ATV

Introducing two young civic leaders: Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss

At this moment another demonstration is taking place in Budapest. Again thousands are out on the streets. This time they’re demonstrating against the Orbán government’s effort to steal the private pension savings of those 60,000 people who four years ago when the government decided to “nationalize” the accumulated savings of 3 million people opted to leave their savings in private funds despite all sorts of threats.  As it turned out, their decision was wise. These funds did well over the years and by now the average investor has 3.5 million forints in his account. According to estimates, if the government manages to get hold of the savings in these pension funds, it will reap another 200 billion forints. Admittedly, this is a great deal less than the 3 trillion that was brazenly expropriated in 2010, but it looks as if the Hungarian budget is in desperate need of new sources of revenue.

Although it is too early to write anything meaningful about this latest demonstration, it offers an opportunity to say something about the recent demonstrations in general and to acquaint readers with two of their organizers. First, rumor has it that, appearances notwithstanding, the Fidesz leadership is worried about the long-term effects of the demonstrations on Fidesz’s support and image. Apparently, next week the party’s top brass will get together to discuss the situation.

Early on, Fidesz politicians thought that if they retreated on the question of an internet tax the demonstrations would disappear. They were also happy to hear that the organizers of some of the demonstrations don’t want anything to do with politics. Yet there are signs of grave trouble because dissatisfaction with the government is widespread. “Today we don’t really know whom we should appease.”

Here I would like to introduce the organizers of the Facebook group “We will not be silent!” To focus on this group is especially timely because I just learned that one of the speakers of the November 17 gathering in front of the parliament building, Balázs Nemes, who was asked to speak at today’s demonstration, refused to participate because not only a civic group but a political party, Együtt, is involved. And this group doesn’t want to cooperate with any existing parties. In their eyes, the parties are all the same. This group was the one that immediately rejected “the advances of Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK.”

Some of the more seasoned politicians of the democratic parties, for example, Gábor Kuncze, reacted to Balázs Nemes’s November 17 speech rather heatedly on television. He objected to the speaker’s condemnation of the entire period between 1989 and 2014. ATV decided to have Kuncze meet Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss, another organizer of the group. On Sunday the three appeared on Antónia Mészáros’s “Szabad szemmel” program. It was a very informative twenty minutes. My conclusion was that it is unlikely that these particular young people will be the catalysts of regime change in Hungary.

My problem with them was not that they are inexperienced and somewhat ignorant of the political events of the last twenty-five years, but that they didn’t grasp Kuncze’s simple, logical explanation of why their ideas were fallacious. Although the conversation was about 20 minutes long, here I will concentrate on two points that Kuncze made. The first was his description of the difference between the first twenty and the last five years. The second was his emphasis on the necessity of parties and politicians.

The position of Nemes and Kiss was that the earlier governments did something so terribly wrong that it inevitably led to Fidesz’s illiberal governance. Kuncze’s position, on the other hand, was–which he tried to explain at least two different ways to no avail–that yes, past governments didn’t do a good job and the electorate punished them for their bad governance. They lost the election. The problem is not the two-thirds majority but what Fidesz did with it in parliament. In 1994 the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition had more than a two-thirds majority, but the Horn-Kuncze government did not change the constitution or the electoral law, did not appoint party hacks to the constitutional court, and did not build an illiberal state. When the people of Hungary voted for Fidesz, they did not anticipate what was coming. After all, Fidesz did not have a party program. In fact, Viktor Orbán said not a word about his plans. So, the present government’s governing style is not the necessary and inevitable result of the bad governance of earlier governments.

I kept watching the faces of these two young people, and it seemed that they didn’t understand what Kuncze was getting at. Nemes muttered something about a “qualitative” difference between the earlier governments and the one today, but he didn’t grasp the essential difference between them. As for Petra Kiss, she, in my opinion, is even more hostile to everything that happened before 2010. She is also more naive about what one can achieve without parties and politicians. As Kuncze pointed out, if they want to remain involved then sooner or later either they will have to make peace with the present democratic opposition or they themselves will have to create parties. Kiss dreamily announced that for the time being they don’t want to do anything concrete. They just want young people to remain engaged. This is a fine idea, but surely it is not enough if these people are serious about sending the Orbán government packing. She also stressed that “there should be many, many parties,” as if she were totally ignorant of the current electoral law that precludes the existence of many small parties against the Fidesz monolith. All in all, I doubt that these two new stars of the November 17th demonstration will be ready by either 2016 or 2018 for serious roles in a new political constellation.

As for cooperation among the various groups, the prospects are not auspicious. The organizers of the demonstration against the internet tax refused to cooperate with the “We will not be silent!” group. Balázs Nemes was invited by the organizers of today’s demonstration but refused to participate. Meanwhile, their Facebook page is full of criticism of their position. Most of the comments talk about the necessity of cooperation between civic movements and parties. Some accuse the organizers of “not hearing the voice of the masses.” Or, “in my opinion this party neutrality is going in the wrong direction.” Critical comments don’t seem to make a dent on this group’s leaders.

I still think that these demonstrations are important and I’m also sure that some of these Young Turks will have political roles in the future, but I don’t think that Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss will be among them.

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Rearrangement on the Hungarian left? It looks like it

Although there are many topics we could discuss today, I would like to return to party politics. I’m interested in the analysis of intra-party developments because of my fascination with personalities and their interactions. My other reason for taking up the topic is that in my opinion we will most likely witness major changes within the democratic opposition soon.

I don’t think that I ever hid the fact that I consider the arrangement that was sealed by Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and Gordon Bajnai of Együtt14-PM unsatisfactory. And, it seems, the potential supporters of this “electoral association” feel the same way as I do. Admittedly, how we feel about a certain occurrence is always influenced by our own likes or dislikes, and therefore it is not the best barometer of the effectiveness of a political action. The real problem, however, with the agreement between E14 and MSZP is that it didn’t bring the expected results. That is a fact that is hard to deny. Surely, the signatories hoped that even a loose coalition would rally the anti-Fidesz forces. It didn’t happen. On the contrary, E14 effectively lost about half of its potential voters.

Looking back on the events of the last half year, I’m actually surprised that the politicians of these two parties ever thought that the arrangement that was achieved only with great difficulty would ever work. You may recall that E14 refused to negotiate until they had their nationwide campaign. E14 politicians were obviously hoping to sit down to negotiate with MSZP from a position of strength. You may also recall that this hoped-for outcome didn’t materialize. Between March and October E14 support  hovered between 3 and 5% in the electorate as a whole. No amount of campaigning helped. Mind you, MSZP didn’t fare any better. The party was stuck between 14 and 15% among all eligible voters. Meanwhile valuable months were wasted.

After the debacle of the October 23 opposition rally and the phony Baja video scandal I hate to think what the next opinion polls will tell us about the state of these two parties. One doesn’t have to be a political genius to see that something went terribly wrong. But it seems that neither Bajnai nor Mesterházy has been willing to admit his mistake. They keep sticking to an untenable position: no renegotiation, no compromise. Everything is peachy-pie as is.

At this point, I was just waiting for the palace revolutions. I didn’t have to wait for long. Two days ago Péter Kónya, leader of Solidarity, was the guest of Olga Kálmán where the careful listener could discern deep trouble within E14.

Solidarity is part of E14-PM, but Kónya hasn’t been given much exposure despite Solidarity’s fairly extensive nationwide base. You may recall that it was Kónya who came up with the idea of an Orbán styrofoam statue imitating the Stalin statue that met its maker on the very first day of the October Revolution. Both Bajnai and Mesterházy timidly repudiated the action, which only gave further ammunition to the hypocritical outrage on the right. At this point I tried to imagine myself in Kónya’s shoes, who steadfastly refuses admit his “mistake.” I would have been furious as I believe Kónya was. Right now, he might be facing a charge of disorderly conduct. Yet he refuses to back down and told Kálmán that he was ready to go to jail if necessary.

Changing leaves

Changing leaves

It was at the end of the conversation that the really important piece of information could be heard. Yes, said Kónya, there are internal disputes concerning strategy in E14. Although at the top of the hierarchy the party leaders refuse to negotiate with Ferenc Gyurcsány, on the local level Solidarity activists are working hand in hand with DK members.  Concurrently with this interview Népszabadság ran an article with the title “Solidarity demands greater influence: Sharp criticisms.” From the article it became clear that Kónya wants a closer working relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

And what one cannot read in the newspapers or hear from the politicians themselves: apparently local E14 members have been leaving the party in droves and joining DK. Apparently there are localities where E14 centers no longer exist. Surely, something must be done.

The situation is not much better in MSZP, although we know less about the inner workings of the party. The first inkling that not all’s well at Mesterházy’s headquarters came from Ildikó Lendvai, legendary whip of MSZP and later chair of the party who decided not to run as a candidate. Her decision, as we learned today, was based on her belief that she was considered one of those old timers the new leadership wants to see disappear. Mind you, Lendvai is one of the most sympathetic and smartest politicians in MSZP, and her quick mind and wit made her one of the best leaders of the MSZP parliamentary group. László Kovács, another old timer, was also on his way out. Their places were taken by second-rates.  One such lightweight was interviewed on ATV two days ago. Olga Kálmán managed to make him look like a fool.

In any case, about a week ago Lendvai gave an interview to Heti Válasz from which we could learn that she holds different views on party strategy from those of the chairman. Very diplomatically but clearly, she indicated that given the strengthening of the Demokratikus Koalíció and the weakening of E14 some kind of renegotiation of the terms of the agreement between MSZP and E14 will have to take place. She suggested that one of the problems standing in the way of a mutual understanding between MSZP and DK is that MSZP couldn’t decide on its attitude toward the party’s record during the Gyurcsány era. The way I read the abbreviated version of the interview online, Lendvai indicated that MSZP should have proudly embraced some of the accomplishments of the period between 2004 and 2009.

And then came the bungled video case. I’m sure that there were already rebels within the party who were not too pleased that Mesterházy was unable to handle the situation at the October 23 rally. An experienced politician would have been able to respond to those who demanded “unity.” Instead, Mesterházy stubbornly stuck to his prepared text just as now he stubbornly holds to the view that the agreement works splendidly when it is obvious that it doesn’t. The handling of the video was, I think, the last straw. By now it looks as if Mesterházy isn’t the master of his own house.

Yesterday came the news that some MSZP leaders, for example Gergely Bárándy and Zsolt Molnár, tried to deny that Ildikó Lendvai and László Kovács will be “advisers” to Attila Mesterházy. Today Lendvai was interviewed by György Bolgár* where she candidly shared her own views as to what strategy MSZP should pursue for participation in a unified democratic opposition. She added that this is her own private opinion that many people within the party don’t share. Clearly, she stands on the side of those who think that MSZP cannot stick with a mistaken agreement that has led nowhere. It was a mistake at the moment of its signing and since then it has become what looks like a blunder. Somehow the wrong must be righted. Now the question is: will Attila Mesterházy listen to the “oldies”?  I have the feeling he has no choice.

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*For those of you who understand the language I highly recommend listening to the Lendvai interview with György Bolgár available here: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-155854.mp3 The interview begins at 27:32 in the first part and continues in the second part: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-162853.mp3

“Talking heads” of Hungary

After a brief foray into foreign policy and history it’s time to return to domestic politics. Today’s post was inspired by a television program and its viewers’ reactions to what was said there by young so-called political scientists, and, more importantly, by a thoughtful article written by Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, who doesn’t make a secret of her support for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció. I should also mention that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at the II. Congress of DK (January 26, 2013) was made available today both on DK’s website and on Galamus.

Let’s start with the television program on ATV called “A tét” (The stake). Its host is András Bánó, formerly of MTV, who received the Hungarian version of the Pulitzer Prize a few years back. By and large I like the program, but some of the young  “political scientists” often irritate me. Political commentators should take their job seriously, and that means in-depth and more or less impartial analysis of current political events. Instead, some of the regular guests only vent their political prejudices. There is one young guy whose superciliousness and flippancy are more than I can tolerate.

Well, it seems that I’m not alone. The show aired last Wednesday and György Bolgár’s call-in show “Let’s talk about it!” was full of angry callers condemning our young man’s attitude toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK. Naturally, Vera Lánczos’s criticism is much more reasoned and therefore more weighty. But she also objected to the tone these fellows use in connection with such an important issue as the current state of the opposition and the need for a united stand against Orbán’s regime.

Talking heads

Talking heads

Because right now the opposition is in disarray. New formations appear, old ones reappear, and LMP just fell apart. The way things look, the LMP caucus will be gone by the time parliament convenes in February because the two factions cannot agree on how to keep the LMP delegation together. Separately neither group has enough members to form a caucus. The main sticking point is LMP’s course of action. The position of the Schiffer faction is utterly unrealistic. Although they keep insisting that their main goal is to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2014, they are planning to achieve this alone even as LMP’s share of the electorate hovers around 3%. It is clear that  for Schiffer and the party leaders supporting him, the party’s future is more important at the moment than a united front in which LMP most likely wouldn’t carry much weight. The Jávor faction, on the other hand, is to my mind a great deal more patriotic. It is a shame that the only thing one of the young political scientists had to say about the LMP split was that “the sole difference between the two factions is that one of them likes Bajnai while the other one doesn’t.”

Gordon Bajnai’s E14 is not doing well. In mid-November the enthusiasm for an umbrella organization under the leadership of Gordon Bajnai surged after the October 23 mass meeting. Since then support has slowly dissipated and the number of  undecided voters has begun to grow again. According to some observers, the problem is that Bajnai entered the political arena too early. I disagree. After all, the campaign season has already begun, and to hammer out a common platform takes a long time. A year is barely enough, especially given the uncertainties of the present political situation. No, the problem is not timing. The problem is Milla and Péter Juhász. E14, a movement at the moment, initially announced that it would start proceedings to establish a party. After all, only parties can enter the race. A few days later we learned from Péter Juhász that Milla “isn’t ready to lend its name to the formation of a political party” and E14 pulled back, at least temporarily. Milla is a mysterious and amorphous organization–if you can call it that–about which we know practically nothing. For the longest time Juhász seemed to be the only embodiment of Milla, although lately one can also hear references to Péter Molnár, a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998 (Fidesz and later SZDSZ). Juhász’s latest is that he will never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I also doubt that he would cooperate with MSZP. All in all, Bajnai picked the wrong “civic organization” to launch his attempt to bring together the various opposition parties and forces.

After the discussion about LMP, the young political scientists moved on to Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party is described by its politicians as “the party of unity.” Indeed, it is this party that most consistently and without any reservation supports a joint effort to dislodge Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány has given up personal political ambition, at least for the time being. He realizes that his party will not be able to capture millions of votes. Therefore he is not forced to make compromises for fear of a mass exodus of followers. He advocates unpopular measures that in his opinion are necessary to turn Hungary’s faltering economy around. Those 100-200,000 people who today would vote for DK will not abandon Gyurcsány because they agree with the details of the party program.

At the II Congress 2,000 people gathered to hear the speeches and vote on the program. I understand that there was only one dissenting vote. The party has 7,000 members with local chapters in 750 cities, towns, and villages. All that without any outside financial assistance. A DK party member won the mayoral race in a smaller town, and DK took second place ahead of MSZP in another.

“A tét” showed a clip from Gyurcsány’s speech at the party congress in which he emphasized the necessity of a common stand. He considers this “a patriotic duty” and argues that those who refuse to cooperate only strengthen the regime of Viktor Orbán. According to our flippant “political scientist,” that means that “everybody should embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány” who wants to force everyone into one big unified opposition that would also include his own party. But what is wrong with this? Isn’t Gyurcsány’s party democratic? The other Young Turk on the program announced that the only reason DK wants a unified opposition is because otherwise DK couldn’t be represented in parliament. Total nonsense. As things stand now, a maximum of three parties could get into parliament if the opposition forces don’t manage to build an electoral coalition–Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. And most likely Fidesz would win.

This kind of irresponsible talk doesn’t help anyone. It only confuses the already confused and disappointed electorate. As Vera Lánczos wrote, “The electorate doesn’t want the opposition parties to compete with each other but to come to an agreement for their sake.” To fan the distrust of parties in general and add to the division of the opposition is not the job of political commentators. It’s no wonder that so many people who truly want Viktor Orbán out of office are outraged.