Tag Archives: Tamás Bauer

László Botka is MSZP’s candidate to face Viktor Orbán in 2018

On May 27 the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) held its congress, at which an overwhelming majority of the usually fractious delegates stood by László Botka, mayor of Szeged, who about six months ago offered himself as his party’s candidate for prime minister of Hungary. At the time of his announcement I was enthusiastic, mostly because I didn’t see anyone else in MSZP who would have the slightest chance of running successfully against Viktor Orbán. Botka is a self-confident and forceful fellow who kept Szeged a socialist stronghold even when practically the whole country turned orange after the 2006 municipal elections. So, I said to myself, the fellow must know something. I also thought that his years as the leader of Hungary’s second largest city would have given him ample administrative experience, which would serve him well.

Over time, however, I started having doubts about the wisdom of this choice. It is one thing to be self-confident and forceful and another to be abrasive and aggressive. MSZP’s ineffectual and untalented leadership was so excited at receiving an offer from Botka, who had earlier steadfastly refused any role in national politics, that they immediately broke off negotiations with the other democratic opposition parties and assured Botka of their support. In turn, Botka promised an election and party program and a nationwide campaign, during which he was supposed to introduce himself to MSZP supporters and those undecided voters who could perhaps be convinced that he is a worthy challenger of Viktor Orbán.

Initially, Botka indicated that he would visit the other democratic opposition parties, but mighty little came of it. He did talk with the leadership of LMP, a party that had stressed over and over that they would never cooperate in any meaningful way with anyone else. I was somewhat puzzled by Botka’s decision and expected a flat no from LMP. I was right, it was a flat no. As far as the smaller parties were concerned, Botka simply ignored them. They then, one by one, announced that in that case they will be forced to enter the race as individual entities. That was bad enough, but demanding that the Demokratikus Koalíció’s supporters dump their party leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, meant that for all practical purposes the Botka-led MSZP had decided to embark on the hard road to political victory alone.

That route would be defensible only if Botka’s appearance on the scene could make an appreciable difference in the anemic popularity of MSZP. But after six months of alleged Botka campaigning, MSZP is still hovering around the same 10-13% popularity against Fidesz’s 27%. The same as it was in January. Therefore, it is hard to fathom the enthusiasm that István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, exhibited this morning on ATV about his party’s prospects. He added that Botka was the best choice and that he is supported by the politicians in Brussels as a worthy opponent of Orbán. I for one would like to see some tangible results by now. I know, we are being told that “there is still time,” but I’m afraid that, given the sad state of the opposition, eight or nine months will be far too narrow a window in which to build a robust MSZP or achieve some kind of understanding among the democratic forces.

Botka’s acceptance speech was broadcast on ATV, and had detractors from both sides. From the right Otto Gajdics compared him to a Stakhanovite construction worker who is the puppet of George Soros. Botka’s speech reminded Origo’s nameless journalist of speeches at party congresses of the Kádár era, and he quoted some sample sentences which he considered to be carbon copies of old MSZMP slogans: “We are building a new world,” “We live in dark times,” “We’ve had enough of slavery,” and “Let the rich pay,” a slogan much criticized on the left as well.

Not only Fidesz critics found the speech wanting. László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai Magyar Népszava, was appalled by Botka’s misunderstanding of “the essence of the regime.” In his speech the candidate divided the voters into the satisfied and the dissatisfied. As he put it, “2018 will be decided between the satisfied and the dissatisfied voters. The satisfied ones will vote for Orbán, the dissatisfied for Botka. The choice is simple: Orbán or Botka.” Bartus finds this primitive Marxist worldview not to his liking. What about human rights, freedom, law, culture, intellectual values, human relationships, and principles? His conclusion is that MSZP in 27 years has been unable to shed its origins.

Tamás Bauer, formerly an SZDSZ member of parliament, was also unhappy with Botka’s speech and the ideas behind it. Bauer especially disliked the “Rich should pay” slogan, although I don’t believe that Botka wants to take rich folks’ money and give it to the poor, Robin Hood style, but only wants to send a message that the era of the flat tax is over and better off people will have to pay higher taxes. What really bothered Bauer was something that Gyula Molnár, the MSZP chairman, said in his speech: “Those who are not with us are with them,” meaning Fidesz. Doesn’t Molnár know the origin of this sentence, Bauer asks? It was Mátyás Rákosi who said “those who are not with us are against us.” It was this terrible concept that János Kádár changed to “those who are not against us are with us.” Clearly, Bauer worries about the electoral cooperation of democratic forces. The socialists “don’t seem to care about their allies, whom they humiliate.” Bauer, who is a DK member, obviously has Ferenc Gyurcsány and the leaders of other democratic parties in mind. As a professor of economics, Bauer is also worried about all the promises Botka made. Where will the money come from to pay for them?

Botka promised to introduce a subsistence minimum, to raise the salaries of civil servants, to cut the taxes of low income people, to raise the minimum wage and exempt it from taxation, to strengthen the rights of employees, to spend money on hospitals and schools instead of on stadiums, to launch a comprehensive rental housing program, to double the pension minimum, and to restore the thirteenth-month pensions. This promise tsunami strikes me as irresponsible. We know only too well that one of the problems with the economic policies of past governments stemmed from offering financial incentives to the electorate in exchange for votes. Time and again, it became obvious that government expenditures were too high and the national debt was increasing. Quickly enough, austerity programs had to be introduced. Perhaps one of the worst decisions was the Gyurcsány government’s introduction of the extra-month pension, which had to be taken away in early 2009 after the financial crisis hit Hungary. So, for anyone with a half decent memory, the promise of a thirteenth-month pension has a bad ring to it. I think that if MSZP wanted to raise pensions, it should have done so in some other way.

Today, Ferenc Gyurcsány congratulated Botka and suggested a meeting, which I doubt will take place anytime soon. The message via István Ujhelyi on ATV was that Botka will be very busy and will not have time for such a meeting.

May 29, 2017

Hungary’s sudden interest in the eurozone

Mihály Varga, minister of economics, just dropped a surprise package. In a lengthy interview, he talked about Hungary’s plans to join the Eurozone by the end of the decade.

It’s difficult to reconcile the government’s conflicting messages. Earlier, János Lázár, the #2 man in the Orbán government, said that he would vote against membership in the European Union if the decision had to be made today. A week later he drew a parallel between the Soviet Union and the European Union, stressing Hungary’s fervent desire to remain independent. Moreover, the Hungarian government has just begun a venomous campaign against the European Union’s refugee policies ahead of a referendum which, according to the democratic opposition parties, is the first step in realizing the Orbán government’s resolve to leave the EU. Tamás Bauer, a keen observer of Hungarian politics, goes even further. “Orbán wants more than Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage did. He doesn’t want to take his country out of the Union. He wants to destroy the Union itself.” And now comes this interview with Varga, who talked in specific terms about the Hungarian government’s intent to join the Eurozone in the near future.

The media hailed this interview as indicative of a complete turnabout in the Orbán government’s policies toward the European Union. Actually, a year and a half ago there was a similarly unexpected announcement by Antal Rogán, who proclaimed that sometime between 2018 and 2020 Hungary will be in a position to introduce the euro as the country’s currency. His statement contradicted Viktor Orbán’s position, who in prior years had said that he was in no hurry to join the Eurozone because being “outside of it means great independence” which is, as we know, a primary consideration for the prime minister.

The last time Orbán talked about his government’s position on joining the Eurozone was in February of this year, in a speech delivered to Hungarian ambassadors. He refrained from committing himself one way or the other. At this junction, he said, he believed that more and more member states are interested in creating “a core Europe” which, he quickly added, is not the same thing as a “two-tiered Europe.” The members of the Eurozone will constitute the core. Once a country decides on a currency union, it has to give up a great deal of its national sovereignty. In the next few years Hungarians will have to have think very hard whether “we want to belong to a group of countries with a European entity or we will follow an independent national and economic policy.” There are people who support the creation of a United States of Europe, while others think that “one should not make snap decisions.” In any case, “we have to think hard about the question.” This certainly didn’t sound like an endorsement of Eurozone membership, but Orbán left the question open. It could be debated later, in case there is a change in the political constellation on the Continent.

At this point at least, Orbán believed that Hungary would get along just fine economically and wouldn’t suffer any negative consequences from being outside of the “core.” But then came today’s interview with Mihály Varga, who said that he is “very much hoping that we will have the euro, and happily it is up to us when that will be.” He predicted that by the end of the decade the Hungarian currency will be the euro. He explained that Hungary has fulfilled all the requirements for membership with one exception: it is not a member of ERM-II. For Eurozone membership a country must belong to the Exchange Rate Mechanism to ensure that exchange rate fluctuations between the euro and other EU currencies do not disrupt economic stability within the single market. ERM-II allows a ±15% fluctuation band, which is achieved by interventions coordinated by the European Central Bank and the central bank of the non-euro member state. As Varga pointed out, Hungary is in good shape in this respect. In the last two years the forint has remained well inside the band. The maximum fluctuations in the exchange rate between the euro and the forint have been +2.6% and -5.8%. According to Varga, Hungary didn’t join ERM-II because with such a move the country would have lost its competitive advantage.


Hungary is not rushing to join ERM-II. Varga indicated that the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary constantly coordinate their moves and will decide when such a step is advantageous to them. It all depends on how stable the euro is in the next few months or year and how competitive the Hungarian economy is.

The two largest democratic opposition parties, MSZP and DK, reacted skeptically to the Varga interview. MSZP called it “a cheap performance” while DK somewhat sarcastically remarked that Varga “must have suddenly seen the light.” DK’s spokesman added that if Orbán shares Varga’s views, he should immediately call off the hate campaign against the European Union and the referendum on quotas, which would initiate Hungary’s exit from the Union.

I don’t think Varga’s statement means that the Orbán government has made a serious commitment to work toward joining the Eurozone. We have heard such pronouncements before from other members of the current government. But Péter Szijjártó’s offer today to take over the presidency of the European Union from the United Kingdom in the second half of 2017 indicates to me a more conciliatory attitude toward Brussels. In case Great Britain is unable to fulfill its obligation, the Hungarian foreign minister said, Hungary would be happy to assume its duties. He added that Hungary’s presidency between January 31 and July 30, 2011 was by all accounts considered to be a success. Hungarian diplomats proved themselves up to the task. Of course, Szijjártó didn’t add that those diplomats no longer work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He and Tibor Navrancsics purged them.

These friendly overtures by two ministers of the Orbán government cannot be a coincidence. Something must have happened in the last few weeks or even days that prompted Viktor Orbán to try to curry favor with Brussels. But I agree with the spokesman of DK that it is impossible to make overtures to the European Union and at the same time conduct a vicious anti-EU campaign. I really wonder what is in Viktor Orbán’s mind. Perhaps the whole thing is nothing more than the usual “peacock dance” to which we have become accustomed by now. But the question still remains: why, and why now?

July 19, 2016

Tamás Bauer on the task of the Hungarian opposition

I think I already mentioned a series of interviews that György Bolgár of Klubrádió initiated about a month ago. Four times a week he asks public figures critical of the present regime what advice they would offer the opposition parties to enhance their chances of winning the national election in 2018.

Until now none of the ideas of the well-known commentators or former politicians inspired me to summarize them here. But I thought the advice of Friday’s guest–Tamás Bauer, a professor of economics and former SZDSZ politician (1994-2002)–was well worth sharing.

First, I have the highest admiration for Tamás Bauer. He is a clear thinker and a man of the highest principles. Back when Zsófia Mihancsik’s Galamus was still in existence, Bauer wrote article upon article on vitally important topics, each of which was an intellectual delight. I don’t remember any of his articles I couldn’t agree with. Unfortunately, nowadays he writes only rarely, mostly on the pages of Népszabadság.

Bauer Tamas

He began the conversation by noting that Bolgár’s original question concerned only the 2018 election. But one has to widen one’s perspective, Bauer claimed. It is wrong to place the 2018 election at the center of the opposition’s thinking about Hungary’s political future. He would be a happy man if Viktor Orbán were to lose the next election. He would be even happier if he lost an early election this year, as Gyurcsány predicted. But Hungarians must first ask: “In what kind of country do we live?”

To win an election is the most normal goal for any opposition party in a parliamentary democracy. But to the question “Do we live in a democracy?” Bauer answers no. Even the functioning of the parliament is questionable. The reality the opposition parties must face and loudly proclaim is that “today there is no democracy” in Hungary. Democracy functioned for twenty years, but after 2010, on the basis of a “well-thought out, deliberate plan,” Viktor Orbán eradicated it.

The next task is to define the nature of the existing regime. Bálint Magyar calls it a “post-communist mafia state,” Rudolf Ungváry “a fascistoid mutation,” and László Bartus in his latest book a “fascist state” pure and simple. All three argue convincingly, but Bauer prefers to describe the regime as “tyranny” (önkényuralom) that is steadily moving toward dictatorship. Just to remind everybody of the dictionary definitions of “tyranny”: (1) “Unjust or oppressive governmental power”; (2) “A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.” There is no question that, at the moment, Viktor Orbán has absolute power to single-handedly decide the fate of the country.

So, what’s the next step? Bauer can’t think of a tyrannical regime in the twentieth or twenty-first century that was removed as the result of a free election. What happens is that tyrannical regimes become weakened, spent, and are eventually forced to negotiate with the opposition forces. This is what happened in Greece, Spain, and Portugal. And, of course, this is what happened in the former Soviet satellite countries where the communist parties eventually had no choice but to sit down and negotiate. In all of these cases change occurred as the result of a negotiated settlement followed by election.

So, the task of the opposition parties is not to prepare their strategy for the election but to “create a situation that will lead to the possibility of holding an election” that can shake the foundation of the regime. A “freedom movement” (szabadságmozgalom) should be established that can fight the present tyrannical regime. The opposition forces must inculcate society with the realization that they don’t live in a democracy.

But to be able to do that, the opposition parties shouldn’t act as if they operated in a democracy. If the opposition parties don’t consider the new constitution legitimate, they shouldn’t offer amendments to it. If the constitution is illegitimate, the amendments are as well. And one shouldn’t submit amendments to the constitutional court for review because it too is an illegitimate body, filled with Fidesz functionaries who were appointed without consultation with the opposition.

On the day that thugs prevented MSZP’s István Nyakó from turning in his referendum question József Tóbiás, the party chairman, said something to the effect that “this morning when I woke up I thought I was living in a country of rule of law.” “Where does this man live?” asks Bauer.

These politicians behave as if they lived in a democratic country. The opposition parties (but Bauer is talking mostly about MSZP) shouldn’t initiate parliamentary debates. They shouldn’t interpellate. Under the circumstances the whole procedure is a mockery, especially when the member of parliament finishes his interpellation with the words: “I’m expecting your esteemed answer.” Or, when opposition politicians refer to Viktor Orbán as “miniszterelnök úr” when speaking with journalists.

At this point Bolgár interrupted Bauer and asked what he thought of boycotting parliament altogether. Boycotting parliament is something people are increasingly talking about as a possible answer to the present political situation. Ferenc Gyurcsány, for example, suggested it as a reaction to the referendum scandal at the National Election Office. Bauer very rightly pointed out that a boycott shouldn’t be introduced as an answer to one particular grievance. After all, if the regime buckled, it would do so only on one particular issue. The referendum case is only a symptom, the real problem is the whole tyrannical system. As for a total boycott, at the moment Bauer wouldn’t support it, although he added that it might be necessary in the future. On the other hand, he is convinced that the opposition members of the Budapest city council should have boycotted the body in 2014 because it was only a few weeks before the municipal elections that the government changed the rules of the game to ensure a Fidesz victory, without which the party would have lost the city.

What the opposition has to do is to let society know that “we are alive.” It is not true that the Orbán regime is a “mafia dictatorship.” There are two million people behind Fidesz, and the party has a distinct worldview with nationalism, anti-capitalism, and hostility toward the poor as its components. What the opposition should do is to take contrary stances on all of these issues, unlike now when the socialists in particular dread dealing with government positions they think their voters also support. “Such behavior must be rejected.” For example, MSZP endorsed voting rights for dual citizens just because they feared a backlash. They also must take a clear stand against all anti-capitalist measures–for example, lowering the cost of utilities because the whole scheme is economically and even morally wrong. The opposition should fight resolutely against nationalism and stress Hungary’s adherence to European integration. Finally, it should be a vocal defender of the poor and the downtrodden as opposed to Fidesz’s support of the upper middle class.

Finally, Bauer touched upon the question of cooperation among the parties on the left since almost every commentator stresses the necessity of such collaboration. Yes, Bauer says, these parties should work together, but not just before the election as they did last time and as they plan to do now. It is very difficult to forge cooperation in the middle of an election campaign. Collaboration should begin immediately. Every demonstration should be supported by all parties unlike in the past. For example, today’s demonstration outside the Várkert Bazár where Viktor Orbán delivered his yearly “state of the nation” speech was supported only by Együtt and PM. Even that way, they had about 2,000 vocal people demonstrating against the Orbán regime. Imagine how large the crowd would have been if both MSZP and DK had supported the demonstration.

If these parties listen to Bauer, which I doubt, they should start joint demonstrations against the proposed referendum on the quota system and against the fence that Orbán wants to extend along the Romanian-Hungarian border. They have to show that there is strength on their side. They have to show a political alternative on the basis of which one day they will most likely be able to negotiate with the weakened tyrannical regime of Viktor Orbán. But first, the opposition forces must weaken it until Orbán and company have to throw in the towel.

February 28, 2016

What does the Demokratikus Koalíció stand for?

On September 3, I wrote about an opinion piece by Tamás Bauer, vice-chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Its title was “Electoral mathematics: The Demokratikus Koalíció’s position.” Bauer argued for DK’s right, based on its numerical support, to receive at least 8 or 9 electoral districts. He added that DK’s positions on many issues differ from those of both MSZP and Együtt2014-PM and therefore it deserves a parliamentary caucus.

At the end of that post I indicated that I would like to return to DK’s political program because relatively few people are familiar with it. I had to postpone that piece due to DK’s very prompt answer to MSZP. On the next day, September 4, I posted an article entitled “The current state of the Hungarian opposition: Negotiations between MSZP and DK.”

Over the last few days it has become obvious to me that Ferenc Gyurcsány has already begun his election campaign.  Zsolt Gréczy’s appointment as DK spokesman signaled the beginning of the campaign, which was then followed by several personal appearances by Ferenc Gyurcsány where he began to outline his program. Surely, the amusing video on being a tour guide in Felcsút, “the capital of Orbanistan,” was part of this campaign. So, it’s time to talk about the party program of the Demokratikus Koalíció, especially since only yesterday Attila Mesterházy answered Ferenc Gyurcsány’s letter to him. I elaborated on that letter in my September 4 post.

You may remember that one of the sticking points between the two parties was whether DK is ready to have “an electoral alliance” as opposed to “a political alliance.” Gyurcsány in his letter to Mesterházy made light of the difference between the two, but as far as the socialists are concerned this is an important distinction. Yesterday Attila Mesterházy made that crystal clear in his answer to  Gyurcsány which he posted on his own webpage. According to him, a “political alliance” means the complete subordination of individual parties’ political creeds to the agreed upon policies.  In plain language, DK “will have to agree not to represent its own political ideas during the campaign.”

Since DK’s program thus became one of the central issues in the negotiations it is time to see in what way DK’s vision of the future differs from that of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM. Here I’m relying on Tamás Bauer’s list of the main differences.

(1) An MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM alliance following an electoral victory will only amend the new constitution and the cardinal laws that are based on this new constitution. The Demokratikus Koalíció, on the other hand, holds that the new constitution is illegitimate because it was enacted without the participation of the opposition. Therefore, according to DK, the new constitution must be repealed and the constitution of the Republic must take its place.

(2) MSZP-E14 by and large accepts the policy of Viktor Orbán on national matters and would allow people living outside of the borders to vote in national elections. The Demokratikus Koalíció rejects this new law and would put an end to these new citizens’ voting rights.

(3) MSZP-E14 does not seem to concern itself with the relation of church and state or the Orbán government’s law on churches. DK would restore the religious neutrality of the state and would initiate a re-examination of the agreement that was concluded between Hungary and the Vatican or, if the Church does not agree to such a re-examination, DK would abrogate the agreement altogether.

(4) MSZP-E14 talks in generalities about the re-establishment of predictable economic conditions and policies that would be investment friendly but it doesn’t dare to reject such populist moves as a decrease in utility prices or the nationalization of companies. Only DK is ready to openly reject all these.

(5) MSZP-E14 accepts the tax credits that depend on the number of children and therefore supports an unjust system. DK, on the other hand, wants to put an end to this system and to introduce a system that treats all children alike.

(6) Együtt2014-PM opposes the concentration of land that is necessary for the creation of  a modern and effective agriculture. The policy of small landholdings was the brainchild of the Smallholders Party, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hungarian agriculture after the change of regime. MSZP is against foreign investment in Hungarian agriculture. The Demokratikus Koalíció intends to liberalize the agricultural market. DK thinks that agricultural cooperatives should be able to purchase the land they currently cultivate. It also maintains that foreign capital should be able to come into Hungary in order to make Hungarian agriculture competitive again.

(7) The attitude of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM toward the conflicts between the European Union and the Orbán government is ambiguous, while the Demokratikus Koalíció unequivocally takes the side of the institutions of the Union against the Orbán government.

These are the points that Tamás Bauer mentions. But as the Gyurcsány campaign unfolds more and more differences will be visible. For example, only yesterday Gyurcsány talked about his ideas to abolish the compulsory retirement age and to financially encourage people to demand higher wages in order to maximize their pensions after retirement. During this talk in Nyíregyháza Gyurcsány made no secret of the fact that his party is working on its election program.

So, it seems to me that the Gyurcsány campaign has already begun. Maybe I’m wrong and Gyurcsány will give up all his ideas and will line up behind MSZP-E14, but somehow I doubt it. Even if he tried, he couldn’t. Temperamentally he is not suited for it.

Meanwhile, an interesting but naturally not representative voting has been taking place in Magyar Narancs. Readers of the publication are asked to vote for party and for leader of the list. DK leads (52%) over Együtt 2014 (29%) and Gyurcsány (54%) over Bajnai (32%). Of course, this vote in no way reflects reality. What it does tell us is that the majority of readers of Magyar Narancs are DK supporters. Something that surprised me. If I had had to guess, I would have picked Együtt2014.

As for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s visit to Felcsút, I wrote about it a couple of days ago. The video is now out. This morning I decided to take a look at it because from Zsolt Gréczy’s description on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd the whole scene of Fidesz cameras following them everywhere sounded hilarious . At that time the video had been viewed by about 5,000 people. Right now the number of visitors is over 53,000.

Clips from The Godfather are juxtaposed with scenes from Felcsút. The video ends with the wedding of Vito Corleone’s daughter. While Gyurcsány is narrating the enrichment of the Orbán family, two people, one of whom is the Fidesz regional secretary and the other perhaps the cameraman of the Puskás Academy, follow him everywhere and record his every move and word. Definitely worth seven minutes of your time.

Since I am no fortune teller I have no idea what will happen. A couple of things, though, I’m pretty sure of. DK will never agree to drop Gyurcsány as their party leader. And Mesterházy indicated that this might be one of the MSZP demands for an agreement. Or at least that Gyurcsány not be DK’s top candidate, or possibly any candidate. Otherwise why would he have asked: “Are those media predictions that the Demokratikus Koalíció plans to nominate the chairman of the party, Ferenc Gyurcsány, for the second slot on the list true?”

At first reading I didn’t notice this linguistic oddity. The letter is addressed to “Dear Mr. Party Chairman, dear Feri” and continues in the second-person singular: “te.” Now that I returned to the sentence in order to translate it, suddenly I noticed that Mesterházy switched from “te,” which in a personal letter would have been normal, to “Ferenc Gyurcsány” in a letter addressed to Ferenc Gyurcsány.

What will the final result be? I have no idea. Let’s put it this way, it’s much easier to predict the outcome of Hungarian soccer matches than the outcome of opposition politics.

Metamorphosis of Viktor Orbán?

A few months ago I had a debate about Viktor Orbán’s metamorphosis from liberal to right-wing populist with someone who has known Viktor Orbán ever since the beginning of the democratic opposition’s struggle for regime change. I insisted that no one can change that much and that fundamentally, and therefore, I submitted, Orbán was never a democrat. My friend, a well-known member of SZDSZ, insisted that yes, Viktor was a true liberal but power had a terrible effect on his psyche. I wasn’t convinced.

Lately I have been noticing a change of heart among those who worked closely with Orbán or who as members of the media have been following those Hungarian political events in which he played a prominent role.

Just today Endre Aczél, a seasoned journalist with vast experience with MTI in the 1970s and MTV in the late 1980s, wrote one of his short but sharp-eyed opinion pieces in Galamus. In it he expressed his “suspicion” that it was at least fifteen years ago that Orbán abandoned the idea of the “rule of law.” He recalls a speech by the freshly elected young prime minister that was delivered before the yearly meeting of the country’s ambassadors. Orbán suggested to Hungary’s representatives abroad not to emphasize the “rule of law” but to stress the “law and order” that his government wants to re-establish.

The orange is rotting. That's all / faszkivar.blog.hu

The orange is rotting. That’s all. / faszkivan.blog.hu

Tamás Bauer, an economist, former SZDSZ politician, and today deputy chairman of DK, also remembers the day when he knew that Viktor Orbán was not a democrat. It was also in 1998, on July 6, when during the debate on the government program in parliament Orbán said: “I ask everybody who wants to re-establish order and security; everybody who wants a child be important not only to the family but also to the state; everybody who wants to belong to the Hungarian nation; everybody who wants to make Hungary a country that cooperates with other European nations to vote for the program of the government.” It was at this point that Bauer truly understood, although he had had an inkling before, how Orbán imagined the exercise of power. Because Orbán made it clear that he envisaged himself as the man who alone represents the nation and who considered the opposition a group of people who don’t belong to the nation. After all, in normal parliamentary democracies, the opposition doesn’t vote for the government program.

Therefore Bauer knew way before 2010 what kind of rule Orbán was going to introduce, especially once he achieved the much coveted two-thirds majority. Although according to some interpreters the original Orbán constitution of 2011 was still a democratic document, Bauer disagrees. A constitutional committee was set up, but the majority of the members came from the two government parties. Thus the new constitution reflected the will of the government and the party, Fidesz-KDNP. There was no use participating in this farce. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first called for a boycott and his call was followed by MSZP and later by LMP. That constitution was about as legitimate as the 1949 communist constitution. After all, the 1949 constitution reflected only the will of the Hungarian communist party, and the 2011 document was similarly created by and for Fidesz-KDNP.

Yes, both commentators claim, Viktor Orbán hasn’t been a democrat for a very long time. Perhaps he never was, I might add.

In the last few days there is a video that has been making the rounds on the Internet. It originally appeared on the website of Népszabadság. The video was taken at the demonstration organized to urge János Áder not to sign the amendments to the constitution. The speaker is Péter Molnár. Perhaps not too many people remember him, although he was one of the founders of Fidesz and the group at István Bibó College where Fidesz was born. He even spent four years in the Hungarian parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus. And then he left the party and politics. On the video one can hear him telling Áder: “That is not what we dreamed of, Jánó!” A few days ago I quoted Tamás Deutsch’s tweet claiming that this is exactly what they were dreaming of back in the late 1980s. Surely, this was an answer to Molnár.

I first encountered Molnár’s name in György Petőcz’s book Csak a narancs volt (It was only the orange / Élet és Irodalom, 2001). He was one of the contributors to the volume. He and the four other contributors left Fidesz completely disillusioned in 1993-1994.

What are Molnár’s recollections of the early days of Fidesz and Bibó College? According to him, László Kövér managed to create a lot of tension even in those days. At every meeting he insisted that all members of the college–there were around 80 students–must be politically active. Kövér and Orbán worked together and wanted to rule the community according to their own ideas. Molnár recalls that in the college there was a feeling of unity and solidarity but “Viktor’s political management destroyed it just as he destroyed [the original] Fidesz.” A good example of how this “solidarity” worked in Fidesz land. Once a member of the college group said that “Viktor can be certain that he can rely on his old friends in Bibó College.” Two years later the old buddy of Viktor lost his high position in the party and the government because he dared to disagree with him. “Solidarity existed only as long as the person followed the ‘correct’ policy. It didn’t matter whether he belonged to the inner circle or not, if he disagreed with Laci Kövér and Viktor, he was finished.” Does a democrat behave this way?

Let’s return for a moment to Endre Aczél’s opinion piece that appeared today. Its title is “Order? My own!” No,  Orbán hasn’t changed his stripes.

Is the Demokratikus Koalíció a liberal party?

A few days ago Gábor Fodor announced that he will establish a new party called Magyar Liberális Párt. SZDSZ is no more, he declared, and it mustn’t happen that Hungary has no liberal party.

I’m not familiar with the personal relationships among SZDSZ politicians, but former colleagues who once sat in the same parliamentary caucus hardly speak to and refuse to cooperate with one another. Although the various splinter groups have divergent ideas, they seem to have one thing in common: nobody wants anything to do with Gábor Fodor.

As for the existence of a liberal party in Hungary, I propose that there already is one. It is called Demokratikus Koalíció. I venture to say that the bulk of DK voters and party members come from former SZDSZ supporters and/or members. This is only a hunch, but I suspect that a public opinion poll that would tease out the correlation between former SZDSZ and current DK followers would lend credence to my contention.

At least two well-known SZDSZ politicians are on board in DK: Tamás Bauer and Mátyás Eörsi. Both were founders of SZDSZ and both served as members of parliament. Eörsi between 1990 and 2010 and Bauer between 1994 and 2002. Bauer is an economist while Eörsi has a law degree.

liberalism by brexians flickr

Liberalism by brexians / Flickr

Here I would like to summarize an article by Tamás Bauer that appeared yesterday in Galamus. The title of the piece is “Someone who can’t stop attacking Gyurcsány” (Aki a gyurcsányozást nem bírja abbahagyni). Even from the title it is evident that Bauer is coming to the defense of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The great virtue of the article, however, is that Bauer is thoroughly familiar with the details of behind-the-scenes party politics  about which we outsiders know practically nothing.

Bauer’s article is an answer to an opinion piece by András Böhm, an SZDSZ member of parliament between 2002 and 2010, in HVG entitled “The One Who Cannot Stop” (Aki nem bírja abbahagyni). Böhm maintains that Gyurcsány’s political activity turns away hundreds of thousands of voters from the democratic opposition. Böhm made a long list of  political blunders committed by Ferenc Gyurcsány, from the “tax burlesque” of 2006 to his resignation in 2009 that, in Böhm’s opinion, was too late. In the article Böhm makes Gyurcsány solely responsible for the two-thirds majority victory of Viktor Orbán. Or at least this is how Tamás Bauer interpreted the article.

Bauer finds this argument more than odd, especially coming from someone who became a member of parliament in 2002. At that time the new parliamentary majority, instead of correcting the economic mistakes of the first Orbán government, added to the problems with Péter Medgyessy’s two 100-day programs that further increased the deficit. András Böhm, as an SZDSZ member of parliament, voted for all these government programs.

As for the “tax burlesque” of 2006, Gábor Kuncze, chairman of SZDSZ at the time, tried to convince the SZDSZ caucus to give up the idea of decreasing the personal income tax burden as well as the VAT, but Kuncze’s effort was in vain. The majority of the SZDSZ delegation insisted on the decrease. Gyurcsány apparently did the same during his negotiations with the board (elnökség) of MSZP. He got nowhere. Gyurcsány “had to deliver the speech in Balatonőszöd to convince his fellow socialists” to agree to change course. In addition to a mistaken economic policy, political corruption was another reason for the failure of the socialist-liberal governments. Again it was only Ferenc Gyurcsány, says Bauer, who fought for transparent party financing. After he failed, he left MSZP in October 2011 to establish a new party, the Demokratikus Koalíció.

According to Bauer, Böhm’s only concern is what Gyurcsány did or didn’t do between 2004 and 2009. He pays no attention to what the Demokratikus Koalíció is doing today in Hungarian politics. The question is whether DK has a role to play on the Hungarian political spectrum. According to Bauer, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bauer reminds Böhm that SZDSZ was the only party that refused to vote for the so-called “status law” that would have provided Hungarians living in the neighboring countries special privileges inside of Hungary. The members of SZDSZ’s parliamentary caucus were the only MPs who refused to vote for a resolution condemning Slovakia in connection with the language law and its treatment of President László Sólyom.

It is DK that is continuing this tradition when it comes to policies concerning Hungarian minorities. After 2010 both the MSZP and the LMP caucus voted for dual citizenship, with the exception of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Today DK is the only party that continues the former policies of SZDSZ when it comes to the Hungarian minorities. Citizenship yes, voting rights no.

It was during the 2006 campaign that Viktor Orbán first came up with the idea of decreasing the price of natural gas. MSZP tried to outdo him and promised even greater decreases. It was only SZDSZ that refused to follow suit. Today MSZP promised support for the government’s decision to lower utility costs. DK is against the measure.

In 2008, on MDF’s insistence, MSZP voted to repeal the inheritance tax; SZDSZ had the courage to vote against the measure. Today DK’s party program spells out its insistence on reinstating inheritance taxes on estates over 20 million forints. Bauer points out that today MSZP is talking about absolutely free higher education; it is only DK that is calling for tuition fees across the board combined with financial assistance for the needy. Once upon a time it was only SZDSZ that wanted to renegotiate the agreement between Gyula Horn and the Vatican. Today it is part of DK’s party program.

All in all, in Bauer’s opinion, DK is the only party representing a liberal economic policy, liberal legal thinking, liberal higher education, liberal national policy (magyarságpolitika), and liberal policies concerning church and state. There is no other party among the opposition groups that represents these ideals.

Bauer concludes his article by saying that it is not enough to win the elections. It is also important to know what kind of Hungary will be created after the victory. And in that new Hungary one must have a party that represents “these liberal values that neither MSZP nor Együtt14 is ready to stand behind.”