democratic opposition parties

The Hungarian people are not thrilled with Orbán’s Russia policy

Népszava‘s information about Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest, seconded by Attila Ara-Kovács on Klubrádió, turned out to be accurate. Válasz, a pro-government internet site, was skeptical about the accuracy of the news because, after all, there was no mention of such a visit in Russian sources. Moreover, no western media picked up the news from Népszava. A commenter on this blog also expressed his doubts about the authenticity of the news. After all, Népszava is an opposition paper and therefore, I guess, not quite reliable. By this morning, however, the press department of the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the information: Putin is coming to Hungary, although the date hasn’t been fixed.

Meanwile Népszabadság, another opposition paper, learned “from diplomatic circles” that the trip was planned a year ago on Hungary’s initiative. At that time the sanctions against Russia were not yet in place. Moreover, originally the trip was supposed to take place sometime in 2014, but because of scheduling difficulties it was postponed to this year, a change that might be advantageous to Putin but is mighty uncomfortable for Orbán. But as László Kovács, former foreign minister, said yesterday, Orbán developed a relationship with Putin that precludes any postponement of the meeting.

While waiting for the arrival of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, several civic groups are preparing demonstrations. A group headed by Zoltán Vajda and Balázs Gulyás, two people whom I consider to be the most promising among the organizers of the recent demonstrations, plans to take the lead. Balázs Gulyás was the organizer of the mass demonstration against the internet tax, and Zoltán Vajda organized the demonstration on behalf of those 60,000 people whose savings in private pension funds the Orbán government wants to expropriate.

Vajda and Gulyás are planning two demonstrations. One will take place on February 1, the day before Angela Merkel’s arrival. It is called “Spring comes–Orbán goes: Demonstration for a European Hungary.” The second demonstration is planned for February 9 or, if Putin comes later, it will be postponed to the day of his arrival. The theme of the second will be “We will not be a Russian colony.” Other organizations and parties expressed an interest in joining these two Facebook groups, and it seems that they, unlike some others, are ready to cooperate with everybody who is ready to join them. As I wrote yesterday, PM asked all democratic parties to take part in massive demonstrations that include both parties and civilians.

In the lively discussion that followed yesterday’s post, a question was raised about the attitude of Fidesz voters toward Russia. According to one opinion, Fidesz voters are so brainwashed that they are ready to follow Viktor Orbán all the way to Moscow. Others, myself included, doubted the accuracy of this observation. In fact, I ventured to suggest that anti-Russian feelings might be a catalyst that will bring about a united opposition to Orbán’s regime. Well, today we have a more scientific answer to the question of Hungarians’ attitude toward the United States and Russia. The poll was taken by Medián for 444.hu

Here are some figures confirming that the Orbán propaganda did not significantly alter Hungarians’ anti-Russian sentiments. I will start with the most important and most telling figures: “If Hungary had to choose between the United States and Russia as a close associate, which country would you choose?” Fifty-three percent chose the United States and only 25% Russia. Hungarians are aware of the worsening relations between the United States and Hungary, and surprisingly the majority blame the Hungarian government for it. This finding goes against the widespread belief that Hungarians always blame others for their misfortunes. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents blame Hungary and only 14% the United States.

Medián also ran these figures against party affiliation. Those who feel more aligned with the democratic parties overwhelmingly blame their own country for the current situation (80%); only 4% blame the United States. Interestingly, the majority of Jobbik voters (59%) side with the United States. Only 13% put the blame on the U.S. while 27% think that the blame should be shared by the two countries. The situation is about the same among undecided voters. Fidesz voters are not as uniformly pro-Russian as some commenters on Hungarian Spectrum suspected. Only 37% blame the United States, 22% Hungary, and 40% think that both countries are at fault. I wouldn’t call that a resounding endorsement of a pro-Russian, anti-U.S. foreign policy.

Diplomats, present and former, have found it difficult to figure out what the real purpose of this meeting is. I could suggest a few topics that might come up. First, I think, is Paks. Orbán, for whom the building of a second reactor at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant is very important, surely would like to get reassurance from Putin that the project is still on and that Russia will not turn its back on Paks as it did on the Southern Stream. Another topic might be Hungary’s attitude toward the extension of the sanctions against Russia. Would Hungary vote against such a decision? There is also the question of the U.S.-EU free trade agreement, officially called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which Russia opposes.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Orbán were a ready partner of Russia in opposing the free-trade agreement. On what am I basing this opinion? István Mikola, formerly the “nation’s doctor” and nowadays one of the undersecretaries in the foreign ministry, announced last night on HírTV that Hungary would go so far as to veto the TTIP if Hungary’s interests were not taken into consideration. One such reason would be the acceptance in the European Union of genetically modified food products coming from the United States. Fidesz lawmakers included a GMO ban in the new constitution. András Schiffer, the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist co-chair of LMP, went even further. In his opinion, the whole free-trade agreement is against the interests of Hungary. In fact, not just Hungary but in his words “it means in the long run the ruin of the whole globe.” He added that the agreement would mean the loss of 600,000 jobs in the EU. So, Putin and Orbán are of one mind when it comes to the TTIP. András Schiffer, the so-called opposition leader, joins them because of his far-left notions of modern capitalism and globalism.

Not so long ago, however, James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wrote an article in Foreign Policy: “Vladimir Putin hates the TTIP which is exactly why Europe and America need to get it done.” Stavridis explains his support of the treaty this way:

The TTIP is a sensible agreement on economic grounds, broadly speaking. But it also holds enormous real value in the geopolitical sphere. The increased linkages between the United States and our European allies and partners will stand in direct opposition to Putin’s key strategy of driving a wedge between the United States and the EU as the central members of the transatlantic community.

I don’t know how important the GMO issue is in the scheme of things, but one has the feeling that Hungary will be a difficult negotiating partner when it comes to the TTIP.

Another issue that might be discussed is Putin’s pet subject, the Eurasian Economic Union. It was only a few days ago that Russia’s EU ambassador urged Brussels to start talks with the newly born Eurasian Economic Union despite the Ukrainian crisis. As he put it, “common sense advises us to explore the possibility of establishing a common economic space in the Eurasian region.” A Russian-led bloc might be a better partner for the European Union than the United States. The reason: low health standards in the U.S. food industry. Orbán again might be helpful on this issue. However, in Orbán’s place I would tread lightly. It is true that Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union became reality on January 1, but according to Reid Standish, an expert on Kazakhstan, Putin’s Eurasian dream was over before it began.

Eurasian Union

All in all, I think the two have plenty to talk about. The topics I have outlined are primarily Russian concerns, and getting Hungary on board would be only to Russia’s advantage. For Hungary to become Moscow’s Trojan horse in Europe is not strategically wise.

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Ferenc Gyurcsány: Angels or Demons

On August 27 Ferenc Gyurcsány published a lengthy article on Népszabadság‘s op/ed page that turned out to be a shortened version of the original, which was published the following day on Galamus.

The article, “Angels or Demons,” spawned the kind of upheaval that normally follows Gyurcsány’s writings or speeches. His political adversaries and antagonistic journalists in Index and HVG attacked the DK chairman as someone whose time has passed and who has no right to speak on behalf of the Hungarian left.

The most vehement criticism came from Viktor Szigetvári, once a close associate of Gyurcsány, who now as co-chairman of Együtt-PM sees Gyurcsány and his party as a threat to his own political aspirations. His feelings about his former boss became especially evident during an interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd. The reaction may have hurt Együtt-PM’s slim chances at the forthcoming municipal elections. After all, most anti-Fidesz voters would like to see a common front against the current regime and instead they see nothing but strife. 

The second criticism came from the old-time MSZP leadership, from Imre Szekeres, who made it clear that they do not need any advice from Ferenc Gyurcsány.

What was in Gyurcsány’s article that so upset the other two democratic parties? He declared that in the long run “the optimal goal is the creation of a unitary Democratic Party.” According to Szigetvári, what the opposition needs is not so much one large party as a “new kind of politics.” Szekeres answered that what Hungary needs today is a strong socialist party. If one can believe the latest public opinion poll, DK’s projected results in the elections (8%) are very close to those of MSZP (11%) while Együtt-PM is trailing with 4%. Szigetvári was especially upset about the timing of the article. There’s no question. Ferenc Gyurcsány was trying to bolster support for his own party, which couldn’t have pleased the other party leaders.

The English translation of this controversial article appeared in Free Hungary.

* * *

We politicians, just like most of our compatriots, are neither angels nor demons. Of course, there are some amongst us who are naive like angels, who are idealists and endlessly fair, just as some of us are clever as hell, and are flirting with sin – they are pure mercenaries.

The years of anxiety are coming. They are coming not because this is what we would like to happen, but because Hungary’s political community is split in two. Our motherland is virtually became separated into two countries when it comes to dreams, visions and the deepest-held beliefs. And there is nothing between those two countries. Or, if there is anything there, it is indecisiveness, indifference, apathy and resignation. The situation is indeed dramatic – many say it is hopeless. We have come to a crossroads now.

“Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is built upon the model of Vladimir Putin’s Russia” – Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Newsweek and Time, and currently a columnist of the Washington Post and host on CNN has just written this in The Washington Post. In one of his essays dating to 1997, Zakaria indeed wrote about the threat of illiberal democracy, but he would have never thought that a leader of a European nation would ever use the word ‘illiberal’ as a decoration.

Orbán’s actions in the past years all show that the Hungarian Prime Minister introduced such a regime in Hungary which can be best be described as ‘Putinism’. The regime’s main elements are nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and a firm hold over the media. Orbán is following into the footsteps of Putin in that he eliminates the independence of the judiciary, restricts the rights of individuals, talks about Hungary’s ethnic minorities in nationalist terms and muzzles the press – Zakaria notes, and then specifically highlights in his article the advertising tax aimed at making the private TV channel RTL Klub‘s functioning impossible.

“Zakaria believes Orbán is on the same path as France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders or Britain’s Nigel Farage, who all are Putin’s admirers” – 444.hu claimed in its report on Fareed Zakaria’s article. Since then the author has also shared his conclusions with the viewers of CNN.

Our Hungary – which is also my Hungary – is completely different: It is a liberal democracy. I know that many are already fed up with it, but I repeat it once again: We believe that we Hungarian citizens – as free and independent citizens – are the basis of the state. The state is a product of us, and not the other way round. We are independent, but not isolated; by our very nature, we create smaller or bigger communities, we have families, we are surrounded by friends companionships, we live in cities and in villages, we are Hungarians and patriots. We adapt to the rules created by us in our communities, we also make sacrifices for them if needed; however, we stay with our conviction that the individual is above all else, and that he/she shall not be compelled to submit neither to his/her family, nor to his/her nation, but that he/she is rather the creator of those entities.

That is why we would like to create a state that lets us live free, a state that does not interfere with our religious, political, cultural or sexual preferences, and one that is actually not allowed to do so. We want the state’s power to be regulated and limited by the law. That is why we aim for a state under the rule of law, for a free press, for the free exercise of religion and for the separation of powers. We wish to have an independent judiciary and prosecutors who operate in accordance with the law. We stand up for the freedom and for the protection of property as well as for competition and a market economy. We do not believe in pure economic liberalism (we never had it before anyway), which only secures the power of the strong. We want a state that is efficient, that assumes social responsibility and one that can guarantee, regulate and monitor fair competition – so to say, what we want is a European-style republic. There are no compromises. It is either the one or the other. Either Orbán’s illiberal democracy or a European-style, civic liberal democracy. There is nothing in between.

We can see that most of our compatriots are not satisfied with their lives – they are fatigued and disappointed. The average Hungarian, if there is such, is tired of politics, has contempt for us politicians, and turns away from public affairs. The average Hungarian wants simple things: A safe, secure job, better pay, future for the children, free enterprise, a secure present and a predictable calculable future. And, of course, he/she would like to be part of a successful community, and that is why wants a strong Hungary, so that he/she could view him-/herself as a proud citizen and also his/her compatriots as proud citizens of such a country.

But we are far from that. And since many, in fact, a great many people became disillusioned by the new Hungary that was brought about by the regime change these people are now looking for new ways and new answers. Because the leading ideology of the regime change was liberal democracy, parliamentarianism and a state under the rule of law, and a market economy, and because until now we have been searching for the opportunities to improve living standards and ascend in conjunction with the European Union, now strikingly great numbers of people are turning their backs to all this in their state of disillusionment. They are already running counter to the past two and a half decades and would be willing to march on the side of Orbán in the opposite direction. We can see it, perceive it and we say it now: They are marching in a historical dead-end street.

I do not have any ideas capable of saving the world. In my Őszöd speech I promised “fucking good books” from the Left. Actually this is not what is going to happen now. I want to suggest very simple things only.

Please do not give in to the despotism, and do not make any explanations as to why Orbán is right! Orbán actually sees the majority of our problems; maybe he was even faster in spotting them than we were. In this regard, he is a capable politician indeed. Why should we deny it? His answers, however, stupefyingly derail our country from the path of success that we hope to achieve. One must simply realise that while our country is sinking deeper and deeper, Orbán and his subserviently obedient cronies are amassing never-before-seen fortunes, influence and power. A few are standing on the burden-laden shoulders of the many. That is the regime of Orbán like. Do not make any compromises! We must resist! Some must do it quietly, some loudly. Some with moderation, some with fury. Everyone in on the way he/she can. Just do not submit to it, do not accept it, and do not give it up. Because if we did that, it would mean giving up on ourselves and our homeland. Is this what you want to do?

Do not believe that the state is almighty! We the people are the solution and the secret. The fact that we want something new, that we want to have a better life, and that we are willing to work more and in a different way, and to pass many a night thinking, learning, and fighting against our own failings, fears, laziness and envy. Of course, do not yield to selfishness, to the circumvention of the law that applies to and obliges everyone. Dare to look ahead further than tomorrow, dare to search for everything that will also make also our children and grandchildren rise!

Because many are the tired, and indeed as it seems as though time is running out, there is great demand on both sides for politics’ magic wand, for revolutionary passion, for the “we will erase the past once and for all”-type radicalism, and for shock therapy. The polling booth revolution and the false system of national cooperation are also forms of shock therapy – a kind of a nationalist, despotic and anti-European shock therapy. Those on our side who demand liberal market reforms would also reposition Hungary by a big rush. But we simply would not survive another shock therapy. Do you see, now, that barely anyone believes by now that a weaker state, less social welfare and increased individual self-sufficiency could obtain a majority amongst voters? And not because all these would not be necessary, but simply because our spiritual power has vanished, because we had depleted our reserves, and because there are millions that are just vegetating and now they not only do not want to, but are actually no longer able to take on more responsibility for their lives. In this country, almost everybody is seeking for help. From the state, from local governments, parents, children, from anyone. Meanwhile – occupied with our own misery – we grow more selfish and more indifferent. The only way out is towards accepting and taking on greater social responsibility and towards a more responsible way of market-based competition. Yes, indeed, the ideal of a social Hungary and a social market economy must be resurrected. Well, I could also call it a European-style, democratic and social Hungary characterised by a market economy and the rule of law. Where people align and cooperate with each other, where the wealthy assume greater social responsibility, where jobs are safe for workers and employees, and where civic society is stronger. Let us create such a country!

Dare to respect the people, and do not think that we Hungarians are of a special mould, which would render us better than others! We are in fact not better than any other nation. We are different, but not better; however, we are not worse either. We are civic democrats. Everybody matters, regardless of which nation or ethnicity he/she belongs to. Of course, we protect our national heritage, our language, our history, and we do all this virtually across borders; however, Hungarian statehood – within the meaning of public law – solely extends to the dramatically decreased territory of post-Trianon Hungary. It is a painful fact, yet it is a fact. And rejecting this historical fact is not a patriotic act, but instead an act of adventurism.

Do not give in to clericalism! Belief in God is the essence and miracle of life for many people. Yet others believe in the People, and are doubtful of the existence of God or the Creator. Who knows who is right? It is not the state’s business to decide a polemic concerning the deepest sense of life, because it equally represents all those who believe in God, all those who are doubtful of God’s existence and all those who are atheists, i.e. all of its citizens. We demand a state and a government that considers as its mission – without intending to force any kind of religious belief upon us – the service of the universal good and the promotion of mutual understanding between citizens having various world views. Do not want to be missionaries, and especially not in the name of the state, as Pope Francis – a humanist currently sitting on the throne of Saint Peter – has so warned us!

Let our children be free! Let them see the thousands of colours and interpretations of this world, let them have their doubts and their – many times shaking – truths. Let them play and make mistakes, let them wander off, get lost and find their way home. Let them be doubtful, let them be pioneers, inventors, and discoverers of new ways. Dare to teach them about the past, and let them teach us about the future.

Do not fear the people that who are different, and do not fear strangers and foreigners! Show interest for their difference, look for the similarities with them, and be intrigued by their different way of thinking, culture and mentality, because those might make us better too. It is not enough to protect Hungarians, but they should also be improved, and oftentimes the greatest help may come right from non-Hungarians. Behold them, but do not bow before them just because they come from faraway lands!

Yes, be liberals! Or, if you like it that way, be humanists. Dare to behold the people who are just like us! They are fearful, they are glad, they are confident and they become disheartened. They are like us: They love, hate, hope and get helpless. They all are people. Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Serb, Šokci, Ruthenian, Russian, Austrian, French, German, English, American, but I do not wish to go on. Dare to be human in a universal sense and stay Hungarian with an open mind and with a readiness to understand!

And, as democrats, be capable of taking care of each other! Do not expect more from others than what you expect from yourselves! Demand as much change from others as you can change. More questions and less categorical statements. This is what might bring us closer to a better world, to a better Hungary. Is this too simple? Not at all. It is more difficult than you would think.

You might, of course, say that this is all fine, but how will this lead to a new, strong, and democratic Hungary? Now I have to give you a wake-up call: Slowly – and the road will be winding, with many errors, and in the beginning with only small – yet much hoped – successes. There is no magic pill.

The all-important question is whether we will be able to offer – in accordance with European and civic democratic values – a new political alternative in the coming years. The country is bleeding from a thousand cuts, so we will be confronted with a number of unresolved issues as regards health care, education and the pension system; there is really no way back to 2010 after the past four years. We have to say different things and in a different manner, and if we already learnt the word then also I dare to use it: From time to time and in some sectors we will need unorthodox solutions and political innovation. This, however, will not work in such a way that we sit down in a corner and someone will suddenly shout out loud “Eureka, I’ve found it”. No. We can only create the framework and the life of the new republic in free and open debates.

We, of course, respect our voters – they have the ultimate power. But if the majority of our democrat supporters just continue to be growl and grumble, saying that they cheer for us when they stop us on the street or in a Tesco store, adding that we should hold on, well, this way we will never make it. Even if it hurts many, I say it that if you do not organise, if you do not establish influential public forums and circles for your villages and towns, then we will simply never get ahead. Talking politics in coffee shops and quiet discontent will never get us anywhere. If you do not organise resistance and protests against the selfish mayors of the Orbánist right-wing regime, if there are no protests and petitions in the future either, then we will always stay the hopeful second. Do you want to fight or look for alibis? Make up your mind!

If we are right and Orbán’s regime is unsustainable, then the regime will sooner or later go away, and so will its leader. Whether it will be a noisy collapse or a slow downfall with a gradual retreat into minority status, I do not know. There is one thing, however, which would surely not serve our interests: Upheaval, rebellion, or any kind of violence. We must resist, fight and prepare for Orbán’s downfall. But, do you not also see that we are not yet ready to handle the post-Orbán situation? Our present weakness is Orbán’s single best trump card. Because back in spring, too, it was not him winning, but it was us losing. Because we are divided, old-fashioned, lacking in ideas and weak. Hungary deserves not only a better government, but a better opposition as well. We, too, need to become better. That is what I am working for.

The current election system forces a situation whereby the democratic parties must unite or face extinction. Either uniting or ‘political death’ – it is that simple. We will have to join forces for the 2018 general election, too, unless the election system changes – but since that would run counter to the interests of Fidesz, I would be surprised to see the pressure that was put on us (and that is binding us together) being loosened. The optimal ultimate goal is clear: Establishing a uniform Democratic Party. But in view of the stumbling preparatory negotiations for the local government elections, and the alarmingly low level of willingness to compromise, I think that we are still very far from this – which is really sad, but this is how it is. There are, of course, intermediate solutions as well. We could form a party union with a joint board while preserving the partial autonomy of the democratic parties, or we could set up even looser forms of cooperation with permanent inter-party consultations, and with forums and institutions to that end. In such a way and with such a speed as the political, personal and cultural conditions allow all or any of them.

Making alliances, resisting, developing programmes and primarily taking care of one another – that is the task. The Hungary of the future awaits us. We should tarry not!

Growing troubles in opposition circles

It was only a few days ago that the democratic opposition’s mass rally ended with a protest from the crowd itself–a demand for unity and the resultant quasi demonstration against Attila Mesterházy, chairman of MSZP.

What followed was almost inevitable. The two parties that had signed an exclusive political arrangement which effectively shut out the other opposition parties and groups placed the blame for the protest on Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of DK, a party with sizable support. It didn’t seem to matter that the other speakers’ message was the same as Gyurcsány’s; he was the only one who was accused of flaunting an alleged agreement that speakers would in no way criticize the deal between MSZP and E14-PM. Opposition leaders deny the existence of any such agreement.

Then came the accusation that it was actually Ferenc Gyurcsány himself who organized the demonstration against Mesterházy. His people were the only ones who kept demanding “unity.” I looked at several videos of the event taken from different angles, and in my opinion just as many people holding MSZP red flags shouted slogans that for a while kept Mesterházy from speaking. Some overzealous MSZP politicians like Tibor Szanyi claimed to have seen Ferenc Gyurcsány leaving the gathering in a great hurry even before Mesterházy finished his speech. The implication naturally being that after he created the disturbance Gyurcsány quickly left the scene of the crime. Szanyi turned out to be wrong. Gyurcsány, his wife, and Ágnes Vadai were present to the very end of Mesterházy’s speech. According to Gyurcsány, he even applauded Mesterházy.

Gordon Bajnai joined the MSZP politicians in forcefully asserting that the deal that was signed will in no way ever be changed. This is the best arrangement even if all the other speakers and it seems the overwhelming majority of the voters on the left don’t think so. Of course, politicians can ignore popular demand, except they do so at their own peril. My hunch is that this unbending attitude cannot be maintained for long.

mistakesBut that was not the only problem the opposition had to face. Péter Juhász, who represents Milla, a group formed on Facebook, has caused a lot of trouble in the past, and he struck again. Juhász is not a politician. He worked as an activist even before 2010 and by and large has a devastating opinion of both politicians and parties, left or right. Therefore he often talks about the “past eight years” exactly the way Fidesz politicians do. I assume that within E14-PM his colleagues try to temper his outbursts, but it seems that he cannot help himself. Shortly after the October 23 gathering Juhász was the guest of Olga Kálmán on ATV where he announced that he would never want to stand on the same platform with Gábor Kuncze or Ferenc Gyurcsány. Moreover, he claimed that Kuncze wasn’t invited to participate. I guess Kuncze just appeared on the scene. Crashed the party, so to speak.

These unfortunate remarks were not without consequence. A number of well-known people, like Attila Ara-Kovács, László C. Kálmán, Mária Ludassy, and Ádám Csillag withdrew their support for E14. Most of them added that this Juhász incident was just the last straw. They had had their problems with E14 even before. Gordon Bajnai seems to be adrift, without a firm idea of his party’s goals. And E14’s floundering is reflected in its poll numbers. A year ago support for E14 was about 12%; now it hovers around 5%.

But that wasn’t the only blow to the democratic side. Shortly before he retired from politics Gábor Kuncze was asked by Klubrádió to be the moderator of a political show once a week. Although Kuncze’s program was popular, the owner of Klubrádió, András Arató, decided that since Kuncze agreed to make a speech at the opposition rally he should be dismissed. The result? A fair number of loyal listeners who have been generously contributing toward the maintenance of Klubrádió are angry. Some have gone so far as to stop contributing to the station, which is strapped for money due to the Orbán government’s illegal manipulation of the air waves. They argue that Klubrádió knew about Kuncze’s plans to attend and that Arató should have warned him about the possible consequences. These people figure that the speedy and unexpected dismissal was due to a “friendly” telephone call from MSZP headquarters. The station denies that they have ever yielded to political pressure and claim that no such call came.

Finally, there is the case of a sympathy demonstration organized in Budapest demanding territorial autonomy for the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers who live in a solid mass in three counties in the middle of Transylvania. Since I’m planning to write something about the autonomy question, I’m not going into the details here. It’s enough to say that the views of the Hungarian political leaders in these parts are close to Jobbik. The most important Hungarian party in Romania is a center-right party called RMDSZ, but Fidesz feels more comfortable with the Szeklers.

The sympathy demonstration was organized by CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), the Szekler National Council (Székely Nemzeti Tanács), and Fidesz. CÖF is the “civic” forum, actually financed by the government, that organized the two peace marches against the “colonizers” and that was also responsible for gathering the supporters of Fidesz for the mass rally on October 23. Well-known anti-Semites like Zsolt Bayer, Gábor Széles (owner of Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV), and András Bencsik have prominent roles in CÖF. The Goy Bikers also made an appearance at this demonstration.

Both MSZP and E14-PM decided to support the march as well as Szekler autonomy. They argued that after all RMDSZ also gave its cautious approval to the march that concurrently took place in Romania. RMDSZ’s position, of course, is very different from that of MSZP and E14. After all, RMDSZ needs the Szeklers’ vote; MSZP and E14 don’t. Or, more accurately, supporting their demands will not prompt the Szeklers to vote for these two leftist parties at the next election. Those who vote will vote for Fidesz.

MSZP was satisfied with verbal support, but E14 politicians actually marched along with all the right-wingers and Goy Bikers! And with that move E14 lost even more supporters.

If the opposition is to stand any chance at the next election it can’t keep alienating potential voters. And it shouldn’t act like an exclusive club open only to the MSZP-E14 “founding members.” Politics is a numbers game, and numbers rise with inclusiveness. And with unity.

Gordon Bajnai blinked: He is ready to accept the thirty-five districts allotted to Együtt 2014

The somewhat surprising developments that occurred on Friday afternoon during the meeting between Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), and Gordon Bajnai, former prime minister and current co-chairman of Együtt 2014-PM, not unexpectedly created a huge discussion among political commentators. It still hasn’t subsided, despite the fact that Bajnai announced a retreat from his earlier position this morning.

When on Friday the two men got up from the negotiating table and held separate press conferences it looked as if even the partial results achieved over the past few weeks had been lost. Although there had been a tentative agreement on the division of the 106 mandates, Mesterházy made it clear that his party considered it null and void. According to this preliminary agreement, MSZP would be entitled to put up 71 candidates and Együtt 2014 35. These numbers, it seems, were not final. If MSZP insisted on providing the candidate for the premiership, Együtt 2014 wanted more than 35 seats. How many more is unclear. It was at this point that Bajnai introduced his idea of a campaign in which the two candidates would try to convince the electorate of their worth. After such a campaign the decision would be based on a couple of polls. Mesterházy turned the tables on Bajnai and suggested holding primaries.

Of course, each man suggested a course that would best serve his interests. So, let’s see first what the Bajnai group is confronted with. You may recall that sometime in June I wrote about an interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, a polling company. In this conversation we learned that although overall Mesterházy has a 3% lead over Bajnai in the polls, this is due only to Bajnai’s relative unpopularity among Fidesz and Jobbik voters. As I reported, “Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not an unsubstantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.”

Negotiations
In a poll asking supporters of the democratic opposition to choose between the two potential candidates, Bajnai would most likely come out the winner. Or at least this is the situation now. I’m sure that Mesterházy is aware of these figures and that’s why he would prefer a primary which, given the well developed nationwide MSZP organization, would favor him. I myself find a primary not a bad idea in theory, but under the present circumstances it is out of the question. At least for two reasons. First, Hungarian parties don’t have rostrums of their likely voters. If sometime in the future Hungarian politicians decide to introduce primaries, they will need to build databases of the party faithful (or introduce party registration). Second, primaries are held to pick a candidate from contenders within the same party. And Bajnai and Mesterházy are the leaders of two different parties. Primaries in the United States, for instance, are not held to decide whether a Republican or a Democrat will run for the presidency. Sándor Révész, a liberal supporter of Bajnai, in an editorial in Nepszabadság called the suggested primary a not so well hidden fraud.

On the other hand, there are others, for example, Andor Schmuck, chairman of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, who severely criticized Bajnai for his unacceptable demands. According to him, Bajnai might be more popular than Mesterházy, but he is the co-chairman of a party with a 6% share of the votes. Moreover, Együtt 2014 is not really a party but a coalition of different civic groups with no numbers behind them. He went on to list them: Milla has 50-100 people, Solidarity 250, Haza és Haladás (Homeland and Progress Foundation) 15-20. At the end Schmuck came up with 800 people who are organized behind Bajnai. It took them four months to come up with 90 names, which shows the lack of party organization and support. This holy mess (hercehurca) has been going on for eight months and people who want a change are sick and tired of it. Mesterházy went through four very difficult years when it was not exactly a picnic to be head of MSZP while Bajnai retired only to appear three years later, and now he wants to be the prime minister. As you can see, each side has its own valid arguments.

Mesterházy’s ultimatum also has another consequence that might not be welcome to the MSZP leadership. MSZP, like all parties, is made up of people with different shades of political opinion. Although MSZP has its share of liberals, there is also a fairly strong left-wing group whose ideas are strangely foreign to the ideal of western social democracy. One of the people in that group is Tibor Szanyi who, emboldened by Mesterházy’s rejection of any further negotiations with Bajnai, came out with the kind of demagoguery that makes a lot of people uneasy. On Facebook Szanyi tore into those capitalists whose wealth originates from communist oligarchs–like Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai–who were not fit to lead a socialist party that is supposed to be a party of the working people. Gordon Bajnai might have been their prime minister in 2009-2010, but he is certainly not one of them. He doesn’t represent the working people. After all, he took away the thirteenth month salaries and pensions. If MSZP had been able to decide on its own, the thirteenth month salary wouldn’t have been touched. And I may add that they would have led Hungary into a financial abyss. Mesterházy needs these kinds of socialists like a hole in the head.

On the other hand, the Friday ultimatums prompted László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, to raise his voice. I don’t think that I mentioned László Botka in the past, though perhaps I should have. His name often comes up as a possible candidate either for party chairmanship or even prime minister one day. On Facebook he expressed his surprise at the breakdown of negotiations and reiterated his belief that the most important goal is “the replacement of the Orbán government and anything else is secondary to it.” He asked for “more responsibility, greater magnanimity , and more wisdom.” He added that for those who want Orbán out of office the important question is not whether the prime minister will be Mesterházy or Bajnai. At last a sane voice in MSZP.