A meeting of the Hungarian eighty-niners

Until now we heard only of the American eighty-niners, homesteaders who settled Oklahoma in 1889. Ferenc Gyurcsány invented the Hungarian eighty-niners, people who stand fast by the Hungarian constitution of 1989 against Viktor Orbán who is in process of creating a new constitution, most likely to be enacted in 2011.

A civil organization known as Fapados Alapítvány organized a conference entitled "One hundred days–Hungary deceived." The scheduled speakers were Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, and Iván Vitányi of MSZP, Kinga Göncz, MSZP member of the European Parliament, Tamás Bauer, economist, József Debreczeni, political analyst, and Gábor Iványi, a Methodist minister.

The conference was slated to be held at the Kossuth Klub, a place of historical significance because that is where the reform communists held their meetings in the spring of 1956. Today all sorts of educational programs find a home in the Kossuth Klub. Its hall, which can seat 200 people, is frequently rented out to various organizations. All was in order until yesterday afternoon when the director of the Kossuth Klub cancelled the event. His rationale was that it is already campaign season and he deemed this conference a campaign event. The Kossuth Klub, he continued, cannot get involved in politics. He claimed that even if Viktor Orbán wanted to speak there he would have been turned down.

In any case, in the last minute the organizers managed to find another spot, a community and cultural gathering place called Eötvös10 Musical Studio. If I were to summarize in one sentence what I think this gathering signalled I would say that it is the beginning of Ferenc Gyurcsány's return to the political scene. He made no secret of his plans to head a broad coalition of people and forces whose aim is to make Viktor Orbán's premiership as short as possible. My impression was that, if necessary, the coalition might even be outside of MSZP. Unless, of course, the socialist party "reforms itself."

There were a few socialist politicians present as well: Zoltán Szabó, Mihály Kökény, András Tatai-Tóth, and Mária Vojnik. Népszabadság's Tamás Lajos Szalay, who reported on the event, also spotted István Vágó, the Hungarian "Jeopardy" host, who is a committed liberal and a fan of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

The speakers didn't mince words. József Debreczeni, the harshest critic of Viktor Orbán in the last six years or so, was the first to speak. He predicted earlier in a 450-page book practically everything that actually happened in the last one hundred days. He was mostly concerned about the dangers Viktor Orbán's return to power posed to democratic institutions, and therefore he concentrated on this topic. According to Debreczeni the checks and balances, without which there can be no democracy, are already in ruins. In name they still exist but they are all under the direction of Viktor Orbán's men. Debreczeni is also worried about the effort to "legitimize" the new revolutionary regime. He considers this sudden urge to come up with a new constitution part and parcel of this legitimization effort. He pointed out that the last Hungarian leader who called his own regime "revolutionary" was János Kádár. Debreczeni emphasized that Fidesz is not a center-right party as it is usually labelled in the media but a "right radical" party.

Kinga Göncz, MSZP member of the European Parliament, shared with her audience some impressions she gained in Brussels concerning European politicians' opinion of Viktor Orbán. According to her a significant portion of EU politicians are aware that Orbán is a dangerous populist and a nationalist. Her fellow MP's were wondering what Orbán will do with his two-thirds majority and whether he would attempt to dismantle the working mechanism of democratic institutions. In the last 100 days it became quite clear what Orbán's plans are and "in informal conversations one could hear voices doubting whether Hungary will be able to carry out the duties of the Union's presidency with this government at the helm."

Tamás Bauer, being an economist, concentrated on Fidesz's economic policy. There is reason to worry about the future because "what happened in the past few weeks is Fidesz's economic policy." Trying to revive the economy by emphasizing internal consumption "in the short run is destined to fail." Economic independence can lead only to bankruptcy. Surely, Orbán will stop before the abyss, but the problem is that "he himself cannot necessarily know where the edge of the abyss is." Hungary needs a government that instead of protectionism emphasizes integration and export. He criticized MSZP which for the time being is doing nothing else but complaining about unfulfilled promises on welfare-type issues. The country cannot be entrusted to Fidesz, but at the moment he sees no other force that could lead the country successfully. "That force must be created." A clear call for organizing a party.

Iván Vitányi is the grand old man of MSZP's liberal platform. He described the current regime as carrying out "hungaroputinist rule." Somewhat optimistically he claimed that this is the first time in Hungarian history that there is an opportunity to prevail over "right-wing absolutism." He criticized the politicians of the last twenty years who lived under "the spell of promises." Anyone who wanted to break out of this bad practice "was knocked out flat." A clear reference to Ferenc Gyurcsány's attempt to leave "lies = promises" behind and face facts.

Csaba Molnár is in my opinion a very promising young politician. He was heading the prime minister's office under Gordon Bajnai. I'm sure that Fidesz politicians really hate him because he is a very forceful speaker and facts and figures are at his fingertips. In his opinion the last one hundred days was spent on "maximization of power, attacks against the constitutional order and the politics of revenge."  According to him the Hungarian right is no more than "a bolshevik world colored orange." He compared Fidesz to a "closed sect that wants to force its orange bolshevism on everybody." What happened wasn't revolution. "It is an aggressive war against the constitution and against democracy." Under Fidesz guidance the country is turning back to the past and turning away from Europe. "We must act! There can be no compromise with a bolshevik right-wing vision of the future."

Then came Ferenc Gyurcsány, striking a very optimistic tone. "I can guarantee one thing: Viktor Orbán will fail." Of course, he added, every politician fails sooner or later but "from the point of view of the country it would be better if it happened very soon." The real question is not "what will happened to Orbán. We know that more or less. The question is, what will happen after Orbán. Who will come after him."

Before one can answer this question one must find out who constitutes the left today. "We are Hungarian patriots, Europeans and democrats. We are the democratic eighty-niners who are in opposition to the eleveners…. who want to dismantle the third republic. The next fight will be between the eighty-niners and the eleveners…. To be an eighty-niner means the acceptance of a western civilization…. I'm talking about a Hungary which is embodied in writers like [György] Spiró, [Imre] Kertész, or [György] Konrád. The eighty-niners are not a homogeneous group: there are among us right-of-center conservatives, liberals, socialists, social democrats…. Where we see Imre Kertész, they see Albert Wass."

Then he moved on to the practical steps that should be taken. According to him the eighty-niners must decide what kind of opposition they want to be and, later, on what basis they want to govern. Surely, Fidesz will lose voters and if the eighty-niners want to get the undecided votes they "have to speak more clearly." He warned that they have to be honest. Sometimes the interests of the country and the interests of the people are not the same, and for a politician this is a real dilemma. However, the interests of the country in the long run are the more important because the individual's well being largely depends on the state of the country as a whole.

People often say that to be in opposition is much easier than to govern because in opposition politicians can say anything without any consequence. But such a strategy backfires. Orbán is in the same predicament the socialists found themselves in during 2002 and 2006. He irresponsibly promised heaven and earth and now he stands empty-handed. Gyurcsány would like to convince the eighty-niners to be a different kind of opposition. A hard-hitting disciplined opposition but at the same time a responsible one. One mustn't fall into the trap of populist promises. "From irresponsible opposition there will be irresponsible government."

He called for the creation of a coalition of democrats to defend the constitution of 1989. They must organize a strong, responsible opposition movement. He added that there must be change within MSZP as well. If that change doesn't take place too many people will feel that there is no one who can lead this country. "There should be a party which accepts the role of responsible opposition and later responsible governing." He refused to elaborate on exactly what he had in mind.

 

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Mark
Guest

“The Kossuth Klub, he continued, cannot get involved in politics.”
Forgive me for laughing. The truth is that they have been hosting political events for a long time. Like this one:
http://indy.media.hu/node/13849
Now I’m sure they indeed wouldn’t host Viktor Orbán. But I’m not sure that they wouldn’t host Péter Kiss. I have a strange feeling that this is more about the stop Gyurcsány movement on the left of the MSZP than the Kossuth Klub’s desire to appear politically independent.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “I have a strange feeling that this is more about the stop Gyurcsány movement on the left of the MSZP than the Kossuth Klub’s desire to appear politically independent.”
I share this strange feeling. So are the organizers.

whoever
Guest
Bleh. Zombie parties and zombie politicians often don’t know when they’ve kicked the bucket in terms of electability. Hence, we still have utterly mysterious MDF posters around in Budapest, showing what appears to be a pimped-up cello. Who are the MDF these days? That door has slammed shut. By all means let Feri have another crack, but looking at the list of participants, one can’t help but feel Father Time breathing down your neck. One or two of these may be younger, but anyone who is young and liberal-left and a little bit wishy-washy and who ISN’T a total money-grubbing Schmuck (TM) is probably supporting the LMP. Feri’s idea for reviving his gimcrack coalition has, the support of, oooh, about 2 or 3% of the electorate, when not attached to the rusty, yet somehow intact, waggons of the MSZP, and their ability to deliver the pensioner army. Having said that, I would certainly try to make it easier for small parties to get representation in Parliament and local government. In any case Eva, you’re critical of Szili Kati for ‘one foot in, one foot out’ of the MSZP. But isn’t ‘our Feri’ doing the same now? I gather Mr Mesterházy… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “Feri’s idea for reviving his gimcrack coalition has, the support of, oooh, about 2 or 3% of the electorate,”
At the moment most likely you’re right, but I have the feeling that the honeymoon with Fidesz will be over in a couple of years if not sooner. Then, I think Gyurcsány could make inroads.

Passing Stranger
Guest

Too bad the Hungarians seem to only have the choice between a despot and a political train wreck. Gyurcsany in the end is a divisive figure. Voters stampeding away from Orban are unlikely to gallop in his direction.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Passing Stranger: “Gyurcsany in the end is a divisive figure. Voters stampeding away from Orban are unlikely to gallop in his direction.”
The same is true about Orban. Half the country hates him, the other half loves him. As far as Gyurcsány is concerned Fidesz made sure that he was going to be hated. Orbán couldn’t quite forgive him for the 2006 debate where he lost so badly. From there on he did everything to paint him as a devil.

Alias3T
Guest

I suspect the widely held “hatred” of Gyurcsany is as shallow as the universal support Orban claims for Fidesz.
It’s open to question whether Gyurcsany’s popularity plummeted because of the Oszod speech – initial polls suggested it wsn’t that badly received – or the combined effects of the street violence and the spending cuts that followed.
Fidesz may soon be presiding over austerity on a scale that dwarfs Gyurcsany’s or Bokros’s cuts, whether because they impose it or beacuse a falling forint forces it on them. What happens at that point is anybody’s guess, but at least one possibility is that polls will show a fall in levels of satisfaction with Fides and a more rose-tinted recollection of Gyurcsany. Though I suspect that Bajnai is a more plausible recipient of the nostalgia vote.
Still, Gyurcsany would have more chance of being hailed as a saviour if he could manage to shut up until the right moment.

Passing Stranger
Guest

It beats me why a political party would want to re-appoint the politician responsible for its greatest defeat ever. Gyurcsány may one day be seen as a lesser evil, but he stands no chance of becoming a unifying figure. Fidesz could easily demonise him because he is such an easy target. Not just because of his őszödi speech and other gaffes, but also because the riches he amassed as ex-KISZ secretary. Selecting Gyurcsány only makes sense if you are consciously planning a polarisation strategy.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Passing Stranger: “Gyurcsány may one day be seen as a lesser evil, but he stands no chance of becoming a unifying figure.”
Unifying figure? No one can unify the country. For the hardcore Fidesz supporters even Jesus Christ would’nt be good enough. I rather side with Alias3T. As for Bajnai, I like him very much, but I doubt that he could get the anti-Fidesz forces to support him. He is not a politician and I don’t think he even wants to be.

Alias3T
Guest

They’re unlikely to reappoint Gyurcsany, quite right. The sad thing is, the alternative is the trogladite wing of MSZP – the dim local barons who until recently were staples of senior ministerial office, whose quid pro quos and personal businesses on the side made effective governance all but impossible. This is a problem Fidesz shares.

Passing Stranger
Guest

“No one can unify the country. For the hardcore Fidesz supporters even Jesus Christ would’nt be good enough”
I am not convinced. MSzP and Fidesz supporters share many attitudes: nostalgia for Kádárism, a penchant for collectivism, desire for social security, love of a strong state in the economic sphere.
MSzP voters are as guilty of anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsy prejudice as Fidesz supporters. Fidesz supporters are perhaps more nationalist, but the Crown-worshipping proponents of Christian Hungary are a small minority of intellectuals. In the end, most Hungarians care more about their pay check and the Swiss Franc loan for the plasma screen TV than about Bratislava, Arad or Subotica.
Because of these similarities with the proper strategy and in fortuitous political circumstances, either party should be capable of making massive inroads in the supporters of the other.
However, a decline of Fidesz will not necessarily lead to a rise of the MSzP. Certainly with Gyurcsány at its head. It is a bit like the Conservatives fielding Thatcher after their 1997 defeat.
It is far more likely that other political forces will fill the gap.

Alias3T
Guest

“Because of these similarities with the proper strategy and in fortuitous political circumstances, either party should be capable of making massive inroads in the supporters of the other.”
I don’t think so: you’re right about the similarities, but the dominant feature of the Fidesz core is that they hate “the Commies.” The Socialist core is more diffuse, but, at the very least, they’re suspicious of the historical churches. There’s no way the MSZP could make inroads into Fidesz’s anti-Communist core support base, and vice versa. That has geographical implications: Fidesz is never likely to be strong in Borsod, and the Socialists are never going to be at home in the cities of western Hungary.

whoever
Guest

Well, Fidesz are probably OK in Borsod, to be fair, I believe they run B-A-Z county, and whilst threatened by Jobbik in some areas, they’ve had the upper hand over the socialists since 2006. No, I wouldn’t worry about Fidesz in the North-East. They’ll probably win in Miskolc.
In terms of the MSZP and western Hungary, I think the real question will be how long it will be before they really struggle to scrape together candidates and nominations. So far the machine still delivers the basics, but who knows for how long, without something drastic happening? If I were to place bets, I’d say in 2014 we could see the beginning of a real collapse of the MSZP as a national party – which has been in progress since 2006 in any case. Old age…

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

I find it interesting how Szijjártó Péter and Martonyi János react and accuse Göncz Kinga of bad-mouthing the country. So it doesn’t really matter whether she’s right or not – if you say something bad about Hungary, you’re damaging the nation, you’re not patriotic. Orbán on the other hand is practicing the opposite: with his words, he’s trying to paint the brightest pictures on a crumbling wall.

Mark
Guest
Alias3T: “Still, Gyurcsany would have more chance of being hailed as a saviour if he could manage to shut up until the right moment.” It is the tragedy of the opposition that their most talented politician has no chance whatsoever of doing anything other than alienating the real base of support they need to win if they are to have any chance. People look at Gyurcsány and they fail to register how disastrous his tenure was ultimately for the MSZP. Whoever and Alias3T have exchanged views about the relative prospects of FIDESZ in BAZ. FIDESZ topped the poll in the big urban industrial centres in BAZ both the European elections last year and the elections this year because of the defection of substantial sections of the working-class base of the MSZP to Jobbik, letting FIDESZ in through the middle. We shouldn’t underestimate – and I speak as someone who goes not to BAZ but to similar ex-industrial areas – the impact of Gyurcsány’s personality and deeds on this process. The image of Gyurcsány the wealthy entrepreneur was not enough to break the link between these voters and the MSZP, but when combined with the “lies” and the impact of health… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Alias 3T: “The sad thing is, the alternative is the trogladite wing of MSZP – the dim local barons who until recently were staples of senior ministerial office, whose quid pro quos and personal businesses on the side made effective governance all but impossible.”
You present this as if the “old” MSZP and Gyurcsány were somehow alternatives. Both of them are symptoms of the state of living death of the MSZP as a movement. It is worth remembering that after 2002, aside of wage and pensions increases the Medgyessy government had no real programme, and presented no real vision for the country. The MSZP establishment were disatisfied with Medgyessy but presented no real alternative. It wasn’t through democratic competition among supporters or party members that Gyurcsány, but because the moribund nature of the MSZP allowed him to buy it up and fillet it, just as Altus did with all of the state companies it bought. That someone as politically flawed and damaged as Gyurcsány can come back and be taken seriously speaks volumes about the near death state of the opposition.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Without him the MSZP would have lost with close to 30%, and not 20% of the vote”
Mark, I think you’re wrong. The support of MSZP really came to almost nothing after Gyurcsány left office. See here: http://www.szondaipsos.hu/graph2/draw.php

Mark
Guest

Éva: “The support of MSZP really came to almost nothing after Gyurcsány left office. See here: http://www.szondaipsos.hu/graph2/draw.php
As I have said very consistently I don’t think we can draw anything other than imperfect conclusions from month-by-month headline figures from opinion polls, especially as those in the first half of 2009 completely understated certain crucial dimensions of the political landscape, including the Jobbik phenomenon. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for the real impact of political events to take some time to register in them.
But, of course what I’ve given you is an “if things were different y would have been different” statement, and as we know counter-factuals are always based largely on guesswork and instinct. But that counter-factual is based on quite a lot of observation in ex-industrial areas.

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