Lately I have been wondering what happened to István Mikola, whom Viktor Orbán called the “nation’s doctor.” He was very active in the campaign against the co-payment and hospital fee, but once the referendum was over Mikola disappeared. Every time there was anything concerning healthcare issues the Fidesz put forth another “political expert” (szakpolitikus) as the party’s frontman. He is, of course, also a physician, Imre Pesti. But he is a great deal less entertaining than Dr. Mikola was.
Anyway, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I must admit that I’m still not sure. But it seems that many people in Fidesz, perhaps even Viktor Orbán himself, are unhappy with István Mikola, once the favorite of the party’s leader. The most recent rift occurred over the issue of privatization of healthcare services. Fidesz is dead set against any privatization and is currently trying to prevent HospInvest from gaining control of the hospital in Eger. Mikola, hand in hand with Mihály Kökény, an MSZP medical expert and former minister of health, went to visit a hospital in Kiskunhalas, already in the hands of HospInvest and Halas-Med Kht. and said a few words about the benefits of privatization in Hungarian healthcare.
HospInvest is high on Fidesz’s hit list: the party accuses it of egregious exploitation of the facilities and the staff of hospitals under its care. So it is understandable that Mikola’s appearance with Mihály Kökény and his positive attitude toward HospInvest was too much for the party and its satellite media organs, the daily Magyar Nemzet and the weekly Heti Válasz. Heti Válasz considered the Mikola affair so important that the editors placed Mikola’s picture on its cover with the caption: “Mikola’s hidden face.” Heti Válasz accused Mikola of being part owner Halas-Med Kht., a company that was ostensibly created for the sole purpose of advancing and benefiting from the privatization of the hospital in Kiskunhalas. We do know that István Mikola has had fairly extensive business dealings in the healthcare field. Before Mikola became minister of health he held a majority stake in Phonendoscop, a consulting firm, and even during his tenure, he didn’t really part with his interest in the business venture: he simply signed it over to his children. Mikola was on the board of Mamma Klinika Rt., a firm that takes care most of the mammogram screenings in Hungary.
So it is possible that Mikola has a vested interest in the privatization of healthcare services, in sharp contrast to the Fidesz platform. It is also possible, as Árpád W. Tóta suggested the other day in his blog, that Mikola became emboldened by Viktor Orbán’s “secret speech” that showed a bit more realism toward the problems of the Hungarian economy. This explanation seems forced to me. I am more inclined to think that for one reason or other Orbán dropped Mikola, hence his disappearance from the political scene of late, and that Mikola now believes that he doesn’t have much to lose by being a political maverick and perhaps a healthcare entrepreneur. He will not become either deputy prime minister, as Orbán promised in 2002, or minister of health in the next Orbán government.
One thing is sure: Mikola can be a political liability. Once he blurted out, before the 2006 elections, that if Fidesz managed to push through dual citizenship for Hungarians living in the neighboring countries, the party would govern Hungary for at least twenty years. That was a terrible faux pas. A lot of people began to realize that Fidesz support for dual citizenship wasn’t exactly altruistic. Moreover, it only rallied the other side. (This twenty-year scenario crops up here and there. Most recently it was István Stumpf who predicted that Viktor Orbán might become prime minister for twelve years and then could be president for eight.) Mikola also said some very stupid things about psychiatry, children, and teachers who should just rap offending children’s knuckles with a ruler–that would solve a lot of problems. One also ought not forget his most unfortunate reference to single men and women, calling them hordes who then march on Andrássy Street, clearly referring to homosexuals. So, all in all, Mikola is no great loss to Hungarian politics.