Zsófia Mihancsik: Two old-new presidents, Mesterházy and Sólyom (1)

Those of you who have been reading Hungarian Spectrum for some time may have noticed that László Sólyom, president of the republic betwen 2005 and 2010, is not exactly one of my favorites. In fact, in one of the many articles I devoted to Sólyom I wrote: “Let’s face it, Sólyom was a disaster as a president.” American diplomats, according to one of the reports of the United States Embassy made public by WikiLeaks, considered Sólyom to be “politically tone deaf.” And now, Attila Mesterházy wants to have him back? At least this is what he said the other day.

Ever since Pál Schmitt succeeded Sólyom, the socialist-liberal politicians and commentators suddenly discovered all of Sólyom’s virtues. The nonexistent ones as well. He was lauded because, unlike his successor, Sólyom sent back practically every second piece of legislation to parliament or to the Constitutional Court which invariably found that he was right. The whole procedure was grotesque because the members of the Constitutional Court dared not question the wisdom of the former chief justice and one of the framers of the constitution.

I began to feel that this rewriting of history just because of a changed political climate was not really warranted. Something similar took place in the case of József Antall who, after bitter experiences with Viktor Orbán, looked a great better than his contemporaries thought.

That’s why I was happy to see an excellent article by Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, this morning. I was so taken with it that I decided to summarize it for those of you who cannot read Hungarian.

The title of the article is somewhat whimsical: “The old-new president who suggests an old-new president.” The first old-new president is Attila Mesterházy, who was just re-elected as chairman of MSZP. Mesterházy’s acceptance speech dealt with past mistakes. These mistakes included the divergence between the MSZP campaign program and the program of the second Gyurcsány government. Conclusion? One must talk about the country’s situation honestly and openly and not only at a private meeting. The reference here is to the Balatonőszöd speech of Gyurcsány. The party’s “immunity” was not strong enough to get rid of some of the dishonest politicians. It was a serious error that the government didn’t prepare the ground for the coming reforms. They neglected to explain the essence of these reforms to the people. MSZP also had to take into consideration the desires of its coalition partner, SZDSZ. Finally, there was the irresponsibility of the opposition party, Fidesz.

If one reads Mesterházy’s “self-criticism” it seems to be mostly a criticism of Ferenc Gyurcsány. As if he himself as undersecretary of Gyurcsány in the Medgyessy government and later as the leader of the MSZP caucus had absolutely nothing to do with those events. He argued similarly when Ferenc Gyurcsány sent him a letter in which he named the members of MSZP who might be responsible for leaking the Balatonőszöd speech to Fidesz. Mesterházy refused to open it, saying that he has nothing to do with all that. But, continues Mihancsik, how can that be when he is the chairman of the party whose membership includes the culprits?

Self criticism2

Self criticim (flickr/Baptiste Debombourg and David Marin)

According to Csaba Molnár, deputy chairman of DK, Mesterházy never once criticized the policies of the government. After Őszöd Gyurcsány offered his resignation several times if the party leadership didn’t agree with his policies. With large majorities the MSZP MPs voted for his staying in the job. Where was Mesterházy then? Did he vote against those policies or, like the rest, did he support the prime minister? “If the party still claims that all mistakes were committed by Gyurcsány, that he is the one who ruined the party, then we cannot really speak of a new epoch in the life of MSZP.”

There were always differences between the party programs and the actual government policies that followed the elections. It was like that in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010. It was this practice that Ferenc Gyurcsány wanted to change, urging his fellow MSZP MPs to take responsibility and stand behind the reforms. Some people in the party “liked that idea so much that they quickly made the transcript public property, risking the success and even the very existence of their own party,” says Mihancsik sarcastically.

Now Mesterházy has decided that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s desire for transparency and honesty is a necessary requirement for the renewed MSZP and keeps talking about it as a hallmark of the new socialist party. Mihancsik doesn’t expect Mesterházy to admit that Gyurcsány was right at Őszöd, but at least one would like to hear something more constructive than that everything that happened in the last eight years was the fault of one man, the former prime minister.

As for MSZP’s immune system that was weakened, continues Mihancsik, corruption within the party both nationwide and on the local level flourished and was practiced hand in hand with the politicians of Fidesz. Ibolya Dávid (MDF) claimed at one point that dividing the spoils was based on an understanding that MSZP would get 70% and Fidesz 30% of all ill-gotten money.

As far as Mesterházy’s criticism of the badly prepared reforms and general confusion is concerned, there is quite a bit of evidence that a large majority of the party leadership didn’t want reforms. Gábor Kuncze and Péter Mihályi, an economist specializing in healthcare issues, told horror stories about coalition negotiations on the healthcare reforms. MSZP leaders did everything in their power to thwart the SZDSZ plans supported by Gyurcsány. They didn’t like the SZDSZ plans. But they themselves had no plan of their own.

Mesterházy complained that the government didn’t manage to explain to the people the significance of the reforms. Mihancsik already in 2009 wrote an article in which she pointed out that between 2006 and 2009 only Ildikó Lendvai helped the prime minister explain to the Hungarian people what the new healthcare reform was all about. Thus, given the lack of MSZP support, “Gyurcsány’s reforms were explained by Fidesz.” Mihancsik thinks that this attitude of the party leadership was not the result of active obstruction of the reforms because when it came to voting on the proposed bills the MSZP caucus supported them, but most likely because they didn’t really comprehend what the reforms were all about.

Tomorrow, I will summarize the second half of Zsófia Mihancsik’s article. It will be about László Sólyom.

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Francis Dedeyne

OT: Washington Post interviewed Viktor Orban. To me, Orban sounds like a wannabe dictator and lies are never far away.
I’m not sure why he granted the interview, if he did not intend one second to give truthful answers.

Dr Pál

Also OT (sorry) – can anyone explain why the Forint has been dropping over the last month or so?
Against the Euro it’s not been too bad but it’s lost 20 ft against the Pound since late Feb.
And yet nothing has changed during this time. The IMF situation hasn’t altered and no one seems especially bothered about it. It can’t be Schmitt, as it doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of events.
Is it just a gradual ‘correction’ or IS the IMF delay gradually undermining confidence, or are traders just getting tired of the basket case that is Hungary?
And (more importantly to me!) is this downward trend going to continue?


@Dr Pál:
The weakness of the Forint against the pund seems to be a combination of the Forint’s relation to the € (which has been getting worse – maybe in anticipation of Hungary’s continueing problems with the IMF …)and the strenght of the Pound.
If you want to look at the graphics, these I find very good:
Whether the downward trend will continue – well that mainly depends on the success of the talks with the EU and the IMF. If I knew the outcome, I’d soon be a millionaire …

Eva Balogh

Francis Dedeyne about the interview. I just finished reading it. Orbán comes off very badly. Very antagonistic and dictatorial. Bad move on his part. Only strengthens the picture already formed of him abroad.


As bad as Orban has been and will be, with opposition like the MSZP and Mesterhazy, he should be able to stay in power for a long time (gerrymandered electoral districts or not).


Although that is what people said in 2002, when the MSZP went into battle with Medgyessy who was regarded as sacrificial lamb. In the privacy of the ballot box, it turned out that Orbán did not enjoy the 10 to 20% lead in the polls he and everyone else was expecting.

+1 on Orban looking very bad in the interview. I thought the answers concerning KlubRadio were particularly weak and revealing. Government goes to shutdown opposition radio station by changing the rules of the frequency… so transparent he looked like a 3 year old with his fingers in the cookie jar. Why is the HUF where it’s at? Well the government has done a great job of baffling the markets and they just now sorting out that there will be *no* deal with the IMF either this year or next. Orban is betting things will get better and he won’t need the deal. Current stop loss is around 298 as best as I can figure. Exceptations are 315 is quite possible. People will keep beating it down if they figure they can make a bob or two. Bonds will sell but at a premium interest rate. But, no matter, the rulings will come and there’s no way OV can have his cake and eat it too. He either gives up on his notion of sovereignty/nationalism (seemingly unlikely) and go with EU values and benefits or his not wanting to follow the EU rules creates a crisis of what to do with… Read more »
Eva Balogh

LwiH: “+1 on Orban looking very bad in the interview. I thought the answers concerning KlubRadio were particularly weak and revealing.”
I agree. Very bad. He is not accustomed to hard questions and as a result he got very annoyed.


Here’s a direct link to The Washington Post interview (Slate is the the new-media subsidiary of The Washington Post):
Once again, Orban states: “Hungary was in worse shape than Greece.”, just as he told 2 weeks ago on Bavarian public television:
“When the new Government took over a country in an even worse condition, than Greece and set about restoring Hungary with a very strongly set of reform policies.
Over the last 18 months, the Hungarian Parliament has adopted 360 pieces legislation and the new Constitution, in order that Hungary should be once more a model for others.
Part of the vigorous programme of reform is in the economic sphere, one of the main aims of which is that as many people as possible should work, and that Government debt should decrease.”
There are no figures or economical indicators that support Orban’s statements.
Or Orban is a liar, or he knows nothing about economics.
Having Gyorgy Matolcsy as Minister of Economy doesn’t exactly help… just unbelievable how this man can make a mess out of anything:


@Paul (who is little dr. Palika now)
“And (more importantly to me!) is this downward trend going to continue?”

@ Philippe, actually, FX reserves are running higher and the deficit is lower even if you take out the on offs (some of which will be rolled back so they’ll come out anyways). But, not much of this can be attributed to OV. In fact, the new Mercedes plant which is expected to boost GDP by 1% is an MSzP deal. The big problem is liquidity (capital flight) and it’s effect on growth coupled with Euro zone problems and Hungary’s dependence on Germany (and to a lesser extent on other Euro zone countries). There is no domestic market to keep things going if exports fail. This high dependency on exports makes Hungary a leading indicator of the overall Euro economies. If you believe the Euro zone is going to get worse you’ll see it here first (Canada plays a similar role with the US). That’s where the problem is, Hungary can’t afford another economic shock. The next tactic which is to sell the future. Interest rates on bonds are very high, unsustainably high IMHO. If you’ve got cash and are looking for a high risk, high yield investment, a HUF bond backed by a promise of a deal with the… Read more »
I love Hungary

I actually could see an honest collaboration between Gyurcsany and what used to be the MDF- although I also believe the man himself (Gyurcsany) is political poison to anyone he touches through at least one more election cycle.