István Éger, the beleaguered president of the Hungarian Medical Association

There is a Hungarian saying, Legszebb öröm a káröröm, which can be roughly translated as "the best joy is someone else's misfortune." We know it as schadenfreude. I'll bet a lot of people who are not too fond of István Éger, president of the Hungarian Medical Assocation (Magyar Orvosi Kamara or MOK), are experiencing that joy. Éger, who served Fidesz well and expected to be rewarded, will most likely go up in flames.

I wrote about Éger back in 2007. In "The Hungarian Medical Association and its president" I gave a full account of his total rejection of the socialist-liberal government and the very substantial assistance MOK and physicians in general gave to Fidesz. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that with their attack on the Gyurcsány government's efforts to revamp Hungarian healthcare they put the final nail in the socialist-liberal coffin.

It is somewhat laughable to read on MOK's web page that the association is an "independent and democratic institution." Independent? First of all, how can it be independent when its activities are supervised by the Ministry of Health or whatever it is called nowadays. The Ministry decides its structure and its bylaws, even the president's pay. An association formed to defend the interests of a profession should be both established and run by its members, not some ministry.

A very brief history. In Hungary, following the German and Austrian models, the first nationwide medical association (Országos Orvosi Kamara = OOK), established in 1936, prescribed, again by government edict, compulsory membership for all practicing physicians. Because of OOK's checkered political history it was abolished in 1945.

In 1988 a new association, MOK, was formed which does not consider itself the legal successor to OOK. Again, membership was compulsory. This was the situation until 2006 when during the tenure of the liberal minister, Lajos Molnár, the law governing MOK was changed: doctors no longer had to belong to the association. The move was political. It was clear that the government wanted to weaken MOK. A surprising number of the members remained, most likely to demonstrate their opposition to the Gyurcsány government and to Molnár's reforms.

Ever since 2006 one of MOK's demands was to reintroduce compulsory membership. Sure, more members, more money. The other demand was equally important. They wanted to have the right to torpedo healthcare legislation not to their liking. Well, Orbán was ready to grant the demand for compulsory membership. After all, that cost him nothing. But giving real power to MOK was something else.

Doctors were not thrilled with the reintroduction of compulsory membership in MOK. Back in October one could read that some people were collecting signatures against compulsory membership and against István Éger, who forced the issue.

Meanwhile Éger was getting impatient with the new government's less than generous payment for services rendered. According to people who know him well, Éger was pretty sure that he would receive some high position in the government. A month before the elections there was a large Fidesz gathering at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where Éger had an opportunity to speak with Viktor Orbán, but then nothing happened. So by January Éger announced that the doctors' patience and most importantly his had run out. The government is doing nothing and the new governmental structure hasn't served the interest of the profession. I assume that was also an indirect criticism of Miklós Szócska, undersecretary in charge of healthcare issues within the new superministry of national resources. He was especially outraged when at the end of December the new bill governing the activities of the healthcare associations became public.

The presidents of these associations, including Éger, complained bitterly that they had only limited opportunity to discuss the details of the bill with Szócska. The last time they were called together in the ministry was at the beginning of December, and the bill that was submitted had certain provisions that had never been discussed with them. It took Szócska only a few hours to respond and he didn't mince words. He practically accused Éger of ruining the chances for an agreement by insisting on very high membership fees. But it turned out that Éger wasn't just championing for higher fees from members. He insisted on a monthly salary of 2 million forints, while the government had fixed his salary at 750,000.

Today came the news that the prosecutor's office of districts VI and VII of Budapest is investigating MOK's financial affairs because Gyula Keszthelyi, a family doctor in Tard, complained that MOK didn't make public, as it is supposed to by law, certain information. For example, the current pay of István Éger. Once Szócska's office got hold of this news it also began an investigation. No one actually knows how much the president of MOK makes nowadays. In 2003 his salary was 810,000 forints and this figure caused quite a stir because his predecessor received only 45,000.

Éger is not very popular in professional circles either. One of the bylaws states that if someone doesn't pay dues for six months his or her membership elapses. Yet Éger sued those laggards and demanded past payment. Éger is planning to run again for the post, but it is unlikely that under these circumstances he will be reelected. Before his elevation to this post Éger was an ordinary family doctor in a small town and his fellow general practitioners were the ones who elevated him to his current position. Today, these GPs are the ones who will most likely dethrone him.

The government is also moving against him. The prosecutors, who normally proceed very slowly if at all, were quick to investigate his and MOK's finances. Éger was important when he was a useful tool. By now, he is an unwanted embarrassment. They will drop him and in no time he will be back in his modest practice somewhere in the countryside.

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John G
Just as in any revolution so too in the voting-booth revolution once power is in the grasp of revolutionaries they turn on their own fellow travelers. Hats off to the Fidesz for recognizing that rewarding opportunist hangers-on, as opposed to useful idiots, (Lenin’s phrase)would only lead them to the same position in which MSZP found itself. Such people are the precursors to, if not the very cornerstone of systemic corruption. (Oh don’t get me wrong, there are a heck of a lot more of them than just Dr.Eger but so far they must be still useful) I have no idea what sins Dr.Eger may have committed but just like the leader of the association of independent unions, he too must have been a bit presumptuous with the generosity of Fidesz. I believe there is a Hungarian proverb that says he who grabs a lot ends up with little.(Nagyot markol, kevest kap) Every morning,when I check in on events of the day in Hungary, I try to guess what the topic of your post will be that day. Usually I am on the mark, but today I was certain, in logical sequence, following the attack on the philosophers you would have… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh

John G: “I was wondering if you would turn your attention that way [Rózsa Hoffmann’s way] in the near future.”
Why? Do you want me? She is not one of my favorites!

John G

Well there is a potential rift between the coalition members over her Ministry. And I know you are interesed in the Education portfolio.

Rigó Jancsi

In German you say: “Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude.”
And I have to admit that in a way, it really is a good feeling to read stories like this.
And I hope that one not too far away day this will somehow backfire deep down into the death star and hit the little Lord Helmet, the guy who’s a the center of all this.

Odin's Lost Eye
John G Your perception of the machinations of the fate which will befall Ollie’s little helpers is good. In Hungary to paraphrase Rudolph Hess in this little episode “Orban is Fidesz. Fidesz is Hungary. Orban is Hungary”. “Gyözelem Hurrá!” etc and you can imagine the rest! Orban Viktor knows he has to take control of ALL aspects of the state, of life within the state and make Fidesz the very heart and soul of state amd of society. I think that Dr.Eger will be replaced by someone more suitable. When this has been done and MOK is under the full of Fidesz , then MOK will be given modicum of power by making it compulsory to be a member to be able to practice medicine. If Fidesz does not like you, you will not be allowed to join or will be thrown out of MOK – No MOK no job! These so called ‘assiatans of Fidesz’ are too dangerous to be allowed any independence at all. They must be under full party control. OH where is the Hungarian equivalent of the Sturmstaffle well it is coming. Remember the 6000 volunteers to guard the Holy Crown that will be it! I… Read more »

My wife has refused to pay membership fees to the chamber for years. She and all of her colleagues know it is a useless, corrupt organization that has done nothing to improve the quality of medical care in Hu.


Is there a medical licensing entity in Hungary to determine doctors’ qualifications? Is that what MOK does–and if not, what is it supposed to do?