“Talking heads” of Hungary

After a brief foray into foreign policy and history it’s time to return to domestic politics. Today’s post was inspired by a television program and its viewers’ reactions to what was said there by young so-called political scientists, and, more importantly, by a thoughtful article written by Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, who doesn’t make a secret of her support for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció. I should also mention that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at the II. Congress of DK (January 26, 2013) was made available today both on DK’s website and on Galamus.

Let’s start with the television program on ATV called “A tét” (The stake). Its host is András Bánó, formerly of MTV, who received the Hungarian version of the Pulitzer Prize a few years back. By and large I like the program, but some of the young  “political scientists” often irritate me. Political commentators should take their job seriously, and that means in-depth and more or less impartial analysis of current political events. Instead, some of the regular guests only vent their political prejudices. There is one young guy whose superciliousness and flippancy are more than I can tolerate.

Well, it seems that I’m not alone. The show aired last Wednesday and György Bolgár’s call-in show “Let’s talk about it!” was full of angry callers condemning our young man’s attitude toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK. Naturally, Vera Lánczos’s criticism is much more reasoned and therefore more weighty. But she also objected to the tone these fellows use in connection with such an important issue as the current state of the opposition and the need for a united stand against Orbán’s regime.

Talking heads

Talking heads

Because right now the opposition is in disarray. New formations appear, old ones reappear, and LMP just fell apart. The way things look, the LMP caucus will be gone by the time parliament convenes in February because the two factions cannot agree on how to keep the LMP delegation together. Separately neither group has enough members to form a caucus. The main sticking point is LMP’s course of action. The position of the Schiffer faction is utterly unrealistic. Although they keep insisting that their main goal is to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2014, they are planning to achieve this alone even as LMP’s share of the electorate hovers around 3%. It is clear that  for Schiffer and the party leaders supporting him, the party’s future is more important at the moment than a united front in which LMP most likely wouldn’t carry much weight. The Jávor faction, on the other hand, is to my mind a great deal more patriotic. It is a shame that the only thing one of the young political scientists had to say about the LMP split was that “the sole difference between the two factions is that one of them likes Bajnai while the other one doesn’t.”

Gordon Bajnai’s E14 is not doing well. In mid-November the enthusiasm for an umbrella organization under the leadership of Gordon Bajnai surged after the October 23 mass meeting. Since then support has slowly dissipated and the number of  undecided voters has begun to grow again. According to some observers, the problem is that Bajnai entered the political arena too early. I disagree. After all, the campaign season has already begun, and to hammer out a common platform takes a long time. A year is barely enough, especially given the uncertainties of the present political situation. No, the problem is not timing. The problem is Milla and Péter Juhász. E14, a movement at the moment, initially announced that it would start proceedings to establish a party. After all, only parties can enter the race. A few days later we learned from Péter Juhász that Milla “isn’t ready to lend its name to the formation of a political party” and E14 pulled back, at least temporarily. Milla is a mysterious and amorphous organization–if you can call it that–about which we know practically nothing. For the longest time Juhász seemed to be the only embodiment of Milla, although lately one can also hear references to Péter Molnár, a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998 (Fidesz and later SZDSZ). Juhász’s latest is that he will never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I also doubt that he would cooperate with MSZP. All in all, Bajnai picked the wrong “civic organization” to launch his attempt to bring together the various opposition parties and forces.

After the discussion about LMP, the young political scientists moved on to Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party is described by its politicians as “the party of unity.” Indeed, it is this party that most consistently and without any reservation supports a joint effort to dislodge Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány has given up personal political ambition, at least for the time being. He realizes that his party will not be able to capture millions of votes. Therefore he is not forced to make compromises for fear of a mass exodus of followers. He advocates unpopular measures that in his opinion are necessary to turn Hungary’s faltering economy around. Those 100-200,000 people who today would vote for DK will not abandon Gyurcsány because they agree with the details of the party program.

At the II Congress 2,000 people gathered to hear the speeches and vote on the program. I understand that there was only one dissenting vote. The party has 7,000 members with local chapters in 750 cities, towns, and villages. All that without any outside financial assistance. A DK party member won the mayoral race in a smaller town, and DK took second place ahead of MSZP in another.

“A tét” showed a clip from Gyurcsány’s speech at the party congress in which he emphasized the necessity of a common stand. He considers this “a patriotic duty” and argues that those who refuse to cooperate only strengthen the regime of Viktor Orbán. According to our flippant “political scientist,” that means that “everybody should embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány” who wants to force everyone into one big unified opposition that would also include his own party. But what is wrong with this? Isn’t Gyurcsány’s party democratic? The other Young Turk on the program announced that the only reason DK wants a unified opposition is because otherwise DK couldn’t be represented in parliament. Total nonsense. As things stand now, a maximum of three parties could get into parliament if the opposition forces don’t manage to build an electoral coalition–Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. And most likely Fidesz would win.

This kind of irresponsible talk doesn’t help anyone. It only confuses the already confused and disappointed electorate. As Vera Lánczos wrote, “The electorate doesn’t want the opposition parties to compete with each other but to come to an agreement for their sake.” To fan the distrust of parties in general and add to the division of the opposition is not the job of political commentators. It’s no wonder that so many people who truly want Viktor Orbán out of office are outraged.

39 comments

  1. Mutt: “All the Milla, Trilla, Together20XX, Without20XX, LMP50 (50% that is) is all trying to get away from them. Obviously the same comes from the Fidesz side. DK and everybody who had once MSZP ties is doomed.”

    When I read Eva’s today’s piece, I first thought, why are people lamenting about the missing ability of the opposition to cooperate and concentrate on personal issues, although the main point for me is the need to find some common ground as regards the substance of the future post-Orban Hungary. And now Mutt’s comment about MSzP made it even more clear. As long as there will be no common ground about the past – and its “substance” – the so called opposition will be absorbed by just finding out next to whom you cannot sit on the bus either. The unability of MSzP to face its past is quite evident. But there are generally too many narratives of the past, and all seem to have a personal component as to who is to be blamed most, and who is the most discredited. By facing one’s past I do not mean that people have to be ONLY critical. But to be more “balanced”, and to truly distance themselves from some people or some events, is a must when cooperation with other oppositional groups should materialise at some point.

    So just urging people who oppose OV to better cooperate will not be enough. First you need some idea how to make these people talk about their interpretations of the past and their preferred future. Create some willingness in these people to accept that other interpretations are possible and need not imply “definitive” personal dicreditation. That seems to be complicated enough. Without some really big issue (forint drops hugely after Matolcsy takes office and Hungary has to introduce capital controls or declare bankruptcy etc.), the elections of 2014 are decided anyway. The opposition should therefore use this time to figure out whether their opposition to OV is indeed strong enough to be willing to search ways how to make cooperation between the opposition parties possible.

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  2. Spectator: What I meant by below the dignity was what I wrote later, that at this quasi starting point of the ‘campaign’ (which Fidesz would deny that it started), they try to position themselves as the incumbent, whose natural place is to be in power. Everyone else should justify why they want to get there and they want to force others to start from this base line.

    So at this point, more than a year before the elections, an incumbent like Fidesz, whose position must be ackowledged, at least implicitly, by everybody, does not deal with “bottomfeeders”, like a general does not adress a private directly, a general talks only to colonel. This refusal to talk (address) itself positions participants according to a power structure. This is how I think Fidesz thinks, this does not mean that they would not do ‘petty’ corruption and a lot of petty power plays (which would go below their dignity), but in the realm (discourse) of the campaign (which is organsied separately from the realm of government or local power issues) this is how they think about themselves.

    (In addition, I think ambivalence and contradiction are two of the most fundamental features of any person (or group of persons). It is completely natural for thinking or believing something and at the same time doing something else, without reaizing the contradiction. It’s human nature. Sorry, but only intellectuals and pundits are obsessed with consistency, people are anything but, and this is their natural state, I guess – I was perhaps harsh, but you get what I mean)

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  3. One long time unanswered question lingering all over the issue of the Hungarian left – as is – today: just what’s exactly what Gyurcsány has done, what so definitely disqualify him as politician?

    Beside the obvious fact, of course, that he took Orban as a gentleman adversary, and the Fidesz as a party with civilized contemporary European values, (both turned out to be a grave mistake, as we know..) but still..?

    I keep hearing, that “you know, he’s done… things…. and lying, day and night…” – but never anything substantial. Am I growing deaf, or just there isn’t a single thing, what anyone can pinpoint, besides the overtly successful Fidesz mud-slinging?

    Can anyone help me out here, because – it’s obvious too – it seems, that’s only me who has problem to take the orbanist communication as on face value, the majority taking it as granted, while never ever questioning ‘The Great Leader’, even when from one day to another contradict himself?

    Is there any reasonable explanation, please?

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  4. @Roger
    Of course, I’ve got it!

    It’s quite clear, that they always want – and even managing to organize it – that someone else take the ‘credit’ for their dirty work.
    If you remember, the “Magyar Vizsla” case is one clear example.

    Otherwise, probably that’s one of my problem:
    “only intellectuals and pundits are obsessed with consistency”
    – and the present ruling elite are anything but!

    Just to underscore:
    If a company decides to support a soccer club, they’ll get tax reduction for the same amount.
    At the same time schools and most of the educational institutes struggling to make the ends meet on the daily basis – there is no such possibility for support, oh no!
    After all, Orban’s favorite pastime is soccer, not such intellectual crap like reading poetry or history, or learning math or economy, for that matter…

    One more:
    Anyone can give away 1% of their yearly tax to something, like charity, church, or organization – today I’ve heard that you should even support the Csányi-foundation this way (the richest bank-magnate in Hungary) – but nothing to the education, as I know of.

    So, here we are again the garbage floats on the surface, and feel good about itself.

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  5. Spectator, if a lot of people think that Gy. is disqualified, then he is disqualified just by virtue of this thinking. And certainly a lot of people came to think that he is disqualified, so he is. I would not even go into details on the merits, as in politics merits don’t mean too much. Perception, and belief about the belief of others do.

    But Gy. has his own party now, he is organising in the meantime, which is important, nobody can tell what will happen in 2-4 years time. Right now he has just too much baggage, whether someone likes this or not.

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  6. Completely OT – but I was just browsing some old posts when it struck me that I haven’t seen anything from Odin’s Lost Eye for months. I miss his idiosyncratic comments. Does anyone know if he’s OK, or did he just give up posting?

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  7. Paul :

    Completely OT – but I was just browsing some old posts when it struck me that I haven’t seen anything from Odin’s Lost Eye for months. I miss his idiosyncratic comments. Does anyone know if he’s OK, or did he just give up posting?

    Yes, he hasn’t written anything since October. I wrote to him an e-mail and no answer.I took that as a bad omen.

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  8. Choi :
    Spectator, if a lot of people think that Gy. is disqualified, then he is disqualified just by virtue of this thinking. And certainly a lot of people came to think that he is disqualified, so he is. I would not even go into details on the merits, as in politics merits don’t mean too much. Perception, and belief about the belief of others do.
    But Gy. has his own party now, he is organising in the meantime, which is important, nobody can tell what will happen in 2-4 years time. Right now he has just too much baggage, whether someone likes this or not.

    Thanks for the answer!

    Without arguing: are you saying, that there is no need for proof of wrongdoing, it’s perfectly sufficient that the heresy condemning someone on whatever basis, so, if the majority of ‘people’ think, he is guilty of something, it’s enough, he is guilty?

    Of course, I’m aware of the brainwashing – say: communication – techniques and their effect, so I’m not surprised by the reaction of the ‘people’, I simply thought that for my own peace of mind asking around, maybe someone able to enlighten me, what is really behind that sentiment.
    Otherwise, what’s exactly that ‘baggage’ what you’re referring at?
    You see, this is the point, where I start to be curious, because nobody – so far – dared to spell it out!

    Is it really that horrible?
    Was it him, who took the kickback money from the Gripen affair, for example?
    Tell me, please, I’m eager to hear!
    After all, it’s time long overdue to someone get punished, don’t you think?

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  9. Eva S. Balogh :

    Paul :
    Completely OT – but I was just browsing some old posts when it struck me that I haven’t seen anything from Odin’s Lost Eye for months. I miss his idiosyncratic comments. Does anyone know if he’s OK, or did he just give up posting?

    Yes, he hasn’t written anything since October. I wrote to him an e-mail and no answer.I took that as a bad omen.

    Thanks Éva. It could indeed be a bad omen – he used to post about working on the Russian convoys in WWII, so he must have been well into his 80s. Let’s hope he just decided not to post as often.

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