László Bartus on Gordon Bajnai’s road to failure

In the wake of the stalled negotiations between Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP several opinion pieces appeared. I found most of them less than inspiring. This morning, however, I happened upon László Bartus’s article in the Amerikai-Magyar Népszava, a paper Bartus bought after he emigrated to the United States. The Amerikai-Magyar Népszava is the oldest Hungarian-language paper in the United States, established in 1891. Within a few years Bartus managed to transform a backwater ethnic weekly into an Internet outlet that not only covers Hungarian news but also offers a rich digest of American politics. The paper that had only a few thousand readers ten years ago today has a significant online presence. Amerikai-Magyar Népszava has many devotees from Hungary who never fail to send me links to some of the more important articles published in the paper.

László Bartus is a controversial man. There are those who think very highly of him while others dislike his style. One thing is sure: Bartus doesn’t beat around the bush, and therefore he can rub people the wrong way. He has decided opinions, and I guess if someone holds equally strong opposing views the clash is inevitable. I’m pretty sure that this editorial will also be controversial. Although Bartus and I don’t always see eye to eye, I happen to agree with some of his analysis in “Road to failure” that appeared in yesterday’s Amerikai-Magyar Népszava. I found his criticism of Gordon Bajnai’s strategy especially on target.

The article is an indictment of Viktor Szigetvári, the chief adviser of Gordon Bajnai who, in Bartus’s opinion, is largely responsible for Bajnai’s political failure. In Bartus’s assessment Bajnai, given the poisonous political atmosphere in Hungary, was lucky that he managed to survive a year as prime minister of Hungary without serious political damage, which gave him a real advantage over some other politicians. But then he “committed all the mistakes that a politician can commit.” Bartus doesn’t remember one good step Bajnai has taken since October 23, 2012. We often make the mistake of blaming advisers of people whom we find decent and attractive but in this case, Bartus claims, the “bad adviser” syndrome is genuine. He considers Viktor Szigetvári “one of the most noxious characters of Hungarian public life since the change of regime.”

Like me, Bartus finds the Hungarian version of “political scientists” (politológusok) injurious to politics. Szigetvári is one of those “ventriloquists” who try to convince the rest of us that they are “in possession of some secret knowledge that other ordinary human beings simply cannot understand.” Some of them appear on radio and television programs and “talk a lot of nonsense only adding to the general confusion,” but there are others who are much more dangerous because they sell their “advice” for good money. Eventually these “advisers” become convinced that they themselves should be politicians because after all they are in possession of that secret knowledge. This is what happened in the case of Viktor Szigetvári who by now is co-chairman of Együtt 2014. But even before, Szigetvári had political ambitions and held high positions during the Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai governments. Under Bajnai, he was in charge of the prime minister’s office.

Viktor Szigetvári at one of his many appearances on ATV

Viktor Szigetvári at one of his many appearances on ATV

Bartus is amazed how it was possible for Szigetvári to survive unscathed even as everything he touched went sour. He was for a while in charge of MSZP’s communication, which was anything but admirable. He was somewhat of an odd bird among the socialist party leaders. I myself mentioned in April 2009 that Szigetvári graduated from the famous Piarist High School in Budapest which normally produces Fidesz cadres and not MSZP comrades. In addition, he wrote his dissertation under Tibor Navracsics. “He joined MSZP when it served his interest and when not he left it.” He calls himself a “conservative liberal.” Szigetvári’s “natural place would be on the “Christian-national right.” And perhaps that is why Szigetvári led Bajnai to the wrong strategy of trying to find allies on the conservative right which, according to most people, really doesn’t exist in Hungary.

In addition, it was also a mistake to use the so-called “civic movements” Milla and Solidarity because there is no politics without parties. It was wrong of Bajnai to offer himself as the leader of an alliance when he himself didn’t even have a party.  It was a mistake to define this alliance in opposition to the left. It was wrong to mouth some of the lies of Fidesz, including the Fidesz interpretation of the events of September-October 2006. Bartus “in place of the chairman of MSZP [Attila Mesterházy] would have gotten up and stopped all further negotiations with them at that very moment.”

Szigetvári’s strategy to create a centrist party led Bajnai into dangerous waters, For example, he talked about Cardinal József Mindszenty and István Bibó as if these two were on the same side in October-November 1956. Bartus objects to Bajnai’s views on the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries, viewing them as no more than an echo of the Orbán government’s propaganda. Bartus is of the opinion that one cannot make peace with the Orbán ideology because it is impossible to rebuild democracy hand in hand with those who managed to destroy it.

While Bartus considers the Orbán regime fascism pure and simple, he also has a very low opinion of MSZP, even in its reformed and renewed form. What he would have suggested to Bajnai is to find a new “third road policy.” But Bartus’s third road is very different from the ideas of the populist/narodnik/népies writers. For him the “the road” means to be against both Orbán’s fascism and MSZP’s corruption. To bring true democracy, the rule of law, and a well regulated capitalist system at last to Hungary. As far as Bartus is concerned, MSZP is incapable of leading Hungary in this direction. In Hungary “the only possible partner in such a quest is Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK, which best represents these principles. Behind DK stands the majority of  the modern, enlightened grey matter of the country. . . . The real adherents to the rule of law.” Bartus admits that the supporters of  DK are not numerous, but still “these are the natural allies of Bajnai and not the careerist former students of Jesuits and socialists who cling to their corrupt ways.”

I happen to agree with László Bartus that Gordon Bajnai’s natural allies should be the members and supporters of the Demokratikus Koalíció, but one must ask whether Bajnai could have been any more successful if he had turned to Ferenc Gyurcsány and sought the support of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Unlikely. DK may one day become an important political force, but it certainly is not at the moment.

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29 comments

  1. For an Englishman, this is a bit strange – in Britain for a Jesuit school to produce right-wingers would be more than unusual. The British SJs are some of the most open-minded and sensible people I have ever met! It is very sad that Hungary is not the same in this respect – where are the sensible Catholics?

  2. I think the problem all potential leaders of the left have is that they are still thinking in democratic and political terms – when Orbán has abolished both.

    There are no reasonable answers to the Hungarian crisis, because Orbán won’t be reasonable.

    The only answer is to call a spade a spade, and declare Orbán, and everything he’s done, illegitimate, and then propose a very simple strategy:

    1) Revoke the new constitution and all laws and political appointments Orbán has made since April 2010.

    2) Install a provisional, apolitical, government, tasked solely with running the country for a maximum of two years, whilst a new constitution is prepared.

    3) Under guidance from the EU, and with all parties involved, develop a new constitution (to be ratified by a referendum).

    4) Call new elections.

    After that it DOES get difficult, as the country will be in a mess and some hard decisions will need to be taken. But this is one of those rare moments in politics where the first, and most crucial, step is the simplest one.

    All it needs is a leader with the vision and courage to do it.

  3. @Paul: Exactly. Before doing all this, somehow the country needs to get rid of Orban. Actually, Bartus has long been advocating boycotting the elections. It would be possible on the grounds that the new constitution and the new election law is illegitimate. But it is a double-edged sword. Most likely it would only result in Orban’s “reelection” (which is going to be the outcome anyway).

  4. I basically agree with Bartus: ‘In Hungary “the only possible partner in such a quest is Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK, which best represent these principles. Behind DK stands the majority of the modern, enlightened grey matter of the country. . . . The real adherents to the rule of law.” Bartus admits that the supporters of DK are not numerous, but still “these are the natural allies of Bajnai and not the careerist former students of Jesuits and socialists who cling to their corrupt ways.” ‘ – Well said.

    But at the same time I have reason to believe that “the grey matter of the country” is in scarce supply. Just look at the latest polls. It’s a tiny tail trying to wag a big dog.

    @Paul. It is easy to agree with your proposed agenda. I have also stipulated a “constitutional reset” a while ago. However, you leave out the point of transition, the most critical in all systems, to which only a working democracy has a viable answer.

    You wrote: “The only answer is to call a spade a spade, and declare Orbán, and everything he’s done, illegitimate…” OK. You do, I do, a couple of thousands would do. And then, what?

    Tell me, please: How to get rid of this monster? We seem to agree that he cannot be unseated in a democratic process. Will we have to wait until his biological clock stops ticking? I have long given up on the idea of a Hungarian version of an “Arab spring” (which also didn’t result in what many had hoped for). Even if EU funding is stopped, he’ll survive as long as he likes. There is still some juice left in the lemon he is squeezing. And Hungarians know how to make ends meet, if ever on an increasingly lowly level.

    “All it needs is a leader with the vision and courage to do it.” Who would or should that be (given the little grey matter left, but obviously not on the left) – and to do what, precisely?

    I know despair can lead to illusions. 🙂

    There are things which are called “failed states”. They exist, and people live in them, most of them don’t die. Only you don’t have any of the working systems in place you expect of a “normal” state, such as a functioning infrastructure (transport, health, education, judiciary system, general administration, tax system, garbage disposal, utilities, etc.). Haiti comes to mind, Greece, many African states. Hungary at this moment is only a failed democracy. But as I could witness in July and August, everything seems to be running just fine – although sometimes with lousy service and at exorbitant prices. I did see a lot of for sale signs at what looked like up-end property – and closed shops. I saw less police than I expected. But I saw more cars which urgently needed a service than before. – But that was Budapest. What with the overwhelming rest of the country?

    And, of course, I know of all the chicanery the state is putting between itself and the common citizen. They complain. But that’s it. They don’t band together. That seems to take young people. But they are leaving Hungary by the droves.

    I have thought again about what you reported once about your family situation. But I won’t ask further.

  5. I think Bartus way overcomplicates things.

    Szigetvari is simply a political animal, a kind of pollster who can also deal with logistics of a campaign. He is supposed to be good in areas where politicians are not that good as politicians although like to sit in their Audis as a deputy state secretaries, but don’t like to work on campaing logistics. Szigetvari was always a pollster/campaigner advisor even at the Prime Ministers office.

    Note that only Szigetvari wrote about the new election system quickly in depth and with expertise (at haza es haladas blog), for everybody else, including journalists and opposition politicians, the new system is way too complicated to comprehend it easily and quickly.

    It may even be that Együtt was his brainchild and Szigetvari was simply looking for a willing politician and convinced Bajnai who otherwise did not really have the ambition, Péter Tölgyessy also thinks that.

    But that does not mean that his idea is wrong. His idea is very simple, and probably still holds (although we cannot know for sure, all polls seem to indicate so).

    That MSZP alone cannot win an election in the new system. (Orban created a system to vastly prefer the most dominant party on the right and until Fidesz holds that position, Fidesz will always have about 7-8% advantage just from the gerrymandeared districts.)

    MSZP would need cross over votes, which the very name of MSZP cannot get. So he simply created a party that potentially can do so, in his hopes, can get votes from people who otherwise would not get themselves to vote for the communists (could not defend the vote before their neighbors or family), but which party in theory could also work with MSZP.

    How this turned out – so far – is another thing.

    But to blame everything on one single person with arguments like where he went to highschool (a decision which in Hungary is taken by parents at least in the days when he was a kid) is amateurish to say the least.

  6. I’m a subscriber of the print edition of the American Nepszava. Most of the articles I read can on-line, but I like the cross word puzzles.They are sending it even when I think I owe them money. Nice. I should give them a call … I promise.

    I generally like Bartus. He has balls. I like his directness. But sometimes he writes hair raising things that are simply meant to be shocking to attract attention. In his last week’s editorial, where he called the Orban regime flat out fascism, he attacked Gyorgy Bolgar, the famous talk show host for not calling the present Hungary a fascist regime. Bolgar’s point was, talking to a caller, that there is no physical terror in Hungary and the press is still free. Bartus even called Bolgar an agent provocateur of the Orban regime for protecting them. Speaking about helping the Orban regime, there’s nothing that Orban wants more than this kind of mindless attacks … Bravo.

    One of Bartus’s frequent punchbags is the Hungarian Catholic church. I can’t blame him, especially nowadays, and I have to admit that his target is strictly the church not the Christian faith, but he isn’t taken seriously by any religious Christian reader. He may want to slow down a bit if he cares about sending a message.

    This strong anti-religion stand may explain the fact that he picked on the guy who graduated from a Jesuit school.

    The MSzP on the left is exactly the same as the Fidesz on the right. Just watch Mesterhazy’s smug face waiting for the “everything but Orban” effect. If you agree on this and also consider how clueless the society is I believe the only logical thing is something like the E14. A relatively neutral guy, who is trying to reach out to both sides.

    Bartus’s uncompromising views will lead to a situation where finally the operation will be successful but the patient will die. Orban will float on for 8-12 more years on foreign loans until our credit cards get maxed out and by then it will be late.

    Orban’s real enemy – I know we said this ad nauseam – is a healthy compromise between the forces that oppose him. I’m trying to say compromise not unity. It should be like a marriage. And in the opposing forces there are a growing number of moderate left and right. I know it’s a leap of faith, but somebody should try to reach out to them. But you have to give them something. A Sekler flag, a Turul a Horthy statue, a fascist in the curriculum. Just suppress your gag reflex and pinch your nose for a few years … The Titanic already hit the icebergs but captain Bartus still doesn’t like the life boats.

    Depressing, but looks like our Duce doesn’t have to do anything. Just sit back and watch the show.

  7. The Hungarian Jesuits must be anticommunists as the rest of the conservatives, and fooled by the Balogh/Orban lies.
    There is foolish race in anticommunism in Hungary.
    To commit the same suicide as the Horthy leaders.

  8. This is gutter journalism, very similar to Magyar Hirlap only from the opposite side. Zsolt Bayer bashes Gypsies and Jews, Laszlo Bartus hates Catholics.
    I am a liberal and i feel ashamed whenever I see the hateful articles in Amerikai Nepszava without intelligent arguments.

  9. OT but interesting, Markó Béla about the Orban / Basescu strategies (in HUN):

    http://hvg.hu/velemeny/20130825_Marko_Bela_romanmagyar_vakacio

    Marko I think does not get it, or probably he does being a really savvy political hand, that whatever happens anywhere to ethnic Hungarians has zero relevance in the greater scheme of things or as far as Fidesz is concerned.

    The one and only use of ethnic Hungarians is their tendency to vote for Fidesz.

    Otherwise, they are foreigners (eg. in the Hungarian countryside ethnic Hungarian immigrants are simply called Román and are not welcome).

  10. Akinek gutter észjárása van, az természetesen azt veszi csak ki Bartus László cikkéből, amit ön. Szerintem maradjon a Magyar Hírlap olvasásánál, lehet, hogy a Bayer Zsolti ötlete szerint, heti folyatásokban, részletesen, képekkel illusztrálva, leközlik majd az orgoványi erdőben történt magyar hőstetteket!

  11. This is the important observation of Bartus on, and the best slogan against orbanism:

    “A magyar jobboldaliság a belső harcokat követően visszatért a horthysta “keresztény-nemzeti” ideológiához, amely a konzervativizmust az antiszemitizmusra épülő nemzeti identitással váltotta fel, miután a nemzet fogalmát elszakította a liberalizmustól. ”

    orbanism is the return to the horthism, flying on the wings of antisemitism. It is the new nice christian-nationalist identity of Hungary.And the reinvention of a national suicide again.

  12. Quote: “To bring true democracy, the rule of law, and a well regulated capitalist system at last to Hungary.” Unquote

    I apologise to show my politics yet again, but Hungary has never had a true democracy and especially not a well regulated capitalist system. It missed the boat by about 200 years. By the time capitalism was built in Hungary it was already in its decline as a social and political system. Why do you think Orban’s demagogues are this successful with the “We will not be a colony!” slogan? Precisely because we have always been a colony. Either politically: under Austria, Russia – or economically, like currently. Nothing made me feel more angry and sad at the same time than the total gutless and probably corrupt selling out of totally successful Hungarian industry to Western European and US interests in the early 90’s. Many industries, like Hungarian pharmaceuticals for example were excellent and needed no Western owner to modernise it and/or make it profitable. The pharmaceutical industry fell foul to the universal law of ‘no multinational is willing to allow any domestic industry to remain to challenge it anywhere where it establishes itself.’ Of all the Eastern European states Hungary was the most servile (or corrupt or both) in practically giving away the entire country to Western interests for pennies with no conditions attached.

    Is that “true democracy” or “a well regulated capitalist system”? Hardly! Obviously Orban is using this demgagogically, but it finds an echo and that’s enough for his propaganda machine to build it up into xenophobia as he had skilfully done.

    I don’t believe Hungary has any chance to become a well regulated capitalist system ever. I nearly laughed when I read in Paul’s comment the following: “The only answer is to call a spade a spade, and declare Orbán, and everything he’s done, illegitimate, and then propose a very simple strategy.” Yes my dear Paul, that is a very practical proposal, but have you given it any thought HOW? And just in case you are all expecting me to write that Paul wrote something utopian and impossible – NO! That is the only way and I’m sorry to have to say, especially to those people who have already decided that the likelyhood of an Arab Spring is impossible in Hungary, that what Paul wrote is in other words called a REVOLUTION. Can you imagine any other way of declaring Orban’s entire gang illegitimate. How within the confines of capitalism do you expect to do that? Only thousand, ney hundreds of thousands on the streets with revoltuionary ideas and actions can do that. And then, do you expect those people who put their life on the line for chasing him away, handing back the reins to the nice capitalist owners? Don’t be silly!

    In the 21st century and especially in Eastern Europe, you have two options:
    1. vegetating under a quasi-fascist (note I don’t agree with Bartus’s full blown fascism yet!) regime, living under the jackboot
    2. get out on the streets and take your life and fate into your own hand and establish a new, free and democratic system. And not a capitalist one!
    NO OTHER OPTIONS!!

  13. Interesting interview with the last surviving member of the Schlieswig Holstein. Especially, the last part. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2402032/WWII-started-55-minutes-earlier-Hitler-claimed-Extraordinary-confession-Nazi-battleship-gunner-fired-shots-Polish-Naval-base.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490

    ‘Hitler told the world that the bombardment began at 5.45am, but this was untrue.
    ‘It began at 4.50am. I know because I was there.’ It was the first of the many thousands of lies Hitler would tell the German people throughout the conflict.

  14. @Ron:

    Gerdau’s last words in the article are memorable:

    “To avoid war, learn.
    Education is everything.
    Go to school.
    And don’t forget to vote.”

  15. tappanch :
    @Ron:
    Gerdau’s last words in the article are memorable:
    “To avoid war, learn.
    Education is everything.
    Go to school.
    And don’t forget to vote.”

    Unfortunately, Weimar Germany had the highest literacy rate in continental Europe, and huge turnouts at general elections. So I guess it could also depend on what is taught.

    By the way, I wonder if Dr Balogh could enlighten us about the current state of the Hungarian historical debate for the years 1867-1919 ? Two decades after the demise of the communist regime, has there been significant re-evaluations?

    This weekend I came across a book I’d forgotten, a study in historiography about how, in the 60s/70s, the controversy around Fritz Fischer’s works (about the Wilhelminian era) had changed the landscape of XXth century German historical studies – and probably participated in changing the country’s minds.

  16. Tappanch: In the meantime, Jobbik gives full support to the post-gas-attack Assad regime. How much money do they get from Iran?
    ———-
    A LOT AND FOR MANY YEARS NOW! THEY WOULD NOT EXIST WITHOUT IT!

  17. Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

    Laszló Kövér, the president of the parliament (Fidesz) fined two opposition MPs to 50k HUF each, for quoting the Prime Miniszter, Viktor Orbán.

    http://bit.ly/143dhaW

    The banner says: “We don’t want a Europe Hungary where the majority abuses it’s powers …”.

  18. …”Bartus finds the Hungarian version of “political scientists” (politológusok) injurious to politics. Szigetvári is one of those “ventriloquists” who try to convince the rest of us that they are “in possession of some secret knowledge that other ordinary human beings simply cannot understand.” Some of them appear on radio and television programs and “talk a lot of nonsense only adding to the general confusion,” ….

    This is very nice characteristics of not only “political scientists” but the politicians themselves, Bainai included. When he was recently in Slovakia to talk with his political friend Bugar he criticised everything OV is doing. Having been asked to present his attitude to Orban´s recruiting new Hungarian citizens in neighbour countries he said he would not change anything in that and tried to explain his position with something that could be exactly defined as some secret knowledge not accessible to ordinary human beings. Of course, there was very simple explanation at disposal – that he was the same populist as Orban – but naturally he did not confessed that. Unfortunately for him, everybody knows it.

  19. Mutt :
    Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …
    Laszló Kövér, the president of the parliament (Fidesz) fined two opposition MPs to 50k HUF each, for quoting the Prime Miniszter, Viktor Orbán.
    http://bit.ly/143dhaW
    The banner says: “We don’t want a Europe Hungary where the majority abuses it’s powers …”.

    “Parliamentary privelidge, Hungarian style”.

    Is there another Parliament in the world where its members can be fined?????

    Or, as Herr Putin has said, “There’s YOUR Democracy and then there’s ours!”

    Or, as Kover would say: “There are your parliamentary rules and then there are ours!!”

    HAJRA MAGYAROK!!!!!

  20. @JGrant
    Actually I think, that one more aspect of Paul’s comment worth considering, namely:

    “2) Install a provisional, apolitical, government, tasked solely with running the country for a maximum of two years, whilst a new constitution is prepared.”

    However utopian it may sound at first, it would be a chance of a lifetime to the opposing forces to be able to work on two more years, which party or what kind of political conglomerate would lead, define the future of the country.
    As things are today, I don’t see a clear and easy way out of the present political turmoil, in spite of the various statements regarding the willingness to compromise – up to a certain point, mind you.
    Unfortunately the possible opportunity of some kind of personal advancement much more important to some newcomers with attitude than to reach an agreement, so I have no high hopes.

    Not to mention the fact, that even if the MSZP and the E14 would find some solution to cooperate, there are still quite a few others who should be included if it was a fair pact.
    Assuming the role of ‘the only chosen one’ quite a bold status, would need a way more solid foundation to stand on – in my opinion.

  21. Clutching at straws maybe, but the most important thing is to garner more interest from the outside world. The almost total absence of discontent on the streets (which rather gives the lie to the idea that the country is in any serious way turning against Fidesz) is not going to help this. There was immense international interest when the anti-Gyurcsany forces made plain their obvious displeasure and numbers in 2006 (though the journalism was pretty bad – I don’t remember any journalist explaining what that sea of red-and-white-striped-flags was all about … ).

    So, perhaps a 90% majority in parliament based on about 20% of the electorate might actually help, in the long run, to draw attention to the iniquities here?

    Perhaps the vote should NOT be got out?

  22. @bubala
    Well, i am a liberal, but i can’t stand primitive, hateful articles without credible arguments. laszlo Bartus is the shame of Hungarian journalism, He hates catholics so now Szigetvari’s sin is to be a piarista student.
    It is not enough to read what you want to hear, if you accept Bartus type of arguments you have pregudice as well. Just like Magyar Hirlap the same style with the opposite direction.

  23. Yes you are right, the black color is the same as the white just opposite. And you don’t like any of the other colors either. I think this is a case of being screwed.

  24. Bubala
    The problem is that you are also attacking like Bartus. Instead of intelligent arguments, just cursing. Well probably not worse it. It is a marginal group who read Amerikai Nepszava and it is unfortunate that this blog which is usually the place of high level discussion quotes Bartus as a credible writer. And takes the stand at the side of his extreme views about certain religions and people.

  25. You have no points to argue and I am not cursing, I never do. We are finished, I have no more to say and/or to read on this subject. Bye.

  26. AB is invited to turn from closed minded person into an open minded one.

    Is this hollow anticommunism of the orbanists in the interest of the tortured Hungarian nation?

    Is this anticommunism driving half of the nation into a second class status?

    Bubala 51 is intellectually and emotionally on the right track. I would support his logic over AB’s.

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