The future of MSZP: The Ferenc Deák Circle versus József Tóbiás

The municipal election results were barely tallied when Népszabadság published a proclamation in the  name of the Ferenc Deák Circle. This group was formed on July 15, a few days before MSZP held its congress in the wake of Attila Mesterházy’s resignation as chairman of the party. Who would succeed Mesterházy was never in question. There was only one candidate, József Tóbiás. But the members of the Ferenc Deák Circle–twenty-one prominent and less prominent, older and younger members of the socialist party–feared that under Tóbiás’s leadership the party would not choose the best path. The group hoped to influence the congress and thus the future of the party.

Who are the member of the Ferenc Deák Circle? First and foremost, Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of the party. There are several former ministers: Ferenc Juhász, Mihály Kökény, János Veres, Ime Szekeres. The successful mayor of District XIII, József Tóth. Among the younger generation and newcomers, Kata Tüttő and Anna Lendvai from the Budapest MSZP, who have served as members of the city council in the last four years, and Róbert Braun, a newcomer who made a good impression on me in his television appearances. Ildikó Lendvai stressed that 14 of the 21 members of the Circle have no desire to hold any office. She herself, in fact, received several nominations but turned them all down.

The members of the Ferenc Deák Circle had fairly modest demands. They wanted greater transparency within the party; they also wanted to curtail the power of Mesterházy’s men. As it was, most of the people who were put forward as parliamentary candidates were close associates of the former chairman. The group suggested that the majority of the board members of the party not be members of parliament. Ildikó Lendvai was hopeful that their suggestions would be well received by the congress. The group hoped that the congress would vote in favor of a new program, new by-laws, and a new organizational structure. Well, none of these hopes of the group materialized.

Magyar Nemzet reported after the congress that “the members of the Ferenc Deák Kör who urged an opening toward the liberals failed.” The congress stood by József Tóbiás’s ideas of a move farther to the left and voted for the party’s total independence. Tóbiás, after being elected with 92% of the votes, gave a ten-minute speech in which, while not mentioning either DK or Együtt-PM by name, announced that “I will not measure on an apothecary scale how much liberalism, moderation or law and order are necessary for success.” He said he was building a left-wing party, not a “rainbow coalition.” As is evident from Tóbiás’s subsequent utterances, he hasn’t changed his mind on the subject.

Now, after a few months of hibernation, the Ferenc Deák Circle is back in the news. The text of its proclamation appeared in yesterday’s Népszabadság. Although it does not mention Tóbiás by name, it states that “we need a new political strategy; we have to do something else and that differently.” The ideas expressed in the proclamation echo to some extent those of Bálint Magyar and his study group, especially the claim that “one needs a party of the left that wants more than a change of government. We need regime change.” The new left should put an end to mafia methods. “We need new agreements, new concepts, new methods.” The proclamation calls for extensive discussions among the different groups “on the democratic side” to figure out together the practical and ideological bases of the opposition to the regime (rendszerellenesség). But it goes even further. It advocates “the coordination of the parliamentary and local presence of the democratic forces.” Surely, that means close cooperation among all democratic parties. It suggests the creation of “alternative legitimacy,” meaning an independent civil network of think tanks as well as scientific and cultural workshops. In connection with this “alternative legitimacy,” there is a reference to the necessity “to signal to our European and American friends the freedom loving voice of the Hungarian nation.” In my reading this means cooperation with European and American organizations in defense of Hungarian democracy. Finally, the proclamation states that “the concept of the leading party of the left” is over. In plain English, MSZP should give up the idea that it is the leading force of the opposition.

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And, expanding on the proclamation, Ildikó Lendvai, one of the signatories of the proclamation, posted a letter on her Facebook page yesterday. I will focus here only on the passages that add to the contents of the proclamation. In her opinion, Budapest could have been won. Lajos Bokros’s 36% was a pleasant surprise despite the fact that he became a candidate only two weeks before the election. Budapest could have been won if MSZP had not sent conflicting messages about Bokros’s nomination and its support for his candidacy.

What are the lessons?

(1) One is that in modern large cities the dividing line is no longer between left and right. “Today in Hungary that line is between openness toward Europe and inwardness, between progress and boorish conservatism.” In plain language, Tóbiás is out of touch with reality.

(2) “It would be a huge mistake if MSZP kept an equal distance between Fidesz and the democratic parties. This is András Schiffer’s road and it does not lead to a governing position.”

(3) The left does not equal MSZP. “Gergő Karácsony is an impressive politician of the left. Whether we like it or not, Gyurcsány’s party will stay although it showed the limits of its growth.” In brief, MSZP must make peace with them and cooperate.

I think that in the next few months MSZP’s leadership must decide what road to take. I’m almost certain that Tobiás’s answer will lead nowhere. Moreover, if he and his friends insist on the present course, a fair number of the leading MSZP politicians and even the membership will leave the party to join perhaps a new formation composed of democratically-minded people, which should include members of the Ferenc Deák Circle.

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24 comments

  1. Let these liberals join their fellow liberals. Hungary lacks any clear voice from the left. The rotten character of MSZP aside, the possibility of developing any kind of authentic left will be stymied if would-be leftists become water carriers for a liberal, pro-austerity, pro-NATO ‘democratic’ opposition dedicated to screwing the working class and enriching the rich even further.
    Eventually what will result is a ‘lesser evil’ that’s no less evil than the current one.

    Some united tactical actions may be called for with sections of liberals, e.g. against anti-Semitism, in defense of Roma and other minorities etc., against Fidesz/Jobbik racist piggery but nothing more.

  2. I agree that an opposition candidate could have won in Budapest. With all due respect to him, not Bokros, not any candidate appearing 2 weeks before the election date but a passionate, professional person with a strong, focused campaign. Crazy as this sounds Bokros literally did not have a campaign and did not spend a dime and he got 36% even though his name is synonymous with the bogeyman.

    But the Budapest mayoral position is a bit like that of the president in the US. The Democrats can carry a state in presidential elections because in the urban districts the democrats win with say 80%, while the rural districts the republicans only win with say 50-60%. In other words, over-winning in urban areas compensates for poor rural results — but only in the presidential elections.

    In senate and especially congressional elections republicans can carry many more districts (hence their strength in both houses) because their support-base is spread much more evenly.

    Fidesz implemented a similar election system, it compartmentalized “liberals” (relatively more liberals compared to Fidesz’ core base) into some urban districts, and in reality these districts (not that there would be too many of those left, the electorate got more ocnservative over time in Hungary) can never outnumber rural districts. The influence of Republican know-how on Fidesz should not be underestimated.

    Even if the lord mayor could have been an opposition candidate, most of the district mayoral positions would have gone to fideszniks anyway because Fidesz’ support is much more evenly spread out within Budapest (let alone outside Budapest, where the left wing is effectively dead/non-existent).

  3. I think “inwardness” is really a total misunderstanding of what is happening in relation to the western Europe and democratic values. While the Deak Circle may be in search of an “alternative legitimacy.” The Jobbik may be in search with a complete alliance with Mother Russia, illiberalism is Fidesz’s cover story for what an eastern drift, while the Jobbik have fully completed their journey to a full alliance with Russia and Putin’s own illiberalism. The biggest winner in the elections was the Jobbik based on everything I am reading.

    The Jobbik website late last month posted its developed position on the United States and the western alliance in an article titled “World War III in the making?” It’s an interview with Márton Gyöngyösi, the vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian National Assembly and deputy leader of Jobbik’s parliamentary group. It can be read in English at http://jobbik.com/world_war_iii_making

    The central thesis is captured in this quote: “In the past few decades, the power of the USA and the West was not consolidated, in fact it was in a relative decline, which means that the world became multi-polar. If the US and especially its power elite fail to realize it soon enough, and continue trying to use their existing minimal competitive edge to Americanize the whole world, then we are about to face a conflict unheard of before. In other words, it’s not Putin who can prevent a worldwide conflict but the fanatic American elite who seem to have lost their sense of reality.”

    Márton Gyöngyösi argues that PM Orban for all of his nationalist rhetoric has a hidden “intention – the complete colonization of Hungary” to the United States dominated western alliance. Hungary. According to the Jobbik Hungary faces “the violent expansion and monopoly of the liberal political, economic and cultural value system of the United States.” He goes further arguing “the US lacks history, an independent culture and the fundaments of civilization [which] is not a problem in itself, but their efforts to impose their exclusively materialistic, anti-transcendentalist, liberal approach upon ancient, millennia-old civilizations” like Hungary is the central foreign policy problem in his opinion. He goes on to state “the only party to benefit from the further intensification of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is the USA, since they could weaken Europe and Russia at the same time.”

    Its clear that the Jobbik have crossed the Rubicon to fully join the Russian camp and never to return, but how many Hungarians are going with them including PM Orban?

  4. What is “leftist” policy these days?

    The “working class” was destroyed in the early 1990s when the large factories were liquidated and the agricultural cooperatives were forcibly disbanded during the first post-[& anti-]Communist government.

    The new, foreign-owned car assembly factories have few employees.
    Audi in Gyor has 8000 thousand workers.
    Mercedes in Kecskemet and Suzuki in Esztergom employ less than 5000 each.
    I do not think the Japanese permit even a trade union inside the factory: correct me if I am wrong.

    Nowadays, the strongest unions in Western Europe or the US are in the public sphere.
    The Orban government did away with any resistance in Hungary when it emasculated the unions by law, and gave the right to fire any employee immediately, including teachers.

    Orban created a new ruling class: the fideszniks. They OWN the law, can and will rig any close election.

    I do not think that there are separate “liberal” and “leftist” paths for today’s Hungary.

    1. Restore the rights of the non-fidesznik “commoners”, the Rechtstaat

    2. Restore the freedom of the press & media.

    3. Exterminate the corruption at government level.

    (I do not think Hungary has ever had such high level of corruption in its history:
    Horthy was proud that his ministers did not get rich from the public money.
    Orban is proud that his people enrich themselves )

    4. Care for the poor.

    5. Fund the health care.

    6. Invest in education, because that is the only way to compete in today’s knowledge-driven economy.

  5. Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of Horthy’s aborted attempt to switch sides in the world war.

    Here is a sort of analogy, a lame one, I know:

    The Jobbik of 1944 took over from the Fidesz of 1944.

  6. Tapanch came up with the well crafted same vision, Petofi has been voicing here.
    A vision of glorious liberalism is very welcome. Many Hungarians will love it.
    I am waiting for a magical wake up call from the depth of the Hungarian darkness.
    Ildikó Lendvai and the Deák Ferenc Kör can be a shot in the right direction.
    The blog writer has not clearly supported the Deák Ferenc Kör type calls for freedom.
    While Gyurcsany will be a potential loud supporter of the Deák Ferenc Kör, he is not totally credible.
    I felt always that the presentation of Hungary in this blog is too cautious.
    To tell the truth, an object reporter must be very blunt.
    The full truth could be worse than picture of past reports crafted here from reading Hungarian public sources.

    https://www.google.com/search?num=100&newwindow=1&es_sm=91&q=De%C3%A1k+Ferenc+K%C3%B6r+&oq=De%C3%A1k+Ferenc+K%C3%B6r+&gs_l=serp.3…703350.703350.0.704570.1.1.0.0.0.0.327.327.3-1.1.0….0…1c.2.55.serp..1.0.0.Bfsl-dtnp8E

  7. Currently, there is only one Hungarian worthy to be Prime Minister–Angyan Joseph. And, as his deputy, Bajnai Gordon. Of course, Bekesi and Bokros must have roles in this new government.

    Forget the parties: they’re all corrupted and play between themselves. In the pea-game of Hungarian politics, the sucker holding the bag is always the electorate.

  8. Oh, oh, watch out now–oil prices have fallen through the floor and the Russian bear will be apoplectic. Prepare for new unrest in the Ukraine and the Middle East, brought to you by our
    friendly neighborhood bear…

  9. Tappanch mentioned trade unions in a comment above. What’s their current situation in Hungary?

    PS: I remember hearing, some thirty years ago in my French home town, from the first encounters between the trade-unionists and the new Japanese management of a local factory. It was epic at first, but eventually they came to an understanding. 🙂

  10. There’s misunderstanding here. Hungary is not an illiberal democracy, but a liberal dictatorship.

    (It’s another issue that there are formal, practically rigged elections in which the opposition might win some minor positions, and that the opposition is being hated more and so there seems to be a genuine support for the dictator).

    The point is that effectively one will, that of Orban Viktor counts only in Hungary. If he wills it, it will happen.

    But, unlike under the communism or under various juntas there are some freedoms left to people — but with the implicit provision that those cannot really affect too many people to upset the balance of powers.

    Like one can operate an internet site but (i) it either has to be owned by a reliably oligarch (index.hu and vs.hu) or must be castrated when it gets too popular (like origo.hu was killed for all political purposes).

  11. The Statistical Bureau (KSH) has announced a new, much lower estimate for the number of emigrees.

    They claim that there are 350,000 Hungarians who emigrated between 1989 and 2012, including an estimated 70,000 who left for countries outside the European Union.

    Ten percent would like to return to Hungary, 53% would never return.

    Ninety-two per cent of the 2010-2012 émigrés are in the 20 to 49 age group.

    Source:
    http://index.hu/gazdasag/2014/10/15/ennyi_magyar_vandorolt_ki_2009_ota/

  12. “MSZP politicians and even the membership will leave the party to join perhaps a new formation composed of democratically-minded people, which should include members of the Ferenc Deák Circle.”

    So the Deák Circle is Gyurcsany’s trojan horse inside MSZP? Seems that way from the above description. The gathering of people who support Gyurcsany even from within MSZP would be very similar to PM – this was first a platform within LMP which wanted to betray LMP for Bajnai (who since left politics).

    The Deak Circle means people who betray MSZP and join Gyurcsany. The problem with such people is the issue of trust. The rest of MSZP does not trust the Deak circle. And if the betrayal goes through why would the new party trust them?

    They can become traitors at their new party at any moment as well…

  13. @deakc. Not Trojan horse. They simply have a different assessment of the situation and a different vision. If I had to choose between the two, I most likely would choose the Deák group because I believe that Tóbiás is on the wrong track.I think Ildikó Lendvai is right: right v. left is not the issue in Hungary anymore but democracy v. an illiberal state with a de facto dictator in power.

  14. @Istvan:

    Marton Gyöngyösi’s public CV reminds that of KGBéla. Extremely international, but it seems that he is crazily pro-Russian. That’s really strange, unless he was groomed from a rather early age just as our Béla was.

    I don’t know if Gyöngyösi is working for the Russians or working for the Hungarians (and acts as if was also working for the Russians), but he is not just a simple politician that’s for sure.

  15. The Deák group contains Szekeres, Juhász, Veres …. Who are they to talk about greater transparency in politics and spearheading a revival of fortunes for the left? Until the discredited dinosaurs of the past amble off into the sunset and a new unsullied generation (preferably with no links to MSZP) emerges, I can’t see any optimism that things will change.

  16. @Sebastien

    Re: Gyöngyösi

    If I remember correctly, his dad (or parents) was (were) Kadar-era diplomat(s) in foreign trade.
    The young Gyöngyösi studied with the children of Soviet diplomats in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and India.

    This explains his anti-American, pro-Russian, anti-Semitic and pro-Muslim stance.

  17. @tappanch: re Gyönyösi, but he studied in Dubin, worked for one of the Big Four etc. He surely must have a number of Russian friends from his school years. Remember that Béla was also a kid of people in foreign service, although he turned out to be a special case.

  18. Well, Gyönygyösi’s parents were in the foreign service or in the “foreign service”? Not that the two would be too big a difference. we all know that Nem minden belügyes külügyes, de…

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