Tag Archives: Olympics

The Hungarian opposition shows signs of life

Momentum’s victory

The major news of the day is the overwhelming success of Momentum’s signature drive for a referendum on holding the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest. They needed 138,000 signatures; they collected 266,151. Although the young leaders of the movement don’t seem to be overly grateful, about 60,000 of these signatures were collected by political parties on the left. LMP and Párbeszéd were especially active.

Momentum’s plan at the moment is to become a self-sufficient party. But I wouldn’t be surprised if closer cooperation among Momentum, Párbeszéd, and LMP would materialize, especially now that Párbeszéd has withdrawn from negotiations with MSZP and DK.

Viktor Orbán, who a few months ago considered hosting the 2024 Olympic Games “a matter of national significance,” a couple of days ago instructed the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation to refrain from any comment in the event that Momentum gets the necessary number of signatures. His position now is that the central government supported the idea only after the Budapest City Council, including opposition members, voted to submit an application to the IOC.

Budapest mayor István Tarlós, although initially against holding the Olympics in Budapest, now stands by Viktor Orbán. He complains about “the betrayal of the opposition,” which a year and a half ago supported the idea heart and soul and now portrays itself as the defender of the people and the country. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this charge. Csaba Horváth (MSZP), József Tóth (MSZP), and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) supported the application. Even Erzsébet Gy. Németh (DK), who verbally disapproved of it, had the courage only to abstain. The sole person to vote against it was Antal Csárdi (LMP). Bravery and consistency are not the strong points of the Hungarian socialists and liberals.

Granted, given government pressure and the general Fidesz enthusiasm for the project, it was guaranteed to sail through the Budapest City Council. Still, those opposition city fathers who have been so loud of late in their disapproval of the project would look a great deal better if they had not bent under pressure and had instead voted their conscience. MSZP is especially hesitant to take a stand when its leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, that its voters might not approve of the party’s actions.

Tarlós indicated that once the final verdict on the number of signatures is announced, he “will think very seriously about withdrawing the application.” Given the enormous number of signatures collected, there is no doubt that the referendum request will be valid. And if the referendum were actually held, the “no’s” would carry the day. Tomorrow Publicus Intézet will publish its latest poll, according to which 76% of the total population would use the money for something much more important. The respondents could pick from several categories and obviously, since the numbers add up to more than 100%, could choose to allocate the saved funds to more than one urgent need. 65% of them opted for healthcare, 32% for education, 16% for the elimination of poverty, 11% for the creation of new jobs, and 8% for better infrastructure.

András Fekete-Győr proudly displaying the fruit of Momentum’s labor

The leaders of Momentum will embark on a two-month tour of the countryside where they plan to establish local party cells. András Fekete-Győr announced a few hours ago that the new party will have candidates in all 120 electoral districts. It intends to compete against the other opposition parties, although we know that fracturing the anti-Orbán forces is political suicide. Under the current electoral law, which is designed for a two-party system, a divided opposition can only lose. Nonetheless, for the time being Momentum is planning to follow in the footsteps of LMP, which doesn’t bode well for either Momentum or Hungarian democracy. László Bartus of Amerikai Magyar Népszava has already written an opinion piece in which he expresses his fears that Momentum is glossing over the distinction between Hungary prior to and after 2010.

László Botka’s program is shaping up

The anti-Orbán forces got some good news yesterday when Republikon Intézet published its poll on the popularity of current candidates for the post of prime minister. Viktor Orbán and László Botka are essentially neck to neck. Botka is only two percentage points behind Viktor Orbán (46% to 44%). What is especially significant is that Botka is by far the more popular candidate among undecided voters, 44% against Orbán’s 29%, a result that didn’t surprise me as much as it seems to have surprised the media. I have been convinced for a long time that if someone could inspire this group to vote, the majority would vote for a candidate on the left.

Many voters who sympathize with the “liberal” democratic parties in Hungary have been impatient with László Botka’s relative inaction since he announced that he intended to throw his hat in the ring. For example, although he promised to visit the chairmen of the smaller parties, he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Yesterday I read that the first party he will visit will be LMP, an odd choice, I would say, since LMP’s willingness to negotiate with Botka is about zero.

On the other hand, Botka at last came out with an article, published in 168 Óra, in which he spells out at least part of his program. He embraces the idea of introducing a guaranteed basic income on an experimental basis in the most underdeveloped and poorest regions of the country. I assume that would be the northeastern corner and the County of Baranya along the Croatian-Hungarian border, both with large Roma populations. He also envisages introducing a supplement to pensions that do not provide enough income for survival. He would like to alleviate the difficulties younger people have in gaining access to affordable housing. He proposes that municipalities build apartment complexes, with apartments to be rented out at reasonable prices. He wants to change the flat tax system introduced by the second Orbán government to a progressive one. Moreover, he wants to introduce a property tax on high-priced real estate and luxury cars. In addition, Botka emphasized that education and health will his government’s priority.

I am curiously awaiting the reaction of the media and the general public. I’m sure that most of these goals will meet the expectations of the majority, although I don’t know how people will feel about the idea of a guaranteed basic income. I assume that MSZP will fully support these goals, but they will also have to be approved by those parties that are ready to stand behind Botka. The way things are going, very soon it will be only DK that Botka will have to negotiate with.

We already know the reaction of the government media to Republikon Intézet’s poll on Botka’s popularity. Here are some headlines: “Few people support László Botka on the left,” “Botka is not supported even on the left,” “László Botka is not popular.” The source of this information? Fidesz’s own pollster, Századvég.

February 17, 2017

Storm in the swimming pool? No, a clash between the old and the new

The Hungarian media is chock-full of stories about Katinka Hosszú, one of Hungary’s swimming stars and an excellent businesswoman, who advertises herself as the “Iron Lady.” Hosszú became a professional athlete in the last couple of years and amassed a considerable amount of money. But she created a scandal only eight months before the Olympics when she decided to complain openly about the poor conditions which, in her opinion, exist in Hungary for the first-rate swimmers the country has produced in the last few years. As a result of her outburst, Hungary’s swimming world is in turmoil.

Hosszú is no youngster. She is a twenty-six-year-old who began her career in 2003. Her name became internationally known, however, only in 2009 at the World Championship in Rome, a year after she moved to the United States to study and swim at the University of Southern California. Her coach for four years was David Salo, the head swimming coach at USC. Since then she has been a world champion five times in the 400 and 200 meter medley and a European champion in medley, free style, butterfly, and backstroke, just to mention a few of her accomplishments.

You may have noticed that a win at the 2012 Olympics is sorely missing from her awards. In the 2012 London Olympics she didn’t manage to get a medal of any kind. It was at that point that she switched coaches, replacing David Salo with Shane Tusup, whom she married a year later. They settled in Budapest to train for the Olympics. I don’t know what Shane Tusup’s secret is, but from that point on Hosszú has had a phenomenal career.

In an interview Tusup stressed how important the forthcoming Olympics is to both him and his wife. “Post London 2012 we created a four-year plan to head toward Rio 2016, and this year was what I was considering a test year. Katinka and I both sat down to design a brand new program based on what we thought was important and what was not important.”

After three years in Budapest, Tusup and Hosszú decided that they had had enough. Apparently they have been trying to convince the Hungarian Swimming Association (Magyar Úszószövetség / MÚSZ) to adopt more modern techniques and to provide state-of-the-art equipment, to no avail. Hosszú called a press conference where she explained her grievances, after which a huge debate began over whether she is just a spoiled prima donna or whether her complaints are legitimate. Suddenly everybody is a swimming expert.

The older generation, even among Hungarian swimming coaches, think that all those extras, like ice tubs and warming pools, are useless. It is enough just to swim a lot. In addition to these traditionalists, some people resent the American Tusup who dares to tell the locals what to do. Tusup has only one trainee, Hosszú. Obviously, the rest of the first-class swimmers are satisfied with their coach, László Kiss, who by now is 75 years old and perhaps not as open to the many innovations introduced in the sport in the past few years. The question of money also has entered the discussion, but I think that a clash of cultures is at the heart of the feud.

Although Tamás Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, acts as if he has no idea what is bothering Hosszú because, according to him, MÚSZ provided her with everything she demanded, the facts tell a different story. László Kiss, the regular coach, complained months ago about the lack of available pools for practice. In September 2015, of the six Olympic-size pools in Budapest only two were available to the athletes. Kiss announced that the situation was desperate and that it may influence the outcome of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Hosszú, who was accustomed to better circumstances, apparently has been complaining ever since her return to Budapest from California. She wanted a room of her own, a masseur, an ice bath (used to alleviate inflammation as a result of muscle injury), warming-up tubs, underwater cameras, and software analyzing style and effectiveness. Apparently, after a lot of badgering the cameras have been ordered but not yet installed. The swimmer complains that even the starting blocks that are used in Hungary are not the the same as those that will be used in Rio or at other international events. And having the right kind of starting block is essential: complicated mathematical formulas prove the effectiveness of certain types of blocks.

Starting blocks

Starting blocks

Meanwhile Tusup has his own problems. The locals seems to resent his “interference” and, instead of using his obviously successful techniques, they shun him. Especially Károly Güttler (47), who received a silver medal in the 100 and 200 m. breaststroke in Sydney in 2000 and is now an assistant coach. He is very old-fashioned. According to him, “none of this fancy stuff” is necessary to produce good swimmers.

There are others, like József Ruza, former secretary-general of MÚSZ, who think otherwise. He recalls that years ago foreigners were surprised that the Hungarian swimmers showed up at international meets without a staff. He thinks that Tusup’s talents should be utilized and his methods should be incorporated into the training of the country’s talented swimmers.

Some observers who are not necessarily professionals in the sport look at the rift between Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, and Hosszú as a clash of cultures but from a slightly different angle from mine. A journalist writing in Gépnarancs quotes Gyárfás as saying “I would like my sweet little Katinka back,” on the basis of which he comes to the conclusion that Hungarian culture doesn’t tolerate the kind of criticism Hosszú levelled against MÚSZ, especially if it comes from a woman. And where women aren’t the only ones who don’t have decent treatment; men don’t either. Both should remain quiet and hope for the best.

And indeed, all the other greats refused to side with Katinka Hosszú, with the exception of Éva Székely, gold medalist at the 1952 Olympics who held the world record in the 400 m. individual medley in 1953. Today, at the age of 89, she claims that the athlete is always right. “Katinka’s job is to swim and win while the association’s is to provide all the help to the athlete…. This girl is a world-class swimmer, and in her place I wouldn’t have bothered to argue with the association.”

Katinka Hosszú insists that she will swim as a member of the Hungarian team although some of her compatriots would gladly send her back to the United States. One bright commentator to HVG’s article said: “Katinka is right, but that Tusup or whatever his name is shouldn’t sound off. If we need advice from America we will let him know.”