Ferenc Gyurcsány

Hungarian public discourse: Gloves off

We have been so preoccupied with Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state that we have paid scant attention to some other important utterances of the Hungarian prime minister. Here I think of his many references to “honest” public discourse replacing what is “politically correct.” “Honest” public discourse often seems to encompass verbal abuse, including in some segments of Hungarian society racist and antisemitic expletives.

Right-wing politicians are pioneers of the art of “honest” discourse. While in opposition Viktor Orbán was a master of the craft. He used his skills to undertake a character assassination of his political foe, Ferenc Gyurcsány. Now that he is prime minister he refrains from the kind of language that was his trademark. He no longer calls his political opponents clowns, no-goods, idiots, adventurers, regents of eastern despotism, and similar epithets; he lets others to do the dirty work. For example, CÖF, the pro-government civil group. Or his old friend, Zsolt Bayer. But topping them is his close friend, László Kövér, president of the parliament, who has inherited his mantle; he is a master of finding the most abusive words when talking about the opposition.

Here are a few choice sentences from the latest Kövér special. On September 26 Kövér gave a pep talk to the Fidesz faithful in Budapest’s District XX. First he talked about the weak and confused opposition whose “members don’t know whether they are boys or girls, often in the strictest sense of the word.” (“Nem tudja,  fiú vagy lány” is an expression that means being confused.) One did not have to be there to know that this “witticism” must have been a real hit with the audience. After accusing the owners of utility companies of “stealing money out of people’s pockets,” he moved on to the arch-enemy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is “the total bankruptcy and nadir of Hungarian democracy.” After piling one accusation after the other on the former prime minister, Kövér compared him to “the politicians of the Entente” [after World War I] responsible for Trianon. “In comparison to him Mátyás Rákosi was an altar boy.” And if that wasn’t enough, he called him “the reincarnation of Ernő Gerő,” Rákosi’s right-hand man.

gloves off

What can come after such verbal abuse? As often happens, physical abuse. This morning Ferenc Gyurcsány was campaigning in Csepel where the opposition actually has a good chance of defeating the current mayor, Szilárd Németh, the face of the utility rate decreases. A man started screaming at Gyurcsány and set out to attack him physically; fortunately the people around the former prime minister managed to restrain the would-be assailant.

The right-wing media naturally follow the “stylistic” lead of the politicians. Heti Válasz (nowadays only Válasz in the online version) decided to transform their formerly stodgy style into one that is more sensational. The articles in its new column called “Rosta” (sieve) have begun to resemble some of the opinion pieces of the far-right Magyar Hírlap. The leading Fidesz paper, Magyar Nemzet, also likes to pile abuse on political opponents. The latest victim of the paper is István Vágó, earlier a television personality, who decided to run for a seat on his district’s city council. Vágó’s program includes a suggestion to convert an empty piece of real estate into a children’s center. This particular building had earlier belonged to the district but was given back to the Catholic Church some time ago. Well, this suggestion was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the editors of the newspaper. Vágó was accused of a Rákosi-like harassment of the Church.

Unfortunately the verbal infection is spreading to opposition circles. An MSZP politician, Tibor Szanyi, who is often described as the enfant terrible of the party, decided some time ago to imitate the right-wing politicians. Recently Szanyi, a member of the European Parliament, got himself into a terrible jam when, as a result of a foolish bet he made, he had to invite a number of “goy bikers” to Brussels. Worse, he did that not on his own money but with funds provided by the European Union for the purpose of acquainting citizens with the workings of the European Union. The media, after learning about the event from one of the goy bikers, ran the story. Szanyi’s answer? He called the journalists rats! Szanyi is currently the leader of the four-member socialist-DK caucus. But not for long. The goy bikers story was too much for DK, and it seems MSZP concurs.

And now we come to the language of a well-known poet turned politician, Géza Szőcs. He started his career in Cluj/Kolozsvár, then worked as a journalist in Switzerland, returned to Romania where he became a politician, and finally ended up in Budapest where he joined the government of Viktor Orbán as assistant secretary in charge of culture. Here is this cultured gentleman’s letter to Hannu Launonen, a Finnish translator of Hungarian literature, who was awarded the Janus Pannonius Prize, a relatively new international award given jointly by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian PEN Club. Szőcs is currently the president of PEN.

In the last minute Launonen turned down the prize. He was not the first one to do so. In 2012 Lawrence Ferlinghetti was awarded the prize but, after learning that the Hungarian government was a partial sponsor of the award, did not accept it. In declining, Ferlinghetti cited his opposition to the right wing regime of Viktor Orbán which curtails civil liberties and freedom of speech. Szőcs was infuriated with Launonen’s decision. And so he wrote an open letter to Launonen.

The letter was described by 168 Óra as “primitive.” But how primitive? Among other things, Szőcs wonders what would have happened if Launonen had decided to decline the prize after he received the €3,000 that went with it, intimating that he might have pocketed the money anyway. He accuses Launonen of “aping Ferlinghetti” and adds that his “gesture’s weight is truly relative.” At the end he claims that any exchange between the two of them is “superfluous and pointless” because on the basis of his behavior Szőcs considers him a man “of infirm character.” What can one say? If Szőcs hadn’t written this “superfluous” letter he could have saved himself the embarrassment of being called a boor.

The Budapest elections and politics of the democratic opposition

The appearance of Lajos Bokros as the official candidate of DK, Együtt, and MSZP of Budapest under the leadership of Ágnes Kunhalmi has redrawn the political landscape on the left, despite protestations to the contrary. Ágnes Kunhalmi can send the message to Magyar Nemzet, the paper that said she would decamp to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció after the election, that “I love my party,” but the fact remains that she and the people around her decided to defy the central leadership of the socialist party. And that might have serious repercussions in the future.

Ágnes Kunhalmi is a relative newcomer on the political scene, having joined MSZP only in 2006. Until 2010 she served as a member of the Budapest City Council. In 2010, because of the female quota, she was chosen to be a member of the top party leadership. From there on she was the face of MSZP on matters of education. Her day arrived during the 2014 national election when, as a last-minute replacement candidate in the 15th electoral district, she lost the election by only 56 votes. This performance showed that Ágnes Kunhalmi is someone to reckon with inside the party.

Since I know next to nothing about the internal workings of the socialist party, I have no idea how this sudden fame of Ágnes Kunhalmi was received by the top leadership. I’m almost certain, however, that the Budapest MSZP leaders’ decision to endorse Lajos Bokros and thereby go against the wishes of József Tóbiás, the new party chairman, couldn’t have gone over too well. Although Tóbiás keeps repeating that local politics should be left to the local party leadership, I’m sure that this open defiance didn’t endear Kunhalmi to the more leftist leaders of MSZP.

But the real bone of contention, in my opinion, is not so much Lajos Bokros and his conservatism as it is Ferenc Gyurcsány, who allegedly masterminded the retirement of Ferenc Falus and secured the democratic parties’ support for Lajos Bokros. Thus, I suspect, in the eyes of József Tóbiás and his men Ágnes Kunhalmi is a traitor to the socialist cause not because she decided to stand behind Bokros but because she sided with Ferenc Gyurcsány. MSZP leaders suspect, not without reason, that Gyurcsány wants to gobble up MSZP. And the other smaller parties on the left are convinced that he wants to amalgamate them into one large “union party,” which would mean their disappearance.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Ágnes Kunhalmi

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Ágnes Kunhalmi

One doesn’t have to be an eagle-eyed political scientist to come to that conclusion: Gyurcsány makes no secret of his plans. In fact, he repeats on every possible occasion that, given the political landscape and the current electoral law, there is no hope of winning an election against Viktor Orbán without one large party that includes all anti-Orbán forces. Although there are people, for example Gábor Demszky, who believe that even the formation of such a single party can’t dislodge Viktor Orbán’s mafia state, it looks as if Gyurcsány still believes that one “does not have to stage a revolution, one just has to go and vote.”

What are the chances of forming one big democratic umbrella party in Hungary? At the moment nil, but Gyurcsány is thinking long-term. If I understand him correctly, he would like to see an inclusive democratic party established well ahead of the next national election in 2018. Can it be done? At the moment there are only a handful people who think so, but I would wait until we learn the results of the upcoming municipal elections. Not that I anticipate some spectacular victory or even progress as far as the fortunes of the democratic opposition are concerned, but after the elections we will be able to weigh the relative strength of the different democratic parties. Most observers are convinced that Együtt-PM, together and separately, has a very short life expectancy. MSZP has been losing voters since the national election in April. If, however, DK repeats its outstanding performance in the European Parliament election, Gyurcsány may be able to expand his base among the democratic forces.

One of the people who believes that “Gyurcsány has a chance” is Endre Aczél, a veteran journalist and a good political analyst. He thinks that deep down the ordinary MSZP membership believes that it is only Gyurcsány who can save the party, and Gyurcsány, who understands the thinking of members of the party’s lower echelon, makes sure not to alienate them. In fact, a fair number of these people have already deserted MSZP in favor of DK. Aczél wouldn’t be surprised if some “big fish” was also caught by Gyurcsány. He wouldn’t be surprised if both Kunhalmi and Bokros eventually ended up in DK. After all, Gyurcsány’s party is already an interesting political mix: former members of MSZP, SZDSZ, MDF, and previously unaffiliated voters who are against Orbán’s mafia state.

Perhaps, but at the moment DK is still a very small party. Only the collapse of MSZP and the disappearance of the other two small parties would give Gyurcsány a chance to create the kind of party he has been envisioning ever since 2006.

A new opposition candidate for mayor of Budapest, a rift in MSZP

It was about a week ago that I wrote about the Budapest municipal election. At that time there were seven candidates running against the incumbent István Tarlós, Fidesz’s choice in both 2006 and 2010. At that junction Ferenc Falus, the candidate of the joint democratic opposition, was trailing behind Lajos Bokros, former finance minister (1995-1996) and EU member of parliament (2009-2014), a man who calls himself liberal conservative. Együtt-PM, the party whose nominee Falus was, tried to convince Bokros to withdraw in Falus’s favor, but Bokros refused, saying that he was ahead of Falus in the polls. If anyone should withdraw it is Falus. At this point it looked that neither man would budge, and therefore I predicted that Bokros would be the scapegoat of the united opposition if István Tarlós wins the election by a large margin. Well, I was wrong. Yesterday Falus withdrew in favor of Bokros. György Magyar, an independent, followed suit.

So, what happened? Well, that’s not exactly clear. Here is Lajos Bokros’s side of the story. He received a telephone call from Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair of Együtt-PM, allegedly speaking in the name of all four parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt and PM–who informed him that they were ready to support him and drop Falus’s candidacy. A meeting was arranged, to be attended by representatives of all four parties, but to Bokros’s dismay only Szigetvári of Együtt and Ferenc Gyurcsány of DK showed up. Szigetvári was again asked about his authority to speak in the name of those who were absent. Szigetvári assured him that he had the authority. Falus later joined the meeting, and the participants decided to make the announcement yesterday at noon.

It turned out that Szigetvári did not in fact have the authority to speak in the name of MSZP and PM. MSZP’s Budapest executive board got together in a hurriedly called meeting as did the national executive board at a separate gathering to decide the matter. After a lengthy discussion Ágnes Kunhalmi, chair of MSZP’s Budapest board, announced last night that they support Bokros’s candidacy. A few minutes later József Tóbiás, chairman of MSZP, made a short statement. Although he did not say that the party is not endorsing Bokros, he stressed that for them it is not enough that somebody is a democrat, as Bokros surely is; he must be “a social democrat.” He expressed his great sorrow that voters of socialist convictions cannot vote for a leftist candidate. It is a shame. They had a good candidate in Csaba Horváth, who in 2010 received 35% of the votes, but on the insistence of the other three parties they sacrificed him for the sake of Együtt’s candidate, Ferenc Falus. PM earlier announced its refusal to support a liberal conservative candidate because the party can’t expect him to fully represent their green-socialist agenda.

Ágnes Kunhalmi, chairperson of the Budapest MSZP

Ágnes Kunhalmi, chairperson of the Budapest MSZP

With less than three weeks to the municipal elections at least we have two fewer candidates vying to unseat István Tarlós. It was always clear that András Schiffer’s LMP would have nothing to do with any of the other democratic parties because he is convinced that within a few years his party will be able to unseat Viktor Orbán and Fidesz singlehandedly. As far as Jobbik is concerned, the democratic opposition wants nothing to do with an anti-Semitic and racist party. That leaves only the candidate of the Magyar Liberális Párt (MLP). This is the party, if you can call it that, of Gábor Fodor, who in the last hours of SZDSZ served as its chairman. Although he makes a very good impression in interviews, people who know him say that his main concern is his own advancement.

Gábor Fodor’s behavior in the last year and a half supports his critics’ contentions about his character. In April 2013 he established his own liberal party and a year later, thanks to the intervention of Ferenc Gyurcsány, he received the #4 place on the party ticket of the united opposition. I assume Gyurcsány thought that after the election Fodor would join the DK parliamentary caucus out of gratitude. Indeed, if Fodor had done this, DK today would have a separate delegation. But once Fodor was safely ensconced in parliament representing practically nobody except himself, he had no intention of joining anyone. He decided to remain independent.

Fodor’s second move was to present his own candidate for the mayoralty of Budapest, Zoltán Bodnár, a former deputy governor of Hungary’s central bank. Considering that the party is not supposed to have any money, Bodnár’s campaign seems to be extraordinarily well financed. His posters are all over town, which has made the other democratic parties suspicious. It is widely believed by opposition politicians as well as voters that it is Fidesz who stands behind the lavish liberal campaign. This suspicion was reinforced yesterday when Zoltán Bodnár announced that he has no intention of withdrawing because he is “the only serious candidate.” At the same time, with no support for his contention, he accused Ferenc Gyurcsány of orchestrating Falus’s removal from the campaign. In his version it was Gyurcsány who “forced Falus’s withdrawal.”

In any case, at the moment it looks as if Bokros will have four opponents: István Tarlós (Fidesz-KDNP), Gábor Staudt (Jobbik), Antal Csárdi (LMP), and Zoltán Bodnár (MLP). According to Nézőpont Intézet’s poll, Csárdi and Staudt will each receive 3% of the votes. Bodnár’s name did not appear on Nézőpont’s list, but “Other” polled at 2%.

I consider the most important political development of the last couple of days to be the open split of the socialists. We have always known that within the party there is a left and a right wing. The right wing has been more open to cooperation with non-socialist but democratic parties and groups. In the Budapest MSZP these people seem to be in the majority. They think that getting rid of Tarlós in Budapest is more important than any party consideration. They feel comfortable with people in DK, among whom there are a number of former SZDSZ politicians as well as people from the moderate conservative MDF.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time that the MSZP leadership has split so openly and unequivocally. This rift may have serious repercussions–in the most dire scenario leading to the eventual breakup and possible demise of MSZP. If that happens, the hard-liners will have nowhere to go. The moderates, by contrast, have already established networks that may lead to some kind of association or even merger with other parties. The next couple of years might be more exciting than we think right now.

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!

The Miskolc dilemma: The left’s tainted candidate for mayor

The work of a politician is anything but easy. Pitfalls at every turn. A good example is what happened in Miskolc where the democratic opposition was looking for a promising candidate they could support to be the next mayor of the city. The local leaders of the three parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt-PM– found their man: Albert Pásztor, former police chief of the city. The central leadership of  MSZP had originally supported Gábor Simon, an MSZP member of the city council, but the locals eventually settled for Pásztor.

It was clear from the beginning that the left has to support common candidates if it is to stand a chance in the upcoming municipal elections. In Miskolc both Gábor Simon and Albert Pásztor looked like promising candidates. In order to be sure, the local democrats hired a nationally known polling firm. On the basis of a representative sample of 1,000 people it was determined that both candidates are equally popular in every voting district, including districts heavily populated by Roma. Since the Roma of Miskolc seemed to have nothing against the former police chief and since the Együtt-PM leadership made it clear that Simon was not acceptable as far as they were concerned, the locals opted for Pásztor.

Albert Pásztor announces his candidacy to be mayor of Miskolc

Albert Pásztor announces his candidacy for mayor of Miskolc

The politicians of both MSZP and DK emphasize that candidates for political office, whether in parliamentary or local elections, should be nominated by the local party leaders. They are the ones who know the mood of the electorate, the popularity of the candidates, and the local problems. MSZP in fact rarely if ever vetoes local decisions. And it did not interfere this time either, although immediately after the news of Pásztor’s nomination became known on July 1 the liberal camp raised serious objections. In fact, József Tóbiás, who is running the show in MSZP as interim chairman, told Népszabadság that even if the leadership wanted to veto Pásztor’s nomination, it couldn’t.

As far as DK is concerned, Pásztor’s candidacy was discussed at a meeting of the leadership on June 27 when there were some opposing voices, but apparently there was no formal vote on the issue. Since then both Ferenc Gyurcsány and József Debreczeni, one of the deputy chairmen of the party, have decided to stand by Pásztor. The latter’s weight is considerable in this case because he is a Miskolc resident and trusts Pásztor.

So, what is wrong with Pásztor? In order to understand the story we have to go back to the last months of the Gyurcsány administration when Albert Pásztor on January 29 held a press conference. Let me quote my own translation of what transpired:

The press conference was held in order to inform the public of the activities of the police force in the city. They investigated x number of murders, y number of thefts, z number of bank robberies, and so on. Why the police chief felt compelled to deliver a tirade against the Gypsy population of the city is a mystery to me, but he explained that one ought to tell the “truth.” And the truth is that Gypsy children were responsible for eight attacks against elderly people (purse snatchings) and against youngsters with cell phones. He wanted to warn these people to look out for those Gypsies who might attack them the next time they step out on the street. “Many of those darling little Gypsy kids become ruthless criminals.” But that wasn’t enough. He continued: “We can state with certain assurance that all the robberies committed in public places are done by Gypsies. The truth is that Hungarians [meaning non-Gypsies] will perhaps rob a bank or a gas station, but all others are committed by them [the Gypsies].”

Well, even that would have been more than American public opinion would tolerate but what followed was off the charts. In Miskolc there is a hilly area (Avas) in which there are many large apartment buildings erected during the Kádár regime. From the police chief’s speech it is clear that some Gypsy families purchased apartments in these complexes. In the police chief’s opinion “these people don’t even want to live in a place like that. They don’t have any need for such apartments. It doesn’t even occur to them that eventually the mortgage must be paid or that they will have to share with their neighbors the common expenses. It doesn’t occur to them that here they have to conduct themselves in conformity with their surroundings…. Living together with them simply doesn’t work. That’s all.” These were the closing sentences of his so-called press conference.

Without going into the details of the case, for a while it looked as if  these remarks would cost Pásztor his job, but both the MSZP mayor and all the other parties in town organized a demonstration on his behalf. In the end Tibor Draskovics, minister of justice, reinstated Pásztor. At that time Ferenc Gyurcsány said that he found Pásztor’s words “unacceptable,” but now he is much more forgiving when he stresses that “often complicated questions give birth to antithetical answers. This is the situation now in Miskolc.” To translate that into ordinary Hungarian or English, it means that in his opinion Pásztor is the only candidate who has a chance of defeating Fidesz or Jobbik. In an article published in Galamus today he stressed that he himself made mistakes and therefore one ought to be forgiving. After all, Pásztor with the exception of this one “mistake” never showed any signs of prejudice.

The problem with Gyurcsány’s position is that it stands in stark contrast not only to his attitude on the matter in 2009 but also to his usual insistence on principle. He stresses the consistency of his party. DK politicians don’t waver; they always stand by their beliefs. That is, Gyurcsány says, their strength. That’s why their followers are so loyal to the party. If the party is against giving the vote to Hungarians whose permanent address is outside of the country, then he will vote against it in parliament even if public sentiment might be for it. He is not like the socialists who make too many compromises. The problem with such consistency and such unequivocal political attitudes is that they do not allow for the flexibility that is essential in politics.

DK’s support of Pásztor will cost it dearly, I’m afraid, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the party will have to abandon its support for Pásztor. But even if they do, the damage has already been done.

The state of the Hungarian left and Ferenc Gyurcsány

I think it is time to return to the affairs of the opposition parties, which are in bad shape.You may recall that at the European parliamentary election it became clear that the strength of MSZP was nowhere near what the party leaders believed or wanted to believe. But Attila Mesterházy, who is considered to be a less than an inspiring leader, was a skillful negotiator. He managed to negotiate a joint party list for the national election of the three parties–MSZP, DK, and Együtt 2014-PM–that greatly favored MSZP. Currently, MSZP has 28 seats in parliament while the other two parties have only four each when in the EU election MSZP received 10.9% of the votes cast against DK’s 9.75% and Együtt 2014-PM’s 7.25%. Since then, according to Ipsos, MSZP lost a couple more percentage points while DK gained the same amount. Együtt 2014-PM’s support is unchanged.

Attila Mesterházy is gone as party chairman, but in parliament MSZP has a relatively large delegation with a party that currently has only about an 8% share of the electorate. Meanwhile the other two parties are deprived of the minimum number of members that would allow them to have their own parliamentary caucuses. They therefore have very limited opportunities to play an active role in parliament. They cannot have representation on parliamentary committees and their ability to speak or ask questions is greatly restricted. As Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted, DK “was too generous in its negotiations with MSZP.”

It is not only Mesterházy who has more or less disappeared from the political scene. I strongly suspect that Gordon Bajnai, despite his protestations to the contrary, will not be around for long. The party will be headed by a troika–Péter Juhász (Milla), Sándor Székely (Solidarity), and Viktor Szigetvári (Együtt 2014). Nobody from the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) seems to be represented. With this leadership, I have the feeling, Együtt 2014 will not be able to develop a large base and, in fact, might not last longer than its name implies.

As for MSZP, the leadership is searching for a new leader, and it looks as if József Tóbiás will be the man to succeed Mesterházy. Tóbiás might be a perfectly capable man, but charismatic he is not. Tabloids often talk about his wife who, as the second-runner-up in the Miss Hungary pageant, is well known, especially since she often makes appearances in soaps on RTL Klub. Maybe Tóbiás has some secret medicine for the ills of MSZP, but I will be most surprised if thanks to his activities the socialists double their popularity any time soon.

That leaves DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The party’s success in the EP election surprised everybody, perhaps even its leaders. Of course, before the election Gyurcsány gave the impression of great confidence. He went so far as to announce that if DK does not reach the 5% that would qualify the party to send at least one delegate to Brussels, he would resign. The reaction from the anti-Gyurcsány camp was derision. He? He will never resign. Luckily for him, he did not have to contemplate a move that would have destroyed DK which is, just like Fidesz, a one-man party though without the kind of undemocratic, centralized organization that is characteristic of Viktor Orbán’s party.

DK-logo2Success breeds success, as the saying goes. A couple of weeks after the election DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, announced that DK had received applications for membership from over 860 people. MSZP politicians charged that Ferenc Gyurcsány had been phoning local MSZP leaders, trying to entice them to join DK. Gyurcsány’s answer to that was that “they come without asking.” One thing is sure, Gyurcsány has been even more active than he normally is. He is in the middle of organizing an anti-government demonstration. He also made several appearances on ATV and gave two long interviews, one to Origo and another to Index. Both are long and cover a lot of ground. Here I will concentrate on only two themes: the municipal elections and his views on the possible course of Hungarian politics in the future. Both were discussed in the Origo interview.

Although it was obvious that Gyurcsány had struck a bad bargain with MSZP before the national election, he, unlike Együtt-2014, still thinks that the three parties must run again under a common umbrella organization in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance against Fidesz. It is especially true after the government changed the rules of the game in Budapest. Until now all the inhabitants of the capital city voted for a lord mayor (főpolgármester) while inhabitants of each of the twenty-three districts voted for their own candidates for district mayor. At the same time all voters cast their votes for party lists. The composition of the city council was decided on the basis of the number of votes each party received. Now, there will no longer be party lists. The district mayors will make up the city council. János Áder signed the bill into law, although it is most likely unconstitutional. The population of the districts varies greatly, so it can easily happen that one member of the council will be elected by 90,000 people while another by only 30,000. But János Áder, just like his predecessor, has no problems signing anything his party and his friend, Viktor Orbán, find important. And he did find this bill important because without it there might have been a Fidesz defeat in Budapest. And that cannot be allowed. It is for this reason that Gyurcsány is such a champion of another “unity alliance.”

As for the possibilities for the future. Gyurcsány thinks that the changes on the left will be the result of “a long, organic development with different possible outcomes.” The simplest would be that each party goes its own way and sometime in 2017 they put together an “electoral coalition.” The second possibility is closer cooperation among the three parties. The third, which Gyurcsány described as a “dream,” is that “one day the voters and the party leaders decide that these three parties and perhaps some others should create one large democratic party.” But, he added, for the time being he does not see the slightest chance of such a development; perhaps “one day such an idea might become a reality.”

There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. Although at the end of the interview he denied the possibility that he would be the one to head such a unity party, one has the feeling that deep down that is exactly what he would like to achieve. And, looking around, I see no one else at the moment who could possibly fill the bill. Of course, someone may show up in the next few years who could have a real chance against Viktor Orbán, especially if he continues his irresponsible economic policies. Yes, I know, lately the GDP numbers look good, but every responsible economist claims that they are not sustainable. Moreover, another 100-150 billion forints are missing from the budget and that means yet another austerity program. A few more stories about János Lázár’s trips to the Riviera and his extravagant hotel bills might change the mood of the electorate. Gyurcsány at least thinks that Orbán might not last until 2018–but then he’s something of a cockeyed optimist.

Hungary’s new friend: Turkmenistan’s dictator

The Hungarian media is full of stories about the visit of the bloody dictator of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, to Budapest. The trip has been in the making for a long time. It was Hungary that initiated talks between the two countries when in November 2011 President Pál Schmitt was dispatched to Asgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. In January of this year Péter Szijjártó announced that the two countries had signed an agreement on economic cooperation. It was at that time that it was revealed that the Turkmen dictator himself will visit Hungary sometime in June.

As for the economic ties, Szijjártó claimed that there are hopeful signs that the relatively low level of trade between the two countries will grow substantially in the near future. He revealed that there are already Hungarian “success stories” in the food processing industry and in agriculture. A Hungarian firm is involved with the construction of a large brewery. He also indicated that Turkmenistan intends to modernize its oil and gas sector and would welcome Hungarian participation.

Trade between the two countries is indeed very small: until 2010 it amounted to only 10-15 million dollars a year, but by last year it had reached 110 million dollars. Just to give you an idea of the relative size of this trade relationship, Turkmenistan is not among the top 50 trading partners of Hungary.

Szijjártó also mentioned the possible construction of a gas pipeline, which is currently under discussion between the European Commission and Turkmenistan. Clearly, Hungary’s interest lies primarily in Turkmenistan’s gas reserves, which are the fourth largest in the world.

The opposition loudly protests this cozy relationship between Asgabat and Budapest, pointing out that Turkmenistan is second only to North Korea in having the darkest dictatorship and that the only significant difference is that North Korea is very poor while Turkmenistan is flush with cash from the sale of natural gas to Russia and China. One can read more about the situation in Turkmenistan in the U.S. Human Rights Report of 2013.

Pro-government commentators point out that, after all, Ferenc Gyurcsány also visited Turkmenistan in the summer of 2008. Indeed, he did and apparently had a six-hour talk with Berdimuhamedov. He went there to show the United States that, despite rumors that he was against the Nabucco pipeline, the pet project of the EU and the United States, he was serious about finding a way of getting gas from outside of Russia. Apparently he came back convinced that the Nabucco project would not materialize. He turned out to be right.

The Trans-Caspian project was first conceived in the late 1990s.  Talks between the European Union and two of the five countries surrounding the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, officially began on September 7, 2011, but there was not much follow-through. In the wake of the protests in Kiev and the ensuing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, however, the Trans-Caspian pipeline gained new urgency. In December 2013 it was announced that negotiations between Turkmenistan and the European Union would begin in early 2014. The Russian response was swift. Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, indicated that “external interference in the Caspian region will strain the situation in the region and can have a negative impact on the five-party negotiations,” that is, among Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and, naturally, Russia.

In earlier Hungarian reports on Szijjártó’s trade negotiations, no mention was made of Turkmen natural gas, but on June 14 Trend, an Azeri site, said that “Hungary is interested in receiving Turkmen gas under transnational projects.” The next piece of information, from MTI, stated that Baymyrat Hojamuhammedov, deputy prime minister for oil and gas, told the newly appointed minister in charge of national economic development Miklós Seszták that Turkmenistan in the next two decades plans to more than triple its production of natural gas and wants to lay pipelines toward Europe, Pakistan, and India.

While Hojamuhammedov was visiting Miklós Seszták, Turkmen Foreign Minister Raşit Meredow was talking with Péter Szijjártó. Note that, flouting diplomatic protocol, the Turkmen foreign minister met only with Péter Szijjártó and not his Hungarian counterpart, Tibor Navracsics.

As for Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, he first met President János Áder in the Sándor Palace. Áder talked about the modernization of Turkmenistan and possible Hungarian participation in the Turkmen economy. It was no more than generalities. Berdymukhamedov’s announcement was, on the other hand, more interesting. He pointed out that “in a political sense the two countries’ points of view resemble each other in many ways. Both find stability and security important.” Turkmenistan is “grateful to Hungary for representing her in the United Nations.” He added that “the foreign ministers of the two countries continue their consultations concerning foreign policy.” He hopes that “Hungarian experts” will help Turkmenistan in its economic and social programs. Finally, he invited János Áder to Asgabat. It looks as if the two got along splendidly. The Hungarian media watched every move of the two men and even noted that their handshake lasted eight seconds!

Source: AFP. Photo Igor Sasin

Source: AFP/ Photo by Igor Sasin

Berdymukhamedov’s official program included a meeting with House Speaker László Kövér. Nothing has been said so far about a possible meeting between Berdymukhamedov and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, although it is hard to imagine that such a meeting would not take place.

Let me add a funny note. Hungary was just admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries, joining Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, and Turkey. The request came from former deputy-speaker of the parliament Sándor Lezsák, who started his career in MDF but who now can be placed somewhere between Fidesz and Jobbik. He is among those who refuse to accept the Finno-Ugric origin of the Hungarian language and overemphasize the importance of  Turkic loan-words in the vocabulary. Anyone who’s interested in Turanism, which is closely linked to the idea of Hungarian being a Turkic language, can read a fairly good summary of the movement here or, in Hungarian, here.

I also thought that you would appreciate a picture of Berdymukhamedov on horseback. He even participates in horse races. In one of them, he was thrown off his horse but, never fear, just as a good dictator should, he won the race anyway.

The exit of Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian socialists

The drama was of short duration. On Tuesday Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party, seemed to be certain that he would remain the leader of MSZP and the whip of the party’s parliamentary group despite the disastrous showing at the EP election on May 25. He thought he could rely on the people who were considered to be his steadfast supporters and on whom he had depended throughout the last four or five years.

Mesterházy believed, and he was not alone in the party, that the secret to the revival of MSZP lay in the rejuvenation of the party. Here the word “rejuvenation” is used in its literal sense: getting rid of the older, more experienced leaders who were allegedly responsible for past mistakes and bringing in new faces. Preferably young ones. Closer to 30 than to 40. So, as far as the media was concerned, MSZP had a face lift. But cosmetic surgery was not enough. According to people whose opinion I trust, most of these new faces were only faces. Nothing substantive behind their countenances. These newly recruited people who were elevated to important positions gave the impression of mediocrity at best and total incompetence at worst.

Old hands in the party, especially lately, made it clear what they thought of Mesterházy’s new young crew. At first just quietly, but lately ever more loudly. Perhaps the most outspoken on the quality of the Mesterházy leadership was László Kovács, former chairman, foreign minister, and European Commissioner, who when asked in an interview on what basis these people were chosen, answered: “You ask the chairman of the party.” Or just lately another old-timer, Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman and very effective whip, said, alluding to Mesterjázy’s centralization of power, that “what we need is not a small Fidesz in a worse version.” After all, no one can achieve, even if he wanted to, the one-man rule of Viktor Orbán.

According to people familiar with the internal workings of MSZP, Mesterházy was very good at developing a structure within the party that served his personal ambitions. He was also good at playing political chess, which usually ended with his winning the game. He managed to organize a party list of the United Alliance which greatly favored MSZP at the expense of DK and E14-PM. As a result, the other two parties, each with four MPs, couldn’t form official caucuses, which would have greatly enhanced their own voices and would have strengthened the joint forces of the democratic opposition parties.

Mesterházy was accused by some of his colleagues in the party of playing games with the party’s by-laws. By not resigning himself but only offering the resignation of the whole presidium (elnökség), he was able to postpone an election of all the officials, which is a very long process in MSZP. That would have ensured the continuation of his chairmanship and the existence of the current leadership for months. It was at this junction that the important personages in the party decided to act. At least one well-known socialist politician apparently told the others that if they postpone the election process, card-carrying party members will join DK in hordes because they have had enough of the paralysis that the party leadership has exhibited for some time.

Perhaps it was the Budapest MSZP leadership that was most affected by the results of the EP election. Let’s face it, MSZP lost Budapest. Csaba Horváth’s candidacy for the lord mayoralty is dead; Zsolt Molnár, who headed the Budapest MSZP organization, has resigned; and here was Mesterházy who, in their eyes, was making it impossible for them to recoup in Budapest before the municipal elections. The first group in Budapest to revolt against the chairman was the XIIIth district where MSZP was always very strong. Csepel, once an MSZP stronghold, followed suit. Dissatisfaction spread, and very soon all twenty-three district centers expressed their misgivings and demanded Mesterházy’s resignation.

Some of the old-timers offered solutions on how to change the leadership without getting involved in a complicated and lengthy election of new officials. László Kovács suggested an interim governing body that would be made up of politicians who in the past had showed that they had the trust of the electorate. That is, they won elections on their own. He could think of 6-8 people who could take part in that body. In addition, he would ask László Botka, mayor of Szeged, who has been able to be elected and reelected even in the most difficult times. Kovács also suggested three former chairmen of the party: István Haller, Ildikó Lendvai, and he himself. Mesterházy’s defiant answer to Kovács’s suggestion was: “It is not Lendvai and Kovács who are the bearers of the message of the future.”

Yesterday the party leaders of Budapest were ready for compromise. If Mesterházy resigns as chairman he can still be the whip, a position very dear to his heart. At least he made a case for occupying that post regardless of the fate of the chairmanship in a television interview. But after seeing Mesterházy’s stubbornness, the Budapest leaders and others wanted to strip him even of his parliamentary position. Some MSZP politicians were in fact ready to expel him from the party if he doesn’t play ball. Under these circumstances he had no choice but to resign. Today at noon he held a press conference and announced his resignation both as chairman and as whip of MSZP’s parliamentary group. He added that at the next election of officials he will not seek any position in the party leadership.

Photo: MTI

Photo: MTI

There was a sigh of relief, I’m sure, in the inner circles of the party. However, as one party official said, “this is not the end of the road but its beginning.” The party leadership, he added, “has to eliminate the heritage of the Mesterházy era.” And that will not be easy. For example, the MSZP parliamentary delegation is “Mesterházy’s caucus.” Some people within the party leadership think that each MP who gained a mandate from the party list should offer his resignation. This is not a realistic scenario. These people cannot be forced to offer their resignation and they would be unlikely to resign willingly. The pro-Mesterházy MPs, however, might not be a genuine problem because, according to the latest rumors, even his hand-picked MPs have abandoned him.

As for a successor, many names are circulating at the moment: László Botka, József Tóbiás, István Haller, to mention just a few. I have the feeling that what most people have in mind is an interim “collective leadership” until the party can have a full-fledged congress that would officially elect a new chairman and fill the other top positions.

I think that time is of the essence if MSZP hopes to recoup for the municipal election, although I myself doubt that they will be able to substantially increase their support either in Budapest or elsewhere. On the other hand, I see a good possibility that DK and E14-PM will be able to attract new followers. Success breeds success. I heard, for instance, that DK is getting a lot of membership applications. Yet, just as Ferenc Gyurcsány emphasizes, the three parties must cooperate in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance of capturing Budapest where at the moment Fidesz is leading in spite of the relatively good showing of DK, E14-PM, MSZP, and LMP. Although the media close to Fidesz intimate that DK is out to capture former MSZP voters while E14-PM is trying to lure former LMP voters, both parties claim to stand by MSZP in its present crisis. In fact, DK politicians keep emphasizing that their interest lies in a strong MSZP. I’m sure that at the moment this is the case. Eventually, however, it is inevitable that these parties will be pitted against one another for the future leadership of the left-of-center forces in Hungary.

Regrouping on the left: MSZP on the brink

In the wake of the EU parliamentary election the non-Hungarian media will undoubtedly be preoccupied with the fact that the second largest party in Hungary is an extreme-right, racist, anti-Semitic party. But in the domestic press the “demise” of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the surprisingly good showing of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is the chief topic. After all, Fidesz’s large victory was a foregone conclusion, and the Hungarian media had speculated for some time that Jobbik would surpass MSZP. But no one predicted that DK would almost catch up with MSZP.

DK’s performance was especially unexpected because most opinion polls predicted that DK had no chance of sending delegates to the European Parliament. Medián, normally a very reliable polling firm, forecast a large Fidesz victory, Jobbik as the second-place winner, and MSZP in third place. As far as E14-PM and LMP were concerned, their chances were slim, teetering around the 5% mark. The party that, in Medián’s opinion, had no chance whatsoever was the Demokratikus Koalíció.

As it turned out, the predictions were off rather badly in the case of the smaller parties. As it stands now, all three–E14-PM, LMP, and DK–will be able to take part in the work of the European Parliament. The largest discrepancy between the predictions and the actual results was in the case of DK, which with its 9.76% will have two MEPs in Strasbourg.

The talking heads were stunned, especially those who have been absolutely certain that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s name is so tainted that there was no way he could ever again be a major player in Hungarian politics. Even those who sympathized with him felt that he returned to politics too early and by this impatience jeopardized his own political future.

The very poor showing of MSZP had a shocking effect on the Hungarian public as well as on commentators. No one was expecting a large win, but Medián, for example, predicted at least 14%. Instead, the final result was 10.92%.  A devastating blow. On her Facebook page Ildikó Lendvai, former whip and chairman of the party, described MSZP as being asleep or perhaps even dead. Slapping around a dead man, she wrote, is a waste of time. The governing body (elnökség) of the party has already resigned en bloc, and Saturday we will find out whether Attila Mesterházy will have to step down. Some well-known blog writers suggested that he should leave politics altogether and find a nice civilian job.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened to the three parties that constituted the United Alliance in the April 5 national election. The supposition that MSZP did all the heavy lifting for the combined ticket turned out to be false, at least based on the new returns. DK and E14-PM together garnered 18% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 10.92%. A rather substantial difference. EP-valasztas 2014-2It is also clear that the relatively good showing of the United Alliance in Budapest was due to the two smaller parties. This time around DK and E14-PM received 26% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 11.5%. DK ran second behind Fidesz in the capital (13.1o%), very closely followed by E14-PM (13.07%). Which party won in which district? It seems that Gordon Bajnai’s party was strong in the more elegant districts of Pest and Buda: the Castle district, Rózsadomb, downtown Pest, and Óbuda. Gyurcsány’s party won in less affluent districts: Köbánya, Újpalota, Csepel. Altogether DK won in nine outlying districts.

DK also did better than MSZP in several larger cities: Debrecen, Győr, Nagykanizsa, Kaposvár, Érd, Kecskemét, Pécs, and Székesfehérvár. In addition, there were two counties, Fejér and Pest, where DK beat the socialists. I should add that Fidesz lost only one city, Nyírbátor, where MSZP received 41.12% of the votes to Fidesz’s 32.35%.

As I predicted, very few Hungarians voted. In 2004 the figure was 38.50%, in 2009 36.31%, and this year only 28.92%. There might be several reasons for the low participation. For starters, people took a large Fidesz victory for granted. They did not think their votes could make a difference. Moreover, it was less than two months since the last election, and only the very committed took the trouble to make another trip to the polling station.

As far as the composition of the European Parliament is concerned, it looks as if EPP will have 212 members and S&D 186. So, the candidate for the post of the president of the European Commission will most likely be Jean-Claude Juncker, the man Viktor Orbán would not vote for in the European Council. What is wrong with Juncker? One very big problem is his country of origin: Luxembourg. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is also a Luxembourger, and she was very tough on the Orbán government. As Orbán put it: “the commissioner from Luxembourg has only hurt Hungary in the past. So, Hungarians cannot support a Luxembourger.” And Redding was not alone. There was another Luxembourger, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister in Juncker’s government, who criticized Hungary’s media law. It seems that Orbán developed a general dislike of Luxembourgers.

Orbán might not be alone in the European Council in his opposition to Juncker because it looks as if  David Cameron will also oppose him. Mind you, he also has problems with Martin Schulz. I doubt that the anti-Juncker forces will succeed, however, because Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind him.

As for Juncker, naturally he was asked about his reaction to Orbán’s opposition to his nomination at his press conference today. Juncker started off by keeping the topic away from his own person, saying that “this is a problem that exists between Fidesz and EPP,” but then he told the journalists what was on his mind. “I cannot accept that just because a former minister from Luxembourg got into an argument with the Hungarian government it is en0ugh reason to exclude another Luxembourger from the post of president of the European Council. This is not elegant reasoning.”

Elegant reasoning and Orbán? In his fairly lengthy and exuberant victory speech, the prime minister called the Hungarian MEPs the “advanced garrison of Hungarians who defend the homeland abroad.” He sent them off with these words: “Greetings to the soldiers entering the battlefield!”

 

How not to win friends and influence people: Viktor Orbán

I’m sure that Viktor Orbán never read Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) that has sold more than 18 million copies in the last 78 years. In fact, I fear that his own anti-Carnegie principles will ensure that he will eventually be hated by everyone, with the exception of the “hard-core” who think he walks on water.

One of the chapters in Dale Carnegie’s book speaks about the virtues of leaders, specifically “how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.” Among the principal virtues Carnegie mentions are qualities that Viktor Orbán totally lacks. He suggests that a good leader should talk about his own mistakes before criticizing the other person. Orbán and self-criticism? Carnegie also suggests that if a leader is wrong he should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Or another piece of advice: “Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.” Or “show respect for the other person’s opinions.” All these are alien concepts to the prime minister of Hungary. In fact, he does just the opposite of everything that Carnegie thought was necessary for a successful leader.

Take, for example, the erection of the ill-fated Archangel Gabriel monument. Regardless of how much criticism he receives, regardless of how many historians and art historians tell him that the concept is historically and artistically inaccurate, he plows ahead with it. Yesterday the Hungarian Academy of Sciences organized a conference on the issue; their condemnation was unanimous.

Or there is the decision to extend the capacity of the Paks nuclear power plant. As Bernadett Szél (LMP member of parliament) continues to dig into the details of the planned expansion it is becoming obvious that no serious feasibility studies were done before Orbán hurriedly signed the contract with Russia. But that is perhaps the least of the problems Paks is causing Hungary. Orbán’s newly found friendship with Vladimir Putin has led him to regard Ukraine as a potential trophy not only for Putin but for himself as well.

First, he tried to ignore the issue of Russian aggression in the Crimea, but since Hungary happens to be situated in a region that borders on Ukraine, Orbán had to line up, however reluctantly, with Hungary’s neighbors. He decided, however, to make a claim of his own–though for people, not land.

In the same speech I wrote about yesterday, he spoke briefly about Hungarian foreign policy. Here is a translation of the relevant part.

We will continue our policy of the Eastern Opening; we will strengthen our economic presence in the Carpathian Basin. This is in the interest of Hungary as well as of the neighboring countries and the European Union. This strengthening of regional economic relations is not in opposition to a resolute national policy [nemzetpolitika]. The question of the Hungarian minorities has not been solved since the end of World War II. We consider the Hungarian question a European affair. Hungarians of the Carpathian Basin deserve dual citizenship, communal rights, and autonomy. This is our view, which we will represent on international forums. The Hungarian question is especially timely because of the 200,000 strong Hungarian community in Ukraine whose members must receive dual citizenship, the entirety of communal rights [ közösségi jogok], and the possibility of  self-government [önigazgatás]. This is our expectation for the new Ukraine currently under reconstruction that otherwise enjoys our sympathy and assistance in the work of the creation of a democratic Ukraine.

Not exactly a friendly gesture toward a neighbor that is in great peril at the moment because of Russian aggression. As if Hungary would like to take advantage of the troubled waters for its own gains. Apparently, according to a leaked foreign ministry document, “Fidesz with its own national policy [nemzetpolitika]–even at the price of ‘fertile chaos’–is striving for a change in the status quo.” If there is one thing the European Union and the United States are worried about, it is ethnic strife in Eastern Europe. And Hungary just took a rather aggressive step in this direction.

The Hungarian ambassador to Kiev was immediately summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. He was told in no uncertain terms that such a step “is not conducive to the de-escalation and stabilization of the situation.” The spokesman for the ministry noted that “certain aspects of [Hungarian] national policy were criticized by Hungary’s partners in the European Union.”

The Ukrainian reaction was expected. Donald Tusk’s response, however, was more of a surprise given the normally warm relations between Poland and Hungary. Both Tusk’s party and Fidesz belong to the same conservative People’s Party, and usually Orbán receives a lot of help in Strasbourg from Polish members of EP. But this time the Polish prime minister was anything but sympathetic. “I am sorry to say this but I consider the statement made by Prime Minister Orbán as unfortunate.” And he continued: “Today, when we witness the Russian efforts of Ukraine’s partition such a statement must raise concern. We need to be careful that in no way, whether intentional or not, it should sound as backing the actions of pro-Russian separatists.” He added that the Polish government will make sure that none of its neighbors threatens the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

Donald Tusk and Viktor Orbán / Photo Barna Burger

Donald Tusk and Viktor Orbán on May 5, 2014 / Photo Barna Burger

In cases like this it is Foreign Minister János Martonyi who comes to the rescue. According to Martonyi, Orbán’s words were misinterpreted. Orbán invoked “self governance” not autonomy. But if you read my translation carefully, you can see that he talked about both self-governance and autonomy in the Carpathian Basin. Martonyi tried to explain that self-government and autonomy are actually “cultural autonomy in Hungarian.” No, they are not. Cultural autonomy exists in Subcarpathian Ukraine already. There are Hungarian schools, Hungarian associations, Hungarian theaters.

Naturally, the opposition made hay out of these careless sentences of Orbán. Ferenc Gyurcsány recalled a sentence from the farewell letter of Prime Minister Pál Teleki to Miklós Horthy before he committed suicide. In April 1941 Hungary agreed to let German troops through Hungary in order to attack Yugoslavia with whom Hungary had just signed a pact of eternal friendship. In that letter Teleki told the Governor: “We became body snatchers!” On Facebook Gyurcsány asks Orbán whether he is playing the role of a body snatcher in these hard days in Ukraine.

Martonyi might have tempered Orbán’s harsh words but Orbán himself did not. He announced this afternoon that he simply reiterated the Hungarian government’s “long-standing views on the Hungarian minorities.” As far as he is concerned, the case is closed.