The state of the Hungarian left and Ferenc Gyurcsány

I think it is time to return to the affairs of the opposition parties, which are in bad shape.You may recall that at the European parliamentary election it became clear that the strength of MSZP was nowhere near what the party leaders believed or wanted to believe. But Attila Mesterházy, who is considered to be a less than an inspiring leader, was a skillful negotiator. He managed to negotiate a joint party list for the national election of the three parties–MSZP, DK, and Együtt 2014-PM–that greatly favored MSZP. Currently, MSZP has 28 seats in parliament while the other two parties have only four each when in the EU election MSZP received 10.9% of the votes cast against DK’s 9.75% and Együtt 2014-PM’s 7.25%. Since then, according to Ipsos, MSZP lost a couple more percentage points while DK gained the same amount. Együtt 2014-PM’s support is unchanged.

Attila Mesterházy is gone as party chairman, but in parliament MSZP has a relatively large delegation with a party that currently has only about an 8% share of the electorate. Meanwhile the other two parties are deprived of the minimum number of members that would allow them to have their own parliamentary caucuses. They therefore have very limited opportunities to play an active role in parliament. They cannot have representation on parliamentary committees and their ability to speak or ask questions is greatly restricted. As Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted, DK “was too generous in its negotiations with MSZP.”

It is not only Mesterházy who has more or less disappeared from the political scene. I strongly suspect that Gordon Bajnai, despite his protestations to the contrary, will not be around for long. The party will be headed by a troika–Péter Juhász (Milla), Sándor Székely (Solidarity), and Viktor Szigetvári (Együtt 2014). Nobody from the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) seems to be represented. With this leadership, I have the feeling, Együtt 2014 will not be able to develop a large base and, in fact, might not last longer than its name implies.

As for MSZP, the leadership is searching for a new leader, and it looks as if József Tóbiás will be the man to succeed Mesterházy. Tóbiás might be a perfectly capable man, but charismatic he is not. Tabloids often talk about his wife who, as the second-runner-up in the Miss Hungary pageant, is well known, especially since she often makes appearances in soaps on RTL Klub. Maybe Tóbiás has some secret medicine for the ills of MSZP, but I will be most surprised if thanks to his activities the socialists double their popularity any time soon.

That leaves DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The party’s success in the EP election surprised everybody, perhaps even its leaders. Of course, before the election Gyurcsány gave the impression of great confidence. He went so far as to announce that if DK does not reach the 5% that would qualify the party to send at least one delegate to Brussels, he would resign. The reaction from the anti-Gyurcsány camp was derision. He? He will never resign. Luckily for him, he did not have to contemplate a move that would have destroyed DK which is, just like Fidesz, a one-man party though without the kind of undemocratic, centralized organization that is characteristic of Viktor Orbán’s party.

DK-logo2Success breeds success, as the saying goes. A couple of weeks after the election DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, announced that DK had received applications for membership from over 860 people. MSZP politicians charged that Ferenc Gyurcsány had been phoning local MSZP leaders, trying to entice them to join DK. Gyurcsány’s answer to that was that “they come without asking.” One thing is sure, Gyurcsány has been even more active than he normally is. He is in the middle of organizing an anti-government demonstration. He also made several appearances on ATV and gave two long interviews, one to Origo and another to Index. Both are long and cover a lot of ground. Here I will concentrate on only two themes: the municipal elections and his views on the possible course of Hungarian politics in the future. Both were discussed in the Origo interview.

Although it was obvious that Gyurcsány had struck a bad bargain with MSZP before the national election, he, unlike Együtt-2014, still thinks that the three parties must run again under a common umbrella organization in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance against Fidesz. It is especially true after the government changed the rules of the game in Budapest. Until now all the inhabitants of the capital city voted for a lord mayor (főpolgármester) while inhabitants of each of the twenty-three districts voted for their own candidates for district mayor. At the same time all voters cast their votes for party lists. The composition of the city council was decided on the basis of the number of votes each party received. Now, there will no longer be party lists. The district mayors will make up the city council. János Áder signed the bill into law, although it is most likely unconstitutional. The population of the districts varies greatly, so it can easily happen that one member of the council will be elected by 90,000 people while another by only 30,000. But János Áder, just like his predecessor, has no problems signing anything his party and his friend, Viktor Orbán, find important. And he did find this bill important because without it there might have been a Fidesz defeat in Budapest. And that cannot be allowed. It is for this reason that Gyurcsány is such a champion of another “unity alliance.”

As for the possibilities for the future. Gyurcsány thinks that the changes on the left will be the result of “a long, organic development with different possible outcomes.” The simplest would be that each party goes its own way and sometime in 2017 they put together an “electoral coalition.” The second possibility is closer cooperation among the three parties. The third, which Gyurcsány described as a “dream,” is that “one day the voters and the party leaders decide that these three parties and perhaps some others should create one large democratic party.” But, he added, for the time being he does not see the slightest chance of such a development; perhaps “one day such an idea might become a reality.”

There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. Although at the end of the interview he denied the possibility that he would be the one to head such a unity party, one has the feeling that deep down that is exactly what he would like to achieve. And, looking around, I see no one else at the moment who could possibly fill the bill. Of course, someone may show up in the next few years who could have a real chance against Viktor Orbán, especially if he continues his irresponsible economic policies. Yes, I know, lately the GDP numbers look good, but every responsible economist claims that they are not sustainable. Moreover, another 100-150 billion forints are missing from the budget and that means yet another austerity program. A few more stories about János Lázár’s trips to the Riviera and his extravagant hotel bills might change the mood of the electorate. Gyurcsány at least thinks that Orbán might not last until 2018–but then he’s something of a cockeyed optimist.

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47 comments

  1. Despite the inexplicable hatred he is still facing, Gyurcsány is still the only able politician in Hungary. But he, too, is trying to convince only by his ideas how he might get back in power. I fail to see any big vision for a democratic, cultured Hungary with a solid civic society.

    However, all electoral arithmetics will lead to nothing as long as Orbán is around – and turn it as you wish: He cannot be unseated by democratic means anymore. The first communal elections in 2010 caused suspicion, the electoral laws and their fine-tuning that followed made it a certainty.

    My expectation has been from the beginning that with the EU money and the exports and taxes generated by the foreign-owned companies and their employees and every higher consumer taxes Orbán will eventually drive the Hungarian economy against the wall – but that this could take a long time, especially so as under Barroso, the EU was really dragging its feet to invoke any sanctions.

    Now, a new and interesting constellation might be around the corner. Both Cameron and Orbán oppose Juncker as the next President of the European Commission. As far as I can see, they are the only ones left, and both have a good reason. [Merkel is keeping her finger wet to feel from where the wind comes. She finally noticed it is blowing in Cameron’s face.] In contrast to friendly but inefficient Barroso, Juncker is a principled European with finely honed brokering skills and lots of experience. He doesn’t owe anyone anything (in contrast to Barroso). He might be the reason why the EU will find that Orbán is violating EU spirit and law and might invoke article 7 – or at least stop the flow of money, as Juncker doesn’t suffer fools gladly, i. e. he is a no-nonsense man. That, indeed, might speed up Orbán’s demise against all my expectations.

  2. @Minusio, I also have high hopes for Juncker. It looks as if Orbán misjudged the situation when he sided with Cameron. Moreover, there is a good possibility that Schulz might remain president of the European Parliament. Also not good news for Orbán.

  3. A little OT, but perhaps explaining the dynamics a little.

    Basically, Cameron is inept. And stupidity is an insurmountable problem [“Gegen Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.” – Friedrich von Schiller]. After painting himself in a corner domestically, he is close to finishing the same job on the EU platform.

    Although they have little to sell, many Brits (close to half at times) only wanted the free European market bit of the EU, out of some imperial arrogance and – even more so – ignorance of what the EU is about.

    Britain is not even among the five biggest net payers to the EU per capita. And their cherry-picking attitude is in violation of one of the EU fundamentals: solidarity.

    I wouldn’t call what is probably going to happen this week (Juncker’s election is all but uncertain, now that the European Socialdemocrats have vowed to vote for him as well) a train wreck, as some journalists do. Cameron isn’t much of a train. It will show him what Switzerland feels like now after the silly vote on “mass immigration” having to beg Brussels for some benevolence in future negotiations – or face the consequence of being a historic figure having broken up the Union by losing Scotland.

    I doubt that the majority of the leaders of member states will disregard the post-Lisbon increase of power to the European Parliament. That would cause a real revolt.

    A possible postponement won’t change the basic positions.

  4. Orban’s supporters can come up with lots of money.
    Orban’s position is assured by this money.
    Nobody will bring him down, as long as this money can buy positive PR for him and negative PR for the opposition.

  5. Sorry Éva, I’m afraid your normally very lucid writing was a bit less clear this time.In the first paragraph, you make it sound like the opposition ran a joint list in the European Parliament election, which of course they did not. And a bit later, you neglected to mention the number of seats DK won in the European Parliamentary elections (3), which was an important factor in their rejoicing. Of course, most readers of your blog already know this, but perhaps some of the less informed ones might not be aware of these facts. Otherwise, I enjoy your analysis of current events!

  6. DK representatives will join the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, even though MSZP was against the idea but this is also true for other national Socialist parties who now face competition from new left-wing parties.

    Schultz initially hoped to get some kind of Super Vice-president post in the future European Commission, it looks like he might eventually be again presidency of the European Parliament after all.

  7. “There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. ”

    As unfair as it may seem, and despite his continuing popularity with a relatively small core of steadfast supporters, Gyurcsány remains highly controversial. He is unlikely to regain enough personal support to revive the MSzP, and his obstinate and ubiquitous presence in the last election – to say nothing of his forming a splinter party that merely fractured the anti-Fidesz vote – has to be at the top of the “How The Left Blew It” list.

    He needs to spend his time in the wilderness reflecting on how he can best serve the country, even if that means taking a less public role – at least until Orbán has become so repellant that even the guy from whose mouth those infamous words came in Öszöd looks good again by comparison.

  8. fugit,

    You wrote: “Orban’s supporters can come up with lots of money.
    Orban’s position is assured by this money.
    Nobody will bring him down, as long as this money can buy positive PR for him and negative PR for the opposition.”

    If that were true, then Fidesz would have done even better at the recent elections, instead of receiving less than a majority of the votes (and that was after a pathetic campaign by MSZP). Money only goes so far, and people are only so gullible. If the economy does badly or Hungary gets punished by the EU (or kicked out of the EU), there won’t be enough money to fool the Hungarian electorate.

  9. @buddy, I usually take criticism well and if someone corrects me I thank the person But this time, I don’t feel guilty. I think it is quite clear that the three parties ran separately (see the results given in percentages). And you are wrong about the number of DK delegates. Only two. The same as MSZP.

  10. Googly wrote at June 23, 2014 at 5:36 am: “If that were true, then Fidesz would have done even better at the recent elections, instead of receiving less than a majority of the votes (and that was after a pathetic campaign by MSZP). ”

    Fidesz and Jobbik were able to raise immense funds to get enough votes in a rigged electoral system to win precinct after precinct a governing super majority.

    Masses of willing, heavily corrupted citizens voted for fidesz/jobbik in national and local elections.

    Sandor Petofi and his friends could only cry, if they had lived now, because more Hungarians betrayed the aspiration for freedom in 2014 than ever.

  11. @Nádas. I doubt that Gyurcsány has any intention of reviving MSZP. As for telling politicians what they ought to do and what not is kind of silly. He decided to stay and given the circumstances he has done very well. Why should he leave the scene? It wouldn’t make any political sense whatsoever.

  12. @Eva, Max – yes, sorry, you are correct, DK did win 2 seats, not 3. I guess I shouldn’t be correcting anybody 🙂

  13. Minusio,

    You wrote: “Despite the inexplicable hatred he is still facing, Gyurcsány is still the only able politician in Hungary.”

    You’re kidding, right? He allowed himself to be recorded admitting that he lied constantly, yet stayed in the job (during the lying and after the recording was released). I like him, and if anyone reads or listens to the entire speech, it was a bold, necessary thing to say. However, the hatred is completely understandable, and he has made many huge mistakes in his political career after amassing wealth under seemingly dishonorable circumstances. Of course, he is a saint compared to most politicians, especially those in Fidesz, but don’t pretend that you don’t understand why so many people hate him.

    The rest of your post seems very astute, although you are too cynical when you say that Orbán cannot be removed democratically. Implication in one major scandal, preferably with a video of him doing or saying something truly offensive to Hungarians, and no amount of dirty tricks will save him and his party.

  14. demodictor,

    I don’t see things the way you see them, though I agree that Petőfi Sándor would have been very sad. I believe that most right-wing voters are not corrupt, but they are unhappy with their situation, and are politically naive. Hungarians have only had a generation of democracy, which is not enough time to truly absorb the implications of the political system. If we can reestablish a more democratic system, eventually people will come to realize what the maintenance of such a system entails. Even in countries with a long history of democracy there are anti-democratic tendencies, and the vast majority of voters here were educated by the communist system, which did virtually nothing to prepare them to become thoughtful, diligent, informed voters who understand that without huge reserves of oil or gas, democracy is the only way to achieve stable wealth and social peace with fairness.

    More specifically to your remarks: if, after 4 years of Fidesz rule, their rigged system can only bring them less than 45% of the vote, there is hope. Any further rigging would result in removal from the EU and certain economic calamity – another 4 years will probably mean an even lower vote tally, which cannot be papered over. Of course, I would not want to wait until their support naturally tapers away, because that could take another generation, but they are not very good at running a country, so they will probably alienate enough people by the next election to be voted out entirely. The question is whether there is a decent leftist alternative for the disillusioned masses to turn to, rather than a rebranded Jobbik that just steps in where Fidesz leaves off.

  15. @googly, you misconstrue Gyurcsány’s attitude toward “lying.” I did not expect that from you. The speech at Őszöd was an indictment of the kind of politics Hungarian parties in the past conducted, including naturally himself. To promise goodies while the country’s finances are in shambles. He used strong words because those MSZP parliamentary members needed very strong convincing. He did a good job and at the end, it looked at least on the surface, that they are behind him. As we know there were some who were even ready to bring him down by leaking the document.

    As for his unpopularity. It wasn’t because of Őszöd. The party’s popularity immediately dropped after the austerity program was announced right after the election. The people in 2006 voted for MSZP because they were hoping that the relative prosperity of the past four years would continue. And naturally they were very disappointed. Their reaction was not due to moral indignation but to their anger over austerity and to their fear of reforms.

  16. Googly and the rest of the Hungarians, who walked into the PR trap on the Oszod tapes, you have to be as honest as Gyurcsany was.

    His message was crystal clear.

    His nation has failed him.

    The only guilty party is the lying orban/vona/kover/morvay… junta.

  17. I know it is not PC to criticize Gyurcsany on this blog, but I can’t help thinking that it is time for him to retire and allow new, fresh faces to emerge. At this point Gyurcsany is Fidesz’s best vote getter, he is the one that many people love to vote against. 9.75% votes in the EU parliamentary election is hardly a major victory, which shows that he has very little traction with Hungarian voters. Hungary needs a healthy left-of-center opposition party. It’s time to free it from the current set of losers.

  18. Of course, I disagree. I see no reason why he should retire. After all he managed to build a party without any money and against incredible Fidesz attacks in parliament and outside. No politician would retire in such circumstances. And waiting for someone to come along? Why would that be good for Hungarian democracy? A weak opposition without any real politician among them waiting for Godot? Makes no sense to me.

    Finally, I would like to make it clear. The reason I like DK is because their political philosophy is closest to mine. I assume we are all entitled to our opinions.

  19. “Implication in one major scandal, preferably with a video of him doing or saying something truly offensive to Hungarians, and no amount of dirty tricks will save him and his party.”

    It would need to be seen by a majority of the electorate- difficult since the regime has its jackboot on the media’s need. Secondly, even if it were broadcast would a large enough number of people care?

  20. Ditto.
    Gyurcsany gained his liberalism when he realized the virtues of Imre Nagy.
    Gyurcsany is representing a humanism, so rare among the apathetic Hungarians.
    Let us find any honesty or humanism in the hidden corners of Orban.
    I think we will come up empty handed.
    Gyurcsany must turn now to Ferenc Deak, who introduced the reforms with his Liberal Party.
    The result was a singular freedom for all Hungarians.
    The new freedom will be probably created by a Gyurcsany or somebody similar.
    Most of the liberal commentators here, should make a mental effort to restore freedom to the gulash dictatorship.

  21. I totally agree, Éva.

    Apart from the usual blunders politicians are prone to make, Gy was probably amongst the most clear-sighted and least corrupt politicians Hungary has had in a long time. His undoing was that he underestimated Orbán and did not defend himself vigorously enough against the mud-slinging campaign Orbán began, he did not cry foul when Orbán took his populist politics to the streets, he didn’t convince the people that Orbán’s policy was one of total obstruction, making even meager reforms impossible, and he didn’t begin impeachment procedures against Solyóm when he openly took sides in favour of Fidesz.

    That is what I would hold against him. The real intent of the “lie speech” has been already explained several times – but tragically few people listen and understand that this was a courageous thing to do. One should also remember that he was already a rich man before he became Prime Minister, quite in contrast to most of the Orbánites and the godfather himself. And even when Gy. was out of power, nobody – not even a special prosecutor – could make any criminal accusation against him stick.

  22. Eva Balogh writes: ” I assume we are all entitled to our opinions.”

    Of course you are! Why would you even ask such a question? I was simply voicing my own opinion, like everyone else who comments on your blog.

  23. “Gy was probably amongst the most clear-sighted and least corrupt politicians Hungary has had in a long time”.

    I would say Gyurcsany is perhaps an idealist, but he lost all his credibility when the speak of Oszod leaked out. The left wing has to find new faces. Gyurcsany will never win another election.

  24. Hungary is now in what the IMF calls the German-Central European supply chain (GCESC). Large labor cost differentials together with geographical proximity have led many German firms to shift large parts of their production to central European countries, most notably the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (CE4) either by directly investing there or by purchasing intermediate products from local firms. On average it is 58% less expensive for a German company to outsource to Hungary than to produce the same component in Germany. The MSZP is fundamentally linked to the GCESC process and the EU. The MSZP help establish this level of dependency when it ruled.

    While Fidesz is also intimately linked to the GCESA process in Hungary it has created rhetorical nationalist space from the reality of a low wage economy that is driven by the German need for outsourcing, the MSZP has not created such a space. According to the Hungarian Statistics Office based on data released on June 19, 2014 healthcare workers (who are poorest paid group in Hungary) on average make only $7,223 a year in US dollars after taxes. In the US, Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for individuals too disabled to work amount to $8,529 a year or $1,306 more than the average health care worker now makes in Hungary. An income level of $8,529 in the USA does not require a single individual to pay any federal income taxes and in most states no state income taxes either. These are terrifying low wages for Hungarian health care workers, but they are symptomatic of the overall situation I experienced two weeks ago when I was in Hungary.

    It would not be so terrible if Budapest were a cheap city to live in, but it isn’t. It is considered a hardship location for international workers because of costs. A one bedroom apartment outside of the 5th district is now averaging 46,562.50 HUF a month, to live in the 5th District we are talking about 64,973.07 HUF a month. While $292 a month is a lot cheaper for a one bedroom apartment than in central Chicago where it is about $1,465 a month, it would also be about 48% of the after tax wages of a health care worker. Hungarians have plenty to gripe about.

    As I posted the other day on this blog (June 19) the latest Ipsos survey of adult Hungarian citizens with permanent residence in Hungary discussed in Népszabadság indicates things are getting worse for the Hungarian left. The survey conducted from June 6 to 13 indicated decreased support for the MSZP showing a decline from 11 to 8 per cent of the voting-age population since the elections. As for support for the MSZP among young people – 20′s and 30′s age groups – it was only 3-4 per cent, but 20 percent of people over 65. The data for other opposition parties was equally dismal. Fidesz and Jobbik effectively have hegemonic authority politically within Hungary, there really isn’t any other way to look at this data.

    It is unlikely that having a wife who was the second-runner-up in the Miss Hungary pageant will do much to help József Tóbiás and the MSZP given how easily they can be identified with foreign interests (read German) by Fidesz and Jobbik propagandists. Is it fair to say Fidesz is hypocritical in its nationalist rhetoric while at the same time fully supporting the GCESC framework or maybe a new Russian economic linkage? Yes, I think that is more than fair to say, but Fidesz is also getting away with it right now.

  25. “The survey conducted from June 6 to 13 indicated decreased support for the MSZP showing a decline from 11 to 8 per cent of the voting-age population since the elections. As for support for the MSZP among young people – 20′s and 30′s age groups – it was only 3-4 per cent, but 20 percent of people over 65. The data for other opposition parties was equally dismal. ”

    I do not blame the younger generation. The MSZP and SZDSZ had led to country for eight years and we saw the result……..
    The majority of Hungarians do not care about politics. The life prospect has been very depressing in Hungary recently. They only want to see a prosperous country. If Orban is able to sustain economic growth in the country he will win the next election in 2018.

  26. @Bela, in politics there is no such thing as “never.” The opinions on politicians are very low across the board. Six percentage point, for example, between Gyurcsány and Bajnai and seven between Botka, the most promising MSZP politician, mayor of Szeged, and Gyurcsány. so, let us not exaggerate. Moreover, people forget very fast. Eight years went by and the majority of Hungarians did not remember the horrors of the 1998 and 2002 period when 75% of the electorate went out to vote just to get rid of Orbán and Co.

  27. @Istvan re the supply chain:

    This is a very precarious situation for Hungary because the companies (whether German or not) will continue to search for even cheaper manufacturing facilities.

    Many of the German clothes makers (Mustang for Jeans, Boss for shirts, another that makes bras – all from my Schwab neighbourhood) have already left Hungary again where they were for maybe ten years – because wages are even lower somewhere else.

    So this is no long term solution – Hungary must find industries where the special qualifications of Hungarian workers are needed, but where are these?

    Fidesz is on a path to a Feudal society with a few rich but also a lot of unqualified people who will be treated like slaves even …

    They don’t (want to) invest money in schooling, universities etc.

    Our young ones are right now trying to get additional qualifications – but they have to pay for them themselves. Now where would they find the money if they didn’t have us?

    This is a strange situation similar to the health service:

    There is a minimal service for everyone – but if you want/need something special you’re on your own and have to pay. My wife just had to choose between going to a hospital, waiting for some weeks to get an appointment and then waiting for hours/at least half a day – or go to a private specialist, get an immediate date – and pay 4 000 HUF. What do you think I told her?

    What would she have done if she had to live on her meagre pension? Not everybody is as lucky … You should hear my neighbours’ stories!

  28. @Bela, Orban will not be able to sustain economic growth. If people believe that Orbán will lead the country to Canaan they are deluding themselves.

  29. Dear Eva,

    They believe it, at the moment. Hungarians do not understand politics, do not care about human rights, liberty of speech etc.. The majority live in an unstable state therefore they are becoming very selfish. If the government decreases the prices of the bills the population will love it. If Orban attacks the EU for the “Hungarian interest” the Hungarians will support him. The population need the illusion of prosperity and the illusion of a chance for better life. It seems Orban’s populist tactics have been successful. Orban’s -internal- communication is excellent. I see the growing number of dissatisfied people (this “dissatisfaction” started in the previous decade IMO) but a substantial part of them simple leave the country (!600 thousands! have already immigrated abroad) and will not participate in the Hungarian elections. If the “left wing” wants to win in 2018 they have to bring new, talented, !charismatic! politicians. Unfortunately populism is working very well in Hungary (similarly to the western countries and USA) therefore I predict a loud populist campaigns in 2018.

  30. Nothing is more baffling to me than all the Hungarian bloggers who claim Gyurcsany’s greatest sin to have been the speech at Oszod. What a difference between interpretations! With my western background, I deemed the speech a great ‘mea culpa’–a heroic attempt of a politician wanting
    to reform his party; while Hungarians interpreted the speech as an ‘error’ of some sort–absolute,
    ethically-challenged, nonsense.

    Gyurcsany was betrayed by the most corrupt elements of his party because they weren’t making enough ‘on the side’. The Fidesz attempts to prosecute Gyurcsany over the land deal was, in fact, proof of Gyurcsany’s uprightness, and hence, the corrupt elements increasing disatisfaction with him!

  31. @Minusio

    “I think I said as much further above, and I’m happy to agree with you.”

    Yes, you did. (I don’t always read all the bloggers. I guess I should as this is the 2nd time I’ve done this in a week..)

    Of course, I’ll never understand why Gyurcsany hasn’t defended his speech and declared that there was no need to hide it. That mystifies me. Others, too, like Bajnai should’ve come to his rescue. Sadly, there is so much cowardice in Hungarian politics: once a politico sees how the wind blows he’ll never stand up for the ‘right’. Sad, but that’s the society and the country we live in.

  32. Eva,

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about Őszöd. I agree with your assessment of the speech, but we are looking at the entire thing, in context. I was referring to the way it is viewed by the majority of voters, most of whom, I believe, have not even heard or read any part of the speech that wasn’t quoted by the right-wing press. Whenever a regular Hungarian mentions his name in my earshot, Őszöd is part of the conversation, and that is at least partly because of Fidesz’s smear campaign. It was successful, and that is why DK cannot do well anytime soon, at least outside of cosmopolitan Budapest. Simple people will hear that Gyurcsány admitted to lying, extensively, and wasn’t exactly apologetic (he didn’t resign immediately). That’s enough for them, because enough of them believe that Orbán is honest and cares about them.

    He himself admitted that he should have resigned sooner, and I imagine that he regrets the phrasing he used in the speech. He probably never thought about the possibility that anyone there would release it, just like the Polish politicians never thought about the possibility that someone might be recording their conversations in public restaurants. There were other mistakes, but who doesn’t make mistakes? I believe he may be the most talented politician who actually cares about Hungary more than himself, but anyone who doesn’t recognize the reality of his current predicament may not truly understand the way the average Hungarian thinks (not that I am any kind of expert on the subject). That was my point when replying to Minusio.

  33. Eva,

    Sorry, I forgot to reply to the rest of your post: “As for his unpopularity. It wasn’t because of Őszöd. The party’s popularity immediately dropped after the austerity program was announced right after the election.”

    I feel that the austerity program partially contributed to MSZP’s unpopularity, but I don’t think that most voters blame Gyurcsány specifically for that. If anything, the speech should have absolved him of some of the blame for the need for austerity, because it showed that he objected to the way things had been going up to that point. If he hadn’t used the “lying day and night” language, that might have been how it was received. Unfortunately, the average voter isn’t sophisticated enough to understand the concept he was conveying, as evidenced by the referendum against the health care co-payment (for lack of a better descriptive term). Also, Fidesz and its minions made sure that most people saw the speech through as simplistic a lens as possible.

    I would also say that the global financial crisis of 2008 did more damage to MSZP than the austerity program, since it had a much larger impact on jobs and standard of living than anything since the 1990’s. If MSZP had agreed to early elections in 2007, Fidesz would have been holding the bag in 2008, and might have been discredited in the eyes of the majority of voters. On the other hand, they are good liars, so they might have still hung the blame on the previous administration. We will never know.

  34. oszoszod,

    I’m not saying I believe the Fidesz description of the speech – quite the contrary! I see the speech as a cry in the wilderness, a heartfelt plea for honesty and responsibility among the Hungarian elite. Unfortunately, it was also, I believe, naive.

    Look at the current situation. Even after the complete thrashing MSZP received in 2010, it refused to reform, or even change leadership. It refused to change its ways, make even a token show of purging the cronies and corruption. It refused to bother to efffectively contest the recent election. Is this the party that Gyurcsány expected would change its spots after a single speech? That may be the very definition of naiveté.

    A more seasoned politician would have made a similar speech in a more private setting, or to numerous small groups, and appealed more to the hardened, practical part of the party, the one that wanted to stay in power but was open to the notion that long-term interests were badly served by the short-termism that reigned at that time. There is a reason that politicians are rarely honest in public, and the ones that flout that rule aren’t very successful in politics. You’ll notice that there are no Őszöd-type recordings of Fidesz politicians. That’s partly because they don’t really care about Hungary, but it’s also because they know that everyone has a recording function on their mobile phones. It’s certainly not because they are already honest.

  35. @Petofi, I have to disagree with you. Gyurcsány is not at all hiding his speech. Time and again he emphasizes that it was an honest and good speech. He stands behind it.

  36. @googly: “I feel that the austerity program partially contributed to MSZP’s unpopularity” In the summer of 2006 not just partially. That was the reason. The only reason. The rest, in my opinion, is later constructs.

  37. D7 Democrat,

    You wrote: “It would need to be seen by a majority of the electorate- difficult since the regime has its jackboot on the media’s need. Secondly, even if it were broadcast would a large enough number of people care?”

    Your second point is excellent, which is why I wrote “something truly offensive to Hungarians”. I’m not entirely sure what that would need to be, but I guarantee there are plenty of such things. One might be proof that he is intentionally taking money or property directly from some poor rural Fidesz supporters to give to his rich friends.

    As far as the jackboot, I think that something that big would spread like wildfire in our little country. Even my mother-in-law uses the internet, though she sometimes needs our help to figure out what’s wrong with it. Népszabadság, Klubrádió and RTL would reach the rest of the necessary critical mass, then it would reach all the people it would need to reach. Once RTL is gone, it would just take a little longer. Hungarians love gossip, by and large, and this would by necessity be a juicy tidbit. Maybe proof that he had some political opponent murdered, or even did it himself.

  38. Eva,

    You wrote: “In the summer of 2006 not just partially. That was the reason. The only reason. The rest, in my opinion, is later constructs.”

    I was talking about the current situation, since the memory of voters can often be selective and short, and Fidesz has had all the intervening years to bend the common view to their liking.

    Also, it seems to me that the masses of demonstrators were more upset about the speech than about the austerity, but I was living abroad at the time. Maybe the polls showed something else, since most people weren’t participating in the demonstrations.

  39. It seems that as time fades, so does memory of that infamous speech. I am amazed that so many find it somewhat “heroic” that Gyurcsany told his party faithful behind closed doors that his government, starting with his predecessor, Megyessy, have been cooking the books and lying to the voters, to the EU and to the IMF. I admit, it took some balls to stand up and say it, but does that wash away the very facts he told in that speech?

    What I found astounding then and find now, is that his party did not immediately fire him for incompetence and dishonesty. The MSzP instead backed him up and in the process lost the respect of the independent, middle-of-the-road voter. Many of these voters switched to Fidesz and quite a few to Jobbik. And yet, he is still around, causing trouble, dividing the left and keeping the great middle firmly on the right side of the fence.

    Bajnai, who I thought did a yeoman’s job taking over from Gyurcsany and putting Hungary back on track financially, seemed a credible candidate to oppose Orban. Yet Gyurcsany and Mesterhazy, both more interested in their own personal glory, wasted a whole year that should have been serious campaigning. I am quite convinced that none of Orban’s party cohorts, Lazar, Kover, etc. brought in as many votes for Fidesz as Gyurcsany.

  40. @Sackhoes Contributor

    You haven’t bothered to understand a bit about “the speech” or the man.

    In addition, Bajnai is a good technocrat and an honest man, and his merits during the financial crisis are immense. But he is no politician – as was obvious during the last “campaign”.

  41. @Sackhoes contributor: “What I found astounding then and find now, is that his party did not immediately fire him for incompetence and dishonesty.”

    I am puzzled by this. Those MPs at Őszöd really did not know all the details about how difficult the economic situation was. In that speech Gy. leveled with them. You must not forget that he ended up to be PM only a year and a half before the next election when the government’s support was very low. To announce an austerity program then would have been suicidal. A sure way to lose the election. No sane politician would do that especially when the opposition is promising the pie in the sky, including 14th month salaries for pensioners.

    The fact that MSZP-SZDSZ won the election was miraculous in itself and everybody present knew that it was due to Gyurcsány. They were grateful to him. Firing him under these circumstaces? Calling him a liar?

    From the reconstruction of the events of that day, it looks as if Gy. gave a speech earlier but he was not as dramatic then as later in the afternoon. It looks that after his first speech the MPs didn’t get the message. Then he decided to really lay it thick.

    Firing him on the spot? Incompetence? Dishonesty? Your scenario is really wacky.

  42. Re Bajnai. He is really gone and I fear Együtt with him. Today Péter Kónya of Solidarity has left (or kicked out). Szigetvári remains. Big deal.

  43. “The fact that MSZP-SZDSZ won the election was miraculous in itself and everybody present knew that it was due to Gyurcsány. They were grateful to him. Firing him under these circumstances? Calling him a liar?”

    Actually, he called himself a liar. He admitted that between Megyessy and himself they lied for four years. He was Megyessy’s head strategist and for almost two years he was Prime Minister.

    You are right. The election victory was due to Gyurcsany and yes, they were grateful to him. But at what price did that victory come? According to Gyurcsany himself, it was based on lies.

    I wonder… what if Fidesz won in 2006 and had to navigate through the financial crisis. Would there have been in 2010 a 2/3 majority in Parliament? Or in 2014?

    I know, these are what if and they have no place in a study of history, except that Gyurcsany himself brought up some of these thoughts in a recent interview in Index.

  44. Minusio writes: “Bajnai is a good technocrat and an honest man, and his merits during the financial crisis are immense. But he is no politician – as was obvious during the last “campaign”.”

    I cannot disagree with your assessment of Bajnai, except to say that he ran – and lost – to three formidable opponents: Orban, Mesterhazy and Gyurcsany, each of whom, by themselves, are no pushovers.

    Yes, I was disappointed in Bajnai too, he lacked charisma. On the other hand I am reminded of a remark made by a Danish-American friend, who, when I brought up to him Orban’s and Gyurcsany’s charisma, threw his hands up in mock horror and said “the last thing we look for in a Prime Minister in Denmark is charisma. That screws up everything! What we look for is competence.”

    Bajnai, I believe had the competence… But Hungary is not Denmark..

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