Tag Archives: Gábor Török

Election predictions and fallout from the Botka-Molnár controversy

You may recall that after Viktor Orbán’s performance in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad I wrote that my “overarching impression” was that Viktor Orbán is afraid. I based this opinion on his “extended and continuous self-aggrandizing,” which made me suspicious that he is not as self-assured as he would have us believe. Therefore I was somewhat surprised that a few days later Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV and András Stumpf of Válasz, who rarely see eye to eye on anything, agreed that Viktor Orbán’s self-confidence has never been greater. He was genuinely relaxed and justifiably satisfied with his accomplishments.

Lately two well-known political scientists came out with their assessment of the current political situation, with special attention to possible outcomes of the 2018 national election. Somewhat surprisingly, both Gábor Török, someone who maintained fairly good relations with Fidesz until recently, and Csaba Tóth of the liberal Republikon Intézet described the mood in Fidesz as apprehension concerning the forthcoming election. Viktor Orbán is afraid that Fidesz may not have an absolute majority, preventing it from forming a government.

I’m sure that readers of Hungarian Spectrum would view the scenario described by the two political scientists as outright impossible. After all, we have been doing practically nothing else but bemoaning the sad state of the left-liberal opposition, whose chances were further reduced after László Botka’s intemperate attack on Zsolt Molnár. But Török and Tóth approach the issue from the other end of the political spectrum. They have been paying attention to the changes that have taken place in Jobbik.

Török’s interview with Magyar Narancs is still not available. Magyar Narancs, which is a weekly, comes out on Thursday, but it published a short excerpt from which we can glean the main outline of his thinking. His claim is that the political situation today cannot be compared to 2014 when the so-called “center field of force” (centrális erőtér) still existed. This center field of force meant that Fidesz positioned itself in the center of the political scene between two irreconcilable political forces, a left-liberal and a far-right one. This political combination could assure Fidesz an absolute majority, even with 35-40% of the votes. Now that Jobbik has moved toward the center, Jobbik voters are more likely to vote for a left-liberal candidate and vice versa as long as they manage to defeat the present government. Opinion polls corroborate such a willingness for cross voting. Consequently, as things stand now, Török explains that Fidesz may lose 40 electoral districts, which would mean that it would come up short of the necessary 100 seats for an absolute majority. In that case, Orbán will try “to buy” some members of parliament, try to find a coalition partner, or, most likely, have a snap election within three months.

Tóth also concentrates on Jobbik. As opposed to the left, Jobbik “is capable of strategic thinking” and, unlike MSZP, is unified and speaks with one voice. He also stresses that it is a misconception to think that in order to defeat Fidesz one needs a single strong opposition force because of the possibility of cross voters in the new circumstances. In Tóth’s scheme, opinion polls indicate that the left-liberal opposition in Budapest is stronger than Fidesz and that 10-15 electoral districts could be won just in Budapest. Jobbik could easily win 10 districts nationally, and the liberal-left opposition could add another 10 districts in the larger cities. That would be enough for Fidesz not to have an absolute majority.

Tóth also talked about the Botka-Molnár controversy as far as the liberal-socialist opposition’s chances in Budapest are concerned. Keep in mind that Republikon Intézet is also a polling organization, and therefore Tóth has been looking at polling data as well as voting patterns in the past. The conclusion Republikon Intézet drew was that the left-of-center opposition can win only in individual districts where DK is strong and therefore the cooperation of MSZP and DK is a must in Budapest. As far as the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány is concerned, it is true that he is the most unpopular politician on the left, but even if Botka succeeded and excluded Gyurcsány from participation, “Fidesz would place Gyurcsány” behind any cooperation between DK and MSZP, even if on the local level. His conclusion is that “making the democratic forces free of Gyurcsány is impossible,” and therefore Botka’s efforts in this direction are misguided. Moreover, the numbers don’t support Botka’s strategy, because it was MSZP that lost voters and not the Demokratikus Koalíció.

Since my piece on the Botka-Molnár controversy was published yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to a couple of interviews relevant to the subject. One was by László Botka himself on Olga Kálmán’s “Egyenesen” on HírTV. In my opinion, it was a disappointing performance. Botka has only three or four sentences, which he keeps repeating over and over, even within the same interview. Otherwise, he is devoid of any vision. Anyone who’s interested in the interview should visit HírTV’s website.

Here I only want to point out something I found amusing, I guess because I have an interest in questions relating to language. Botka desperately tried to wiggle out of accusing Molnár of betrayal (árulás). After all, ‘betrayal’ is a strong word, and Botka’s use of it is widely considered to be politically damaging. Added to his discomfort was Kálmán’s disapproving tone while questioning him on this point. How did he try to get out of this sticky situation? This is the relevant passage: “After democratic discussions on political strategy a decision was reached and a few weeks later a socialist politician questions that decision. One cannot really find another word but betrayal because he divulged a common decision.” The poor man must have been desperate because, although it is true that “elárul” means both “to divulge” and “to betray,” “árulás,” the noun he used, can mean only one thing–“betrayal.”

Equally amusing was István Ujhelyi’s interview on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” yesterday. He also had a fairly lengthy conversation with György Bolgár on “Megbeszéljük,” a call-in show on KlubRádió, on Friday. Bolgár stressed the seriousness of Botka’s accusations and said that he hoped that Botka has proof to support his contention. Ujhelyi, who is perhaps the strongest supporter of Botka in the party, assured Bolgár that Botka is a man who doesn’t talk through his hat. He must have tangible proof. What about the others Botka alluded to, asked Bolgár? Ujhelyi answered that he was certain that after Botka returns from his vacation he will make public the “background information” about other possible traitors in MSZP.

By Monday this conversation, which took place a couple of days before, had become an embarrassment because it turned out that there was no hard proof of any “betrayal.” Moreover, the party bigwigs decided that all that talk about betrayal was damaging to MSZP. So, now Ujhelyi had to explain his words away. Luckily for him, András Sváby, one of the new anchors of “Egyenes beszéd,” was pretty clueless when confronted with Ujhelyi’s revised version of his conversation with Bolgár. Ujhelyi insisted that the only thing he said in the Bolgár interview was that “if there are people [in the party] who hold notions different from the official decision concerning electoral strategy Botka will put an end to their games.” It was really pitiful to watch the man, especially since I used to think highly of him as a hard-working member of the European Parliament. He is a decent man caught in a party machinery that has lost its way.

August 2, 2017

Despite an all-out effort, enthusiasm for the referendum is shrinking

A friend of mine just returned from a short trip to Hungary and phoned to report on her impressions. She is one of those American-Hungarians who closely follows Hungarian news and is well aware of the tremendous effort the Orbán government has put into ensuring that the referendum on the non-existent compulsory quotas will be valid and that it will pass with a very large majority. Even so, she was not expecting the barrage of giant billboards lining the road from the airport to Budapest. “You have to be there to feel the atmosphere this campaign creates,” she said. No wonder. According to reports, there is a billboard every 40 meters.

tudta-kampany

The intensity of the campaign has been growing steadily ever since, at the end of February, Viktor Orbán announced his intention to hold a referendum. For Orbán a successful referendum, requiring the participation of more than half of the electorate, seems to be a matter of life and death. This is not an exaggeration. Only two days ago, at the Fidesz picnic at Kötcse, he used the phrase himself. What is waiting for him is a fight with Brussels which must be won because otherwise the death of the nation will be waiting for Hungarians.

Gábor Török, one of the numerous political commentators, questioned the wisdom of the prime minister for putting so much emphasis on the referendum. What if too few people show up and the referendum is not valid? That would be a real embarrassment.

Why is Orbán trying so hard to get out the vote? Even if he didn’t reach the magic 50% + 1 threshold, polls last month showed that over 80% would vote “no,” as the government wants. This result would still show tremendous support for Viktor Orbán’s migration policies. One possible rationale for Orbán’s frantic scramble for votes is that this referendum is not so much about the migrants as it is about gauging (and beefing up) his current level of support.

Admittedly, if more than half of the electorate were to vote massively in line with the wishes of the government, his hand would be strengthened at gatherings of the European Council. “You see, my support at home is overwhelming.” Moreover, he could rest assured that he will remain prime minister for some time to come. But let’s say that only 37% of the electorate turned out to vote on October 2. Not only would he look weak in Brussels, he would look weak at home as well. Especially since the opposition parties more or less unanimously, if belatedly and in some cases half-heartedly, have finally agreed to support a boycott of the referendum. If 63% of eligible voters stay home, there is no way to know how many of them were just lazy or indifferent and how many were active boycotters.

Last week an article appeared in Élet és Irodalom by Mária Vásárhelyi, who is known to readers of Hungarian Spectrum because we have discussed her sociological studies extensively here over the past few years. It is titled “Népakarat vagy politikai manipuláció” (Will of the people of political manipulation). In it she convincingly argues that “in dictatorships and autocracies referendums are the most effective means of political manipulation,” an assertion she supports by pointing to the frequent referendums held in Hitler’s Germany. One of Hitler’s first moves after becoming chancellor was to change the law on referendums: they could be initiated only by the government. Vásárhelyi calls attention to the fact that the Orbán government in 2010 also changed the law on referendums and since then has done everything in its power to prevent holding any referendums initiated by the public. If a referendum in an autocratic regime is intended to increase support for the regime, the fact that the democratic opposition parties haven’t managed to come together and formulate one common message against the referendum “is an unforgivable sin against Hungarian democracy,” she concludes.

Vásárhelyi wrote those lines before the latest Závecz Research poll about the referendum came out. You may recall that a month ago I wrote an article titled “Orbán’s anti-refugee propaganda is a roaring success,” in which I reported on a survey conducted by the same polling company at the end of July. “The enthusiasm is tremendous,” I wrote. “At the moment the majority of the population (54%) plans to vote. If they actually follow through, the referendum will be both valid and, from the government’s viewpoint, stunningly successful. Only 19% of the population claim they will stay at home. Another 23% haven’t decided yet. Of those who intend to vote, 85-90% will vote ‘no.’”

Závecz Research repeated the survey at the end of August, when the opposition parties’ campaign hadn’t yet started. The hilarious anti-referendum posters of the Magyar kétfarkú kutya párt (party of the dog with two tails) were not yet on the streets. Nevertheless public enthusiasm for the referendum dropped considerably in the past month. Tibor Závecz now feels fairly certain that it will not be valid. The number of people who will vote to support the government has dropped and the number of undecided voters has grown. In July 54% of the electorate was intent on voting while today this number is only 41%. That is a very considerable change.

Here are some details. Support from Fidesz voters is pretty much unchanged. Sixty-four percent of them would go and vote “no.” But the number of those who would vote “yes,” that is against the government, has grown from 5.5 to 8.1%.

The changes that occurred in the month of August are most striking in the case of Jobbik voters, who in July were as enthusiastically supportive of the government’s position as Fidesz voters were (61.8%). That number in August has shrunk to 47%. The number of Jobbik supporters who will go and vote against the government has grown substantially, from 3.8% to 8.5%.

DK’s message has been very effective all along. It was a simple slogan: “Stay at home, stay in Europe.” Their supporters got the message. Seventy-three percent of them will boycott the referendum and 10.8% of them will vote “yes,” which is twice as large as it was in July.

MSZP with its mixed messages managed to confuse its already confused electorate. Their reactions are all over the map, but the upshot is that almost 15% of MSZP voters intend to vote “no,” which must be translated as support for the Orbán government. In addition, 20.2% of MSZP voters indicated that they would vote but claimed they haven’t decided how they will vote, which can easily mean a pro-Fidesz vote. About 20% haven’t decided whether they will vote or not and only 31% say they will stay at home, which is practically the same as it was a month ago. MSZP’s new leadership has proved to be an ineffective lot, perhaps because its members are split on the issue. Some of them share Orbán’s anti-immigrant stance, while others take the position that they have to keep in mind their supporters’ views, which are not exactly friendly toward the migrants. A good summary of MSZP’s attitude toward the referendum can be found in today’s 168 Óra.

A few days ago, in an interview, Richárd Szentpéteri-Nagy, a political analyst with the Méltányosság Politikaelemző Központ (Equity Center for Political Analysis), went further. He suspects that there are “a fair number of people within MSZP who are directly or indirectly maneuvered, instructed by Fidesz.” Mária Vásárhelyi puts forth another hypothesis. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the “mischievous” MSZP is perhaps already thinking of a possible Fidesz-MSZP coalition.

That’s where we stand at the moment. Only DK and the two other small parties, Együtt (Together) and PM, are consistent and steadfast opponents of the Orbán government which, as a friend told me, is being encircled with “increasingly quiet hatred.” The question is what this currently quiet electorate will do and whether there will be anyone to turn to for leadership when the time comes.

September 12, 2016

Another “traitor”: Fidesz gutter journalists attack Gábor Török

While the views of István Stumpf and Péter Tölgyessy, discussed in earlier posts, were ignored by the Fidesz media, this was not the case with Gábor Török, the well-known political commentator whose analyses have been closer to Fidesz than to the liberal side. Török, in a remarkable interview given to Magyar Nemzet, no longer even tries to hide his sympathies with the “national liberal, conservative liberal” side. I agree with him that there is no such thing as absolute political neutrality, but what is unacceptable is financial “dependence.” Unfortunately, in Hungary by now there are practically no independent political commentators in this sense of the word. Whether Török is truly independent or not, as he claims, we don’t know, but a lot of people accuse him of being in the pay of Fidesz. I personally doubt it.

How does Török see Fidesz, at least from 2002 on, a year he considers crucial in the recent political history of the country? He claims, I believe mistakenly, that prior to 2002 Fidesz was a party whose policies were driven by principles, that the unexpected loss at the 2002 election drove Viktor Orbán and his friends toward cynical and perhaps more realistic politics of sheer power. Since then party decisions have been driven by public opinion polls. “If I could change anything in Hungarian political life in the last few years it would be the results of the 2002 election,” Török said in the interview. It was at that time that Fidesz came to the conclusion that “power politics” should be placed ahead of principles and that the left discovered that with empty promises one can win elections.

Once the conversation moved to the present situation Török, who in the past had been extraordinarily careful to be “balanced,” a habit that earned him a lot of scorn from the liberals, decided to abandon his customary “neutrality” and show a much less forgiving side. I guess the Orbán regime’s many unacceptable political moves left him no choice. He now sees Fidesz as a party that cannot return to its former value-driven politics. “Fidesz will either be successful for years to come or will hit the wall…. The system that was built up in the last twenty-five years is extraordinarily stable…. There is no János Lázár or Antal Rogán who can unseat [Orbán]…. There will be a political right after Orbán, but it will have nothing in common with the present system.”

As for future prospects, Török believes that “the end cannot be anything but a total collapse,” which might be closer than we think. Even the 2018 election cannot be taken for granted. What if Fidesz is still the largest party but would have to form a coalition government either with Jobbik or with MSZP? Orbán in this case would find himself in an unenviable situation.

And then there are the domestic issues, which are becoming serious. The refugee crisis for the time being conceals the brewing domestic dissatisfaction, but how long will the Hungarian people believe that those beyond the fence are “dangerous zombies”? There are already signs of skepticism. When the scare tactics fade, a new miracle weapon will be needed. But what can follow? As for Viktor Orbán’s warlike rhetoric, “one day it will run counter to the actual state of affairs when even the semblance of rationality can no longer be maintained.” Fidesz politicians don’t seem to sense the danger and, since there is no strong opposition, they are not forced to offer “good governance.” Orbán’s system worked well as long as Orbán and Simicska cooperated. “Since their relationship was severed the whole system is crumbling.”

"Dirty Dozen's editorial: "Should we expel from Schengen?"

Dirty Dozen’s editorial: “Should we expel Belgium from Schengen?” / 888.hu

It was this interview that outraged the Fidesz loyalist political commentators, especially Gábor G. Fodor of Századvég, who became editor-in-chief of government financed 888.hu, “a political tabloid” specializing in gutter journalism. The title of G. Fodor’s article is “From ass-licking A: Gábor Török, our personal favorite.” In it G. Fodor carries out the usual character assassination of those who dare to express any criticism of Fidesz and the Orbán government. G. Fodor, who in the past had friendly political discussions with Török, now calls his colleague “a close political advisor of Jobbik.” G. Fodor accuses Török of being the man who is trying to bring Lajos Simicska, the former Fidesz oligarch, and Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, together. Proof? It’s not necessary. The only thing we know about any possible connection between Simicska and Vona is that on some recent public occasion they had a 10-15-minute conversation. But this is how Fidesz gutter journalism operates.

The story wouldn’t be complete without Török also being accused of having some affinity with Ferenc Gyurcsány, the devil incarnate. So, while Török is trying to forge an alliance between the extreme right and Simicska, his view of the “migrant crisis” is identical to Gyurcsány’s. “The fundamental structure of his thoughts is in no way different from any one of the left-wing critics. The same fiction, the same mythological simplicity.”

Now it is up to us to decide whether Török is a socialist-liberal talking head or a man who is trying to convince Lajos Simicska to finance an extreme right-wing party.

March 26, 2016

Hungarian Christian Democrats and freedom of the press

The Parisian terrorist attacks will have, I fear, a negative effect not only on Hungary’s immigration policy but also on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the country. At least this is the way things are looking at the moment.

In an earlier post I recalled Viktor Orbán’s long-standing belief that Europe as a whole and Hungary as part of the European Union should remain “European.” European in this case means ethnically and religiously pure. Until last week, however, we didn’t know that this sentiment was actually reflected in current government practice.

It was on Sunday afternoon, before Viktor Orbán’s by now infamous press conference railing against immigration to Europe, that I realized that strict anti-immigration policies have been in effect ever since 2010. They were introduced quietly, under cover so to speak. Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, had an interview with Zoltán Balog on Friday afternoon, which didn’t air until Sunday, in which he admitted that the Orbán government has been conducting an anti-immigration policy all along.

Now there is an opportunity to put this unspoken policy into law. On Monday morning Antal Rogán seconded Viktor Orbán’s position on the undesirability of immigration. The next day the “international spokesman” of the Orbán government, Zoltán Kovács, followed suit and explained the Hungarian position on CNN, not with the greatest success. Richard Quest, the reporter, worried that the kind of debate the Hungarians are promoting will become a witch hunt. He ended his program (and this is a rough transcript) by saying that

What’s worrying is when politicians start whipping up the rhetoric. `Hungary for Hungarians,’ – when it starts to become immigration must be stopped. Then you go into you’ve crossed the line. It’s no longer a debate about whether immigration is good or bad, it becomes one to whip up a ferment. History is replete with examples where this has happened, and anybody who tries to deny an innocent-sounding comment for what it could turn into in the future is simply misguided.

As it stands, four out of ten Hungarians share Viktor Orbán’s and his government’s point of view. Tárki, a Hungarian polling firm, has been keeping track of Hungarian xenophobia for some time. In the decade between 2002 and 2011, 24% to 33% of the population were anti-immigrant. After that date the anti-foreign sentiment shot up to 40%, which is not surprising given the rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and his government.

I talked earlier about some right-wing journalists who intimated that the staff at Charlie Hebdo were responsible for their own fate. They provoked the followers of Islam by drawing crude caricatures of their prophet. This argument is now being taken up by the Hungarian Christian Democrats who are, on the whole, even more radical than Fidesz when it comes to religiosity. Their party is often described as the “political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church.” According to their whip, Péter Harrach, “neither freedom of the press nor freedom of speech can be extended to blasphemy.”

ShawFareed Zakaria, the American reporter who came up with the label “illiberal democracy” for countries like Turkey or Hungary, wrote an article in The Washington Post on the subject of blasphemy. In it he pointed out that the Koran “prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.” However, as we know, today many Muslim countries have harsh laws against blasphemy. It seems that Péter Harrach finds this practice attractive. But Harrach doesn’t have to look to current Muslim practice for a model. As Zakaria points out, only “one holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible.” The Old Testament is full of stories of blasphemers who receive harsh punishment for their sin. It seems that Harrach wants to lead Hungary all the way back to Old Testament times.

This morning representatives of five parties  (Fidesz, KDNP, Jobbik, MSZP, LMP, Együtt) got together to discuss the fight against terrorism. According to Antal Rogán, the parties agreed that “the European Union cannot defend its member states” and that therefore they must formulate and enforce their own strategies. “Political correctness by now is not enough.” Fidesz suggests that “certain public symbols and values should receive special protection.” Rogán made it clear that “religious symbols” would certainly be covered by the new law. I wouldn’t be surprised if among Hungarians’ “common values” we would also find national symbols. Or even political offices. Or high dignitaries of the land, like the president or the president of the house.

There are some analysts, for example, Gábor Török, who are convinced that the terrorist attack in Paris came at the right time for Orbán, whose party lost another 2% in support last month. According to Ipsos, some of the lost voters drifted over to Jobbik, and therefore the Fidesz top leadership decided to turn up the volume on far-right talk. With this strategy they are hoping to regain solid control of the right. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be so sure. According to some fairly reliable sources, Fidesz leaders are not panicking over their loss of popularity at the moment. In their opinion, the current level of support is still high enough for the party to bounce back. Demonstrations will end soon, and people will forget about their grievances over the introduction of toll roads and the Sunday store closings.

As opposed to Török, I don’t believe that Orbán’s outburst in Paris has anything to do with his party’s popularity. I think that he is convinced of the ill effects of immigration and is happy that he found an opportunity to take up arms against it, alone if necessary, quite independently of the European Union. He most likely explored how far he can go and came to the conclusion that he can introduce a law that would effectively stop immigration to Hungary and that he could also restrict freedom of the press as long as the law does not differentiate between religions. Therefore, I fear that Hungarian journalists can look forward to greater restrictions to their freedom.

Fidesz insiders think Orbán’s days are numbered

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day usually offers little sustenance for news junkies. But today I discovered a front-page article in Népszava with the titillating title “Does Orbán have only months left?” The paper’s “sources close to Fidesz” claimed that “Orbán is already finished” and the only “question is who will take his place.”

The article was met with skepticism, especially in pro-government circles. Válasz described the article as sci-fi and “entertaining.” Gábor Török, the popular political scientist, wanted to know what his Facebook “friends” thought about the appearance of such items in the media. Do government politicians actually say such things to reporters of an opposition paper or are the reporters only giving voice to their wishes? The comments that followed were a mixed bag but a reporter, András Kósa, who also receives information from dissatisfied Fidesz politicians, didn’t think that the article was fantasy, although it might be exaggerated. Here and there commenters thought that Fidesz will collapse as soon as Viktor Orbán is gone, but most “friends” of Török considered the article humbug. I’m less skeptical than most of Török’s friends because I’ve usually found Népszava to be reliable when it reports on information coming from unnamed sources.

So, let’s see what Népszava heard from “sources close to Fidesz.” They claim that Orbán’s “system” has no more than a few months before it collapses. Apparently Fidesz politicians are increasingly avoiding the limelight because “the fall is inevitable. In their opinion Orbán started down a road from which there is no return. Not only will he himself be the victim of his own mistakes but also his party and the country itself.”

The problems that beset the work of the government emanate from the character flaws of the prime minister: inconsistency, impenetrability, and unpredictability. Most government and Fidesz officials have no idea what course they are supposed to pursue. Orbán trusts fewer and fewer people, and the ones he still does give him wrong advice. He apparently is looking for enemies everywhere, and this is one of the reasons that government decisions are not preceded by any discussion. It often happens that Orbán himself changes his mind in the last minute, which makes consistent communication nearly impossible. Underlings parrot a line that has been superseded by a new brainstorm of the prime minister. More and more people would like to save themselves from such embarrassments.

According to these informants, serious problems within Fidesz are not new although they are only now becoming visible. Signs of trouble began to surface when Orbán decided, sometime before the April elections, to change the “structure” under which Fidesz had been functioning very well for over twenty years. Until then, Lajos Simicska was in charge of the party’s finances, but “from the moment that Orbán decided to take over economic decisions” the old dual structure collapsed and with it the well-functioning system. When Orbán again managed to receive a two-thirds majority, he completely lost his sense of judgment. As months went by, anti-Orbán murmurs in the party began to proliferate, and the Christian Democrats, realizing that Orbán was losing his grip on the party, decided to put pressure on the beleaguered prime minister. That’s why Orbán had to give in on the unpopular law that forces stores to be closed on Sundays.

What observers see is no longer a “system” but a political process based on day-by-day ad hoc decisions which, according to the saner Fidesz leaders, cannot be maintained because “it is incapable of self-correction.”

The informers seem to have less information about actual attempts to topple Viktor Orbán. Names were not mentioned, but they indicated that the people they had in mind “would be quite capable of taking over the reins of government without changing political direction.” Népszava‘s sources consider Angela Merkel’s planned visit to Budapest in February a date of great importance. I guess they think that Merkel will tell Orbán that he is persona non grata as far as the European People’s Party and the European Commission are concerned.

CalendarNépszava‘s description of the strife and chaos within Fidesz is most likely accurate. The question is what Orbán is planning to do to forestall the outcome described by Népszava‘s sources. For the time being, as we learned from the interviews of János Lázár, Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér, he will fight to hold onto power by convincing his Peace March troops that the “fatherland is in danger.” I’m almost certain that internal polls are being taken to gauge support. Would it be possible to turn out 100,000 people to defend the prime minister against foreign and domestic intrigues? I assume that the size of the planned anti-government demonstrations on January 2 will also influence Orbán’s decision about the next step to take to combat his opponents inside and outside the party.

In any case, for the time being it was Antal Rogán who was called upon to announce a countermeasure that might take the wind out of anti-government sails.  It is called the “National Defense Action Plan.” The details are secret for the time being, but it most likely includes some kind of answer to the United States’ decision to bar six Hungarian citizens from the United States due to corruption. It is also likely that a huge propaganda effort will be launched to discredit the U.S.-EU free trade agreement that until now the Hungarian government has welcomed. According to government and Fidesz sources, the “National Defense Action Plan” was put together in the prime minister’s office by Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, Péter Szijjártó, and Árpád Habony (who neither holds an official government position nor has national security clearance). These are the people who make most of the decisions in the Orbán government.

Meanwhile what are the anti-Orbán political forces doing in this fluid situation? Ferenc Gyurcsány decided to ask those followers who have been at the anti-government demonstrations all along to bring party posters and flags to the January 2 demonstration. József Tóbiás, leader of MSZP, did not respond to Gyurcsány’s request to follow DK’s lead. But István Újhelyi, an MSZP MEP, announced today a socialist “diplomatic offensive” against the Orbán government. Orbán must be stopped because his “Russian roulette” will have tragic consequences.

At the beginning of the new year there will be at least two important events. First, the mass demonstration planned for January 2 in front of the Opera House. Three years ago a gigantic anti-government demonstration also took place there, and for a whole month newspapers kept asking how long Orbán could last. We are again asking the same question. Since Orbán not only survived but thrived in the last three years, some people might come to the conclusion that the Hungarian prime minister will always triumph, even in the most perilous circumstances. But I would caution the pessimists. Three years ago the pressure came only from the inside. This time Orbán has embroiled himself and the country in a high stakes international power play in addition to alienating about 900,000 of his former supporters.

The second event will be Orbán’s new “remedy,” the “National Defense Action Plan.” Will it work? Is Orbán strong enough to rally his troops for another supportive Peace March as he did in 2012? And even if he manages, will anybody care?

Dissension in Fidesz: Is Viktor Orbán’s leadership safe?

There is no question, the Orbán government is in trouble. And when there is trouble there is dissension. Of course, this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán’s political edifice has stood on shaky ground, but this latest quake has been the most serious of all.

In the middle of 2011 dissatisfaction with the government was considerable. Fidesz’s popularity in the polls was almost as low as it is now. Most of the government’s decisions were unpopular and there was genuine fear that Orbán’s new system of national cooperation would inevitably lead to an authoritarian state. By the end of 2011 sizable crowds could be called out to demonstrate against the government and for the republic.

During these stressful times rumors circulated that people close to Viktor Orbán were voicing their concerns and suggesting caution. Let’s not irritate the population further with unpopular decisions. Although it is normally difficult to learn much about the internal workings of Fidesz, it seems that several people raised their voices against Orbán’s strategy at the Fidesz congress held in July 2011. Criticizing the prime minister were László Kövér, Tibor Navracsics, and Zoltán Pokorni. Today these people have almost no say in the running of either the party or the government. Zoltán Pokorni, although on paper still vice-president of Fidesz, is only the humble mayor of a Budapest district. Tibor Navracsics, after being first minister of justice and later minister of foreign affairs, is today a marginalized EU commissioner. Kövér, although he rules the House with an iron fist, has no significant influence on the party.

By the end of 2012 Viktor Orbán silenced his critics with his masterstroke of lowering utility prices across the board. The unpopular decisions continued, but the majority of the Hungarian people were disarmed by a few thousand forints worth of savings on their utility bills. And those who at the beginning of the year were demonstrating against the government retreated, acknowledging the hopelessness of their cause. Fidesz’s popularity bounced back.

2014 began as a great year for Fidesz. After all, it easily won three elections within a few months, largely because of an unfair election law and the lack of a viable political alternative. I’m sure that the current Fidesz leadership–Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, and Péter Szijjártó–never imagined that by October a storm of anti-government sentiment would be unleashed.

In the past, every time the party was under fire the answer of Viktor Orbán and his closest associates was that the prime minister’s strategy had always proved correct in the long run. Surely, this gifted magician will shape the future as well. But the situation today is different. Orbán is in trouble not only because of domestic unrest but also because of his failed foreign policy initiatives. Some of his associates realize that he is unacceptable to Hungary’s allies, the European Union and the United States. And thus ostracized by his allies, Orbán endangers his country’s standing in the western world. Orbán’s position is shaky not only at home but abroad as well. And his critics have been much more outspoken than ever before.

One big difference between the earlier times of trouble and now is that the sharp exchanges between Orbán and his closest associates on the one hand and their critics on the other are now out in the open. Earlier they took place in private and the public learned about them only second-hand. The critics have become emboldened.

The brewing palace revolution began with a fairly innocuous sentence by Zoltán Pokorni about the flaunting of wealth on the part of people like János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, Lajos Kósa, András Giró-Szász, and the mysterious Árpád Habony. János Kövér, most likely independently from Pokorni, expressed his misgivings about these people “living in great style.” Perhaps, he suggested, it would be a good idea to hold back a bit. That caused János Lázár, whose Rolex watch and whose gift of a 60-million forint apartment to his 10-year-old son was one of the reasons for public outrage, to turn against Pokorni in an interview he gave to Figyelő, a weekly that appeared yesterday. Here is the exact quotation: “A political veteran should think twice before, either out of personal resentment or political considerations, he weakens us because he at the same time weakens or executes himself.” Lázár didn’t mince words: he considers Pokorni’s remark “a stab in the back.” He views the criticism coming from Kövér and Pokorni as a generational clash. These old fogies should realize that their time has passed. His generation, the thirty- to forty-year-olds, is running the show now.  444.hu translated Lázár’s words as a message to the insurgents: those who go against the current leadership have no political future. Kövér did not respond, but Pokorni made a conciliatory statement that he shared with vs.hu. Apparently Lázár’s attack on Pokorni was approved and encouraged by Viktor Orbán himself.

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

Why did Pokorni’s remark raise such a furor in the top leadership? Budapest is full of possible, if mostly implausible explanations. One is that both the United States and Germany came to the conclusion that it is impossible to work with Viktor Orbán and they hope that someone else in the party might be able to replace him. Rumor has it that the American favorite is Zoltán Pokorni, while Germany favors János Lázár. That’s why Lázár reacted so violently to Pokorni’s remarks. To tell you the truth, I don’t believe a word of that story. Pokorni has not been in the forefront of national politics for a very long time and, as far as Lázár is concerned, who in his right mind would want to work with him?

Gábor Török, a popular political scientist who has an influential blog, is known to be somewhat partial to Fidesz, but lately he has become more outspoken than usual. He is convinced that all the negative news about the corruption of people like Lázár, Rogán, and Kósa must come from the inside and that Fidesz is “full of Brutuses.” According to him, “there will be no uprising until its leaders are confident that Orbán, after leaving Fidesz, will be unable to establish a party that could win against them.” Once they believe that Orbán is not a political threat, the young Turks will not hesitate for a moment.

Well, this opinion might not be terribly off the mark. Török has many friends in Fidesz and is more familiar with the situation in the party than most political scientists of a liberal persuasion. I should mention that Török finds the strained relations between Viktor Orbán and Washington extremely serious. I agree with him. As Török  said, Viktor Orbán has no idea how much the Americans really know, not just about his close associates but about his own dealings. And that must be very troubling to him because surely he has been the coordinator of the systemic corruption that has permeated the country, especially since 2010.

Some musings on Hungarian politics today

I hope I haven’t bored you to death with my continuing saga of the Hungarian democratic opposition’s struggles, but there are still many aspects of the issue that are worth investigating.

The general consensus is that Gordon Bajnai is the victim of a political game that has been going on for the last year and a half. On October 12, 2012, Gordon Bajnai seemed to be the messiah the anti-Orbán forces were waiting for. He offered himself as the beacon of the opposition; with his name on their banner they could march toward a better future in the name of democracy. He didn’t establish a party at that time but a kind of umbrella organization under which the groupings on the left could gather.

The initial reaction was fantastic. There were at least 50,000 people who cheered him on, and a few weeks later Medián registered a 14% approval rating for his organization. But from there on it was all downhill. Attila Mesterházy seized the initiative and suggested immediate negotiations with all the parties and former eminent politicians on the left. It was at this point that Gordon Bajnai, most likely on the advice of his former chief-of-staff, Viktor Szigetvári, decided to postpone negotiations. The rest of the story is only too well known, and there is no need to repeat it here.

Most commentators are burying Gordon Bajnai as a politician. In fact, many of them suggest that his failure is largely due to the fact that he is not a politician but a technocrat. They talk about his inept moves. Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus who rarely minces words, blames Bajnai for “ending up exactly where we were in 2010.” According to her, he “stepped back into the nothingness, he ceased to be a counterweight, even if a minimal one, and handed full powers to Mesterházy.” The title of her short piece is “Congratulations to Gordon Bajnai.”

In this game most people see Attila Mesterházy as the ultimate winner. Someone who first managed to get rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány and hence remained his party’s only authoritative voice. And then came his next victim, Gordon Bajnai. However, according to one analyst, there is still one more possible victim–Ferenc Gyurcsány, who by joining the Mesterházy-led formation will find himself in the same corrupt socialist party that he left two years ago. Surely, the commentator, Zsolt Zsebesi of gepnarancs.hu, is no friend of the socialists and its chairman. His Mesterházy is a schemer and a power-hungry man who has been wanting to be prime minister ever since childhood. According to him, Mesterházy loves power as much as Viktor Orbán does. But what is worse, he writes, is that Mesterházy, other than being good at jostling in the intra-party power games, has no other redeeming qualities. He has no vision and no competence when it comes to becoming the next prime minister of Hungary.

Árpád W. Tóta, a witty commentator and sharp observer, goes even further. He recalls in his opinion piece that an economist complained just the other day that the democratic opposition cannot offer anything more than a return to the pre-2010 world. But, Tóta continues, such a program would actually not be bad at all. The problem is that this crew within the socialist party is a great deal less talented than their predecessors. Gyula Horn, László Kovács, Ferenc Gyurcsány were ready for victory. Mesterházy is the only one who seems to be at a loss. (Actually Tóta, who sprinkles his writing with four-letter words, said something stronger than that.) His final conclusion is that the socialists, by trying to distance themselves from the infamous “last eight years” (2002-2010), are committing a folly. They can win only by identifying themselves with those years and should be glad  if they are not judged by the last three and a half years.

I must say that I have a better opinion of Mesterházy than those from whose writings I just quoted. Mesterházy seems to have managed to keep the party together which, considering the devastating defeat they suffered, was quite an achievement. Any comparison with Viktor Orbán, of course, is ridiculous, but having Mesterházy at the top of the ticket is certainly not a calamity. The only question is whether he can run a successful campaign that results in a change of government. And no one knows that yet.

Perhaps the most interesting comment came from Gábor Török, a political scientist whose comments usually annoy me because they are insipid and wishy-washy. One cannot pin him down on anything. But last night he made a good point on his blog. His argument goes something like this. For the time being Mesterházy seems to have won, but it will be some time before we know what his fate will be in the long run because, if the joint opposition forces lose the election, it can easily happen that he will be blamed for the failure. That his personal ambition was too high a price to pay for another four years of Viktor Orbán. On the other hand, for Ferenc Gyurcsány it is a win-win situation. He won this round and, if the new formation headed by Mesterházy loses the election, he will be declared a prophet, an excellent politician whose advice should have been heeded.

I should also say a few words about the PM contingent within the Együtt-2014-PM alliance. PM stands for Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary). The politicians of PM are the ones who broke away from LMP due to András Schiffer’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with other democratic parties. Some of these people swore that they would never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. And now, here they are. Katalin Ertsey, a member of LMP’s caucus, even today can repeat with disgust that her former colleagues in the party “lie in the same bed with Gyurcsány.” Yet the PM members are ready to cooperate because they rightly point out that times have changed and it would be most irresponsible not to do so.

However, Péter Juhász, a civic leader who organized large anti-government demonstrations on the Internet, refuses to be on the same ticket with Gyurcsány. But that is not his only problem. He also rejects joining a ticket that is headed by Attila Mesterházy.

I always considered Juhász muddle-minded. I can’t understand how it was possible that Juhász didn’t notice until now that there was a very good chance of Mesterházy’s becoming prime minister if the Együtt-2014-PM-MSZP coalition happens to win the election. Because according to the original agreement the head of the list that receives the most votes will become prime minister. And there was never any point in time when Együtt-2014-PM was anywhere near MSZP’s popularity. Then what are we talking about? In any case, my reaction is: good riddance. I found Juhász a detriment to the cause.

And finally, Mandiner, the conservative site run by mostly young journalists, decided to devote a whole article with lots of pictures to Gyurcsány. It was supposed to be funny and whole thing was written in an ironic style. They included a video from the great MSZP campaign demonstration on Heroes’ Square and Andrássy út in 2006.

Of course, I saw this video earlier. In fact, I think I watched the whole fanfare. But it is an entirely different experience to watch it today, eight years later. The comparison between the self-confident MSZP in 2006 in the middle of the campaign and now is really staggering. I thought I would share this video with you to see the contrast and the sad state of the party today. Can it be revived? And if yes, how? And by whom? Or will it die and will something else come in its place?