Tag Archives: Péter Kónya

Rearrangement on the Hungarian left? It looks like it

Although there are many topics we could discuss today, I would like to return to party politics. I’m interested in the analysis of intra-party developments because of my fascination with personalities and their interactions. My other reason for taking up the topic is that in my opinion we will most likely witness major changes within the democratic opposition soon.

I don’t think that I ever hid the fact that I consider the arrangement that was sealed by Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and Gordon Bajnai of Együtt14-PM unsatisfactory. And, it seems, the potential supporters of this “electoral association” feel the same way as I do. Admittedly, how we feel about a certain occurrence is always influenced by our own likes or dislikes, and therefore it is not the best barometer of the effectiveness of a political action. The real problem, however, with the agreement between E14 and MSZP is that it didn’t bring the expected results. That is a fact that is hard to deny. Surely, the signatories hoped that even a loose coalition would rally the anti-Fidesz forces. It didn’t happen. On the contrary, E14 effectively lost about half of its potential voters.

Looking back on the events of the last half year, I’m actually surprised that the politicians of these two parties ever thought that the arrangement that was achieved only with great difficulty would ever work. You may recall that E14 refused to negotiate until they had their nationwide campaign. E14 politicians were obviously hoping to sit down to negotiate with MSZP from a position of strength. You may also recall that this hoped-for outcome didn’t materialize. Between March and October E14 support  hovered between 3 and 5% in the electorate as a whole. No amount of campaigning helped. Mind you, MSZP didn’t fare any better. The party was stuck between 14 and 15% among all eligible voters. Meanwhile valuable months were wasted.

After the debacle of the October 23 opposition rally and the phony Baja video scandal I hate to think what the next opinion polls will tell us about the state of these two parties. One doesn’t have to be a political genius to see that something went terribly wrong. But it seems that neither Bajnai nor Mesterházy has been willing to admit his mistake. They keep sticking to an untenable position: no renegotiation, no compromise. Everything is peachy-pie as is.

At this point, I was just waiting for the palace revolutions. I didn’t have to wait for long. Two days ago Péter Kónya, leader of Solidarity, was the guest of Olga Kálmán where the careful listener could discern deep trouble within E14.

Solidarity is part of E14-PM, but Kónya hasn’t been given much exposure despite Solidarity’s fairly extensive nationwide base. You may recall that it was Kónya who came up with the idea of an Orbán styrofoam statue imitating the Stalin statue that met its maker on the very first day of the October Revolution. Both Bajnai and Mesterházy timidly repudiated the action, which only gave further ammunition to the hypocritical outrage on the right. At this point I tried to imagine myself in Kónya’s shoes, who steadfastly refuses admit his “mistake.” I would have been furious as I believe Kónya was. Right now, he might be facing a charge of disorderly conduct. Yet he refuses to back down and told Kálmán that he was ready to go to jail if necessary.

Changing leaves

Changing leaves

It was at the end of the conversation that the really important piece of information could be heard. Yes, said Kónya, there are internal disputes concerning strategy in E14. Although at the top of the hierarchy the party leaders refuse to negotiate with Ferenc Gyurcsány, on the local level Solidarity activists are working hand in hand with DK members.  Concurrently with this interview Népszabadság ran an article with the title “Solidarity demands greater influence: Sharp criticisms.” From the article it became clear that Kónya wants a closer working relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

And what one cannot read in the newspapers or hear from the politicians themselves: apparently local E14 members have been leaving the party in droves and joining DK. Apparently there are localities where E14 centers no longer exist. Surely, something must be done.

The situation is not much better in MSZP, although we know less about the inner workings of the party. The first inkling that not all’s well at Mesterházy’s headquarters came from Ildikó Lendvai, legendary whip of MSZP and later chair of the party who decided not to run as a candidate. Her decision, as we learned today, was based on her belief that she was considered one of those old timers the new leadership wants to see disappear. Mind you, Lendvai is one of the most sympathetic and smartest politicians in MSZP, and her quick mind and wit made her one of the best leaders of the MSZP parliamentary group. László Kovács, another old timer, was also on his way out. Their places were taken by second-rates.  One such lightweight was interviewed on ATV two days ago. Olga Kálmán managed to make him look like a fool.

In any case, about a week ago Lendvai gave an interview to Heti Válasz from which we could learn that she holds different views on party strategy from those of the chairman. Very diplomatically but clearly, she indicated that given the strengthening of the Demokratikus Koalíció and the weakening of E14 some kind of renegotiation of the terms of the agreement between MSZP and E14 will have to take place. She suggested that one of the problems standing in the way of a mutual understanding between MSZP and DK is that MSZP couldn’t decide on its attitude toward the party’s record during the Gyurcsány era. The way I read the abbreviated version of the interview online, Lendvai indicated that MSZP should have proudly embraced some of the accomplishments of the period between 2004 and 2009.

And then came the bungled video case. I’m sure that there were already rebels within the party who were not too pleased that Mesterházy was unable to handle the situation at the October 23 rally. An experienced politician would have been able to respond to those who demanded “unity.” Instead, Mesterházy stubbornly stuck to his prepared text just as now he stubbornly holds to the view that the agreement works splendidly when it is obvious that it doesn’t. The handling of the video was, I think, the last straw. By now it looks as if Mesterházy isn’t the master of his own house.

Yesterday came the news that some MSZP leaders, for example Gergely Bárándy and Zsolt Molnár, tried to deny that Ildikó Lendvai and László Kovács will be “advisers” to Attila Mesterházy. Today Lendvai was interviewed by György Bolgár* where she candidly shared her own views as to what strategy MSZP should pursue for participation in a unified democratic opposition. She added that this is her own private opinion that many people within the party don’t share. Clearly, she stands on the side of those who think that MSZP cannot stick with a mistaken agreement that has led nowhere. It was a mistake at the moment of its signing and since then it has become what looks like a blunder. Somehow the wrong must be righted. Now the question is: will Attila Mesterházy listen to the “oldies”?  I have the feeling he has no choice.

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*For those of you who understand the language I highly recommend listening to the Lendvai interview with György Bolgár available here: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-155854.mp3 The interview begins at 27:32 in the first part and continues in the second part: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-162853.mp3

How solid is the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact?

It’s time to return to the state of the Hungarian opposition which, given its daunting electoral challenge, should be united and pursuing a politically savvy course. Instead, it remains fragmented and for the most part bumbling.

In late September Medián found that the great majority of left liberals would like to have a single list and joint candidates in each of the 106 districts. So far the opposition hasn’t heeded their call.

Then there was Solidarity’s demonstration at which a styrofoam statue of Viktor Orbán was toppled. Solidarity’s alleged allies, Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP, distanced themselves from Péter Kónya’s “street theater.” They thereby lent credence to the position of Fidesz and KDNP politicians who claimed that this symbolic act was tantamount to an actual assassination of Viktor Orbán. The only opposition politician who stood by Péter Kónya was Ferenc Gyurcsány. As far as I know, Kónya is planning new street performances. Whether Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP embrace these activities or whether Solidarity ends up joining forces on a national level with DK remains to be seen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what is going on within Együtt 2014-PM. First of all, it will soon be called something else, which I consider a blessing as long as they come up with a decent name for a party. Most people, I assume, know that Együtt 2014 was the original name of Bajnai’s group to which PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért = Dialogue for Hungary), another ill-chosen name for a party, was tacked on. PM comprises the ten or so former LMP members and their followers who broke with András Schiffer.

The name change is necessary because Együtt 2014-PM is not a party. The PM people insisted on maintaining their independence, and therefore this cobbled-together creation was a party alliance formed only for the election. But there’s a problem with this arrangement. The threshold for parliamentary representation for a party alliance is 10% as opposed to 5% for a party. And, according to the latest polls, E14-PM has only a 6% share of the votes. Naturally, the party’s spokesmen insist that the polls are all wrong and they have at least twice that much. It seems, however, that their socialist friends take the polls seriously and keep pressuring the Bajnai crew to create a real party just in case. Viktor Szigetvári, co-chairman of the party, just yesterday in an interview with HVG confidently announced that they’re aiming to capture 20% of the votes at the election, but at the moment that goal cannot be taken seriously.

At the same time that Együtt14 is losing support, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is gaining ground. According to Medián, DK actually surpassed E14 among those who are certain that they will vote at the next election.

HVG, an influential and well-informed media outlet, has been watching the shifts that have been occurring on the left. Within the course of one week HVG published two articles indicating possible changes that might have to be made to the Bajnai-Mesterházy deal. On September 4 the paper reported that its sources in E14 and MSZP admitted that “Gyurcsány revived” even though they tried to minimize the significance of the changes in DK’s standing. They conceded, however, that DK’s momentum highlights “the contradictions inherent in the Mesterházy-Bajnai agreement.”

Meanwhile Ferenc Gyurcsány is taking advantage of the shifting public sentiment and is campaigning aggressively. He promised to continue his nationwide campaign unabated until the Christmas holidays.

You may recall that after the appearance of Gordon Bajnai DK lost about half of its earlier support. András Kósa of HVG wondered whether perhaps these earlier DK supporters, disappointed in E14’s performance, are now returning to DK. It is also possible that some MSZP voters who want a single opposition party list are shifting their support to Gyurcsány, the only opposition politician who insists on a single list, which is, in his opinion, the key to electoral victory.

HVG‘s article also said that DK leaders are ready to recruit new supporters even at the expense of E14 because that would force the renegotiation of the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement. Gyurcsány, in fact, began to criticize both Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. A few days ago he complained about the lukewarm campaign style of Bajnai. In a lengthy interview with the Austrian Der Standard he claimed that Bajnai and Mesterházy are the ones who fear competition from him. And only yesterday he said that in the coming campaign one needs not only goalies but forwards as well. This was a reference to Bajnai who plays amateur football as a goalie and who described himself as a political goalie rather than a forward.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai They are not such a good friend anymore

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai
They are not such good friends anymore

Today HVG came out with another article based on E14 and MSZP sources. Gábor Gavra, editor-in-chief,  joined András Kósa in taking responsibility for the information gathered. They learned that Együtt 2014 has a solution to the DK problem. If it turns out that because of a strengthening DK negotiations between E14 and MSZP must be reopened, E14 would give up two districts and would expect MSZP to turn over six districts to DK. There was a sentence in the Szigetvári interview that pointed to a potential thaw in relations with DK consistent with such a renegotiation. When asked whether there is any possibility of an understanding between E14 and DK, Szigetvári answered that “There is a chance, and a wide collaboration is in the interest of the opposition. E14 will not stand in the way.”

Unfortunately the hypothetical E14 offer is not as generous as it seems. The two districts they are willing to give DK are Fidesz strongholds. Of the six districts that belong to MSZP at present only two could possibly be won by an opposition candidate. An unnamed DK politician’s reaction undoubtedly reflects the feelings of the DK leadership and the 8,700 party members: “What magnanimity! Two parties with approximately the same popular support and Együtt will keep 29 and will give us two. This doesn’t even deserve comment.” Apparently one DK politician who is a member of the presidium said that they would be happy with a 60-40 split of the 31 districts E14 currently has as a result of the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact. But such a split would deprive E14 of being able to have a separate party list.

Gordon Bajnai immediately denied that E14 has been thinking about reopening negotiations with MSZP. That  may even be true in the strict sense of the word. However, every party has to have contingency plans, especially if MSZP insists on reopening negotiations in the eventuality of a further fall in E14’s popularity.

As far as Gyurcsány’s strategy is concerned, I’m becoming convinced that he is trying to force the hand of the opposition parties to come up with a common list. This may in fact become a necessity if neither E14–or whatever it is called by then–nor DK could have a party list. In this case a single list would be the only option. Polls over the next two months or so will undoubtedly help shape the strategy the opposition parties will have to adopt.

A statue of Viktor Orbán is toppled

I was sorely tempted to title this post “Viktor Orbán is toppled,” perhaps with a couple of exclamation points, but I couldn’t come up with a decent qualifying subtitle. Péter Kónya, the leader of the Solidarity Movement, now part of Együtt 2014-PM, would probably have appreciated the title. Others in the opposition no doubt would have considered it tasteless.

Péter Kónya likes to use unusual props to dramatize his movement’s political positions. Perhaps you recall Solidarity’s demonstration, which became known as the “revolution of the clowns.” Participants dressed up as clowns because Viktor Orbán called the trade unions’ leaders clowns. The clowns collected thousands and thousands of signatures to condemn the Orbán government. And that was back in 2011.

At yesterday afternoon’s demonstration Kónya once again sent a symbolic message. The group had erected a huge statue of Viktor Orbán made out of Styrofoam and painted bronze. At their demonstration they first unveiled and then toppled it. Very much like Stalin’s enormous statue was toppled on October 23, 1956.

Prior to the unveiling of the statue Gordon Bajnai made a fiery speech in which he called the politicians of Fidesz “the best pupils of the communists.” He was even funny at times, although he is not known for his humor. He said, “I’m warning you now: the stadium at Felcsút will not fit into the Park of Statues.” The park he was referring to houses the statues erected during the Rákosi and Kádár periods that were subsequent discarded.

Once the statue was toppled and its head severed as a result of the fall, Péter Kónya called Orbán a dictator who should have a separate room in the House of Terror. In no time the crowd moved the head and torso of the statue to Andrássy út 60 with a detour to the Opera House to mark the demise of the Third Republic on January 1, 2012. Kónya and Bajnai promised the crowd that soon there will be an end to the rule of the comrades, reminding them of the famous poster of MDF: Tovarishi konets, Comrades, this is the end.

One of the first articles to appear about the demonstration and the statue was written by a Magyar Narancs reporter. He admitted that some members of the intelligentsia might think that this kind of campaigning is crude, but the people he talked think that “the population must be awakened.”

The blogger Varánusz was of the same opinion: “What will happen now that some people will play football with Viktor Orbán’s Styrofoam head?” And he continued that the terribly boring leaders of the Bajnai party at last did something a little daring. He noted, however, that some of the people on the left called the statue toppling “tasteless.” And then he lists a few truly “tasteless” Fidesz stunts of late.

Orban feje

Then came the counterattack. The spokesman of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) was László Varga, the man who not so long ago thought that if women bore more children there would be no domestic violence. He called this gag a crime that can be compared only to the activities of Tibor Szamuelly’s terrorist group in 1919 or the horrors that were perpetrated by the ÁVH, the state security forces during the Rákosi regime.  For good measure he reminded his audience of the horrors of the Hungarist Arrowcross who shot thousands of innocent men and women and threw their bodies into the Danube in late 1944. He considered the incident “an incitement to murder.” Varga didn’t think that Bajnai could sink that low.

Yes, Gordon Bajnai certainly knew about the planned toppling of the statue. He delivered his speech against the Orbán government standing in front of that statue, then still covered. He admitted that these kinds of gags are not to his liking but added that “we must recognize that the rule of Viktor Orbán fanned such intense anger” that such a reaction is not surprising. He considered the erecting of the statue in this case an ironic gesture because it is only in dictatorships that statues of living politicians are erected. “Viktor Orbán’s regime is rapidly moving in this direction. The toppling of the statue only expressed opposition to Orbán’s plans for the future.” The pro-Fidesz Századvég’s Tamás Lánczi immediately commented that Bajnai’s radicalism will alienate the “center.” That mysterious “center” that nobody seems able to find.

One can understand the right’s indignation. Less comprehensible is the distancing that came from the left, especially from MSZP, the ally of Együtt 2014-PM. Péter Kónya, we must remember, is one of the chairmen of E14-PM. József Tóbiás, director of the MSZP delegation, immediately condemned the action. In a democracy, he said, one doesn’t overthrow a government; it must be replaced. This was, of course, an extreme interpretation of Solidarity’s action. Nobody, including Kónya, was talking about the actual overthrow of the government. The statue was intended as a symbol of Orbán’s regime that indeed must be eliminated. Gábor Fodor of the Liberals and Andor Schmuck of the shadowy Hungarian Social Democratic Party immediately joined Tóbiás. Ágnes Vadai (DK) got out of a sticky situation by saying that the Demokratikus Koalíció doesn’t want to demolish a statue but to defeat the Orbán regime.

Hungarians used to be known for their humor. They used to relish political symbolism. Now, it seems, some on the left are so concerned with appearing politically correct that they can’t enjoy a piece of political theater (and, in the process, stand behind one of their own). They’d better learn, and learn quickly, that it’s hard to tip-toe to victory.

“The beginning of a new era” as Gordon Bajnai’s E14 envisions it

Yesterday was highly anticipated, not only in opposition circles but also among government officials and Fidesz politicians. Gordon Bajnai was to deliver a speech he called “Evaluation of the Orbán Government.” Actually, it was more than that. I would call it an opening bid to become the next prime minister of Hungary.

A blog writer with whom I had been unfamiliar until now considers Bajnai a bad speaker and charged the organizers with placing two even worse orators ahead of him so that Bajnai would look good: Péter Juhász of Milla and Péter Kónya of Solidarity (Szolidaritás).

Juhász led off. A friend of mine who was present thought he gave a splendid speech. Well, the audience didn’t seem to think so. Moreover, I suspect that there weren’t too many Milla supporters present in the rather large audience because Juhász’s appearance didn’t meet with much enthusiasm. The applause wasn’t exactly thunderous.

Several times I’ve expressed my doubts about Bajnai’s decision to join forces with Juhász because I consider him someone whose political acumen is sadly lacking and because it is hard to judge the size of the electorate that stands behind him. I was often disappointed in his interviews that showed a total lack of political finesse and no grasp of the present situation or the rules of modern democracy. One cannot achieve anything in politics by fueling the citizens’ hatred of politics and politicians.

Now to my reaction to his speech yesterday. First, I disagree with Juhász’s contention that in the past twenty years “the powers-that-be excluded people either because they were right-leaning or left-wingers; or because they were liberals, or because they were independent ‘civilians’; or because they were poor, Gypsies, Jews, gays, disabled, or homeless.”  Well, I don’t remember any governments actually excluding these people before 2010, but obviously Juhász and I see the world differently.

I also noticed that Juhász does not always use the right words when describing certain political concepts. For example, he claims that “we want only one thing: we should have representation. We want to be part of Hungary as simple citizens.”  For Pete’s sake, were the simple citizens disenfranchised in Hungary in the last twenty years? Didn’t they have representation?

Or here is another expression used incorrectly in the context of Hungarian politics. According to Juhász “politics is too important a thing to leave it to professional politicians.” Juhász used the expression “megélhetési politikusok”  (megélhetés means livelihood), coined by an MDF politician. The original usage  referred to a former MDF member who changed party affiliation during the first Orbán government in order to become a member of the cabinet. So, he left his convictions behind to be promoted and remain part of the governing elite. He did it for his material and professional benefit. This is not what Juhász had in mind.

One could also argue with the generalization that all governments since 1990 were “sly, contradicting themselves, liars who took us for fools.” These descriptions fit the present government better than any others before. This kind of generalization is good for only one thing: to shake the confidence of the population in democracy. If all governments in the last twenty-two years were rotten to the core, what is the likelihood that this crowd will be drastically different? Because Péter Juhász says so?

And finally, Juhász said a few words about MSZP, alluding to the fact that there are voices within the party that mistakenly believe they can win the elections alone. There is quite a bit of truth in that, although the group within the party that advocates cooperation is growing. But it is clear that the party leadership would like MSZP to be the leading force in forging that cooperation. I find that desire quite natural. After all, MSZP is the largest party and the only one with a nationwide political machine. But to say, as Juhász says, that “the socialists traditionally don’t like coalition governments and power sharing” is outright wrong. I don’t know whether anyone read Juhász’s text before he delivered it, but you don’t have to be a political wizard to know that all the governments in which the socialists participated since 1994 were coalition governments. Even between 1994 and 1998 when the socialists had an absolute majority in parliament and didn’t really need SZDSZ in order to govern, Gyula Horn asked the liberals to join his government.

Péter Kónya of Solidarity was the second speaker. It seems that perhaps the majority of the audience came from the ranks of Solidarity, which is a union-based organization. As a former union leader himself, Kónya concentrated on labor demands but always added that the changes employees would like to see depend on economic performance. He listed very specific issues the next government should concentrate on: taxation, minimum wages, new labor laws, unemployment insurance, programs for the Roma, and the right to strike, which has been greatly circumscribed.

And then came Gordon Bajnai. Only a few days ago the organizers of the phony civic organization that is responsible for the 200 million forint anti-Bajnai-Gyurcsány campaign compared Bajnai to a funeral director. Contrary to that image, Bajnai is becoming a good speaker, although he worked from borrowed material. His reference to Hungary not being a “normal country” was first used by Ibolya Dávid of MDF. His emphasis on “hope” reminded me of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. His references to the half a million Hungarians who left the country and his emphasis on producing more children were obvious appeals to patriotic, perhaps right-of-center sentiments.

Here I will pick two themes from the speech. One is Bajnai’s attitude toward MSZP and the other his view of his own place in a future “togetherness.”

Bajnai seems to be convinced that the majority of currently undecided and/or disillusioned voters will never vote for MSZP. This assumption seems to me outright wrong if we believe polls that focus on the undecided voting bloc. All polls attest to the fact that the majority of the undecided voters lean toward the left and not the right. Believing, as Bajnai does, that there are at least a million people who would under no circumstances vote for MSZP is simply not warranted. So alienating MSZP in the hope of gaining millions of votes from the allegedly right-of-center voters is I think a mistake. Because I firmly believe that there is no true moderate right in Hungary. The 1.5 million Fidesz voters will never vote for E14. The undecided, if they vote at all, will vote for the left. If E14 positions itself to the right, it may end up nowhere.

If Bajnai had only claimed that MSZP at the moment doesn’t have enough voters to win the 2014 elections alone, he would have been perfectly right. But adding that “it doesn’t have enough credibility or enough expertise to govern” was an unnecessary dig if Bajnai would like to forge an alliance with MSZP.

Glorious new era /a heartforgodsglory

Glorious new era /aheartforgodsglory

The second theme that will further infuriate MSZP politicians is that Bajnai practically introduced himself as the next prime minister of Hungary. I consider this a premature announcement. At the end of the speech he switched to the first person singular and declared himself to be the leading force in the change that will be more than a change of government but the beginning of “a new era.” To this end he will “not allow any diversionary maneuvers … petty political games, positioning and selfish tactics.” He will “concentrate all his energies to organize the victims of the current regime.” And finally, he “will shape the dreams and hopes of [his] compatriots into a concrete government program.”

“Come with me, join the coalition of hope!” This is how Bajnai concluded his speech. He asked the people to join him at a mass demonstration on March 15, an idea Ferenc Gyurcsány first suggested in his speech at DK’s Second Congress on January 26. I might add that Bajnai didn’t mention the Demokratikus Koalíció at all, which might be a politically savvy move on his part, although he must know that if anyone supports his candidacy it is Ferenc Gyurcsány. One thing is sure: devoted DK supporters are already mightily offended.

MSZP supporters will be too. And if my hunch is correct, this constant harping on the bad governing of the past will not go over well. After all, Gordon Bajnai was a member of the Gyurcsány government that is now being mightily criticized by Bajnai’s associate Péter Juhász. Moreover, he was a prime minister of an MSZP-SZDSZ government that Milla’s leader considered to be as bad as the Orbán government. The difference of the last three years is “only qualitative of everything we didn’t like in the last ten or twenty years.”  And why ten years? Prior to 2002 it was better?

There are just too many contradictions that leave me uneasy about the success of the effort and the program that this odd coalition of a liberal economist and a populist non-politician with a hatred of politics can come up with.