I guess I haven't really spent enough time on MDF although it's a party I cheer on as a vital part of the Hungarian political landscape. Earlier I wrote about the origins of the Magyar Demokrata Fórum in the spring of 1990, shortly before the change of regime. I also wrote about the divide between the populists (narodniks, népiesek) and the urbanists in Hungarian literature between the two world wars. Most of the people involved with MDF at the beginning were in some way influenced by the populist tradition while the successors to the urbanists gathered in SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége = Association of Free Democrats). These were the two large parties at the time but by now both are very small. MDF nearly died as a result of the extremely difficult first four years in power while SZDSZ shrank to practically nothing after agreeing to form a coalition with the socialists. According to some of the recent polls neither party could get into parliament if elections were held next Sunday. However, this is not the final word on these two parties. They have been many times close to extinction, but at the end a miracle happened: they reached the magic 5% of the popular vote. The most unexpected miracle was MDF's revival as a totally independent party at the last elections. They refused to cooperate with Fidesz because they didn't consider Fidesz a truly conservative party. Indeed, it is not. Viktor Orbán is willing to look both to the far right and to the left if he thinks that either move will help ensure his goal of regaining power. If I were to dare predict the future of these two small parties, I think that MDF has a greater chance of survival at the moment than SZDSZ whose recent strategy has been ridiculous, perhaps even suicidal.
There is a very outspoken, funny, and often undiplomatic man, a historian called András Gerő. His field is late the nineteenth century, mostly the Habsburgs, but he is interested in and quite knowledgeable about a wide range of things. He also has some unconventional opinions about current affairs. Most of the time I find him very entertaining. A few days ago Gerő was a guest on András Bánó's new show, A tét (The Stake) which I compared to Washington Week in Review. The four invited guests were discussing the present political situation and Gerő in his characteristic way burst out: "I simply cannot understand the leaders of these two parties. Here is this MDF whose leaders want early elections when it is quite clear that they would find themselves out of parliament." Well, this is just one odd thing about the MDF strategy. Ibolya Dávid, whose party was almost stolen from her by Fidesz at least twice, repeats with each election that "we are not going to help either Viktor Orbán or Ferenc Gyurcsány become prime minister of Hungary."
Or just yesterday the grand old man of MDF, Péter Boross (80), briefly prime minister of Hungary after József Antall's death in 1993, categorically announced that "the party would never lean toward the left because that would be incompatible with the heritage of József Antall." My first question would be: what would MDF do if election results were such that MDF could determine the outcome by opting to become a coalition partner with either Fidesz or MSZP? According to Boross they would get together with the same Viktor Orbán who twice tried to ruin their party. And because of the alleged "heritage" of Antall, they would refuse to cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Well, someone who is as proud of his knowledge of Hungarian history as Péter Boross is should know that Gyula Horn's socialist party of 1993 (Antall died in December of that year) is not the same socialist party as today's. Gyurcsány is not Horn. A small party like MDF shouldn't say such things because there might be a time when they would have to sit down with the socialists to talk about their common future. After all, the same Péter Boross tells at least twice a month in Napkelte (Sunrise in MTV) that today's right reminds him of the right of the 1930s. He talks about the right-wing newspapermen's activities then and now and how similar their styles are. He adds every time that this is very dangerous. Surely, under these circumstances it doesn't make sense to be hidebound just because of the heritage of József Antall. A party has to to be flexible. Its leader must decide what is good for the party and the country.
And very briefly, let me recount what happened to young Kornél Almássy who a few weeks ago announced his candidacy for Ibolya Dávid's position. Apparently, he went around the country to gather support from party leaders and was quite successful. But then came the CD that reached Ibolya Dávid. On it was a telephone conversation between an official of UD Zrt. and Sándor Csányi, president of OTP, about certain people very close to Fidesz who want to use Almássy to remove Dávid. Dávid had a brief heart-to-heart with Almássy who withdrew his candidacy and urged his supporters to stand behind Ibolya Dávid. For two weeks he couldn't be reached, but suddenly two days ago he reappeared in a press conference. I don't know what kind of assurances he must have gotten from Fidesz, but they had to be substantial. After all he must have known that after his press conference he would be kicked out of the party and MDF's parliamentary delegation. According to parliamentary rules, a man in this situation must sit with the "independents" and only after six months can he change party affiliation. There is no question where Almássy will be once the six months are up. But surely, this wasn't all. I'm almost certain that Almássy was promised a favorable position on the Fidesz list to ensure his election to parliament the next go round. So he decided to speak. Unfortunately, his "tell all" was over the top.
His stories about being blackmailed by the MDF leadership reminded people of gangster films about the 1920-1930s in Chicago. (Yes, but with an action hero comic book twist.) He claimed that one of his supporters was kidnapped by members of the Hungarian FBI (who wore badges) and who kept him locked up in an apartment somewhere in Somogy County. He claimed that an unknown man approached his wife and two small children and tried to frighten them by recounting what terrible things would happen to them if Almássy didn't immediately abandon his quest to become the head of MDF. He announced that the Hungarian Internal Revenue Service (APEH) decided to look into his wife's finances when his wife has been at home with the children receiving the modest child support every young mother is entitled to. He claimed that the same supporter who had been kidnapped phoned another supporter of his and asked him to throw his cell phone into the Danube because of God knows what. According to Almássy, at the meeting of the nominating committee the Hungarian National Security Office's men kept order and displayed their "weapons," allegedly to frighten him and his followers into submission. Moreover, these HNSO people were capable of zapping the cellphones of certain people in the room. These cellphones "burned out."
No wonder that Károly Herényi, head of the MDF delegation, said that the revelations about Almássy's activities unhinged him and that he should seek psychological help. Indeed, I wonder what Viktor Orbán thought of this performance. I'm not sure whether Fidesz struck a good bargain.