The state of the Hungarian socialist party

As you can imagine, the situation of the Hungarian socialist party is pretty grim. Everybody is talking of renewal but no one knows how to go about it. Ildikó Lendvai resigned but the "presidium" decided to stay because the members felt that someone must handle the affairs of the party until the party congress can be convened.

However, there are members of the presidium who disagree. In the last few days there were two people who raised their voices. Interestingly, two Gyurcsány allies: Ágnes Vadai and Csaba Molnár. Vadai, in addition to her position in the party, served as undersecretary of defense; Molnár headed the prime minister's office. I'm more familiar with Molnár from the parliamentary debates. He is one of the very few people in MSZP who is an excellent speaker–hard hitting and well prepared. He made a good impression on me and I wouldn't be at all surprised if after a few years we saw him again in some high party and government position.

Then there are those who claim that the problem was that the party wasn't socialist enough and if the party could return to its socialist roots then everything would once again be fine and dandy. But every time these people are asked what they mean by socialist or left-wing politics their answers are vague.

There was and still is talk about changing the party's name. Although no one has come up with any definite ideas I assume that they're thinking in terms of changing "socialist" to "social democratic." However, there is the possibility that the name "Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt" is already on the books and in this case the MSZP leadership is in trouble. Of course, a slight alteration in wording would suffice.

Then there is the headache of the composition of the parliamentary delegation. One can talk about renewal ad infinitum but as long as the fifty-eight socialist members of the new parliament are the same people who have been in the forefront of socialist politics in the last eight or twelve years, if not longer, it will be  difficult to "sell" a new image. This is a problem that cannot really be solved. One cannot tell elected members of parliament to get lost.

Attila Mesterházy, who was the head of the parliamentary delegation after Ildikó Lendvai moved up to the position of chairman, was reelected by a large majority to continue in this position. So, even the the most visible socialist parliamentary member will be the same as before the elections. However, the real question is what kind of party MSZP will be in opposition. In some ways the party will have an easier time. Just as it was easier for Fidesz as a fierce opposition party than it will be as the governing party. Especially with such an overwhelming majority. In fact, there are already cracks that could never be detected previously in the less than democratically organized Fidesz. Viktor Orbán says one thing about tax cuts while János Kövér and György Matolcsy say something else. The political leadership wants to punish all those policemen who committed "crimes" while Sándor Pintér, the next minister of interior and future boss of the police force, says that the police did a bang-up job on October 23, 2006. And they haven't even formed a government yet!

Back to the woes of MSZP. Every county has a local "presidium" and just today I read that the MSZP leadership of Békéscsaba resigned. They suggested that the national leadership do the same. They feel that the party will have to start the campaign for local elections, normally held in October, with entirely new faces. This makes sense, but only if there are local elections in October. Lajos Kósa said this morning that there might not be elections for one or two years. A two-thirds majority is necessary to change the date, but that is no problem. My personal opinion is that it is not a good idea to hold local elections only a few months after the national elections. Fidesz's suggestion is of course self-serving. At the moment practically all the localities are in Fidesz hands. On the other hand, this might come in handy for MSZP in Budapest where if elections were held this year it would certainly not be MSZP that would win. Two years later, who knows.

Then there was the surprising news that Katalin Szili's movement called Alliance for the Future established a separate delegation in the city council of Balassagyarmat. Was this the first step in the dissolution of MSZP? Later on I learned that out of the four-member caucus there is only one former MSZP member. The other three are independents.

I think that those who say that MSZP will fall apart are wrong. In the last twenty years such an eventuality was predicted many, many times. It never materialized. The question is who will win the battle. Or as Tamás Bauer said a few days ago, the question is whether it will be a Hungarian Lafontaine or Schröder who will head the new Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Of course, Tamás Bauer would opt for Gerhardt Schröder and not for Oskar Lafontaine. So, Bauer is keeping his fingers crossed for Ferenc Gyurcsány who, by the way, just today came out with a 40-page analysis of the party's situation. More about that after I have had a chance to read it.

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The point about the Schröder/Lafontaine comparison is that eventually they did end up in separate parties – and finally, they are both co-operating to a certain degree under the new SPD (leftist) leadership of Sigmur Gabriel. The story could end up with Lafontaine, or at least his ideas, triumphant.
Gyurcsany, Blair, Schröder… it’s old hat, yesterday’s news. It’s the past, Eva. And if this is the way forward that Tamás Bauer sees for the MSZP, we can save ourselves the bother and write it out of history now.
There is no reason why there should only be one party on the Left of Hungarian politics, and the differences between Gyurcsány and the Left (say Peter Róna or Tamás Krausz) is massive.
As a democrat, I am sure you would not want to disenfranchise those whose politics differed from your own, which is why I trust that the MSZP leadership will give the green light for a separatist movement (probably SZJM) to emerge and work with those on the genuine left of the spectrum. I cannot imagine what your problem with that would be…


Maybe it should be the other way round:
The old communists (sorry: socialists) should leave MSZP to give it a chance to become a social democrat party – like in Germany, where most of the radical left (I call some of them stalinists) are concentrated in Lafontaine’s “Left” party.
I still don’t get it it why MSZP keeps all that ballast from the old regime – after more than 20 years.

Eva S. Balogh

wolfi: “I still don’t get it it why MSZP keeps all that ballast from the old regime – after more than 20 years.”
I don’t know either.

Eva S. Balogh

whoever: “There is no reason why there should only be one party on the Left of Hungarian politics, and the differences between Gyurcsány and the Left (say Peter Róna or Tamás Krausz) is massive…. I cannot imagine what your problem with that would be”
I don’t know why you think that I think that there is any problem with it. I just think that the split in the party is unlikely. As far as Rona as the real Left is a laugh.


OK, sorry if I misunderstood. But I don’t think there’s any chance of a Lafontaine type leading the MSZP – there is no-one so substantial. Most of the MSZP are absolutely mediocre people – Lafontaine had already been General Secretary of the SPD by the time he broke away.
A turn to the left would seem to be unbelievable given the likely profile of the leaders, yet the MSZP currently sits outside of the European social democratic mainstream (which is moving left). So I can see no other option than to let the MSZP march with Gyurcsány – I suspect a zombie-march to political death, and create a new vehicle for more dynamic left currents. Well, that would be logical, but in Hungarian politics, I am learning that logic has little to do with anything.

Adam LeBor

The MSZP will probably eventually be replaced by LMP as the main party of opposition, in part because of demographics. Hungary’s young, globalised, internationally-minded, foreign-language-speaking nascent middle class, ie the facebook generation, will not vote for the MSZP but did and will vote for LMP. I think LMP’s support will only grow in the future.

Eva S. Balogh

To Adam LaBor,
Dear Adam, you and I are usually see eye to eye on politics, but here we disagree. If LMP survives as a political party it will replace not MSZP but SZDSZ.