Soul searching in the MSZP

Yesterday and today were important in the life of the Magyar Szocialista Párt. Yesterday the presidium got together and spent six hours analyzing the political situation caused by the combined effects of the austerity program, a stagnant economy, and the devastating results of the Fidesz-inspired referendum on co-payment, hospital fees, and tuition. Although there are some in the socialist party who became weak-kneed and would give up the reform altogether, the more intelligent among the leadership know that the structural reforms cannot be postponed.

So after the gathering of the presidium yesterday, the party held a full-fledged congress where Ferenc Gyurcsány gave an hour-long speech. I found the speech good, but then I am inclined to like the prime minister’s speeches. I think he is a convincing speaker who is capable of steering his audience in his direction. I think he managed to do that again. After all, he knows the importance of the moment and the necessity of unity within the party. I cannot see into the heads of his audience, but I think that the vast majority is behind Gyurcsány.

Gyurcsány promised a "strong and honest speech." It was. He emphasized that the country is at a crossroads: "we will either choose the road of the western type of development, we will march on the road of progress, or will we try a unique, slightly inward looking, outwardly prickly Hungarian way. This has been our dilemma ever since the Enlightenment." He considers the MSZP the party of "national progress," an agenda for which he needs party and popular assistance. "Radical populism" is the opposite of "national progress." The recipe of "radical populism" is simple: "Trust us, we will raise salaries, we will raise pensions, we will abolish co-payments, one doesn’t have to pay tuition, we will produce 7% growth in the GDP, we will quadruple the salaries of the teachers…. Add to this a bit of national superiority, keep saying that there is a special Hungarian road, that economic textbooks lie and there is a different Hungarian economic solution. We are clever, talented, exceptional people, we are worth more than anyone else on the globe. Then add to all this a bit of anti-parliamentarian-ism. The parliament is only for the elite, it is from the ‘people’ that democracy is born. On the streets, in the direct popular will. Add a bit of love of the leader. Demand that the people kiss the leader’s hand, avoid any kind of debate, don’t attend the sessions of parliament, change your principles, values, ideals, as others change their underwear. Offer a little antisemitism and hatred of foreigners. Invite a journalist who recently wrote the nastiest antisemitic article only a few days ago to your birthday party. Wink here, wink there." [The reference to kissing the leader’s hand is based on a fairly recently published picture where an old man is kissing Orbán’s hand. A few years ago an old lady did the same. As for the birthday party. Today Fidesz celebrates its twentieth birthday, and Zsolt Bayer, a founder of Fidesz, was invited. His piece in Magyar Hírlap indeed was unspeakable.] And, continuing the recipe of radical populism theme: "For garnish add a menacing behavior, remain quiet if people brutally threaten your political rivals. Remain silent when there are Molotov cocktails thrown at the houses of your colleagues in parliament."

"These are the two roads!" He admitted that at the moment the idea of "national progress" seems to be on the losing side. Gyurcsány here formulated his strongest criticism of the party, the government, and himself up to date. They were chasing dreams and only increased people’s material desires. They strengthened the belief that the sky is the limit. The will of the government is enough. A year or two and there will be paradise in Hungary. Or, if they couldn’t achieve goals in a hundred days, they will pull it off in two hundred. This talk and the giving away of nonexistent goodies made the party popular. Then came the cold shower. The population couldn’t decide what kind of party the MSZP was: the one that gives or the one that a few months later takes away. The MSZP lost the people’s trust. Gyurcsány thinks that perhaps his biggest mistake was that he didn’t stand in front of the country in the spring of 2006 and tell the truth about the results of earlier fiscal irresponsibilities.

After self-criticism he turned to his "liberal friends." He suggested that they should be a bit more modest and "get off their high horses." "The trouble is not with the reforms themselves but with the reform blah-blah, the reform lecturing, the reform arrogance….. Instead of reform blah-blah and reform arrogance more dialog and more professionalism are needed. Perhaps these two will move us forward." The reform of Hungarian health care is unavoidable, but one ought to slow down and think things through before introducing changes. Therefore, he said, he has already explained to János Kóka and Ágnes Horváth that there is need for a personnel change at the head of the ministry of health.

After the criticism of the government parties Gyurcsány turned again to the topic of the behavior of Fidesz. He emphasized that the situation created by Fidesz’s strategy made governing extremely difficult. The government wasn’t prepared for such an atmosphere. According to Gyurcsány, "Fidesz mixes up parliamentary democratic rivalry with a fight for life and death and sometimes with a tavern brawl…. That party doesn’t seem to know limits in their choice of ideas, aims, instruments or style…. If they cannot win with liberalism, then what about conservativism. If that doesn’t work, try the national Christian politics of the inter-war period. If that doesn’t achieves its aim, then knead together everything that stands in opposition to progress. Offer godless hate, populism and radicalism, and you will see you will be in the majority." Gyurcsány compared Orbán to Meciar, Tudman, the Kaczynski brothers and Fico. If the country doesn’t realize what the politics of Fidesz means and is not willing to fight against it, then Hungary will find itself on a dead end road.

Gyurcsány had a few words for the so-called "independent intelligentsia." To be independent cannot mean standing in the middle because there is no middle road between radicalism and progress. "We must understand that our political adversaries are much more brutal than we could ever have imagined. At the same time let’s be self-critical and admit that we made more mistakes and had more misconceptions that we thought about our party, or I thought about myself."

Finally, Gyurcsány emphasized the necessity of the survival of the coalition, which he thinks is the foundation of successful governance until 2010. However, "blackmailing" within the coalition is unacceptable. From early SZDSZ reactions it doesn’t seem that the leaders of the SZDSZ got off their high horses.

The whole speech can be read in the original at


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New World Order
Eva- Sadly, I think Gyurcsany is throwing health care reform overboard to try and salvage some other parts of his reforms with the MSZP at large, which is obviously not inclined to any type of reforms. He knows health care reform is now the most controversial. He also knows there is very limited public support for such reform, and also, frankly speaking, the reform efforts so far have been exceedingly poorly thought out and executed. Feri also knows that at worst he might split the coalition, which I do not believe he is too concerned about, because he knows SzDSz will support the Government in any confidence vote from outside the coalition and the Government is unlikely to fall before 2010. Also, by doing so, Gyurcsany can possibly and temporarily increase his internal support within his party (much of which is very anti-SzDSz), and delay any leadership challenge for awhile. The only thing about this scenario that does not “ring true” is that it would be such an obvious bowing to FIDESZ’s power to “call the shots” through the odious referendum process and their more odious public populism, that I am surprised that the MSzP would allow this to happen.… Read more »
I know that minority governments would be a new thing in Hungary (since ?), but I would argue the success the Swedish SocialDemocrates (SAP) had with that during their 60-year reign in the 1900s. I know politics is a bit more polarized in Hungary, but desperate times demands desperate measures. The tactic should not be to get SZDSZ to support MSZP, that is as everyone thinks rather given. The tactic is to get support from MDF and individual Fidesz MPs. It will be hard, but even hard things should be tried to break the stalemate of today. SZDSZ, MDF knows that they will disappear in the next election. They need to profile themselves and they need both to get support amongst centrist voters. MDF can do this by making an agreement with MSZP about a specific reform, where SZDSZ can do the same thing by voting against the same reform. MDF has opened a bit, with their statement that they would never support “this” coalition from the outside. But if the coalition breaks up, would MDF be willing to support a MSZP minority government in certain questions, like a specific reform that MDF would have some control over? What are… Read more »

I like your thinking as regards SzDSz. In fact, while Eva is probably right that they will not leave the coalition (my insert-because they are desperate to hold onto any shred of power), SzDSz should do as you write.
As for MDF, there is 100% certainty that they will not in any real form co-operate with the Government (even tactically). While they need to re-establish a purpose for their existence, their core base support would disappear entirely if they were seen to be co-operating with Gyurcsany. If that were to happen, a large part of their support would go over to FIDESZ/KDNP.
Eva, as to your question of the Kaposvar “Foorvos”, I do not know anything about him. I agree, sadly, however, that a grey haired male doctor will have immediately more credibility than Ms. Horvath.


Well, seems like we are in that situation right now, or at least 30 days later.
Exciting times layes ahead, but keep your forreign money and prepare for a roller-coaster for the HUF.