Gábor Kuncze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps there is a ray of light: Unity has large reserves

About a week ago I read an interesting article about János Lázár campaigning in Algyő, a large village near Szeged. There seemed to be little interest in Lázár. The room was half empty. Lázár assumed that the older inhabitants of the village of 5,000 were attracted to social democracy and expressed his sorrow that the Hungarian left was unable to create a real social democratic party. Instead, he offered Fidesz as an alternative. He must have had his doubts about the intentions of his audience, however, because he said that they don’t have to vote for Fidesz as long as they vote for him. He even suggested that the people of Algyő might actually split their votes: they can vote for him and still cast their second ballot for the list of Unity. Then he talked about his visit to another village in the district where “when I was talking about Fidesz, people in the audience made faces and held their heads. I told them: I’m telling you straight, don’t vote for Fidesz, vote for me. I don’t like everything Fidesz does.” How low can you go? And why?

This scene, I think, says a lot about how some of the highest ranking members of Fidesz, like Lázár, actually think about their chances at the election. On the surface everything looks just fine. Fidesz leads in all the public opinion polls even as the opposition is languishing. Very few people are sanguine about the chances of Unity winning the election. A lot of readers of Hungarian Spectrum have already buried the opposition and are convinced of Fidesz victory. I agree that the data are for the most part depressing, but perhaps there is a ray of light.

Let me call attention to the more optimistic signals from the last Ipsos poll (February 13). This is the first time that the possible voters of the opposition parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt-2014-PM, and the Liberal Party–were asked whether they would vote for the united opposition. It is true that the numbers didn’t increase, but it did show that the voters followed their party leaders and lined up dutifully behind Unity. So, all the angst over Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket resulting in lost votes seems to have been misdirected.

On the other hand, people now complain that the new agreement among these parties didn’t immediately bring spectacular results. I am not surprised. Until that agreement the party leaders spoke with different voices. They campaigned under their own logos. In fact, there is still no common joint action and no joint campaign slogans. This is what Gábor Kuncze complained about yesterday on Egyenes beszéd. The campaign staff should hand out common campaign slogans to the politicians of Unity. Let’s hope that this will be done soon. In any case, even with better campaign tactics, one can’t expect immediate results. Or at least this is what Tibor Zavecz of Ipsos said in his interview.

Just looking at the numbers, Fidesz indeed leads the way with 30% as opposed to Unity’s 23% among the whole electorate. But, of course, we cannot forget about Jobbik, which has grown from 6% to 9% in a month. And of those who are certain that they will vote on April 6, Fidesz and Jobbik voters are much more gung-ho about voting for their favorite parties. While in the electorate as a whole Fidesz would get only 30% of the votes, among the active participants that number is 51% as opposed to 33% for Unity voters.

One could say that this is truly depressing, but then why did Tibor Zavecz say that “the opposition has tremendous reserves”? Well, 36% of the electorate still remains undecided. Among them are those who will not vote regardless, those who are secretive, and those who are truly undecided. This is a large crowd of about 1 million people and we know from other opinion polls that 52% of the people would like to see Viktor Orbán and Fidesz go. If Unity can inspire these 1 million people to go and vote, the election can be won.

Mind you, the present government is doing everything in its power to make sure that anti-Fidesz votes, especially from abroad, are reduced to practically nothing. Those with a domicile in Hungary have to register to vote at Hungarian embassies or consulates in the country of their current residence. I received several reports that the authorities are throwing back applications because, according to them, the information provided was not complete or was inaccurate. One person was denied registration because he wrote Balmazujváros instead of Balmazújváros as his birthplace. The fact is, believe it or not, that the electoral law specifies that the lack of an acute accent is grounds for a denial of registration. Then in the United States they sent out wrong information about the date of voting while in England the wrong address was specified.

On the other hand, new citizens from neighboring Romania and Serbia are being sought after. Already a sizable amount of money has been spent on government propaganda, including personalized letters sent by the prime minister urging them to vote. And then there is the pressure applied by local Fidesz bosses, which is especially successful with the vulnerable such as people on public work, to vote for Fidesz.

Szalóczi G

All in all, Unity has to win big to counterbalance all the advantages of the government party. I saw a very funny picture of a Unity politician campaigning. Since the poor man has no possibility of putting out his campaign literature, he brought a ladder, climbed up on it, and held up a sign. He stayed there for a whole hour in 32 degree weather. Well, one must have imagination in Orbán’s Hungary to overcome obstacles.

Political accord at home and Russian-Hungarian understanding abroad

How wrong journalists can be when they start second guessing the details of delicate negotiations that politicians managed to keep under wraps. Commentators were certain that the most important difficulty facing the negotiators was the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The stories revolved around him: will he or won’t he be on the list? And if yes, in which position? There were stories about the negotiators wanting to “hide” him in the number six slot because in this case his name would not appear on the official list the voters see. I must say that I decided early in the game that I would pay not attention to all the chatter. I was certain that the necessity for immediate action had such force that the negotiations would not be sidetracked by such petty squabbles.

This media concentration on the person on Ferenc Gyurcsány was most likely encouraged by Fidesz, whose politicians immediately announced that his presence on the ticket will boost their own chances of winning the election. I didn’t expect them to say anything else, but it is telling that Századvég, Fidesz’s favorite political think tank, released this morning, only a few hours before the joint press conference of the chief negotiators, their latest poll according to which 72% of the voters wouldn’t vote for a common list because of the presence of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The timing of the release of this rather dubious poll suggests what the real feelings are in Fidesz circles about the new agreement. It doesn’t matter what Antal Rogán, Lajos Kósa, or Gabriella Selmeczi says about the fantastic advantage this new formation offers to Fidesz and the Orbán government, the fact is that it is not a welcome piece of news for the right.

The desired common ticket and a single candidate for the post of prime minister has been achieved. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) will head the ticket, followed by Gordon Bajnai (Együtt-2014), Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), Gábor Fodor (Magyar Liberális Part/MLP), and Tímea Szabó (PM). As for the individual candidates, each district will have only one common candidate. MSZP will field candidates in 71 districts, Együtt-2014 in 22, DK in 13. One of DK’s candidates will be Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ. Gábor Fodor’s liberal party received 3 positions on the common list.

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor / www.parameter.sk

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor http://www.parameter.sk

All in all, I think the present setup is the best one could have achieved under the circumstances. The cooperation among the parties and their leaders seems to be close, and they are trying to reassure their voters that there will be no dissension and rivalry because they want to win. I was surprised to hear Gyurcsány profusely praise Attila Mesterházy’s skills as a politician; according to him, it was Mesterházy who was largely responsible for the success of the negotiations. He also indicated that he will follow the lead of Mesterházy. I”m less certain about full cooperation from the PM politicians, who still don’t seem to be entirely reconciled to the idea of sitting in the same boat with Gyurcsány, whom they consider to be the embodiment of all that was wrong with Hungary prior to 2010.

The other important event of the day was the signing of a bilateral agreement between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán that put an end to speculation about the future enlargement of the Paks nuclear power plant. We don’t know too much about the details, but we do know that it will be the biggest investment Hungary has ever made. It will cost at least 10 billion euros; usually by the time these power plants actually get built the cost overruns are enormous. The work will begin soon on two new reactors, the first of which will be able to produce energy by 2023. Russia will provide the money necessary to build the reactors, apparently at a relatively low interest rate, to be paid back over the next thirty years. According to Fidesz sources, the interest rate is “way below 5%.” Fidesz sources also claim that the arrangement has the blessing of the European Union, which apparently allowed Hungary to chose Rosatom, a Russian state company, without a competitive bid. In any case, this Paks job will be the first for Rosatom in an EU country. I have the feeling that we will hear more about this particular aspect of the deal.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin apparently get along very well, about which I’m not surprised. Politicians, if circumstances dictate, can forget quickly, and therefore I assume that Putin no longer remembers (or cares) what Viktor Orbán had to say about him and his country in the past. Perhaps one day I will collect a few choice adjectives that will show that Viktor Orbán is capable of a complete turnaround and can say something and its exact opposite with the same conviction.

This was an important day indeed. The agreement among the parties will set the course of political events for the next three months or so. Whether they will be able to win over former Fidesz voters is of paramount importance for Hungarian democracy. Commentators are certain that if Fidesz stays in power for another four years the country’s democratic structure will be even more shaken than it is now and the damage will be incalculable. As for the Russian-Hungarian agreement, it may determine Hungary’s geopolitical position for some time to come. Unfortunately, the two events are interconnected. Will Hungary chose the European Union and democracy or will it increasingly resemble Putin’s Russia, which Viktor Orbán considers to be a strategic economic partner?

Two polls, two different results, and disappointing opposition politicians

In the last couple of days the results of two new public opinion polls on party preferences appeared: Ipsos on November 18 and Medián today. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP and LMP gained and the left lost, both by an inconsequential 1%. Medián’s survey, by contrast, found more substantial shifts, and in the opposite direction. Fidesz-KDNP lost 4% of its support in one month and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, DK, became as strong as E14-PM.

Let us examine these results a little more closely. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP’s support among the electorate as a whole is 27% while MSZP’s is 15%. As for the other parties, 7% of the eligible voters support Jobbik, 3% Együtt-PM, and only 2% LMP and DK.

As for voter commitment, according to Ipsos only 36% of the electorate is certain that they would cast a vote rain or shine. And that is very low. In this group Fidesz-KDNP leads by a mile: they would receive 51% percent of the votes against MSZP’s 26%. Jobbik voters are also deeply committed to their cause and therefore show good results in this category.

Somewhat larger changes occurred in the last month or so among the 42% of the voters who call themselves undecided. Within that group the size of “the completely passive voters” decreased by 3% while the number of those who have a preference but refuse to divulge what it is grew from 8% to 11%.

And let’s pause a bit to expand on these last figures. According to Tibor Závecz, the man in charge of the monthly Ipsos polls, the pool of “secretive voters” is large, about 900,000. Although these people might not want the pollsters to know their political views, the poll takers ask indirect questions that can be quite revealing. Based on answers to these indirect questions, Závecz claims that at  least two-thirds or even three-quarters of the secretive voters actually sympathize with the left.

Moving on to Medián, I’ll compare the still very sketchy outlines of this month’s results to Medián’s October figures. What we must keep in mind is that the October results reflect the situation before the October 23 mass meeting and the public demand there for unity among the forces on the left. The attendees wanted to broaden the arrangement Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy worked out to the exclusion of other parties and groupings. At that time Fidesz had a 36% share in the electorate as a whole and 52% among those who would definitely vote at the next elections as opposed to MSZP’s 14% and 21%. Együtt2014-PM still polled relatively well: 5% in the electorate as a whole and 7% among committed voters. DK at this point was weaker than E14-PM: 3% among all voters and 4% among committed voters.

red = the whole electorate;
black = those with a party preference;
orange = will definitely vote

And what is the situation today, after the mass demonstration?  Fidesz has a 34% share among all eligible voters and among the sure voters only 48%. That is a 2%/4% loss in one month. MSZP ticked up 2% in the electorate at large and remained unchanged among committed voters. E14-PM’s support eroded by 1%: last month’s 5% and 7% are 4% and 6% today. DK, on the other hand, as many people predicted, inched up and now matches Együtt2014-PM’s levels of support: 4% and 6%. If these numbers are more than a one-off, Gordon Bajnai who just the other day referred to those who were left out of the election agreement as small parties as opposed to his own might have to revise his estimate of the situation.

And this brings me to a couple of interviews György Bolgár conducted yesterday and today. Bolgár’s program lasts two hours and consists of a mixture of interviews and listener comments. Yesterday the whole first hour was devoted to a interview with Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. Their performances were disappointing. My own feelings were exactly the same as those of Zsófia Mihancsik and Ferenc Krémer in today’s Galamus. Mihancsik’s article was entitled “This way there is no hope,” and Krémer called his “Sadness.” Shall I say more?

Attila Mesterházy took an unyielding position, standing by the arrangement that E14-PM and MSZP worked out. All other parties, including DK that is by now as strong as E14, should be satisfied with their sorry lot and support the two of them. I wonder what Mesterházy will do if in a couple of months it turns out that E14’s support has eroded further while DK has again gained.

I strongly suggest that those who can handle Hungarian listen not only to the interviews but also to the comments that followed. It is strange that these opposition politicians refuse to heed the voice of the electorate. They didn’t believe that the demonstration for unity was genuine and now surely they will say that all listeners of Klubrádió are DK supporters. How long can that fiction be maintained?

The MSZP argument for excluding DK is their conviction that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket would take away more votes than it would bring in. However, a September survey, also by Medián, indicates that this is not the case. I wrote about this poll at length back in September. It is hard to figure out why Mesterházy clings to that, in my opinion, mistaken notion.

Today György Bolgár had a shorter interview with Klára Ungár, chairman of Szabad Emberek Magyarországért Liberális Párt or SZEMA, one of the three liberal groups. SZEMA’s support is immeasurably small.

I personally like Klára Ungár, but this interview highlighted the dysfunctions that pervaded SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége). The party fell apart because of internal squabbling, political differences, and personal animosities. Things haven’t changed since. It was clear from Ungár’s interview that she would refuse any cooperation with the other liberals, that is with Gábor Kuncze’s group and Gábor Fodor’s new liberal party. Ungár, who hasn’t been active in politics since 1998, feels very virtuous and insists that other SZDSZ politicians should not only admit responsibility for Viktor Orbán’s rise to power but should simply disappear from political life.

So, this is the situation at the moment. A change of strategy is desperately needed as soon as possible. But after listening to Bajnai and Mesterházy I see no possibility of such a change in the near future. Meanwhile time is running out.

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.

Two speeches, one message: Gábor Kuncze and Ferenc Gyurcsány

Below you’ll find two remarkable speeches that were delivered yesterday: the first by Gábor Kuncze, long-time chairman of the liberal SZDSZ, and the second by Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of the Democratic Coalition. Both men said almost the same thing, and they were not alone in their criticism of the arrangement worked out by Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt-2014-PM and MSZP. They were joined by three other politicians who have been active in Hungarian politics over the last twenty or so years.

These speeches preceded Attila Mesterházy’s speech, which signaled the close of the large meeting of those who oppose Viktor Orbán and his government. Thus, the crowd’s demand that Mesterházy embrace the cause of unity is understandable.

* * *

The speech of Gábor Kuncze: My friends! It is from this spot that in 1956 those youngsters began their march for freedom and did something for it. They did what their country demanded and with their action they were written into the annals of world history.

Viktor Orbán knows what he wants and he tells us often without trying to hide anything. In Kötcse, in Tusnádfürdő, and the last time in London. Power for twenty years, riches to the Fidesz political family. Obedience and blind faith. His faithful flock understands his speech.

Kuncze Gabor

Gábor Kuncze

Anyone who wants to put his own freedom into Orbán’s hands and his money into his pockets should vote for him. Anyone who is a political adolescent who wants to have a fatherly leader above him should vote for him.

There is nothing left to uncover about Orbán, and it is not worth wailing over his arrogant power play, over the legalized theft, over the humiliation of citizens, over the fraudulent election in Baja. One mustn’t moan but must do something. If we are stranded with the mafia government of Orbán it will be not his but our disgrace.

Yes, our disgrace because those who want what Orbán does are few but still enough. In vain are we more numerous; we are still few. More than half of the electorate wants to get rid of this government, yet today Fidesz would still win the election. Because the democratic forces at the moment are unfit for the realization of society’s expectations.

The collaboration of opposition forces today consists of divvying up the meager leftovers after an expected defeat. Their main concern is who will receive how many places on the solace lists of a common defeat. I don’t ask for a place on these lists either for myself or for my fellow liberals. Because this fight cannot be won by sharing the spoils under the guise of cooperation.

It is not cooperation when the most important consideration of the negotiating partners is that after the lost election they will be able to form a separate parliamentary caucus, even if only with a few people. As if they were fighting for separate graves on the grounds of a common cemetery.

We cannot allow that to go on because we would be betraying the Hungary of freedom, civic virtues, and solidarity.

Today many of us follow each other on the stage. This is a large step for the parties but a rather small one for the country. Let’s speak clearly at last and let’s not celebrate something that should have been done a year ago and which, in its present form, time has already passed by. What kind of tennis players are we to wait a year to return Fidesz’s serves?


• First of all: the election can be won only in the electoral districts. Therefore we must together find and support those candidates who have the best chance of winning. It is not enough to extort at the negotiating table electoral districts without strong candidates and without the appropriate organization. Beside every candidate’s name there must be the name of the common organization that will embody the collaborating parties.

• Second: there must be a common list because that makes the voter’s choice easier and that is what motivates them most. The question is not how many people want a change of government but how many people believe that change is possible. A common list also means a common list leader. If that cannot be achieved by the negotiating parties, we will have to think further. If you cannot achieve that on your own, the electorate will have to force your hand.

• Third: With the provisions of the new electoral law the government legalized the possibility of electoral fraud. Let us not have any illusion: if Fidesz needs it, they will commit fraud. Therefore, by the time of the election we must organize the widest possible monitoring system.

Failure to do everything possible for the recovery of our lost freedom would mean a betrayal of our compatriots. It is not enough to love freedom and democracy. One must want them and do something for them. My friends! We will not write world history as those young people did in 1956, but we are responsible for our children and we owe something to the memory of those heroes. We must also do what the homeland demands!

* * * 

The speech of Ferenc Gyurcsány:

Good day!

Seemingly I will speak of politics. But only seemingly. Because what I will be talking about first and foremost is morality.

A few days ago I may have met you personally on Szabadság Square. It was at that time that I said: “I will say straight out what others try to avoid. I take full responsibility for what others shirk from.”

There is no time for political maneuvering.  There is no time to tell only half-truths.

So, I will say again in plain language: if we continue this way we will lose next year’s election and with it the cause of freedom, the cause of the republic, the chance for advancement and a truly European existence.

Source: fel.hu / Photo Attila Szakonyi

Source: fel.hu / Photo Attila Szakonyi

I know Viktor Orbán. Twice I took part in a campaign that ended in his defeat. I know that Hungary today is led by a mendacious political scoundrel. We’ve said it already a hundred times, we’ve said it a thousand times but, tell me, how much better off are we by saying it one more time?

How far would that take us? After all, together we have already decided on the verdict: Orbán must go! We say that together with the voters who want change, and the voters are right. But while the majority wants to see Orbán gone, and this is also what the parties and movements of the opposition want, today our cause is languishing.

Why are we facing this situation?

Because in order to be victorious over Orbán, first and foremost we must conquer ourselves. Conquer our bad habits, our faintheartedness, dissension, and selfishness.

But the voters don’t say only this. They don’t say only—how does the slogan go?—Orbán, beat it! No, they don’t say only that. They also tell us how it can be done. They say it clearly, loudly, unreservedly that we, the parties, the movements, the supporters of the opposition, must unite. To unite not half-heartedly but tightly holding on to each other.

Orbán must be confronted with an unequivocal , united challenge. We need a unified bloc of opposition parties. In order to be victorious over Orbán we need a common program, a common candidate for prime minister, a common party list, and common candidates.

What stands in the way of a unified bloc?

Perhaps the machinations of the government? No!

The will of God? Of course not!

Perhaps some unavoidable legal pettifoggery? Not at all!

We ourselves are the impediments. Our acquiescence in the less instead of the adequate.

In the last analysis it is the lack of magnanimity, the inability to compromise, the selfishness, and the impenetrable personal ambition. For all this it is not Orbán who is responsible; we are.

We remember October 1956 as the great moment of the Hungarian people. A moment when the cause of the country was greater than fear, when patriots were ready to give their lives for the cause of freedom and victory over tyranny. But it is not enough to talk about those heroes. One must understand their example.

Today nobody has to die for his country. Today a great deal less would be sufficient. It would be enough to seriously think and seriously do everything that is possible to bring about the fall of Orbán, the defeat of tyranny.

The party I lead, the Democratic Coalition, is the most implacable opponent of Orbán. With us there is no bargain, no compromise, no arrangement. As chairman of this party, I will be working until next spring and even after for the creation of a Hungary of free citizens. To create a free, welcoming home from this homeland.

But let me speak clearly, firmly, and unequivocally: to talk about unity but not do anything about it is not enough. One mustn’t just talk about collaboration, one must create its preconditions. It is not enough to talk about collaboration; one must actually collaborate.

I say what others side step: I will do everything possible to remove all obstacles in the way of a strong, unified republican oppositional bloc. Because we must subordinate everything else to that goal.

So, I will be explicit!

The opposition needs one leader. Not two, not three, not eight but one. Only one. A leader who can unite all democrats, who can lead us to victory. Whoever is unable to do this, whose ambitions hinder an all-embracing cooperation, must rethink his role. There can be no compromise here. And if there is no solution forthcoming—let’s talk clearly—then a new leader must be asked to be the candidate for the post of premiership. Because the opposition needs a common leader! Not two, not three, not eight!

The opposition needs only one party list. Naturally, the political leaders nationwide want to be part of the legislature in order to represent the ideas in which they believe. And that’s how it should be. But if someone’s parliamentary ambitions prevents the setting up of a common list of the republican oppositional bloc, then that person must let someone else take his place. And let me speak clearly again: If I were such an obstacle—I believe that I’m not—but if I were, I would retire from the race.

Because I’m not fighting for a seat in parliament. I am fighting for victory. Not victory for me but for us, the citizens of democratic Hungary. And there shouldn’t be any misunderstanding: I will do everything in my power to reach that goal. If necessary I will plough up the country from left to right to offer an example of struggle, passion, straight and plain talk.

To conclude, as Gábor Kuncze, my friend and colleague, said: the republican opposition should have in every district only one common candidate. Today this is not the case. We must agree and we must be willing to withdraw our candidates in a proportional fashion. There is no other way and we in the Democratic Coalition are ready to do just that. Then you should be ready to do it as well! One mustn’t be selfish, one must be ready to sacrifice. The service of the country is paramount. At any price!

The negotiations mustn’t be closed, but must be opened up again! The new constitution was supposed to be cut in granite and yet by now they have amended it six times. They keep amending it because what is not democratic cannot be lasting. And the agreement our colleagues signed is not democratic, not lasting because it doesn’t satisfy the will of the democratic voters. Therefore, we must negotiate, negotiate, and at the end agree. The sooner the better. It might be tomorrow, but at the latest in the spring. We are ready.

And at the very end, in closing.

My dear friends. I’m not worried about the Democratic Coalition. We will be in the next Parliament. I should add that I’m not worried about myself because I—to the sorrow of some and I hope to the delight of many—will remain a politician and will lead my party to success.I’m worried about my homeland.

I would do anything to enable her to be free again and the home of hope and quietude.

I will fight for that.

For Hungary and for the Republic!

Opposition voters demand unity

I still can’t quite collect myself after seeing what happened this afternoon at the large street demonstration that was rather reluctantly organized to include all opposition groups. It was only yesterday that E14-PM and MSZP officially signed their exclusive agreement to jointly represent the united opposition. Originally, they planned to sign the document today, on the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956, but in the last minute there was a change of plans. Indeed, it would have been jarring if the agreement that excluded the other opposition parties and groups had been signed on the very day that solidarity among all the democratic forces was supposed to be on display.

Admittedly, if it had depended on E14-PM and MSZP, there would have been separate demonstrations once again, but Ferenc Gyurcsány upset the apple cart by writing to Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy suggesting common action. A whole week went by and no answer came. When a reporter asked Gyurcsány whether he had received a response he told him that he hadn’t but that he is a patient man. Eventually the E14-MSZP group obviously felt that they had to say yes. Rebuffing Gyurcsány’s initiative might have had negative consequences.

At this point E14-MSZP tried “to hide Gyurcsány,” as commentators noted, by inviting eight groups in all. Each group’s representative was allotted only five minutes to address the crowd. With such a tight schedule, it was hoped that Gyurcsány wouldn’t have the opportunity to show off his considerable oratorical skills.

Moreover, even though the organizers gave a nod to the notion of inclusiveness, they carefully avoided portraying the opposition parties and groups as one big happy family. For instance, the eight speakers were never together on the stage.

Observers charged that Bajnai and Mesterházy are as afraid of Gyurcsány as they are of Orbán, if not more so. I would describe the situation slightly differently. The MSZP leadership may be afraid of Gyurcsány, but–more critically–they loathe him. One cannot be terribly surprised at their reaction because, after all, it was Gyurcsány who, after failing to “reform” his party, left MSZP and took along with him nine other men and women, including some former ministers and undersecretaries. It was thus that DK came into being.

E14-PM has more reason to be afraid of him because while Bajnai’s party is steadily losing voters, DK is steadily gaining. According to the latest Századvég poll, the two parties are neck to neck, each with a projected 5% of the votes. And while this 5% would be enough for DK to become a parliamentary party, E14-PM is a “party alliance” (pártszövetség) that needs 10% to qualify. A few days ago there was some vague talk about changing their status, with PM joining E14, but in the last moment PM decided that the ideological divide was simply too great. Indeed, PM is a left-wing green party while E14 is trying to move closer to the center.

It was under these circumstances that the mass demonstration took place today. Considering that the opposition parties and groups don’t have the kind of money Fidesz has at its disposal and therefore cannot pay their “supporters” to come from as far as Transylvania and the Voivodina, the crowd was still impressive. There were thousands of red MSZP flags, a few Együtt14-PM signs, and many DK signs. Some people came from the provinces on their own money since there were no buses bringing them to the capital as was the case for the enormous Fidesz crowd that gathered on Heroes’ Square.

And now I will jump ahead a bit and backtrack later. What stunned me was that the crowd almost prevented Attila Mesterházy, the last speaker, from even beginning his speech. Eventually he managed to read his prepared text, but what he said was often difficult to decipher because all through the speech the crowd chanted “Unity! Unity!”–sometimes drowning him out. It was a clear indication that the voters on the left reject the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement. If I had been Mesterházy, I would have thrown out the speech, called all the leaders of the opposition who were present to the stage, held their hands high and said, “Yes, we understand what you want! Let’s go together. One party list, one candidate for prime minister, and then we will really win. We will work it out.”

But it seems that this is not the course that either Mesterházy or the party leadership is ready to embrace. They blame the opposition leaders, specifically Gábor Kuncze (Szabadelvű Polgári Egyesület, formerly chairman of SZDSZ) , Gábor Fodor (Magyar Liberális Párt, formerly SZDSZ chairman), Lajos Bokros (Magyarország Mozgalom, formerly MDF), and Ferenc Gyurcsány (Magyar Demokratikus Koalíció) for delivering speeches that urged unity. I heard and read comments to the effect that “Ferenc Gyurcsány hacked the demonstration.” As if it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who hired the crowd to silence Mesterházy in the name of unity.

2013 oktober 23

Source: Népszabadság / Photo by Árpád Kurucz

I’m almost certain that there was no such plan. I happen to receive all the material DK sends out to its members and supporters. Ferenc Gyurcsány urged his followers to come in great numbers, to bring DK signs, and if they come from other parts of the country to bring along signs indicating where they are from. That was all. There were lots of red MSZP flags too, and it looked to me as if many of the people holding them were also demanding unity. It wasn’t an exclusively DK lot that “hacked” Mesterházy’s speech. And if the MSZP leaders want to convince themselves of the opposite they are doing themselves a disfavor.

In the last half hour or so I received the texts of Gábor Kuncze’s and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speeches, which I will translate tonight and post for you. I also liked Lajos Bokros’s speech very much. Even Gábor Fodor, who wasn’t my favorite in the dying days of SZDSZ, did a good job. The common theme was indeed unity as it should have been. Without unity there really is no hope against Viktor Orbán, who is already working on his “battle array” and whose soldiers stand in readiness, as he indicated in his speech. Note that Gábor Kuncze is ready to join the opposition forces without any precondition. The situation is the same with Lajos Bokros. Ferenc Gyurcsány’s story is different, but he has an ever stronger party behind him who certainly would like to have a piece of the pie.

I really wonder whether, despite all the MSZP protestations to the contrary, cooler heads will eventually prevail and the self-defeating arrangement signed yesterday will be scrapped.

Is the Demokratikus Koalíció a liberal party?

A few days ago Gábor Fodor announced that he will establish a new party called Magyar Liberális Párt. SZDSZ is no more, he declared, and it mustn’t happen that Hungary has no liberal party.

I’m not familiar with the personal relationships among SZDSZ politicians, but former colleagues who once sat in the same parliamentary caucus hardly speak to and refuse to cooperate with one another. Although the various splinter groups have divergent ideas, they seem to have one thing in common: nobody wants anything to do with Gábor Fodor.

As for the existence of a liberal party in Hungary, I propose that there already is one. It is called Demokratikus Koalíció. I venture to say that the bulk of DK voters and party members come from former SZDSZ supporters and/or members. This is only a hunch, but I suspect that a public opinion poll that would tease out the correlation between former SZDSZ and current DK followers would lend credence to my contention.

At least two well-known SZDSZ politicians are on board in DK: Tamás Bauer and Mátyás Eörsi. Both were founders of SZDSZ and both served as members of parliament. Eörsi between 1990 and 2010 and Bauer between 1994 and 2002. Bauer is an economist while Eörsi has a law degree.

liberalism by brexians flickr

Liberalism by brexians / Flickr

Here I would like to summarize an article by Tamás Bauer that appeared yesterday in Galamus. The title of the piece is “Someone who can’t stop attacking Gyurcsány” (Aki a gyurcsányozást nem bírja abbahagyni). Even from the title it is evident that Bauer is coming to the defense of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The great virtue of the article, however, is that Bauer is thoroughly familiar with the details of behind-the-scenes party politics  about which we outsiders know practically nothing.

Bauer’s article is an answer to an opinion piece by András Böhm, an SZDSZ member of parliament between 2002 and 2010, in HVG entitled “The One Who Cannot Stop” (Aki nem bírja abbahagyni). Böhm maintains that Gyurcsány’s political activity turns away hundreds of thousands of voters from the democratic opposition. Böhm made a long list of  political blunders committed by Ferenc Gyurcsány, from the “tax burlesque” of 2006 to his resignation in 2009 that, in Böhm’s opinion, was too late. In the article Böhm makes Gyurcsány solely responsible for the two-thirds majority victory of Viktor Orbán. Or at least this is how Tamás Bauer interpreted the article.

Bauer finds this argument more than odd, especially coming from someone who became a member of parliament in 2002. At that time the new parliamentary majority, instead of correcting the economic mistakes of the first Orbán government, added to the problems with Péter Medgyessy’s two 100-day programs that further increased the deficit. András Böhm, as an SZDSZ member of parliament, voted for all these government programs.

As for the “tax burlesque” of 2006, Gábor Kuncze, chairman of SZDSZ at the time, tried to convince the SZDSZ caucus to give up the idea of decreasing the personal income tax burden as well as the VAT, but Kuncze’s effort was in vain. The majority of the SZDSZ delegation insisted on the decrease. Gyurcsány apparently did the same during his negotiations with the board (elnökség) of MSZP. He got nowhere. Gyurcsány “had to deliver the speech in Balatonőszöd to convince his fellow socialists” to agree to change course. In addition to a mistaken economic policy, political corruption was another reason for the failure of the socialist-liberal governments. Again it was only Ferenc Gyurcsány, says Bauer, who fought for transparent party financing. After he failed, he left MSZP in October 2011 to establish a new party, the Demokratikus Koalíció.

According to Bauer, Böhm’s only concern is what Gyurcsány did or didn’t do between 2004 and 2009. He pays no attention to what the Demokratikus Koalíció is doing today in Hungarian politics. The question is whether DK has a role to play on the Hungarian political spectrum. According to Bauer, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bauer reminds Böhm that SZDSZ was the only party that refused to vote for the so-called “status law” that would have provided Hungarians living in the neighboring countries special privileges inside of Hungary. The members of SZDSZ’s parliamentary caucus were the only MPs who refused to vote for a resolution condemning Slovakia in connection with the language law and its treatment of President László Sólyom.

It is DK that is continuing this tradition when it comes to policies concerning Hungarian minorities. After 2010 both the MSZP and the LMP caucus voted for dual citizenship, with the exception of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Today DK is the only party that continues the former policies of SZDSZ when it comes to the Hungarian minorities. Citizenship yes, voting rights no.

It was during the 2006 campaign that Viktor Orbán first came up with the idea of decreasing the price of natural gas. MSZP tried to outdo him and promised even greater decreases. It was only SZDSZ that refused to follow suit. Today MSZP promised support for the government’s decision to lower utility costs. DK is against the measure.

In 2008, on MDF’s insistence, MSZP voted to repeal the inheritance tax; SZDSZ had the courage to vote against the measure. Today DK’s party program spells out its insistence on reinstating inheritance taxes on estates over 20 million forints. Bauer points out that today MSZP is talking about absolutely free higher education; it is only DK that is calling for tuition fees across the board combined with financial assistance for the needy. Once upon a time it was only SZDSZ that wanted to renegotiate the agreement between Gyula Horn and the Vatican. Today it is part of DK’s party program.

All in all, in Bauer’s opinion, DK is the only party representing a liberal economic policy, liberal legal thinking, liberal higher education, liberal national policy (magyarságpolitika), and liberal policies concerning church and state. There is no other party among the opposition groups that represents these ideals.

Bauer concludes his article by saying that it is not enough to win the elections. It is also important to know what kind of Hungary will be created after the victory. And in that new Hungary one must have a party that represents “these liberal values that neither MSZP nor Együtt14 is ready to stand behind.”