponsible behavior when it comes to rules and regulations is that for centuries the Hungarians were subjected to foreign rule. To violate the regulations of the foreign rulers was a patriotic act. Some would argue with Mr. Gyurcsány on this point, but one thing is sure: survival in the Kádár regime depended on outwitting the authorities. Very often with the government’s tacit consent. This attitude is so ingrained in the Hungarian populace that it seems impossible to eradicate it in the near future. But this is what Gyurcsány is trying to do.

He also emphasized the necessity of "dialogue with the people." The general view is that the "government doesn’t communicate well." I am not saying that the government should receive an "A" for communication, but I don’t think that it is nearly as bad as some people claim. It is almost impossible to communicate bad news well–to convince people that co-payment is a wonderful thing or that closing the nearest hospital is good for you, or that food prices will be going up 12% while the people’s real wages will be going down. No one will cheer you on, it doesn’t matter how well you communicate. However, there will be plenty of opportunity to continue "dialogue with the Hungarian people" about various very unpopular reforms, like reorganization of the pension plan, change in the tax code, reforms in education, and, of course, the very sticky healthcare issues. None of these reforms will be popular because each will be accompanied with more individual responsibility. In plain language: it will cost the citizens more money or it will take away some hitherto available privileges.

Gyurcsány gave a somewhat backhanded compliment to the Fidesz. He praised the 1996 Fidesz party program called "For a modern Hungary" (Polgári Magyarországért) in which the Fidesz emphasized the interconnection between freedom and responsibility. But he immediately added that it’s too bad that Orbán’s party no longer follows that path.

And Mr. Szijjártó? What did he have to say about this weekend gathering? "The coalition parties in an ever deepening crisis do nothing except fight between themselves about who should lay hands on the healthcare payments paid by all of us. They work hard in order to sell at any price the national wealth, the little that remains."  The government parties pass on lucrative state orders to friends and former business partners and, instead of defending the interests of the population, the government "supports the criminals: they let out of jail murderers of children and serial killers." And finally, "one cannot build a strong Hungary with lies, unfit personnel, and stupid measures."

Meanwhile, according to Vasárnapi Hírek (Sunday News), the top echelon of Fidesz spent the weekend pondering the devastating results of Századvég’s  latest poll.