Tag Archives: democratic opposition

Another abortive attempt at forging a united democratic opposition against Orbán

While some conservatives are showing a willingness to join forces with the “democratic opposition” parties, the situation on the left is still in disarray.

My hope was that, with the retirement of László Botka, negotiations among the left-of-center parties would become a great deal easier. In a very limited sense, the situation did change for the better. MSZP and DK agreed to sit down again and discuss ways in which they could cooperate. This was certainly a positive step; after all, MSZP and DK are the two largest parties in this camp. Apparently, negotiations concerning the allocation of individual candidates in the 106 electoral districts have been proceeding well. We have been assured that an agreement will be reached soon.

The smaller parties are still looking for ways to distinguish themselves as separate entities with their own distinctive characteristics. They thus refused to join the talks. One such commonality, something their leaders consider to be a plus, is their “purity.” Their politicians have always been in opposition and therefore, they claim, they are superior to those who dirtied themselves in the political arena before 2010. LMP, Együtt, Párbeszéd, and Momentum view themselves as members of this group. When it came to negotiations, however, it turned out that organizing a “new pole,” as Péter Juhász of Együtt named the group, faced insurmountable difficulties. LMP and Momentum currently insist on entering the political fray alone. It is hard to know what Együtt and Párbeszéd are planning to do. Of course, if all these parties put up their own candidates, the failure of the opposition in the 2018 election is guaranteed.

Another problem on the left is the lack of a candidate for the premiership. MSZP lost its candidate when Botka left the campaign and DK never designated one. Párbeszéd has named Gergely Karácsony, but, let’s face it, Párbeszéd has only a 1% share among active voters. Regardless of how attractive and popular a candidate Karácsony is, his chances are close to nil.

It seems that there are plenty of people around with some connection to politics and politicians who are ready with advice. The latest name to surface was Péter Balázs, foreign minister in the Bajnai government. He is a more than respectable candidate. He would be excellent and, as of yesterday, he was willing to become a candidate if the majority of the parties would support him. But he stressed that under no condition would he be the candidate of MSZP and DK alone, as was originally reported.

Péter Balázs

Balázs had a distinguished career in the ministry of trade and, later, in practically all the governments after 1990, with the notable exception of the first Orbán government between 1998 and 2002. A lot of analysts greeted Balázs’s willingness to serve with great enthusiasm, and for perhaps a day it looked as if the forces of the left had found a desirable candidate. Although Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, denied that he or anyone else from the party had approached Balázs, the normally well-informed Magyar Nemzet learned that MSZP was hopeful that the “negotiating proceedings” will accelerate as a result of Balázs’s indication that he is ready to talk. But it didn’t take long for Ferenc Gyurcsány to repeat that, as far as he is concerned, DK will not be a party to either a common list or a common candidate for the post of prime minister. At this point Gábor Török, the well-known political scientist, wrote on his Facebook page: “This was expected. With this step MSZP arrived at the edge of the precipice.” Within a day we learned that DK was not the only fly in the ointment. None of the parties was ready to stand behind Péter Balázs.

Gyurcsány’s first interview after Balázs’s affirmation of his interest was with Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV. It was during this interview that Gyurcsány stated that DK’s negotiations with MSZP are “not about a common list and not about a common candidate for the post of prime minister.” The party wants to arrive at an agreement on the candidates for the 106 electoral districts, but that is the extent to which DK is prepared to go. During the course of the conversation Gyurcsány recalled an essay he wrote in Népszabadság after the 2014 election in which he discussed the long-term future of the democratic opposition. He is still convinced that one day all these smaller parties will unite in “a big, open democratic party.” But this is not a program for 2018. The formation of such a party may take four or perhaps even eight years.

After this interview he explained the position of DK’s leadership in greater detail. For a common candidate for the premiership, one would need a common list and a common program. Although the programs of MSZP and DK have many features in common, on many questions the two parties don’t see eye to eye. For example, DK disagrees with MSZP on the voting rights of dual citizens living in the neighboring countries and on a return to the practice of giving pensioners an extra month’s stipend. A candidate for the post must represent a common program, which at the moment doesn’t exist; moreover, it is unlikely that the two parties will ever agree on all issues.

­HVG talked to a socialist politician who is convinced that DK wants to be the leading party on the left and wants to ruin MSZP. But, he said, Gyurcsány overestimates his party’s strength. The same politician admitted, however, that “MSZP in its present form is finished and that after the election reforms must be introduced.” On the basis of past experience, MSZP politicians should know that parties usually don’t revive after a state of marasmus. No reforms can help at this stage. I think he is right in believing that the DK leadership is convinced that they might become the strongest party, surpassing MSZP, on the left. From the trends of the last few months, their hopes are not unfounded.

Gyurcsány’s scheme is simple. If the democratic opposition wins the election, the party with the largest support will name the prime minister, who in turn will try to form a coalition government. One reason for DK’s reluctance to have a common list is the party’s bad experience at the 2014 election when MSZP allowed only very few DK members to be high up on the list. As a result, DK was very badly underrepresented and MSZP overrepresented in parliament.

Gyurcsány at the moment claims that it is out of the question that he would be the next prime minister, even if DK emerged as the strongest party after the election. “DK would consider someone else. Cooperation is easier when we don’t commit ourselves to one particular person.” A few months ago his ambition was to achieve a 13-15% share and have a fair-sized parliamentary delegation. In that case, he saw himself becoming the head of DK’s parliamentary delegation, which would allow him to display his oratorical and political skills. Whether he would be satisfied with only that much if DK emerged as an important political factor, I doubt. For the time being, however, we don’t have to worry about such an outcome.

October 26, 2017

MSZP steps up to support László Botka without talking to the other parties

I’m amazed at the ineptitude of most of the politicians in the Hungarian opposition parties. They simply don’t know what should and what should not be said. I’m afraid that László Botka’s surprise announcement of his willingness to lead an election campaign, which I greeted enthusiastically, will lead nowhere because of the mistakes he and his party made within the short span of 24 hours.

Let’s start with the interview itself, to which I didn’t have access two days ago when I wrote about the Botka phenomenon. I had to rely on summaries. Now I have the full text. Botka stressed that he considers the closest cooperation among the democratic parties to be the cornerstone of victory. That means that he, as a long-time leading member of MSZP, must convince the other parties to join the common cause. But if this is the case, why did he feel it necessary to include the following sentences? “I have a better opinion of Ferenc Gyurcsány than the average Hungarian citizen. The numbers show that a good two-thirds of the electorate wouldn’t vote for a party list on which his name appears.” This is not an auspicious start toward forging a united front against the Orbán government.

Let’s take a look at the poll to which Botka was referring. Apparently, one of the smaller opposition parties commissioned it for their internal use. The party wanted to assess the attitude of the electorate toward a common list that included Gyurcsány’s name. If you take a look at the results as they appeared in 168 Óra, you will find that the numbers Botka is quoting include Fidesz, LMP and Jobbik voters, who wouldn’t vote for a list put together by MSZP, DK, Párbeszéd, Együtt, etc. in the first place. Not terribly surprisingly, 86% of Fidesz, 89% of Jobbik, and 79% of LMP voters wouldn’t want anything to do with the democratic opposition’s common list. These people are not the democratic opposition’s potential voters. The numbers that are relevant are the MSZP, DK, and undecided voters. Naturally, 91% of DK voters would vote for a common list that included their party chief. Even the majority (62%) of MSZP voters aren’t allergic to the former prime minister. And most importantly, the undecided voters are split almost down the middle on the issue. Surely, headlines like “No Gyurcsány even against Orbán” are misleading. And Botka’s reliance on the overall poll number is regrettable.

MSZP made the second mistake today. Botka’s conditions for being a candidate for prime minister were addressed to the leaders of all the democratic parties. Not just to MSZP. Yet the party, without consulting with the others, made an official announcement saying that they accept Botka’s conditions because “in the last six months the party in its negotiations with the other opposition parties represented exactly the ideas that László Botka put forth.” Therefore, “MSZP supports him as the candidate for the post of common prime minister of the democratic opposition.”

Not surprisingly, DK is not thrilled. The official reason for their dissatisfaction is that, until now, MSZP supported the idea of selecting both the candidate for the post of prime minister and the 106 individuals who would run in each electoral district through primaries. MSZP’s unilateral support for Botka goes against the party’s position during the negotiations. Otherwise, Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of DK, announced that his party is ready to give up the idea of primaries because, after all, at earlier by-elections opposition candidates won handily without any newfangled selection process. They are, however, waiting for MSZP’s “final suggestion on the method of choosing a candidate for the post of prime minister” before they announce their reaction to these new developments. Gréczy said nothing about Botka’s implicit demand to remove Gyurcsány’s name from the joint party list, but there is no question that the DK leadership will never agree to such a condition.

The Orbán media is making the most of Botka’s unfortunate remarks. Magyar Idők’s headline trumpets that “according to Botka, the left cannot win with Gyurcsány.”

The paper is also piling abuse on László Botka as a politician. Apparently, one of the leading socialist politicians told the paper that “Botka should stay in Szeged” because he is a “disagreeable fellow” who has only demands while he waits for others to do the work. Other socialists pointed out that “creating a joint list without Gyurcsány is impossible.”

888.hu is busily publishing article after article about Botka, saying that his popularity in Szeged is waning because of his “support” of the “migrants.” He is described as someone who would love to see thousands and thousands of migrants because when the refugees arrived in Szeged during the summer of 2015, he dared to say that “they didn’t disturb the inhabitants of the city at all.” His sin was that he behaved humanely when thousands were stranded at the Szeged railroad stations.

Soon enough Botka will find himself in Gyurcsány’s shoes

I suspect that Viktor Orbán is not happy with the appearance of László Botka as a possible leader of the opposition, and therefore the pro-government media is already hard at work trying to discredit him. It would be time to close ranks on the left, to iron out the differences in a great hurry. That will mean compromise on Botka’s part as well.

December 23, 2016

Can László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, lead the democratic opposition?

The big news of the day is an interview that László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, gave for 168 Óra’s special Christmas edition. The paper will be on the newsstands only tomorrow, but the word is that Botka, the most popular socialist politician, is ready to lead the united opposition as a candidate for the premiership. Of course, he will accept the job only if his conditions are met by the currently negotiating opposition parties.

First, a few words about Botka, about whom I have written only twice before at any length. He joined MSZP at the tender age of 18. A year later, as a first-year law student in Szeged, he was already the honorary chairman of the party’s youth movement. In 1994 he won his district in the national election and, at the age of 21, was the youngest member of parliament. With the exception of four years, between 1998 and 2002, he was a member of parliament until 2014. In 2002, at the age of 29, he also became mayor of Szeged, a position he has continued to hold even as, at the municipal elections, almost the entire country turned orange.

László Botka in front of the Szeged City Hall

In the last few years Botka’s name was often mentioned as the party’s best bet for the post of prime minister, but the consensus in the party was that Botka was reluctant to accept the nomination, perhaps because of MSZP’s low standing in the polls. Maybe, commentators claimed, he is waiting for a better opportunity. Then last summer MSZP held its congress, and the delegates massively rejected Botka in his bid for reelection as chairman of the board. He felt betrayed and suspected some kind of conspiracy to remove him. He really wanted to remain in this post because, according to the new by-laws, the chairman is now able to influence the party’s strategy for the election campaign. This would have involved decisions concerning partnerships with other parties. My feeling at the time was that it was for this very reason that Botka was rejected as chairman of the board. He was known to be vehemently opposed to any kind of understanding with DK. Since at that point I had high hopes for a rapprochement between DK and MSZP, I was relieved that Botka was leaving party politics.

A couple of weeks later I wrote an article titled “Harmful politicians in the Hungarian democratic opposition,” in which I singled out Bernadett Szél of LMP and Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt. Szigetvári said that his favorite MSZP politician was László Botka. Since “MSZP blackballed Botka, the only conclusion one can draw is that the socialists don’t want to win the election,” he continued. I must say that Szigetvári’s praise of Botka didn’t endear me toward the mayor of Szeged.

Now, six months later, after seeing no signs of a constructive plan for a political formation that could possibly remove Viktor Orbán from power, I have changed my mind. I now think Botka should be given a chance, especially since I see no other viable and attractive candidate. The pro-government media has been floating names of possible contenders for the job, one less likely than the next. For instance, László Andor, former commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion in the Barroso II administration of the European Commission, whose name surfaced in Magyar Idők, is an excellent economist, but it’s hard to imagine him as an inspiring leader.

Although some people might find Botka too assertive, he is exactly the kind of person the opposition needs at the moment. In addition, it seems that Botka has changed his position on cooperation. Back in July I got the distinct impression that Botka believes MSZP can win the election on its own. Otherwise he wouldn’t have vetoed cooperation with DK. By now he realizes that this idea is dead in the water. MSZP can’t win the election on its own. Without cooperation the chances for the opposition are nil.

Botka put forth three conditions for accepting the candidacy. First, the opposition parties should have one common list. This is very important because, apparently, the negotiators still at the table envisage common candidates but separate lists. That would mean that people could cast their second vote for their favorite party, i.e. MSZP, DK, Együtt, Párbeszéd, etc. This would only confuse the electorate. In 2014, they did have a common list, but all the participating parties’ names were printed on the ballot. That was bad enough. Separate lists would be even worse. Second, candidates in all 106 districts would be picked on the basis of electability, not party affiliation. Thus, he would ban any behind-the-scenes negotiations about the number of spots allotted to each party, according to their relative strength at the polls. And finally, there must be prior agreement about the values and policies appropriate for parties on the left of the political spectrum. That means at some level a joint program.

Although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read the full interview Botka gave to 168 Óra, I did hear his conversation with György Bolgár this afternoon. I also read an article published in delmagyar.hu, a local internet news site, whose reporter talked to Botka in Szeged. On both occasions he expressed the view that what’s going on at the moment at the negotiating table among representatives of some of the opposition parties is a replay of the 2014 scene. It led to failure then and it will lead to even bigger failure in 2018. “What we need are one million more voters because even if we add up the supporters of all democratic parties we have only half of what Fidesz has at the moment.” These new voters should come from the undecided group, as well as from Jobbik voters and disappointed Fidesz followers. The politicians at the negotiating table “must get their senses back and make a decision by the beginning of next year. Otherwise, they can forget about me. What’s going on right now I cannot, I don’t want to take part in.”

Well, that is plain talk. Unfortunately, initial reactions, admittedly still scanty, are not encouraging. To my surprise, Együtt didn’t want to respond to Botka’s forceful proposal, which is interesting given Viktor Szigetvári’s earlier expression of admiration for Botka. After all, Szigetvári is the co-chair of the party. DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, speaking on Klubrádió, wasn’t at all enthusiastic. He pointed out that at the negotiations the person of the future prime minister had not been discussed and therefore he assumes that Botka’s putting himself forth is nothing more than the expression of “personal ambition.” A rather unfortunate way of saying that, as far as he knows, Botka is not the official candidate of MSZP. To reinforce this point, Gréczy reminded his audience that Botka had been squarely rejected as chairman of MSZP’s board only a few months ago. He promised, however, that DK’s leadership will discuss the matter whenever the issue is officially presented to them. I assume the discussion will be brief.

In a few days an article of mine will come out in Népszava’s Christmas issue. In it I expressed my negative opinion of the politicians of the fractious democratic opposition. I am not sure that Botka’s plan would succeed even if all the others wholeheartedly supported him, but what’s going on now seems utterly hopeless to me.

December 21, 2016

Ferenc Gyurcsány replies to questions from readers of Hungarian Spectrum

On June 26 Hungarian Spectrum published an essay by Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister of Hungary and currently chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. The essay elicited great interest. The readership that day was double of the daily average. The post also prompted a large number of comments, including quite a few questions. I wondered whether Mr. Gyurcsány would agree to answer questions posed to him by readers of Hungarian SpectrumA few days after I approached Mr. Gyurcsány’s office I was happy to report that he had agreed to answer all the questions I forwarded to him. My thanks to Mr. Gyurcsány for his willingness to participate in this exchange of ideas.

♦ ♦ ♦

time4change: Mr. Gyurcsány, how can we persuade the EU to stop funding Orbán’s corrupt government? And if it takes throwing Hungary out altogether, how soon can this happen?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: DK has asked the European Commission to restrict the government’s exclusive rights over the use of EU monies. We don’t want to lose the development funding, but we wouldn’t like the money to end up with the oligarchs close to Fidesz.

time4change: When Hungary joined the EU in 2004, it was under your leadership, as a PM with a clear understanding of the importance of forging strong links with the West, and with an enlightened vision for Hungary to develop as a proper democracy. Under the mafia leadership of Orbán, your vision and all your hard work have been almost entirely eroded. I believe that one of the reasons the UK, and probably other countries too, are disenchanted with the EU is because it does not abide by its own principles of democratic values, as evidenced by the continued funding of Hungary in the full knowledge that the moneys have created and continue to do so, an aggressive mafia oligarchy. How can this continue and why is the EU so inept at putting a stop to it?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Talking to EU leaders, I believe that they have had enough of Hungary or rather the Hungarian government. At the moment there are too many problems at once and they don’t want to add a lengthy conflict with Hungary.

LwiiH: Fun, I suppose we should list questions here. (1) Given the level of institutionalized and even legalized corruption that exists in Hungary, is it possible to elect anyone who has not been tainted? If so, how can the electorate be assured that any candidate is clean?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: What I can tell you is that I was accused of many things, but no one ever said that I used my influence for my own enrichment. DK is clean, and I think the same of Együtt, or PM, or LMP.

LwiiH: (2) How would you deal with past cases of legalized corruption. That is laws were passed by those involved in order to legalize a corrupt practice or to allow them to be involved in dealings where there is a clear conflict of interest.

Ferenc Gurcsány: You are right about Fidesz not simply stealing public money. They have also stolen the legislative process, thus making stealing legal. This has become the legal norm. Still, with the restructuring of the prosecutor’s office and the removal of the supreme prosecutor, a legal proceeding may begin to explore layers of corruption, the way it is being done in Romania today.

LwiiH: (3) What is your current feeling on legitimacy of the current constitution. What are your plans to fix it and why isn’t anyone talking about it.

Ferenc Gyurcsány: It is unconstitutional for anyone to strive for exclusive power of authority. Fidesz at the moment is doing just that. If someone without any input from society writes a new constitution, then that constitution is not legitimate. This is the situation now in Hungary. Still, one can change the constitution only in a constitutional manner, for which at the moment there is unfortunately very little prospect.

LwiiH: (4) Why do we not see very much in the way of opposition to the campaign against Brussels regarding the upcoming referendum. And how is it that the state is funding only one side of this campaign?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: We will campaign forcefully and visibly in the fall. It is unfortunately true—and this was also true during our time—that there is no common practice of a government—any government—giving monetary assistance to those groups that support a opinion contrary to a government-initiated referendum.

Julian Edmonds: Mr Gyurcsany, what would you say to the c. 200,000 Hungarian citizens living in the UK who have now just suddenly been made to feel a lot less welcome there?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Oh my, this is a very difficult question. But if the EU stands by its current position, that is if the Brits want the free movement of goods and services, then they will have to accept the free movement and employment of people. In this case EU citizens may live and work in their chosen second homeland peacefully and in security.

Julian Edmonds: Is now the right time to come back and start trying to change Hungary for the better?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: I didn’t return because I never left. ☺ I have no doubt that from a historical perspective we are right, but I do know that it is very difficult to gain a majority for this change. But my party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, and I are working on the project.

Stevan Harnad: Mr Gyurcsány, let me first express my admiration and appreciation for your courageous perseverance in the face of the unspeakably unjust vilification campaign to which you have been subjected by Viktor Orbán and his followers.

My question is whether you have any new plans for unifying the democratic opposition in light of Brexit and the changed leadership of MSzP?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Thank you very much for your kind words. My opinion hasn’t changed in the last two years when I first suggested that the democratic opposition parties should unite in a new Democratic Party. Then the answer was a quite vehement rejection. But I’m certain that we will go in this direction.

Roderick S. Beck: Mr. Gyurcsány, Hungary had the highest per capita real GDP in Communist Eastern Europe when the Wall fell. Today Czech per capita real GDP is 20% higher. And the gap is even greater on a disposable income basis due to Hungary’s world record VAT charges and 45% social taxes (employer pays 25% and employee pays 20%). The consumption per capita in real terms is about 25% to 30% less than in the Czech Republic.

Clearly the policies of Left and Right over the last 27 years have failed.

What do you propose today that is different?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: There are no big secrets, in my opinion. What one needs is a predictable economic policy, increase of labor productivity, much better education, increasing wages, incentives for investment.

wrfree: Thank you Prof Balogh for enabling this very interesting ‘exchange of ideas’ with Mr. Gyurcsany. It is evident here that those very intimate with Magyar history and the actual wielding of power are providing insights towards understanding the big questions facing Magyarorszag today.

Real good questions above. Mine go along these lines.

A. With the current political situation in the country what is the future of ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ institutions in the country? A ‘blip’ perhaps because of ‘acute’ events or get ready for more of the axe with all the consequences of that?

And B. What underlies the propensity of Magyar political life after the experience of ’56 to not really ‘get dressed’ for strong democracy and its traditions? It would appear that the clothes were ill-fitting. Does it mean the tailors are to be blamed, those who shape its form in the country? Or is perhaps underneath governments and the people just don’t ‘understand’ it thus affecting its traction in getting pulled along within the country?

Thank you. Personally, I wish you success in your future endeavors.

An American of Magyar parents who gave me a rich heritage of Magyarorszag, its lands, history and people. I treasure my ‘Europeaness’ and hold it close. I easily walk the two worlds thanks to my parents.

Ferenc Gyurcsány: The change in the political system brought along freedom and independence, but millions have been disappointed because their personal lives have become more difficult. As Bill Clinton said: Democracy must deliver! If we cannot provide a better life for millions, then people will view democracy as an opportunity only for the elites and will abandon it when someone promises prosperity. Orbán realized this and is doing exactly that. There is no other possibility but to combine democracy with increased opportunities. Of course, I know that this is easier said than done.

Charliecharlieh: London Calling!

As a Londoner I would like you to know that I voted for you – well DK – at the last election. My Hungarian partner and I drove specifically to Hungary the day before to cast my vote – and she allowed me to put my cross in the DK box. We photographed the ballot paper for display in our Hungarian home.

I voted to counter the votes of those who neither live nor pay taxes in Hungary – I call them the ‘Trianon’ voters. I voted in a very rural part of Hungary and the excitement was palpable – and the calls in the street and the people punching the air shouting ‘Fidesz’ was sickening.

I therefore expect my question to receive especial attention from you as is the custom in Hungary – I paid heavily for my vote!

This is my question.

Engaging in Orban’s warped parliamentary debates is neither democracy – nor worth the effort, where most legislation is presented through private member’s bill which you and others don’t even have time to read before voting – I believe this was the reason you cast a vote recently, against your intention.

Engaging in this farcical game legitimises Orban’s ‘government’ which I call an authoritarian government in transition – a Commocracy.

Would you consider forming – or causing to be formed – an umbrella opposition which can unite as a clear opposition option on the ballot paper?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Thank you for your vote. I’m working on a common alternative to the democratic opposition against Orbán. This is what my party is working for, but the process is slow.

Charliecharlieh: I would then ask you to refuse to take your seats – and persuade even Jobbik into the ‘big tent’ – so as to show the Hungarian people, the EU and the world what is happening in Hungary?

This is the only effective response to Orban’s government. The people need to wake up from a bad dream.

The next steps would need to be considered carefully but I am sure it would lead to a second – more honest election – with parallel legislation being passed by the ‘umbrella’ government to ‘unwind’ Orban’s stranglehold, for example, on the basic law or constitution.

Ferenc Gyurcsány: I don’t think that we should leave parliament. Who would benefit from a one- party legislature? But I also don’t think that we should cooperate with Jobbik in an institutional sense because we are talking about a party infected by neo-fascist ideas. Of course, I don’t rule out the possibility that in a new legislature Jobbik would also support a change of the current constitution.

Webber: If the democratic opposition win the elections in 2018, how should they go about dismantling the Orbán system? What should be done first, and why?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Legality can be created only by constitutional means, and that means that we can change the present constitution only if two-thirds of the legislators agree. Clearly, this is the goal.

Pappp: (1) Can (if yes, how) the democratic opposition parties avoid the “mutyi” when it comes to holding fideszniks accountable? (Given – among others – the fact that many MSZPniks are clearly in bed with Fidesz and Fideszniks will have unlimited funds to buy the generosity of leftists?)

Ferenc Gyurcsány: We established a new party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, because we would like to create and serve a decent and transparent world. But I see decency, for example, in Együtt, in PM, even in LMP. The rule is simple: a politician doesn’t steal under any circumstances. It is not so difficult to follow that principle.

Pappp: Does the democratic opposition have by now (because historically it did not) the human resources in law who (1) at least understand the workings of the legal system (constitutional court, prosecution etc.) and (2) who can lead and execute, given their professional respect, charisma and determination, the fundamental rearrangement of the legal system (ie. within the prosecution it is not only Polt who is thoroughly corrupt, the entire constitutional court is not much more than a Fidesz party chapter etc.)?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: It will be hellishly difficult to dismantle Supreme Prosecutor Polt’s world. I know the plans of the opposition, but perhaps you will understand if for the time being I cannot share them with you. I’m sorry.

Pappp: 3. Are there many in the democratic opposition who want to conclude a “grand bargain” (a kiegyezés) with Fidesz (leaving top Fideszniks unprosecuted and/or leaving the current constitutional setup basically intact in exchange for some support in amending some laws or the Basic Law)?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: I don’t believe that one can or should conclude a deal with the Orbán-Kövér-led Fidesz. If there is another line-up, then it is possible that we could return to the ideals of the republic and constitutionality together.

Pappp: 4. Does he think that the democratic opposition now has the cleverness to drive a hard bargain with Fidesz, given that in the past it was always, but always Fidesz who fooled, duped, purchased the MSZPniks (whether it was the election of constitutional court judges who somehow later switched ideology or the forcing of MSZP to accept the crown in the Parliament or the standing of the pengefal at Terror Háza or the Turul statute in district 12 despite that fact that they lacked construction license in the first place etc. etc. etc.)

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Today it is not MSZP that dictates the politics of the democratic opposition. The picture is much more colorful. This is exactly our guarantee: that we cannot and must not make unprincipled compromises with Fidesz.

Pappp: 5. What can the democratic opposition do with about 800,000-1,000,000 ethnic Hungarian votes (voters) who, though smaller in number back then, voted 98% Fidesz in 2014? Is this advantage Fidesz has at all surmountable, if yes, how?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Actually far fewer people voted in 2014. We hold that only those should have electoral rights who live in Hungary on a permanent basis or who lived in Hungary in the not too distant past.

Jean P.: Mr. Gyurcsany,
It seems to me that the migration of people from poor overpopulated countries to rich underpopulated countries is in accord with a general law of nature once called horror vacui. The greater the differences in population density and availability of life necessities the greater is the driving force for migration. The driving force is now immense. Can an individual be blamed for obeying a natural law and migrate?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Come now! If we don’t do something against the flagrant differences between certain regions of the world then the migratory pressures will remain. People want to live. One cannot blame them for it.

Jean P.: According to socialist thinking all people are equal and differences in fortune should be compensated by society. The unfortunate should be helped. Does this thinking apply to migrants? If yes why only migrants? Why not everybody in poor overpopulated countries?

The socialist dilemma is that altruism will ruin the altruist society. So why talk about it? I noticed that you didn’t.

Ferenc Gyurcsány: A really complicated question. I don’t think that all differences can be eradicated. Well being created by talent, diligence, and work is justifiable.

István: I would ask Mr. Gyurcsány if he believes that the current Fidesz government will step up its evolution towards Putin’s Russian Federation and eventually break with NATO?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Putin looks upon Hungary as the weak link of the European Union. Unfortunately, this is actually true. But as far as I can see from the activities of the Fidesz government, they don’t want to exit either from the European Union or from NATO. They only play a dangerous game by tugging on the whiskers of the lion. Of course, this is an expensive game.

Mutt: When Gyula Molnar, the newly elected president of the MSZP was asked about the possibility of the cooperation on the left he said “there has to be one challenger [of the FIDESZ] but it’s too early to tell how can we achieve that”. Do you know how can that be achieved? Would the DK endorse the candidate of another opposition party in 2018 if that candidate has a better chance to be elected?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Yes. One must nominate the person who has the greatest chance of victory. It is immaterial to which party he belongs.

Alex Kuli: The political system created by Mr. Orbán in 2011 bears a lot of similarities to the Democratic Party machine that took root in Chicago a century ago, later perfected by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and his family. The similarities include rewards for party loyalists (especially in the form of jobs), party control over private business, legal coercion, political pressure on the media, cheap populism (rezsicsokkentes), and public stigmatization of anyone who diverges from the party line.

In both systems, party organizers use these tools to ensure that voters cast ballots for the power elite. The key to making this work is a strong citywide/nationwide political network in which the party maintains close, personal contact with individual voters.

To this day, there is only one Republican alderman out of 50 on the Chicago City Council. In Hungary, the opposition managed to win just 10 of the 106 constituency seats at the 2014 elections, even though opinion polls showed that a majority of voters were dissatisfied with Orban’s governance.

In your essay posted on Hungarian Spectrum last week, you envisioned a system of “competitive social networks in which parties, advocacy groups and virtual communities work together based on their own beliefs and their own solutions.”

My question for you is:

Since Orban controls both a Chicago-style political machine PLUS a strong virtual network, how can the opposition hope to compete with Fidesz without a nationwide, brick-and-mortar organization – the kind the MSZP and SZDSZ used to have, and Jobbik has successfully created? Defeating Fidesz will require no less than a ballot-box revolt, and it is very difficult to organize a revolt by email alone. How can opposition leaders hope to overcome their negative public image, acquired both through their own shortcomings and Fidesz’s eternal propaganda campaign, unless they galvanize voters through personal, consistent and competent contact?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: There’s no doubt that in thousands of ways we are at a disadvantage, but even more fetid regimes than Orbán’s have collapsed. Of course, it is not immaterial when and under what circumstances that will occur. Especially what they leave behind. We have no alternative but to show that there exists another possibility: a democratic, European Hungary. It is not easy. I know. But we are doing our jobs without any compromises that would affect the essentials.

 July 4, 2016

A possibly very strange end to Viktor Orbán’s political career

The following paragraph from an interview Ferenc Gyurcsány gave Somogyi Hírlap, a paper serving Kaposvár and the County of Somogy, has created quite a stir, mostly in the right-leaning media. Since there have been many, most likely purposeful, misinterpretations of what Gyurcsány actually said, here is a faithful translation of the controversial paragraph. This was Gyurcsány’s answer to the reporter’s question about cooperation among the opposition parties.

First we must wait until we find out what happens at the [forthcoming] congress of MSZP where four very different types of politicians will vie for the chairmanship. It is also not immaterial where MSZP will be by next spring. How self-confident they will be. I’m certain that there will be some kind of joining of forces before the next national election, even if not the kind that existed in 2014. But it is also possible that regardless of what we do or say the people—just like in Tapolca and in Salgótarján, in the former from left to right and in the latter from right to left–will vote for the candidate they think is most likely to succeed [against Fidesz]. Thus, a situation may occur—something Viktor Orbán hasn’t thought of—that left-right cooperation will take place over and above his “central power” scheme. It can happen that three large blocks are formed–the left opposition, Jobbik, and Fidesz-KDNP–but that none of them gets the necessary 50%, while they cannot form a coalition openly. Let me add that I wouldn’t be at all happy about such an outcome, but at the same time I cannot preclude the possibility of such public pressure that the current opposition forces will have to cooperate for the sake of dismantling the two-thirds laws. There is the possibility that the current political system will have a very strange end.

The Hungarian media is very Budapest-centric. Few journalists in the capital pay much attention to what appears in the provincial press. However, Gábor G. Fodor’s notorious new internet news site, 888.hu, immediately picked the story up from a far-right site called spiler.blog.hu. Both declared that “Gyurcsány would forge an alliance with Jobbik,” 888.hu adding that “things grow together that belong together.” Magyar Idők also indicated that Gyurcsány would work together with Jobbik and sarcastically added that “perhaps they could form one big party,” attracting voters from the entire political spectrum. “Gyurcsány would have a lot to talk about with [László] Toroczkai. Political success is guaranteed.” Toroczkai, the far-right leader of the Youth Movement of the Sixty-Four Counties, was an active participant in the destruction of the Magyar Televízió’s building when Gyurcsány’s Balatonőszöd speech became public. Válasz’s article ran under the headline: “Hang on, Gyurcsány embodies every anti-fascist’s nightmare.” The author of the article is pretty certain that nothing will come of such cooperation because both MSZP and DK said far too often: “Never with Jobbik!” However, he admitted that the last few by-elections showed that voters can create grand coalitions on “the theory of anybody but Fidesz.”

On the other side of the political spectrum there is deathly silence. No one wants to say anything about Gyurcsány’s assessment of the present political map of Hungary. I found only one blog, László Zöldi’s medianapló.blog.hu, that found this particular passage from the Gyurcsány interview important and thought-provoking. He can’t quite understand why no one explored the subject further with him, although Zöldi has heard at least two subsequent interviews. He simply can’t understand the silence. He even suggests that there may be topics the independent Hungarian media simply doesn’t want to talk about.

Source: pto.hu/post/1/6113

Source: pto.hu/post/1/6113

Indeed, it is a sensitive topic because in the last few years the strength of the various political blocs hasn’t changed substantially. As long as this constellation remains, Fidesz’s chances of winning the next election and perhaps even several more are good. On the other hand, there is the very real problem of Jobbik’s ideology and the democratic opposition parties’ determination not to cooperate with a neo-Nazi party. Gábor Vona’s announcement to get rid of some of his deputies was initially interpreted by many, including myself, as a move toward the center, but Vona’s candidates for the vacated positions hold views just as extreme as those of the party leaders he wants to dismiss.

Gyurcsány is actually not the first politician to talk about some kind of an arrangement between the left and Jobbik. Gergely Karácsony (PM), today mayor of Zugló (District XIV), brought up the idea of a short-term coalition of the opposition parties (MSZP-LMP-Jobbik) back in December 2011. At that point Karácsony was still a member of LMP. The Fidesz government was in the middle of working on a new electoral law. What the public could learn about the details convinced Karácsony that the law would greatly favor the government party and that even if MSZP and LMP faced the government party together they would not be able to get rid of the Orbán government. His suggestion was to forge an alliance among the three opposition parties for the sole purpose of breaking the stranglehold of Fidesz’s two-thirds majority rule. The goal of this alliance would be a minimum program that would remove the worst features of Orbán’s political system, including naturally the electoral system. After the essential changes that would restore the democratic functioning of the government were made, parliament could be dissolved and new elections held. The outcry on the left after this interview was so great that the idea was immediately dropped.

Of course, the political atmosphere today is very different from the one in which Karácsony made this suggestion, which sounded bizarre after only a year and a half of Fidesz rule. Today, however, we have a situation in which several by-elections have shown that the electorate is indeed ready to vote for the candidate who is most likely to succeed against Fidesz. Left-wingers are ready to vote for a Jobbik politician, while disappointed Fidesz and Jobbik voters are ready to cast their votes for a socialist. If such trends continue, one can easily foresee the kind of situation Gyurcsány talked about. And then what? The democratic opposition must have a viable game plan.

May 4, 2016

Ferenc Gyurcsány: “Orbán knows that he has to take me into account in the long run”

The following interview appeared on ATV’s website on July 8 and was promptly translated into English the following day and published in DK’s English-language newsletter Free Hungary. I’m glad to republish it here and urge other democratic opposition parties to take advantage of Hungarian Spectrum to air their views and programs so they can be shared with a wider international audience. The interview was conducted by Ferenc Szlazsánszky and Gábor Vigh.

* * *

According to former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, the idea of early elections is no longer a realistic idea; however, the question should be kept on the agenda. The Chairman of Democratic Coalition (DK) is satisfied with the growth rate of his party, he has no intention of criticizing or swallowing up the Hungarian Socialists (MSZP). Gyurcsány believes that the political left in Hungary is not in its ruins and it is possible to win the elections with 1.8 million votes, which goal is “not far off”. During his interview with atv.hu, such issues were addressed as Gyurcsány’s character assassination, immigration, the chances of a Fidesz far-right Jobbik coalition, and his company, the Altus case.

Gyurcsany Ferenc3

Last November you said that the political left should enforce early elections for 2016. Do you still believe this?

If we consider what is best for Hungary, than my opinion remains unchanged. Are we close to early elections? I have to reply in the negative but the question should be kept on the agenda. The idea of another three years with Orbán as leader is unacceptable to millions.

Why should the question of early elections be kept on the agenda if it has no reality?

Because it reflects what we think of the government, that we want it to change as soon as possible.

Seeing the modest support for MSZP, DK and Együtt, do you still believe that splitting MSZP apart was the right decision?

Without the challenges that the political left is facing today, exactly because there are several political players, we would be worse off if MSZP remained unchanged. The multi-player situation is what urges us to become competitive alternatives again. In a sense, the political left is experiencing the change that affected the political right in the 90’s.

From a right-wing point of view, these changes had a positive outcome as Viktor Orbán is the head of the government for the third time. The left-wing is in ruins.

I do not believe that the political left is in ruins. There are 1.5 million left-wing voters today. It is strange that Jobbik is “celebrated” by the analysts for its 1.5 million voters, while they believe the left-wing to be over, even though they have the same amount of voters.

Jobbik alone has more voters than the competing left-wing parties.

I do not think that this is true. And there is nothing wrong with competition. It is important for a young democracy to have more than only monolithic large parties. There was always competition and different trends within the Socialist party, from Sándor Nagy to Ildikó Lendvai, from Lasi Békesi to Imre Szekeres, which show themselves more autonomously today. Moreover, I cannot talk lethargically as there are two parties today in Hungary that have recently achieved more support, and one of them is DK. The other one is Jobbik. I’m not happy about that.

The growth rate of DK is not too great: according to the polls, support has increased from 2-3% to 4-6% within the total population and 9-10% within the party’s voters.

And this means half a million voters, and that is indeed great. We have reached this in just three years. New formations led by famous politicians have appeared since then but they all failed to break through. For a long time, all analysts argued that DK will never be bigger than 1-2%. When we became a 5% party, they said all right but that was the limit. Now all pollsters agree that we are around 10% among those certain to vote, and I noticed that the analysts have grown more cautious in their predictions.

Where can you find new voters? DK alone cannot win an election and if it attracts voters from MSZP or other left-wing liberal parties, then it weakens its possible coalition partners. This seems to be a zero-sum game.

Only if we disregard the political differences that exist between the parties, but we won’t do that. It is true that the European civil idea that represents both market economy and social solidarity has more and more supporters, in part from other left-wing parties, and in part from undecided voters. Sooner or later, we will be right. In 2006, there were 2.3 million left-wing voters. Why not find most of them again? DK’s tour around the country serves this purpose, as well.

Many politicians of MSZP are afraid that in this cycle, the purpose of DK is to become more powerful than MSZP and gain the position of left-wing opposition leader after 2018.

If this were true, it would be legitimate, just the same. The party which is not working toward this is either made up or fools or is deceiving its voters.

There have also been harsher utterances: “DK’s goal is to swallow up MSZP”.

How could we swallow up MSZP? No doubt, last year the support rate of the two parties was four-to-one in their favour, and now it is only 1.5-to-one. The main question is not how these 1.5 million voters are divided among the left-wing and liberal parties, but whether this number would be enough to change the government. In this three-part political system, elections can be won with 1.8 million votes. We are not far from this number.

So you do not expect that in case of emergency, Fidesz could form a coalition with Jobbik, or at least a more moderate part of it?

Since we’ve seen recently that in Parliament Jobbik voted together with Fidesz, thus passing two-thirds laws, their coalition would not come as a surprise. However, if they indicated their intention to govern jointly, some of their voters would leave them for exactly this reason. The moderate side of Fidesz rejects the extremist Jobbik, while the majority of Jobbik members want the replacement of Fidesz. Since Fidesz rewrote the electoral law, there is no chance to have some of their candidates back down in each other’s favour before the second round. Thus, I give this scenario only a small chance. In the long run, it’s not in Jobbik’s interest to keep the past-representing Orbán in power.

Many people consider MSZP to be unjustifiably enervate. Back in the day, you used to lash out at the collusion of party treasurers.

I’ll be the last person to criticize MSZP, you will need to find another interviewee for that. Obviously, we had our reasons for leaving. However, out of the ten thousand members of DK, only 20% had a connection to MSZP. This is a completely different party.

You have mentioned that the problem of the left-wing is that it lacks personality. You are one of the most popular players on your side but you have become a victim of character assassination. Can you overcome this?

It is unfair to identify DK with me. This is a political-spiritual gathering place of left-wing, liberal and conservative people. As for me, there have been several attempts at my life. They were unsuccessful, and the growth of DK refutes the success of the character assassination. I wasn’t worth a dime four years ago, and in comparison, our party is constantly growing. In the last month, four new organizations were formed in small settlements, and two hundred experts work on the development of the party’s new program.

However, time is not on the side of the left-wing. Among the younger generation, Jobbik is at 20%, LMP at 15%, Fidesz at 12%, while DK has only 2-3%.

This survey was conducted among university students, which is only a small group of people. At the same time, more and more young people are expressing their interest in DK.

Why is the political left unable to address the intellectuals of the future?

In a historical sense, this period full of disillusionment does not favour moderate parties. It favours radical or anti-elitist parties, which increases the support of LMP among this circle. It is obvious from this same study that an amazing amount of students, two-thirds of those surveyed, want to go and live abroad, therefore they may not even vote three years from now. To these disillusioned university students, who are looking for something to cling to, our moderate voices and the complete rejection of radicalism might seem less attractive. I can understand this. But look at the Greek Syriza. Radicalism may win elections but it cannot govern a country.

Addressing people is part of politics and the political right seems to be more successful in this area. For example, look at the issue of immigration where the governing party and the opposition stand on opposite sides, while 60% of the population would prefer even stricter rules.

For me, this is a question of principle. Deciding on when to give up one’s own views for lack of majority is always a dilemma. In this case, we decided on the simple, humanistic approach after many internal consultations: I am responsible for others, as well. Also, I can argue on the grounds of both Christianity and simple humanism. But this problem, which is a tremendous challenge to Europe, is less direct for Hungary. However, it is possible that the Prime Minister strengthens xenophobe feelings in a country already saturated with tension and thus reap communication and political success. But I don’t think that we have to compete with him. And I definitely don’t consider it functional and fair to hold out our hands when we want something from Europe, but when we have to participate in solving common European challenges, just like in this case, we choose to stay out of it.

I’m not sure that this strategy is dysfunctional: we receive all of the EU funding, while the Prime Minister often represents a position different from that of the EU, and still, contrary to the hopes of the opposition, outside powers did not overthrow him. A part of the population might view this as the Hungarian government “taking our due” and in the meantime refusing to let others order around “the Hungarian people”.

On the one hand, we do not benefit from EU funding due to the corruption of the Orbán government, as they put an unprecedented suspension on part of the aid. Moreover, DK never had the expectation or hope that Europe should overthrow Orbán. This is our job, just like cleaning up the country. As for the concept of “taking our due”, I might seem old-fashioned, but I still believe that there is morality in this world. National selfishness is not right. It can be successful for some time but it still isn’t right.

Most countries do it, don’t they? There are high ideals, but in reality we all try to make the most of everything.

What is enough then? Money? Or that I can look at our nation with a sense of pride knowing that essentially we are good people. A friend of mine just moved to a German village. The village is about to receive a family from Syria for integration. The locals have been working for months to ensure that they have a place to stay and work, and teaching local children several words in Arabic to help them welcome the newcomers. I find this impressive. I would prefer a Hungary like this, but to each his own.

You are criticized for vigorously campaigning against dual citizenship during the 2005 referendum, while being PM, saying that it would be harmful for the nation. Your critics say that while you said our sister nations pose a threat, now you would allow Syrian, Pakistani and Afghan immigrants into our country. Do you think there is a contradiction?

No. They are trying to compare apples with oranges. In Central Europe, political nation and cultural nation unfortunately do not coincide. I believe that automatically granting citizenship on the basis of “blood and clot” and letting people, who do not share the everyday fate of a community, have a say in its policies, is not a good thing. I’d like to make another remark beside the point of principle: two-thirds of Fidesz, which existed for a while after 2014, was two-thirds by one mandate, which was provided by voters living beyond the borders. This is not right. When we speak about a refugee and lend our hand, we do not give them citizenship. In 2013, Hungary only granted permanent residence to 240 people. If a country of 10 million people cannot integrate 240 people, then that country is in deep trouble.

Do you believe that the spread of Islam and terrorist threats pose serious problems? It appeared in several international newspapers that the Islamic State deliberately smuggles terrorists among those seeking asylum.

Today, anyone can sit on a plane and come here with regular documents. These things should not be confused: there are more than a thousand gangs, specializing in smuggling people, that operate on the edge of Europe, and these can only be stopped through a multitude of complicated devices: intelligence tools, strengthening the protection of the Mediterranean sea borders, fair international aid policies – that Europe should have provided a long time ago. Building a fence is a spectacular and attitude forming, but in my belief, it will solve nothing.

This year, sixty thousand people have arrived through the green border to Hungary so far.

They are not illegal but irregular entrants, and the Western world had to learn after the Second World War that they have a responsibility to others, as well. The United States has a very strict immigration policy but at the same time, they have very humane programs, such as assigning 50 thousand green cards based on a principle. There can only be a strict immigration policy when it is balanced by a generous humanitarian side. I do not see this in our government. I see the lack of mercy in their eyes.

Let’s talk about the Altus affair. Don’t you think you would have been better off providing a short announcement about this matter, instead of keeping the issue on the agenda by giving several statements, along with your wife?

Lies cannot be ignored. They keep lying to this day, even if they stopped talking about forbidden party financing and switched to hidden party financing. But this is still not true, as I was the one to disclose this data. And the HUF 1.5 billion is also a lie: it’s allocatied for 4 years, for 10-12 tenders, for which only three international consortiums are competing, and we are one of these. So far, there have been five calls for proposals, out of which our 11-member consortium won one, of a HUF 120 million in value. This project will last until January 2016. Hungary should be proud that such a tender has been won by a consortium that is led by a Hungarian company.

Is it also false that among the members of the Altus-led consortium, there is a company which is being investigated by EU’s anti-fraud office? This was said by János Lázár.

Let’s be very clear: we have no knowledge of this, even after investigating the matter. If such a company would be able to submit a proposal for an international public procurement tender and pass the formal decision making process in Brussels, even though one of the EU institutions had reservations about the company, that would indeed be a huge problem. However, we have no knowledge of anything like this, it is no wonder that Lázár refused to name the company, as well.

On the basis of the above, why do you think you keep being attacked by the government side? Do they see DK as the main threat, after all? Or because of the commission, will you have access to information that would be embarrassing to people close to the government?

This is not true. The reason is that Fidesz is basically led by wartime logic, as if the Prime Minister was heading a war cabinet. A very strong element of the Fidesz cohesion is anti-Gyurcsány-ism. This enemy must be presented from time to time, especially when the power is weakening. A reason why I keep being mentioned is that Orbán knows: he has to take me into account in the long run. And he is right about this.

The Hungarian socialists at a crossroads

While Fidesz and the Orbán government are busy hatching their latest plans to further restructure the Hungarian state and Hungarian society we cannot do more than wait for the day, which should come soon, when we find out what kind of austerity program will be introduced. There is no use talking about, for instance, all the leaked information from Fidesz politicians concerning the huge reforms of healthcare and higher education. We will turn to these topics when there are enough facts to make an assessment of the government’s plans. I should note, however, that Hungarians expect the worst. Pessimism about the future has grown in the last few months.

So, for the time being, let’s concentrate on party politics. Yesterday I wrote about the Ferenc Deák Circle, comprised of those MSZP politicians who consider cooperation with other parties of the democratic opposition essential for an effective stand against the growing “dictatorship of democracy” that Viktor Orbán has introduced in the last four and a half years. On the other side are the MSZP politicians currently running the party who have moved in the opposite direction. According  to József Tóbiás, the party chairman, there is only one party on the left and that is MSZP. He made it crystal clear in the last few days that his party will never make any compromises and will never join any other party. MSZP will break with the “authoritarian leadership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

Tóbiás’s dislike of Gyurcsány is common knowledge. When Gyurcsány and some of his fellow rebels left MSZP, Tóbiás was relieved. He announced that “MSZP gained an opportunity to go its own way and define itself as a leftist party.” That was in October 2011. Mind you, the departure of the “alien” elements from the party did not increase MSZP’s popularity. But Tóbiás is not one to engage in self-criticism. The current message to the other smaller parties is: never again will we have anything to do with you because you are the cause of our decline.

József Tóbiás and other MSZP politicians have been lashing out, condemning “Gyurcsány’s peremptory Führer-like politics” (Gyurcsány hatalmi, vezérelvű politikája). Leaders of three “platforms” within MSZP–the “Left-wing Gathering,” “Socialist,” and “People’s Group”–announced their support of Tóbiás and his policies. (There is also a “social-democratic platform”; Ágnes Kunhalmi belongs to that group.) The leaders of these three platforms asked the party leadership “to free the left from the trap Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister, forced them into.” Tóbiás needs no urging. In addition to breaking all ties to other democratic parties, he is ready to completely reorganize MSZP.

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

What kind of a party does he have in mind? Interestingly enough, his MSZP would be structured like Fidesz. Currently, the key figures in the nationwide structure of MSZP are the county chairmen. Some of these chairmen have become extremely powerful over the years and, since they hold the purse strings, they are difficult to dislodge. These chairmen were the ones who elevated Ferenc Gyurcsány to be the party’s candidate for the premiership in 2004 and they were the ones who dethroned him in 2009. Fidesz, on the other hand, is built around electoral districts. In Tóbiás’s scheme, each electoral district will have a chairman who can be removed by the central leadership if he is found wanting.

Apparently Tóbiás can’t remove the county chairmen because that would require a revision of the by-laws. What he can do without any congressional approval is to take money away from them. With that move, these formerly all-powerful local party leaders will become mere figureheads.

It is not only the structure of Fidesz that the MSZP leadership is ready to copy. The new MSZP will be “nationally committed party (nemzeti elkötelezettségű párt). This shift is not entirely new. MSZP’s leadership under Attila Mesterházy already thought that since Fidesz is so successful with its nationalist propaganda and since Viktor Orbán and Fidesz politicians constantly accuse the socialists and the liberals of “internationalism” and “cosmopolitanism,” perhaps success for the socialists requires greater emphasis on the nation. Tóbiás even managed to smuggle the concept of “Christian values” into his speech when he equated them with the socialists’ “social sensitivity.”

The divide between the left-wingers and the liberals in MSZP is fundamental. The question is whether the Orbán government can be dislodged by a united opposition or by a single, large socialist party. A similar debate went on in LMP a year and a half ago. The party’s parliamentary delegation was almost equally split between those who followed András Schiffer, who saw his party’s future in going it alone, and the rebels who were convinced that Schiffer’s tactics were suicidal. It was this debate that precipitated the split in LMP. The current situation in MSZP closely resembles what LMP went through then, although the split is not so even.

At the moment it looks as if the majority of the top leadership agrees with Tóbiás. According to them, the party’s problems began the day Ferenc Gyurcsány took over. He was too liberal, and therefore supporters of the party whose hearts were on the left abandoned them. Well, we know the answer is not that simple. Most likely Ildikó Lendvai was correct when she said in her Facebook note yesterday that the dividing line in Hungarian society is no longer between left and right. And if so, the whole reshaping of the party by József Tóbiás and his friends is most likely an exercise in futility.