Katalin Szili, the true socialist?

In the last two and a half years I have written a lot about Katalin Szili who until recently was the speaker of the house and for some time a vocal opponent of Ferenc Gyurcsány. I outlined her career in my blog entitled "Katalin Szili is more than 'silly' but is she dangerous?" (November 15, 2007) followed by another piece on November 16, 2007, entitled "Katalin Szili: The Hungarian Tess of the d'Urbervilles." The latter was a fairly detailed summary of a not too flattering portrait of Szili by József Debreczeni that appeared in Népszabadság (November 6, 2007). For those readers who are not familiar with the career and ideas of Katalin Szili I recommend reading these two posts.

Szili resigned her position as speaker because she wanted to start a new socialist movement that would widen the base of the party. Her critics immediately dubbed the movement no more than an attempt to emulate Viktor Orbán's "civic cells." The movement's name is Alliance for the Future (Szövetség a Jövőért Mozgalom). The opening salvo was a meeting on November 29. According to reports there were about 400 people present, mostly from the older generation, and Szili claimed that 1,300 people had already joined her movement. At the same time she emphasized that this is not an attempt to establish a new party.

Katalin Szili's ideas were actually summarized quite well recently by a political opponent, Ferenc Horkay Hörcher, in Heti Válasz (December 2, 2009). He made some very unkind remarks about her "rather transparent patriotism and syrupy social sensitivity" mixed up with "some punch-like Kádárism." One must add to that mix a religiosity uncommon in the socialist camp. She in fact established a "Christian platform" within the party. One must agree with Horkay Hörcher that Szili has no program to offer in place of the current socialist one she so often and so loudly criticizes. Empty phrases and generalities abound, but there is nothing that could be considered a serious proposal for the "renewal" of the party.

What are her complaints? One is that MSZP, instead of being a truly socialist party, went astray when it adopted a "neo-liberal economic policy." It was also an awful blunder, according to Szili, when the socialist party opposed dual citizenship at the time of the December 2004 referendum, initiated by the World Federation of Hungarians and supported by Fidesz. Considering that it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who committed himself and his party to Tony Blair's "third way" and it was again Ferenc Gyurcsány who actively campaigned against the acceptance of dual citizenship, I think it is apparent that Szili's main problem is actually Ferenc Gyurcsány.

One would have thought that with Gyurcsány's departure the lady would have slowed down, but the changes that have taken place since haven't been to her liking. With Gordon Bajnai as prime minister, Ildikó Lendvai moving into the position of leader of the party, and now Attila Mesterházy being nominated as MSZP's candidate for prime minister she can't be happy. The same neo-liberal economic policy is being continued because, let's face it, even if the current government had wanted to follow Szili's lead, it couldn't have, given the current economic situation.

Her other favorite theme is that "the party must admit its past mistakes." Szili thinks that if the party openly admits that everything that was done under the leadership of Gyurcsány was flawed then "the party's credibility can be restored." First of all, there are a lot of accomplishments that the governments of Medgyessy, Gyurcsány and Bajnai can be proud of. In order to have the slightest chance of success against a formidable opponent the party must emphasize the positive side of the last eight years. Admitting mistakes would be the worst strategy from the socialist point of view.

Szili can come up with such meaningless sentences as "we need a new political philosophy that handles together the societal, social, economic and ecological questions." (Actually I improved on the sentence somewhat in the translation. The original read: "új politkára van szükség, amelynek alapja, hogy együtt kell kezelni a társadalmi, a szociális, a gazdasági és az ökologiai kérdéseket.") Whatever this means.

Her next sentence is also puzzling. According to her "we don't need a society based on competition but on cooperation." Or "we don't need a change of regime, we need only its correction." No wonder that on Monday on ATV's Újságíró Klub (Journalist Club) Tamás Mészáros complained that Katalin Szili, while trying to establish a new movement that aims at the rejuvenation of the socialist party, has no program. It seems that Szili was watching the program because a couple of days later she brought it up in an interview, complaining about Mészáros's remarks and offering to send her program to him.

The MSZP leadership frets that Szili will actually leave the party, taking the party's left wing along. Therefore, they handle her with kid gloves. It doesn't matter what kind of harsh criticism she voices in the media against her own party, someone from the leadership defends her. Of course, I have no idea what her fellow socialists think of this new movement, but I suspect that they don't consider it a viable base for establishing a new party. Yet I don't think they want to force the issue.

And so today they offered Katalin Szilin the fifth spot on the national party list. Ah, but there was a little problem as far as Szili was concerned. Number four is none other than Ferenc Gyurcsány. She promptly rejected the offer. Of course, this was not the excuse Szili gave. She claimed that she turned down the offer because the list includes old timers like Ildikó Lendvai, László Kovács, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and, I guess, Katalin Szili. Instead of these people young men, relative unknowns, should have been named. For example, László Botka, mayor of Szeged, and Csaba Molnár, head of the prime minister's office.

As it is, some people worry about Attila Mesterházy, whose name is not exactly a household word yet. I am sure that the names mentioned by Szili are even less well known. The MSZP electorate is composed mostly of older people, and a list headed by people in their thirties might not appeal to them. Therefore a mix of young and old and in between is a good idea, I think.

I might add that Katalin Szili didn't sink her career by refusing to be on the national list. She is still heading the Baranya County list. As József Debreczeni said in his 2007 article, Szili is a very ambitious woman and therefore it is unlikely that she would actually quit the party. She may not like the neo-liberal budget but she voted for it. As András Cser-Palkovics, the associate spokesman of Fidesz, said in connection with Szili's statements: "here is the time for action." My hunch is that this action that Fidesz would dearly love to see will never materialize.