The work of a politician is anything but easy. Pitfalls at every turn. A good example is what happened in Miskolc where the democratic opposition was looking for a promising candidate they could support to be the next mayor of the city. The local leaders of the three parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt-PM– found their man: Albert Pásztor, former police chief of the city. The central leadership of MSZP had originally supported Gábor Simon, an MSZP member of the city council, but the locals eventually settled for Pásztor.
It was clear from the beginning that the left has to support common candidates if it is to stand a chance in the upcoming municipal elections. In Miskolc both Gábor Simon and Albert Pásztor looked like promising candidates. In order to be sure, the local democrats hired a nationally known polling firm. On the basis of a representative sample of 1,000 people it was determined that both candidates are equally popular in every voting district, including districts heavily populated by Roma. Since the Roma of Miskolc seemed to have nothing against the former police chief and since the Együtt-PM leadership made it clear that Simon was not acceptable as far as they were concerned, the locals opted for Pásztor.
The politicians of both MSZP and DK emphasize that candidates for political office, whether in parliamentary or local elections, should be nominated by the local party leaders. They are the ones who know the mood of the electorate, the popularity of the candidates, and the local problems. MSZP in fact rarely if ever vetoes local decisions. And it did not interfere this time either, although immediately after the news of Pásztor’s nomination became known on July 1 the liberal camp raised serious objections. In fact, József Tóbiás, who is running the show in MSZP as interim chairman, told Népszabadság that even if the leadership wanted to veto Pásztor’s nomination, it couldn’t.
As far as DK is concerned, Pásztor’s candidacy was discussed at a meeting of the leadership on June 27 when there were some opposing voices, but apparently there was no formal vote on the issue. Since then both Ferenc Gyurcsány and József Debreczeni, one of the deputy chairmen of the party, have decided to stand by Pásztor. The latter’s weight is considerable in this case because he is a Miskolc resident and trusts Pásztor.
So, what is wrong with Pásztor? In order to understand the story we have to go back to the last months of the Gyurcsány administration when Albert Pásztor on January 29 held a press conference. Let me quote my own translation of what transpired:
The press conference was held in order to inform the public of the activities of the police force in the city. They investigated x number of murders, y number of thefts, z number of bank robberies, and so on. Why the police chief felt compelled to deliver a tirade against the Gypsy population of the city is a mystery to me, but he explained that one ought to tell the “truth.” And the truth is that Gypsy children were responsible for eight attacks against elderly people (purse snatchings) and against youngsters with cell phones. He wanted to warn these people to look out for those Gypsies who might attack them the next time they step out on the street. “Many of those darling little Gypsy kids become ruthless criminals.” But that wasn’t enough. He continued: “We can state with certain assurance that all the robberies committed in public places are done by Gypsies. The truth is that Hungarians [meaning non-Gypsies] will perhaps rob a bank or a gas station, but all others are committed by them [the Gypsies].”
Well, even that would have been more than American public opinion would tolerate but what followed was off the charts. In Miskolc there is a hilly area (Avas) in which there are many large apartment buildings erected during the Kádár regime. From the police chief’s speech it is clear that some Gypsy families purchased apartments in these complexes. In the police chief’s opinion “these people don’t even want to live in a place like that. They don’t have any need for such apartments. It doesn’t even occur to them that eventually the mortgage must be paid or that they will have to share with their neighbors the common expenses. It doesn’t occur to them that here they have to conduct themselves in conformity with their surroundings…. Living together with them simply doesn’t work. That’s all.” These were the closing sentences of his so-called press conference.
Without going into the details of the case, for a while it looked as if these remarks would cost Pásztor his job, but both the MSZP mayor and all the other parties in town organized a demonstration on his behalf. In the end Tibor Draskovics, minister of justice, reinstated Pásztor. At that time Ferenc Gyurcsány said that he found Pásztor’s words “unacceptable,” but now he is much more forgiving when he stresses that “often complicated questions give birth to antithetical answers. This is the situation now in Miskolc.” To translate that into ordinary Hungarian or English, it means that in his opinion Pásztor is the only candidate who has a chance of defeating Fidesz or Jobbik. In an article published in Galamus today he stressed that he himself made mistakes and therefore one ought to be forgiving. After all, Pásztor with the exception of this one “mistake” never showed any signs of prejudice.
The problem with Gyurcsány’s position is that it stands in stark contrast not only to his attitude on the matter in 2009 but also to his usual insistence on principle. He stresses the consistency of his party. DK politicians don’t waver; they always stand by their beliefs. That is, Gyurcsány says, their strength. That’s why their followers are so loyal to the party. If the party is against giving the vote to Hungarians whose permanent address is outside of the country, then he will vote against it in parliament even if public sentiment might be for it. He is not like the socialists who make too many compromises. The problem with such consistency and such unequivocal political attitudes is that they do not allow for the flexibility that is essential in politics.
DK’s support of Pásztor will cost it dearly, I’m afraid, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the party will have to abandon its support for Pásztor. But even if they do, the damage has already been done.