Is Ferenc Gyurcsány returning to politics soon?

Well, he is a member of parliament, but otherwise he has been very quiet in the last year and a half. Mind you, every time he opens his mouth Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman, is mighty upset and tells the "Hungarian people" that the end of the world is coming: Gyurcsány has the temerity to push his way back into politics. After all, in Fidesz parlance, all the troubles the country is experiencing now are his fault.

In the last few months Gyurcsány delivered two speeches. The first was a speech in front of about 2,000 people at a gathering organized by the Hungarian Democratic Charta that came into being in September 2008 at the initiative of Ferenc Gyurcsány, then still prime minister. The second speech was delivered at a conference organized by the Fapados Alapítvány. I reported on both speeches at length on this blog.

Gyurcsány while prime minister was himself an avid blogger. With the exception of weekends he wrote every day. Or rather he dictated his blogs, mostly in the car, and his people transcribed them and put them up on the internet. Thousands and thousands read these blogs and hundreds wrote comments. Since he left office he writes rarely. Perhaps once every two weeks. But when he writes all Hungarian newspapers, written and electronic, tell their readers about it. Therefore it was surprising that Gyurcsány agreed to contribute five pieces to www.galamus.hu, a website that carries a complete collection of MTI news items and daily two or three opinion pieces.

Two weeks ago the editor-in-chief of Galamus decided to launch a new column called G-7. The idea was to have one person provide articles between Monday and Friday on topics that he/she found interesting. László Kéri, a political scientist, was the contributor the first week and to everybody's surprise Ferenc Gyurcsány agreed to be the author of this week's G-7.

As far as Gyurcsány's political career is concerned, almost everybody is certain that we will hear of Ferenc Gyurcsány in the future. That he will one day play an important political role again. The only question is–and this is where people differ–when?

There are some who think that he should remain quiet for a while. These are usually the people in the MSZP or its left-wing sympathizers who basically never liked Gyurcsány's liberalism. In their eyes Gyurcsány is not really a socialist, although when these people are asked to give a coherent description of what kind of socialism they have in mind, their answers are usually rather fuzzy. A typical example in that category is János Avar, a journalist, who makes no secret of his belief that it was Gyurcsány who turned the socialist voters away from MSZP. He makes himself clear every time Gyurcsány's name is mentioned on Monday evenings at the Újságíró Klub, a political program on ATV, where he is one of the participants.

But then there is the other side. They claim that the old-fashioned, still kádárist MSZP leadership not only abandoned him at crucial times but in fact some of them actively tried to get rid of him. They use the word "megfúrták" which in plain English means "they screwed him." These people are convinced that it was an MSZP member of parliament who was responsible for the leak of the infamous Gyurcsány speech at Balatonőszöd which ended up in the hands of Viktor Orbán.

It is not surprising that those who never liked him very much think that his return to politics is premature, while the other side is certain that he is the only man who could revive the party or at least gather all the anti-Fidesz forces and make them a viable political entity. Surely, timing is of the essence and I for one can't decide whether Gyurcsány's re-entry into politics would be timely at the moment or not. However, there are signs that he is contemplating a return soon. In one of his blogs at the end of summer he wrote about the still lazy summer days at their country house and talked about his building a patio, but he rather significantly added that it is time to return to Budapest because one must "build more important things than a patio."

Building a left-liberal coalition of forces against Fidesz at the moment seems fairly hopeless. The leaders of the new party (LMP) that has a fair number of admirers among this blog's readers refuse to cooperate with MSZP because, just like Fidesz, they are certain that everything that is wrong with Hungary today is MSZP's fault. Of course, this is not the case. One can certainly blame Péter Medgyessy for an irresponsible economic policy, but from 2006 on under Ferenc Gyurcsány there was a serious effort with very good results to put the country's shaky finances in order. But then came the worldwide recession. Moreover, Fidesz's behavior in the last eight years left something to be desired, to put it mildly. They pretty well managed to torpedo any reasonable reforms. So MSZP was not the only culprit.

All efforts on the part of MSZP to cooperate with LMP by putting up a viable non-party candidate for mayor of Budapest failed, although it is clear that neither LMP's nor MSZP's candidate stands a chance to win against Fidesz's man, István Tarlós. For the first time in twenty years Budapest will also turn orange, although by all calculations a good independent candidate supported by all the anti-Tarlós forces could have won.

LMP's mayoral candidate, a thirty-year-old biologist, only yesterday gave an interview to Magyar Hírlap, a newspaper that until recently was even farther to the right than Magyar Nemzet, the mouthpiece of Fidesz. The so-called democratic LMP mayoral candidate gleefully announced that although he would like see a strong showing of oppositional parties, after the elections as far as he is concerned MSZP should disintegrate because by that time it will not matter which way the socialist party is heading. Once MSZP disappears LMP can cooperate nicely with István Tarlós and Fidesz.

Thus, surely, one cannot count on LMP as one of the "democratic coalition forces" Gyurcsány is dreaming of. It is also clear that appeals to democracy don't move Hungarians. For the time being the only thing that interests them is their economic well being. What Fidesz does with checks and balances or the constitution is of no concern to them. Therefore, one must wait until the Fidesz supporters realize that they were duped. I would say within a year they will find out.

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whoever
Guest
There’s elements of truth here. On their current trajectory, the MSZP are headed for oblivion. I would argue that the MSZP as a united, coherent ‘party’ are finished in a practical sense in any case – in any eventuality. The real question is the nature of the dissolution. Will career politicians and bureaucrats hold together for long enough, to achieve a long, slow and rather desparate death, until the MSZP machine breaks out of sheer old age and entropy? It’s an ageing party, composed of many old people. It’s lost an entire generation – there may be young people in the MSZP, but they are obviously in it for the Benjamins. Or will the wagons be allowed to ‘decouple?’ This would allow a new, well-financed party of Gyurcsany’s ‘liberal left’ – a pro-market party, where finding sponsors isn’t a problem, but finding votes might be. And then on the other hand, a more traditional social democratic party, more public service and welfarist, which would appeal to many of the MSZP’s existing core vote, but which would lack capable leadership and credibility. Hmm… either way, the MSZP are stuffed, and Gyurcsany knows that his return would trigger the ‘decoupling’ of the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “Blaming Gyurcsány alone for the condition of the MSZP is simplistic, but he obviously had a role to play, in creating a party so seemingly out-of-tune with society.”
I agree with almost everything you said above, but I would argue with you on this last point. Gyurcsány didn’t create the party, he inherited it and that old party didn’t support him or worse, managed to get rid of him.
In fact, there are a few young, good people in the party who are supporting Gyurcsány, but most of the others are really out of touch.

whoever
Guest
But they did support him. In 2007 he became leader of the MSZP, elected unopposed, if I remember. He didn’t have to become leader of the MSZP as well as Prime Minister, but he chose to. Even after the Balatonőszöd speech he was practically unimpeded in the MSZP. On paper, all the major figures backed him, no MSZP ministers resigned and only a couple of MPs on the margins made any protests (but I don’t think any of them resigned). Only small group of members on the left of the party, tuned in to the discontent in the country, and left. This probably wouldn’t have happened in many places, and you’d have had resignations at a ministerial level. In fact, the key to understanding the real problem with the MSZP, is MSZP politicians do not act in a way that Western observers would normally regard as normal – they are lacking, for want of a better description, the ‘politics of initiative’ – where, backed by groups of activists, certain figures take a stand for reasons of principle and/or expediency, and then reject office in favour of a period of re-examination. Certainly this is what happened to the Blair government with… Read more »
whoever
Guest

Sorry – just to be clear – I mean an authoritarian aspect to the discourse of Hungarian liberalism, rather than that Hungarian liberals are all bad people!

Mark
Guest
whoever: “When Gyurcsány was leader, he had regal authority over the Party and all ministers swore an ‘oath’ of allegiance after the storm broke. Any opposition came from fairly discredited sources, Szanyi, Szili, Karsai, all of whom could be said to be objecting from expedience or incoherence.” Of course, no-one openly broke with their leader, but you didn’t have to spend too much time around people in the MSZP to realize that there were some very powerful people in the party plotting to remove him. For example, I have it on very good authority that László Kovács was approached in 2007 by some of the senior political figures professing loyalty to him with a view to replacing him in an internal party coup. And while I don’t know if the stories accusing Péter Kiss of a role in leaking the “lies” speech are true or not, I do know that people associated with him were privately expressing vehement opposition to Gyurcsány and all his works almost from the moment he became Prime Minister in 2004. In fact it is far from clear to me whether some of these people were more opposed to Gyurcsány than to FIDESZ. That they didn’t… Read more »
Mark
Guest

” to replacing him in an internal party coup”
I needed to say replacing Gyurcsány with him

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

The reasons for the current state of MSZMP lay deep. Since the end of Gyula Horn’s governance in 1998, they’ve been completely free of a single person with a concept. Exactly as Sándor Márai said:
“It is going to be very difficult to get rid of the Communist, because noone is more dangerous than the beneficiary of a fallen idea who is not protecting the idea any more but only the loot.”
This is what happened in the “party” and all they had cared about in the past 12 years was to find the most suitable person for the actual time who has a chance of beating Viktor Orbán. Without any vision, concept or factual professionalism ever, they have had only two very primitive message types:
1. more money for the people
2. our adversaries are anti-democrats and we protect you from them
Now, as reality has proven the exact opposite of both points, they don’t have one single valid message to the voters. They stand no chance and no relief is in sight, and it’s only the beginning as presumably many of their prominent members are starting their march towards jail.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Of course, no-one openly broke with their leader, but you didn’t have to spend too much time around people in the MSZP to realize that there were some very powerful people in the party plotting to remove him.”
I also wanted to say something similar. Sure, they didn’t want early elections because they knew that it would be a disaster but they plotted against him all along and torpedoed some of his reform plans.

Mark
Guest

“All efforts on the part of MSZP to cooperate with LMP by putting up a viable non-party candidate for mayor of Budapest failed, although it is clear that neither LMP’s nor MSZP’s candidate stands a chance to win against Fidesz’s man, István Tarlós.”
Unfortunately the problem is that after the previous government, but more importantly the scandals with the BKV the idea of voting for any candidate supported by the Budapest MSZP is abhorent to most people at the moment. For LMP to negotiate a candidate with the Budapest MSZP would not only condemn that candidate but also themselves. Frankly, the only chance there is of stopping Tarlós is for Molnár to withdraw unconditionally and advise people to vote for the candidate best placed to beat the FIDESZ one.
Maybe in future once LMP has had the chance to sort out the question of its long-term ideological identity, and the memory of MSZP rule nationally and of the Demszky era is forgotten some opportunities for red-green co-operation will emerge. But that is a long way off.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Mark: why should Tarlós be stopped?

Mark
Guest

Pásztor Szilárd: “why should Tarlós be stopped?”
It all depends on your point-of-view. If you believe that the city is best governed by a conservative mayor than Tarlós is a good candidate. However, there has been no election in Budapest since 1990 when a conservative party has won more than 50% of the vote in Budapest, and only one (April 2010) when all right-wing parties combined (including the neo-fascists)have done so. If you want something other than a conservative administration you will almost certainly want something and therefore someone else.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

Mark: first, there is no other credible candidate than Tarlós. This pretty much leaves the city with one possible choice.
Second, I don’t know if he will be a conservative mayor in the aspect that there will be no “big” plans just regular operation of the city, but what I know is that he has promised to work closely with VEKE, a civil organization for transport development who bring an extreme amount of professional knowledge to the table. Provided they can have their word and some money (maybe from EU sources) is available, they can turn the city’s transport into a state-of-the-art system. This alone is enough to support Tarlós.

Naecatzavencu
Guest

No, we shouldn’t blame Gyurcsány for what happened in Hungary during the two terms of government the MSZP served. He wasn’t the leader of that government, he didn’t lead policy that led Hungary to the verge of bankruptcy and he didn’t hang on to power despite his personal and his governments complete discredit after 2006.
I think we should continue praising Gyurcsány and wish him a fulfilling political career. I can’t wait to see him back in the Prime Minister’s seat.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Naecatzavencu: “No, we shouldn’t blame Gyurcsány for what happened in Hungary during the two terms of government the MSZP served.”
Well, the real culprit was Péter Medgyessy. He was the one who fulfilled all the irresponsible promises Hungarian parties campaign with. Gyurcsány, especially in his second term, made valiant efforts to reduce the deficit and Bajnai continued to bring down the deficit in record time.

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