MSZP’s new strategy: Frontal attack on Viktor Orbán and his government

Lately I have been increasingly aware that MSZP politicians are changing tactics. They have decided to be less timid when it comes to criticism of Viktor Orbán, his party, and his government. Earlier, liberal and socialist politicians tried to avoid the kind of discourse that is characteristic of Fidesz and that contributed to the deep political division in Hungary.

The constant verbal abuse until recently came only from the right. The humiliated socialist politicians weren’t confident enough to raise their voices. But now, instead of tiptoeing around, they no longer mince words. It seems that they came to the conclusion that madly looking for polite words to describe the absolutely unacceptable policies and political discourse of Fidesz and members of the Orbán government leads nowhere. The Hungarian public is so accustomed to Fidesz rants that they no longer hear roundabout ways of expressing displeasure. Stronger language  and a louder voice became necessary.

Leftist politicians and political commentators no longer shy away from calling Fidesz a mafia-like organization that is in the process of trying to attain exclusive political power and that also strives for its own and its followers’ enrichment. It is enough here to think of Bálint Magyar’s excellent article on the Fidesz “upperworld” or Ferenc Gyurcsány’s total disregard of any possible consequences by calling Viktor Orbán a cheat and a liar.



Here I would like to concentrate on Attila Mesterházy, who recently delivered a very effective speech in parliament addressed to Viktor Orbán and who in the last three days wrote two op/ed pieces, one in Népszava and another in NépszabadságBoth papers have MSZP connections. Népszava used to be the paper of the Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt. It began publication in 1873 and even today describes itself as “a social democratic daily.”

Attila Mesterházy seems to like numbered lists. His article in Népszava is entitled “Orbán’s Nine Lies” and today’s article in Népszabadság is “Fifteen Theses.” The first article is about the nine “accomplishments” of the Orbán government as they were enumerated by the prime minister in Tusnádfrürdő/Băile Tușnad in Romania at the end of July. In the second piece Mesterházy basically outlines what his party intends to do after winning the elections in 2014.

Here I will not be able to summarize all the points that Mesterházy makes in these two articles. Instead I will concentrate on the different tone, the different communication tactics that are a departure from both earlier MSZP strategy and the declared conciliatory tactics of Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 2014-PM. I’m coming to the conclusion that MSZP, as opposed to the middle-of-the-road Bajnai group, decided that their followers demand stronger language and more resolute action once the Orbán mafia-government is out of office.

I think it was 23 years ago, in 1991, that the young Viktor Orbán in parliament said of Prime Minister József Antall “the prime minister is lying.” The air froze around him. Those were the days when members of parliament, even the ones in opposition, found it unacceptable to call the prime minister a liar. But now the largest opposition party’s chairman himself calls Orbán a liar, “someone who rewrites reality, someone who falsifies facts, someone who is sinking in the maelstrom of his own lies.” After this powerful beginning, Mesterházy lists all the lies Orbán uttered in Tusnádfürdő and finishes with the claim that these lies are necessary in order to cover up Orbán’s “politics based on the interpenetration of money and power.”

Mesterházy’s second article on MSZP strategy outlines what MSZP plans to do with the political and financial edifice that Viktor Orbán built in the previous four years. MSZP promises the dismantlement of Orbán’s system. In addition, they will redress injustice and punish those who are found guilty. MSZP is currently planning a thorough investigation of the shady land-lease program and the distribution of the tobacconist shops. Mesterházy “calls on everyone who feels that they received undeserved preferential treatment to return the ill-gotten land or give back their tobacco concessions. Otherwise we will take the land back and give it to those who really want to cultivate it. ” As far as the tobacconist shops are concerned, MSZP will put an end to the current system and return to the days when one could buy cigarettes at gas stations, supermarkets, and small corner stores.

But that is not all. Organizations and companies that currently provide questionable services to the government will also be investigated and “if it is found that payments were provided for services not actually rendered or a gram of cement was stolen, those responsible will not be able to avoid court proceedings.” These are unusually strong words for Attila Mesterházy.

On the other hand, he holds out an olive branch to the average Fidesz voter by pointing out that they are not responsible for what the Orbán govenment has done to the country because Viktor Orbán didn’t tell them his plans. “He shafted them, he misled them.” So, they shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Felcsút is becoming a symbol of all that is wrong with present-day Hungary. The small village where Viktor Orbán spent his early childhood and where he is building a monument to himself is a reminder of what can happen to a man who has lost all sense of reality because of unfettered power.

And that leads me to an article by Gábor Török, a political scientist who cannot be accused of anti-Orbán prejudices. Török is actually an admirer of Viktor Orbán’s political skills and points out that the prime minister in his long political career always kept in mind what people think of his actions and how the electorate reacts to his words and deeds. That’s why he finds what is happening in Felcsút, the construction of an enormous stadium right next door to the prime minister’s own house, so out of character. Doesn’t he realize what perception that whole project creates? Is he blind and deaf? “A stadium next to one’s own house may kill a politician. It only depends on the creativity and talent of his opponents.” Mesterházy mentioned Felcsút eight times in an article only slightly longer than this post.


  1. About time. Let us hope that the whole of MSZP follows and at all levels they come out firing on all cylinders. I never knew whether it was cowardice or just simple stupidity that made MSZP think that anything but the most definite, clear and brave words will do. Mind you, as I said a few times on this blog – he and all in the opposition will have to come up with a program that is uncompromising, clearly promises the total dismantling of the FIDESZ edifice and grabs the electorate’s imagination to have the slightest hope in hell of ousting this maffia next spring!

  2. Simple stupidity. The left is not proud and it does not dare. It apologizes for its existence. It’s a bunch of weaklings, without vision and leadership.

    But agree it was about time. I guess the actions (or rather non-actions) of the opposition surprised Fidesz so far, which – I can assure you – prepared for a much closer and tougher fight. Hence for example Heti Valasz’ note on the non-existence of any coordinated leftist media campaign, implicitly ackowledeging that on the right you have such centrally directed propaganda program. But as Népszabadsag and HVG among others are fighting for their existence (if at all), it was never gonna work anyway.

    JGrant: pls. forget about programs, agendas, manifestos, nobody reads them anyway (except for some Guardian journalists). A program is for intellectuals to get agitated about not for masses which democracy is about.

    When Fidesz voters would happily elect a monkey if directed so, you can’t be serious about “programmes”.

  3. Wow!

    If that’s a sign of things to come, then we’ll see a series of bloody battles …

    Z Kovac’s remarks remind me of an old joke about the Bavarian Christian Social Union CSU (an Oxymoron by itself …) which are almost as right-wing as Fidesz and have been ruling Bavaria for many decades. There the saying goes:

    The CSU could nominate Satan himself as a candidate for parliament – and the sheep in the countryside would elect him with an overwhelming majority …

    Maybe this year things in Bavaria will change however and also in Berlin – just waiting for September.

  4. Z.Kovac: “forget about programs, agendas, manifestos, nobody reads them anyway”

    Alright, I suppose for a moment that is the case. But what do you believe the elected politician will be going to do when in parliament and in the government? How do they “know” what they should do when in parliament and in government? A programme is generally not only meant for attracting the voter but it is also guiding politicians when in office. Of course, I can imagine that now you will answer that in Hungary, all actions of policians are just guided by greed and self-interest. But yuo can trust me, there will be some “programme” behind it. Promoting “tradional values”, “national networks” and “national self-sufficiency” is – what a surprise – a political “programme”.

  5. Kirsten, I think what Kovac meant, was:

    You need some simple slogans for the simple voters – of course you need a program too.

    Europe or Orbán! is a very good idea in that respect.

    Now the opposition needs something similar re:
    Graft/corruption vs honesty ?
    Education or football stadiums ?

    The lsit could go on …

    Remember the general maxim for all kinds of systems building, not only IT: KISS
    Keep it simple. stupid!

    No offense meant, of course …

  6. Wolfi, I am sure the brief slogans will be easy to find if you know what you want to do after the elections. To have a good slogan to attract people is no doubt necessary but it needs to be “believed” also. Which is why a slogan without some practical ideas about what this will mean in practice is a recipe for further “disillusionment” on the part of the public, which considers it a national sport anyway to distrust politicians and politics in general – for instance because they operate with “nice slogans”. I do not see why having a good, elaborate programme should stand in opposition with having some short and easily comprehensible slogans.
    The KISS principle is probably necessary for a campaign but as far as I remember, Mr Matolcsy tried to convince the public that this is basically also his answer to the complex modern world outside of campaigning. (I remember that one of his insights was “simplicity kell”.) This simplicity is also already being put into practice. I doubt that an opposition that tries to keep Hungary in some European context can match this unique blend of simplicity in “theory” and “practice”.

  7. A. Lincoln aptly said “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

  8. To give an example of what I mean: I think that values that the opposition could for instance spread such as “mutual respect”, “personal dignity”, “solidarity” are sufficiently brief and sufficiently distinct from what Fidesz is doing. And yet, to be credible, people should see in the practical behaviour of those politicians spreading these ideas what exactly they mean by it. That would be visible in their behaviour but also in practical solutions to problems such as education, health care, labour market, and a balancing of the interest of the richer and poorer population or of the rural and urban populations.

  9. Kirsten, I think we aren’t that far apart. Let me give an example. A slogan could be:

    Tax the poor or tax the rich! (Now someone has to translate this into Hungarian …)

    The program behind it has to contain points like changing back to a progressive income tax, making sure that companies pay their taxes, give tax incentives to those people/companies who need and deserve them etc …

    Of course that will also need a lot of work and fine-tuning!

  10. Kristen: I am not a big Obama fan after what came out re total survaillance and in my view he continues to lie and mislead the public, but how successful was he with his bi-partizan approach? Let’s get friendly and cozy with the Republicans. Yeah, right.

    Remember gun control? A big budget deal? Climate change legislation? Immigration reform (well, a big maybe)?

    If the other side is as aggressive as Fidesz, which is the best pupil of the unrelenting Republicans, then mutual respect and the like will get you nowhere.

    You would need the European gentlemen politicians for that, but Fidesz would be stupid to be so gentlemanly because time and again it has proven to itself that aggressiveness against the hapless Hungarian Left (well, against everybody if we wanna be honest) pays and pays well.

    So, no, if the left ever wants to catch a break from Fidesz, then they have to be more assertive and change. After all, if circumstances change then you’d better also change (adapt), unless you wanna to go extinct.

  11. Gail Underwood: I just wrote some ideas, I really do not insist on these words. These have to fit into Hungarian reality and therefore will be best supplied by Hungarians affected directly by Fidesz and their “national paradise”, and who also have some ideas how Hungary should change. The point that I wanted to make is that these slogans must have some link to a more elaborate concept, that that concept has to be “trustworthy”, and that I do not see a conflict between having brief slogans and more extensive programmes. I think Wolfi supplied a very good example for what I wanted to say before.

  12. Gail Underwood :
    You would need the European gentlemen politicians for that, but Fidesz would be stupid to be so gentlemanly because time and again it has proven to itself that aggressiveness against the hapless Hungarian Left (well, against everybody if we wanna be honest) pays and pays well.

    Actually, I think you’r right – with one exception: the rudeness of the Fidesz doesn’t initiate from a decided strategy, they are just what they are, self-centered bullies with determination.
    And this is, what impress quite a number of citizens – a telltale sign, in my point of view.

  13. What on earth took them so long? Have they only just noticed what Orbán is up to? The time to come out all guns blazing was right at the beginning, before the new constitution, while Orbán was still unsure of his power, and while there was still a chance of actually getting their message out to the people.

    But now, they will run into the full force of the super confident, well funded, Fidesz propaganda machine – which will mow them down ruthlessly with a barrage of lies.

    And they simply won’t be able to get their message to 90% of the people, as Fidesz control all the channels the average voter uses . All most people will know about MSzP policies or attacks will be when Fidesz responds to them – which will just reinforce most people’s received opinion that MSzP are either useless, stupid, corrupt, or just a joke (or all of those things).

    Better late than never, I suppose the optimists will say. But the truth is it’s already too late. They missed the boat two years ago.

  14. “I never knew whether it was cowardice or just simple stupidity” – both, but mostly navel gazing and in-fighting.

    The typical Hungarian response to any adversity – first find someone to blame.

    Then, some considerable time later, when the nice feeling of having found a scapegoat starts to wear off, and the realisation creeps in that blaming someone else hasn’t in the least helped to solve the problem – only then start to panic and do something – anything.

    In fact it occurs to me that maybe Orbán won so easily and comprehensively because he behaved unlike a typical Hungarian?

  15. “On the other hand, he holds out an olive branch to the average Fidesz voter by pointing out that they are not responsible for what the Orbán govenment has done to the country because Viktor Orbán didn’t tell them his plans. ‘He shafted them, he misled them.’ So, they shouldn’t feel ashamed.”

    It is politically necessary to say this. However, Fidesz voters are truly responsible for what Orban has done to the country. Many of the people who voted Fidesz in 2010 — perhaps half — continue to applaud Orban. The other half voted for Fidesz without demanding the slightest information about the party’s policies or what the leaders planned to do with a possible 2/3 majority. Indeed, they could have guessed what lay ahead through a cursory examination of what Orban did from 1998 to 2002.

    If a person buys a used car without kicking the tires or taking it for a test drive, and the car later breaks down, that person is stupid. By the same token, the 2010 Fidesz voter was either stupid or malfeasant. They deserve every bit of blame for the consequences of their actions.

  16. Fidesz won the last election with the simple slogan: “Gyurcsany liar”, which was chanted in the streets with gusto by people who, by-and-large, had never even read the speech referred to. This slogan then became, pretty much, their policy. In Hungary, manifestos are of course necessary in order to govern ethically and effectively, but only meaningless and empty slogans appear to actually win elections.

    Of course, a slogan could also be true (radical thought, that)! Billboards with big numbers illustrating the vast tax burden (including ALL taxes – flat taxes, stealth taxes, hidden taxestransaction charges, VAT, the insane financial impositions and extra health costs etc on people enforced into starting businesses – where in the rest of Europe they would be able to function as freelancers and even receive tax credits (another radical thought!) etc etc etc). Yes, big numbers on one side, reflecting the lot of the ordinary lower-averagely paid manand woman. And smaller numbers on the other side, indicating the tax burden for his/her equivalent in other EU countries. Perhaps even a sentence underneath: “This is why our children are leaving. Bring them back home. Vote MSZP.”

    The opposition spin doctors are not earning their money.They need some good old honest -but-true nastiness. Employ Malcom Tucker, quickly, before he becomes Doctor Who, and before Fidesz are elected into a one-party state (Jobbik will win seats but are no party, just a mere movement of cynical leaders and hateful followers. They should therefore not be considered in these discussions except with fear).

  17. Z. Kovac :
    JGrant: pls. forget about programs, agendas, manifestos, nobody reads them anyway (except for some Guardian journalists). A program is for intellectuals to get agitated about not for masses which democracy is about.
    When Fidesz voters would happily elect a monkey if directed so, you can’t be serious about “programmes”.

    Dear Z. Kovac!
    Perhaps I was not specific enough to explain what I meant about a program. Not a boring piece of paper or document at all. That would not enthuse anyone. How about Lenin’s “Land, Peace and Bread!” That was a program that grabbed the imagination. This is the sort of thing Orban and his gang are good at, even when their slogans are not worth anything, Even when they are lying. EVen when their “program” is populist hogwash. How many people said and wrote here that the left missed the boat and the initiative is with FIDESZ and their populism. However, “Land, Peace and Bread!” was not populism, because it was meant, it was true and it was put into effect once the Bolsheviks came to power. When I wrote about a program, I meant something that would not come out in a boring document for nobody but a Guardian journalist to read, I meant something real, something that gives hope, something the simplest person can understand and then hundreds, nay thousands of activists that appear everywhere and enthusiastically put it across. Without fear, with intelligence and honesty. That is what is needed. That would win. Whether MSZP is capable to do that, that is the 64 thousand dollar question of the hour. We’ll see, won’t we?

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