Ferenc Gyurcsány's answer to the problems of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) was an adaptation of Tony Blair's "Third Way" so successfully employed as well by Bill Clinton and others. The "Third Way" is a term that has been used to describe a political position that attempts to transcend left-wing and right-wing politics. This approach is commonly viewed as representing a centrist compromise between capitalism and socialism, or between market liberalism and democratic socialism. But the Hungarian version of a centrist, reformist political orientation within the Hungarian Socialist Party failed. Ferenc Gyurcsány was unable to deliver, and today MSZP is in crisis. What happened and why? This is what the party leadership is now trying to figure out, but I'm not at all sure that they are on the right track. The catchword today is "return to the left." Everybody is talking about "leftist values," whatever they are.
Gyurcsány, who has not been seen or heard from since his "retirement," still has his blog except instead of writing every day as he used to he writes perhaps once a week. Mind you, his "fans" are still numerous. His last blog had over 800 comments! Usually he confines himself to everyday affairs–his knee operation, his children–but here and there he writes a few lines about politics. It is evident that he is sticking with most of his political ideas, which he still considers the foundation of a modern Hungarian society. It seems that Gyurcsány has also had enough of all this talk about "leftist values" and the accusation that where MSZP went wrong in the last seven years was the party's abandonment of leftist values. To quote Gyurcsány (June 30, 2009; http://kapcsolat.hu/blog/a_baloldalisagrol): "The question is not whether we were leftist enough in the last few years but instead whether there were times when we were too leftist." Here "being leftist" for Gyurcsány means giving too much to segments of society that are not active in producing economic growth. Children, students, the disabled, pensioners, and so on.
Those in the party who are considered to be the followers of Gyurcsány join the others in repeating the "toward the left" slogan, but they add that it also means "modernization." What modernization means in this context is also a mystery. Then there are the left-wingers. Katalin Szili and Tibor Szanyi are good examples. They want to help the lower classes and are less concerned with the middle class that is actually the backbone of the party's electorate. As Szili said this morning, she wants to work for a "plebeian mass party of the left." However, she immediately added that she doesn't want to have "a squandering state but one that develops." You will say: "but this doesn't make any sense." No, it doesn't. It doesn't because I have the feeling that Ms. Szili doesn't know what she is talking about. Both Szili and Szanyi say that they wholeheartedly support Gordon Bajnai's program because the country has no other choice. They are supporting the program of the man who just the other day made it crystal clear that "the number 3.8 is carved in stone." That is, the deficit cannot be higher than 3.8% and surely no "squandering" of public money is possible with that tight a budget. (I use the word "squandering" here because I couldn't find any better equivalent for the Hungarian "osztogató." I think this translation is fairly close.) And there's the rub. How can MSZP be the "plebeian mass party of the left," which presumably implies a very generous state, under the present circumstances? I don't think it can be.
There are some who think that MSZP's problem is that it suffers from left-over Kádárism that prevented the full blossoming of the market economy. At the same time they continued the "insane spending" that kept the Kádár regime going for a while. As the matter of fact, practically all governments after 1990 added to the "insane spending" until the the country nearly went bankrupt. But the most recent crisis wasn't the first. In the latter part of the 1970s and the mid-1990s the country was on the brink of financial ruin as well. Both times stringent measures had to be adopted. But these measures were temporary. As soon as the country got out of financial trouble the government went back to its profligate ways. This is what they call in Hungary a policy of "loosening and tightening."
The socialists at the moment are busily apologizing for not being socialist enough. They practically admit, repeating the accusations of the opposition, that they did nothing and achieved nothing. This is, of course, not at all true. They try to explain their failure on a lack of communication. They say that they didn't "explain" the reforms properly. Some critics claim that in the middle of a financial crisis and the implementation of an austerity program the government simply shouldn't have initiated a reform program. A lot of criticism is levelled against the socialists' coalition partner, SZDSZ, because of their doctrinaire liberalism that led to the disastrous so-called health reform. Yes, health reform was handled poorly, but it wasn't a pivotal factor in the failure of the Gyurcsány government. The decline of the party began immediately after the announcement of the austerity program during the summer 2006 and has continued relentlessly ever since.
Ferenc Gyurcsány's problem was not that he was not leftist enough but that he wasn't courageous enough to make greater cuts in unnecessary social spending. To the very end he insisted on keeping the extra month of pension for 3.5 million pensioners, which was a huge budgetary burden. And when he first came out with his austerity program he said "one mustn't be afraid, it won't hurt." Well, of course, it was going to hurt. He should have been totally frank and told the whole truth. After all, it seems that Bajnai's stringent measures have been accepted and there are already tangible results that even the population has been noticing. Perhaps a less timid, less leftist approach would have been more successful than the one Gyurcsány chose. The question is whether the party leaders would have accepted such measures in the summer of 2006. They seem to accept them now but perhaps three years later, after a world economic crisis, they came to their senses. In any event, I cannot see a return to the good old socialist "plebeian mass party of the left" any time soon. The only way out is still Gyurcsány's way, without him for the time being.