Ferenc Gyurcsány’s message to the Left and to MSZP (I)

I promised a lengthier summary of this 45-page pamphlet that appeared only three days ago but already has had quite an impact. I'm sure that the left wing of MSZP–Tibor Szanyi, Katalin Szili, and Gyula Hegyi, for instance–don't like it, but apparently many followers of Gyurcsány in MSZP are enthusiastic and are ready to use it as the basis for the party's renewal.

Ferenc Gyurcsány is no dummy and even Gábor Török, a political scientist and an avid blogger, praised the piece as something any political analyst could be proud of. But Török, who claims to be an independent observer (there is no such animal, by the way), normally leans toward the right and therefore thinks that, although Gyurcsány is good as a quasi political scientist, he is no good as a politician.

First, Gyurcsány gives a short, critical description of the last eight years. What they tried to achieve, what they managed to accomplish, and what they did wrong. He deals rather extensively with the reform efforts and why they failed. I will spend some time in the future writing about these efforts, especially as far as the health care reform is concerned, since I just finished Lajos Molnár's memoirs of his year as the reform-minded minister of health. Although I'm sure that Molnár was often very angry at Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister's assessment of the Molnár reforms is largely positive. He even refutes the accusation that the reforms hadn't been properly prepared by Molnár.

Here I'm going to take a look at one short section of the pamphlet that deals with the basic differences in outlook of the Hungarian Left and Right. The first dividing line is the attitude toward the Kádár regime. The Left is more understanding when it comes to the past. Looking back, the Left "understands and excuses the people of Kádár and in many ways even his regime." The argument goes this way. It was a situation Hungary didn't choose and in which people had to survive and make a living. The socialist period with all its negative aspects still meant the rise of millions. It gave job security to all and guaranteed the right to learning, culture, work, and housing. We of course know at what price this was achieved, but those who lived in those days remember them fondly. Even today well over 65% of the adult population would love to return to those days without, of course, the lack of freedom and the economy of scarcity. Today's MSZP–continues Gyurcsány–is a party of modernization as far as the present and the future is concerned. The socialist party of today has turned its back on Kádárism and is totally committed to democracy.

As for the Right, it is both in words and in symbols militantly anti-communist. It sees itself as the only creditable participant in the process of the change of regime in 1989-90. "As far as the inheritance of 1956 is concerned it accepts József Mindszenty and doesn't want to hear of Imre Nagy." As far as the Hungarian Right's attitude toward MSZP is concerned, it considers it the direct successor of the communist parties of Béla Kun, Mátyás Rákosi, and János Kádár. In Gyurcsány's eyes the Orbán-led Hungarian Right is Janus-faced because while it talks about "bourgeois democracy" as opposed to the "socialism" of its political rival, it actually fosters servile attitudes, it is populist, and its ideas are built on authoritarian attitudes.

The second difference between the two sides is the attitude toward Trianon. Both Left and Right consider Trianon a national tragedy and therefore the debate is about something else. "The Left simply considers it a past grievance that cannot be forgotten, the Right looks upon it as an unacceptable trauma of the present. The Right cannot and will not accept Trianon. According to them Trianon is not the past but the burning wound of the present that can be healed only by revision." The radical Right thinks in terms of actual territorial revision, the more moderate Right talks about "unifying the nation across borders." This difference between the two sides is not theoretical. It crops up in everyday politics as "who are the good Hungarians" and "who are the traitors."  Whereas the Hungarian Left is thinking in terms of "European brotherhood" and "free choice of identity," the Hungarian Right sees integration as the relinquishing of national identity. This difference in outlook is behind the current debate on dual citizenship.

I managed to cover only two differences between the Left and Right in Hungary, but I want to do justice to Gyurcsány's thoughts on the subject. And perhaps it is also a good idea to stop at the question of dual citizenship. By way of background let me mention that in 2004 the World Federation of Hungarians (an organization that is under far-right leadership) began a campaign for dual citizenship that was eventually supported by Fidesz although while in power Orbán's government had rejected the idea. In 2004 Fidesz wanted to give citizenship en bloc to everybody who claimed to be a Hungarian and who was living in the neighboring countries. A referendum was held on this extension of citizenship and Gyurcsány campaigned against it effectively. As a result, the turnout was very low. Although the yeas were slightly more numerous than the nays, the referendum was deemed invalid because of the low percentage of participants. The nationalistic Right as well as some of the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries couldn't forgive the socialist government for their attitude toward the referendum.

In this pamphlet Gyurcsány briefly mentions the 2004 debacle, adding that it seems that Fidesz's attitude has changed since then. Currently they don't want to give Hungarian citizenship to everybody who claims to be a Hungarian but they will make decisions on an individual basis. I'm afraid Gyurcsány was too optimistic. There is a huge confusion concerning the issue within the party. János Martonyi, the future foreign minister, says one thing while Zsolt Semjén, designated "deputy prime minister in charge of national issues," says something else.  Martonyi talked about giving voting rights to these new Hungarian citizens only if they had a valid address in Hungary while Semjén says that there is no such thing as a second-class citizen, that they should have both voting rights and social security benefits. This might be quite unacceptable to a large segment of the Hungarian population who think that people who don't live in the country shouldn't have the right to vote on issues that don't concern them. Extending social services benefits, such as health care, is even more extreme. It would be an incredible burden on those few who pay taxes and social security in Hungary.

Moreover, there is the political issue. According to estimates the large majority of Hungarians living in the neighboring countries sympathize with Fidesz and most likely would vote for that party if allowed. And that might mean a very lengthy Fidesz rule. As István Mikola, "the doctor of the country" and then candidate for  "deputy prime minister," said in the heat of the campaign in 2004, if the "ausländers" got voting rights, Fidesz would easily be in power for twenty years. To be more precise, he used the expression, "it would be cemented in for twenty years."

And one more thing, when Zsolt Semjén was asked the other day by a reporter whether they would consult with the neighboring governments concerning the question, the unequivocal answer was "no." Brave new world for the region. Especially because yesterday Martonyi announced that the question of "national issues" will not belong to the Foreign Ministry. There Semjén will be in charge. That is truly worrisome.

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Guest

How can MSZP expect do get back into power with the same old leaders like Ferenc Gyurcsány ?
To me this looks ridiculous – they need new ideas and new people at the helm!
It’s bad enough that Fidesz has Orbán – I still hope that he’ll be more in the background while the younger ones do the real decision making …

John T
Guest

wolfi – I think you are right. I think the centre-left (or even a decent centrist party) needs to have people thay have minimal baggage with the old regime. The problem is though, that there seem to be very few coming forward. So you are going to either accept the old guard to some extent, or put up with no opposition at all. At the moment, the new party is LMP. Lets just hope they are a true alternative.

John T
Guest
“The Left simply considers it a past grievance that cannot be forgotten, the Right looks upon it as an unacceptable trauma of the present. The Right cannot and will not accept Trianon.” To my mind there are 4 options here and I assume everyone Hungarian considers Trianon a tragedy. 1) Territorial gain through negotiation and political treaty. Would be the ideal option, but very very unlikely to happen in 21st century union. 2) Attempt to retake territory through military action. There is potential for this to occur if the political landscape changes, either because the relationship with the neighbouring countries deteriorates or Jobbik take power. This will prove to be a disaster and possibly lead to a situation similar to that after WWI. A key point is that if Hungary is the aggressor, they will be attacking the NATO alliance rather than a single country. 3) Regional autonomy for certain areas with a large ethnic Hungarian majority. A possibility, particularly for Transylvania. Something similar is developing in Spain, so may offer a model for Hungary to promote. Will need very clever diplomacy. 4) Cultural autonomy with the EU. Very possible to build on this in an EU without borders. If… Read more »
Matt L
Guest

Re: Trianon. Gads. Given all of the ups and downs of the past 90 years, is it really necessary to keep crying over spilt milk like this? I can see the right having a fixation over it, like the American right wing’s obsession with the South and the American civil war. But why does the left even care?
Look at it this way, Herder had assumed that the Hungarians would disappear in a sea of Slavs. Low and behold, almost 200 years later, and the Hungarians are still around. Not only that, but in the last twenty years things have been better than ever. I’d say that they beat the odds and Herder was wrong.
There is nothing wrong with a well developed historical consciousness. But its time for Hungarians to lighten up, look around and enjoy the present a little bit.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Matt: “Given all of the ups and downs of the past 90 years, is it really necessary to keep crying over spilt milk like this? I can see the right having a fixation over it, like the American right wing’s obsession with the South and the American civil war. But why does the left even care?”
If you ask me, most of them don’t really care but they can’t say that because otherwise they would be crucified.

John T
Guest

Eva – And in any other situation other than the recovery of “greater Hungary”, they would still be regarded as not truly Hungarian. That is what I find so strange about all of this debate.

PassingStranger
Guest

It is interesting how the Jobbik trolls have stopped commenting on this website now the elections are over. I wonder why.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Passing Stranger: “t is interesting how the Jobbik trolls have stopped commenting on this website now the elections are over. I wonder why.”
Do you miss them? Smiley follows.

Joe Simon
Guest

The dual citizenship, giving Hungarian citizenship to those asking for it in Erdély, etc., is an emotional issue. I was in Erdély when the Gyurcsány government rejected it. I can tell you that people there were shocked, felt rejected by the ‘mother country’. I can see absolutely no harm in this and I hope Orbán will move fast to grant this recognition to the Hungarian minorities in the surrounding countries. Gyurcsány was simply unable to connect with this issue. This was yet one more example of how insensitive he could be as a politician. He may be well educated but he is definitely not suited to lead Hungary.
Joe Simon, Diósgyőr

Joe Simon
Guest

Re Trianon. Ask people in Székelyföld,
they cannot accept the present situation
either. They want autonomy, regional autonomy. Now this is quite possible to achieve. This would be a very positive development desired by most people. I have
visited in Erdély places like Csíkrákos, Kalotaszentkirály, 99% Hungarian. Of course the police, etc., are all Romanian.
This is what people want to change.
Can you imagine a situation in Quebec, Canada, where in a French-speaking area the
authorities are all English? It’s only democracy what people in Erdély want. There is nothing ‘extreme’ about this.
Joe Simon, Diósgyőr.
P.s. I would like to ask: when was the last time Eva S Balogh visited Erdély???

John T
Guest

Joe,
You are right that it is an emotive issue. But I think you need to ask what the reaction of Hungary’s neighbours will be to the dual nationality question? And is it really necessary in the European borders.
For your second post, I do think regional autonomy would be justified. But, Quebec is probably a good example of how it would have to work – Transylvania gets autonomy, but would still be part of Romania. I actually think this situation would be more palatable to Romania than dealing with the dual nationality issue.

gio
Guest

“[Török] leans toward the right and _therefore_ (my emphasis) thinks that, although Gyurcsány is good as a quasi political scientist, he is no good as a politician.”
Eva, this is a typical example of the most consistent element of your analyses. You say that the _cause_ of Török’s opinion that Gyurcsány is not a competent politician is that Török is leaning to the right. If someone holds that Gyurcsány is not a competent politician, this alone proves that this person is “leaning to the right”, i.e., this person is biased and his/her opinion can be dismissed.
Actually MSZP lost the majority of its 2006 voters because they judged MSZP was incompetent and corrupt. This caused them “lean for the right” and not the other way around.

Erik the Reader
Guest

All the neighbours of Hungary have laws giving citizenship to the ethnics born or native in foreign countries. Yet when Hungary wants to do the same you deny this right. That’s what I call double standard!

Joe Simon
Guest

Erik is right on this issue.
Now Slovakia is hypocritically insisting on
“egyeztetés”, consultation. Perhaps they would like to talk to Sólyom László, whom they denied entry to Slovakia not long ago?
That is all Mis Hedvid ever wanted, “egyeztetés”, plain and honest talk, again rudely denied to her. Csáky supports the idea of dual citizenship so do most Hungarians in Erdély.
Joe Simon, Diósgyőr

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