A political discussion: Ferenc Gyurcsány and his liberal critics

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.

Change the world

Wouldn’t that make life easier?

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.

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Ron
Guest

Shoot now I am really worried. It seems that Mutt Damon will be right. We will have Orban till 2018 at least.
DK, LMP and the other opposition parties need to come with a plan quickly. So far I have seen ideas of Bajnaj and 4K only.

sackhoes contributor
Guest

I find it sad that the leading opposition figure is still Gyurcsany. He is damaged goods, persona non grata for a lrage portion of the population. Surely there are other faces. So far, for me at least, Gordon Bajnai seems a good alternative.
As far as Fidesz dumping Orban is concerned, while I am still hopeful, his skillful about face – or rather, left face – at the edge of economic disaster gives him an improved chance of staying in power until 2014. But its not over till the fat lady sings….

Dubious
Guest

@sackhoes
I agree that Gyurcsány was damaged goods, but it seems to me that he is (very) slowly but surely rehabilitating himself with the Hungarians I know.
A general consensus seems to be that he is one of the toughest and smartest politicians out there, and the only domestic figure who seems to give Orbán cause for concern.
Of course, still a lot of people think he should just go away.
Apart from Bokros (and Bajnai?) he seems to be the only economically-liberal political figure in the country. I like Bajnai but would feel a lot more confident if he had Gyurcsány’s out-and-out and active support.

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

“dictatorships can be replaced only if …”
individuals stand up to their leader and stand together.
This will take decades to happen, on a sustainable basis: the acceptance of dictatorship is deeply accepted here in all forms of organisation (companies, institutes, councils, etc).
Is getting rid of one dictator the way forward to getting rid of acceptance of dictatorship?
Maybe Gyurcsány is slightly right.

Minusio
Guest
(1) “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.” (2) “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.” (3) “So far, for me at least, Gordon Bajnai seems a good alternative.” (sackhoes contributor) Ad (1): Interestingly, Gyurcsány has the same gut feeling I have. His dance around words only tries to disguise that he also expects riots in the streets – as I have predicted for a while as the only conceivable end to Orbánistan. But not for now. I offered a bet to Eva that Orbán will still be in power at the beginning of 2015. Ad (2): This seems to be very true. In short: There will be no Fidesz without Orbán. But we knew that already. Even Jobbik was created with his help, if I remember correctly. So the… Read more »
late night
Guest

The question is how should the ** disgruntled citizen** behave, in lack of any party serving a good idea, how to proceed. Do trade unions seize the moment to fill the void?

sackhoes contributor
Guest

Do trade unions seize the moment to fill the void?
OMG, no… Trade unions contribute nothing positive to economic progress.

Minusio
Guest

No wake-up needed. Hungary is in a wake-coma. There is nobody in sight to help, or even lead Hungary out of the swamp.
Trade unions, my foot!

Dubious
Guest

@late night – I think you are explaining the success Milla and other similar non-party groups.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva,
do me a favour and don’t ever call Mr. Gyurcsany a socialist again. Not factual.
http://atv.hu/cikk/video-20120120_tamas_gaspar_miklos -something to think about.
Now I need to read Mr. Szanyi’s article, I got curious. He makes sense based on your slightly venomous titbits.
I am more interested in how to build an energy and /mostly/ water independent family dwelling under 6000 UK pounds. It’s acually in Wales. It’s quite beautiful. Ahh, they used a few tricks I didn’t know. These are the important things in the world.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

An
Guest

As for Szanyi’s nonsense: the last thing Hungary needs is a move from right wing populism to left wing populism. Unless we want to look like some Latin American country, where they seem to be swinging back and forth between the two. He is actually repeating Orban’s nonsense, but now coming from the left. Well, trying to sell that to the electorate is just as irresponsible populism as Orban’s line.

Member
The communists didn’t get bored of the dictatorship. They realized a long time before 1989 that there is more money and very likely more power in switching to capitalism. That is why they wanted to switch. Yes you can live well in a communist country if you are well established high ranking commie, but you can not be really rich and you’ll be socially isolated. But they needed to wait for the perestroika for the switch. This won’t happen to the FIDESZ. The difference is that the commies were not stupid but Orban and his entourage are. What would they switch to? They will always want to be like this. They are also lazy. This two laws a day trick is because you don’t have to work too much. The real deals, like dictatorships in Cuba and N. Korea, are a lot of work and somebody might even stab you in the back halfway in the fight for power. No he won’t go. The propaganda machine will try to sell Orban as a leader in exile after a lost war waiting for the chance to rise again. I’ve just read a Csurka pamphlet that compares this upcoming IMF defeat to… Read more »
peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva,
I read the Szanyi “article” /more a mere blog comment than an article, how on earth did you find it?/. I 100% agree with Mr. Szanyi’s point of view. Thanks for the reference. Wonder if you actually have more of his writing somewhere?
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Member

I so agree with An. THe main problem in Hungary is that people swing into the extreme. I think HUngarians are very dramatic to begin with, and you add a good dose of elf assurance an what you got is this theatrical performances from the left and from the right. Anything in the middle is just not a good act. I am not sure if Hungary is ready for someone who just wants to unite the country without making empty promises and without speaking with a foaming mouth.
I do like Bajnai, but can Hungary grown up to not choose the extreme?

peter litvanyi
Guest

Correction: actually, the house in Wales is 3000 quids rather than 6000. Plus the many man hours. Here is the link:
http://www.simondale.net/house/
Dear An, re: “Unless we want to look like some Latin American country where…”. As you /the economist/ probably know Brazil just passed over the UK on the list of industrialized nations. Latin America is dealing with some very heavy issues not too different from the ones in Hungary. It’s really worth keeping an eye on South America /left or right not IMF customers by the way/. “Szanyi’s nonsense”? Hey Lady????? I don’t know Mr. Szanyi’s detailed views, do you? What he superficially said in a bloglike entry makes perfect sense to me but I want to know his exact agenda. Why do you think it is a “nonsense”? Let’s hear what he really got to say besides nice generalities, no?
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

An
Guest
@Peter Litvanyi: I was referring to the nonsense he put on paper in that particular article. 1. For example, blocking accounts of unjustifiably earned riches, (and possibly work on Swiss banks on that) – This is a typical populist line. No doubt, it will appeal to Hungarians… it did when Orban came up with similar ideas, too. Of course this is slippery slope, and way too easy to use these for political purposes, like Orban was using it against political opponents… of course, Mr Szanyi will only “punish” those who deserve it. Right. In a democratic country there are no such things as “unjustifiable riches”. Something is either gained legally or not. If the money is gained illegally, that should be prosecuted, based on the laws of the country. If the money was made legally, then going after it based on some political will or misguided moral standard will only increase chaos and division in the country. No, if he was saying he is going to use the full force of law to go after monies that were gained illegally (through corruption, etc)… I can support that. Talking about “unjustifiable riches” is just a populist machination. 2. Asking for solidarity… Read more »
Member

I forget to add that the MSZP is as much deadweight on the Hungarian left as the FIDESZ on the conservative right.
@An We absolutely should not go after anybody for alleged corruption in the past. All energy should be focused on laws to prevent them in the future. Campaign/Party finances should be regulated very strictly. No favoritism/nepotism. Of course good luck now with the centralized judiciary.

An
Guest

@Mutt Damon:”We absolutely should not go after anybody for alleged corruption in the past. All energy should be focused on laws to prevent them in the future. ” –
Actually, I agree, that would be one of the most important thing for a new government to do. I was just trying to explain what would sound as a sincere attempt to address such issues from Mr Szanyi, as opposed to the empty propaganda line he used.. But I didn’t mean that the next government should focus its efforts on tracking down Fidesz corruption .. it is a lot more important that they put the appropriate laws in place that prevent the widespread corrupt practices under Fidesz and earlier under MSzP (new party- financing law, law on public tenders, etc)

peter litvanyi
Guest

Szanyi Tibor 2007:
http://www.szanyi.hu/cikkek/SzanyiEhesPolitika.html
How interesting. I am getting to like the guy.
Dear An, there is a really long answer from my part. For short: I do not agree with you at all. If you wish to continue this debate that is of no concern to most attention deficit disorder fellas here /I am sure/:
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi
litvanyi@q.com

GDF
Guest

peter litvanyi:”Szanyi Tibor 2007:
http://www.szanyi.hu/cikkek/SzanyiEhesPolitika.html
How interesting. I am getting to like the guy.”
Well, a 2007 article, written before the crisis hit, is extremely timely and relevant in 2012.

whoever
Guest
Szanyi only found his ‘niche’ on the left of the MSZP after the arrival of Gyurcssány scuppered his chances of being the modernising Third Way politician, that he was trying to be up until that point. However he distinguished himself by vocally criticising the policies of the SZDSZ-MSZP 2006-2009 period, when the rest of the MSZP largely fell silent (either brooding or acquiscent in the most disastrous period for the Hungarian left). People here tend to forget just how clumsy and stupid that period was. Remember the referendum? How on earth did the Hungarian Left end up in such a position? Of course, it was Mr Gyurcsány leading them to disaster… However. There is something of a ‘mea culpa’ to what Gyurcsány is saying here, almost like an apology. He appears genuinely reflective… since leaving the MSZP I actually think he may have some contribution to make to public life. Not perhaps as a politician, as his unpopularity is too entrenched, but more as a commentator, who is opinionated and entertaining, but often wrong. Back to Szanyi. It’s true that other countries such as Poland have restructured their debts, and it’s also true that this is one of the options… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Part of the core of the Hungarian conundrum lies deep in Hungary’s past, and in its inability to see through the ‘demigods’. These are the persons who seize power often as a sort of ‘Messiah’ for a time. Such people are often intolerant of what went immediately before and often destroy any good that the pervious ‘demigog’ left behind. This type of society refers to some point in the past as being a model. The current Viktator refers back to the model set in the Regency period of Horthy. The reasons are the Communist period was overthrown, but some of its legacy was good and should have been developed –may be in a different way-. Professor you write ** “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 “ ** How the other half ticks? It often does not tick at all. The problem with this is that ALL the efforts of the current rulers have gone in to trying to make their rule last… Read more »
Paul
Guest
An interesting and thought provoking article. Unfortunately, all the thoughts it provoked in me were very depressing ones. Orbán’s terrible legacy for Hungary is not so much what he’s doing now (which to some extent can be moderated by outside influences and by having to deal with reality), but what he did to get here. He not only destroyed the opposition, but also the centre-right (or in Hungarian terms the ‘orthodox’/non-nationalistic right). And, if that wasn’t enough, he has created an environment where the majority of voters either no longer care or think there’s no point in voting. So, we have a society where most people have been effectively disenfranchised – either they no longer participate, or there is no one they can vote for. And a society where those who are politically involved are split into two totally opposing camps, where little or no compromise is possible. Even if a miracle happened and a non-Fidesz coalition managed to win in 2014, the new government would be faced by an opposition determined to make government impossible and a population ready to turn on them at the first sign that miracles were not being produced. And the most depressing thing is… Read more »
Joseph Simon
Guest

In political terms and terminology Gyurcsány is a renegade, he has lost his credibility with his own peers and with the electorate. He is not going far, despite being the Spectrum’s darling. You could vote for him only if you all took up dual citizenship.

Tyrker
Guest
The former PM’s strongest argument is that the opposition basically has no programme. It’s easy to say that “the cause of the [country’s] sickness is Orbán himself,” but that is utter nonsense. There are many problems in Hungary, the most important ones being that 1) the country produces/manufactures precisely nothing that could not be produced/manufactured elsewhere in the world, which makes it extremely vulnerable, 2) it’s heavily reliant on sources of energy that can only be obtained from abroad, 3) its SMEs hopelessly lack capital, 4) its employment rate is extremely low, 5) its inhabitants’ desire to “keep up with the Joneses” has resulted in the accumulation of massive government/household debt and 6) its ageing population is putting an increasing burden on the welfare system. All of these things are interdependent of course. Now, it’s true that Mr. Orbán’s policies do precious little to address these issues but that doesn’t mean they were created by them – and it especially doesn’t mean that the opposition can – or indeed should – seize power without coming up with a coherent programme that offers effective remedies to these woes. Those who demand that Hungarians start backing the “democratic opposition” (ahem) without said… Read more »
Member
Orban sent a message to “Hungarians” via his facebook video: “”Szeretnék köszönetet mondani annak, aki eljött, aki kiállt Magyarország mellett, aki bátorítást, biztatást adott a számunkra, és nekem személy szerint is, hogy a következő hetekben jól végezhessük a munkánkat és eredményesen tárgyalhassunk az EU-val és más nemzetközi szervezetekkel is” “”I would like to thank those who came, who stood up for Hungary, who encouraged us and and given incitement to us and for me personally too, in order to perform our jobs well and to successfully negotiate with the EU and other international organizations. ” That is Orban again, as we say in Hungariian Itt van semmi, fogd meg jo; (Here s nothing, hold it tight!) In his message he obviously, in the style of the Fidesz did not make it clear what is exactly the encouragement he wish to follow wit the EU? The one that we should not be part of the EU? THe one message that we do not need the money from the EU? The one that everything is OK in Hungary, and nothing should be changed and everybody should be staying out of Hungary’s business? Of course with his message, if he gets the money,… Read more »
Member

Gyurcsany moved into a working class family home in Miskolc in a run down public housing complex. 3 days of reality show to get to now the “problems of the people”.
This was a mistake. I don’t think this makes hime more credible. This is left wing cheese populism.

Member

@ Mutt Damon, I agree with you. Again it underlines my theory that oppositions should spend some money on PR and media advisors. It is ridiculous that they still undermine the power of a well managed “marketing strategy”.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Tyrker: “It’s easy to say that “the cause of the [country’s] sickness is Orbán himself,”
Sorry, but you didn’t read the piece carefully. It was Németh who said that.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1 about the Peace March and Orbán. Most commentators expressed surprise about this march. What was it good for? To show that Orbán has support? But the world knows that, they said.
No, it was organized to show that the Hungarians hate the EU and if you push us there will be real trouble. This is what Orbán managed to convey to Schulz today who might have been persuaded, if one can believe the reporting on the meeting.

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