Soul searching in the Hungarian Socialist Party

On Saturday the MSZP committee of important party leaders (választmányi bizottság) gathered to evaluate the situation following the disastrous showing of the United Alliance. Apparently the at times heated debate lasted almost six hours. The gathering began with a forty-minute speech by party chairman Attila Mesterházy who, according to those present, repeated what he had already said publicly in an interview with HVG. First of all, he announced that there is no need for hasty action. It takes time to assess the situation. In any case, according to the party’s by-laws, there will be an opportunity to vote on possible personnel changes after the October municipal elections. At that time he will be a candidate for the chairmanship.

Otherwise, Mesterházy admitted that they didn’t listen to the demands of the people, that they ignored Jobbik, and that they didn’t appeal to sentiment, which is more important than rationality. In brief, at least in my interpretation, Mesterházy thinks that they should more or less have followed the path Fidesz chose in the last eight years or so. That is, let’s be as populist as Fidesz is, but let’s do it better. If Fidesz operates with highly charged nationalism, let’s be nationalistic. If the people want law and order, let’s create a law-and-order MSZP and by extension, because Mesterházy admitted that cooperation among the democratic parties is necessary, a law-and-order Unity Alliance. Mesterházy even dragged in the latest tiff between Brussels and Budapest over the distillation of pálinka. He stands with Viktor Orbán on that, he would also fight Brussels on the issue. But the European Union doesn’t want to forbid the distillation of pálinka, as Mesterházy implied. The argument is over taxes. The EU doesn’t want to allow Hungarians to brew pálinka without paying excise taxes on their product.

All in all, I believe that what Mesterházy outlined is no remedy for the ills of MSZP or the Unity Alliance.

The party leadership didn’t call for Mesterházy’s immediate resignation, a good decision considering that the EP campaign has already started. In fact, Tibor Szanyi, who will lead the MSZP delegation to Brussels, is hard at work and managed to get the necessary 20,000 endorsements in record time. Yes, now is not the time to get rid of the whole top leadership, although apparently there were voices demanding such a radical step. There was, however, plenty of criticism of Mesterházy’s leadership techniques. One of the main complaints was that he tried to imitate the leadership style of Viktor Orbán and hence created a highly centralized MSZP, which goes against socialist tradition.

In the wake of its 2010 defeat MSZP tried to reinvent itself to portray a younger, fresher image. The selection of the new leadership was based on age instead of experience and merit. In its rejuvenation campaign the old leadership was pushed into the background. Mesterházy somewhat naively thought that Fidesz politicians would no longer be able to call MSZP a bunch of commies. He should have known better. The name calling continued unabated.

Ildikó Lendvai, one of the critics of MSZP's present strategy, is arriving at the meeting Photo: Simon Móricz-Sabján/Népszabadság

Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP, is arriving at the meeting
Photo: Simon Móricz-Sabján/Népszabadság

Antal Rogán and Gergely Gulyás are now offering MSZP a (poisonous) olive branch. They are talking about the possibility of reaching an understanding with MSZP as long as the coalition gets rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Orbán is fixated with Gyurcsány; he wants the former prime minister out of politics for good. The Fidesz leadership doesn’t really care whether MSZP is full of old apparatchiks or young Turks; they’ll attach the “communist” label in either case. But  they’ll gladly work hand in hand with these so-called communists to achieve their goal of silencing Gyurcsány.

I mentioned that the EP campaign has already started. It was DK that organized the first street demonstration. While Mesterházy is ready to fight Fidesz for the same voters, Gyurcsány blissfully ignores “the psyche of Hungarian society” which, according to Mesterházy, MSZP misunderstood. He doesn’t have to make compromises in the hope of competing with Viktor Orbán for the same votes. He can ignore the nationalism of the majority and stand for a United States of Europe, which might not be a popular position in the present nationalistic atmosphere created by Fidesz. Although he made a compromise for the sake of unity, the party’s official position is that no new Hungarian citizens in the neighboring countries should be able to vote. While Együtt2014-PM was ready to bargain with Fidesz over the new constitution, Gyurcsány could simply announce that, if it depended on him, the new constitution would be thrown out as soon as he is in power. Yes, he can say all these things because at the moment he is in no position to translate his ideas into action.

As for his ideas on the European Union, besides wanting to have a stronger central power Gyurcsány also seemed to indicate that more financial help would be necessary to avoid the kind of political climate that produced the growth of the extreme right in the eastern fringes of the Union. I’m trying to interpret what Gyurcsány had to say on the subject. Surely, he cannot hope for larger EU subsidies. Perhaps he contemplates using the EU convergence monies not only for building roads and paving city squares but for eliminating poverty. He said that it is not enough to have free travel and the right of entrepreneurship; “people must feel that poverty can be eliminated in the long run and the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed.”

I don’t know how the Hungarian left will improve its standing among the Hungarian electorate. But listening to the demands of the people as they have been shaped by powerful government propaganda is not a formula for success. Steve Jobs famously said that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The left has to create its own unique product line, one so attractive that people will decide that it is something they simply have to have.

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Jano
Guest

“All in all, I believe that what Mesterházy outlined is no remedy for the ills of MSZP or the Unity Alliance.”

I think it probably is. It will be just a whole new circle of hell for the country itself.

sunyilo12
Guest
Eva, One of the lessons MA seemed to adopt from Jobbik’s campaign was the strive for orderliness (however one would want to translate “rendpartisag”). What I think the best attributes of Jobbik’s campaign was in 2014: staying away from ideology battles – for the sake of resorting to pragmatics. This is the lesson MSzP and their allies should learn: not just staying away from ideology battles but spelling out: this is the local communities’ decision (e.g. the standoff on Szabadsag Ter memorial, etc), our job is to stay away from it, and rather focusing on a good operational environment for the economy, or in simple speak: pragmatics. I quite like the blogs of Tokfalvi Elek on hvg.hu (based on the obvious translation of the name) and I would link one of his latest for Hungarian speakers especially calling attention to the (Jakab Andor) link within the link: http://kapitalizmus.hvg.hu/2014/04/10/miben-van-igaza-schiffernek-es-miben-nincs/. The subjects he brings up in this writing could represent one of the more significant high balls MSzP failed to take advantage of: cooperating with the venture-inclined folks who don’t want the state meddling in business but still preferred Fidesz over MSzP being unclear about the directions of the latter other than… Read more »
mikor lesz megint szabadsag?
Guest
mikor lesz megint szabadsag?

Jano April 14, 2014 at 6:11 pm | #1 Quote
“All in all, I believe that what Mesterházy outlined is no remedy for the ills of MSZP or the Unity Alliance.”
I think it probably is. It will be just a whole new circle of hell for the country itself.

===========================================

Mesterhazy can see the future in its dark colors. I hope he will resign now. I appreciate his efforts, but the nation which lost its freedom again, needs smart new brains, and new forces to escape the orban era.

Paul
Guest
“And for the sake of pragmatics, crying out loud, would someone tell Ildiko Lendvai – the Hungarian Nancy Pelosi – not to show off in front of Audis with a French designer shop bag in her hands for publicized meetings after a lost election where MSzP failed to address millions of poor!!! In case I miss the context, my apologies but this is the impression the photo posting makes.” Exactly my first thought on seeing the photo. Had it not been captioned, “chair of the MSzP” would have been the last thought to enter my head. Also, a bit rich (pun intended) for Gy to call for the reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor. Orbán has carefully nurtured his ‘man of the people’, ‘one of us’ image, whereas Gy is almost universally seen as someone who got rich suspiciously quickly after 1989 (and is far too clever and slippery, with all his talk, to be trusted anyawy). The left don’t stand an earthly. Possibly, after a (very) long night of wailing and gnashing of teeth, they might re-emerge as a party ready to take on Orbán and govern the car-crash that Hungary will be by then.… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Entirely OT – for which apologies – but I have just been involved in an argument about Hungarian income tax. I was under the impression that there was a flat tax these days, but I am being told that if you earn above a certain amount there is a higher tax band. Is this so?

I would be very grateful if someone could give me a brief explanation of how income tax works in Hungary.

Thanks

PS – our time in Hungary last summer exactly coincided with me breaking my foot and being in plaster, so I never encountered the new transaction tax. So, it’s been quite a shock this year to discover that I’m paying 2.7% on every bank transaction. I usually pay for most things by card, but, when I discovered what was happening, I switched to cash – only to discover that I also pay and extra 2.7% to withdraw money. With the usual £2/2% bank charge, it now costs me nearly £5 to withdraw £100 (37,000 Ft).

There would be riots over something as sneaky as this in the UK, I can only assume that the average Hungarian doesn’t use banks very much.

petofi
Guest

There’s something seriously wrong in Hungarian politics. Here in the blog, everyone is deeply contemplating their navel about ‘left’ and ‘right’ and ‘extreme right’. What about examining the way the opposition conducted their campaign? It’s highly suspect to me.

There were at least 5 issues, anyone of which, hammered daily, should’ve been enough to highlight the failures of Fidesz:
–freeing the Azeri under shady circumstances
–Malev ticket fiasco
–pension money confiscation
–Anygan and the mafia land grab
–Horvath and the tax avoidance with the government investigation of the whistleblower himself

I can’t remember a systematic hammering of the government on these points by every member of the united opposition. Any ONE of the above issues would’ve sunk a politician in the US, in Canada, in Britain, France, and Germany.

Klag
Guest
Paul : Entirely OT – for which apologies – but I have just been involved in an argument about Hungarian income tax. I was under the impression that there was a flat tax these days, but I am being told that if you earn above a certain amount there is a higher tax band. Is this so? I would be very grateful if someone could give me a brief explanation of how income tax works in Hungary. Thanks PS – our time in Hungary last summer exactly coincided with me breaking my foot and being in plaster, so I never encountered the new transaction tax. So, it’s been quite a shock this year to discover that I’m paying 2.7% on every bank transaction. I usually pay for most things by card, but, when I discovered what was happening, I switched to cash – only to discover that I also pay and extra 2.7% to withdraw money. With the usual £2/2% bank charge, it now costs me nearly £5 to withdraw £100 (37,000 Ft). There would be riots over something as sneaky as this in the UK, I can only assume that the average Hungarian doesn’t use banks very much. The… Read more »
esteban2
Guest
Sunyilo12: I think you are mistaken about the venture inclined folks. There is literally nobody from this group who would not want state meddling, only they want it to their benefit. Unfortunately, I think in most cases in Hungary entrepreneurship means only dealing-whealing to get access to state(EU)-sponsored deals. Look: there is no business which can potentially bring as much return as a fixed EU-project. You (provided you are a fidesznik who has proven his loyalty, which is not so easy) may work on it for a year, pay back 25% to various people, as you do these days, but you still can get access to hundreds of millions, about a third of which can be stolen (as a EU project is usually sold at double or more of the real price). Why bother with real business when it’s pretty difficult to produce a widget better than what the Germans have been producing for 150 years. There is only a minuscule, though much-hyped start-up scene. Despite all the hype it is much smaller than it is in Prague or Warsaw or even in Bratislava, which is really just the outskirts of Vienna. This scene at least keeps the independent entrepreneurship… Read more »
Stanislaus
Guest
MSZP is beyond repair. Remember Laszlo Kovacs? He was Hungary’s first commissioner at the EU Commission (and previously a foreign minister and chairman of MSZP). He is now 75 years old, he was 65 when he was sent to the Commission. Surely, the Commission is often a place where old politicians are dumped, they get one final nice job. That could have been, however, a great opportunity for MSZP but it is just incapable of getting “long term vision”. MSZP obviously should have sent – despite the conventions – a young politician who could have returned to Hungary, now strengthened with his EU-network and who thus could have been used by the left. No, they sent Laszlo Kovacs, who is now retired and completely useless (and of course he is not an elder statesman type of person, he is a old-school szoci). Right now the commissioner is Laszlo Andor, who is probably not a politician type at all, but at least his relatively young, he can be potentially of use to the left. But compare Kovacs to Tibor Navracsics who will head to Brussels and charm everybody and defend Fidesz and be Fidesz’ point man when the Commission wants to… Read more »
whoever
Guest
I don’t think the Party grandees arriving in sackcloth and ashes, whilst vigorously practicing self-flagellation, would exactly help the MSZP’s situation @sunyilo12. For crying out loud, she’s got a shopping back from a standard Hungarian precinct shop, not Prada! What are we demanding here, exactly? Whatever it is, it ain’t relevant. Not only that, but the idea that a ‘business community’ exists in any meaningful sense in Hungary smacks of fantasy. Maybe in the science/tech field, there is a *little* bit of a scene, but ultimately many of these glorified sole traders are running inadequate and outmoded retail outlets, or angling for a slice of government contracts. I think the MSZP was quite specific, in any case, with its plans for insulating public buildings, etc… many of these plans were very small-biz friendly. But ultimately, this wasn’t an issue and the sector didn’t (or couldn’t) vote according to its best interests, mirroring the regional working-class. Far more relevant is what petofi wrote – that MSZP politicians failed to communicate on an epic scale, and failed to drill home a number of points. I would add 27.5% AFA to this discussion, and the way it is illogically and regressively applied, eg… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@whoever

To continue with my suspicions, what has bothered me more is the sense that all the ‘tools’
that were at hand for MSZP were not utilized during the campaign. It seems to me that a half-hearted effort, at best, was put forward…suggesting that the MSZP back room boys were
quite comfortable with whatever form of profit-sharing existed with Fidesz. What’s more,
I think a deal was probably struck to keep MSZP as the opposition rather than to have Jobbik
rise above them. It all seems a fixed game, with little portly, Orban moving the pieces here and there.

The above scenario also suggests that co-opting Gyurcsany was a brilliant move preventing him from turning his guns on MSZP. Same for Bajnai: inclusion meant nullification.

Only the creation of a new party by Bajani–sans the toadying that he was at first guilty of–could eventually break the stranglehold of Fidesz on the country’s politics. Sadly, by the time that is done, the country will be hamstrung with debts to Russia.

Guest

@all commenters:

Thanks for the valuable insights!

Now the results of the election don’t look too good but if you just look at the raw numbers I feel Orbán and his mafia must be very disappointed!

Even though they have almost total control over the media (any one remember North Korean state tv?), had those million people marches, squeezed the banks and those ugly multinationals with extra taxes and gave a lot of presents (“regie”) to the populace, produced those hundreds of thousands extra “jobs”, reaffirmed those traditional Christian values etc etc …

In the end they only got 44 % of their votes – and more people stayed at home than last time!

Only the New Citizens showed their gratitude by voting with 95 % for their saviour.

And 30 % for the left opposition (incl LMP) is not too bad – I remember several cases in Eastern Europe where once formidable parties were totally destroyed – not getting into parliament the next time.

Also I think we should wait for the results of the elections for the EU parliament. Is it true that the voter turnout for these elections is even lower, usually under 40 %?

calmar
Guest

“A nagyobbik kormánypártban viszont most már attól tartanak, hogy a baloldal esetleges összeomlása egy-két cikluson belül komoly vetélytárssá hizlalja a Jobbikot.”

“In the bigger governing party [i.e. Fidesz, not KDNP] it is now feared that the left-wing’s potential collapse can in an election cycle or two fatten Jobbik into a serious rival.”

Excerpt from a HVG.hu article, which shows nicely how long-term Fideszniks calculate. They naturally prepare and plan for election cycles ahead, 5-10 years plans are constantly updated when new info is available. Meanwhile on the left, they are clueless.

Kirsten
Guest

Klag: “The beauty of this is that you pay the exorbitant fees (not the tax) to the bloodsucking banks. People feel they are outta control.

The banks pay the tax, but people blame the banks.

Isn’t this a work of a genius?”

Haha. Normally the word “tax” is already directing people to what it probably is. But in case it is indeed impossible for people to grasp that the banks are imposing a “fee” due to a “tax”, and given that people were able to link the utility prices with Orban although public utilities are also provided by companies for “fees”, I suggest another “work of genius” at the banks, marking the fee due to a tax in red also. Or VAT on every receipt.

Kirsten
Guest
Éva: “Mesterházy thinks that they should more or less have followed the path Fidesz chose in the last eight years or so. That is, let’s be as populist as Fidesz is, but let’s do it better. If Fidesz operates with highly charged nationalism, let’s be nationalistic. If the people want law and order, let’s create a law-and-order MSZP” With an MSzP so inventive, soul searching can go on for some time. The role of MSzP has remained as dubious as before. But what worries me most is that it appears to be all about “strategy”, not about real objectives. What do they want Hungary to be in a few years? A country of nationalists and law and order? Objectives or goals typically set in other countries involve a definition of living standards, or of the efficiency of government, or environmental goals or social goals and the financing of the social systems. In Hungary, the main issues are only vaguely related to what politics in a democracy should or even could achieve. The politicians appear to be searching for “what people actually want”, while the job of political parties and movements is also to identify and set an agenda, and suggest… Read more »
klag
Guest

Kirsten :
Klag: “The beauty of this is that you pay the exorbitant fees (not the tax) to the bloodsucking banks. People feel they are outta control.
The banks pay the tax, but people blame the banks.
Isn’t this a work of a genius?”
Haha. Normally the word “tax” is already directing people to what it probably is. But in case it is indeed impossible for people to grasp that the banks are imposing a “fee” due to a “tax”, and given that people were able to link the utility prices with Orban although public utilities are also provided by companies for “fees”, I suggest another “work of genius” at the banks, marking the fee due to a tax in red also. Or VAT on every receipt.

The banks are explicitly forbidden to transfer the tax further onto the clients. It is just that banks surprize-surprize all decided to increase various fees to ‘compensate’ for the losses caused by the taxes and the National Bank looks the other way (as part of the deal with the government).

Kirsten
Guest

Klag: “The banks are explicitly forbidden to transfer the tax further onto the clients.”

And the utility companies are forced to mark price decreases. Why then is it “imprecise” to call the Hungarian regime authoritarian?

Tyrker
Guest

sunyilo12 :
And for the sake of pragmatics, crying out loud, would someone tell Ildiko Lendvai – the Hungarian Nancy Pelosi – not to show off in front of Audis with a French designer shop bag in her hands for publicized meetings after a lost election where MSzP failed to address millions of poor!!!

That’s business as usual for the Hungarian “left.”
Like Gyurcsány going on “hunger strike” wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt.
They just don’t get it.

petofi
Guest

“people must feel that poverty can be eliminated in the long run and the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed.”

How about narrowing the gap between politicians and the average Hungarian?
In other words, the country’s number 1 problem is unpunished corruption playing havoc with
the public purse.

More EU money? (I’m starting to get a queasy feeling about Gyurcsany…)

How about greater law enforcement regarding politicians and public servants?

The country has enough money, and enough potential to make more, provided that it is run honestly, and for the benefit of its citizens.

Member

Tyrker :

sunyilo12 :
And for the sake of pragmatics, crying out loud, would someone tell Ildiko Lendvai – the Hungarian Nancy Pelosi – not to show off in front of Audis with a French designer shop bag in her hands for publicized meetings after a lost election where MSzP failed to address millions of poor!!!

That’s business as usual for the Hungarian “left.”
Like Gyurcsány going on “hunger strike” wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt.
They just don’t get it.

While the Hungarian right build stadiums as playgrounds in there backyards as playground from taxpayers money? I vote for Lendvai shopping from her own money wherever she wants versus Orban’s pet projects from my money!
http://atlatszo.blog.hu/2013/08/14/felcsuti_stadion_nem_csak_maganadomanybol_epul

freedom above all
Guest

There is heavy historical burden on almost all Hungarians, our fathers lived the lives of prisoners without freedom.

Let us try to be different. When we are fathers, we must be free. Let us promise this to our children.

(Mothers can be substituted for fathers, and we will arrive to an even sadder account)

Istvan
Guest
I think there needs to be a serious discussion in Hungary over who is actually poor and who is systematically under reporting income. Zoltán Imre Nagy wrote a very serious academic article in 2011 about this issue that can be read in English at http://www.uni-obuda.hu/journal/Nagy_28.pdf Now I am not saying that in any way that many of Hungarians who are hiding probably 20% of their incomes are not poor. But many honestly think they are beating the system. The current perversity of the Hungarian economic system can not be laid at the door of Fidesz alone, the problems go beyond that. For example the legal tax paying part of the pornography industry is certainly central to Hungarian society and economy, relative to other countries. By 2005, 300 of the 1,200 pornographic films produced in Europe were of Hungarian origin. In 2008, the industry generated around € 636 million a year, making up around 0.5% of the country’s GDP. The non-tax paying part of this industry is extensive and is directly linked to the non-legal part of Hungarian prostitution and sex trafficking. Any one who thinks the MSZP can take on Orban’s corruption had better look at how extensive corruption is… Read more »
Member
OT As we all know, no country was so fast and keen about the opening of new improvements (like a change room) than Hungary for the last three months, coincidentally before the elections. It turns out for no surprise for the more intelligent and wise that most of those remarkable projects were not even finished, or ready (including gas lines). We also know that many of those projects would of been impossible to even start with without the money received from the EU that Orban / Fidesz and COF / Peace March adamantly lobbied against!!! So it comes as no surprise that many of those projects closed couple of hours after the opening in order to be finished. This includes the Castle Park. Castle Park is different from all, as Fidesz actually, first time in its history was able to show something that sums up what Fidesz is all about in a single plaque. Etched in marble, the plaque placed on the site of the Castle Park contains a spelling error most children after third grade would not make – épületegyüttes the plaque says instead of épületeggyüttes This represents the efforts of Fidesz regarding education reform, their new language preservation… Read more »
Kormos
Guest

@Some1: ” épületegyüttes the plaque says instead of épületeggyüttes”
Sorry, but I do not get it. Which one is the correct spelling version in your view?

Kormos
Guest

“Some1: OK, I see the unfortunate mistake now: hogy épületegyüttes helyett “épületegyütest” sikerült odavésni.
This could be corrected easily by replacing the marble sign. Nevertheless, can you see how easy to make a mistake??

Member

Kormos :
“Some1: OK, I see the unfortunate mistake now: hogy épületegyüttes helyett “épületegyütest” sikerült odavésni.
This could be corrected easily by replacing the marble sign. Nevertheless, can you see how easy to make a mistake??

No, I can’t. Not if this is someone’s job, who is getting paid for it. Not if the Prime Minister opens up a project with ah huge fan fair. Someone had to put down the text, someone had t approve it, someone els had to approve it again, someone had to etch it, someone had to read and approve what was etched, someone had to install it, someone had to approve if it is installed well, someone had to open up the building and read it. Did our Prime Minister read the thing? It is not a third grade assignment in the school hall. It is not a Blog feedback with people typing away without checking what they scribble. How about the date? What is that all about?

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