Not that he thinks the Orbán government will fall any time soon. He simply decided that it was time to tell the Hungarian people what the socialist party under his leadership would do under the present circumstances. This is a welcome change on the left. MSZP politicians keep criticizing the Orbán government but to my knowledge up to now not one of them has offered an alternative. Yes, they talk about themselves as a constructive opposition, but their faint messages don’t resonate. Now at least we know what Ferenc Gyurcsány would do.
So, let me start with Gyurcsány’s program. The important points are (1) concentration on education; (2) spending more money on public works; (3) introduction of property tax over 100 million forints; (4) raising taxes on the wealthy; and (5) reintroducing inheritance tax over certain limits.
I must say that I consider these steps essential in changing the current rather hopeless economic situation. I think that it has become quite clear by now that the flat tax simply doesn’t bring in enough revenue. Moreover, it is unfair. Viktor Orbán can talk about “proportionality” till doomsday. Paying the same percentage in taxes from very low salaries and very high ones is simply not just. What the Orbán government did was to take money away from the poorer people and give it to the rich ones. In a poor country like Hungary it is a real attack on the overwhelming majority of the population.
The lack of education among very large segments of Hungarian society is a core problem today. There are almost a million people whose educational attainment is so low that they are basically unemployable. The Orbán government is paying scant attention to them, but this mass of people on the fringes of society might cause incredible problems later on. Something must be done. Instead of cutting public works as Orbán et al. did, more programs should be provided to assist this segment of society until the educational stimulus kicks in.
Otherwise, Gyurcsány expressed his belief that “the third republic is dead.” Viktor Orbán killed it. “He built a regime of despotism (önkény).” According to Gyurcsány, “from here on we have to be not so much the opposition to the government as the opposition to a regime based on tyranny.” Once Orbán and his government are gone, Hungarians will have to rebuild democracy again.
Gyurcsány warned Hungarians against looking backward. “Neither István Tisza nor János Kádár will ever come back.” He described Orbán’s ideology as an amalgam of “István Tisza’s class egotism, Gyula Gömbös’s national unity and führer cult, and József Mindszenty’s Christian fundamentalism. But this is not our world. That is the past which we must close in order to take possession of the future.”
He severely criticized the Orbán government’s policies. In his opinion it was a mistake to give up the idea of joining the eurozone any time soon. And although Fidesz in the last eight years with good reason criticized the irresponsible fiscal policies of the socialist-liberal government, the current government is continuing on the same road, a road that “leads straight to hell.” The Orbán government’s standing in the world can be also severely criticized. In foreign policy, Orbán was unable to get anywhere in Moscow, and Washington doesn’t even want to talk to him. It is also quite clear that Orbán’s reputation in Brussels is battered. He managed to alienate practically everybody and as a result it is not surprising that Hungary lost the opportunity to host the Eastern Partnership Summit.
Gyurcsány was quite open about his mistakes. Early in his speech he said that one of his biggest mistakes while in office was that he trusted people who didn’t deserve his trust. He also admitted that he wasn’t quite ready to be prime minister. The position came to him too early and too fast. “Orbán was a better student than I was. He tells people I will give you affluence in exchange for freedom.” It seems that the majority of the people accept this deal, “but I must disappoint them because very soon there will be neither freedom nor bread.”
As for the mistakes of MSZP. First and foremost it was a mistake to spend irresponsibly between 2002 and 2006. Second, they were wrong when they thought that Viktor Orbán was a democrat. He himself misjudged Orbán when he tried to build bridges to Fidesz in 2002 and he “even paid a pilgrimage to the House of Terror.” As for his own mistakes, in 2006 he had neither the experience nor the strength to complete the necessary reforms. Although his speech at Őszöd brought success within the party, it “was a murderous weapon in the hands of others.” He claimed that Viktor Orbán and Fidesz “attained power with the help of the rabble.”
As far as I can see Gyurcsány doesn’t want to establish a new party, a move that would be a huge mistake. What he really wants–although he doesn’t openly admit it–is to become the leader of MSZP again. Although both Gyurcsány and Attila Mesterházy emphasize that they see eye to eye, my hunch is that Gyurcsány doesn’t think much of Mesterházy’s leadership. There are also fairly influential people in MSZP who would be delighted if Ferenc Gyurcsány disappeared for good.
There is endless guessing among political commentators about the strength of Gyurcsány’s support inside and outside of the party. From a fairly reliable source I learned that within the party he is popular. The same source, however, emphasized that he is very unpopular in society at large. I don’t know of any opinion polls inquiring about Gyurcsány’s support except for Szonda Ipsos’s monthly popularity charts where indeed Gyurcsány is not doing well. However, given the very lopsided party preferences between the right and the left at present, this is not surprising. On the other hand, my feeling is that former SZDSZ voters in the last two years or so gathered around Ferenc Gyurcsány. Sure, Fidesz supporters will always hate him but that is to be expected after the very studied and professional character assassination conducted by Fidesz under the instruction of Viktor Orbán who simply couldn’t forget his humiliation in the TV debate during the campaign of 2006.
Gyurcsány in his speech talked about a renewed MSZP by 2012. We will see.