Tag Archives: Magyar Szocialista Párt

Botka’s formal introduction as MSZP’s candidate for Hungary’s new prime minister

Two days have gone by since László Botka, mayor of Szeged and MSZP’s candidate for the premiership, delivered a fifty-minute speech which has since received mixed reviews. The most quoted part of the speech was a frontal attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány as an impediment to electoral victory. Not even the socialists seem to be entirely happy with Botka’s attack, especially since Botka’s party is in the midst of negotiations with the other democratic opposition parties, including the largest among them, Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció. After the speech Lajos Bokros, former minister of finance and chairman of Modern Magyarország Mozgalom Párt (MoMa), withdrew from the negotiation process while Párbeszéd accused Botka of lifting one of its signature programs, the introduction of a guaranteed basic income.

The speech, both in content and in delivery, began well enough, but after about ten minutes Botka lost some of his early eloquence. The speech deteriorated at times into a hurried laundry list.

In his editorial Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of Népszava, while noting that the speech could be considered an ideological shift for MSZP, said that most commentators paid little attention to the socialists’ turn leftward and concentrated only on the vicious assault against the former prime minister. After this speech, he said, MSZP must make clear what the party’s intentions are. Does Botka’s speech mean the discontinuation of the negotiations? Has MSZP opted to confront Fidesz alone in 2018? It’s time to decide. Index’s Szabolcs Dull shares Németh’s opinion that “we will most remember [Botka’s speech] as an event at which Botka publicly assailed Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

Since the transcript of the speech is available, I can quote some of the more controversial passages verbatim. The reader must keep in mind that László Botka has been an MSZP politician for 23 years. With the exception of the 1998-2002 period, he was a member of parliament between 1994 and 2010. He has been mayor of Szeged since 2002. Therefore, one must take with a grain of salt that Botka bears no responsibility whatsoever for “the missteps committed by the left-liberal governments, especially between 2002 and 2010.” And he continues: “Those who lied into the eyes of the electorate are liabilities for the left and they therefore should decamp…. In Hungary consolidation and peace will come only when the two most divisive politicians in the country, the beloved and/or hated icons, at last leave the sanctuary of politics.” Gyurcsány’s reaction to this assault was muted: “The voters will decide who has a place in the democratic public life of Hungary. I, as a voter, would give a place to Botka also. Moreover, I wish him much success.”

Watching the video taken at the event, I came to the conclusion that there was a divide when it came to Botka’s attack. There are those, like István Ujhelyi, MSZP member of the European Parliament, who believe that cooperation with the other parties will materialize despite Botka’s outburst. I saw István Hiller sitting rather stone faced without applauding. I assume those who are enthusiastic about Botka’s strong language think that the leadership of DK will tell their chairman to go and fly a kite and will merrily cooperate with MSZP and Botka. But “others are less optimistic as far as electoral cooperation is concerned.” They are seriously worried that this speech might end all negotiation between MSZP and DK, which may result in a devastating loss for the democratic parties on the left. Jobbik was not far off when the party claimed that “it became clear that László Botka, MSZP candidate for the premiership, and MSZP don’t want to defeat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán but Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció.” Botka bet everything on a single card. His hope seems to be that his strong speech will whip up such enthusiasm for the socialist party that it will be able to beat the forces of Fidesz and Jobbik singlehanded. Suddenly, the opinion polls will show an incredible shift in popularity for the party and, as a result, it will draw those one million undecided voters Botka referred to in his speech in addition to the loyal DK voters who will see the light and switch their votes to the revitalized socialist party.

Of course, anything is possible, perhaps even this scenario, but it is not very likely. Only a joint anti-Orbán force has any chance of removing the present government from power. Moreover, I have been convinced for some time that most commentators and politicians don’t study the polls that could give us direct or indirect clues about the political attitudes of the electorate carefully enough. For instance, the Závecz poll’s findings that about 75% of the electorate would not vote for a ticket that had Gyurcsány’s name on the list is misleading because it also includes millions of Fidesz and Jobbik voters who would not vote for a left-wing party or parties no matter what. The same is true of the undecided voters. When Závecz came out with its finding that for half of the undecided voters Gyurcsány’s presence would make a difference, the assumption was that all these people would vote for the left. But, of course, this is not the case. Therefore, this whole Závecz report, on which many people on the left rely, is totally useless as a guide for future action. I’m convinced that most people who want to get rid of Orbán don’t give a hoot whether Gyurcsány’s name is on the list or not–as long as it’s not at the top of the list.

The government press is naturally delighted. Magyar Idők’s headline reads: “László Botka: Gyurcsány is a burden on the left.” However, Tamás Lánczi, a a right-wing political scientist and the new editor-in-chief of Figyelő, gave a surprisingly objective assessment of the speech in an interview on Inforádió. In his opinion, the speech contained many significant elements, but Botka’s attacks shifted attention away from its essence. It might be the case that the candidate for the premiership has to show strength, but “we know from various surveys and research papers that the voters of MSZP and DK readily cross-vote. The voters of the two parties don’t look upon each other as enemies, and therefore there is the possibility of cooperation.”

I must say I have to agree with the young Lánczi. Where I disagree with him is in his description of Botka’s speech as populist. I’m afraid Lánczi doesn’t know the true meaning of the word. Let me quote Jan-Werner Müller, who just published the highly acclaimed book What is Populism? A few days ago an interview appeared with Müller in Bloomberg titled “Why Donald Trump Really Is a Populist.” Müller said: “Not everyone who criticizes elites is automatically a populist. Rather, populists always claim that they—and they alone—properly represent the people or what they frequently call ‘the real people’ or the ‘silent majority.’”

Botka gave a social democratic speech, which emphasized social justice within the framework of a capitalist economy. It’s too bad that most Hungarians have no idea what the speech was really about. It deserves considered debate. The Gyurcsány bashing doesn’t.

February 20, 2017

Blunder after blunder on the left

When I woke up this morning and took a quick look at the latest news, I found stories about a murder and an abandoned baby. Nothing of import seemed to be happening politically, so I figured I’d have to turn to one of the subjects I put aside for no-news days. But then, about five hours later, I learned of two events that will most likely have serious repercussions for the future of the democratic opposition. One was the forced departure of Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy from the Demokratikus Koalíció; the other, an interview with Gyula Molnár on HírTV regarding MSZP’s policy on “compulsory quotas.”

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy’s departure from DK

When Kerék-Bárczy joined DK in 2013 it was a real coup for Ferenc Gyurcsány because he came from the moderate right. Although his political career began in Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), after 1998 he became the chief-of-staff of István Stumpf, who headed the prime minister’s office in the Orbán government. Later he served as an adviser to Foreign Minister János Martonyi, and in 2001 he was named consul-general in Los Angeles. He stayed in this position even after Fidesz lost the election in 2002. Between 2007 and 2010 he served as the spokesman of Ibolya Dávid’s moderate, right-of-center, by now defunct MDF.

kerek-barczy2

For the last three years he has been an enthusiastic supporter of DK. If he had any doubts about the direction in which DK was heading, it was not at all obvious. But then came today when he published an article in 168 Óra titled “Paradigm shift!” in which he described the generally sad state of the opposition and offered his solutions. Support for the left, he wrote, hasn’t changed substantially in the last six years and, to win the next election, “the democrats would need between 500,000 and 1,000,000 new voters.” The Orbán government doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority, but the left cannot win “with its present structure.” The parties don’t trust each other and the electorate doesn’t trust them. The leadership is the same as it was in 2014, and if remains the same, failure is guaranteed.

He pointed out that competition among the parties of the left hasn’t resulted in any one party breaking loose from the pack. They are only taking votes from each other. The rivalry among the parties only deepens the gulf between those who are destined to cooperate. The strife caused by this competition alienates the moderate “middle.”

So, what is Kerék-Bárczy’s answer? It is his conviction that elections can be won only from the middle, which for him means “the moderate conservative, conservative-liberal community,” without whom there can be no victory.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I consider criticizing one’s own party’s decisions a perfectly legitimate, most likely even useful enterprise. But for an insider to publish a “tell-all” party-bashing article is another matter entirely.

So, let’s see what the DK leadership found so objectionable. First of all, Kerék-Bárczy accused members of the democratic opposition of not even wanting to win the next election. He let the public know that on DK’s own board there are people with different visions: (1) Fidesz can be beaten. (2) DK will be the largest party on the left. (3) DK can’t elect more than 15-20 people to the next parliament. “Putting these three together is absurdity itself.”

In his opinion DK’s strategy is fundamentally faulty. It first wants to be the largest party on the left. Once this is accomplished, the party will turn toward the middle in the hope of electoral victory. According to Kerék-Bárczy, this strategy has already failed. “It occurred to many of our members that our strategy doesn’t serve a 2018 victory but that only a couple dozen of our leaders will manage to receive parliamentary mandates.”

It didn’t take more than 20 minutes for DK’s board to decide that they no longer want to see Kerék-Bárczy in the party. Several called him a traitor. The pro-government media was delighted. On the left journalists reported Kerék-Bárczy’s departure from DK without comment. 444.hu was the only exception. It described him as one of the greatest political survivors of the post-1990 period who now is leaving the sinking ship because “it just occurred to him that the opposition will not win in 2018.” They also insinuated that perhaps he is hoping to become an ambassador somewhere thanks to his earlier position as consul general during the Fidesz administration.

Gyula Molnár is mighty confused

Last night, in an interview that lasted only about five minutes, Gyula Molnár got so mixed up that we have no idea where his party stands not just on “compulsory quotas” but on the whole refugee crisis and Viktor Orbán’s policies. I suggest that those who understand the language take a look at the interview. His key message was that “in legal terms we consider the referendum superfluous and from the point of view of Europe risky. But if the question of [compulsory quotas] ever comes up, we are ready to support the government in its fight against it.” The interviewer almost fell off his chair and reminded Molnár that, in that case, his party’s position on the issue is identical to Fidesz’s. That response so confused Molnár that he started piling contradictory remarks one on top of the other until one could find neither rhyme nor reason in the whole confused mess. At one point he argued that the money spent on the referendum could be spent better, for example, on giving it to the soldiers defending the border. But a few seconds later he condemned the very fence the soldiers were defending. It was a communication disaster.

molnargyula3

Magyar Narancs was not kind to Molnár when it published a short opinion piece titled “The chairman of MSZP bravely squeaks from the pocket of Fidesz.” In the paper’s opinion, either Molnár thinks that there will be no compulsory quotas and therefore it matters not what he says or Fidesz bought him. But, they added, there is a third possibility: “this man is an imbecile.” In normal circumstances what Molnár says wouldn’t make any difference, but “in a referendum campaign it means canvassing for the nay votes, in other words, for Fidesz, or more precisely for Viktor Orbán. But what else can be expected from the head of the largest opposition party?” The “head” here has a special meaning, of course. Magyar Nemzet also interpreted Molnár’s confused message as MSZP’s attempt at “jockeying.”

Finally, let me add a few observations. I understand that Facebook is full of condemnations of MSZP’s latest blunder. Just because Fidesz has been successful with its xenophobic messages and its harsh, un-Christian attitude toward people escaping war and hunger, the MSZP leadership shouldn’t assume that it could boost its support by joining Viktor Orbán’s pack. On the contrary, those who oppose the government might just shrug their shoulders and say, “Why should I vote for MSZP? After all, both are cut from the same cloth.” Or, perhaps even worse from the point of the party, MSZP supporters will decide that DK’s message on the issue is much more straightforward, simple and consistent. The message of MSZP on this issue was always murky, but by now if I were an MSZP voter I really wouldn’t know what my party’s stance is on the issue. There are times when I think that the majority of the politicians on the left are total nincompoops.

September 1, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s latest attack on the European Union

Perhaps tomorrow we will know more about the plans of the European Commission regarding the revision of the so-called Dublin asylum regulations. The revision may contain a punitive pay-off clause that would affect those countries–the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia–that refuse to take the number of refugees the Commission assigned to them in September 2015. According to the Financial Times, the Commission is contemplating a fine of €250,000 per refugee. For Poland, which first agreed to admit 6,200 refugees but later reneged on its promise, this would mean €1.5 billion. Hungary, which was supposed to take 1,294 refugees, would end up with a fine of 323 million euros or 100 billion forints.

The original European Commission decision on quotas was carefully worded. It talked about the temporary relocation of asylum seekers, wording that will gain special significance when we talk about the Hungarian referendum question that was just approved today by the Kúria.

On February 24 Viktor Orbán made an announcement that his government planned to hold a referendum that would allow the electorate to vote on the following question: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” At the time I called the government’s plan to hold a referendum on the subject “Orbán’s latest stunt.” I also wondered, along with many others, whether holding such a referendum might not be unconstitutional because the basic law of 2011 clearly states that “no national referendum may be held on … any obligation arising from an international agreement.” (Article 8) And even if it is ruled constitutional, Article 19 states that “Parliament may ask the Government for information on its position to be adopted in the decision-making process of the European Union’s institutions operating with the Government’s participation, and may express its position about the draft on the agenda in the procedure. In the European Union’s decision-making process, the Government shall take Parliament’s position into consideration.” In plain language, parliament has no direct jurisdiction over the dealings between Hungary and the European Union, at best an advisory role. There have also been questions concerning the formulation of the question. Legal scholars challenged the reference to “compulsory settlement” (betelepítés), which doesn’t exist in either Hungarian or EU law. Objections were also raised over the mention of the European Union as not being a precise term in this context.

These reservations didn’t impress the Kúria, which brushed aside all applications for review. In the judges’ opinion the question was appropriate from the point of view of both the constitution and the law on referendums. They ruled that EU treaties cannot be compared to other international treaties. The referendum question does not touch on the treaties signed at the time Hungary was admitted to join the Union but relates to EU law itself. As for the competence of parliament, such matters as laws governing the settlement of non-Hungarian citizens, their status and the duration of their stay belong to the jurisdiction of the Hungarian lawmakers. Finally, as far as the term “compulsory settlement” is concerned, it can be understood by most people as “placement” of foreigners “for a lengthier period of time” inside the borders of the country. The judges had no objection to the use of the word “European Union” in a general sense because “it is a well known organizational concept, a generic term” meaning “the decision making body of the European Union.” The Kúria this time was not the stickler it was in earlier cases, when every word in the text was carefully scrutinized and usually rejected.

When Orbán announced his intention to hold a referendum, legal scholars considered the conceptual structure underpinning the question so legally flawed that they were certain that neither the members of the National Election Commission nor the Kúria could possibly approve it unless, as one of them said, these two bodies are filled with “lackeys.” Well, it looks as if they are.

state border

Naturally, the opposition is up in arms. Gábor Fodor’s Magyar Liberális Párt (MLP) is planning to go to the Constitutional Court. They will appeal to the judges to defend the very institution of referendums because here the government is proposing to hold one that serves the political interests of Fidesz exclusively. Holding such a referendum “will further deepen the government-induced hatred toward refugees and foreigners.”

Együtt still insists that the question is unconstitutional since it concerns international treaties and its meaning is far from clear. The Kúria’s argument is unacceptable because it lends credence to “the Orbanite lie about compulsory quotas” when they simply don’t exist. Otherwise, the party leaders are urging people to boycott the referendum.

The Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) is also asking its voters not to vote. Considering that DK has about half a million devoted followers, such a request will most likely bring results. DK claims that “the referendum is not about the accommodation of one thousand people but about the rejection of our European Union membership. This mendacious referendum wants people to believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch and that we can be a stowaway in the European Union who evades his responsibilities while holding out his hand for its benefits.” The party’s spokesman added that “those who boycott the referendum will vote for Europe.” This is a good argument politically because the overwhelming majority of Hungarians want to remain part of the European Union.

The position of the leaders of the socialists (MSZP) is quite different. Currently, they are collecting signatures to hold referendums on two issues: (1) capping the monthly salaries of state company managers as well as any holders of high offices financed by the government at two million forints and (2) stopping the sale of agricultural lands still in state hands. Interestingly enough, in 2010 it was the Orbán government that insisted on such a salary cap. However, lately they have been jacking up salaries at an accelerated rate. As for the sale of state lands, there is no need to rehash the corruption that surrounds these transactions.

József Tóbiás, chairman of MSZP, claims that they are making great progress at collecting the necessary 200,000 signatures that would allow them to hold a referendum on these two questions. It would, he maintains, be logical to hold only one referendum at which all three questions would be on the ballot. I guess MSZP politicians fear that these two questions are not “exciting enough” to draw enough voters to render the referendum valid. On the other hand, as we know, Orbán’s referendum question is enthusiastically supported by millions. If Orbán manages to whip up enough enthusiasm in the fall when the referendum most likely will take place, his phony referendum might be valid despite the exceedingly high voter turnout requirement (50% of the whole electorate).

I must say that I will never understand the thought processes of the current MSZP politicians. The only sensible reaction to the Kúria’s decision is to boycott the referendum whose very question is illegitimate. According to the latest polls, MSZP has been gaining support, most likely because of its resoluteness in fighting the National Election Office, the National Election Commission, and Fidesz’s machinations in trying to prevent the party’s representative from turning in his referendum question on Sunday store closings at the National Election Office. The opportunistic move Tóbiás is now contemplating, however, will not endear the party to those who want to have a resolute, even unyielding stance against the current government. In making a deal with Fidesz, MSZP is again playing games for which its former voters will not reward it.

May 3, 2016

Is democracy a useless slogan in Hungarian political discourse?

I’m pretty sure that all of you have heard over and over from friends and acquaintances that no party that talks too much about the importance of democracy in Hungary can possibly win an election. People are disappointed in democracy, which only brought them misery, a drop in living standards, and systemic corruption. Some commentators go even further: the Hungarian people have always been conservative, bordering on a fascination with the far right, and therefore no party on the left can ever win an election. These are the statements I would like explore in this post.

As things stand now, the best recipe for electoral success seems to be unbridled nationalism and the hatred of strangers. At least this was what brought back into the fold at least half a million voters who had abandoned Fidesz during the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015. But that strategy has been trademarked by Fidesz, and the pitiful imitators on the left only make themselves ridiculous by trying to repeat the worn-out nationalistic phrases coined by the “parrot commando.” Fidesz voters will not be impressed by politicians of the small democratic parties who feel compelled to add the adjective “Hungarian” every time they utter the word “people.” This road leads nowhere.

Another possible way to tilt the odds in favor of the political forces on the left is to offer an immediate financial reward to the state employees—doctors, nurses, teachers—who at the moment are on the lowest rungs of the pay scale. Lately the socialist party (MSZP) has been trying out this tactic, without much success. The apathetic populace no longer believes that their living standards will change for the better any time soon, and they no longer believe politicians’ promises. Moreover, as we know from past experience, a one-time large increase in wages can be forgotten by the electorate within months.

So, let’s go back to the original statement about the alleged hopelessness of winning an election in Hungary in the name of democracy and social justice. I would like to argue against the proposition that the failure of the democratic opposition is due to their emphasis on democracy, which has lost its appeal in the eyes of the electorate. Of the five parties on the left, it is Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) that places the greatest emphasis on the necessity of restoring democratic norms. Gyurcsány finishes every speech with a call for a return of the Third Republic, which basically means a restoration of the pre-2010 period. And yet DK is the only party that has been able to grow steadily, to the point that its level of support practically equals that of MSZP, which has fluctuated between 16% at its height in 2013 and its current 10%. If the mention of the word “democracy” was such poison for a party, then DK should have remained on the level of Együtt (Together) and PM (Dialogue), with 1% support each. Surely, it is not a party’s devotion to democratic values that makes a party successful or unsuccessful.

The structure and leadership of a party is, in my opinion, a much more important factor, and here DK is in a better position than MSZP. Critics rightly point out that DK is so closely associated with Ferenc Gyurcsány, as Fidesz is with Viktor Orbán, that if either of them suddenly disappeared their parties would most likely collapse. However, having one person whose standing within the party is unquestioned lends strength and stability to a political organization. There seems to be solid cohesion in the top leadership of DK as opposed to MSZP, where József Tóbiás has many secret and not so secret critics within the party and where there is no coordinated policy to deliver a common message.

In addition to the personnel problems in MSZP there is an unfortunately obvious hesitancy when it comes to determining the kind of policy the party should follow. MSZP often behaves in a cowardly fashion. Every time they think that a Fidesz proposal might be popular with their electorate they feel compelled to vote for the bill. One might call such behavior pragmatic, but it is unprincipled, and my guess is that what the anti-Orbán electorate would like to see is a sure-footed opposition instead of a party that offers half-measures. This kind of brave, uncompromising attitude might be the key to a party’s success between now and the next election.

And that leads me to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s twelfth speech on “the state of the nation” on January 23. Practically all commentators touched upon the harshness of his criticisms. He described today’s Hungary as a country divided between “the few who live in great style and who are becoming rich as a result of corruption and those toiling multitudes without hope.” In his opinion “a criminal gang that is headed by the prime minister, masquerading as politicians, runs the country.” One cannot possibly more harshly and aptly describe what is going on in Hungary today.

DK's party program will be called "Hungary of the Many"

DK’s party program will be called “Hungary of the Many”

Gyurcsány is ready to take unpopular stands. For example, the refugee issue. MSZP last summer criticized the government’s anti-refugee policies, but by end of September they changed tactics. The MSZP caucus abstained when the question of the army’s participation in building the fence that kept migrants out of the country came up for a vote. They called their new strategy “positive neutrality.” Gyurcsány criticized MSZP at the time, and even today he is unwilling to abandon his belief that Hungary would benefit from a well-regulated immigration policy that would allow a certain number of immigrants to settle in the country. Fidesz immediately announced that Gyurcsány is dangerous.

DK’s motto is “no compromise with the government under any circumstances.” The question is whether such an unbending attitude will be more successful than MSZP’s hesitant and vacillating approach. Only time will tell.

January 25, 2016

The first draft of a “party program” of the Hungarian democratic opposition. Part I

On July 16 the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) and Együtt 2014-Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) signed an agreement which at last makes the cooperation between these two parties more or less a certainty. Naturally, there are still a lot of questions, among them how this new “election association” (választási szövetség) will deal with other democratic parties such as the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) that is after all not much smaller than  Együtt 2014-PM. And what about the small liberal parties? Although for the time being a decision on a common candidate for the premiership is not an issue, in time it certainly will be.

The text of the agreement is available online. It is a fairly lengthy document, so today I will tackle only the first half of it.

In the preamble the document reasserts that the period between 1990 and 2010 was one of the freest and most democratic in Hungary’s history but it also adds that many problems were left unattended and therefore the system became unstable. A simple return to the time prior to 2010 is thus not a solution. According to the statement signed by Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy, “the electorate must receive assurances that the new government will govern in a predictable and expert manner and will stand on solid moral grounds.”

The signatories promise to look after those who cannot look after themselves and to pay special attention to children, women, salaried employees, small business people, and pensioners. The current government favors the well-to-do but the new coalition will expect a larger contribution from them in the name of  solidarity.

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at the press conference after the meeting of July 16 / Népszabadság, Photo Zsolt Reviczky

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at the press conference after the meeting  Népszabadság, Photo Zsolt Reviczky

Let’s see what the specific points are that these two parties agreed on. First, the decision was made that the Basic Law of 2011 cannot remain the constitution of the land. That is a definite switch as far as Együtt 2014-PM is concerned. Only a few weeks ago Viktor Szigetvári said in one of his interviews that Együtt 2014 could live with the Fidesz constitution because, after all, it is not so bad. Obviously that was an illogical stance. The Basic Law was written by one of the Fidesz politicians; it was written for Fidesz and it was passed by Fidesz and Jobbik. Surely, a government that wants to break with the present political system cannot function under this constitution which, even without its amendments, was unacceptable to the Venice Commission.

Very rightly, a new democratic government must restore municipal autonomy and end the excessive centralization of power created by Viktor Orbán’s government. In addition, it wants to put an end to decision making from above without any consultation with societal groups. Naturally this is not as easy a task as it sounds.  What are they going to do with the nationalized schools or the hospitals? These are only two questions that must be solved but there are many more because the earlier system of self-government in cities and towns was not exactly ideal either.

The third topic of the agreement covers law and order issues with special attention to the police. I can certainly appreciate the decision to rethink the whole structure of the police force. The new democratic opposition seems to be committed to creating a “community police force” instead of a national hierarchy that has been the Hungarian model ever since there has been a police force in Hungary. They also want to get rid of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ) whose commandos in ski masks can take over ordinary police functions. The new government will also get rid of the new 340-350 member parliamentary guard which as it stands will defend 199 MP’s from next year on.

The document also includes the promise that the new government will work out a comprehensive strategy against corruption. All government contracts and all tenders will be open to the public on a website that can be visited by all. In this work they will ask the assistance of civic organizations concerned with corruption issues.

There is the promise, let’s hope for the last time, that the documents of the Kádár regime’s security forces will be opened to everybody. The agents’ names will be revealed. They will also strengthen parliamentary and civil control of the present national security agencies. They also want to re-examine the many cases that the government deemed top secret and made unavailable for sometimes as many as 80 years. They promise to take away the unlawful land leases granted to Fidesz supporters. As for the tobacconist shops, the government will initiate a review of the cases. Actually, if they asked me, I would have suggested undoing the whole ridiculous system.

As for economic growth I’m sure that once the Orbán government is gone there will be a much greater influx of foreign capital because the new government, especially if it is headed by Gordon Bajnai, will inspire confidence. Investors will greet the formation of  the new government with a sigh of relief. Of course, it will take time but I have no doubt that there will be greater growth and a lot of good will worldwide toward a new government committed to democracy and a healthy market economy.

When it comes to employment I’m much less optimistic. It is all very well and good to say that every Hungarian family should have at least one gainfully employed person but that requires sustained economic growth and a better educated workforce. And that is a difficult undertaking. It is easy to say that “we will do our best to train people for gainful employment,” but one needs a lot of money for that and also a population that is “willing and able.” There are in the document a few promises that don’t sound realistic to me. For example, the state would guarantee further educational opportunities to every man and woman under the age of thirty who after finishing their studies cannot find a job. One has the feeling that the authors of the document themselves are aware of the present difficulties of the unemployed because the new government would triple the duration of unemployment benefits from three months to nine.

The coalition will put an end to the flat tax introduced by the Orbán government that caused so much trouble both for the poorer strata of the population and as well for a balanced budget. They promise that the new tax law will reflect the government’s desire to increase investment and hiring.

They also plan to scrap the Orbán government’s labor code. They would restore the rights of the employees, including the rights of the trade unions.

European Union subsidies will be spent mostly on education, healthcare, public transportation, and the creation of new jobs instead of on “prestige projects” and football stadiums.

There is the usual mention of a concern for a livable environment and reducing wastefulness in energy consumption. The latter will again cost a lot of money because the government will provide funds for making dwellings more energy efficient.

One of the most fully developed subjects of the document concerns education. They will again raise the compulsory school age to 18. If you recall, one of the first decisions of the Orbán government was to lower the age at which students could leave school to 16. They promise the introduction of steps that would ensure integration and minimizing differences between schools. Once again, this is easier said than done, especially since experts repeatedly tell us that as long as parents are free to send their children to schools of their own choice the differences between schools and the education children receive will get greater and greater. And I’d bet that a possible successor to the present government would not have the guts to put an end to the practice of free school choice.

On the other hand, they will put an end to the Orbán’s government’s very high tuition fees as well as the bans on graduates accepting work abroad if they received a tuition-free education. In their scheme, everyone who is accepted to a university or college will pay no tuition for the first year. However, depending on academic achievement and financial needs, there will be tuition from the second year on. I’m not quite sure where they will find the money for it, but they want to finance a three to five month study abroad for all college students.

As for demographic problems and the employment of women, what we can read in this document is very vague. They will make it possible for women not to have to choose between employment and motherhood. It remains their secret how this is going to be achieved.

To be continued