Vasárnap Hírek, a Sunday paper close to MSZP, published this picture of the situation in the party. The original photo was taken just before the opening of the party congress and shows Ferenc Gyurcsány and Attila Mesterházy greeting each other in front of the building.
The situation depicted on the doctored photo is telling. Although the party didn’t fracture, it is unlikely that the declared “unity” is genuine. In fact, Gyurcsány, talking to a reporter for MTI today, said that “we can change our behavior but not our principles.” Here the word “behavior = viselkedés” is a bit awkward. Perhaps strategy would have been a better choice. In the interview he repeated his firm belief that the old socialist strategy simply doesn’t work in the new circumstances. Gyurcsány is certain that MSZP with its old ideas cannot garner the 2.5 million voters necessary to win the election. However, the anti-Gyurcsány forces won the day.
Most likely Gyurcsány is right. Although in 1994 the socialists managed to get an absolute majority in parliament with 36% of the votes, in 2002 and 2006 MSZP needed the assistance of the liberal SZDSZ to form a coalition government. But now SZDSZ is gone. I think it would make sense to open up the party to liberal ideas to induce former SZDSZ supporters to vote for MSZP. But from the immediate reactions from liberal-minded people, I can’t imagine that “these orphans” would vote for a party where László Puch, Tibor Szanyi, Ferenc Baja, András Balogh, and Imre Szekeres play important roles.
The goal of the left wing of MSZP is “a return to the values of the left.” What are these values? One can’t quite escape the suspicion that the ideal for these men would be a society rather similar–as far as social policy goes–to the Kádár regime. The state will take care of you. Everybody will receive something from the state. But we know that such times will never return. Every time Hungarian socialist governments offered more and more benefits to the citizenry in order to win elections, the country came close to bankruptcy.
A “return to socialism” might be welcomed by some older folks–and the socialists’ base is really people over fifty–but it doesn’t seem to satisfy the younger generations. And it certainly doesn’t satisfy those 350,000 voters who voted for SZDSZ in 2006. Or what about the 272,000 who cast their votes for MDF at the same elections? Both SZDSZ and MDF have disappeared, but their voters are still there looking for someone to support. These people are in search of a party, but it is unlikely that an unreformed MSZP can give them a political home.
The question is whether after this “unity congress” MSZP will be more successful in getting back their former voters. In the last few months there have been very small changes in the size of socialist support, but over 50% of the voting-age population either doesn’t know for whom to vote or doesn’t even plan to vote. LMP’s popularity doesn’t seem to grow either. According to the last Szonda Ipsos opinion poll only 7% of those who would vote today would cast their vote for LMP, and they are mostly from Budapest. It is unlikely that LMP could be a gathering place for the former SZDSZ or even MDF voters.
By now many analysts are counting on the appearance of new faces and new parties while they emphasize that in order to defeat Fidesz the anti-Fidesz forces must unite. At the moment not even MSZP and LMP can cooperate to defeat Fidesz candidates in by-elections.
As for MSZP. I just heard István Elek, formerly an MDF parliamentary member who at one point fell under the spell of Viktor Orbán, who is convinced that MSZP is bound to split into two parties because of ideological differences and strained personal relations. In the last few days things turned outright ugly. Tibor Szanyi accused Ferenc Gyurcsány of leaking the speech at Balatonőszöd himself, which in my opinion is total nonsense. After all, it was that speech that led to Gyurcsány’s eventual downfall. In return, Gyurcsány wanted to share his suspicions about who leaked the speech to Fidesz and sent three names to Attila Mesterházy, who refused to open the envelope and in front of journalists shredded the letter.
Several left-wing socialists went so far as to visit right-wing or even extremist organs where they gave interviews in which they made their views about Ferenc Gyurcsány quite clear, to the delight of the reporters in the service of the present government. The whole scene was ugly.
Tibor Szanyi on HírTV accused bloggers “who claim to be sympathizing with the left of actually being paid professional hacks.” According to Szanyi there are only 20-30 such bloggers who most likely use false names. These bloggers “may cause serious confusion in the heads of some party members, but they cannot touch the closed echelon of the party.” There might be some well-meaning people among them, but “all the others are members of a paid brigade.” These words reminded Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, of the Kádár regime when the critics of the Party were called hacks “who can cause serious confusion in the heads of some party members.” Indeed, the wording is frighteningly similar. Most likely the thoughts of Szanyi and some others in the left wing of MSZP are remnants of the kind of thinking that characterized the MSZMP of János Kádár.
There are other voices as well, but they were not even invited to the congress. For instance, Magda Kovács, Mrs. Kósa, an old-time socialist who joined MSZMP in 1967. She served as Gyula Horn’s minister of labor and later spent five years in Brussels as an EP member. Because of her long MSZMP affiliation one would think that Magda Kovács would sympathize with the party’s left wing. But no! She wrote a letter to the congress in which she compared the present situation of the party to the days in 1989 when the reform wing of MSZMP broke away and established MSZP. These are crucial times and a lot depends on how the congress decides about the party’s future. She is certain that the party must be open “to the growing community of sober citizens who are looking for a political alternative.”
I don’t think that MSZP with its current leadership and structure can be that alternative. But somehow I don’t think that this is the end of the story.