Storm in a teapot?

It looks very much like it. On the op-ed page of Népszabadság (March 17) an opinion piece appeared with the title "Should Gyurcsány stay?  … Or go?" The title is misleading because from the very first sentences it was clear that the two authors–Béla Galló, a "political scientist," and Péter Gábor, an "economist"–had already made up their minds: Gyurcsány must go! Under normal circumstances the appearance of such an article wouldn't have caused such a stir. But considering that this weekend MSZP is holding its congress to decide on the next party leader it was taken as a possibly important signal. Moreover, it appeared in Népszabadság, a paper close to MSZP. In fact, György Bolgár was so surprised and, let me add, puzzled that Népszabadság was willing to publish a piece so antagonistic to the current head of the party that he phoned the editor-in-chief of the paper. The editor assured Bolgár that the paper is not taking sides or supporting the party's left wing by giving space to their views. In fact, he said, the paper will publish articles espousing different points of views in the near future. Two days went by but there was no follow-up article. Today at last, József Debreczeni answered in no uncertain terms, comparing the tone of the article to that of pieces appearing in the right-wing papers. Another rebuttal appeared in Népszava from Máté Gyömöre, a young political scientist working for the Progressive Institute of Kornélia Magyar. He spent most of his piece listing the accomplishments of the Gyurcsány government, contradicting the Galló-Gábor duo's assertion that Gyurcsány in four or five years had accomplished nothing.

I'm quite familiar with Béla Galló because he is one of three permanent members of a weekly political discussion group led by Tamás Mészáros called Dominó (ATV, on Thursday nights). It's an hour-long program split equally between foreign policy and domestic affairs. I especially enjoy Zoltán Sz. Bíró's comments on Russia and the Balkans. He is a fountain of knowledge on Russia and Russia's foreign policy. To counterbalance Galló, the left-wing socialist, there is Krisztián Szabados (Political Capital) who claims to be a "conservative liberal" but who is, in my opinion, mostly conservative and a great admirer of the former Bush administration.

Béla Galló is the editor-in-chief of a monthly publication called Egyenlítő (Equator). Since I knew nothing about this publication save its name, I had to do a little research. Egyenlítő (http://www.egyenlito.eu/)  was started in April 2003. Its expenses are covered by a foundation of the Politikatudományi Intézet that used to be the Párttörténeti Intézet, that is, the research institute that studied the history of the Hungarian Communist Party as well as other topics related to the working class movement, as it was called in those days. The institute published a quarterly called Párttörténelmi Közlemények that at one point couldn't be purchased abroad. Not even by libraries. God only knows why not. After all, it was a historical publication though a bit on the biased side. The publication still exists today under a new name Múltunk (Our Past), and it still deals with topics related to the social democratic movement and its history. At one point the very existence of the Politikatudományi Intézet was in doubt because the Orbán government was not willing to spend money on an institute that, they argued, served only socialist interests. I don't quite remember what happened, but the insitute must have received some money and survived. It also seems that after 2002, with the reapperance of a socialist government, the Politikatudományi Intézet's coffers must have received some additional money because the institute's activities multiplied. It by now has a publishing venture (Napvilág Kiadó = Daylight Publishing Company), it finances Galló's Egyenlítő, and has a web site Múlt-kor. It has a research staff of over twenty historians and political scientists.

The name of the co-author of the op-ed piece, Péter Gábor, was completely unknown to me, and my research didn't bear a lot of fruit. I learned that he was or perhaps still is the CEO of an originally state-owned company later privatized called Medicor, a manufacturer of medical equipment. Medicor's history is briefly recounted in the May 17, 2004, issue of Élet és Irodalom (http://www.es.hu/index.php?view=doc;7508). The story is exceedingly complicated. Details that I couldn't always follow indicate that not all was cricket with this company. In any event, with the advent of the socialist government in 2002 Péter Gábor was named one of the members of the Országos Személyügyi Kollégium organized under the Prime Minister's Office. It seems that this group was entrusted with personnel selections for positions in government, was in charge of the education of civil servants, and looked over the background of people appointed to European Union positions.

But let's return to the article itself in which the authors vent their hatred of the prime minister. Perhaps their attitude has something to do with personal dislike, but their problem most likely is that they, as committed left-wing socialists, cannot reconcile themselves to Gyurcsány's liberalism. The article accuses Gyurcsány of personal ambition; most important to him is his personal survival while his party is dying because of him. A familiar accusation repeated daily by Fidesz politicians. According to Galló-Gábor he is a mediocre thinker and a totally untalented politician who in five years didn't manage to learn the art of governing. "Gyurcsány must leave in order for MSZP to stay," they claim. The problem is that these two men cannot come up with anyone in MSZP with a sound program and/or the ability to lead the party or form a government. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that either of the people whose names are circulating in left socialist circles as a possible replacement, Péter Kiss or Imre Szekeres, would stand a chance against Viktor Orbán.

Right now Fidesz is leading in public opinion polls by a mile and the odds of MSZP pulling off a miracle are slim. However, with a new, less charismatic leader at the head of the party, failure would be virtually guaranteed.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark
Guest

Looking at the news this lunchtime in Budapest, it seems there was a bit more to this story than you suggested. But ….
The politics of this is very murky, but let me try and fill in some of the holes.
You are right to point to the former Párttörténeti Intézet, which is now known as the Politkatörténeti Intézet (the Politikatudományi Intézet is actually part of the MTA and is a completely different institution). You are also right to point to the fact that under the Orbán government it struggled to survive, but received a very large ammount of money when Medgyessy came to power in 2002.
The connection of this institute to Népszabadság comes through an organization called the Szabad Sajtó Alapítvány, which holds a 26 percent stake in the paper. It holds this because it was founded in 1990 by the then Socialist Party leadership, so that the MSZP would not directly own any share of Népszabadság, but would have an arms length relationship to the newspaper. The president of the foundation’s governing body György Földes is also the director of the Politkatörténeti Intézet.
This may shed some light as to why this could get into Népszabadság.

Mark
Guest

Eva: “But not because of these two characters’ essay. Gyurcsany has a very solid following within the party.”
Yes, and no; obviously he isn’t going to do anything because of one newspaper article. But, the various neo-Kádárist elements (they don’t have very much to do with left-wing politics as I understand them) in the MSZP have been after Gyurcsány’s head for a while. I’d heard about various plots from autumn 2007 until the referenda, though it was obvious these “plotters” (it was never clear to me who they were, or who they represented) were unable to find a credible candidate. Despite this Gyurcsány reacted to the referenda results by ditching the SZDSZ, which suggests that he is conscious of some weakness in his own party. Whether he is over-sensitive about his position is an interesting question – but in the next few months the MSZP has to face the voters, when they can expect at best a quarter of the vote. There are certainly some in the parliamentary caucus who will not back the kinds of measures that are coming.

Mark
Guest
Éva: “Yes, but he still got 85% of the votes at the congress.” We’ll see, won’t we. I’d first of all say that the percentage of the votes at MSZP congresses don’t tell us very much, beyond the fact that the power-brokers in the county and local organizations who send the delegates don’t feel they can remove him at this point. My second is that Prime Ministers don’t resign for “tactical reasons” unless they can’t see other ways out, even when they expect to use the threat of resignation as a bluff to protect their jobs (the case that springs to mind is John Major’s “resignation” in the UK in 1995, which as we saw subsequently was not a decision taken from a position of strength, nor did it solve any of the underlying problems). My third is that it is difficult to see a new Prime Minister who would be in a stronger position to run an effective government until the elections, even if that Prime Minister could bring in both the SZDSZ and MDF (and I have my doubts as to whether either party would be a reliable partner of such a government) – unless the elections are… Read more »
StuckInTheMiddle
Guest
Yes, it’s truly scandalous that Nepszabadsag would publish commentary critical of Gyurcsany. Ha!!! For all your international experience at Yale, etc. it’s a shame to see you fall into the category of the typical narrow-minded Hungarian for whom the important thing is to read in his or her newspaper of choice only points of view which match his or her own political views. God forbid that Nepszabadsag uncover corruption in a Socialist government or Magyar Hirplap in a Fidesz one. Incompetence and corruption don’t distinguish between ideologies. As a citizen, no matter which political party or ideology I prefer, I want my leaders, politicians and authorities to be as well-behaved as possible. Corruption affects me when state contracts are awarded based on under-the-table payments instead of on merit, no matter who’s in government. And if the bridge falls down because the corrupt ministry chose an incompetent company to build it, it’s likely that people of all ideologies will fall into the river, not only those supporting the opposition. Fortunately, there are more and more media outlets in Hungary trying to behave according to Western standards, especially on the Internet, for whom there are no “sacred cows” and politicians on all… Read more »
Gábor
Guest
Dear Éva, let me correct some mistakes in your post and the following comments regarding Galló, the Politikatörténeti Intézet (and not Politikatudományi, as Mark correctly remarked) and its affiliates. Galló is affiliated with the Institute for Political Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, as senior research fellow, as you can check it at this link: http://www.mtapti.hu/?page=gallo The Politikatörténeti Intézet has only a research staff of 16 active members (although one of them László Andor is currently a director of EBRD, therefore not active) and the institute provides some retired colleagues with resarch facilities, but it doesn’t mean that their topics are part of its mid-term research plans. The researchers are working on a wide range of topics from history of the Social Deomcratic Party before the second world war, to the history of the media in the interwar period, history of intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century, history of minorities and nationalism in East-Central Europe, electoral studies etc. and not only topics related to the narrow field of history of the workers movement. Conversely, the Múltunk publishes a wide range of historical material as well. Just a few example form the recent issues: History of ideas, intellectual… Read more »
Gábor
Guest
Dear Éva, regarding Galló you omitted his affiliation with the MTA Institute and presenting his person that way is capabale to mislead your readers as if he would be only an editor in chief of an unkonwn periodical (you explicitly mentioned that the title Egyenlítő was not familiar for you) with a dubious background. Actually Egyenlítő is a publication of the Politakatörténeti Alapítvány, legally quite independent from the Intézet, Galló is even not participating in the leadership of the institute and he runs the periodical independently as its editor, although it does not mean separation. You characterized Múltunk, after emphasizing its connection with Párttörténeti Közlemények (what is true)as follows: “The publication still exists today under a new name Múltunk (Our Past), and it still deals with topics related to the social democratic movement and its history”. Although this assumption is certainly true in a narrow sense (Múltunk publishes articles, studies and sources related to the workers movement) but the spectrum of the published material is much broader and it is not a recent occurence. I won’t be surprised if some of your readers would have perceived this sentence as if Múltunk would be dealing exclusively with this topic, even if… Read more »
Gábor
Guest
Dear Éva, Galló’s proximity to the left wing of the socialists is a fact not to be denied, but it had influence on his appointment as editor in chief only in a very broad sense. I mean his belonging to the left was decisive and not his belonging to the left wing of the socialists. I only emphasize this fact because the latter interpretation could lead to the otherwise wrong conclusion that the Institute is an organization cultivating strong ties to the party’s left wing only and selcting personel accordingly. Anyway, although the publication of the op-ed piece can be interpreted as a sign of taking distnce from Gyurcsány (although I would suggest that the pages edited by Révész were a playground for Gyurcsány’s adversaries from the liberal party even earlier, just think of the long and completly contentless pieces written by Kóka, one of them published on the very day of the so-called Liberális Gazdasági Konferencia as if Népszabadság would be the party bulletin of SZDSZ, see an opinion here: http://eceincrisis.blogspot.com/2009/02/back-to-future.html) it was clear earlier that Népszabadság gradually changed its stance towards Gyurcsány. The paper willingly participated in the manipulative coverage of the informal EU summit at early March… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Gábor: “Actually Egyenlítő is a publication of the Politakatörténeti Alapítvány, legally quite independent from the Intézet.”
But not independent enought to have separate webpages, or a separate postal address!
My point wasn’t about who edits the paper’s opinion pages, nor do I have any complaint about the story – it was to make a point about ownership.

Gábor
Guest

Well, I really hate to use this kind of arguments, but as a co-worker of Földes I know that he is not acting the way your point implied (see this sentence of yours: “This may shed some light as to why this could get into Népszabadság.”) and not initiates attacks on politicians through Népszabadság. Regardless of his role in one foundation and in another. Especially as those pages are edited by Révész, who leaves not much room for others to influence their contents.

Gábor
Guest

Dear Éva,
although maybe my first reaction was a bit more pointed as you deserved, at last I felt that this was a friendly exchange of views, sometimes with a too rigorous philolological approach from me, but I think it’s a habit not unnatural in historians, therefore excusable. Otherwise I really can’t give you a satisfactory answer for the “why?”, as the reasons were not shared with me.

Mark
Guest

Gábor,
I too am very appreciative of the historical work of the Politikatörténeti Intézet. Indeed in advertising yourself I think you undersold yourselves by not mentioning your archives and the work they do in preserving the materials of the trade union to 1989, and the records of the pre-1948 left-wing parties.
But I’m also sure you agree that there is a tension between running an historical research institute and having a closely associated organization fund a journal in Egyenlítő which is clearly a political, and a partisan magazine. The editor of that journal engages in an unusual personal attack on the head of government in a newspaper normally sympathetic to the party of which he is leader. And another foundation closely linked to the director of the institute is a major shareholder in the newspaper. You can’t really be too surprised that questions are raised about what is going on.