Those who two weeks ago insisted that nothing would change in the Hungarian Socialist Party after the election of a new/old set of officers were wrong. Despite the fact that some of the newly elected socialist politicians are old-timers, the ideas and strategies that are emerging are refreshingly new. Instead of the indecision that the Tóbiás-led party exhibited in the last two years, Gyula Molnár and his crew are resolutely and unambiguously opposing the politics of the governing parties. Judging from the reaction of Fidesz and its media, they must be on the right track.
József Tóbiás and his team were reluctant to handle politically difficult issues. Let me recall here four such sensitive matters that are now being treated very differently.
The first is voting rights for those recent Hungarian citizens who live in the neighboring countries. MSZP, fearing that their popularity, which is terribly low in the Hungarian diaspora, would suffer further if they came out against the government position, refused to take a stand on the issue. Molnár, by contrast, has given a definitive answer: ethnic Hungarians can receive Hungarian citizenship but not voting rights. At last MSZP is joining the other opposition parties on this issue.
The second matter is how to respond to the government’s referendum on “compulsory quotas.” From the start all the other major opposition parties (save Jobbik of course) suggested boycotting the referendum. Although the “no’s” will obviously win, for the referendum to be valid at least half of the eligible electorate must vote. The opposition shouldn’t assist Fidesz by encouraging voter participation. The Tóbiás leadership, again worrying about the party’s popularity, hesitated to endorse the boycott. Now MSZP is joining the others in opposition to the referendum. The slogan is: “Stay at home, stay in Europe!”
Third, Molnár said that although “the security of Hungarians” is of the utmost importance, they “would take the fence down” once they have the opportunity. I don’t know whether Molnár discussed this matter with his close ally, István Hiller, chairman of the party’s board, who a few months ago declared that although he hates the fence, he cannot come up with anything better.
And finally, Molnár doesn’t seem to be afraid to handle a hot potato, gay marriage and adoption rights, which the earlier leadership judiciously avoided. MSZP is joining the other opposition parties in expressing its support for people who are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
Fidesz hasn’t gotten around to attacking MSZP’s new leadership on all of these issues, but fear not, they will. Right now they are concentrating on MSZP’s endorsement of the boycott which, judging from the pro-government media’s reaction, is a real blow to the Orbán government.
On Saturday Molnár announced in a Facebook note that the party will organize a “Free Europe Day” on October 2, the day of the referendum. “On that day we should remember our parents and grandparents who at home, in secret, were listening to Radio Free Europe, which helped loosen the bonds of an oppressive regime and acquainted the citizens of our homeland with the idea of our common Europe.” MSZP doesn’t want to monopolize the event. It’s inviting everybody who wants to join. Although the other opposition parties haven’t had time yet to discuss the idea, I’m fairly certain that most of them will join, with the possible exception of LMP. Its spokesman already announced that although LMP wants Hungary to remain in the EU, “the problem of migration must be solved first.” The referendum, he said, is no answer, but MSZP and the other democratic parties aren’t offering a better solution.
Gergely Gulyás, deputy chairman of Fidesz and deputy speaker of parliament responsible for legislation, was the first party leader to respond to Molnár’s call for a Free Europe Day on October 2. In his opinion, MSZP’s call for a boycott illustrates the party’s “irresponsibility” because the referendum “gives the government the strongest instrument to avoid the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary.” For good measure, Gulyás added that Gyula Molnár was elected chairman of “the corrupt heir to the party that had jailed listeners of Radio Free Europe” during the Kádár regime.
Magyar Idők finds MSZP’s call for a boycott truly outrageous, especially since it came right after the European Parliament voted, with the support of the MSZP, DK, Együtt, and LMP members, in favor of stiff fines on those governments that refuse to allow refugees to settle in their countries. Anyone, the paper continued, who until now has hesitated should be sure to vote and vote with a resounding “no.”
Dániel Deák, one of the analysts of the pro-government Nézőpont Intézet, predicted today in an interview at MTV’s M1 that with the election of Gyula Molnár cooperation among the parties of the political left is assured because of the similarities of political ideas and strategies that now exist between MSZP, DK, and the other smaller parties. He interprets Molnár’s announcement of the boycott as the party’s acceptance of the idea of settling a certain number of refugees in Hungary, which until now only DK and Együtt had supported. In his opinion the MSZP chairman is preparing cooperation with DK, and “in the next two years the two parties might even unite.”
Understandably, Molnár has his critics within MSZP. László Botka, mayor of Szeged and until two weeks ago chairman of the board, was massively rejected by the delegates in his bid for reelection. They opted for István Hiller, minister of education (2010-2014) and earlier chairman of MSZP, who helped the party win the election in 2006. From an interview Botka gave to Index it is evident that he feels betrayed and a victim of some behind-the-scenes conspiracy. He really wanted to remain in his post because, according to the new by-laws, the board has some important new functions. He would have been able to influence the party’s strategy for the election campaign that would have involved decisions concerning partnerships with other parties. It is possible that this is exactly why an overwhelming majority didn’t want Botka to head the board. He most likely would have been vehemently opposed to any kind of understanding with DK. Right now he is “following such steps with growing concern.” Naturally, he is no friend of Gyula Molnár, whom he considers to be “behind the times” because “he was not part of everyday politicking in the last six or seven years.” He is hoping that Molnár “during the summer can figure out what strategy he will follow.” If he chooses a strategy different from Botka’s own, then, Botka said, he will keep fingers crossed for the party in Szeged. I suspect that Botka will not be involved in MSZP national politics for the foreseeable future. And, as opposed to Botka, I believe that Molnár has already figured out his strategy.