Péter Tölgyessy’s dead end

A few days ago I wrote an article on a new phenomenon: the cautious, somewhat hesitant but discernible criticism coming from former Fidesz supporters. In a volume of collected essays titled A magyar polgár (The Hungarian citoyen) two such authors appeared among the many who certainly couldn’t be considered friends of the present regime. One was Péter Tölgyessy and the other István Stumpf. Because of time and space constraints, I could deal only with the short essay written by Stumpf. Today I am turning to the essay by Tölgyessy who, I must admit, is not one of my favorites. In fact, I wrote about him twice, once in Hungarian for Galamus and once in English on this blog. My Hungarian article’s title was “Tölgyessy Péter, a guru,” a title which ironically pointed to my disregard for Tölgyessy’s analytical powers. I should note, however, that most of my Hungarian friends disagree with me and think highly of his magic touch when it comes to political analysis. My view of him is also colored by his political career–from chairmanship of SZDSZ to a backbencher of Fidesz who for eight solid years, between 1998 and 2006, sat in parliament without opening his mouth once. Eventually, Orbán had enough and Tölgyessy was quietly dropped from the list.

Tölgyessy’s essay in this volume is mostly about Hungary’s backwardness in comparison to countries west of it, including the Czech lands and Austria, and the reasons for its lack of a robust well-heeled upper middle class without which, to Tölgyessy’s mind, no modernization can take place. It is only in the last three or four pages of the essay that he writes about the Orbán regime per se.

Péter Tölgyessy

Péter Tölgyessy

In Tölgyessy’s view, the greatest problem is the dominance of the state in the economic life of the country which favors its political clients from business to the arts. Indeed, we know that to be the case, but what can we make of sentences such as: “private concerns with close ties to the powers that be are being preferred, which is seen by those outside of the charmed circle as systemic corruption.” Is it corruption? Or is it something that those who are left out merely view as corruption? Tölgyessy is reluctant to commit himself. He also writes that “because of [these businessmen’s] lack of market competitiveness, they are in need of constant protection.” Does the Orbán government provide “protection” only to struggling businessmen? It’s almost as if he had difficulty understanding the proper meaning of words, which is surely not the case.

A couple of sentences later he expresses less veiled criticisms about centralization, indoctrination, and the creation of intellectual and artistic courtiers. He then goes on to assert that “the vision of Viktor Orbán is an original creation, but in its linguistic formulation and categories it contains the views fashionable between the two world wars in addition to the anticapitalistic theses of the Marxist seminars of the Kádár regime.” I don’t want to nitpick, but is the mishmash of right-wing ideas of the 30s and ideas picked up at Marxist seminars “an original creation”? Can we really treat the “linguistic formulation” of Orbán’s ideas as something separate from the ideas themselves? Tölgyessy criticizes Fidesz’s legislative practice of creating laws to fit the needs of specific persons, but at the same time he sees this practice as the instrument of a coherent policy coming from the center of power. The two are difficult to reconcile.

Here is something I think I ought to translate verbatim. “The Orbán regime despite its obvious internal tensions fulfills its primary task: in time of crisis it offers workable governmental stability to the country burdened by dangerous economic and societal pressures.” Mind you, Tölgyessy adds that this is done only through “methodical scapegoating and scare tactics.” Furthermore, he states that “following the western-type intermezzo after 1989, with the prime minister’s new regime Hungarian society has returned to its earlier history.” Something of which he doesn’t approve. “It is difficult to imagine that by going against centuries of western experience and the achievements of western civilization the country can move ahead. It is to be feared that what looks like a victorious march forward now will lead the country to a dead end, which was already experienced so often in the twentieth century.”

Tölgyessy doesn’t dare to say what is on his mind in a straightforward manner. He hedges and fudges with phrases like “it is to be feared.”

People find it difficult to admit that they made a mistake, that they served a false prophet, at least as long as that false prophet continues to rule. But even halfhearted criticism may ultimately be useful. It may embolden others. Think of Granovetter’s model of individual thresholds for joining the ranks of dissidents and being willing to take collective action. The tail can sometimes wag the dog.

March 25, 2016
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András B. Göllner

The high point of Péter Tölgyessy political career came BEFORE Hungary’s first democratic elections in 1990. He played a significant role in the so-called Round-Table discussions. After that, it was all down-hill. As head of the SZDSZ, he was a disaster. If he is to be remembered, it is for his singular unsuitability for political office, for his contribution to the failure of Liberal Democracy in Hungary, and for his utter inability to engage Hungary’s citizens about the challenges of democratic governance. The eight years he spent sitting on his mouth, picking up his pay-cheque from Orbán should disqualify him from any further attempts at telling it like it is. He is a legend in his own mind. A man with a good future behind him.


Peter Tolgyessy said in en interview with Antonia Meszaros on ATV, that you don’t quit supporting your favorite soccer club because they play badly. That’s why he is still supporting Fidesz. Quite interesting reasoning.

Thanks, Tölgyessy’s answer is total idiocy. A thoroughly corrupt tyrant and his “party” (Orban’s personal fiefdom) compared to a football club, ridiculous. “Playing badly”, in what sense robbing a country and destroying its public services while spending money on idiocies is “playing badly”? Plus he dropped SZDSZ like a hot potato the moment he sensed in the late nineties that power and influence will be with a new set of people. He doesn’t sense it now, otherwise he would start to worry a bit more. Tölgyessy committed way too much of his image and capital into Fidesz and it is difficult to leave. Fidesz may also have some leverage over him (perhaps he wrote memos to Orban, the publication if which would be unwelcome to his image). Tölgyessy is close to 60 and from that he spent the last almost 20 years as a pro-Fidesz/Fideszniks intellectual. He is a party stalwart, if a bit shy. I agree with Eva Balogh that Tölgyessy is a “guru” and important only and only because – for whatever reasons – he is influential among opposition leaning intellectuals too. He never says anything insightful, but only over-hedged, cryptic sentences which could mean anything (just as… Read more »

Yeah but in futbol you can dump a player if he plays striker and hasn’t put anything into the old onion bag for a few years. Always hitting the post doesn’t count…;-)….

OT: Maybe I’m looking in the wrong stores. Can’t seem to find the finalized Magyar Euro ’16 jersey. I mean come on they’re in a major tourney after many many years.


I have problems placing this guy.

During his years in parliament, that since the early nineties he was member of the Audit Committee (Számvevőszéki bizottság), I wonder if he said something during the meetings of the committee.

According to the website of parliament he was almost uninterrupted member of this Audit committee (exception 1996 to 1998) and other related committees.

Ironically, I believe that the period 1996 to 1998 were the best economic years for Hungary. This was the period after the so-called Bokros Package. http://hungarianspectrum.org/2009/03/12/the-bokros-package-pro-and-con/

If I have to place him. I think he tries to white wash himself.

Re Tölgyessy’s about Austria versus Hungary. Two tiny countries, Austria and Hungary, next door neighbour midgets. Austria is a great economic and social success, Hungary a great economic and social failure. If Hungarians had any brains and vision, they would have just knocked on the door of their next door neighbour in 1990 and asked for help and assistance for adopting (and where necessary adapting) Austria’s hard-won and very successful social, economic, business, education, health and other political systems of governance and regulation. The Austrians would have been highly gratified for having been asked to help implement their ways in Hungary, and would have been more than happy to assist the Hungarians in the afterglow of the victory over communism. This is a ‘no brainer’ and would have been highly doable. There would have been no need to reinvent the wheel, just to lay out a conservatively planned road to get Hungary to catch up and duplicate within a couple of decades what the Austrians have learnt to do so successfully over the half century after emerging from the disaster of WW2. Had Hungarians gone seriously to school with the Austrians, Hungary would no doubt be well on its way… Read more »

It is interesting to note that from the end of WW2, the Austrians at once began to cry and wail and complain and make out that they were merely victims of German aggression and ‘occupation.’ Like the Hungarians today.

The big difference is that the Austrians never believed their own BS, whilst the Hungarians most certainly do, forgetting that nothing is more dangerous to sanity and survival than believing one’s own BS.


Also you shouldn’t forget that Austria was under occupation by the Allies until they signed that treaty of neutrality – and the Russian occupied zone was as dysmal as Eastern Germany or Hungary …
Just watch “The Third Man”.


Totally correct wolfi. Perhaps no country benefitted more from the Marshall Plan for assistance in reconstruction of Europe after World War II than Austria. On a per capita basis, each American taxpayer invested $80 per person in the Plan; each Austrian received $133 from the European recovery program, more than any other of the sixteen participating countries. Without the Marshall Plan, the Austrian economic miracle of the 1950s would have been unthinkable.

So while the Russians stripped Hungary and then tried to fit its destroyed economy into its Stalinist economic structure General Marshall was pump priming the Austrian Economy. I grew up with stories in our community of how Soviet troops took vitally everything even from people’s homes, let alone the more systematic stealing of industrial machines. Even where productive capacity remained it was directed away from Hungary’s internal needs to Russia. For example right after the war, the Hungarian state-owned MAVAG works was ordered to build scores of locomotives for the Soviets when the rolling stock of the nation had largely been destroyed.

So Austria found itself by the 1990s in a totally different situation than Hungary did.


Today 7:03 am

Yes, István, and that is precisely why Hungarians ought to have turned to Austria for urgent help, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel all by themselves.

As I put it to wolfi above, the Austrians would have been a great help in focusing and channelling the needed transformations in desirable directions and in a maximally effective manner. They would have also been a great help in putting breaks on the worst impulses of the Hungarians, such as corruption, robber capitalism, crony capitalism and authoritarian/autocratic inclinations. They could have also been a great help in mobilizing the necessary financial help to fund and finance the needed transformations – in terms of a kind of Marshall Plan customized for Hungary’s real economic needs – and they would have injected a great deal of elementary common sense and sense of reality into Hungarian discourse and efforts to catch up as quickly as possible.


Today 5:50 am

Yes, wolfi, but that has got nothing to do with the fact that the Hungarians would have done very well for themselves by now, if they had gone seriously to school with the Austrians from 1990 on.

The Austrians would have been a great help to focus and channel the needed transformations in desirable directions and in a maximally effective manner. They would have also been a great help in putting breaks on the worst impulses of the Hungarians, such as corruption and authoritarian inclinations. They would have also been a great help in mobilizing the necessary financial help to fund and finance the needed transformations – in terms of a kind of Marshall Plan customized for Hungary’s real economic needs – and they would have injected a great deal of elementary common sense and sense of reality into Hungarian efforts to catch up as quickly as possible.


Not being 100% up in what I s going in Austria I’m getting the feeling here that maybe Haider’s ghost is around but he doesn’t scare anybody.


Haider’s party FPÖ actually is very strong right now (profiting of course from stupid people’s Angst …) and they are a mixture between Jobbik and Fidesz (with more Jobbik …), so that’s not a good sign really.


Yes. My thoughts as well. Haider physically is out of the scene but his ‘thoughts’ aren’t. I saw a vid where he had the gall to say he was a ‘pure’ democrat. Those far-right fellows just love to play off language against a view of realities. And the adherents , dupes and dolts, just suck it all up. Those parties would take the eyes out of people’s heads if they weren’t looking. And that is what is happening in both Austria and Magyarorszag. Lands of the blind.


I’m not so sure that it would have been so easy for Hungary with Austrian help – I’m thinking about the problems that East Germany had and still has with industrial development, even with all the help they got from West Germany.
One basic fact that many people didn’t understand imho was the total inadequacy of the “Communist” economy, the production facilities were totally outdated, inefficient and an ecological disaster!
Nobody wanted their products any more when you could get modern stuff from the West, Japan or even from China …
And on the other hand there was the fear that the Austrians were coming as conquerors and exploiters …


Today 10:49 am

I am not claiming that it would have been easy or cheap, just that it would have been far better and extremely doable, and much to the profit of the Hungarians themselves. It would have helped them avoid much floundering and many missteps, particularly in the area of privatizations and in preventing the evolution of a mafia state.


By way of an update on the March 30 action. If you go to http://www.tanitanek.com/News/Info/TemaElemek/Summary/e85dda08-bdc9-4ba1-8fa7-4cf7a8a94d87 you can see the current list an map of schools set to participate in the March 30 action as of about 10 minutes ago. It lists only about 50, the numbers I have been told via email were closer to 85, so the existing list may be lagging behind. Yesterday KILIK in their statements to the media claimed their authority extended over about 2,200 schools in Hungary. So even 200 schools participating on the 30th would constitute about 9% of public schools under KILIK control. That would be approximately a similar percentage to the number of students not in school on Feb 29th to the total number of students in KLIK controlled schools in Hungary in the boycott organized by Krisztina Puskas that received significant media attention in Hungary and around the world.

School directors who are appointed by KLIK are under massive pressure to keep their schools from being action participants according to emails I have received from a supporter of Tanitanek. I can’t verify that, but it makes sense to me.


You are right, the pressure is immense. But we will see what happens on 30 March. I’m sure many schools will sign up only in the last minute, why have the conflict with your political overlords (especially in rural places) until the very last minute?

Now it turns out Orban, however, was right. Again. His instinct to centralize via Klik was right. Teachers are afraid. Who cares about 10-15 of the teachers (who are anyway conservative)? Education doesn’t matter. Fidesz was never about policies. Fidesz was always about Power, with a capital P. Power is what matters and the Klik system allows Orban to retain power. That is why Klik will remain, no matter what. At mos Fidesz will create a few regional kliks just under the ministry, for show. Nesze semmi fogd meg jól. They system must and thus will remain because this is how power can be maintained. Simple as that. Happy Easter!


Re: . “The Orbán regime despite its obvious internal tensions fulfills its primary task: in time of crisis it offers workable governmental stability to the country burdened by dangerous economic and societal pressures.”

Underlying this statement shows the apparent trade off that has been made in Fidesz Magyarorszag. It’s along the lines of we give you ‘protection’ of the state. But you must understand ‘we need to own you’ while we give you that ‘perk’ as if there would be a grab bag of presents to go to.

There’s the illiberal ‘pact’. The state always takes precedence and has to be the be all and end all rather than individuals and their perspectives while under that state. But don’t expect ‘freedom’ in its usual ‘westernized’ wording. For that due accomodations need to be made.


That was the promise that helped win the elections, but we are discussing PT’s analyses of 2016 and I find everything wrong in this sentence:
– The societal and to large extent the economic pressures were brought about by Orban, who could improve things just by not throwing sand in the machine.
– The crisis was largely over by mid 2010 and the economy on track (as Orban admitted in an interview to a German reporter )
– The “Primary task” as it came out was the grab of dictatorial power and oligarchic wealth (well, a perverse kind of stability).
– What did the regime do with this “stability”? Any successes, innovative ideas, new developments or directions?
Everything was back back back to pre 1944, “traditional” whatever, “Christian” unchristian deeds, where a deluge of lies and corruption dragged the country decades back.

No point in delving too deep into PT and his article, rather consider the state of affairs as we see it. My 2011 predictions about the prospects of the Orban rule came true, very much so and very unfortunately. Cassandra redux.