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 http://tinyurl.com/2teppw