Tag Archives: András Kósa

András Kósa: The speech of the chief, Őszöd ten years later, Part III

Gyurcsány’s attempt to interpret the speech in Őszöd as the beginning of a new era

András Kósa, a well-known Hungarian journalist, recently published The Speech of the Chief: Őszöd after Ten Years, a collection of interviews with Ferenc Gyurcsány, former and current politicians, and political commentators. Interest in Gyurcsány’s speech and its impact on subsequent political developments doesn’t seem to wane.

A reader and friend of Hungarian Spectrum, Steven N., who is also a friend of Kósa, translated the interview with Gyurcsány for publication here. Since the interview was lengthy, I posted it in installments. The first and second have already appeared. This is the final installment.

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András Kósa: You know Vladimir Putin personally, as you’ve met with him on several occasions. What is the secret of the surprisingly strong relationship between the Russian President and Viktor Orbán?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: To answer this, it has to be noted that in the mid-to-late 2000s, the European Union and the Obama administration viewed Putin as a leader who was democratizing cautiously. During his first visit to Berlin, the entire Bundestag gave him a standing ovation. Then, in the Russian parliamentary elections in the fall of 2011, he had to pilfer 17 percentage points to be able to win. In the spring 2012 Presidential election, he again needed to cheat to attain a “victory,” though less so this time. I think these things have changed Putin. He realized that the policies he had pursued up until then did not automatically expand his power, so he launched a campaign of harsh repression at home (including the killing of journalists and political rivals, remaking the Russian criminal code, and restricting the freedom of assembly), and again began to assert the conquering pursuits of Great Russia. I have not changed: I’m not critical of Putin because I’m in the opposition. My relationship towards him did not change until the summer of 2012. We even met in Moscow with our families then. But I don’t like this Putin now. Orbán, by comparison, has taken the opposite route: when the world trusted Putin more, he was very critical of our cooperation. Then when the world increasingly kept its distance from Putin because of what I said earlier, he became one of his main allies. I think the only thing that’s happened here was that Viktor Orbán was looking for partners for his foreign policy, and he found one in Putin. If I want to go against Brussels (which was Orbán’s big foreign policy shift after 2010), then – being the Prime Minister of a small-medium-sized country – I need partners to do this, and Putin is perfect for it at the moment. The current Polish leadership is also an excellent partner.

Is it “only” this?

The possibility that money and corruption are behind the good relations between Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin cannot be ruled out. Maybe it also greases their relationship. But it’s not the main reason.

As Prime Minister, you had insight into intelligence-related matters: would it be possible that the large intelligence agencies, for example Russian or American, could not find out pretty much anything about any kind of personal or perhaps business matter, or the financial situation, of the current Hungarian Prime Minister?

If they wanted to, they could find out pretty much anything. Of this, I have no doubt. If you’re asking whether these agencies are able to find out something that they could blackmail a Hungarian Prime Minister with, then I would say, yes, they could do that. Whether they’d use it or not, I wouldn’t be able to say. I didn’t come across these things during my own time in office. I did have very nasty disputes on energy issues with the American ambassador and with representatives of the government in Washington. They tried to talk me into this, that, and the other, but they didn’t venture beyond putting verbal pressure on me. Experts say that today around 600-800 people in Hungary are definitely working for the KGB in some capacity. This is not a small number. And their capacity is such that if they want to listen in on our phone calls, they can do it. If they want to know where we’re going and when, who we’re having dinner with and what we’re talking about, they can find out. I think that this coterie exerts a substantial influence on the world of Jobbik and Fidesz.

During your time in office, how big was this 600-800 number?

Roughly about half of that.

A two-speed Europe is forming right before our eyes, and for now we Hungarians seem to have a strong role on the periphery. In such a situation, in which we know that aid from the EU will be drastically reduced after 2020, how much can democratic ties loosen in Hungary, as well as in the region as a whole?

They won’t expel us from the European Union, but the processes can only really go in such a way that one group of countries will deepen its cooperation and head towards a federal Europe. While we remain on the periphery, as you said. Not only will they fund less and less of our finances, but also increasingly less attention will be paid to the social and general state of affairs here. Maybe I’m naive (since before 2010 I also didn’t expect that such a radical transformation would occur if Fidesz ever came into power), but I can’t really imagine what more the government could do in such a transformed EU. You can’t turn off the internet. There’s hardly any openness as it is. Under European circumstances, the police can still not just come into my apartment, and the authorities can’t take away my assets and businesses. I think that Fidesz has pretty much gone to the wall. It’s possible, of course that they’ve already figured this out, because what’s happening right before our eyes is a march towards a semi-authoritarian regime. János Kádár’s cloak stretches extremely far in this regard.

What do you mean?

We Hungarians signed on to what we thought was a highly successful, but nevertheless dishonest, historic compromise. Hungary was the only place in Eastern Europe where (in our so-called “soft dictatorship”) there wasn’t open repression that affected the masses. The “happiest barracks” was built on an immoral pact in which the authorities said: there are three things that you can’t touch. There’s a one-party system, 1956 was a counter-revolution, and the Soviet troops in Hungary protect the peace. Otherwise, you are more or less free to live your life, you can travel somewhat, the shoe stores have shoes, the meat shops have meat, and you can even tell political jokes too. This somewhat conflated the oppressor with the oppressed, which is why the majority of the country now reacts so permissively to political tyranny. Viktor Orbán correctly senses that it’s not the lack of democracy that will crush his regime. This issue has remained a cause only for the upper segment of the political class. Poor governance of the country leads to poor performance: healthcare, the educational situation, and a lack of prospects, shockingly low wages, and increasing vulnerability in the workplace – these are much more dangerous to Orbán than the fact that public television has become the television station of the ruling party. They’ll change the channel to something else.

Why is it that in Hungary charges of corruption don’t harm the government?

One reason is that Byzantine culture has maintained itself right up until the present time: if the powers-that-be dip into the common goods but some of it still occasionally comes my way, then I won’t be so strict with the rules all the time on my own level – this itself is in the tradition of Byzantine culture, which can still be found here. Moreover, the entire political class is considered corrupt – so what’s the difference? But there’s a much more tangible reason as well: the public prosecutor here has a monopoly on prosecuting cases. Péter Polt essentially refuses to launch any kind of investigation, so every initiative comes to naught. The system today is itself built upon corruption; it doesn’t have just a speck of corruption, but is its very essence. Everyone in Fidesz knows about it, everyone knows who is corrupt and in what way, but they condone each other’s actions. Finally, it’s because the opposition has not been very successful with these matters. In any case, Péter Juhász, the representative of the Együtt Party, has done more in this area in the past few years than the rest of us put together.

Will you be Prime Minister of Hungary again?

I won’t rule it out.

Would you want it?

I don’t have such a strong desire for it right now. I did have it in 2004, no question. I am grateful to fate for letting me be Hungary’s Prime Minister, but it now also has a strong desire for this democratic and civic alternative which I represent to gain a large base of support. It has a stronger desire for this now than it does to make me Prime Minister once more. I can feel good about imagining my life in a way that I remain a Member of Parliament and not have any higher power than this. But it’s devilishly hard to predict what fate will bring in 2022 or 2026. I’ll be 66 years old in 2026: this is still an active age as a politician. I am fortunate because my ambitions and opportunities are just now coming together.

You were once considered one of the most promising politicians in Hungary after the regime change of 1989, and then your name became associated with one of its biggest scandals. What was this experience like for you?

If I could be objective, I’d say: it’s my personal misfortune. But there’s no anger inside me towards anyone. For those who go into this career, it doesn’t hurt to be aware that such things can happen to you. Looking back, I don’t lament about how much of what happened to me was fair or not. Or how much was my fault, or how much was due to chance or a malicious conspiracy by others.

What was your responsibility?

To start with, I took over the government at the head of a party that I was not compatible with, neither culturally or in terms of mentality. This was encoded into what happened later.

When did you realize this? That you weren’t compatible with your own party.

When things started to go bad for us after 2006. And when I saw that Fidesz owed its success, among other things, to being able to fight its battles as a large singular unit, which we were not capable of. When Orbán gave his ultimatum after the Őszöd speech was leaked, that if they do not remove me as Prime Minister within 72 hours then he would put so much pressure on MSZP that we couldn’t hope to be able to bear it, I naturally called together the leaders of the Socialist Party. And I had to admit that there were some in the leadership who wanted to comply with Orbán’s demand purely out of fear. In that regard, of course, they were honest enough to indicate as much – and so the decision was made for me to ask for a vote of confidence against myself in Parliament. But after this, I felt that the party had completely changed: not standing up for introducing the doctor’s visit fee, not arguing for it or explaining it, but fleeing from it. This showed me that the party could not handle the struggles that I urged them to fight for in the Őszöd speech. I had convinced them right then and there. I got their votes, but I couldn’t get their hearts. If you don’t believe in the story, in the hellish debates, in the struggle – then what is it in politics that you do believe in?

We do love conspiracy theories, so since you’ve already brought up the 72-hour ultimatum of October 2006: many contend that with this step Orbán truly brought you back into the game from a losing position. If he had been slower and more patient then and there, he could even have succeeded with the ruling coalition ridding itself of Ferenc Gyurcsány. But after such an ultimatum, MSZP could not have done anything else but reinforce your position three days later in a Parliamentary vote of confidence.

I prefer to believe in the truth contained in a non-public poetic treatise by Orbán that we learned about from the Wikileaks cables, stating, “If you can kill your adversary, and don’t put it off.” I don’t think that today’s Prime Minster, who was the leader of the opposition at the time, delivered this ultimatum in order to keep me in office. He did it because he had assessed the courage of the Socialists pretty well, and he saw a chance that they would back away from me.

There is also an interpretation that you two need each other mutually in a political sense, as a clearly tangible image of each other’s enemy.

I know that to this day there exists this Orbán-Gyurcsány parallel, which really does hold up in two respects. With respect to our origin, we both came from a provincial town and from poverty, and were both first generation intellectuals. But more importantly, we have taken completely opposite routes since coming to Budapest: Orbán became jealous of the downtown elite – he felt that they had taken something from him. Even to this day, he views the metropolitan intellectual elite with contempt. But I admired them. The way I saw it, it was like, “Damn, you can live this way too! Then why would I do it any other way?” We’re also alike in that both of us are strong characters who live for politics. This is true. But there are no similarities between our respective visions. Nor between the systems that we want to build. I think that Viktor Orbán started as a very promising European-minded democrat, and I even saw very many things in him to admire. But from then on he has become an increasingly authoritarian figure who left behind everything about him that was respectable. I came from the youth organization of the state party, so there’s no doubt that he could label me a “communist” (while even before the regime change we had said that we wanted a multi-party system, just more cautiously and slowly, unlike Fidesz at the time), but on this basis I became a wholehearted democrat.

It is said that the reason why Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico understand each other so well (though they have different ideologies within their party’s family structure) is because both are opportunistic, populist politicians who always view a particular situation in terms of the techniques of power, and analyze how to exploit it to their benefit. After Fico was elected as Prime Minister for the second time (freeing himself from the nationalist Slovak National Party), he was able to “turn towards Europe” after 2012 and develop good relations with Brussels. Do you think Viktor Orbán would also be capable of the same in a particular situation?

I wouldn’t rule it out. The turnabout he did in Hungarian-Russian relations in connection with expanding the capacity of the Paks nuclear power plant, in a very short time and managed so successfully (the right-wing voting base, having previously been extremely suspicious towards the Russians, adopted a basically pro-Russian stance two months later, according to polling) speaks for itself. I do absolve Orbán on a very small point, and can self-critically say: it is of course important to be principally and morally committed in politics (which I think I still represent to this day), but it should not be taken too far. I took it too far. It’s perfectly normal for a politician to think about what his voters give him a mandate to do and not to do, no matter how correct he may be. When Orbán said to the Christian Democrats, “However right you are in regards to banning abortion, no matter how much it may be your fundamental position as a principled Christian, if we do this we’ll lose the elections,” I think he was completely right to say it. It wasn’t that I thought: “These Hungarians have become accustomed to free health care while they hand out gratuity money to doctors. I have to convince them to do things differently.” But before that point I should have thought about whether I could convince them, and if not, what good would it do if I lost and then they change it back? Because then I didn’t do anything. I was proud that I fought to justify myself even against the will of the majority. Viktor Orbán pushes terribly hard for the other half of this matter: he is capable of nearly any compromise on principle for the stabilization and extension of his power. Of course, he doesn’t rely on the discretion of the people, so he dismantles institutions that provide a check on democracy: even if they wanted to they wouldn’t be able to stop his intentions.

However, as a wealthy businessman, you sometimes say things like you know what it’s like to live on minimum wage, which it’s better to live poorly but honestly…

Why wouldn’t I able to know? A doctor doesn’t have to have a backache to be able to feel his patient’s pain. A teacher doesn’t have to be an idiot to be able to feel the suffering that his weakest student goes through studying for the next day’s lesson. A politician doesn’t have to live in misery to understand that public goods should be distributed on the basis of social justice. And I haven’t even spoken about coming from an apartment with a kitchenette, where our toilet was in the outer corridor, or a Christmas when we didn’t even have a donut to eat. And I don’t even have to add that a large part of my family still lives a life that is not even lower-middle class, but one beneath that. People I regularly get together with. I consider this comment a cheap intellectual slur if I ever happen to see it.

Do you have any personal relationships with right-wing politicians or opinion makers?

None.

Do you think this is normal?

Of course not. But this is because of a deliberate division of the country into two on Orbán’s behalf. We go along hearing phrases (from Orbán) like “the homeland cannot be in opposition,” while these are the most severe words you can say. This statement means that you do not consider another’s political existence as natural. You consider the other political side as an error that must be eliminated, and with their elimination you have less and less moral compunction. This is the endpoint of this process. And in turn, Viktor Orbán’s responsibility for making this concept more and more acceptable to the country cannot be overstated.

How do you think this final/fatal mutual distrust can be overcome? And would this generation be at all capable of doing it?

Certainly not with Orbán. The preamble to the current Hungarian constitution condemns the entire Hungarian left. Which is absurd. But I also do not think that a majority of Fidesz supporters and some of its leaders would not want a world that is much more relaxed than the one we have now.

Where do you think the country is now, ten years after Őszöd?

In its moral state ten years before Őszöd – I mean that it is in worse shape than before 2006. But Őszöd is not the primary cause of the moral deterioration. It’s a different issue whether it helped open up the way to letting what the authorities are now doing to the country hide in the cloak of legality. There is now a terrible atmosphere in the country, without any large, shared positive experiences or successes.

December 24, 2016

András Kósa: “The speech of the chief: Őszöd ten years later” Part II

fonok-beszedeAndrás Kósa, a well-known Hungarian journalist, just published a book titled The Speech of the Chief: Őszöd Ten Years Later. It is a collection of interviews with former and current politicians as well as with political commentators. Interest in Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech and its impact on subsequent political developments doesn’t seem to wane. A reader and friend of Hungarian Spectrum, Steven N., who is also a friend of Kósa, approached me asking whether we would be interested in Kósa’s interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. If yes, he would translate it for us. I gladly accepted his offer. This is the second part of the interview.

But first, a few words about András Kósa. I remember him from the days when he was writing in the still liberal Magyar Hírlap in the early 2000s. Later he worked for Hírszerző, which was eventually absorbed by HVG. For a short while, he wrote for vs.hu. The website received some bad press when it became known that New Wave Media, the owner of vs.hu, had received 642,255,760 forints from foundations of the Hungarian National Bank. Six of the website’s journalists immediately resigned. András Kósa was one of them.

This June Kósa joined Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. As he said, “I know both editorial teams and I could say yes to both offers in good conscience.”

My heartfelt thanks to “Steven N.” for his work in translating the interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. This second part is not about the speech but about the current state of Hungarian party politics. I found it fascinating and am looking forward to the third and final installment.

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András Kósa: Returning to the identity crisis issue: earlier there were serious attempts by you and MSZP to be more open towards young people (which even involved popular entertainment venues) so you could build a network with them. These attempts also failed. What was the reason for this?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: This was successful between 2004 and2006, and of course many things changed after the fall of 2006. This was partly because a credibility crisis arose from Őszöd, and also from social pressure that came about through our austerity program. It wasn’t cool or trendy enough at the time for young people to support the left, and the way it looks now; this basically hasn’t changed since then either.

I suppose it’s little comfort for you that it isn’t that trendy or cool nowadays to be a Fidesz supporter either. These days it really does seem that only Jobbik is able to reach young people.

But based on research that’s available, for the moment we don’t have to ring the alarm bells just yet. I rather fear that younger generations are simply staying out of the political realm, both in their everyday life and also during elections. They simply don’t take part in it. I’m not counting on things to turn for the better anytime soon. It is customary to characterize every left-wing public forum as “an audience predominately made up of retirees.” But if we look at similar forums for Fidesz, older people there also make up most of the attendees. They have much more determination and a greater willingness to vote, and of course, they are basically independent of the state, since they can’t be individually pressured because they receive a pension. Retirees are the strongest and most important demographic of the electorate today.

When you launched the Demokratikus Koalíció, where would you have guessed the party’s position and support in mid-2016?

It’s a good question, as it was very hard for us to be able to estimate at the time how high our support could go. There’s now roughly a consensus among analysts that we may have around half a million stable voters, or 10 percent support, plus or minus 1-2 percent, which is still growing. Some have previously said that we would have trouble getting past even the 5 percent threshold, while others did not rule out us getting as much as 30 percent. I’m not displeased with what we have achieved. In a real electoral situation, on an independent list, we could get roughly 15 percent, and I predict this for 2018 too.

However, there is also consensus among analysts that DK and MSZP are sharing the same “left-wing electoral cake” amongst themselves, and at the same time are unable to reach new groups of voters for now.

I wouldn’t presently be able to either confirm or deny this. All I can say is that based on polling, it is certain that a good number of our supporters have come from Együtt, the former party of [ex-PM] Gordon Bajnai. As they have collapsed, we have started to gain support. It’s also certain that there has been some crossover between the DK and Socialist voting bases. Based on my political experience thus far, I can say that this “communicating vessels” phenomenon will persist. We will be able to reach voters from those who are undecided once we finally have a more united alternative on this side. When there’s a better possibility of believing – which we, of course, have confidence in – that “these guys really can win.” Uncertain voters have no strong party preferences and do not judge ideologically: if they see a force that can unseat the ruling government, then that can be attractive to them, as they want to be part of this success. But for this to happen, many things still have to take shape within the left wing in the upcoming period to create such an alternative.

Could a primary election possibly play a positive role in this?

In any given local voting district, say, in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, no one would give a hoot about a primary. We wouldn’t even have the resources to organize it. Thirdly, knowing our side, a primary process and campaign would only result in leftist candidates bashing each other for weeks during the campaign, and by the time there’s a winner, our only achievement would be that person unable to get the entire left-wing camp behind him. So I don’t consider a primary election a sensible or useful instrument at the local level. If there were a joint alternative who headed the left, meaning a joint candidate for prime minister, I would consider that a good thing. But this entails a serious prerequisite: there should be at least two candidates in the first round. There isn’t even one now. Or rather, there are some techniques that can be applied in certain political situations, but these are not present at the moment. In this regard, the situation is radically different than it was before 2014. Back then, two candidates who were unable to come to an agreement with each other (MSZP Chair Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai) competed for the nomination. That’s when a primary would have solved the problem. But if there isn’t even one, then how can we call for a primary election?

In retrospect, what would you have done differently in 2014 instead of creating the joint ticket that proved to be a complete failure?

The fundamental error then was committed by Gordon Bajnai, despite all of his good intentions. Launching a political movement with the aim of bringing together democrats against the Orbán regime, without any preparation, without any consultation with the leaders of potential participants, launching this, simply announcing it, then expecting everyone to applaud it the next day and “get behind me” – this was a serious folly. It attests to a certain type of self-confidence that I had after the 2006 election, one of “I will be able to do everything in this country.” This is not a good advisor. And then, launching an independent party when you realize this isn’t working is no less of a serious mistake. Moreover, while Gordon Bajnai had gained very serious credibility following his one year of governing, it’s as if he did not understand that by not running in 2010, and even effectively removing himself from the skirmishes of party politics for two years and not having led a campaign, he was in a completely different situation than a party politician who puts himself to the test during an election. It’s a completely different genre. The mistakes were encoded into the situation. On the other hand, had I been in Attila Mesterházy’s place, especially at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I would have conceded to Gordon Bajnai the nomination for prime minister. There was a small chance then that this team would win – so let Gordon Bajnai carry this burden. Attila’s insistence on being the nominee was completely senseless and irrational. It even cost him his career, at least for a while.

However, he could rightfully say that since he had undertaken the leadership of MSZP in the midst of a political crisis, when many people hadn’t ruled out even the complete disintegration of the party, and somehow had still continued to manage it until the 2014 elections, then why shouldn’t he be their nominee for prime minister?

Obviously, since he decided to do it the way you said. But this is not ultimately what swept Attila away, but the party’s disastrous results in the subsequent European Parliament elections, when they got 11 percent of the vote.

During the 2014 campaign, you also received quite a lot of criticism. Such things were said about you like, “Ferenc Gyurcsány is unreliable and unpredictable. If there’s a rally, then you can never know what he’s going to say when he steps on stage. He steals the show from others and always draws attention to himself at the worst time.” What do you think of these claims?

They can’t blame me for trying to shape the political relations on the left so that they wouldn’t be allied against us, the DK Party. For me, the strange thing is that this surprises anyone. This has been the preeminent political interest of the Demokratikus Koalíció party. I could not allow the other two actors (Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy) to push me out. It betrays the underdeveloped political skills of whoever is surprised by this. In any case, once the decision was made to create a broad coalition under Attila’s leadership, I don’t think you could find anyone else who came out more forcefully for Attila Mesterházy and pushed through the campaign without a single political comment about him or about our united efforts. Someone who spoke practically in superlatives about our candidate. I cannot do any more than this. It is true, of course, that I am a guy with personality. But this is valuable in politics. If I use my personality for a joint victory, what would be the problem with that?

Why is it that apart from you, there aren’t any other “guys with personality” on the left today?

I don’t know why. All I see is that many people try to explain their own mediocrity and mediocre performance by saying almost automatically, “It would be so much easier without Gyurcsány!” But it’s not me that’s preventing András Schiffer, Viktor Szigetvári, Gergely Karácsony, or Gábor Fodor from becoming better politicians. Or anyone else who pops up. This is a competitive political world. It is certainly not the case that politicians who call themselves democrats share each other’s’ roles within the remains of an otherwise diminishing political framework. If I have half a million voters (and it’s at least that many) for whom DK is a valuable alternative, why would we take this possibility away from them? Let someone else also get half a million, or a million! If everyone could do this on our side, we would defeat Fidesz in two days.

Don’t you feel that you’ve taken the Hungarian left hostage? The other players can neither swallow you nor spit you out. As long as you’re still here, you are the focus, giving Fidesz a perfect opportunity to “blame Gyurcsány for everything.” And yet, for now, there is no one else besides you.

Is it because of me that József Tóbiás [then MSZP chair – trans.] is not more exciting? It isn’t because of me. The reason isn’t me, but rather him, and his party. You were correct with your comment about Fidesz. It’s a very conscious political strategy on their part to present a clear picture of the enemy to maintain the unifying force of the right wing. In the world of Hungarian politics, anyone who dares to go against Fidesz becomes an enemy. Like Bajnai, George Soros, or Brussels. I have a privileged place in this line. But knowing Fidesz, I don’t believe for a minute that if it wasn’t me but a similar leader with personality who came along and opposed Fidesz in the same way, that person would not become public enemy number one in an instant. All it takes for a world-famous, Kossuth Prize-decorated conductor is to get into an argument with the mayor of Budapest, and he immediately becomes one of Soros’ henchmen.

How long do you think this will continue to work for them? How long will Fidesz be able to blame Gyurcsány for everything?

For an ever-shrinking core group, it will absolutely continue to work for them. The Őszöd story is ten years old – it hardly means anything to those who are now 25. In addition, we can also see that there are a lot of things I said in which the real world seems to have proven me correct. Was I right when I said that running the health care system in its present condition was unsustainable? And so I wanted to shake up my party to dare them to touch it? Yes. Was I right when I said that in the educational system today the disadvantages brought from home were not decreasing but increasing? Yes. Was I right when I said that we didn’t need to be a politician just because we couldn’t go back to polishing cars? But because there has to be some ethos to what we do as politicians? I believe so. Quite a few people over the past few years have shed their previous outrage at me and are now willing to say: maybe this guy was right. Six weeks ago I sat around with a group of people, and a good number of them were center-right leaning. It was awfully exciting when one of them came up to me at the end of the conversation and said, “I was there on October 23, 2006, yelling and honking at you, and now I’m a little ashamed of myself because of it.” I think this is now part of the Őszöd story too.

Hungarian political life – at least in the medium term – will remain three-pronged: along with Fidesz and Jobbik, the Hungarian left-wing will need to attain a majority that can form a government. When do you think this is likely to happen?

What we’ve observed in the past two years is a completely new phenomenon in Hungarian politics: some voters who oppose Fidesz from any political orientation have a greater desire to see the ruling party fall than the attachment they have to their own party. So they are willing to make insanely large moves just to keep the Fidesz candidate from winning the election. We had an unprecedented transfer of votes from the democratic left to the extreme right, and vice versa. A consequence of this could very easily be that Fidesz – even with a relative majority – loses 75-80 out of 106 electoral districts. One possible consequence of this would be that no one will get an absolute majority in 2018, and the chance arises for a minority government to form, or we are forced to have new elections.

Getting back to your chances in 2018 – and the left wing’s identity crisis: earlier I spoke with two MSZP leaders who, independently of each other, both said that the left can win if they find a candidate for Prime Minister who is someone that nobody knows yet, but is otherwise well-known, even a person widely recognized in society; who is both young but already has a large network of connections, who can’t have his financial means taken away from him (which probably means a wealthy businessman), yet no questionable issue can be tied to him, and of course, if possible he shouldn’t even enter politics until 2017, so as not to give Fidesz much time to “mow him down” in a political sense. It would be quite funny if that were your only chance, don’t you think?

More and more people believe that Fidesz skews the opinion polls in its favor, possibly by as much as 4-5 percent. If this is our starting point, then the ruling party’s current share of around 40-45 percent shows that in fact support for Fidesz has dropped below 40 percent. This is more than likely. The combined support of the Socialists and DK is around 30 percent, while the tiny parties (Együtt and Párbeszéd Magyarországért) together have a few percentage points. That is, two years before the election the difference is within 10 points. I don’t consider this dramatic. In 2002 we made up an even greater differential than this by 2004 when I was chosen as prime minister. We had an even bigger disadvantage. In this regard, the race may be even more open. You are correct that our main problem is whether or not we can respond to three major challenges. The first is a lack of credibility – this may be the most difficult to solve. The second is unifying the fragmented democratic side – I consider this a smaller concern at present. And the third is coordinating the party programs, which are quite varied right now – with the appropriate amount of counsel; this is the most easily solvable.

If Fidesz stays in power in 2018, can the current Hungarian left wing hold out for another four years?

I think that we will have a delegation of at least 10-15 members in the new Parliamentary session, even if the left is defeated in the election. I can’t really see into MSZP’s situation, so it is hard to say what will happen with the Hungarian left wing as a whole if we remain in opposition after 2018. The question is whether any of the current political fragments will disappear if the picture clears up, and if some kind of rapprochement begins to form amongst the remaining parties. It’s difficult to say any more about this right now.

Is it worth seriously discussing any kind of electoral cooperation with the Párbeszéd Magyarországért Party, which has 1 percent support, or with Együtt, which has around 2 percent?

I remember very well what it was like when we only had 1-2 percent support, and how others treated us then. I didn’t consider it proper of them, and I would not like to behave now in a way that I didn’t approve of at that time. In 2002, the socialists won by a few ten thousand votes in total: by a couple of tenths of a percent, if you like. So I am more inclined to have as many as possible come on board.

One of the foundations of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s strategy for power is nominating as many absolutely loyal supporters as they can to head every public institution (Constitutional Court, Fiscal Council, Media Council, Chief Prosecutor, National Office for the Judiciary, etc.) with a long mandate. If a change of government occurs under these circumstances, how much room will the new cabinet have to maneuver?

Quite a few people in the background are examining these kinds of situations that could be traps, and we do the same in DK as well. There’s a trap which, legally – with a little innovation – can be avoided, and one that will persist. And there’s a trap that can be avoided through political means.

Such as? What kind of things, and how?

I wouldn’t want to say any more about it, of course, since I don’t want to spoil our chances.

According to my sources, Viktor Orbán, speaking even earlier about the possibility of a change in government one day, said in a backroom discussion that they would resist a new government’s efforts to reshape the system, and that the extent of this will depend on how vigorously this particular government attempts to tear down the established order. How far do you think Fidesz can go to maintain its System of National Cooperation?

I don’t think they have any scruples. The “Fidesz of Orbán,” I think, would go very, very far in this area. I can presume anything of a person who is able to let the phrase “any means can be used to make a legitimate government fail” come out of his mouth. The question is not whether Fidesz will have the will, but whether they will still be in a position and have enough public support, credibility, and power to mobilize so that they can realize their will or not.

December 5, 2016

András Kósa: “The speech of the chief: Őszöd ten years later”

András Kósa, a well-known Hungarian journalist, just published a book titled The Speech of the Chief: Őszöd after Ten Years. It is a collection of interviews with former and current politicians as well as with political commentators. Interest in Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech and its impact on subsequent political developments doesn’t seem to wane. A reader and friend of Hungarian Spectrum, Steven N., who is also a friend of Kósa, approached me asking whether we would be interested in Kósa’s interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. If yes, he would translate it for us. I gladly accepted his offer. Here is the first part of the interview.

But first, a few words about András Kósa. I remember him from the time he was writing in the still liberal Magyar Hírlap in the early 2000s. Later he worked for Hírszerző, which was eventually absorbed by HVG. For a short while he wrote for vs.hu. The website received some bad press recently when it became known that New Wave Media, the owner of vs.hu, had received 642,255,760 forints from foundations of the Hungarian National Bank. Six of the website’s journalists immediately resigned. András Kósa was one of them.

András Kósa

András Kósa

This June Kósa joined Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. As he said, “I know both editorial teams and I could say yes to both offers in good conscience.”

My thanks to “Steven N.” for his work in translating the interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I know we will have a brisk discussion on this very controversial subject.

 ♦ ♦ ♦

András Kósa: Ten years after these events occurred, are you still interested in how the speech was leaked in the end?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Not really. Of course, I wouldn’t mind it if some day it became clear what happened.

How much did your tenure as prime minister and the leaking of the Őszöd speech affect Hungary over the past ten years?

Significantly, because of its consequences. First of all, it discredited a very important reform policy that I still feel is the right direction to go. We would be much further along today in many respects if we could carry out reforms in education, health care, and other areas. I can immodestly say that the Őszöd scandal gravely wounded a politician who certainly had within himself the possibility of attaining further success – me. It can’t be denied that it contributed to the difficult situation that the left finds itself in these days. Individually as well as collectively, these are substantial developments in the life of the country. Incidentally, I can’t even count on one hand the number of European leaders who have said to me, “I’ve said things even more colorful than that, Feri!” This is not to say that I do not bear any responsibility in this matter. With greater wisdom and experience, I would have handled the situation that emerged after the 2006 elections differently. But those who did what they did with the speech, all the way from those who leaked it to how my opponents deliberately misinterpreted it, bear a grave, criminal responsibility.

Do you know who leaked it?

Interestingly, Fidesz brought up this topic again during the 2014 campaign. I can only say now what I said then: I am 99% certain of who did it.

At what point would it have been best to step down?

In spring 2008, after the Fidesz “social” referendum, which symbolically signified a defeat for my reform policy? It would have made sense then. And although I even experimented with this, the former MSZP board wasn’t behind it.

Many have said that your party wasn’t expecting to win the 2006 elections and was preparing for a role in the opposition (this was certainly the belief of your coalition partner SZDSZ), which is why the party didn’t have a ready program, and why it was already in trouble by the summer. Is this true?

I think that’s ridiculous. I can state with confidence that I and those I was in direct contact with in the government and in the MSZP leadership strongly believed in the possibility of victory. The so-called “100 steps” program announced a year earlier set the main directions for our governance post-2006, and at our request Prof. Sárközy prepared a comprehensive proposal package for the reform of state administration. So we were ready to continue governing.

Following the leaking of the speech in September and the first street disturbances, there was a vote of confidence in Parliament on October 6, 2006 that reaffirmed your role as Prime Minister. Was this not at all an issue for MSZP at that time? Were you supported uniformly?

If there really was such an issue in the party, they did not give any indication of it. I didn’t hear any kind of information that anyone had doubts about me continuing to lead the government. It’s possible that this was in some people’s heads, but such concerns never reached me.

If you had resigned in 2006 or 2008 and Fidesz had won early elections, then several commentators – for example, Gábor Török also discussed this with me – think you would have been able to triumphantly return to power even in 2010.

Who can know for sure after the fact? I certainly wouldn’t be able to say.

Many people have subsequently said that there would have been much less controversy if Ferenc Gyurcsány had delivered this speech (though not of course with these same words) in Parliament, at a public event or in a televised speech.

Yes, many have said that. Maybe they’re right. But I gave similar types of speeches at that time – though of course they weren’t like this one – and no one really paid any attention to them. Let’s face it: there are two exciting parts to the Őszöd speech. You can say that “the speech was leaked because it was secret.” That’s not true, because of course it was never secret, but it is a fact that it was “leaked.” The other thing, that there are two or three crude remarks in it, together with the swearing, truly put a horribly powerful weapon in the hands of my opponents and made these phrases barely defensible in the public sphere. Yet the text that lies behind it is one of the best since the change of regime in 1989. And it had a different function than a public speech. The Őszöd speech was the way it was because I had to shake up a reluctant party that found it difficult to take action, so I chose passionate, exaggerated words for this situation. If I have to confront people in a public setting, then naturally I formulate my words differently, because that speech has yet another function. It’s not that the Őszöd speech can’t be said publicly because you can’t swear in public. The speech stands on its own even without the profanity. It’s because making a statement in Parliament is different from a speech attempting to shake up my party and which wasn’t intended for the public.

Many have said, and subsequently this is a fact, that already by the summer of 2006 the element of “this government has lied up and down to us!” had already appeared in Fidesz’ rhetoric. They built a campaign on this, which suggested that Viktor Orbán and his party knew about the speech well before its disclosure to the public.

We are almost certain of this, and we essentially know that Viktor Orbán, as the head of Fidesz, was informed very early about the speech, and that he knew exactly when and how it would be leaked. And we also know that Fidesz played a key role in preparing the ground for the disturbances that followed the leaking of the speech.

What do you mean by that?

As I said, literally.

Was Fidesz in contact with groups of football hooligans, or extreme right-wing elements that took to the streets and besieged the television headquarters, for example?

I can say this about it: I now know that there is a paper in the Hungarian public administration that describes this factually and is classified as a state secret. And I also know that there’s also a copy of this paper that Fidesz will not be able to get rid of, should they ever be concerned when the government changes and the new government declassifies these dossiers. From these reports, it became perfectly clear that leaders from the upper-upper-uppermost level of Fidesz were involved in this process.

Did you try in any way – informally – to confront them with this? Did you try to ask them, “Why are you doing this?”

We didn’t know this then. What we knew was that those who were involved came from the middle stratum of Fidesz’ leadership. But this was said in sessions of Parliament’s Defense Committee, and later also in sessions that were made public. Investigations by the state security services at that time revealed that mid-level Fidesz leaders had also organized the disturbances. So this brings us to the autumn of 2006. It was our clumsiness that even then we weren’t able to use this knowledge to our advantage. I learned about the involvement of Fidesz’ inner circle after 2010, long after I had left office. We weren’t even able to take advantage of the situation when, during Parliamentary hearings on the siege of the television headquarters in September 2006, it was precisely Fidesz politicians who demanded much tougher action from the police. For example, questioning why they didn’t use weapons. Compared to that, we are at the point now where I am considered the “one who shot out people’s eyes.”

The breaching of the cordon in February 2007 and the completely passive behavior of the police made it clear to all, even to laymen, how uncertain the entire state apparatus and even the legitimate bodies of violence were with respect to the government. What was your sense of this?

This is what we felt, of course. Absolutely. The police felt then that the left wing, which exactly 15 years earlier had passed through the eye of the needle and turned from a dictatorial state party into a democratic political force, was itself also very uncertain about whether or not it could use the powers of law enforcement, and if so, then for how long and to what extent it could use them. This uncertainty has been throughout our entire culture. The police themselves were also uncertain. They didn’t intend to sabotage the situation, but even they had not encountered such a situation for decades. Of course, it not only about them, as there were legal proceedings that resulted from breaching the cordon. The Hungarian court – in an unparalleled way – stated that according to the general principles of criminal law, the general condition of the realization of a crime (regardless of whether the Penal Code includes such facts or not) is that “the behavior must be dangerous to society.” And the court found that the fact that a police cordon was torn down was not dangerous to society, so it didn’t have to examine separately whether or not it qualified as disorderly conduct or something else.

Could there have been any political pressure on the court at the time?

I don’t have any direct proof of it, but I can’t rule it out.

In your own criminal case, what did you feel was the attitude of those who represented the administration of justice?

They wanted to charge me with many things, but altogether they only dared to accuse me of one. In this one case I was informed that Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt was constantly informed of the state of the proceedings, while he informed Viktor Orbán, and the Prime Minister constantly had an opinion about what should be done. I was also informed that there was considerable pressure on the prosecuting attorneys, and that enormous pressure had been placed on suspects in other cases to get them to cut an informal immunity deal and testify against me to have their charges dropped or reduced. It was about whom also spoke publicly. I was likewise informed that at the end of my case (the so-called Sukoró case), the prosecutor wished to terminate the proceedings due to the absence of criminal activity, and at the instructions of his superiors had to rewrite this to the absence of proof. But the absence of proof for the suspicion in question was practically conceptual nonsense.  They accused me of abuse of official authority. But if this was the accusation, then they had to be able to show factually where I abused my authority. It either happened, or it didn’t – to end this because of the absence of proof? It’s absurd.

To this day, people in Hungary still recall your debate with Viktor Orbán for the candidacy of prime minister in the spring of 2006, which was viewed as a clear victory for you over the Fidesz chairman according to most commentators. Afterwards, you also had meetings with Orbán as prime minister. How did you view him subsequent to that?

There were some who told me that Orbán was very frustrated that he didn’t get into power right away after the Őszöd scandal, but had to wait out the four-year cycle. If he had become prime minister sooner, perhaps he would not have acted so ruthlessly against the left wing.

Do you think we would be seeing a different Orbán now had he come to power sooner?

I’m not good at offering political-psychological analyses, and I don’t even know Viktor Orbán all that well personally. But even after the Fidesz defeat in 2002 that surprised everyone, there were statements about how they needed to learn from this failure, and that they had to be even harder on the opposition next time. So I’m not certain that it was the defeat in 2006 that fundamentally made him this way.

How can you explain that even after eight years in the opposition, Fidesz was able to continuously build up its own media and create a base of support, while the left, after eight years of governing, now finds itself bled dry, and in a very difficult situation? What do you think the reason for this is?

There are several reasons for this. In part, the success that Viktor Orbán has had in building a very strong political base can’t be denied. Its internal cohesion and capacity to withstand stresses are even now significantly stronger than those of its rivals. In 2003, I made a kind of analytical statement to the effect that Orbán was constructing a shadow government, and so would be able to hold on to positions of power even in opposition, which was unusual not only for a Western-style democracy, but also for Hungary. This also demonstrates the capabilities of this camp and of course their lack of inhibition as well. Thirdly, using not a small amount of “grey” money, Lajos Simicska, the party’s former treasurer, built a strong economic power base, one that endured for eight years while they were in the opposition. For us in the opposition, poverty mostly characterized us. So while these three factors have undoubtedly been a success from the point of view of Orbán and Fidesz, in terms of the fate and future of the country, many negative lessons have rather been associated with them.

Fidesz’ economic model, based on Lajos Simicska, was really very effective for a long time, and incidentally, operated in a completely open way. Didn’t it ever occur to the MSZP to adopt this model?

Many certainly thought about it. For me, there are some things in politics that will never be venial sins, such as corruption. Along with others, it also appears likely to me that parties who were large during the regime change had a background full of murky financial affairs. This had the consequence that I sponsored a new bill on party financing in 2006 – and Fidesz thwarted it. A two-thirds majority was needed to pass it, and they didn’t support the bill in Parliament.

Yet it seemed that Hungarian politics would have a moment of grace, and that the parties would be able to agree with each other on a very important issue.

Fidesz initialed the draft law. Following the discussions, I was informed by the Parliamentary delegations that it would soon pass through Parliament. But then it didn’t happen. I then asked someone I knew who was in touch with Fidesz’ party treasurer to go to him and find out the reason for this incredible about-face. A few days later, I was told: Party Chairman Viktor Orbán does not want others to look into Fidesz’ finances. For him, things are fine the way they are now. If it didn’t really happen the way I said it, then I was also misled. But what I’ve quoted to you now was pretty much word-for-word what I was told at that time.

2006 also brought a strengthening of the Hungarian far right and Jobbik. There have been all sorts of theories, even conspiracy theories, about which political side is responsible for this, and may have provided support for it. To what extent was the political crisis that arose in the wake of the Őszöd speech the breeding ground for this development, as you see it?

There are many reasons for this, but I do not want to hunt for responsibility in anyone else. We, and I myself, did not have a quite accurate feel at the time for the kinds of consequences, in part socially and in part psychologically, that would accompany the austerity policy that we continued from autumn 2006 for another year and a half or two years, or for its capability of radicalizing certain groups of the electorate. In this sense, we did have something to do with voters migrating to the Jobbik camp from both the left and right wings alike. All other statements about us deliberately and consciously looking for ways to build up such a camp belong to the world of conspiracy theories.

There are two general opinions about the current difficult situation of the left wing: the first is that fundamentally there’s a kind of personality crisis (there haven’t been any personable leaders since Ferenc Gyurcsány’s term as Prime Minister), while the other says that the left wing has (also) become vacant ideologically, that the well-known “third way” of Anthony Giddens/Tony Blair, which you also previously wanted to introduce here, has proven to be a dead end, not only for left-wing parties in Hungary, but for European ones as well. What do you think the cause of this crisis is?

There’s some truth in both of them. The Hungarian left lacks people with personalities. The great age group, which played a key role (and a progressive role) during the time of the regime change and had Gyula Horn as its leader, has reached its end of life, and the next generation has basically found Fidesz as its own party. Support for the left is very low among those now in their 30s and 40s, while those in their 20s are more prone to being radicalized, and it’s there that the far right is stocking up. The other phenomenon is more complex, and global in nature. We see its manifestations in the U.S. presidential elections with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; we see the success of the Freedom Party in the Austrian presidential elections, the advance of the National Front in France, or even UKIP in Great Britain. The two major German parties, CDU-CSU, as well as the SPD, garner a total of 50 percent support. Those in this new generation have arrived at the beginning of their adult lives unable to enjoy things now that previously seemed almost natural (a relatively good job at some point, with relatively good pay, an apartment that is relatively easy to acquire). Therefore, they first became disillusioned with the left wing (since previously it was the “obligation” of the left wing to create the conditions for these things), and have now become disillusioned with the centrist parties as well. This is the real reason behind this radicalization. I don’t think that there are any big tricks to reversing this bad trend: if we do not democratize the political system, then radicalization and anti-elitism will continue even further, and will eventually reach all moderate parties.

November 7, 2016