Realpolitik and the Hungarian political situation

Realpolitik, as the English spelling of the word testifies, means political conduct or analysis that takes into consideration the given political reality. It is a practical way at looking at politics. Instead of wishful thinking the politician or the political commentator analyzes a country’s actual political situation and bases his actions and analyses solely on the real, tangible political reality. I happen to believe that this is the only viable way of looking at politics. (And I don’t want to hear that I’m an epistemological dunce.)

I find it rather annoying when some Hungarian “political scientists” or politicians say such things as “Gyurcsány and Orbán will have to disappear.” These two men will not disappear; they will be part of Hungarian politics for the foreseeable future. That’s Hungarian political reality. Hungary’s future lies in the hands of these two men, and the voters simply have to choose between them. There is no other choice, and not just because Viktor Orbán told László Kéri’s former students that even if there were a different prime minister designate he would always be the undisputed leader of the Right. At the beginning of his political career this was because of his force of personality, later because of the way he organized Fidesz. On the other side, it doesn’t matter how often and in what combinations the members of the media suggest possible replacements for Ferenc Gyurcsány as the head of the government or as leader of his party, realpolitik says that there is no viable replacement for Gyurcsány.

So let’s forget about the Ibolya Dávid’s fanciful exclamations that both leading Hungarian politicians should be thrown out the window. Let’s reconcile ourselves to the fact that our choice is between these two towering figures of Hungarian politics. A responsible person must decide to his satisfaction which side he can identify with and support. Or, if someone is jaded, he must decide which side is less objectionable and act accordingly.

One of the problems in Hungary is that people, especially those socialized in the Kádár regime, are  uncomfortable with party politics. They think that the way to happiness and prosperity is “national unity.” According to this view, all problems originate with division. If the parties would only bury the hatchet Hungary could be a worldly paradise. This old Patriotic People’s Front (Hazafias Népfront) mentality has by now fairly deep roots in the Hungarian psyche. Except democracy doesn’t work that way. In a parliamentary democracy parties hold sometimes radically different views of the world. Each party wants to convince the majority of the population that its vision and policies will benefit the population. This is healthy. This is how it should be. Of course, politics is not a debating club; there’s always a rough and tumble side to it. And sometimes an infusion of corruption (“Vote early and often.”). But Orbán has changed not only the rules of the game and the violations of the rules of the game, but the game itself. Personal hatred has entered the picture. Politics as he defines it is an extreme sport where the fight is continued until the opponent is killed. No, of course, not literally. But it’s a sad inversion of the women’s lib phrase “the personal is political”; for Orbán the political is personal.

In any case, I decided that I prefer the current government to Orbán’s four years. I believe that Gyurcsány is a better guarantor of Hungarian democracy than Orbán, whom I consider a populist and a dangerous demagogue. Of course, some of my readers will not agree with me, and that’s fine. They are entitled to have a different opinion. But, after careful consideration, I made my choice. This is called realpolitik. 

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Realpolitik dictates, it seems to me, that Gyurcsány should step down before the next elections. While I agree that neither he nor Orbán will leave the scene at anyone else’s bidding, Gyurcsány should realise – as Orbán has not – that he is a liability to his party’s electoral chances and that his presence only strengthens the opposition. If he were to go, the Socialists could put forth a fresh face (literally and figuratively) and have a better chance of winning. That’s cold political calculation. It’s true that there does not appear to be any viable replacement for Gyurcsány within the MSZP, but Péter Medgyessy hardly seemed a viable candidate for prime minister in 2002, yet he won, not least by being bland and inoffensive. Gyurcsány himself was hardly a high-profile figure when he engineered his election to the party leadership in 2004. There is the slim possibility that, 18 months from now, the economy will be seen to have recovered in a big way, and that Gyurcsány’s popularity will rise accordingly. This is probably what he’s counting on. But even if the first happens, I’m not convinced that the second will follow. It may be Gyurcsány who’s indulging in… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
@Prof Balogh You write *** “One of the problems in Hungary is that people, especially those socialized in the Kádár regime, are uncomfortable with party politics” *** I fear that you are only too correct. In a country where democracy had deeper roots, Orban would have been drummed out of Fidez long ago, or Fides would have disappeared and a new centre right party formed in its place. I keep asking how is it that one man –the leader of an opposition party at that- can change the rules of the game of democracy in the way you describe. Does he and other Hungarian politicians not realise that they are only ‘LOANED POWER’ by the People for a time. At the end of that period of time the People take it back! This is a quotation from that great Britiah parlimentarian Toney Ben. Do not the Hungarian People know this? Or has no one told them the ‘facts of life’. When the People want their power back they take it (or try to) as in 1848 and 1956 etc. One the jobs of the Head of State (be it a President, Govener General or a Monarch) is to see that… Read more »