Notes on a confused pre-election analysis of Hungarian politics

Four years ago, shortly before the election, I wrote two articles about Péter Tölgyessy, one in Hungarian and the other in English. One is not the translation of the other, but in both I was critical of his assessment of Hungarian politics at the time. I criticized him with perhaps more vehemence than it is my wont because it irritated me to no end that Hungarian liberals looked upon the man as the most reliable source of political analysis. If Tölgyessy says something, well, it must be true.

Why is he considered to be a real guru? I guess that his substantial contribution, alongside László Sólyom, to the new democratic constitution of 1989 is one of the reasons. Second, it was his “pact” with the new prime minister, József Antall, that established the stability of all Hungarian governments between 1990 and 2010. The deal entailed the introduction of several “cardinal laws,” which needed two-thirds majorities. It also included an agreement that a member of SZDSZ, Árpád Göncz, would become the president of the Republic of Hungary despite Antall’s right-of-center coalition government.

Perhaps another reason for his somewhat exaggerated reputation is that he speaks or writes so rarely. His rather unusual political career included eight years in parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus during which he never spoke once. He occasionally comes out with books about politics, but his name rarely appears in the daily press. It seems, however, that he finds it practically compulsory to say something about Hungarian politics every four years.

Péter Tölgyessy

Péter Tölgyessy

His contribution for 2014 is long. It was published in three parts in HVG. In preparation for today’s post I spent a considerable amount of time reading and taking notes on it. And the more I read the more I came to the conclusion that Tölgyessy’s analysis is off the wall.

I’m sure that all of you are familiar with those political analysts who can’t refrain from predicting the future but do so in a way that pretty well includes all possibilities. At the very beginning of his treatise Tölgyessy announces that Fidesz can receive 70% of the votes (similar to the situation in Belarus) but that “one cannot exclude the possibility that the opposition will win with a small margin.” He finally settles for a Fidesz win “in the neighborhood of two-thirds.”

Although Tölgyessy foresees the possibility of a national tragedy as a result of Viktor Orbán’s policies, he seems to take this year’s election lightly. In his opinion, both sides exaggerate. Orbán claims that their inability to continue in office would bring disaster to the nation while the opposition charges that another four years of the present government would eliminate even the few remaining vestiges of democracy.

In reality, the cleavage between the two sides is greater than ever, yet Tölgyessy doesn’t see major differences between the two. This is what happens when an analyst pretends to be impartial. Whatever we think of the Hungarian left or the liberals, in comparison they still seem to be a great deal better than those currently in power. Moreover, within the essay it becomes evident that Tölgyessy is not politically neutral: he is now a supporter of András Schiffer’s LMP. He wishes, I’m sure, that LMP would be strong enough to win the election and get rid of all the current politicians. This, to his mind, would allow Hungary to become a truly European country.

In the second part of the essay Tölgyessy turns to the Hungarian left. The real problem, according to Tölgyessy, is the “political civil war” that exists between the two political sides. So far so good, but what can one do with the following statement: “Fidesz now with the help of the two-thirds majority, limited parliamentary system, and the elimination of true democratic election system,  is trying to step outside of  the warlike vortex of the last twenty years.” Oh, I see. Whatever Viktor Orbán did in the last four years was all for the good of Hungarian political life. He was simply trying to put an end to political division in the country and introduce peace and tranquility. Yet a few lines later we read that since everything works in the interest of extending Fidesz rule “the opposing forces might be directed against the whole system” and not just the Orbán government. I would say that we have already reached that stage.

Or what can we do with sentences like this: “because of the centralization of power, with one single electoral loss we can return to the confused world of the past.” Almost as if Tölgyessy himself believed the Orbán propaganda about the disorderly and incoherent past. Tölgyessy seems to like LMP because in his opinion András Schiffer’s party wants to “break the logic of the two-bloc political system.” Well, what I see is that Schiffer and his friends hate both the left and the right, and I don’t know why three warring groups would be preferable to two.

After this Tölgyessy takes on the opposition parties and finds something wrong with all of them. MSZP today might be a different party than before, but now the problem is that Attila Mesterházy is trying to imitate Viktor Orbán. This party “overpowers the opposition as never before.” A dubious claim at best. An ugly dig is put in for emphasis: “the MSZP activists have no life outside the Party.” The capitalized letter in “party” is a reminder of the Rákosi and Kádár days. Why? Is there life outside of Fidesz for people like Orbán, Lázár, or Rogán? He claims that MSZP politicians “have less feeling of responsibility toward society than Rezső Nyers and Gyula Horn.” Both are old leaders of the MSZMP of the Kádár period. On what basis does he make such an accusation?

As for Gordon Bajnai, he has no political talent whatsoever; moreover, his own past made him a hopeless candidate. After all, he was a member of the Gyurcsány cabinet, and his company’s involvement in the bankruptcy case of a poultry processing plant made him a thoroughly unsuitable candidate. Not a word about Bajnai’s record as prime minister. And finally, Tölgyessy echoes the Fidesz accusation that with the return of Ferenc Gyurcsány to the fold “the old left symbolically returned to its pre-2010 self.”

If we can believe that Tölgyessy is an outspoken supporter of capitalist development and would like to see Hungary adjust to the requirements of the global economy, why does he not notice that Frenc Gyurcsány’s DK is practically the only party in Hungary that embraces modern capitalism wholeheartedly? I guess he can’t come to that conclusion because he views Gyurcsány as a political adventurer with no sense of responsibility.

Finally, Tölgyessy thinks that the cleavage between left and right was caused primarily by MSZP. In his opinion, it is this party that “introduced eastern types of methods that were alien to the other new democratic parties” because its leaders were fearful of losing their old financial security. Honest to goodness, I don’t know what Tölgyessy is talking about. First of all, all the party leaders in 1989-1990 grew up in the Kádár regime. If one can characterize those methods as eastern, then the whole lot of them were students of eastern methods.

The second section of this long essay ends with the following words: “There is far less difference between the two blocs than their enthusiastic supporters think or their leaders try to convince the population of the country. Both are trying to solve the whole mess in their own way without much success. Fidesz, however, with its desire to win and put an end to this warlike opposition went too far and overstepped more limits than at any time before.” It was at this point that I threw up my hands. Others can plow through the section three.

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76 comments

  1. @kommentelo

    You did not read my note carefully.

    Have you been on the square?
    You cannot speak anywhere on Heroes’ square.

    There is also the memorial to the unknown soldier, the huge horses of the 7 chieftains, the sculptures of the former kings…
    You have to stand in front of the Millennium memorial, otherwise people will not see you.

    Which means that the useful surface area of the square is only about half of the square.

  2. kommentelo :
    The size of the Heroes Square is a real number. It is a factual number it is not open to interpretation it is not open to opinions.
    It is impossible for the Heroes Square to be 28,000 and 13,000 sq meters at the same time. With this in mind can anyone tell me how big is the Heroes Square in actual reality. Not where you think people stood not the half you think really counts but the actual real size of the square. In reality. The full size of the square.
    How big is it?

    Sound simple? It is not. W are referring here to the area where Fidesz supporters stood. Take a look on the photos. Her’s square would include where the monuments are and beyond, but it is obvious none stood behind the monuments. THe area includes the two museums, but it is obvious that the supporters did not fill the inside of these buildings. THe stage was also not filled with supporters, and people were ahead of the cordons. Take a look on the photos. So except if you are planning to build a tent above Hero’s Square, you have to go with the somehow ambitious out linings. Use the photos, as there are plenty of them to see how far people stand, and then use “tappanch is telling the truth”s planimeter. http://acme.com/planimeter/

  3. You really do not get it. I just want to know the size of the square full stop.

    Not because of any demonstration or because someone thinks he knows exactly where supporters stood based on say pictures that show that one part of the square was empty. I do not care about all that to me those are all step two, three, four. Everything can only come after knowing the real size of the square. After knowing how big is it you can start subtracting or you can simply use a lower multiplier (when thinking about how many people per sq meter). Then you look at the surrounding streets based on pictures.

    But the base data is the full size of the empty square. How big is it in sq meters? Does anyone know the correct answer?

  4. Just returning from a walk (with my wife and the dog) through our village I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry at this discussion on the size of the square and the number of people.

    Orbán will win on Sunday – let’s just hope that Fidesz will lose their supermajority, that’s all I wish for! And then we’ll watch as Hungary will go down the drain while the mafiosi fill their pockets …

    PS and OT:

    The only good news today was that everybody we met was very friendly – people kept waving at us, so here at least they don’t think I’m a bloody unwelcome foreigner …

  5. kommentelo :
    You really do not get it. I just want to know the size of the square full stop.
    Not because of any demonstration or because someone thinks he knows exactly where supporters stood based on say pictures that show that one part of the square was empty. I do not care about all that to me those are all step two, three, four. Everything can only come after knowing the real size of the square. After knowing how big is it you can start subtracting or you can simply use a lower multiplier (when thinking about how many people per sq meter). Then you look at the surrounding streets based on pictures.
    But the base data is the full size of the empty square. How big is it in sq meters? Does anyone know the correct answer?

    Good for you! May I suggest to do your own research, as you do not get it. You will find different numbers does not matter how you slice it. Some will include the buildings, some will not. zSOme will include the area of the roads, and some will not. SOme will take to to he stairs to the museum, and some will not.
    You tell us what do you want to be included in “Hero Square” and I will provide you wit the answer based on that, since I see you are not able to use measuring devices.
    As far as Fidesz winning. A cheating, democracy trampling, ad hoc decision making government you wish for. Congrats!

  6. If 500.000 anti-Fidesz elements had gathered on the Hero’s square they would have been shot at.

  7. There is breaking news. A witness in open court was questioned about MSZP aligned oligarch Tamas Gyarfas. Gyarfas is a shadowy characther with extremely close ties to MSZP. In fact in the MSZP era he literally owned part of the state television (no joke). The Socialists arranged for the public television to give 4 hours of airtime to Gyarfas every single day free of charge on which he produced his own shows and collected massive ad revenues. In addition the state TV also paid Gyarfas massive amounts of cash “for the quality programming he produced”. This was all arranged in the MSZP era, those were the good old days for the state TV.

    The witness in open court claimed that Gyarfas was responsible for ordering the murder of Fenyo one of his rivals in business. The Fenyo assassination was extremely high profile and now a witness claims that Gyarfas ordered the hit.

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140403_Tasnadi_terhelo_vallomast_tett_Gyarfas_Ta

    If this proves to be true then the MSZP mafiosi are not only extremely corrupt, incompetent and lack any morals. Then they are murderers as well.

  8. Gyarfas is a gangster, although I’m not sure I’d take Tasnadi’s word for anything much. Incidentally, the rumour around the HGV office is that it was Gyarfas who tipped them off about Schmitt’s diploma, via an intermediary.

  9. Jean P :
    If 500.000 anti-Fidesz elements had gathered on the Hero’s square they would have been shot at.

    You are mixing up Orbán with Gyurcsány. Gyurcsány is the shooting one.

  10. Of all the money Fidesz dolls out to crypto-criminals posing as politicians, there seems to be enough over to spend crumbs on the likes of “Johnny Boy” and “MSZP Mafi Boss In Trouble”….
    but the nature of Hungarian society is such that no one seems to mind that the government can’t seem to find the funds to provide toilet paper in hospitals.

    Of course, the genii of Fidesz like Rogan Antal who can buy 400 million forints of real estate with a total income of less than 1/3 of that sum…visit expensive clinics…or psychiatrists in far off lands.

  11. Johnny Boy :

    Jean P :
    If 500.000 anti-Fidesz elements had gathered on the Hero’s square they would have been shot at.

    You are mixing up Orbán with Gyurcsány. Gyurcsány is the shooting one.

    Wait and see.

  12. It turns out that Rogn has even more estates that the ones who have admitted. His tax return is becoming the gift that just keeps giving.

    There are investigation requests to uncover all the last minute address changes that seems Fidesz organizes to stack its cards.

    An other Fidesz maffia member came forward to “correct” his tax return.

    Vote for Fidesz if you can identify with the corrupt!

  13. HiBoM :
    @An, I disagree, Orbán is an incredibly smart politician. He has secured the power to dominate and wreck an entire country unopposed. Which reminds me a friend who said: “Orbán is a very smart guy. Unfortunately, he is also the Anti-Christ!”

    An is entirely right on this one. Other people are also “smart”, and would not ruin their country. Try to apply this definition of “smart” on any high level politician in the West and you will see that you immediately chose other words, something like ruthless, brutal, amoral. His “smartness” is his ability to cloud the minds of Hungarians. And it does not matter whether this is because of some Hungarianness’ magic or because of his aura of almightiness, which is self-fulfilling.

  14. Where I live, anti-Fidesz forces (at this moment I am not sure if it’s the democrats or, unfortunately, more likely Jobbik) have really upped the game against the Fidesz incumbent.

    This week late night leaftlet shots and posters have gone up every night, detailing eg how her family *connections* have gained over the last 4 years, her vote agreeing the closure of the local school and the Fidesz plans to sign the Varosliget over to their oligarchs.

    It’s well-organized and intelligent political PR, literally every letterbox and lamppost in the district is getting targeted.

    She’s toast I am sure, just depends who takes advantage.

  15. I sometimes wonder how Orbán’s government would react if the opposition tried something like the storm on the Hungarian tv building in Sept 2006 …

  16. About Eva’s entry. Very interesting that a high capacity political scientist or politician who is apparently “independent” comes up with such ideas. It proves the depth of the problem. I fully agree with the assessment that the too smooth transition of MSzMP has been a great handicap to the transition, but there was ample room for “standard” democratic parties to emerge or at least for parties that would have aimed at a “standard” Western democracy. So why has that not succeeded? Why has the society instead become divided to the point that talk across the political spectrum is more or less impossible? Why has Fidesz become a nationalist, right-wing, anti-democratic party? As I wrote already on many occasions, it needs some practical idea what democracy should mean in Hungarian circumstances and for the Hungarian people (as a whole, not varying parts) instead of indulgence in the search for those who have prevented the country from progress (civilisation, the good life, whatever) twenty, fifty, two hundred (have your pick) years ago, and which makes these “observers” then so “impartial”. But impartial to what? In the end this is actually indifference to the problems of the country and society: “I am an observer (but a clever one!)(which is why I know: nothing can be done about Hungary anyway).”

    The video of “pensioner” I actually consider a mockery, not advertisement. Otherwise it would not mix the bekemenet with some Communist bekemenets from some decades ago. So I recommend watching it.

  17. wolfi :
    I sometimes wonder how Orbán’s government would react if the opposition tried something like the storm on the Hungarian tv building in Sept 2006 …

    They will shoot. They have implemented TEK, Parliament Police, re-called most of the retired and able policemen and soldiers, implemented a parliament police/army, and each government office is guarded (and not only outside at reception, even some offices are “protected”).

  18. The international election observers should post, or rather should have posted observers at the consulates in Transylvania, Carpatho-Ukraine and Voivodina…

  19. Fidesz faction leader Rogan owns another piece of real estate he forgot to include in his assets since 2006:

    http://www.origo.hu/valasztas2014/20140403-rogan-egy-videki-hazat-is-kifelejtett-a-nyilatkozatabol.html

    He seems to be an even greater tax evader than ex-Socialist Simon, but Simon is in jail and all the media talk about him, while Rogan is at large, still a leader of Fidesz, and 90% of the people do not even know about his case, thanks to the silent “public” media.

  20. ODIHR is not in the position to send observers to a foreign country unless they ask/ are granted permission from the said foreign state. Party observers can be accredited but this is still a tricky/ sticky business (not sure if they do it, understand the importance of it or even care). Events take place in territories outside of anyone’s control. Activists (mobs) may collect votes (even “apply pressure”) without much interference (i.e. “fraud” excluded). The key is Transylvania. The vast majority there is supporting the present government without much knowledge about the state of affairs in the old-new “homeland”. (Media situation is similar or worst.) Before the election has started votes of a medium sized town are already cached in. I doubt the Western Diaspora is anywhere near to compensate. Official entities are just proxies and any irregularity does not change this preset and the substance of the case. Please make your own conclusions.
    PS: Mr. Tölgyessy’s remarks do more harm than good and may serve some mysterious self-purpose only.

  21. zotyia :
    The international election observers should post, or rather should have posted observers at the consulates in Transylvania, Carpatho-Ukraine and Voivodina…

    You have to read other people’s comments on the same thread!

    Some1 :

    tappanch :
    The international election observers should post, or rather should have posted observers at the consulates in Transylvania, Carpatho-Ukraine and Voivodina:
    Are there lines trying to hand over their votes?
    Or individuals just drop off the votes by the thousands and there are absolutely no lines?
    (I suspect the latter case)

    I m not sure if you know, but the process of having election observers is simple, they must be invited by the government. Contrary to popular belief, election observers do not just show up, and they do not just go wherever they please. It is the government that invites them to observe the election, and gives them the support (example: passes to voting locations, “passes” to interviews, etc.). When, where and if the Orban government invites the observers they would go. There are long term observers who are likely in the country already, but their job is not visiting the locations at voting time, as that is what the short term observers do, based o the addresses provided to them indirectly by the government.

  22. That’s exactly what I am saying. Following your wording Belarus would not “invite” ODIHR to observe elections with obvious results and reasons. The trouble (trick) here is for ODIHR to “suggest” for example to Bucharest (i.e. request permission from RO MFA) sending international observers to the Hungarian elections in Romania. Even if permission is granted observance of an Embassy leads nowhere. Majority of envelopes were sent out by postal services to private foreign addresses (except Slovakia and Ukraine). Than voters have the choice to send back their votes directly to NVI by mail, deliver it to consulates or any other designated posts. The question is what you “observe” internationally or on a partisan basis in let say Vojvodina about the ways these votes are filled in or collected? These votes can be delivered by anyone in any number. Please refer to the election regulation that was changed several times as well. Sincerely: No1

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