MSZP campaign at home and abroad. Part II

Hungarian pollsters did after all come out with their most recent findings. Although there are no earthshaking developments in the popularity of politicians and parties, there are a few noteworthy points.

First, neither the student demonstrations nor the government’s announcement of a 10% decrease in natural gas prices made a difference as far as electoral support was concerned. The number of those who are undecided has grown since December. There are, however, signs that something is brewing if questions are posed in a way that doesn’t address actual voter participation. When asked whether they would like to see this government continue after the 2014 elections 53% said no and only 21% answered in the affirmative.  The problem for the opposition is that 48% of those who would like to see Viktor Orbán and his pals go don’t support any of the opposition parties either.

Second, although Gordon Bajnai is still more popular than Viktor Orbán, support for E14 has been decreasing in the last two months. There might be at least two reasons for this decline. One is that E14 seems to be a reluctant partner in the initially promising prospect of a united front embracing all democratic opposition forces. I don’t think that it is Gordon Bajnai himself who is responsible for this development, although one can blame him for choosing Milla’s Péter Juhász as one of his partners. Péter Juhász seems to be about as reluctant to work together with MSZP as LMP’s András Schiffer. I recall that back in October, before the Milla-organized mass demonstration, Ferenc Gyurcsány expressed his doubts about the wisdom of this move. I’m afraid he was right. Juhász and other civic organizers are only strengthening the population’s mistrust of parties. But without parties on one side against a ruthlessly led and centralized party on the other side there is no way of winning an election.

While E14 is losing momentum, MSZP under the leadership of Attila Mesterházy is gaining ground, although its gains don’t show up yet in the statistics. One must keep in mind that Fidesz’s lead over MSZP is slight: 1.5 million would vote for Fidesz and 1.3 million for MSZP. So, it doesn’t matter how many people, even among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, would prefer that MSZP not have an important role in Hungarian political life, its disappearance will not happen any time soon.

But let’s move away from the domestic scene to MSZP’s play for Hungarians abroad. Key MSZP politicians made a pilgrimage  to Romania on January 16. As I mentioned earlier, Fidesz is the clear favorite among the Hungarians of Romania. Why? First, the Romanian-Hungarian population is conservative. After all, RMDSZ, the largest and most important Hungarian party, is a right-of-center political formation. Second, because Transylvanian cities formerly inhabited by Hungarians became Romanized with the passing of time, Hungarians for the most part remained in the countryside. And as we know from examples all over the world, there is a great deal of difference in the politics of the cities and the countryside. Third, I’m being told time and time again by people who know the psyche of the Hungarians of Romania that those who live in Transylvania know darned little about what’s going on in Hungary. They made up their minds years ago that Fidesz represents their interests and the socialists do not.

mszp uj logoNow with the possibility that perhaps tens of thousands of Romanian Hungarians might cast their votes in the Hungarian elections, MSZP felt that they had to make themselves heard. The first trip was to Cluj/Kolozsvár where Attila Mesterházy outlined the party’s new “nationality policy” (nemzetpolitika). He sketched out five programs. (1) The Carpathian Basin program would in the next ten years try to strengthen the economic and cultural level of Hungarians. (2) If MSZP wins the elections the new Hungarian government would promote education, culture, and the study of history. They would pay special attention to the dissemination of information via the Internet. (3) They would encourage cooperation between the electronic media near the two sides of the border and they would restore the original function of Duna Television. (Duna Television, although ostensibly still the TV station for Hungarians in the neighboring countries, is today under the central governance of all public media and thus its programming doesn’t reflect the needs of those living outside of the country.) (4) They would continue the past practice of  joint Romanian-Hungarian cabinet meetings. (5) They would make the dispersal of Hungarian subsidies more democratic by including Romanian-Hungarians in the decision-making process.

In addition to these programs Mesterházy outlined five MSZP strategies. (1) MSZP in contrast to Fidesz will never try to “export domestic political debates” to Hungarian regions in the neighboring countries. (2) The principle of equality between the Hungarian government and the democratically elected representatives and organizations will be scrupulously observed. Unlike Fidesz the government will not pick and choose among Romanian-Hungarian organizations according to political preferences.  (3) MSZP will not interfere in domestic issues that might influence the lives of Hungarians in any given country. (4) MSZP’s policy will be based on partnership, and therefore Budapest will not dictate policy to Hungarian representatives and organizations of other countries. (5) The guiding principle will be “nothing about them without them.” MSZP will seek continuous dialogue with the Hungarian political leaders abroad on all questions that concern the Hungarian minority.

rmdsz3Finally, Mesterházy apologized for MSZP’s decision to support those who cast their votes against dual citizenship in the December 5, 2004 referendum. As he put it, “it was a wrong question at the wrong time.” Responsibility for that mistiming lay not only with MSZP. Obviously, he was alluding to Fidesz, the party that in the last moment joined the clamor for a plebiscite.

The reactions of pro-government papers were predictable. It was also expected that László Tőkés, who only recently established a new Hungarian Party supported by Fidesz, immediately attacked the meeting. He is an opponent of both MSZP and RMDSZ. His new party, Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt, ran against RMDSZ in the last election and did poorly. It seems that some of the Hungarians in Transylvania were also skeptical of  MSZP’s effort to gain a toehold among Romanian-Hungarians.

Szabadság, a Hungarian-language paper in Cluj/Kolozsvár, republished an analysis from Mensura Transylvanica. The author of the article was not impressed. One by one he criticized past policies of the MSZP-SZDSZ governments and expressed his doubts that the party’s attitude toward the Hungarian minority’s organizations has changed. Moreover, there is nothing new in the proposals or strategies outlined.  MSZP’s favorite was always RMDSZ while they were leery of the two right-wing parties, one favored by László Kövér and the other by Viktor Orbán. Mensura Transylvanica doesn’t seem to like the MSZP idea of having good relations with the governments of the neighboring states. This policy harks back to the Antall government that wanted to have a balance between good relations with the governments of the neighboring states and the rights and interests of the Hungarian minority. “All in all, the new program of MSZP does not bring anything new to past practices.”  The author especially worried about “the partnership that is being forged by RMDSZ and MSZP.” Whoever our author is, he is no friend of the largest Romanian-Hungarian party. As for MSZP trying to get votes from Transylvania, he considers it a hopeless cause.

Yet Mensura Transylvanica admitted that the visit was “an important milestone in Hungarian nationality policy” and an indication of RMDSZ’s changing policy. Until now, RMDSZ kept equal distance from all Hungarian parties, but now due to the worsening relationship between RMDSZ and Fidesz the political leadership of the party gave up one of its cardinal rules concerning its relationship with Hungary. However, warned the writer of the article, if RMDSZ decided to make this move in the hope of achieving a better relationship with Fidesz, it is a risky undertaking. In order for RMDSZ to benefit from this partnership MSZP and its future allies must win the elections. And our man doesn’t believe that this will happen.