Let me start with the news that a number of influential SZDSZ politicians past and present announced yesterday the formation of the Liberal Civic Association. These people have not been shy about their antipathy toward the "new" SZDSZ led by Attila Retkes. I already wrote about SZDSZ and Retkes on July 14 ("Hungarian liberals: End game") and have no reason to change the opinion I expressed in that blog. If possible, I have gained an even worse opinion of the new president. The party as he conceives it bears no resemblance to the liberal party born in the days of the regime change in 1989-90. The reaction to his election was immediate. Hundreds left the party and the majority of the SZDSZ parliamentary delegation kept their distance from Retkes and his "new" SZDSZ. In fact, it was rather comical that Retkes insisted on the resignation of János Kóka, head of the parliamentary delegation, since Retkes and his coterie have absolutely no say in the matter. The head of the delegation is elected by the SZDSZ members of parliament and they are the only ones who can remove him. Retkes even gave Kóka a deadline for resigning. Deafening silence on Kóka's part! Once the deadline passed, Retkes had to announce that, sorry, things didn't work out the way he had planned. It was laughable and pitiful at the same time.
Although it was evident that the well known and respected liberal political leaders rejected Retkes and his "new SZDSZ" (this is what Retkes calls his party all the time), the question was what steps they would take. A few months ago Bálint Magyar, formerly minister of education, wrote an article published in Népszabadság in which he basically suggested a merger between SZDSZ–certainly not the new one!–and MDF, a moderate conservative party. I wrote about this article on May 16 ("A new Hungarian Centrum Party?") and I for one liked the idea. Fidesz's popularity has grown enormously and then there is Jobbik, a party of the far right, that in the last few months has become a serious political factor and a threat to Hungarian democracy, especially if it receives tacit support from Fidesz. I felt then and I feel now that the democratic forces of Hungary must work together to turn things around. Therefore I believe that cooperation among MSZP, SZDSZ, and MDF is desirable. More than desirable. It is a must. The formation of the Liberal Civic Association might be the first step in that direction. Klára Sándor, MP and a member of the association's "presidium," made it clear that if there is enough support they might change the association into a party. And in that party they would welcome anyone who shares their values and political philosophy, be they supporters of MSZP or MDF!
The Hungarian name of the new association is "Szabadelvű Polgári Egyesület" (SZPE) and it's worth pausing here for a moment because every word counts. Let's start with "szabadelvű." That is the Hungarian equivalent of "liberális." It is one of those words Hungarians in their reforming zeal in the early nineteenth century came up with in order to avoid a "foreign" word. (Mind you, "szabad" meaning free is of Slavic origin, but I guess it was adopted such a long time ago that it no longer felt foreign.) "Liberal/liberális," in effect an international word, couldn't be banished from the Hungarian vocabulary. Thus Hungarian has two words for the same thing. SZDSZ's official name is: "SZDSZ-A Magyar Liberális Párt." The people who established SZPE judiciously avoided the word "liberális" for obvious reasons. The other adjective, "polgári," is also worth pondering. "Polgár" originates from the German "Bürger," a man belonging to the middle class. "Nagypolgár" means a person belonging to the upper middle class while a "kispolgár" belongs to the lower middle class. "Polgári demokrácia" as a term for constitutional democracy or liberal democracy most likely had its roots in the Marxist period. Fidesz fell in love with the word "polgári." Even today some of its politicians talk about the "polgári kormány," meaning the Fidesz government. They expropriated the word. In their usage of "polgári" it means the opposite of socialist. Of course, this is all nonsense and therefore I'm really happy that SZPE is trying to resurrect the original meaning of the word. It seems that those SZDSZ members who established SZPE would like to represent people who want the country to return to "normalcy." It would be high time because in the last few years Fidesz has managed to turn the country into a battleground.
According to SZPE's press release they would endorse old-fashioned virtues: responsibility, security, human dignity, decency, sobriety, moderation, knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and solidarity. These are middle-class values that should resonate with the politicians and supporters of MDF. Some observers immediately brought up the question of the "Gyurcsány orphans" within the MSZP camp. Whether they would be willing to support the association and later perhaps a party. "Gyurcsány orphans" are those MSZP voters who keenly feel the loss of Ferenc Gyurcsány and look upon the current MSZP with some suspicion. The verdict is still out on both Ferenc Gyurcsány's political plans and the thinking of his followers.
The last sentence of the news release is: "Our goal is the creation of a well balanced, well off, happy, and European Hungary." The question is of course whether there are enough Hungarians who understand what SZPE wants to achieve. Or who believe that Hungary can actually be transformed into this kind of country.
One more interesting thing. The list of charter members includes Gábor Kuncze, former president of SZDSZ who is still a member of parliament. Kuncze swore a year ago that in 2010 he would leave politics for good. Therefore it was something of a surprise to see his name on the rostrum. Kuncze's popularity is enormous. Some people think that, were he to be a candidate for prime minister, it might shift the outcome of the election which at the moment decidedly favors Fidesz. He was also mentioned as a candidate for mayor of Budapest, as the only man who could win against Fidesz candidate István Tarlós. I'm certain that a lot of people, frightened by the growth of the right, are trying to convince him to take an active part in politics. I wouldn't be surprised if some even reminded him of his responsibilities under the circumstances. Perhaps his willingness to participate in SZPE is an indication that Kuncze might have changed his mind.