I know that most likely everybody will want to talk about the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but I see no point in adding to the guessing game about the identities of the eight men involved. Of course, I’m also very curious whether the Syrian passport actually belonged to one of the terrorists, and I’m sure that the discussion of the details of the attack will continue in the comments. Today, however, I would like to talk about something else, though it is not unrelated to the refugee crisis and terrorism. It is the surprise announcement by István Hiller (MSZP) that, although he doesn’t like the fence, he doesn’t know “a better solution for the refugee crisis,” a statement that goes against the position of his party.
First, perhaps I should say a few words about István Hiller. He is currently one of the most important active politicians in MSZP. He was one of the founding members of MSZP as a young man of 25 and became chairman of the party in 2004. Two years later he was named minister of education and culture. In the last few months he has indicated his desire to head MSZP, which is in serious decline. I gather he believes that under his leadership MSZP can again become a large, influential party. Otherwise, he is a historian whose main field is sixteenth-century Austrian diplomacy.
One is always suspicious when Viktor Orbán praises someone from the opposite camp, and that is what he did in the case of István Hiller. During his conversations with students of his old dormitory, after dismissing the current political leaders of the opposition parties who are unable to formulate a “national strategy” (nemzetpolitika), Orbán announced that “interestingly there is someone who can at least theoretically achieve that goal and that is the former chairman of the party, ‘a professzor úr,’ Hiller…. He is a man whose heart is in the right place, and this is difficult for someone from the left.”
MSZP politicians were stunned at Hiller’s announcement. Some of them were aware of his opinion, but they didn’t expect him to announce it publicly against the wishes of his party. Some of his colleagues tried to look upon his indiscretion as a well-meaning response to the public opinion polls showing that the overwhelming majority of MSZP voters believe that the fence is necessary to stem the flow of asylum seekers. After all, a party must be responsive to its voting base’s wishes.
But soon enough it was noticed that several former associates of Hiller had quietly received important government jobs in the Orbán administration, and Hiller himself admitted that János Lázár had asked his advice in connection with the Esterházy Center to be set up in Fertőd. Hiller noted that there was nothing unusual about the request because, after all, it was during his tenure that the bulk of the restoration work on the Esterházy Palace had taken place.
Nonetheless, suspicions have solidified: Hiller is planning to make peace with Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. Of course, Hiller denies the charge. Yet there is a danger that Hiller might end up like Katalin Szily, who first kept criticizing her party, later established a party of her own that flopped, and now is an adviser to Viktor Orbán on “national issues” for a million forints a month. As a witty headline said, “If Hiller is clever he won’t become silly.”
A double interview with László Kovács and Ildikó Lendvai, both former party chairmen and people whose personal integrity is beyond reproach, shows what a hopeless party MSZP has become since 2010 when its leadership hatched the idea of “renewal.” Renewal meant getting rid of all the experienced politicians and replacing them with entirely new young faces whom nobody knew and who were not up to the task of renewing anything.
Kovács and Lendvai are top-notch politicians and excellent democrats. They were among the “old guard” booted out from their leadership positions. Kovács made a name for himself already in the last days of the Kádár regime when he, together with Gyula Horn, were largely responsible for the decision to allow the East German refugees to cross over to Austria. He was a successful foreign minister and served as EU commissioner for five years. Lendvai for many years was the leader of the large MSZP delegation of olden days. She is an eloquent, quick-witted speaker and one of the most honest politicians I have encountered.
The interview with these two people appeared in Origo. The headline was taken from something László Kovács said: “at that price I don’t want to win an election.” The discussion that preceded that sentence was about popularity and political strategy. If it is clear that Viktor Orbán’s reaction to the refugee crisis is popular even among MSZP voters, isn’t the correct strategy to move in the direction of popular demands? At this point the following conversation took place:
László Kovács: There are two possible choices for political parties. One is that they follow what is popular and brings more votes. But if MSZP wants to win the election this way, it would have to stand for things that are very far from European values.
Ildikó Lendvai: We might as well revile the Gypsies.
László Kovács: Or we can come up with the reinstatement of capital punishment because a lot of people would support it and thus we would be popular. But I don’t want to win at such a price. If we can win only with offering such inhumane solutions alien to European culture, then I would rather stay in opposition. A responsible politician should not only serve but also influence public opinion.
Those people who can read the whole interview should definitely do so. Both severely criticized István Hiller who, by the way, is planning to run for the chairmanship of the party, and they complained about MSZP’s lack of a clear alternative to Fidesz. MSZP’s platform should not be, to use Lendvai’s words, “Fidesz-light” or, as she said a few sentences later, “the same thing as Fidesz but not in a major but in a minor chord.”
It is hard to tell what will happen to MSZP, but I am convinced that the current leadership should pack up and leave. Otherwise, soon enough there will be no MSZP, and the leadership of the opposition will come from one of the smaller parties or a coalition (or unification) of these parties to replace MSZP.