Former PM Péter Medgyessy on the current political situation

Two days ago, when I was covering the negotiations between MSZP and DK, I was initially planning to include a few words about an interview with Péter Medgyessy, who was prime minister of Hungary between 2002 and 2004. Because I launched Hungarian Spectrum only in July of 2008, readers will find relatively little information on him on this blog. But his name came up about a year ago when we learned that the former prime minister, who owns a consulting firm, had received €600,000 from the French company Alstom in 2006, the year in which the City of Budapest made its decision to buy Alstom cars for the new metro line. Medgyessy naturally claims that his consulting firm had nothing to do with the decision in favor of Alstom, adding that it is a well-known fact that his relationship with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and the liberal SZDSZ leadership of the City of Budapest was strained. This may be so, but receiving a high fee from a firm that was already in some trouble over corrupt business practices doesn’t look good.

Medgyessy comes from an old Transylvanian family and can trace his ancestry all the way back to the seventeenth century. After graduating from Karl Marx Economic University, he became a civil servant, working his way up the ladder until by 1982 he was deputy finance minister. After the regime change, he retired from politics and became CEO of a couple of banks. In 1996 he was named finance minister in the Horn government. In 2002 he was chosen as MSZP’s candidate for the premiership and, after a slim victory over Fidesz, became prime minister of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition government.

Less than three weeks after his inauguration, Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper that had close ties with Fidesz in those days, revealed that Medgyessy had worked as a paid counterintelligence officer under the code name D-209 in the III/II section of the ministry of the interior. SZDSZ demanded that Medgyessy be replaced with someone with a clean record, but MSZP politicians convinced them to support Medgyessy. Two years later, however, Medgyessy lost the support of the coalition partners.When he threatened to resign unless the SZDSZ minister of the economy was dismissed, MSZP refused to stand by him. His resignation was accepted, and MSZP named the young Ferenc Gyurcsány as his replacement.

After this somewhat lengthy introduction, let me turn to the interview itself. Szabolcs Dull of Index visited Medgyessy in his home, where he asked the former prime minister to assess the current political situation. The conversation began with the chances of the opposition parties at the forthcoming election. Medgyessy predicted a Fidesz victory due to the poor performance of the opposition politicians and Viktor Orbán’s superior political instincts. What Medgyessy was referring to here were Orbán’s policies in the face of the migrant crisis. He doesn’t like Orbán’s answers, but he would have done the same thing if he had been in Orbán’s shoes. He also praised Orbán’s public works program. He admitted that the program doesn’t make much sense economically, but it is a good thing to put these people to work, for which they “receive a little bit of money.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

As for Orbán’s political chances, Medgyessy is convinced that “it will not be the opposition but time that will displace Orbán.” The problem with the opposition politicians, including Gyurcsány, is that “they are made of old stuff,” which is somewhat amusing to hear from a former Kádár counterintelligence officer who served as deputy finance minister in the old regime. They are not only old-fashioned socialist types from Kádár’s times, but “they are also mediocre.” No socialist can successfully take on Viktor Orbán, “who is anything but mediocre.” There is only one person who is up to the task, and that is Bernadett Szél. Medgyessy admits that Szél’s prospects for 2018 are slim, but he believes that she will be ready to lead the country in 2022. Medgyessy’s description of Szél as a person who “can integrate people” is strange considering her categorical and total rejection of cooperation with any other opposition politicians.

At the end of the interview Medgyessy repeated what he had asserted in an interview almost a year ago–that Viktor Orbán can be removed only if MSZP, DK, and Jobbik cooperate. Such a solution might not be a principled political decision, but “what is principled in politics?” The question is not whether the political left likes Jobbik. “There are historical situations which override every other consideration.” As for the problem of a workable coalition government that would comprise left-wing parties and a right-wing Jobbik, Medgyessy’s answer was: “This is the art of politics.” After all, this problem was solved in Austria during Wolfgang Schüssel’s chancellorship between 2000 and 2007 when he formed a coalition government with Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party of Austria.

The interview was not well received in opposition circles. The only person who had a high opinion of the interview was László Kéri, who found Medgyessy’s assessment of the present Hungarian situation correct and convincing. His colleague Zoltán Lakner, whom I consider perhaps the best political analyst in Hungary today, had a strikingly different opinion of Medgyessy and his interview. He said that it is hard to forget Medgyessy’s D-209 past and his rather miserable performance as prime minister. Moreover, someone who doesn’t remember the past accurately might not be the best person to predict the future. Here Lakner is referring to Medgyessy’s repeated claim after his resignation that it was a veritable coup d’état organized by Gyurcsány and other MSZP leaders that removed him from office. And with a D-209 past, “he shouldn’t stand on a moral pedestal because it may wobble under him.”

Lakner’s colleague Kornélia Magyar, in a comment to the above, wondered why Index found an interview with Medgyessy such a good idea just now. What is the editorial direction of Index? Clearly, she is suggesting an ulterior motive behind the publication of this interview. I assume Magyar was making a mental note of the fact that Index is owned by Lajos Simicska, who has been supporting Jobbik.

Jenő Kaltenbach, former ombudsman in charge of national and ethnic minority rights, was blunt in expressing his befuddlement at “keeping alive these political weathervane-corpses (Szili, Medgyessy). Unless because of Fidesz.”

This last point refers to the fact that in November 2015 Péter Szijjártó bestowed a prize on Medgyessy for his work on developing closer relations between China and Hungary. The ceremony took place shortly after Medgyessy in an interview claimed that corruption was not greater during the Orbán government than it had been earlier. As for Katalin Szili, formerly one of the top MSZP politicians who was president of the parliament (2002-2009), she accepted all sorts of jobs from Viktor Orbán after 2010. For example, she became a member of the Nemzeti Konzultációs Testület in 2011 and in that capacity had a hand in writing the new constitution. Since March 2015 she has been working for the Orbán government as a commissioner representing the prime minister himself, dealing with matters related to Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

What upset MSZP politicians most was Medgyessy’s suggestion of a political collaboration with Jobbik. The party published a statement in which they expressed their opinion that “Jobbik is the party of a billionaire thief while Fidesz is the party of thieving billionaires –one mustn’t vote for either! With these? Never!” Ildikó Lendvai, former party chairman and leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2009, stressed in a television interview yesterday that, although she thinks highly of Medgyessy and considers him a pleasant and clever man, she found this interview unfortunate. To work together with Jobbik would be a suicidal strategy. She also took issue with Medgyessy’s support of Bernadett Szél. Although Szél is a very promising and talented politician, one cannot have as the common prime minister of the democratic opposition somebody who refuses to work with others.

All of this shows the predicament in which Hungarian opposition politicians find themselves. Viktor Orbán managed to set up a structure that created a trap from which it is almost impossible to break out.

November 9, 2017
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Member

Medgyessy’s comparison with Austria is strange. There never was a coalition of right-wing populists together with a left-wing party: both at the turn of the millennium and now, the coalition was or will be between the major (moderate) right-wing party and FPÖ.
Last time with Haider’s FPÖ, the party was a junior partner in the coalition and broke up pretty soon. This tends to be the fate of populists at least in somewhat healthy democracies: if they don’t get absolute power but are challenged with real responsibility, some kind of division into the “Slightly Silly” and “Very Silly” fractions is bound to happen. (In Finland, we have seen the right-wing populists crumble under pressure already twice, both with the current “True Finns” – or what is left of them in the government, the so-called “Blue Future” – and with their predecessor in the 1980s.) In Austria in the first years of this millennium, with Haider’s FPÖ in the coalition, we saw a clown parade of funny ministers who simply weren’t up to their tasks. To be quite honest, I’m not sure whether such a contrast would be visible in a potential Fidesz-Jobbik coalition.

Daniel
Guest

Sadly, I agree with most of the interview. Besides his personal performance, for which I don’t have enough elements to judge, and Bernadett Szell (I agree with you, there’s no point in being talented if you and your party refuse point blank any cooperation), he’s spot on.
And after 25 years it’s about time people stop this nonsense of “D-209 past” and the likes.

Marty
Guest

I agree with Kaltenbach. This index.hu interview with Medgyessy reminds me of those interviews in the otherwise right-wing Heti Valasz with well-known leftist people who fell out with the Socialists or Gyurcsany and – since this is the left-wing – they always said something controversial, outrageous, they never missed an opportunity to poke in the eye of their former comrades (which is exactly why HV ran these interviews). Such interviews with offended leftists inevitably made the left-wing look like a bunch of petty infighting idiots who can’t keep their mouth shut. Medgyessy is naturally always happy to see the left and Gyurcsany struggle but he is happiest when he can praise Orban (the archenemy of the leftist, on paper at least). Medgyessy was deeply offended because he was sacked (a kind of rare, historical event in Hungary) and these small interviews he gives every two years or so are his opportunities to pay back a little. The question is why index.hu thought they had to run this interview? I mean in what sense has Medgyessy any relevance today (not counting his ability to cause controversy on the left)?

Marty
Guest
On the other hand MSZP and DK must cooperate (in the 106 electoral districts) with Jobbik. There is no other way. It is in fact imperative. Even with Jobbik the chances are slim (now that Fidesz has in the polls perhaps 60% of the probable votes to be cast and Orban hasn’t even started to distribute his pension bonuses and other goodies) but without Jobbik Fidesz’ 2/3s or even 3/4s are assured. Anybody who doesn’t get this – like Ildiko Lendvai doesn’t seem to – is insane or illiterate (or paid by Fidesz). MSZP as a party is over. Lendvai is still in denial and thinks that MSZP can somehow survive past 2018. It cannot. Lendvai has to walk through the phases of grief and arrive at acceptance finally. The thus goal must be to prevent Fidesz from gaining another 2/3s and this is a deadly serious issue. There is no 2022 or 2026 if Fidesz wins another 2/3s. For starters the courts, RTL Klub, the remaining internet media etc. are gone in a week or so. The EU or average Hungarian wouldn’t even know what happened by the time Orban would be crowned like Sultan Erdogan or Tsar Putin.
Guest

I’mstill wondering:
How did these people come to terms with their former work for the Communist secret service? Surely some of them are responsible for incarceration and even the death of others, don’t theyy feel any remorse?

The fact that Hungary has not had lustration is really abominable imho!

I wouldn’t really trust any of these guys, leftovers from the old regime.

Member

The Western press, which back in the early 1990s was dominated by a few print outlets, gave Hungary high marks for “maturity” because it did not want to take revenge against the ex-commies.

My suspicion is, the real reason is the same as why the MSZP does not make a particularly big deal about Orbanite corruption: “ÉN IS ÉRINTETT VAGYOK!'”

Do you wonder why Fidesz does not open the communist-era security files? With former Fidesz president Zoltán Pokorni’s dad outed as a commie informer in 2002? With Orbán’s parents having been mid-level members of the communist nomenklatura? With Sándor Pintér as interior minister?

There is a great book about lustration called The Haunted Land by Tina Rosenberg. It deals with the controversies surrounding lustration in the Czech Republic, Poland and East Germany. If you are interested, I highly recommend it.

Guest

Thanks, Alex! I read the report on the book in the NYT – but I was very disappointed especially by the description of East Germany. Maybe Mrs Rosenberg wrote the book too early (1995) when people hadn’t yet had time enough to read all those Stasi papers.

As I see it most people who were responsible for the atrocities in the DDR got what they deserved, even if it took a long time and at first they were lucky enough to avoid detection even.

But to not even try as it happened in Hungary is a crime imho!

Observer
Guest

Wolfi
You should know about comming to terms with the past oppresive regimes – the Nazies and then the DDR. People live their lives, somehow, and get used to the system accepting it as their reality together with the officials who run or ran, it.

Guest

Observer, some kind of lustration including punishing the real criminals is necessary imho – and it was done in Germany after WW2 and after 1989 even if it wasn’t perfect and some people “slipped through the net”. But also many were caught years later …

Just to ignore the past and continue with the same people in similar positions (as Hungary did) is atrocious!
So again my never answered question is:

Why was there no lustration in Hungary?

And the real answer is of course: Fidesz and especially Orbán don’t want it – that says everything about those bastards!

A bit OT:
I still have the “De-Nazification” papers of my father written by the French authorities (we lived in the French Occupied Zone – luckily :)) which declared him a Mitläufer (also ran), nothing criminal, he wasn’t even a NSDAP member, just a soldier/officer …
Exactly as my wife wasn’t a member of the MSZMP and therefore had no career …
Even if you can’t fight the regime you don’t have to join it actively – as an honest person!

Farkas
Guest
Simicska is playing the usual inane political games trotting out the utterly discredited Medgyessy, who in my view is not just a notorious hypocrite and a liar, but also a shameless thief. In addition, Medgyessy himself is trotting out nothing that is either new or revelatory, but just a bunch of platitudes and banalities that have been common coin in the Hungarian media for at least a couple of years now, although at the end of the day, what the hell else could he do but chew the cud: the die is cast for 2018 and probably for 2022 too. I can only reiterate that I think that the greatest political tragedy of Hungary is that it is completely lacking in the tolerant and decent traditions of middle class liberalism and middle class conservatism along the British lines. The reason is simple: a broad middle class along the British lines had never been able to develop in Hungary, except perhaps among the prewar Jewish and ethnic German Hungarians. Unfortunately the former were either exterminated, left the country or turned Communist, while the latter were either largely expelled from Hungary or taken to Russia for “malenki robot.” Everything follows from this.… Read more »
Guest

“Hungarian wolf”, you nailed it!

Rather OT:
My wife says not to feel sorry for Hungary – many/most of her “compatriots” wanted it this way …
Right now we feel sorrry for our shepard dog (born here in the village btw) which today’s situation in Hungary (and the whole of Europe) with the outlooks 30 or 40 years agowe had to pu to sleep right now – though sixteen years of course is a remarkable age for such a large dog …
So I don’t know if I’ll be able to comment – or maybe my comments will be even more angry than usually …

If you compare the situation in Hungary (or all of Europe) with 30 or40 years ago you find people have so many opportunities (even inHungary) – but it seems they’re not happy?
And the return of populism really makes me angry – will people never learn? Are they really that stupid?
Whatever Orbán. Kaszinsky, lePen, etc (even tne Theresa May) promise their voters is total BS!

Istvan
Guest
As much as I abhor socialism conceptually it’s irrelevance is largely driven by its own simply not grasping of the longer term destruction of capitalism as we have know it due to the global rise of automation and artificial intelligence. The Fidesz ideology has zero vision for a future where low wage production loses relevance, white nationalism does not buy products or generate profits if there is a massive reduction in work. This article summarizes in a somewhat alarmist way how rapidly paid work is being structurally eliminated http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/you-will-lose-your-job-to-a-robot-and-sooner-than-you-think/ Even more balanced and less alarmist approaches to the implications of automation point to dramatic changes for capitalism as we have know it in our life times. So Wolfi our blogging friend on Eva’s site for instance steeped in the science fiction as a genre of speculative fiction may be better prepared for the evolution of society than existing political elites of either right, left, or center. I had the amazing experience of actually observing the da Vinci surgery System owned by Intuitive Surgical, Inc. in practice while a doctor friend of mine who is now 74 years old performed coronary bypass or revascularization surgery using the robotic device. I was… Read more »
Guest

Istvan, you’re right – driverless cars are another example of the state of AI that we’ve reached already.

However to make any prognosis or find a realistic scenario for the world in 50 or 100 years is very difficult or rather impossible.

From my experience with science fiction over more than 60 years reading (and 100 years written) I can tell you that we always got it wrong – the future never happened the way it was forecast!

Even people like Asimov who were great thinkers didn’t foresee the developments we’ve had – and many things whose development was taken for granted were never taken up.

PS:
What kind of shocks me is that while technology is going forward emotionally, politically and intellectually we humans seem on a backwards path!
Who would have thought that after Mussolini, Hitler etc we’d see the resurgence of primitive populism and nationalism again? And religious wars even …

Farkas
Guest
The misconceptions around the notion of “Capitalism” never cease to amaze me, István. Capitalism is simply a technique of assets management that enables generation of surpluses for investments in further assets, which in turn generate further surpluses for investment, and so on, ad infinitum. As Schumpeter pointed out, the process is one of continuous “creative destruction,” where invention, innovation and the consequent rises in living standards and well-being of those on the winning side is traded off against the seeping aside, elimination and destruction of the uncompetitive losing side, and the misery of all that got caught up on the wrong side. And yes, in market capitalism, the system can suffer badly from irresponsible gambling and the herd instinct, while in state capitalism from hubris, monumental stupidity and bureaucratic inertia. But in the end, capitalism is just an assets management technique that not only must all sophisticated market economies inevitably and unavoidably rely on to manage their affairs, but planned economies too (i.e. state capitalism), if they are not to go bankrupt sooner or later. People on the egalitarian left of the political spectrum regard capitalism as the devil itself that deliberately strips ordinary people of their money, prospects and… Read more »
Farkas
Guest
Medgyessy claims that corruption these days is not worse than what went on before Fidesz gained parliamentary super-majority in 2010. What rubbish!! Before it was “retail,” today it is “wholesale,” systemic, and shamelessly nepotistic, in true Balkans-style. Orbán has in fact raised something that is in the Hungarian political DNA into a high art. Yes, thieving and looting is truly a key part of the Hungarian political DNA, or as the old commies would say, a “haladó hagyomány” (a progressive tradition). Hungarians sought to remedy the problem of prewar poverty by looting and dispossessing their Jews. Didn’t get them very far, despite all the loot they got hold of. A few years later it was the turn of the pathetic remnants of the Hungarian middle class which were looted and dispossessed by the Communists. That didn’t solve the problem of poverty either, down the socialist road to commie paradise . . . . Then it was the turn of public enterprises from which it was no big deal to steal some bricks and cement and many other “little” things besides, in between pretending to work for pretend pay. Then came at long last the freedom and liberation of the regime… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: left vs right

From a treatise on chess in the 18th “To play well the latter end of a game, you must calculate who has the move, on which the game always depends’.

If elections are the ‘latter’ ends of a game it’s evident who the grandmasters are. They are the best in implementing that concept of zugzwang where a player must make a move but unfortunately there are none that work to advantage but rather checkmate.

Pretty soon if the left cannot work the ’64 squares’ they just might have to think to call in Mr. Kasparov. Time for him to teach some players how not to get out-maneuvered. He’s a player who knows how the ‘right’ thinks when they play their ‘principled’ games.

petofi
Guest

Kasparov is not too fine as a politician.
As a person, he’s totally wrapped up in himself. He’s latest re-entry into grandmaster chess revealed him to be a petulant opponent when outplayed. So, neither as a politician, is he exactly cool hand luke…

Zoli
Guest

Agree with him on Bernadett Szel. Only opposition figure with some credibility. The rest of them, I would not trust to run a convenience store individually, while all of them together, it would be the subject of a good comical reality show. This is where Eva is wrong about Orban having orchestrated any aspect of this situation. It is not him, it is them! Just look at Gyucsanyi and his latest fiasco. Collecting signatures against fellow ethnic Hungarians? This while he has been the one advocating for the settlement of colonists from ME-Africa into Hungary & Europe? He comes across as not only anti-Hungarian, but outright anti-European. This is how most non Marxist-Globalist Hungarians will see it!

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

I am not sure if this is a correction to your post or not, but I believe Medgyessy was more than deputy finance minister. Between 1987 and 1990, Medgyessy was the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs in the Károly Grósz and Miklós Németh cabinets. Medgyessy was also elected a member of the Central Committee (KB) of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP).

While I have found him to be a pleasant person as a politician, I recall at the time being appalled that after Horn, yet another high ranking member of the Kadar regime was named Prime Minister. This reluctance to cut to ties with the communist party (MSzMP) finally came back to haunt the successor MSzP party.

petofi
Guest

Discussing the vagaries of Hungarian politics is not for western minds.
For one thing, a Hungarian likes nothing more than to stick it to an opponent, regardless of facts, or virtues. And no one does that better
than the archtypal stilleto handler, Viktor the Orban.

petofi
Guest

As for that great exemplar of American democratic principles–Gorka the Uborka–he’s been thrown a bone as foreign policy advisor on Fox TV.

Ferenc
Guest

best if they change the “ox” in their name for “ake”
and will F… TV soon merge with BB?

Guest

If you know French:
Faux news is an old joke …

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