The Hungarian liberal party no more

I think by now one can safely state that SZDSZ (Szabaddemokraták Szövetsége/Alliance of Free Democrats) is no more. Most of the founding fathers who have been members of parliament ever since 1990 said farewell to each other and the building a few days ago. The well known names of Bálint Magyar, Iván Pető, Gábor Kuncze, Mátyás Eörsi, Gábor Horn, Gabriella Béki, Miklós Hankó-Faragó, Gábor Világosi, and Imre Mécs will soon not be in the news. They will retire. Bálint Magyar will be a sociologist again, Iván Pető will most likely return to teaching history, Gábor Horn is thinking of establishing a university, Mátyás Eörsi perhaps will once again be a lawyer.

How is it that the most important parties responsible for the change of regime are practically all gone? SZDSZ, the Smallholders, Christian Democrats, and, yes, even MDF are no longer in existence or soon enough they will disappear. MDF, for example, has difficulties even collecting enough endorsements to entitle its candidates to be on the ballot. Yes, Fidesz, another substantial force in 1989-90, remains, but today it is not the same party that it was twenty years ago. Apparently, this is not a unique development in the former Soviet bloc. Most of the parties instrumental in bringing about the change are gone.

Gábor Horn expressed the opinion that the fall of SZDSZ was due to the rivalry between Gábor Fodor and János Kóka. Sometimes people from the outside see things more clearly than those inside of the charmed circle. If I had to name the most important single cause for SZDSZ's failure it would be their doctrinaire attitude. Somehow these intellectuals turned politicians never realized that "politics is the art of the possible," as Otto von Bismarck said. They had principles that they refused to modify or abandon even if political realities proved that putting them into practice was impossible.

Naturally, a liberal party is extremely sensitive about human rights and equality. Therefore their leaders will take every opportunity to take the side of the underdog, the downtrodden minorities. They certainly should defend the rights of Gypsies, Jews, gays, and women. However, one ought to take into consideration realities. Let's take the Roma issue. One should do everything to change the situation, but simply ignoring the fact that there are serious problems facing the country as far as the Roma minority is concerned is foolhardy. It is not enough to raise one's voice when discrimination is detected; one must come up with realistic solutions.

What do I mean? MDF came up with a fairly comprehensive suggestion that might solve all sorts of problems with education in general and with the Roma children's school attendance in particular. The suggestion is that the child support all families in Hungary receive per child should no longer go the families but to the schools. In return, the schools would take care of the children between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. There would be only a short break during the summer. The children would receive three square meals. This would be the regimen for all children, Roma and non-Roma, rich and poor. Because the school attendance of Roma children is sporadic at best and often they stop going to school even before finishing eight grades, such a policy might help the situation. Roma families who didn't send their children to school would be reponsible for feeding them with no government subsidy. Liberals cried foul: rascism! But clearly the only hope for the Roma is education, and therefore every encouragement should be given to that one very important task. By the way, the Fidesz government also came up with a somewhat similar solution: if the child didn't attend school the family didn't receive child support. I thought that it was a step in the right direction.

Or there is school reform. I am the first to applaud a drastic liberalization of Hungarian schools. Just the other day I wrote a piece on the Christian Democratic politician Rózsa Hoffmann who has some very old-fashioned ideas on education. One of her most awful suggestions is that teachers would be tied to textbooks that would be the same for everyone. They could not add to or subtract from the compulsory texts by more than 10%. It reminded me of the Rákosi regime when our history teacher didn't dare utter a word that was not in the official textbook. Or I think of all that memorization that I at least forgot from one day to the next. So I am a deadly enemy of this system. And yes, I fully sympathize with the ideas of the SZDSZ politicians about education. But I am also aware of the fact that most teachers are ill equipped to shift gears. For decades they have been told what and how to teach. Learning by rote is what they have done all their careers. How on earth can one of these teachers suddenly teach history not by rattling off dates but thinking about the causes and consequences of certain events? Most likely they don't even know enough history to be able to engage the students in serious thinking about history. They should be sent back to school themselves.

So even if school reform takes place and the demands are entirely different from the old model, who is going to teach the subjects in a different way? Since the teachers of the old school will be incapable of doing it the reform will be considered a flop. Perhaps a better way to go about it would be to make the changes at the university level. Students would learn the new methods, learn to integrate computers into their teaching, and this new crew would then be able to implement the necessary changes. But that takes time.

These are only two examples where doctrinaire thinking stood in the way of effective politics. But one, I'm sure, could come up with many other examples. The country, the thinking of Hungarians simply couldn't follow the liberals' ideas. They were not ready. That was at least one of the reasons for their failure. The other was bad strategy. Especially after János Kóka became chairman of the party and thought that SZDSZ's popularity would grow if the liberals turned against their coalition partners. The result was just the opposite: their popularity became barely measurable. It was also suicidal from their point of view to break up the coalition. The Kóka-Fodor fight under these circumstances didn't really matter. The party committed suicide way before that.

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Anna
Guest

We had a lot of snow in the DC area. While in the suburbs (in Maryland and Virginia) the school systems are not hesitating to close schools, in Washington DC they always try to open schools if possible. The reason is that for many children, the only meal of the day is the subsidised school lunch. And yes, those kids are always try to get to the school.
I like the MDF idea.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Anna “I like the MDF idea.” So do I. The afternoons, according to MDF plans, could be used for all sorts of good things. More gym, arts, music, tutoring. It wouldn’t be just babysitting but quality time.

whoever
Guest

Out of the people listed here, the only one who I believe emerges with a degree of sympathy is Imre Mécs, who saw the writing on the wall some time ago, and sat with the MSZP for the last few years.
For me, many of the problems in Hungarian politics can be explained by the nature of the personalities involved. Politics as an extension of ego. Just looking at the composition of the SZDSZ by 2006, one is forced to say that it was an army with many squabbling generals and few troops. Any combination of such a crowd would eventually implode.
To some extent therefore, the argument that a country “gets the government it deserves” has a slither of truth. It would be interesting to conduct a full study of the social psychology of those involved in politics in Hungary. My impression is that many suffer from an inflated self-perception: the reasons may stem from a somewhat Oedipal approach to child-rearing; placing Hungary closer to Italy in the Man-Child League Table !

Vándorló
Guest

@whoever: While the internal wrangles and squabbling may have enervated any potential new voters, what really killed them and is killing other parties is the corruption. Hungarians do seem, finally, to have had enough and are prepared to vote for *any* alternative, no matter how distasteful that alternative is.
Also, the psychology of hypocrisy has been more than evident in the SZDSZ and MSZP. In particular where Kóka talked about tax, only to be found repeatedly engaged in tax avoidance himself – amongst other things. It was no surprise to see Bajnai clean his cabinet offices of people like Keller and eventually the SZDSZ crowd (Kóka seemed to be forever there behind Gyurcsány in press conferences).
The moral corruptive properties of power has a clear psychological base, briefly outlined in an economist article some weeks ago http://www.economist.com/science-technology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15328544
Mix this with the inflated egos of the average Hungarian male with the near slave female cohorts/partners and that cocktail is bound to have a bitter taste.

whoever
Guest

I wonder if it is an accident that the most popular MSZP politician is a woman (Szili). And personally I think Ildiko Lendvai is generally far less obnoxious or arrogant than her male colleagues, despite her quite appalling presentational skills.
Having said that, most other women in the MSZP seem to be very mediocre, such as Monika Lamperth or stumbling MEP Edit Herczog.
But let’s not get too carried away with the MSZP. Fidesz has Tamas Deutch, the unthinking woman’s blabbermouth of choice, and Antal Rogan, star of countless tacky TV shows and a special “Wedding Edition” of the District V local govt newsletter.
Hungarian politicians – cheap, and not particularly cheerful.

Pal
Guest

Horn Gábor:
“Fontosabb az, hogy mi lesz az SZDSZ-szel, annál, hogy mi lesz az országgal – és ezt nagyon őszintén mondom!”
how could any party expect to survive saying things like that? at least they are honest about where their priorities lie – unlike the MSZP who still lamely pretend to care about the hungarian people. good riddance to all liberals.

Steve
Guest

SZDSZ has written itself out in a couple of steps. In 1994 coalition with MSZP has alienated those who were strongly against the old socialist system. In 2004 they were against giving citizenship to Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, thus they alienated those who felt strong for national values. During the 2006 street clashes SZDSZ welcomed the police brutality. It alienated people feeling strong for human rights. In 2008 they supported the (first steps of) privatization of healthcare. The media campaign SZDSZ had was very much like what the republicans are telling right now about healthcare reform of Obama, (“national healthcare is socialism…”). Most people are thankful that Hungary will not have privatised healthcare. SZDSZ got what they rightfully deserved.

Vándorló
Guest

@Steve: I think your memory is somewhat letting you down. The privatisation of health care had been going on and continued under Fidesz local councils. The government later had to buy their failing businesses back at great cost.
The 300ft consultation fee was a mild attempt at rationalising the general abuse of shared resources, given that Hungarians visit their doctors almost 3 times more often each year than any other nation in Europe. It would have also helped to distance and control the relationship between doctors-patients and the ‘hálapénz’ (‘gratitude money’) that is pretty much obligatory, though illegal.
If you have been unfortunate to visit hospitals in Hungary over the last 3 years you will have noticed a gradual rationalisation of resources and a very gradual introduction of basic administration procedures.
Are you telling us, Steve, that all could and should go on without cost-benefit analysis and attempts to control the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ that is shown through communal selfishness (Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (December 13, 1968), pp. 1243-1248. Also available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/162/3859/1243.pdf

whoever
Guest

No I believe SZDSZ had a well-developed plan to privatise the health system, and to no doubt benefit from this move to private provision. Steve is right.
The principle of “free-at-the-point-of-delivery” healthcare is well established. People pay their taxes (or should do) and within this is their public health insurance. Why would the public want to pay twice? That’s not communal selfishness, it’s part of the basic social contract, such as it is.
And what a blow for someone who was hospitalised – to not only lose their earnings and their health – but also to pay a charge for the bed?

Vándorló
Guest
@whoever: This is two issues: 1. Was health care already being privatised 2. Were their plans for more fundamental privatisation My response was to the first. Hospitals were already privatised and supported by Fidesz councils where the bidder was Fidesz friendly. As to the second, the plans were certainly for more fundamental structural reform later. However, you can’t have a system ‘free at the point of delivery’ that is being abused by its users, as is the Hungarian health system. Both doctors and patients collude to due to a state of mutual fear and hate of the government. The collusion means doctors insist on direct contact with their patients, even when this only involves the renewal of a subscription. As I use to spend one day every month escorting a friend to pick up their medicine from a hospital I have had far too much experience of the chronic waste and mismanagement of the Hungarian health system. This patient/friend has one of the five chronic illnesses recognised under Hungarian law, yet the system still demands that they have to travel from one side of Budapest to the other by their own means just to get their medicine. This would involve… Read more »
Steve
Guest

@Vándorló
Fidesz was supporting the private management of hospitals before, and is not supporting it any more. But it has never supported the privatisation of the health insurance system. The SZDSZ plan was at first to break up the health finance system into parts, then to privatise those parts. Just look at the current pension system. The pension funds are right now privatised to banks. It took two steps and couple of years to do it. The 300Ft was just a test of public opinion, the very first step in process of privatizing the health insurance.
Would your friend like more if he had to pay that 40 thousand legally to the doctor? Guess not. If doctors were respected more, and got a solid pay, no one would even think of paying them extra.
Fidesz’s current programme as described in a recent interview by István Mikola, is the creation of an independent national healthcare system, similar to the central bank.

Vándorló
Guest

@Steve: Fidesz have promised people the world and those people will expect them to deliver. The doctors assistant is 56 years old, she will vote for Fidesz simply because she believes their many promises and wants to retire at 58.
There is one economic pie and it can only be sliced so many ways. The problem for Fidesz is that they have been describing a three-tiered wedding cake when all there is on offer is a flat jam sponge cake.
And you can talk and present Fidesz economics, but the truth is Orbán and his party are spineless cowards for not clearly presenting a manifesto to the people and hoping to win on disillusion alone.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Mr Vándorló. The actions of Fidesz are a first class illustration of their ‘Dog in the Manger’ attitude since they were defeated at the polls 4 years ago. It is totally destructive and damages the Hungarian ‘body politic’. At the moment Fidesz (and Jobbik) are painting the government as totally corrupt. This is something which I do not think is completely true especially as Fidesz seems to be busy ripping off local government funds. Near where I live there was a large ‘wild wood’ which early this winter was clear felled. There was a tatty notice telling every one what was to happen next. After a day or two the notice vanished so has all the felled timber (many tonnes of it) and just a large cleared patch of ground. I will watch that space with interest every time I travel to town and tell you what, if anything, happens next! One of the problems for SzDS is that as the chiefs fight amongst themselves, the membership becomes disillusioned and just fades away. This shows a lack of maturity in the party leadership and a strong desire to control ‘party funds’. When ever there is a potential opportunity for ‘corruption… Read more »
VIDEO
Guest

A good short video for Eva Balogh about the economy policy of the social-liberal government. (only K.S.H data)


Vándorló
Guest

@Video: Good video, lots worth arguing over, but a useful rejoiner to the MSZP manifesto which contained clearly laughable self praise for their ‘achievements’.
That aside this is still no policy or argument for Fidesz or anyone else who has yet to set out their policies.

John T
Guest

@Steve.While there may be a solid argument for paying higher wages to doctors and health officials, nobody should be scared into paying money for treatment and care they should be entitled to expect anyway. I really find this whole issue distasteful to be hones. As for the HUF300, if my family are anything to go by, they seem to head to the doctors for any reason. So I would have hope the payment might deter the unnecessary visits. And as for their medicine cabinets……

guild wars 2 gold
Guest

So even if school reform takes place and the demands are entirely different from the old model, who is going to teach the subjects in a different way? Since the teachers of the old school will be incapable of doing it the reform will be considered a flop. Perhaps a better way to go about it would be to make the changes at the university level. Students would learn the new methods, learn to integrate computers into their teaching, and this new crew would then be able to implement the necessary changes. But that takes time.
Would your friend like more if he had to pay that 40 thousand legally to the doctor? Guess not. If doctors were respected more, and got a solid pay, no one would even think of paying them extra.