“The beginning of a new era” as Gordon Bajnai’s E14 envisions it

Yesterday was highly anticipated, not only in opposition circles but also among government officials and Fidesz politicians. Gordon Bajnai was to deliver a speech he called “Evaluation of the Orbán Government.” Actually, it was more than that. I would call it an opening bid to become the next prime minister of Hungary.

A blog writer with whom I had been unfamiliar until now considers Bajnai a bad speaker and charged the organizers with placing two even worse orators ahead of him so that Bajnai would look good: Péter Juhász of Milla and Péter Kónya of Solidarity (Szolidaritás).

Juhász led off. A friend of mine who was present thought he gave a splendid speech. Well, the audience didn’t seem to think so. Moreover, I suspect that there weren’t too many Milla supporters present in the rather large audience because Juhász’s appearance didn’t meet with much enthusiasm. The applause wasn’t exactly thunderous.

Several times I’ve expressed my doubts about Bajnai’s decision to join forces with Juhász because I consider him someone whose political acumen is sadly lacking and because it is hard to judge the size of the electorate that stands behind him. I was often disappointed in his interviews that showed a total lack of political finesse and no grasp of the present situation or the rules of modern democracy. One cannot achieve anything in politics by fueling the citizens’ hatred of politics and politicians.

Now to my reaction to his speech yesterday. First, I disagree with Juhász’s contention that in the past twenty years “the powers-that-be excluded people either because they were right-leaning or left-wingers; or because they were liberals, or because they were independent ‘civilians’; or because they were poor, Gypsies, Jews, gays, disabled, or homeless.”  Well, I don’t remember any governments actually excluding these people before 2010, but obviously Juhász and I see the world differently.

I also noticed that Juhász does not always use the right words when describing certain political concepts. For example, he claims that “we want only one thing: we should have representation. We want to be part of Hungary as simple citizens.”  For Pete’s sake, were the simple citizens disenfranchised in Hungary in the last twenty years? Didn’t they have representation?

Or here is another expression used incorrectly in the context of Hungarian politics. According to Juhász “politics is too important a thing to leave it to professional politicians.” Juhász used the expression “megélhetési politikusok”  (megélhetés means livelihood), coined by an MDF politician. The original usage  referred to a former MDF member who changed party affiliation during the first Orbán government in order to become a member of the cabinet. So, he left his convictions behind to be promoted and remain part of the governing elite. He did it for his material and professional benefit. This is not what Juhász had in mind.

One could also argue with the generalization that all governments since 1990 were “sly, contradicting themselves, liars who took us for fools.” These descriptions fit the present government better than any others before. This kind of generalization is good for only one thing: to shake the confidence of the population in democracy. If all governments in the last twenty-two years were rotten to the core, what is the likelihood that this crowd will be drastically different? Because Péter Juhász says so?

And finally, Juhász said a few words about MSZP, alluding to the fact that there are voices within the party that mistakenly believe they can win the elections alone. There is quite a bit of truth in that, although the group within the party that advocates cooperation is growing. But it is clear that the party leadership would like MSZP to be the leading force in forging that cooperation. I find that desire quite natural. After all, MSZP is the largest party and the only one with a nationwide political machine. But to say, as Juhász says, that “the socialists traditionally don’t like coalition governments and power sharing” is outright wrong. I don’t know whether anyone read Juhász’s text before he delivered it, but you don’t have to be a political wizard to know that all the governments in which the socialists participated since 1994 were coalition governments. Even between 1994 and 1998 when the socialists had an absolute majority in parliament and didn’t really need SZDSZ in order to govern, Gyula Horn asked the liberals to join his government.

Péter Kónya of Solidarity was the second speaker. It seems that perhaps the majority of the audience came from the ranks of Solidarity, which is a union-based organization. As a former union leader himself, Kónya concentrated on labor demands but always added that the changes employees would like to see depend on economic performance. He listed very specific issues the next government should concentrate on: taxation, minimum wages, new labor laws, unemployment insurance, programs for the Roma, and the right to strike, which has been greatly circumscribed.

And then came Gordon Bajnai. Only a few days ago the organizers of the phony civic organization that is responsible for the 200 million forint anti-Bajnai-Gyurcsány campaign compared Bajnai to a funeral director. Contrary to that image, Bajnai is becoming a good speaker, although he worked from borrowed material. His reference to Hungary not being a “normal country” was first used by Ibolya Dávid of MDF. His emphasis on “hope” reminded me of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. His references to the half a million Hungarians who left the country and his emphasis on producing more children were obvious appeals to patriotic, perhaps right-of-center sentiments.

Here I will pick two themes from the speech. One is Bajnai’s attitude toward MSZP and the other his view of his own place in a future “togetherness.”

Bajnai seems to be convinced that the majority of currently undecided and/or disillusioned voters will never vote for MSZP. This assumption seems to me outright wrong if we believe polls that focus on the undecided voting bloc. All polls attest to the fact that the majority of the undecided voters lean toward the left and not the right. Believing, as Bajnai does, that there are at least a million people who would under no circumstances vote for MSZP is simply not warranted. So alienating MSZP in the hope of gaining millions of votes from the allegedly right-of-center voters is I think a mistake. Because I firmly believe that there is no true moderate right in Hungary. The 1.5 million Fidesz voters will never vote for E14. The undecided, if they vote at all, will vote for the left. If E14 positions itself to the right, it may end up nowhere.

If Bajnai had only claimed that MSZP at the moment doesn’t have enough voters to win the 2014 elections alone, he would have been perfectly right. But adding that “it doesn’t have enough credibility or enough expertise to govern” was an unnecessary dig if Bajnai would like to forge an alliance with MSZP.

Glorious new era /a heartforgodsglory

Glorious new era /aheartforgodsglory

The second theme that will further infuriate MSZP politicians is that Bajnai practically introduced himself as the next prime minister of Hungary. I consider this a premature announcement. At the end of the speech he switched to the first person singular and declared himself to be the leading force in the change that will be more than a change of government but the beginning of “a new era.” To this end he will “not allow any diversionary maneuvers … petty political games, positioning and selfish tactics.” He will “concentrate all his energies to organize the victims of the current regime.” And finally, he “will shape the dreams and hopes of [his] compatriots into a concrete government program.”

“Come with me, join the coalition of hope!” This is how Bajnai concluded his speech. He asked the people to join him at a mass demonstration on March 15, an idea Ferenc Gyurcsány first suggested in his speech at DK’s Second Congress on January 26. I might add that Bajnai didn’t mention the Demokratikus Koalíció at all, which might be a politically savvy move on his part, although he must know that if anyone supports his candidacy it is Ferenc Gyurcsány. One thing is sure: devoted DK supporters are already mightily offended.

MSZP supporters will be too. And if my hunch is correct, this constant harping on the bad governing of the past will not go over well. After all, Gordon Bajnai was a member of the Gyurcsány government that is now being mightily criticized by Bajnai’s associate Péter Juhász. Moreover, he was a prime minister of an MSZP-SZDSZ government that Milla’s leader considered to be as bad as the Orbán government. The difference of the last three years is “only qualitative of everything we didn’t like in the last ten or twenty years.”  And why ten years? Prior to 2002 it was better?

There are just too many contradictions that leave me uneasy about the success of the effort and the program that this odd coalition of a liberal economist and a populist non-politician with a hatred of politics can come up with.

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Minusio
Guest

There is a truism Chancellor Hellmut Kohl used to throw in the ring quite often: “We should and will talk with each other, not about each other.”

That simple rule has not found any takers among the Hungarian political class yet. And it is this almost total lack of civic, democratic, political culture that makes me so pessimistic concerning the next ten years.

spectator
Guest

“politics is too important a thing to leave it to professional politicians.”

– Oh my..! Then leave it to whom, please?

Should they be then happy amateurs, bored housewives, or the hussar-regiment this time?

Why would anybody think, that the lack of experience equals lack of sins, and altogether provide guarantee for a perfect governing, no previous skills required?
In spite of all the bells and whistles, this is a demanding job if one will doing it right, and Hungary presently simply can not afford that a bunch of innocent people full with the best intentions experimenting, – give them a chance, they may even get lucky?

Good morning, people, time to take your cold shower and think it over again, would you?

spectator
Guest

Minusio :
There is a truism Chancellor Hellmut Kohl used to throw in the ring quite often: “We should and will talk with each other, not about each other.”
That simple rule has not found any takers among the Hungarian political class yet. And it is this almost total lack of civic, democratic, political culture that makes me so pessimistic concerning the next ten years.

Culture generally, I would say.
That’s the most depressing to watch, how culture disappear from the everyday life as well as from politics and all, you name it.

Kirsten
Guest
Eva, probably you hope for something more promising that this as regards the actual effectiveness of the opposition, but I am afraid Hungary is far from a situation where you can just ask people to “get a grip”, cooperate and introduce a well functioning Fourth Republic. You should not dismiss what Mr Juhasz says only because he does not really sound like a professional politician. I am more than sure that there are many people who perceive that they had no say in what has been going on in the past 20 years – although you and I know that they could have! But they have not, and they have believed first Gyurcsany then Orban that they will eventually improve matters. It is still correct that they have to get more involved themselves – this is what democracy requires of them. It might be that Mr Juhasz may have some rather populist visions of how this participation should look like, without representatives or so (I do not know). And yet you need to get people more willing to do something themselves. Ideas about how democracies function are – as far as I have heard – not really centered about the… Read more »
D-Day D14
Guest

Let us be kind to the salvageable Hungarians.
2014 will be D-Day.
We have to win against the dark forces.
After the win, there will be rehabilitation.
Hopefully D-Day will bring back the spirit of Ferenc Deak.

Istvan Foldesi
Guest

Eva, this analysis is one of the best of yours. Precise, succint and painfully true. I dare only to hint at historic examples when parties on the left and civic organizations had failed to cooperate. The result was terrible for the country concerned and the rest of the world. The only justification for this ill-chosen comparison is to admonish the Hungarian players: Sober up to the facts!

lutra lutra
Guest

Bajnai may be accurate in his criticisms of MSZP but couldn’t he have waited until the anti-Orbán coalition had coalesced around some sort of election manifesto? It seems like he’s laid himself and all his existing and potential partners wide open to the kinds of salami tactics that Orbán knows and loves so well.

Nick Ryan
Guest

To spectator, re politics is too important a thing to be left to professional polititicians. This refers to the fact that many of our politicians are career politicians. They have spent their whole working lives in the ivory towers of political parties and have never had a proper job, so do not actually understand the real world that they try to govern.

In my home country, the UK, there used to be a noble tradition that people would go into politics later in their career, thereby bringing valuable experience about the real world into their political decision making. Sadly such people are becoming rarer and rarer in political life.

Zack
Guest
I was there at this meeting. I would say 85% were there for Bajnai, 10% for Szolidaritás and 5% for Milla. The feeling was absolutely not of a high-profile campaign opener, there was nothing grand, more of a lets meet face to face between the usual October 23/March 15 demonstrations, lets speed up the organisations efforts a bit, slowly, not with a bang. The thing about Milla is that it was originally organised by undregroundish, civil rights movement activists like Juhász. They are most definitely not party politicians. These Milla people (mostly youngish urban people) would go to a demonstration, but would not go to a real political meeting, they value their “independence” too much. Which is bad, because Fidesz’ people are very disciplined. Its also a reminder that young people may be very active on Twitter and Facebook, but when it comes to actual voting and being active physically they are much less so. Szolidaritás, seemed to me stronger (I am not sure this is true, but they certainly have this image, this presence) and their 5 minute video was very effective, low-cost, but very good (editing, music). I can only suppose that Kónya being a trained soldier has… Read more »
Guest

Eva: “Or here is another expression used incorrectly in the context of Hungarian politics. According to Juhász “politics is too important a thing to leave it to professional politicians.” Juhász used the expression “megélhetési politikusok” (megélhetés means livelihood), coined by an MDF politician. The original usage referred to a former MDF member who changed party affiliation during the first Orbán government in order to become a member of the cabinet.”

The origin of the expression:

La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires! Georges Clemenceau

Guest

London Calling!

This is all very sad for Hungary and its citizens.

It’s a long slow car crash:

The Opposition still lacks any unity;

The Opposition still lacks any focus;

And the Opposition is still faffing around.

Time is running out – up to 13months is a very short time.

Almost terminal.

Regards

Charlie

Bowen
Guest

CharlieH :
London Calling!
This is all very sad for Hungary and its citizens.
It’s a long slow car crash:
The Opposition still lacks any unity;
The Opposition still lacks any focus;
And the Opposition is still faffing around.
Time is running out – up to 13months is a very short time.
Almost terminal.
Regards
Charlie

Fidesz, meanwhile, have this game of chess nicely lined up. Marcius 15 square and its environs are quickly becoming a fenced-off building site. Good luck with holding any demonstrations there, Milla.

Jano
Guest
While by now I definitely share a lot of your concerns on Milla, I see Juhász’s speech very differently. It is populist, but I think on most of your points where you try to pick a fight with the content you are wrong. “Well, I don’t remember any governments actually excluding these people” “Didn’t they have representation? Depends on high you define representation and exclusion. For example, Juhász’s speech is obviously referring to the public perception that elected officials doesn’t represent their voters and doesn’t work in their interest outside election periods. Now you can try to argue that he is not using the word in the strict sense, but “for Pete’s sake”, he’s delivering a speech and not writing a political science textbook. This is way within the normal rhetoric category. ” According to Juhász “politics is too important a thing to leave it to professional politicians.” Juhász used the expression “megélhetési politikusok” (megélhetés means livelihood),” Beg to differ again, “career politician” is a much better translation (credit to a commenter above). This actually makes perfect sense in a Hungarian context. The adjective “megélhetési” is used for anybody in any profession who does his job without moral compassion only… Read more »
An
Guest

I realize it is really not an important issue, but I think Jano is right… “career politician” is a better translation for “megelhetesi politikus”, as both imply that the politician chose his job simply to make a living, not because of some lofty goal. The English phrase, though, does not have the same strong negative connotation as the Hungarian one. It can have negative connotations depending on the context, but the negative meaning in the Hungarian expression is a lot more obvious and stronger; it’s actually derogatory. It refers to politicians who just want to make money and do not care what side they are on or what political purpose they serve. The phrase “professional politician”, on the other hand, totally lacks the negative connotation, in my opinion.

Member

Your career politician is my devoted public servant …

“Megelhetesi” has negative connotation in Hungarian in this context. In Hungarian they usually mean a leech. Juhasz wanted to underscore that a grass root movement can be more powerful than the work of the full-time politicians. So we can say Juhasz misused the term. But since 99% of the present Hungarian politicians are leeches – let’s call it subtle humor.

It’s something like Dr. Strangelove’s comment: “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

Pom8837pom
Guest

‘Megélhetési politikus’ means a politician who needs to be and is in politics solely in order to make money (as he/she has no and never had a carrieer outside party politics).

It comes from ‘megélhetési bűnöző’ a criminal who needs to commit crime just to survive (get food).

Member
Agnes Vadai (DK) was on the ATV today. She kept emphasizing that Gordon Bajnai is “one of them”. Meaning he was a minister during the Gyurcsany government and he become PM on the MSzP ticket. If the Bajnai movement picks up the DK will be over. So isn’t this cute how Vadai is trying to drag Bajnai back into the MSzP cesspit? I believe there is a moderate right conservative mass in Hungary. It’s just not organized. – They don’t want the MSzP, but not because of Gyurcsany. MSzP just didn’t work. Period. – Most of them are Christian, but not anti-Semite. They would vote a christian democratic party. A true one, with conservative policies, but they are not zealots. – The want law and order to take care of crime not boots and Arpad flags. – The view themselves patriots but they would not force Horthy statues on the nation. – They have all the books of Albert Wass and Jozsef Nyiro (no Cecile Tormai) but they don’t want them in the NAT. – They are very sensitive to all the nationalistic buzzwords, Trianon, Holy Crown, Szeklerland, but they don’t want these to be elevated to national politics. –… Read more »
Pompom
Guest

Orbán never held a job outside politics. He has a law degree but never practiced for a day. Never been involved in a real market-based enterprise (his family lives off from a mine whose customers are construction companies hoping to or already getting state business). He would not survive for a minute (but for his savings). Szájer, Áder, Lázár, Deusch similarly, their home, the only life they know is politics.

OT: https://www.facebook.com/MTMozgalom?ref=nf

It is interesting to see how Jobbik (at Fidesz’ instigation) tries to fight HAHA (the non-coopted organisation of students) with a new movement (Hungarian Spring Movement). It has a simple goal: being aganst HaHa. Perhaps they fear that the young voters will not be so Jobbik orineted after all, or they just do the dirty work for Fidesz.

Yul
Guest
Mutt : Agnes Vadai (DK) was on the ATV today. She kept emphasizing that Gordon Bajnai is “one of them”. Meaning he was a minister during the Gyurcsany government and he become PM on the MSzP ticket. If the Bajnai movement picks up the DK will be over. So isn’t this cute how Vadai is trying to drag Bajnai back into the MSzP cesspit? I believe there is a moderate right conservative mass in Hungary. It’s just not organized. – They don’t want the MSzP, but not because of Gyurcsany. MSzP just didn’t work. Period. – Most of them are Christian, but not anti-Semite. They would vote a christian democratic party. A true one, with conservative policies, but they are not zealots. – The want law and order to take care of crime not boots and Arpad flags. – The view themselves patriots but they would not force Horthy statues on the nation. – They have all the books of Albert Wass and Jozsef Nyiro (no Cecile Tormai) but they don’t want them in the NAT. – They are very sensitive to all the nationalistic buzzwords, Trianon, Holy Crown, Szeklerland, but they don’t want these to be elevated to national… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
In the functioning democracies of the West, there are many people involved in the political business, as party members, members of trade unions or other clubs, at the lowest levels of the organisation, who campaign, supply information about what people think, supply ideas, keep contact with people in the neighbourhood etc. That is an important basis for the representative democracy. Very often people who later become professional politicians start exactly at this level. So I still do not know what is wrong with the observation that in a democracy you cannot rely on professional politicians only. And it holds true all the more if the professional politicians have not (yet) understood that they actually work for those people who pay them from their taxes. I know they did not have to so far, as the broad public has not wished to get involved and has not demanded in efficient terms from the politicians to work in the interest of the public and not in their own interest. But it is still correct that the general involvement of people in public affairs must increase in Hungary if democracy has to work. Whether it should be in the form of Milla, or… Read more »
Jano
Guest

“Orbán hadn’t had any other job before he embarked on a career in politics but he is never called a “megélhetési politikus.”

I wanted to write career only earlier. Anyway, professional is definitely a wrong word in this context. Mutt’s leech version is better. Orbán is not one because in his head he has a goal and he unfortunately wants to achieve something in politics other than just laying low and cashing big stacks. What he wants to achieve is a different story of course.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Mutt, if there were a sizable moderate, right-of-center electorate the Ibolya Dávid led MDF wouldn’t have died. But it did.
I think you overestimate the size of truly conservative elements just as people normally overestimate the number of liberals.

I think they mistakenly believed that the Fidesz will represent their values.

One way to look at this is to assume that we are not that different from our western neighbors after all. OK, I know, we are. It’s Easter-Europe. We are the “Europeons”. Lot’s of troubling signs in the society. But again why would we have so much less moderate conservatives than the other countries?

Ok, let me say this. Perhaps many of them just doesn’t know yet that they are. Somebody needs to tell them. Go Gordo!

spectator
Guest
Nick Ryan : To spectator, re politics is too important a thing to be left to professional polititicians. This refers to the fact that many of our politicians are career politicians. They have spent their whole working lives in the ivory towers of political parties and have never had a proper job, so do not actually understand the real world that they try to govern. In my home country, the UK, there used to be a noble tradition that people would go into politics later in their career, thereby bringing valuable experience about the real world into their political decision making. Sadly such people are becoming rarer and rarer in political life. I wouldn’t have the slightest problem, if it was like this, believe me. Having professional experience first, then turn to politics can work pretty well – no doubt. However, throwing out a load of ‘career politicians’ and filling the vacancy with ‘amateur politicians’ – all at once – would do more harm than good, I am convinced. Just imagine, when all the ‘career pathologists’ of a hospital got substituted from one day to the other with inexperienced – say, with brand new diploma’s – pathologists, just how hm…… Read more »
Guest

As I understand it, Hungary after WW1 was still a kind of Feudal society. Not everybody was allowed to vote and I heard somewhere that many people were still bound to their “lords” in a way and couldn’t just move to another village – is that correct ?

And then came Fascism and after WW2 Communism – so a real democracy including these things like liberals/conservatives/left leaning couldn’t develop among the masses – is that correct ?

Kirsten
Guest

Wolfi, for the second paragraph, I believe this is more or less correct. But there were people who have had this vision and who could be used as guides. Mihaly Karolyi extended the franchise to include “all literate man over 21 and women over 24” in 1919. This successor state to the Habsburg empire was a republic. Perhaps more people would have got interested in representative, participatory democracy, were it not for the obsession with Trianon and national unity that dominated public affairs since 1920. And although this might be unpopular, the fact that a Communist or post-Communist party “introduced” democracy in Hungary in 1989 or at least secured quite important positions during the transition, and considered itself reformed without being able to credibly distance itself from the past, is a problem. A modern, representative democracy is based on principles that are quite in opposition to what the Eastern bloc Communist parties stood for, be they moderate or Stalinist. I believe that some of these people really tried hard, and yet their cynical approach to power has become evident again in the MSzP’s ideas about how to win the next elections.

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