Socialist revival in Hungary?

It’s too early to tell how successful the battered MSZP’s efforts to regain its popularity and its electoral support will be, but the beginnings turned out a great deal better than I expected.

When I heard two or three weeks ago that MSZP isn’t officially supporting the demonstration of the Hungarian Democratic Charta and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s new Democratic Coalition but instead will hold a mass meeting on November 27, I really thought it was going to be a flop. How on earth can you organize a meeting protesting the government’s crippling of the constitutional court weeks after the fact? What I didn’t count on–how silly of me–was that the Orbán government would further attack the country’s democratic institutions in the interim and that there would be plenty of other issues to protest. And indeed, the government did a favor to the socialists: they decided to nationalize the private retirement funds. Well, that is an even bigger issue for the average citizen than the abstract notion of constitutional democracy.

I heard yesterday that the organizers were expecting a full house in the Sports Arena, which seats 10,000, and that in fact several thousand people were unable to get tickets. The crowd included MSZP supporters, the liberal Hungarian Democratic Charta, and Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition platform (which has about three times more non-party than party members). From the party leadership only Attila Mesterházy gave a speech, and the emphasis was on ordinary people and their grievances against the current government. (Videos they are available on MSZP’s website). Mesterházy was a great deal better than usual and even Index, not exactly sympathetic to the left, compared him to Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is indeed an inspiring speaker. The organizers chose a young man, Balázs Bárány, to deliver one of the speeches, and he turned out to be not only good looking but also an excellent speaker who wasn’t awed by the huge crowd.

 

Ferenc Gyurcsány is still very popular among the rank and file, and here I will quote the rather sarcastic description offered by Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper that is certainly not fond of the man. “But no one caused such rapture as Ferenc Gyurcsány. When he entered the arena, Zsolt Török, one of the spokesmen of the party, was just describing in what big trouble the country is. When the failed former prime minister stepped into the aisle he was followed by continuous applause. It was like ‘dolby surround sound’ in a multiplex movie. Meanwhile they were kissing and embracing him, but Török just went on about the ills of the country.”

The slogan of the gathering was: “Your place is here,” and the returning demand: “It was enough!” Mesterházy called on the people not to be afraid and to stand up for their rights and “pick up the gauntlet.” If the government doesn’t stop its current activities that aim at dismantling the foundations of Hungarian democracy then, come spring, MSZP will organize mass demonstrations. Mesterházy and the others managed to arouse the crowd, who wished Viktor Orbán to hell. And when certain Fidesz names were mentioned, such as Pál Schmitt, Péter Polt, Zsigmond Járai, and György Matolcsy, the people hooted and whistled.

Mesterházy promised compensation for anyone who suffered material losses as a result of the legislation of the Orbán government and swore that once they are back in power they will reverse all the discriminatory pieces of legislation recently accepted by the two-thirds majority. He called the people present “the ambassadors of democracy.” Each was given a “protest petition” to sign themselves and to ask their friends and acquaintances to join them. All well and good, but why they called this signature drive a petition, I can’t fathom. Subjects submit petitions to their ruler, asking for his favor. An unfortunate choice of words.

Mesterházy promised to organize street demonstrations and mass meetings in the spring if the Orbán government doesn’t change its behavior. Well, I don’t think that Orbán will change: his present policies reflect his very essence. The only possibility would be a real threat from Brussels that would carry serious material consequences. For example, if the European Union refused to accept the Hungarian government’s methods for achieving the 2.9% budget deficit and withheld the subsidies originally planned for Hungary. But even that wouldn’t help the situation as far as the constitution, the constitutional court, or the media are concerned.

As for street demonstrations, it is very possible that the trade unions will take their people out on the streets even before springtime. It is also possible that there will be a strike at the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV). Before the elections Gordon Bajnai and Csaba Horváth (MSZP), then deputy mayor of Budapest, worked out an arrangement by which the central government would help out BKV with a 12 billion forint subsidy. Fidesz won the elections and naturally the new government refused to fulfill the obligation of its predecessor. It seemed that Fidesz was waiting for the municipal elections after which the new Fidesz mayor, István Tarlós, could restart negotiations. Then the gift of 17 billion forints would come from Viktor Orbán and not his predecessor. Indeed, the agreement was reached but BKV has received no money. The Transit Authority is in such a bad financial state that it is unable to pay its workers’ end of the year bonuses due on December 5. The trade union is threatening a strike. The government employees are also planning a demonstration. So it is very possible that there might be more people out on the streets than Mesterházy is thinking of at the moment.

From Fidesz only Lajos Kósa had something to say about the MSZP mass meeting. According to Kósa, MSZP took ordinary people’s money (13th month pension, freezing civil servant salaries) while Fidesz taxed banks, multinational companies, the energy sector, and telecommunication companies. So, the majority of the people support the decisions of the Orbán government. As for the threat of going out on the streets, Kósa expressed his belief that everybody has the right to do so, “but the question is whether it makes any sense or not.” Of course, Fidesz in opposition took great advantage of street protests and mass meetings. If it made sense then, it certainly makes sense now. Unless of course Kósa thinks that it doesn’t matter what happens outside the charmed circle of Fidesz. No protests, no strikes, no demonstrations make the slightest difference. They are on top and they will remain there forever. But that’s not how things work in politics.

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Paul
Guest

Just on a constitutional point – if MSZP, or indeed anyone else, does manage to defeat FIDESZ one day, how are they going to reverse the constitutional changes unless they get 66% of the seats (which is rather unlikely)?

OpenDog
Guest

Can they say it was unconstitutional to change the constitution … ? This Hungary. Use your imagination.

Paul
Guest

My imagination fails.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

If MSZP will continue with its confused course it will not even play the role of an opposition. So it is not enough to say, we are against Fidesz. They must present a realistic way to get the majority at the next election. By fighting each other they cannot achieve anything.

whoever
Guest

In summary:
“We don’t like Viktor, or Fidesz.”
This being the motivation to actually choose Gyurcsány in the first place, who was originally chosen (partially correctly) as the man who could directly tackle Orbán.
But beyond this, it’s questionable whether this rag-tag army of old communists and young careerists – with a few genuine social democrats thrown in – have the basic skills and intellectual coherence to assemble any kind of alternative.

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

“Mesterházy promised compensation for anyone who suffered material losses as a result of the legislation of the Orbán government…”
Here is turns again, the vicious circle of promises. Fidesz should have continued with the course of austerity, and the same should Mesterházy do, might he get the power some day. Do not start with false promises again that cannot be kept.

Kevin Moore
Guest

“Index, not exactly sympathetic to the left”
Ha ha ha.
Index, the almost extremist liberal internet paper, “not exactly sympathetic to the left”.
Ha.

Thomas
Guest

@ Paul & @ Karl Pfeifer: Your questions of how to change back the constitution in case Fidesz loses the next elections seem to assume that there will be ‘normal’ parliamentary elections again in 2014. What makes you think so? By voting for Fidesz, the electorate voted itself out of power for some understandable, but mostly irrational reasons. Orbán carefully planned for, and is now speedily executing, a change of political paradigm (from democracy to one-party state). The ruling mob has no plans to give up power after this or any legislative period. The measures, methods, as well as the spirit in which they are applied are clear indicators of what to expect. The experience of the last couple of months can safely be extrapolated.

GW
Guest

“Socialist revival”? While it does appear that an opposition is showing some signs of life, it is far from clear that this represents a socialist alternative. More precisely, it is Fidesz which has been and is offering, under a populist-nationalist veneer, the more explicitly socialist program, especially with regard to health care, pensions, banking, and, in some case, de-privatisation. (Not to mention the cosy-ing up to the Chinese Communists or the authoritarian leadership in Russia or Iran.)
As someone who considers himself to be a market-oriented conservative and a small-d democrat and who, having spent five years of my adult life in Hungary, with the fortune to have a child born in that country, wish nothing more than that Hungary become properous and thrive within a modern Europe, I would very much like to see the Fidesz supporters on this list address these issues rather than blindly support Fidesz and attack those who would dare criticize Fidesz by minconstruing our motives or questioning our affection for the country.

whoever
Guest

Thomas, I think you’re at least partially correct. All the signs have been there for some time – in fact I am sure that Fidesz leaders themselves have referred previously to a ‘one and a half’ party state, where the opposition are there to basically provide a harmless conduit for dissent. If they can keep the wheels on the economy – always a big ‘if’ in Hungary – there’s no reason to doubt of their success.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

“Ferenc Gyurcsány is still very popular among the rank and file”
Maybe so, but elections are not won by the rank and file core of party faithful, but by the vast uncommitted center. In 2002 that center was repelled by Orban and voted for the MSzP. By 2010 they were sick and tired of the socialists – especially Gyurcsany – and voted overwhelmingly for the right.
As long as Gyurcsany remain on the scene, Orban has nothing to worry about. When will the MSzP wake up and dump him? He is a huge liability to them.

An
Guest

It is good to see that there is some resistance to Orban, at least in the left. However, without the moderate, democratic-minded conservatives stepping up against Orban, I do not see much chance that the current trend towards building an authoritarian-style government would change. No wonder that one of Orban’s first target was the MDF: he had to get rid of alternatives on the right before he could tackle the left.

OpenDog
Guest

The stupidity of the Hungarian political elite is amazing. On both side for that matter. Mesterházy in a few seconds lost 10s of thousands of votes with this “material compensation remark”. The biggest promise of the new right wing government was to crack down on the “friendly material compensations” by the left. The first thing this idiot says on a rally is promising to bring back his friends to the pork barrel. Such a slam dunk argument for Orbanist.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GW: “Socialist revival”? While it does appear that an opposition is showing some signs of life, it is far from clear that this represents a socialist alternative.
I tend to agree with you. To compete with Fidesz doesn’t seem to be too promising. Moreover, the socialist alternative is fuzzy at best.
If the current leadership of MSZP had some brains they would widen their horizons to unite all anti-Fidesz forces.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sackshoes: “”Ferenc Gyurcsány is still very popular among the rank and file” Maybe so, but elections are not won by the rank and file core of party faithful, but by the vast uncommitted center.”
He is not so unpopular in liberal, moderate left circiles as you think. To my mind he is the only one at the moment who can move that crowd.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “However, without the moderate, democratic-minded conservatives stepping up against Orban, I do not see much chance that the current trend towards building an authoritarian-style government would change. No wonder that one of Orban’s first target was the MDF: he had to get rid of alternatives on the right before he could tackle the left.”
I think this is exactly what Gyurcsány is trying to explain to the current leadership but they resist. Good example: one of the objections to the creation of the Democratic Coalition was/is that it includes non-party members. I think the issue is still unresolved.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Open Dog: “The first thing this idiot says on a rally is promising to bring back his friends to the pork barrel. Such a slam dunk argument for Orbanist.”
I don’t think that his audience interpreted his words this way. This supposition is based on the accusations of Fidesz that all socialists are crooks. Sure, they were some but I bet not more than among politicians on the other side.

whoever
Guest

Surely the telling point is that in the period 1998-2002, one of the most trenchant lines of attack from all of the non-Fidesz parties related to HappyEnd and other dodgy dealings around the Fidesz leadership. One would be forced to conclude, given Eva’s implicit acceptance of similar levels of graft across the political spectrum, that there is a de facto collusionary aspect to this. In other words, the undermining of the Third Republic has happened as a consequence of the actions of all major political actors…

John G
Guest
“Socialist Revival”? I hardly thinks so; not if we take the gathering at the Sports Arena as an indication. Except for the well timed and obviously unscripted arrival of Gyurcsany there was nothing spontaneous about the gathering. Mesterhazy may have performed better than before, he still came off as a dull, bad actor with a speech that failed to move his audience which seems to have needed the electonic flash boards to signal when to applaud and when to cheer. Lacking that, often, Mesterhazy was caught off guard during his speech when the anticipated applause, rousing cheers and even standing ovations failed to materialize. As an orator he is not in the same class as either Orban or Gyurcsany and it would seem neither is he competition in the field of policies or ideas. The gathering was as dull as ditch-water, hardly characterizable as a revival. A pity. It could have/should have been so much more. This gathering also underlined my feeling that Hungary, contrary to Gyurcsany’s and I might add my own expectations is not a Western styled democracy. There may be a Parliament Building in Budapest designed by an Englishman and and even bearing a slight resemblance to… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “One would be forced to conclude, given Eva’s implicit acceptance of similar levels of graft across the political spectrum, that there is a de facto collusionary aspect to this. In other words, the undermining of the Third Republic has happened as a consequence of the actions of all major political actors…”
Let’s not single out the political actors. There is wide corruption everywhere from the police to the house painter. And let’s not forget that there are bad apples in every country and in every party. Fidesz was just very clever and with a little help from the prosecutors managed to show MSZP as a bunch of super-dooper thieves.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John G: Hungary “contrary to Gyurcsany’s and I might add my own expectations is not a Western styled democracy.”
Oh, I don’t think that Gyurcsany is naive enough to think that Hungary is a true, western type democracy. He just would like if it became one. That’s why he is talking about the western values that Hungarians should emulate. But self-reliance, hard work, etc. don’t appeal to his audience.

OpenDog
Guest

@Eva You should study Goebbels … 🙂
It doesn’t matter what that few thousand thinks in a socialist political rally or what’s the ratio of crooks on either side. It’s about swaying the voters in the middle. My point is that the political elite has still no clue about politics. It’s all improvisations.
Similar thing was when you said about Fleto that the public didn’t care much about the fact that he gave the “We f*d up big time” speech. True. What register with the voters was the fact that he f*d up. Look what happened …

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Whoever As you say * * “In other words, the undermining of the Third Republic has happened as a consequence of the actions of all major political actors” * *
Yes indeed but that was the only model of government that was known to the politicos of that time. If as is strongly suggested the present bunch of buffoons are NEVER going to give up power, but to do this they need a combination of the “3-3” the well hidden AVO, and a special praetorian guard. If anything serious form of opposition appears within Fidesz (or any true right wing party) it will be smashed.
Like all ‘Mighty Ones’ ole Orby Vic cannot allow any even modestly cleaver party member get anywhere near him. Although he is a very adroit political manipulator and schemer that is all he is.
He may find himself out manoeuvred by the Europeans who are very good at getting agreement amongst the diverse government.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
OpenDog: “Similar thing was when you said about Fleto that the public didn’t care much about the fact that he gave the “We f*d up big time” speech. True. What register with the voters was the fact that he f*d up. Look what happened …” This was partly Gyurcsány’s fault who got carried away and didn’t express himself clearly. What he meant to say–and I think that’s true–that none of the governments since 1990 levelled with the Hungarian people. Meaning that the country is in terrible economic shape and the “premature welfare state” (coined by János Kornai) cannot be maintained. At least not for now. Every political party promised everything under the sun and the country was going further and further down to a point that it ceased to be competitive. Yes, there were corrections (Bokros) and the first two years of the first Orbán government but they with Matolcsy in the ministry of economics began a spending spree again. This trend was continued under Medgyessy and under Gyurcsány between 2004 and 2006 because he thought that introducing an austerity program a year and a half before the elections was political suicide. When correction came the MSZP paid for it… Read more »
An
Guest

Odin’s Lost Eye: “If anything serious form of opposition appears within Fidesz (or any true right wing party) it will be smashed.”
I think that’s the only place where effective opposition can emerge: from within Fidesz or from the right. So far they haven’t stood up because they are way too invested and intimidated. It’s also very difficult to realize and acknowledge one’s mistake of backing such a character as Orban. But with time it will happen. Somebody who still has some honor and responsibility for the country will do the right thing and back out. And that will be the end of OV.

GW
Guest

John G wrote: “He would have pointed out, I am certain, that Hungary has a history of a strong leader, a Vezer to whom society looks for leadership.”
I believe that a critical but honest reading of Hungarian history would give plenty of evidence for the patriotic devotion to a series of names, each of whom had leadership roles, but few of whom really distinguished themselves in actually bringing the nation-state forward in political, economic, social, or cultural development.
While much of this was due to external forces (take your pick: Turks, Austrians, Soviets, the EU…), the tendency towards division within the country has too often been to the disadvantage of Hungary. Both the brain drain caused by the numerus clausus in the years between world wars and the current taxation plans are sadly typical of Hungarian history: instead of building upon that which is most successful in Hungary today, you single it out and treat it as a pariah.

Vándorló
Guest
@Éva: “He is not so unpopular in liberal, moderate left circiles as you think. To my mind he is the only one at the moment who can move that crowd.” It doesn’t help that you don’t live here and interact with normal people every day. Your statement is simply not true. He is roundly loathed and many circles remain deeply resentful for his recreation of Orbán out of the dust of previous defeats. As one commentator noted Index is moderately left-liberal whilst you see it as unfriendly to the left simply because to you any antipathy to Gyurcsány and his appalling legacy is enough to warrant such a distorted conclusion. Gyurcsány has never been part of the left in any meaningful sense. He has never been interested in cleaning up politics. The ‘glass-pocket’ nonsense was a joke. You yourself continuously condone the illegal radiogate contracts that was jointly decided by MSZP and Fidesz. How can any reasonable, decent person not be disgusted by such a brazen and blatant disregard for the laws of the land? And now we are supposed to take his side? Perhaps when the MSZP acknowledges that it was/is impotent, dishonest and corrupt to the core. Perhaps… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

To Vandorlo, you and I think differently. That’s all.

OpenDog
Guest

@Eva Everything you say I believe is true. The country consumed a lot more since 1990 than it could afford because it’s politicians tried to hold on to the power for a second term. Or they were just incompetent morons. Another discussion …
There is no such thing in politics that “I meant this, not that” … “I had smoked weed, but I didn’t inhale”. Well, this actually worked. But our “leaders” are no Bubba Clinton. I’m suggesting that it’s an art how to manipulate the masses and this is a skill our messiahs still didn’t master.
I just started to read W’s memoirs. It’s really fascinating how this guy could pull off to get public support for the things post 9/11 and get re-elected for a second term with a wider margin. He wasn’t stupid at all.
I think Mesterházy comments about the compensations actually will backfire.

Vándorló
Guest
@OpenDog: Ridiculous. The real problem is that Orbán is a master of ochlocratic rule. Which, of course, runs contrary to Éva’s assertion that only Gyurcsány is verbally gifted enough to lift the masses out of their self induced hypnosis. Gyurcsány plainly does not speak the language of the masses. He appeals to the elite. Which is, appropriately, the people he served; and continues to. Orbán understands when to speak, when not to and what to say. The fact that when he speaks it is nonsense is largely irrelevant. You may have an Utopian and hopeful view of the masses, I do not. The majority of people are simple, live simple lives and have simple needs. Orbán feeds those needs. He appeals to the bigot and the damaged child and they respond in their masses. Gyurcsány meanwhile talks to all those that shoved him up on his expensive pedestal. He talks about a world that will never exist, in a language none of those not fortunate enough to have been chosen to play his role could understand. From his cossetted alcove he hardly ever gets a glimpse of real people and their suffering. Eight years of MSZP ‘socialism’ and the lines… Read more »
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