The Hungarian socialists at a crossroads

While Fidesz and the Orbán government are busy hatching their latest plans to further restructure the Hungarian state and Hungarian society we cannot do more than wait for the day, which should come soon, when we find out what kind of austerity program will be introduced. There is no use talking about, for instance, all the leaked information from Fidesz politicians concerning the huge reforms of healthcare and higher education. We will turn to these topics when there are enough facts to make an assessment of the government’s plans. I should note, however, that Hungarians expect the worst. Pessimism about the future has grown in the last few months.

So, for the time being, let’s concentrate on party politics. Yesterday I wrote about the Ferenc Deák Circle, comprised of those MSZP politicians who consider cooperation with other parties of the democratic opposition essential for an effective stand against the growing “dictatorship of democracy” that Viktor Orbán has introduced in the last four and a half years. On the other side are the MSZP politicians currently running the party who have moved in the opposite direction. According  to József Tóbiás, the party chairman, there is only one party on the left and that is MSZP. He made it crystal clear in the last few days that his party will never make any compromises and will never join any other party. MSZP will break with the “authoritarian leadership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

Tóbiás’s dislike of Gyurcsány is common knowledge. When Gyurcsány and some of his fellow rebels left MSZP, Tóbiás was relieved. He announced that “MSZP gained an opportunity to go its own way and define itself as a leftist party.” That was in October 2011. Mind you, the departure of the “alien” elements from the party did not increase MSZP’s popularity. But Tóbiás is not one to engage in self-criticism. The current message to the other smaller parties is: never again will we have anything to do with you because you are the cause of our decline.

József Tóbiás and other MSZP politicians have been lashing out, condemning “Gyurcsány’s peremptory Führer-like politics” (Gyurcsány hatalmi, vezérelvű politikája). Leaders of three “platforms” within MSZP–the “Left-wing Gathering,” “Socialist,” and “People’s Group”–announced their support of Tóbiás and his policies. (There is also a “social-democratic platform”; Ágnes Kunhalmi belongs to that group.) The leaders of these three platforms asked the party leadership “to free the left from the trap Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister, forced them into.” Tóbiás needs no urging. In addition to breaking all ties to other democratic parties, he is ready to completely reorganize MSZP.

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

What kind of a party does he have in mind? Interestingly enough, his MSZP would be structured like Fidesz. Currently, the key figures in the nationwide structure of MSZP are the county chairmen. Some of these chairmen have become extremely powerful over the years and, since they hold the purse strings, they are difficult to dislodge. These chairmen were the ones who elevated Ferenc Gyurcsány to be the party’s candidate for the premiership in 2004 and they were the ones who dethroned him in 2009. Fidesz, on the other hand, is built around electoral districts. In Tóbiás’s scheme, each electoral district will have a chairman who can be removed by the central leadership if he is found wanting.

Apparently Tóbiás can’t remove the county chairmen because that would require a revision of the by-laws. What he can do without any congressional approval is to take money away from them. With that move, these formerly all-powerful local party leaders will become mere figureheads.

It is not only the structure of Fidesz that the MSZP leadership is ready to copy. The new MSZP will be “nationally committed party (nemzeti elkötelezettségű párt). This shift is not entirely new. MSZP’s leadership under Attila Mesterházy already thought that since Fidesz is so successful with its nationalist propaganda and since Viktor Orbán and Fidesz politicians constantly accuse the socialists and the liberals of “internationalism” and “cosmopolitanism,” perhaps success for the socialists requires greater emphasis on the nation. Tóbiás even managed to smuggle the concept of “Christian values” into his speech when he equated them with the socialists’ “social sensitivity.”

The divide between the left-wingers and the liberals in MSZP is fundamental. The question is whether the Orbán government can be dislodged by a united opposition or by a single, large socialist party. A similar debate went on in LMP a year and a half ago. The party’s parliamentary delegation was almost equally split between those who followed András Schiffer, who saw his party’s future in going it alone, and the rebels who were convinced that Schiffer’s tactics were suicidal. It was this debate that precipitated the split in LMP. The current situation in MSZP closely resembles what LMP went through then, although the split is not so even.

At the moment it looks as if the majority of the top leadership agrees with Tóbiás. According to them, the party’s problems began the day Ferenc Gyurcsány took over. He was too liberal, and therefore supporters of the party whose hearts were on the left abandoned them. Well, we know the answer is not that simple. Most likely Ildikó Lendvai was correct when she said in her Facebook note yesterday that the dividing line in Hungarian society is no longer between left and right. And if so, the whole reshaping of the party by József Tóbiás and his friends is most likely an exercise in futility.

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30 comments

  1. The picture is simple. The MSZP party does not want to dance as Gyurcsany’s puppet.

    They do not want to merge into a big party under the leadership of Gyurcsany. And there is a certain logic to this. There already was “one big party” and it was Gyurcsany who broke it up! It was he, who split the party into a big and small piece back in 2011.

  2. The non-FIDESZ parties, among them, the MSZP must counter the finkelsteinian-orbanian deceit and confusion.

    The freedom advocating and EU oriented parties have to broadcast all the time on facebook, twitter, in radio and television that fidesz is the greatest hazard to the future health of the nation.

    Do you reject the Putin anti-EU alliance? should be the battle cry.

  3. Great news to Fidesz. As if all these “ideas” would be relevant to the future of MSZP. They don’t even get what their problems are.

    There is no conceivable mathematics under which MSZP could ever, in a thousand years hope to defeat Fidesz in the current system.

    But people are reliably self-interested. The current, rigged election system was created with this mind, so Tobias and the remainder of MSZP (obviously self-selected anti-Gyurcsanyists who didn’t go to DK) will want to keep playing a game so as to look like they still have something to do and that they are somebodies.

  4. On what kind of analysis does Tobias ground his move, could one ask. I doubt the analytical and intellectual capabilities of the left. Think before you move should be the right order, I think.

  5. Eva S. Balogh: The divide between the left-wingers and the liberals in MSZP is fundamental.

    Nothing new since the Third International (1919), except of course for the end of the USSR.

    In the current Hungarian landscape, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left of MSZP, which means that MSZP’s left wing has nothing to gain by splitting, because they would have nobody to join forces with. The most likely event would be a split initiated by the party’s right wing, who could eventually join with DK, E-PM and eventually MOMA. If I understood your previous piece correctly, that’s what the ‘Deák Kör’ initiative hinted at…

    As Gyurcsány would be a possible candidate for leading such a ‘new left’ unified party, Tóbiás attacking him makes sense. It’s a message to MSZP’s own right and center: don’t leave or else … you’ll get Gy.

  6. @Cola:

    Kosa spoke a bit too early. Fidesz will deny it. Nevertheless, this is what will happen, the legislative drafts are ready.

  7. Elek I would argue that Putin’s strategy is fundamentally neutral towards the EU if it will break with the United States. The entire idea is to keep the western markets for Russian raw materials, but remove the necular and military shield provided by the USA. If that can be achieved then eventually Russia can use its combined military, oil, and raw materials power to improve its own economic situation at the expense of western and Central Europe.

    Up to now this strategy has failed in most countries that are in the EU, but it is working brilliantly in Hungary. The Jobbik fully articulate the Russian line and Fidesz/Orban present a softer more opportunist eastern opening perspective. The current US foreign policy towards Hungary is focusing on the erosion of democratic rights in the context of civil society. Our policy towards Hungary needs now to include an articulation of the consequences for Hungarians of its eastern drift and a realistic assesment of the failures of the Hungarian transition process including the low wage structure Hungarians are faced with. Our foreign policy towards Hungary at this point does not in the least address the migration of Hungarian skilled and unskilled labor out of the nation to other EU states, it is largely as if it doesn’t exist.

  8. How can the western mind ever comprehend Hungarian political realities? It can’t.

    Tobias and the MSZP are an arm of Fidesz/Orban. They are participants in the theatre of governance to present an ‘opposition’ in the political realm. Of course, for their payments, they must take a regular kick at Gyurcsany. It’s all ‘theatre’.

    As for Kosa, don’t think for a moment that his ‘news’ was not ordained by Orban: simply, a trial balloon to see what the reactions are. Typical.

    And, once and for all, you naysayers of the Left….get it into your heads that it’s all pre-arranged
    by the major sickie to make the Left look bad. Most of the Left spokesman are, by now, solidly
    in the service of Viktor.

    The Hungarian model of Democracy. Papa Vlad would be/IS…proud.

  9. “How can the western mind ever comprehend Hungarian political realities? It can’t.”

    This is true but not the way you think it is.
    The western mind is not aware of the basic fact that the regime change 24 years ago failed in many ways, and what is happening now in Hungary is the correction of that failed regime change.
    24 years ago the (post)communist party of the dictatorship should have been banned by law from running on the elections, and they should have had all their assets confiscated (as they were stolen goods), including offices, private wealth stolen from the state, and everything else.
    But this did not happen. Time to make up for it now, though obviously only partly successful after such a long period of time.

  10. @Johnny Boy … I’m sure you recognise that your call for such a ban would obviously apply to many Fidesz representatives, including figures at the very top?

  11. @Johnny Boy: if that had happened, what would have happened to you? Oh, sorry, the ban wasn’t supposed to apply to covert szt officers, am I right?

    The system change did not fail, however unfortunately in capitalism Hungary just doesn’t have much to offer to the world, but that was the case 25 years ago too. Or you think we could have shielded ourselves from the world like the North Koreans have been doing?

    If you say that a lot of people got poorer as a result of the exposure to capitalism, then that’s true, but look at Fidesz policy on incomes (link below), it’s not like fideszniks help the losers of capitalism.

    They are just more aggressive users of power techniques and just like the Republicans are great at convincing people that what’s bad for them is actually a great policy. Meanwhile luckily for them their opponents are dumb and clueless.

    These don’t make your theory true. Let’s face it your theory is – but this is politically incorrect to say out loud, for the time being, at least – that democracy is bad (which is not surprising to hear from you as I assume that you were selected for your blind loyalty to power and hierarchy). I hear it from a lot of people like you, in low voice at the moment: well, we need dictatorship, it’s not a such a bad idea after all.

    Well, we got it, and look how successful we are…

    http://tenytar.blog.hu/2014/10/15/perverz_ujraelosztas_rosszabbul_elunk_mint_ot_eve

  12. Propping up EU austerity and NATO war-mongering has been toxic, if not fatal, to leftist parties across Europe… benefitting mainly the liberals.

    This has also gone a long way to strengthening the conservative, racist right – which can effectively appeal to populist backwardness among some sectors workers and the poor – with claims to “stand up for the little guy” – once the “socialists” are clearly in the back pocket of the banks.

    Exploiting this betrayal by the ‘left’ of its own traditionally working class base has been the key to Orban’s success.

  13. I really think the use of the term “Left” to describe much of the MSZP is not appropriate.
    They are, for the most part, professional politicians, not people with any real knowledge or experience at what it is like to be a member of the urban working-class or the rural poor.

    They (the MSZP and I suspect also all other democratic politicians) have zero chance of overturning the Orbanist regime through standard poltical means, that is to say at the ballot box.

    Orban and his thugs will not permit that scenario under any circumstances and anyone who thinks otherwise is hopelessy naïve.

    The Hungarian parliamentary system is not Westminster where a gentlemanly shake of hands accompanies the change of a government- we are dealing with a ruthless, despicable and amoral brute here who will stop at nothing, including violence I believe, to keep political and economic power.

    That fact may upset those who still believe that the regime will be removed by the “popular will” of the people expressing their democratic will but anyone who has watched the Fidesz dictatorship at work knows it is the truth.

    So, what is the alternative for genuine socialist and liberal people in Hungary?

    Try carrying out your supposed principles on the ground, where you may do some actual good.

    Set up helpcentres to give practical help to the victims of Orbanism. Get your hands dirty, every day of the week, instead of just every four years.
    Forget your stupid petty rivalries, you are light years away from power anyway.

    Finally, start building up dossiers of the crimes being carried out by the Fidesz elite and their bully boys in the towns and villages of Hungary.

    It won’t be needed for a few years yet but when the day of reckoning finally comes then every single Fidesz politician should be spending time behind bars for the crimes they have committed against the people of this country.

  14. @D7 Democrat:

    Exactly. There is no way the politicians of the current democratic opposition could ever overturn Orban’s system. Out of the question.

    Orban and his posse absolutely wouldn’t let it, but even if he let it, they couldn’t do a thing. Lacking is the intellectual and human capital. This is all the more difficult to admit because the leftists have a strong self-image of being so smart. But that’s the situation. At most, these politicians are capable of hoping for the pendulum to swing back, but they are waiting for Godot.

    They will not work, they are lazy. It’s so much more comfortable to appear on ATV every other day or to post something on facebook. They can continue to complain and just like a lot of Hungarians they receive a lot of enjoyment from this complaining, in fact they may be in the situation already when actually they don’t really want to win. Then they would have to do something, and the prospect of this is somewhere really terrifying. But they can forever complain and it just feels so good.

    But to organize? To serve potential voters? To think long-term? To think?

    No. This opposition is like the opposition of Zimbabwe and the historic Italian Left combined and divided again. Utterly hopeless.

  15. The opposition candidate from the DK party won the mayoral election in district 15 of Budapest.

    The Fidesz-dominated local election commission annulled the election, because the DK candidate falsely claimed in some of his flyers to have been supported by all of the opposition parties MszP, DK, Egyutt, PM and MLP [My guess is that the tiny MLP did not support him]

    If we elevate this pretext (lying to the public) to be the law of the land, then Fidesz should be deprived from [almost] all of his MPs and mayors.

    http://index.hu/belfold/2014/10/16/uj_valasztast_irtak_ki_a_15._keruletben_gyurcsanyek_elbukhatjak_egyetlen_keruletuket/

  16. Gonna be a hard task to create a “leftist” party beside the only truly Bolsheviks, the Fidesz.
    Sounds strange?
    Apart from some nationalist BS and flag waving they fit the bill perfectly.

    Otherwise you may try National Bolshevism for a change, perhaps you’ll get better fit.

    The slight discrepancies due only to the relatively modern circumstances, down the core is the same old ‘ruling of the majority’ based thinking, no doubt.

    If anyone ever will present a viable alternative it must emerge from unity along the democratic values and not based on sole party-politics – it will never work.

    Needless to say, but I will point out anyhow that it shouldn’t include our “beloved” racists, neither the apolitical opportunists who will try to be ‘neutral’ in times like this, nor the corrupt gold-diggers and turncoats, no, thank you.

    Wonder who remains then?
    Probably those who value democracy and freedom more than the glorious memories of the Soviet era and the chance to resurrect it, I guess.

  17. The people are starting to see the light: there is no way out. What’s left if to wait and watch what comes next and my guess is this: the evisceration of Fidesz by Russian elements and the eventual takeover of the country without the need for the “Orban cover”. Hungary, more than ever before, will become a satellite of Russia…a squib on the nose of Russian Will.

    Ponyemaj Parusskiy?

  18. “(a) In furtherance of the National Strategy to Internationalize Efforts Against Kleptocracy and Presidential Proclamation 7750 [set out below], the Secretary of State shall compile and maintain a list of officials of foreign governments and their immediate family members who the Secretary has credible evidence have been involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries.”

    “(b) Any individual on the list compiled under subsection (a) shall be ineligible for admission to the United States.”

  19. @stark

    “Ponyemaj Parusskiy?” – incorrect.
    ponyemayesh or ponyemaytye are your choices.

    Romanes eunt domus —–> Romani ite domum

  20. CopyCat: “Orban and his posse absolutely wouldn’t let it,”

    I liked your comment much, but in this case I believe it is not about whether Orban would allow something to happen. Suppose the opposition all of the sudden manages to somehow create some common movement, manages to address people and manages to mobilise many people (obviously, extremely hypothetical). What could OV in such circumstances do to counter this protest movements by all means. Apparently he would have to intervene and attack OPENLY. This only seldom finds the support of people and most often even more people start to “understand”. Currently we often read that OV “threatens” etc., but in my impression he has such an easy time because in general he does not encounter much opposition, by which I mean “organised, united, involving many people and determined”, not individual opposition no matter how brave but without solidarity of the broad public. I would like to know (although not really to see) what exactly he would be willing to do once he were TRULY threatened.

  21. Eva: ” The question is whether the Orbán government can be dislodged by a united opposition or by a single, large socialist party.”

    I believe the whole question is not very helpful. The main question is what kind of society should Hungary be? Should it be a one-party system based on “eternal truths”, then Fidesz can rule but then Fidesz could also be “dislodged by one single socialist party”. If Hungarians eventually find out that society is not so simple and that a multi-party system with changing governments is more likely to assure a higher living standard and decent political lives, it is just impossible that just ONE party can do this job of regime change. The democratic parties must understand and prove through their behaviour that they know what compromise (even after hard negotiations) means, that they know what it means to show respect for an opponent, that they are able to reach out to people who supported Fidesz before (in particular the “small followers”), and that this is a suitable way of government for Hungarians with their strong scepticism towards politics. So as long as MSzP (or any other “democratic” party) thinks that it can achieve “democracy” on it’s own, based on its own “left-wing truths”, it is likely that they will achieve nothing new but more or other autocracy.

  22. Kirsten, I think you’re wrong. In the East nobody attacks openly.

    Look at the Russians, they are adept at waging a co-called Special War, see below. And I guess they are happy to lend a helping hand to their new-found (often old) pals, especially now that Russians have a vested interest to keep Orban in power, with all the new energy deals (though the Russians would probably gain even under other scenarios.)

    Orban has all the means to wage a similar kind of war against his enemies, to him, they are only enemies, not adversaries. (I’m not saying ‘troublemakers’ in Hungary are routinely getting killed like in Russia, but Welsz and Varadi died under rather suspicious circumstances.)

    If you are careful enough you can see evidence of this kind of dirty operation already happening in Hungary too. On mainstream fora from hvg.hu to 444.hu it became quite normal to refer to/openly assume the secret services being involved in dirty stuff, involving politics and the media (I’m not even mentioning business deals). Rumours abound.

    Open attack is for Westerners, poorer ‘armies’ need to be ‘smarter’. There’s a lot of know-how amassed by our Eastern friends, and Orban is making use of that.

    It would be difficult for most voters even to conclude that there is such a war going on if Orban did it according to his special advisors.

    http://20committee.com/2014/04/21/special-war-goes-mainstream/

  23. “organised, united, involving many people and determined”, not individual opposition no matter how brave but without solidarity of the broad public. I would like to know (although not really to see) what exactly he would be willing to do once he were TRULY threatened.”

    In 2002 Fidesz and Orban encountered “organised, united involving many people” opposition and lost the election. They simply resigned and walked away. This is why I always laugh when retarded people write sentences such as “Orban could never be voted out”, “Orban can never be defeated in elections”. The fact is he WAS voted out, he WAS defeated in elections and he handed over power and always respected the democratic process to the fullest.

  24. @org

    “The fact is he WAS voted out, he WAS defeated in elections and he handed over power and always respected the democratic process to the fullest.”

    Because he did not have 2/3 in Parliament between 1998 and 2002, so there was still a constitution and separation of powers. Even in 2002, Orban left reluctantly.

    Democracy and its destruction by the 2/3 rule:

    “Be more than a rodent”

  25. org:

    “Orban respected the democratic process to the fullest”

    Don’t even get me started on this one.

    Plus what makes you think what was potentially true in 2002 still holds?

  26. Is there too much difference between Hungary and North Korea?

    Is the difference disappearing with great speed?

    Eventually, North Korea will be free before Hungary can liberate itself.

  27. “This is why I always laugh when retarded people write sentences such as “Orban could never be voted out”, “Orban can never be defeated in elections”.”

    Typical Fidesz, resorting to personal abuse when faced with impeccable logic.

    Orban in 2002 did not control the media, the judiciary, the business sector.

    He does now, do you think a man with his undemocratic character will simply give up this power due to the Hungarian population tellling him to go?

    Really?

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