Rearrangement on the Hungarian left? It looks like it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing leaves

Changing leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15 comments

  1. The opposition coalition may invite Dorottya Karsay to be their leader.

    She is a brilliant lady

  2. Mesterhazy made sure that he does not have to listen to the old guard. People loyal to him are in the internal party positions. It’s not even sure Lendvai, Kovács and others have any formal right to force Mesterhazy to do anything at all.

    Unfortunately for Mesterhazy, however, he is a better internal party player than a national politician. Although this was not entirely due to his savvyness, as he was there (pushed by László Puch) and the old MSZP guard itself realized that they needed a younger face so they actually let him take over.

    But now it’s clear that Mesterhazy has no charisma, MSZP is inactive and frozen (by that time before an election Fidesz activists were so hungry, they could literally kill if ordered so, they were so fired up), has no message and no vision.

    I guess even the sympathizers are looking with dread: ok, guys, so what will you do? Tell us, who will be in the new government, tell us some names, or policy ideas? Nothing. And you would be hard pressed to show any savvy new generation MSZP politician in the mold of Lázár, Rogán, hell, even Róbert Zsigó (or Lendvai for that matter). Actually there is plenty of time for MSZP to lose further popularity and to call a congress together and replace Mesterhazy, although I am sure Laszlo Puch will fight for him and he still has the keys to the treasury, although it has been as if he purposefully wanted to starve the party.

    For the MSZP old guard this is also about the legacy. They don’t want to see the complete elimination of MSZP in their lives. (Similarly, Orbán will never give up his top position because he, like all founder entrepreneurs, will be afraid that his life”s work, his legacy will be squandered by amateurs, who are not as tough as him.) But it seems that new generation is even more of a weak, directionless bunch than the previous one was, the older at least were tougher and smarter. Hell, Orbán will soon praise the old guard that they were at least a worthy adversary, and will hold Mesterhazy as the negative representative of the younger, liberal generation which is incapable of having any vision, any hard work and achieving results. I do think that the new generation is a bunch of amateurs, but the question is how much real influence the old guard has, plus how much they want to be in a perceived internal fight (which is bad PR wise, ie, “the old commies are coming back, nothing changes at MSZP” etc.)

    But let’s not forget one thing. This has been Orban’s idea from the beginning. He created the new election system which made sure that the Left will have to spend all their time on internal politicking and nothing will be left for the campaign or policy ideas. If the next 4-5 months will continue about the internal fights within the Left (except for DK) they will successfully kill each other (which has been the plan of Orban).

    Not surprisingly DK is coming up: it does not have to deal with internal games, it can concentrate on the campaign.

  3. Very interesting tidbits about HVG and the Baja video (in Hungarian). The leadership of MSZP absolutely believed in the veracity of the video. They had no suspicion that it was planted — to me that indicates either the complete amateurism of the leadership or the fact that inside MSZP somebody assured the genuiness of the video, ie. someone trustworthy in MSZP was a Fidesz “mole”.

    Moreover, there seems to be a ongoing debate inside HVG, which eventually outed its source which it has never done before. It’s a fascinating article.

    Cink is almost always an interesting source about the inner workings of the Hungarian media, it’s consistently and not so subtly classic anti-communist, but is usually very well-informed (about rumors at least) and daring to reveal info.

    http://cink.hu/szetveti-e-a-hvg-t-a-kamuvideobotrany-1459456711/@szilylaszlo

  4. Guppoi :
    Very interesting tidbits about HVG and the Baja video (in Hungarian). The leadership of MSZP absolutely believed in the veracity of the video. They had no suspicion that it was planted — to me that indicates either the complete amateurism of the leadership or the fact that inside MSZP somebody assured the genuiness of the video, ie. someone trustworthy in MSZP was a Fidesz “mole”.
    Moreover, there seems to be a ongoing debate inside HVG, which eventually outed its source which it has never done before. It’s a fascinating article.
    Cink is almost always an interesting source about the inner workings of the Hungarian media, it’s consistently and not so subtly classic anti-communist, but is usually very well-informed (about rumors at least) and daring to reveal info.
    http://cink.hu/szetveti-e-a-hvg-t-a-kamuvideobotrany-1459456711/@szilylaszlo

    A mole? Inside the MSZP????

    Noooooo…….(hehehe)

  5. The ultimate pork barrel:

    Fidesz government announced lowering the VAT on pork from 27% to 5% from January 1.
    Beef, chicken, fish will be taxed at 27% as previously.

    Fidesz is conquering Hungarian hearts through their pork-loving stomach.

  6. tappanch :
    The ultimate pork barrel:
    Fidesz government announced lowering the VAT on pork from 27% to 5% from January 1.
    Beef, chicken, fish will be taxed at 27% as previously.
    Fidesz is conquering Hungarian hearts through their pork-loving stomach.

    Only reason is that Fidesz is making money from Pork and not the other goods. That is why the VAT is lowered. Think Csanyi and Lazar.

  7. The “left” in Hungary can try to “rearrange” as often as it wishes but it does not appear too promising if it still relies (nearly) only on those people who have been active in politics before 2009. The “left” would do the country a great service if it offered a good analysis of why Fidesz could take over so totally, and this analysis should neither stress the decisive role of some psychological aspects of OV’s character, nor the “widespread ignorance” of Hungarians. It would be best to just concentrate on the alleged “accomplishments of the period between 2004 and 2009”, or even better on the “accomplishments of the period between 1990 and 2009”.

  8. @Kirsten:”still relies (nearly) only on those people who have been active in politics before 2009.”???

    Szolidaritas, LMP, Milla… all new formations. MSZP has chosen a new face (Mesterhazy)… there’s been a lot of development on the “left” (in the democratic opposition) with some new faces, but it is hard to get rid of ALL of the old ones from before 2009. Unless we want to have babies in politics.

    It’s not the lack of new formations and new faces that make the “left” look old… it’s the lack of political expertise and marketing.. that’s why none of these new faces became really well-known and popular.

  9. An, Szolidaritas is a union and when I actually tried to obtain information from them some months ago by just walking in into their headquarters, I was told by the porter that they are so few that they are present at their office only once in a while. He could not even tell me when this could approximately be the case. The other organisations have even fewer members, I was told, and they do not really consider themselves “left” – which creates the problems in the definition of the joint programme of the opposition. The old “left” has worked hard to discredit ideas at the centre, where the new movements have tried to attract people, for instance (in my impression) through denying the need to analyse more precisely what went wrong before 2006 or through stressing how “amateurish” these organisations are. So the “left” I understood as MSzP and DK.

  10. The Hungarian government will give away paintings and other pieces of art of uncertain origin to “likely” heirs without thorough investigation. Jobbik people are upset because they think heirs of Jewish owners will get back these pieces of art.

    But look at 27/C. § (3) (a) in
    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/12791/12791.pdf

    “You must enclose a death certificate with the request.”

    I do not think the Nazis issued death certificates in Auschwitz.

  11. Kirsten, it takes time for new leaders to emerge. Though I agree that MSZP could do a lot more to “renew”. As for DK, it is true that Gyurcsany is the leading face, but the others, well, at least “newer”.

    I really don’t care if leaders and prominent figures in the democratic opposition are old or young, and what time their started their political career. If they are talented, have a vision and a strategy that may work, I’m willing to listen. Newcomers may bring in fresh perspectives and ideas, but may make rookie mistakes, while old-timers may have more expertise, but may be stuck in a rut.. so it really comes down to the person. I wouldn’t discard anybody just for being an old-timer, or just for being a newbie. I think part of the problem in opposition circles that a lot of these new faces are just not ready yet.

  12. Another thing, somebody wrote it in Galamus and I don’t remember who it was, but I absolutely agree… this is NOT a left and right issue anymore in Hungary. The stake is a choice between Fidesz style authoritarianism vs. democracy, so it would be more apt to call the opposition “democratic opposition” rather than the “left”. Obviously, the opposition in this case is very mixed: left, liberal, even liberal minded conservatives.. anybody who is for democracy in Hungary is practically in opposition right now. It is the very same reason why it is so difficult for the opposition to unite.

  13. Tappanch: it is a bit more complicated, most people will get money instead of the physical thing i.e. people will not take home the paintings from the walls on the Szépművészeti.

    In addition, it is one thing to formally own a thing and to be able to bring it outside of Hungary.

  14. Kristen, party offices are not like business offices, even in Győr for example (a politically important regional town where the left used to have opportunities), Fidesz’ party office is generally shut. And Fidesz could very well finance a couple of hundred full time employees (there are a couple of dozen people at their Budapest headquarters, though). If the party exists in reality, party branches are not that important.

    I agree with An, that there are a lot of new faces and names on the left, it is just too difficult to evolve into a “politician”, especially as there is no cover. Fidesz consistently protects its members through various ways, however idiotic, corrupt or repulsive they are. There is no such protection in opposition, you are on your own, you make mistakes and it could be over for you soon and the media devours you (the Fidesz media will obviously kill you and the minimal “liberal” media will lough at you, at best, one is better than the other).

    One of the things is that the left simply cannot break through the media. The way I see it is that the right wing media echo chamber is enormous, exclusively encompasses perhaps 85% of the voters (they have no other source than those managed by Fidesz). The minimal liberal, not Fidesz party media consists of self-defined independents who will not support the left because it would be uncool to support these ‘losers’, so they decide to ignore what the left does or lough them out.

    If people will use the elections as an opportunity to get rid of Orban, he can be deposed (which in itself is just one part of an equation). But if the elections will be about a new government, as such, nobody in their right mind would vote for a leftist coalition government lead by Mesterhazy. He may be 40ish, but nobody believes that he can be capable of managing a country/complex coalition government. People would think it is not worth to have a 6-month period without effective government and that costant internal struggles (and people also know that if you have no strong leadership, people in lower levels will use the opportunities and steal a lot and they hate to see “communists” steal). In addition, there is a self-defeatig mechanism in being in constant crises-mode (MSZP/Együtt), while Fideszniks believed years before 2010 that they were going to prevail in any upcoming elections, the leftist voters these days do not believe in their victory and if they dont, they will not vote, but they will be angry at the leftist parties (for their let down) not at Orban.

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