Lately Ferenc Gyurcsány, the chairman of the new liberal-socialist party Demokratikus Koalíció, has been repeatedly stating his belief that the Hungarian opposition is not ready to govern and therefore even Viktor Orbán’s fiercest opponents must not wish his disappearance from the political scene. Chaos would follow the toppling of Viktor Orbán.
The first person who decided to argue this point was Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of Népszava, a socialist daily. In a short article entitled “My dispute with Gyurcsány” he explained his problems with the former prime minister’s proposition. Admittedly, said Németh, the dispute is only theoretical because Viktor Orbán’s retirement is not exactly on the agenda. Orbán has no intention of voluntarily stepping down and his own men don’t realize yet that his removal from power might be necessary. Gyurcsány’s argument is that “we must wait” because the current situation is still better than having a country that is adrift without a strong government.
But, Németh continues, that is a dangerous position. The current situation, which might be called semi-dictatorship, will surely drift toward “full subjugation.” Therefore Németh doesn’t think that this waiting attitude is correct because “the cause of the [country’s] sickness is Orbán himself and the cancerous cells are multiplying.”
Two days later Ferenc Gyurcsány answered Németh. In his fairly lengthy article (“Orbán or anarchy?”) he tried to explain his position. First, he gave a short history of the last ten years. Although he didn’t invoke the well known saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” this is what he meant. As an example he mentioned Péter Medgyessy’s decision to raise the salaries of doctors, nurses and teachers by 50% in one fell swoop. Surely, says the former prime minister, the salaries of these people were abominably low, but “did this move serve the long-term interests of the country?” His answer is, “only in part.”
The situation is the same with national or ideological enthusiasm. Gyurcsány brought up the example of youngsters from the 1920s and 1930s enthusiastically repeating the slogan “Down with Trianon.” Or the women who with equal enthusiasm sent the Hungarian soldiers to war. Were these people full of good intentions? Surely, but look what happened.
Did a lot of people honestly believe in communism? Gyurcsány thinks that most did. And what happened afterward? “Enthusiasm often captured the imagination of the nation. Sometimes national, sometimes communist, sometimes democratic.” Where did all this lead? Nowhere. “An orgy of collective enthusiasm is not necessarily a guarantee of collective wisdom and especially not of efficiency.”
In 2005 and 2006 he desperately wanted to prevent the return of Fidesz. He was convinced that if Orbán and his team were to return a stone wouldn’t be left standing after their takeover. Therefore, he didn’t think that it was too high a price to pay if the next year’s budget was a bit tight. They stopped Fidesz in 2006. “And? What was the price?”
At present Fidesz has about 1.5 million voters, the opposition about the same. If the opposition were to win, “the right would march on the streets. They would close the Erzsébet Bridge and would close off the main squares of cities outside of Budapest. The police wouldn’t be able to handle the situation. Inside of parliament the small government majority would be stranded with the new constitution and the cardinal laws. Whatever the opposition promised they couldn’t fulfill…. We would be the captives of Viktor Orbán. How long do you think our supporters would stand behind us? For half a year? Perhaps for one year? And soon enough they would demonstrate against us.”
Surely, Gyurcsány’s experiences between 2006 and 2009 weigh heavily on his mind, and he would like to avoid the kinds of irresponsible promises that characterized earlier Hungarian administrations. The economic situation is dreadful but “if we were governing would there be more money? Could we raise pensions, the salaries of doctors and teachers given the current setup? Surely, no! They [Fidesz] said, it’s enough if they win. But they lied. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to say that it is enough to bellow ‘Orbán scram!’ and everything will be better. The hell it will.”
Gyurcsány thinks that somehow the liberal half of the population must understand what makes the other half tick and how it would be possible to convince them to agree to a common platform, at least on certain issues, for the good of the country. Gyurcsány is hoping to convince part of the other political side of the reasonableness of the position of the Hungarian left.
In today’s Népszava Tibor Szanyi, who belongs to the left wing of MSZP and who apparently will try to seize the chairmanship of the party from Attila Mesterházy, wrote another article in connection with Gyurcsány’s ideas. The title is “My dispute with Ferenc Gyurcsány 2.0.” One must keep in mind that Szanyi heartily dislikes Gyurcsány, whom he doesn’t even consider to be a socialist but a liberal. And surely, in Szanyi’s mind, the socialist party’s hard times originated with its coalition with the liberal SZDSZ and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s non-socialist, liberal policies.
Szanyi’s remedy of the current Hungarian situation is so outrageous that I personally can hardly find words. At the beginning of his article he indicates his total disgust with Gyurcsány’s ideas; his first reaction was “no comment.” It’s too bad that he didn’t stick with his instincts. His “left-wing” remedies include freezing the bank accounts of those who became rich undeservedly–and surely the Swiss banks would be partners in this endeavor. And what about negotiating with the international community and the banks to let half of the Hungarian sovereign debt be forgiven? Just like in the case of Greece!
Szanyi’s ideas about the future of Hungary’s welfare state don’t merit further comment. On the other hand, one can always learn something from the writings of Ferenc Krémer, a liberal sociologist. His problem with Gyurcsány is his reluctance to call Orbán’s regime a “dictatorship.” According to Gyurcsány, “to pronounce the word ‘dictatorship’ has consequences” but, adds Krémer, “not to voice it also has consequences.” Gyurcsány is afraid that the strong connotation of the word “dictatorship” will result in a violent reaction on the other side. He would prefer the Hungarian word “önkényuralom” which is less loaded because it can mean “absolutism,” “autocracy” or “despotism.” Perhaps if we use this word there will not be riots on the streets as in 2006. Krémer believes that Gyurcsány is mistaken when he thinks that ordinary people listen to what politicians say. Words uttered by politicians have an impact more on the political elite. In this case, the present opposition. And playing with words like “dictatorship” or “önkényuralom” just confuses the opposition.
Krémer thinks that Orbán’s regime is a dictatorship and that dictatorships can be replaced only if they no longer want to remain dictatorships. This is what happened in 1989 in Hungary. The question is whether the Orbán regime wants to cease to exist. Most likely the answer is “no.” Then what?
Krémer’s answer is that for the time being the right is an indistinguishable mass under the influence of Orbánist populism. Dividing lines cannot be clearly discerned within the right, and as long as that is the case no adequate answer can be found for the present situation. The dividing line between far-right Nazi groups and all other right groupings is more or less discernible. The other dividing line, between the followers of Orbán and the true conservatives who are committed to democratic norms, is still very pale. As long as this conservative group tolerates the fact that extreme right-wingers or populist Orbánists represent them, there is no hope for a peaceful transition. So, basically, the current opposition must wait for the appearance of a conservative right that discovers that Orbán’s way is not their way.
Both Krémer and Gyurcsány call for a natural development on the right side of the political spectrum, but Krémer is hoping for a toppling of Orbán by the joint effort of the Hungarian left-liberal and conservatives forces while Gyurcsány is waiting for a stronger opposition with a well defined program.