Hungarian political think tanks

An incredible number of political think tanks exist in Hungary. Here is a list, and I'm not even sure that it is exhaustive: Political Capital, Vision Consulting, Demos Hungary, Századvég, Nézőpont, Méltányosság, and Progresszív Intézet. Each of these employs four or five full-time political scientists, and they also work with outsiders. Each of them offers its services to political parties. I'm not sure about their profit/non-profit status, but I suspect that Political Capital is a money-making venture. For example, the owners of Political Capital also own Hírszerző, a rather successful on-line newspaper. Political Capital also has an affiliated organization in Bulgaria. It also seems to have a contract, for example, with Klub Rádió, where on Saturdays one can hear one or two of their members talk about current affairs.

In fact, it was such a conversation that prompted me to write about these think tanks today. Last Saturday Attila Gyulai of Political Capital was on Klub Rádió's Saturday afternoon political show, Hetes Stúdió. These weekly Political Capital contributions are called Felszín alatt (Under the Surface). Thus, one expects a (more or less) penetrating analysis of the events of the week. Instead, once again I heard some fortune telling. The topic was Viktor Orbán's speech at László Kéri's seminar. Ferenc Vicsek, the reporter in charge of the program, asked what ramifications this speech would have. Gyulai said that perhaps there would be a few percentage points change in favor of MSZP in the short run, but the revelations "will not influence the balance of forces" in the long run. In plain English: nothing will change. Fidesz will lead for the next year or so and to the same extent. With an overwhelming majority. What gives a so-called political scientist such powers of clairvoyance it is difficult to say.

But people want to know what will happen in the future, and the media plays on this. Think, for instance, about the U.S. coverage of gurus' year-end targets for the S&P 500. These projections are usually way off base, but every financial news outlet gives them extensive coverage. How many individual investors take their favorite analyst's projections seriously is questionable–with any luck, very few. But they get extensive media coverage.

The fact is that in Hungary we have no new poll on the changes in party preferences since the leak. Therefore, we have no idea what the "balance of forces" is even at this moment. We do know that the majority of the people were against freezing pensions and suspending major infrastructure projects. Therefore, how can anyone say with such certainty that the "balance of forces" will not change? This is about as bad as when Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, the political scientist of Nézőpont, a day before the Szonda Ipsos poll on the reaction of the population became known announced that the Hungarian population would absolutely love what Orbán had to say. That the leak would improve the already soaring standing of Fidesz. The next morning he learned that he was wrong. Very wrong.

The other favorite game of political scientists is "who will be the next prime minister"? Who conspires against whom within MSZP? Who is going to get rid of Gyurcsány's closest associate and political ally, Ildikó Lendvai, the head of the MSZP parliamentary delegation? They can spend days, if not weeks, on these absolutely idle speculations. They are indeed no more than speculations or some hearsay that they managed to glean from a disgruntled MSZP member who, of course, refuses to allow his name to be made public. However, here and there a few are willing to reveal their identity, and the newspapermen and "political scientists" pounce on them. If a few inconsequential lowly party members in the Pécs MSZP, well known to be Katalin Szili territory, demand Gyurcsány's resignation as party chief, it is taken for granted that there is a palace revolt under way and that soon Gyurcsány will depart. But even more serious analysts, for example, Péter Tölgyessy, who according to some is the very best political scientist in Hungary and the cleverest man in political circles, can make statements that I consider unfounded and outlandish. For example, Gyurcsány will not survive the year. On what basis can one make such a statement? There is no constitutional or political basis for this prediction. If Gyurcsány doesn't want to resign or if his party doesn't want him to resign, he will stay. His government will not fall because the Hungarian Constitution is such that all opposition parties have to get together and agree on the person of the new prime minister in order to have a change of government. And that is most unlikely under the circumstances.

There are a few think tanks that are, of course, better than others. Demos, for example, last year published a forty-page study of minority governments in Europe and the possibility of such a government in Hungary. A few days ago, Ervin Csizmadia of Méltányosság said some wise things both about the minority government and the SZDSZ. Again, hearing him, one has the sense that this man actually knows what he is talking about. He understands the Hungarian political structure and the constitutional situation. He did say that in his opinion MSZP "would fall apart" without Ferenc Gyurcsány and that there is no one in the party who could fill his shoes. Indeed, looking around among the more prominent socialists I have to agree with Csizmadia. One could say that Csizmadia is also making certain assumptions. Of course he is, but in my opinion he is closer to reality than some of those who believe that Gyurcsány's departure would be MSZP's salvation. And, by the way, all these think tanks have their biases. Political Capital's boogie man is Ferenc Gyurcsány. Demos is very close to the prime minister. Csizmadia, well, I could never quite figure out exactly where he belongs.

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Odin's lost eye
Prof Balogh you say *** “What gives a so-called political scientist such powers of clairvoyance it is difficult to say” *** My answer is ‘Nothing’. Like all pundits form the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi to the very latest think tanks their answers may be printed large by the news hounds, who ignore the small print, which is often full of ‘ifs and buts’. To fill their wallets (pocket books) and ensure their future, the pundits have to say things, which will please those who are on the ‘upcoming list’. If the pundit is right he will be adjudged and expert, if wrong no one notices and the pundit does a Brer Rabbit job ‘just lies low and says nothing’ for a time. Another fun thing the media tend to indulge in is to get pundits to discuss endlessly the opinions of their fellow pundits. It is often cheaper than using direct reporting of real news. There are two aspects to public opinion. Firstly there is the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction often given to pollsters. Secondly there is the slow deliberate unconscious thought processes, the results of which emerge when the voter is alone in the polling booth with his pencil in… Read more »