Tomorrow we will hear the definitive word on whether Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Hungarian Democratic Coalition Platform will leave MSZP. There isn’t much suspense here. Ferenc Gyurcsány and the men closest to him, Csaba Molnár and László Varju, have been saying for weeks that the “divorce” was inevitable. Why did they drag their heels for so long? Most likely because the group wanted to be sure that at least ten MSZP members of parliament would follow their lead. Why at least ten? Because according to Hungarian parliamentary rules a minimum of ten people is needed to be able to form a parliamentary caucus (“frakció” in Hungarian). Without a caucus independent members have practically no role to play in the House.
According to news reports there are nine MSZP members in addition to Gyurcsány himself who are ready to try to establish a left of center party that will most likely be called Demokrata Párt or perhaps Magyar Demokrata Párt. They are József Baracskai, Ádám Ficsor, István Kolber, Csaba Molnár, Lajos Oláh, Erika Szűcs, Ágnes Vadai, László Varju, and Iván Vitányi.
The ability to form a separate parliamentary delegation was an important consideration. As it is, the members of the new party must serve as independents for six months. Thus their weight in parliament will be limited for a while. However, as a separate party their spokesmen will be able to voice their own program in the media. And that is certainly an important consideration for a group that claims that their members have serious ideological and strategic differences with the current MSZP leadership.
I think it is time to take a look at these differences if they even exist because some observers are convinced that the war within MSZP is due solely to personal differences between the followers of Attila Mesterházy and those of Ferenc Gyurcsány. If they could only set aside their personal antagonisms everything would be great.
At least this is what a lot of MSZP supporters claim. The same people are also convinced that the current sorry standing of MSZP is the result of the quarrel between the majority of the party leaders and Ferenc Gyurcsány. If Gyurcsány would only calm down and give up the idea of acquiring a political role, MSZP would again regain its former electoral base.
Mesterházy himself claimed that the party’s popularity, if one can speak of such a thing at all, always rises when Gyurcsány shuts up and goes down when he moves into action. I must say that I didn’t check the accuracy of this statement, but the latest Medián poll that appeared today doesn’t support his contention. According to Medián, MSZP’s popularity shot up from 12 to 17 percent in October when the internal quarrels have been most intense.
In any case, are there any ideological differences between the two groups? Here I will use the points Tamás Bauer makes in today’s Nepszabadság. The only outward and obvious sign of the differences between MSZP as a whole and the Gyurcsány faction was the vote on dual citizenship. Out of the MSZP delegation, two men voted against it: Ferenc Gyurcsány and Csaba Molnár. Iván Vitányi abstained while Ádám Ficsor and Ágnes Vadai didn’t vote.
What does this mean exactly? MSZP decided that in order to receive greater support the party has to imitate Fidesz by adopting a more “patriotic” attitude toward the “national question.” András Balogh, whom MSZP dragged out from nowhere and who suddenly became one of the deputy chairmen, doesn’t disturb much water in political life either inside or outside of the party. However, he declared that the party must have “a new national policy.” Gyurcsány and his followers, on the other hand, adopted the policy of the Horn government that Hungary must support the Hungarian minorities but at the same time must respect the sovereignty of the neighboring countries and must not establish any constitutional ties between Hungary and the Hungarians living outside of the borders. The Gyurcsány group’s position is that the current policies of the Fidesz government only increase friction between the Hungarian minorities and the majorities of the countries they live in.
In addition there are other differences, the most important of which may be the attitude toward the market economy. MSZP in coalition with SZDSZ worked toward building a full-fledged market economy through privatization, economic stabilization, and economic integration. MSZP supported certain SZDSZ reform plans in health care and in education. All in all, says Bauer, MSZP-SZDSZ governance from Horn to Bajnai “meant a friendly attitude toward capitalism.”
That was the main thrust of the MSZP-SZDSZ governments, but there were always groups within MSZP who were not exactly enamored with the economic change that came along with political change. There was a fairly large group within the MSZP caucus that refused to vote for Lajos Bokros’s austerity package in 1995. I recall that there were at least two ministers who resigned in protest. There were many anti-capitalist voices within the party, but while MSZP was in power they didn’t manage to exert too much influence. However, once the party suffered a very serious blow in 2010, these people immediately blamed the MSZP-SZDSZ government’s reforms for the failure of the party at the elections. Mesterházy himself turned toward this anti-capitalist attitude that was earlier the trademark of people like Katalin Szili and other leftist members of the party. Mesterházy nowadays even talks about “the banker government” of Fidesz. You may recall that it was Viktor Orbán and his men who used to call the MSZP-SZDSZ coalitions “banker governments.”
And finally, the current MSZP leadership is following in the footsteps of Fidesz in opposition. Mesterházy’s MSZP criticizes every unpopular measure whether it makes sense or not. Perhaps unwittingly, MSZP is building up a bundle of false hopes by finding fault with every move of the government. Gyurcsány, says Bauer, is dead against this kind of behavior. There must not be “a war of numbers,” he wrote last summer. “If the government says that it will raise pensions by 2% one mustn’t say that it should be 5%, especially since one knows that the 2% is actually more than we can afford.”
There is a lot of truth in Bauer’s description of the present MSZP leadership. It is enough to read Népszava, the paper very close to MSZP, to know that “largest opposition party” shoots down everything, even those measures that are long overdue. Of course, the question is whether the Hungarian people will be ready to listen to honest talk that might not sound glamorous but is realistic. Because the fate of Gyurcsány’s new party depends on that.