And what’s going on in MSZP?

According to the latest opinion poll Fidesz voters are still very impressed with the parliamentary activity that was undertaken even before the government took office. In fact, Fidesz’s popularity is growing slightly, and if I read Szonda Ipsos’s latest poll correctly, that upward trend is at the expense of Jobbik that in May had the sympathy of 16% of the voting-age population but by the second half of June its popularity fell to 12%. The real surprise is that MSZP is holding on to its voters. It is a surprise because the general impression is that MSZP practically no longer exists. Observers and analysts criticize the Attila Mesterházy-led parliamentary delegation for its ineffectual performance. A lot people claim that MSZP was in power for too long and forgot how to be in opposition.

Then there are those who are certain that MSZP under the weight of this huge defeat will simply disintegrate and small splinter parties will be formed that will not be viable. Although Ildikó Lendvai, who is still the best communicator in the party, keeps repeating that the danger of a break-up has passed, many people simply don’t believe her. They rightly point out that there are many factions within the party leadership and that sooner or later these diverse groups will not be able to live side by side within the same party.

The most often mentioned names in this context are Ferenc Gyurcsány and Katalin Szili. These two people stand at the two ends of the ideological pole within the party. Katalin Szili is an old-fashioned socialist with more than a tinge of nationalism. She is also a practicing Christian who in fact formed a “platform” of believers in MSZP. I wrote about Szili a lot in the past, starting in November 16, 2007. The last time I spent a whole post on her was “Katalin Szili, the true socialist?” The other person is naturally Ferenc Gyurcsány who at the moment is physically in the background but on whom spiritually, I suspect, the whole future of MSZP still depends. He represents the new socialist party and most likely the future, although many of his numerous enemies in the party blame him for the devastating defeat of MSZP at the last national elections. Gyurcsány is a modern socialist with a good dose of liberalism. His message is perhaps too radical for Hungarians whose thinking hasn’t changed very much from the time of János Kádár and his regime.

Szili never made a secret of her dislike of Gyurcsány. If Szili behaved as she did in MSZP but was actually an important member of Fidesz, she would immediately have been removed from the party and all her functions, including the position of speaker of the house. But she was lucky. She was in a party that is either so democratic or so dysfunctional that it allows that kind of aberrant behavior. Of course, there is the possibility that Szili had powerful allies within the party who prevented Gyurcsány, the chairman of the party, from getting rid of her.

When Gyurcsány resigned both as prime minister and as chairman of MSZP in March 2009, Szili lost her enemy, her raison d’être. There was no one to fight against. However, soon enough she found another “enemy,” Gordon Bajnai’s tight-fisted financial policies that the MSZP parliamentary delegation with the help of the small SZDSZ caucus supported. To Szili this was an abandonment of the socialist ideal. One has the feeling that Szili has never made peace with capitalism.

I’m almost certain that she blamed her party’s faithful support of the Bajnai government for her own failure as a candidate for the position of mayor of Pécs. Then last November Szili organized a movement called “Szövetség a Jövőért Mozgalom” (Association for the Future). She insisted that this organization was not a party and it wasn’t organized in opposition to MSZP, but rumors kept circulating that Szili was in fact thinking of organizing a rival socialist party that was in her opinion truly socialist.

I must say that one didn’t hear much about Szili’s movement after its foundation. I checked on their website a few times but there was hardly any activity there. Under “News” one could find a few months-old items. One had the distinct feeling that this association was barely breathing. But then came the surprise. Index reported on June 30 that “Szili makes a slightly independent move.” The leadership of the association decided to put up independent candidates at the local elections in October. The secretary general of the organization emphasized that they don’t want to go against MSZP but they want to show their independence from the party.

This time Ildikó Lendvai wasn’t trying to make excuses for Szili as she had always done in the past. That the party leadership’s patience was running out became obvious after Katalin Szili, going against her party’s unanimous decision not to attend the extraordinary session of parliament commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, decided to join Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik.

It was after this defiant move that both Ildikó Lendvai and László Kovács openly condemned Szili for her decision. After the announcement that her Association for the Future was planning to enter the race for local elections independently, Lendvai was no longer “Kati’s” understanding friend. She said that anyone who campaigns against another MSZP candidate will automatically lose his membership in the party.

Tibor Várkonyi wrote an opinion piece in today’s Népszava in which the doyen of Hungarian journalism pretty well predicted that Szili will end up in Fidesz one day. He recalled Szili’s tortuous road in the past where often she went against her own party and supported the opposition. For example, when she sided with Pécs’s new Fidesz mayor against building a radar station in the Mecsek Mountain. Várkonyi considers setting up the Movement for the Future another anti-MSZP move. Perhaps, he continues, she might actually leave the party on her own and perhaps she will follow in the footsteps of Mátyás Szűrös and Imre Pozsgay, two very high-ranking MSZMP party leaders who ended up in Fidesz.

It is not out of the realm of possibilities but it’s not going to happen any time soon. Szili has retreated, at least temporarily.