Two dinosaurs in the Hungarian Socialist Party

What prompted me to write brief bios of these two remnants of the Kádár regime is that I had the misfortune of seeing an interview with one of them, József Karsai, on MTV1’s early morning political program.

First of all, let me try to describe the impression these two MSZP parliamentary members have made on me. I will try to be polite, but it will be difficult. Although both are university graduates, this is not at all evident from either their demeanor or their speech pattern. Most village kids who move to town lose their heavy local accents. Not these two. As if they had never left Battonya, a small town of 6,500 near the Romanian border, because interestingly both were born and raised there a few years apart. One also has the distinct feeling that their IQs are not exactly off the chart; if they had not been born into poor peasant families, most likely they wouldn’t have ended up where they did. One mustn’t forget that in the 1950s and 1960s a peasant family background was a great advantage. There were quotas: children of workers and peasants had no trouble getting into high school or university while children of white-collar workers or "enemies of the people" had only a very slim chance.

Let’s start with József Karsai, MSZP member of parliament and mayor of Battonya. In addition, he is a successful businessman, the owner of a rather large farm. He is the one who very loudly announced at the beginning of December that he was not going to vote for the health care bill because….. and then he normally came up with a rather convoluted story from which it became crystal clear that Dr. Karsai didn’t really know what he was talking about. Yes, one of our dinosaurs is a doctor, and not just any old doctor but a "doctor of sciences" (tudományok doktora). More about this later. The other dinosaur is Károly Tóth. He was the man who alone came up with a last-minute change in the health care bill: he didn’t think that the co-pay was necessary. He was voted down. However, Károly Tóth doesn’t seem to learn: he is going to resubmit his proposal to rescind the co-payment. Let’s hope with the same result.

So, let’s start with Karsai’s background. He was born in Battonya in 1944 and finished high school there in 1963. He was then admitted to the Agrarian College of Gödöllő from which he graduated in 1968 as an "agricultural engineer." He had all sorts of untranslatable, presumably important jobs in agricultural cooperatives. He then received a second degree in 1971 with, if my information is correct, a specialty in plant-protecting agents. Simply put, an expert in pesticides. In 1980 he became a "doctor of sciences." In Hungary there existed two kinds of doctorates: the dumbed-down version (kisdoktori), achieved by writing a longish research paper, and the real deal ("kandidátus," given out by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences). Odds are that he wasn’t a serious academic, but nonetheless he became a "research engineer" (kutató mérnök) in the National Agrárkutató Intézet operating under aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Karsai’s political career is interesting. He became a member of the MSZMP in 1970 at the age of 26 but he seemed to have been just an ordinary member who didn’t follow the refomers within the party and therefore he didn’t become a member of the new socialist party in 1989. In fact, he tried his luck first as a candidate of the Smallholders Party but lost. Then in 2002 he tried again, this time as an independent and he was successful. A year later he joined the MSZMP and he again he ran for parliament, this time as an MSZP member. That was in 2006. I have the feeling that the leaders of the MSZP are very sorry today that Karsai decided that after all he was a socialist at heart.

With Károly Tóth we meet a really committed apparatchik. Tóth was born in 1951 in Battonya. Went to the same Battonya high school (the only one I assume) where Karsai went. After graduating in 1969, he went on to study at the University of Szeged where he received a degree in mathematics and physics, enabling him to be a high school teacher. Like Karsai, he also returned to Battonya where he taught math and physics in his old high school for three years. He became an MSZMP member in his last year of college and moved on from Battonya to Békéscsaba where he taught in the KISZ (Association of Communist Youth) school. I must say that was the first time that I encountered a special school for future leaders of KISZ. He eventually became the principal of the school. He also was party secretary of the local party organization. He claims in his biography that he was one of the founders of the new democratic social democratic party in Békéscsaba. He has been a member of parliament since 1994. Unlike Karsai, he never managed to get into parliament on his own, but he was put high enough on the list to receive a sure mandate.

There is one good piece of news: Tóth announced that in 2010 he is not planning to run. What a blessing. Today a caller on ATV’s Forum who also saw Karsai’s performance this morning said something to the effect that no wonder that Ferenc Gyurcsány said what he said in Balatonőszöd as long as there are people like Karsai in the Hungarian Socialist Party’s caucus. Indeed, these dinosaurs, these leftovers, these mummies from the past are a terrible burden on the MSZP.

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I have just discovered this blog and am glad to see it picks some worthy targets to scrutinise.
The two “eminences grises” in this artcle certainly seem to have their share of flaws, but as a Brit I was little perturbed to see that you begin with the sin of having a regional accent. It seems that the attitude to regional accents in Hungary is still clearly negative. This seems rather quaint to me, as since the 1950s the idea that only people who (can successfully pretend to) come from the capital are worth listening to has been mostly discredited, except amongst old folk who would like to bring back hanging.
Has there been any “progress” along these lines in Hungary? Or does it still smack too much of Communist social engineering?
Or perhaps you can convince me that “in Hungary it is different” and regional accents are indeed inherently bad and “wrong.” ( A notion which to me smacks of an odd insecurity.)