Gordon Bajnai

Sloppy Hungarian journalism misleads the public

It was at the beginning of January that Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, first mentioned rather casually in a television interview that he might release some of the secret service documents related to the leak of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary delegation after their electoral victory in 2006.

Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with what happened. The newly reelected prime minister rather irresponsibly made a speech in front of almost 300 people that was sprinkled with obscenities and that contained passages which, if taken out of context, could be very damaging. Of course, the speech was leaked. Fidesz, then in opposition, picked out the most damaging couple of sentences from the fairly long speech (almost 18,000 words) and passed them on to the president of Magyar Rádió. The rest is history. Football hooligans attacked Magyar Televízió and another round of riots, fueled by Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians, occurred a month later on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Ferenc Gyurcsány became damaged goods.

Ever since that time wild speculations have been circulating about who leaked the speech. The most authoritative person in this case, Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, said several times in the last couple of years that there is strong indirect evidence that points to three prominent MSZP members. However, he refuses to divulge the names because he is–as he stated tonight on ATV–only 97% sure that the three people whom he has in mind are actually the ones who turned against their party’s chairman and their prime minister.

And now comes the latest incarnation of this rather tired story. Naturally, it is being resurrected with the national election in mind. Viktor Orbán will never forget what happened to him in 2002 when most opinion polls showed Fidesz about 10% ahead of the opposition parties–and yet he lost. This time Fidesz  is pulling out all the stops, which includes calling attention again to the Gyurcsány speech from 2006. But this time with a twist. The couple of documents Pintér released are only part of the pertinent material. He has not released the most important final report that, according to Gyurcsány and Bajnai, concluded that the Hungarian secret service agents who investigated the case didn’t have a clue who leaked the tape of the speech and in exactly what way it ended up in Fidesz hands.

The two documents are available on the website of the renamed secret service agency that originally investigated the case. One is pretty straightforward and contains nothing new. The second one is a summary report (összefoglaló jelentés) not of the investigation of the leak but of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who three years later, in 2009, died in Bolivia where he wanted to foment a revolution against the Bolivian government. The report concludes that Rózsa-Flores was a right-wing extremist who was an opponent of the MSZP-SZDSZ government. Although the report is for the most part simply a collection of generalities about Flores’s politics, it touches on the question of the leaked speech. During a conversation with an undercover agent Flores gave details of how he ended up receiving the tape of the prime minister’s speech which he then passed on to Fidesz politicians. It was Flores’s theory that the leak was organized with the knowledge and blessing of Ferenc Gyurcsány who by creating a scandal wanted to divert attention away from the country’s grave economic situation. In brief, what the agents learned from Flores was no more than speculation. A wacky hypothesis offered by someone who couldn’t possibly know the details of the leak.

So, let’s see how the Hungarian media handled the news, starting with Népszabadság. It is normally one of the more reliable newspapers in Hungary, but this time I was amazed at the sloppiness of Gy. Attila Fekete. The headline reads: “Őszöd: Here is the secret service report.” That is really misleading because the “meat” of the story, Gyurcsány’s alleged role in leaking his own speech, is not in the interim report on Őszöd but in the final report on Rózsa-Flores whose surveillance came to an end when he was brutally killed in a hotel room in Bolivia. A brief editorial in the paper is to my mind outrageous. If this is all true, says the editorial, “we just shudder. We can barely comprehend it.” On the other hand, “if the story is not true then we have every reason to feel totally lost in our own country.” At this point I’m the one who is totally lost. What does this mumble jumble mean? Finally, the editors call on Gyurcsány to divulge who leaked the speech. “He indicated several times that he knows what happened. He must tell.”

journalism

Moreover, the great journalists at Népszabadság seem to think that the investigation of Őszöd ended on July 27 2009 and that all the information contained in the final report on Flores has been kept secret for four and a half years. This “final report” was written because Rózsa Flores was killed in Bolivia and therefore his surveillance ended. Őszöd was an entirely different matter; we still haven’t seen the secret service’s final report on the leak which was written in December 2009. Viktor Orbán for very good reason didn’t want to release that document: it contains nothing about either the culprits responsible for the leak or about Gyurcsány’s alleged complicity.

It’s no wonder that Klára Dobrev, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s wife, had some harsh words for Népszabadság. The editors didn’t check the facts; they didn’t question; they presented lies as facts. Népszabadság, according to Klára Dobrev, even managed to outdo Magyar Nemzet. “My friends, I believe that we have one fewer independent newspaper.” She thinks that the shift is due to the paper’s change in ownership. Heinrich Pecina, an Austrian businessman, acquired a majority stake in the paper. In an interview with Márton Galambos and Irén Hermann of Forbes he expressed his admiration for Viktor Orbán’s leadership, without which, in his opinion, Hungary would have ended up like Greece.

All the other online sites pretty much repeated as fact Rózsa-Flores’s theory. As Zsófia Mihancsik pointed out, it was only Origo that gave an accurate description of the two documents released by Sándor Pintér. Origo called Flores’s claim “a bombastic theory.” But since most online sites copy from each other, one can be sure that all the wrong conclusions will be reached regardless of what anyone says. For example, Gordon Bajnai who saw all the reports, including the unpublished final one, announced on his own website that the two released documents try to lead the public to wrong conclusions. Moreover, he claims, the present government deleted information even from these less relevant documents that would reflect badly on Fidesz politicians. He considers this latest Fidesz trick a manipulation of the election which he “finds illegal and unacceptable.” Since then, Gyurcsány gave his side of the story. One thing is sure: only facts can prove someone innocent or guilty and in these documents there is nothing that would prove that Rózsa-Flores’s theory has any merit whatsoever.

Fair election? Not a chance

I think it’s time to talk again about the forthcoming election. Or, to be more precise, about the possibility that the current laws and rules and regulations will preclude a fair election. Senator John McCain might talk about international monitoring and Viktor Orbán might gladly agree: no observers will ever find anything wrong in and around the voting stations. The government prepared everything way ahead of time to ensure an almost certain victory for Fidesz. This election, as things now stand, cannot be fair.

One can start with the redrawing of the boundaries of the electoral districts which made sure that earlier socialist strongholds were diluted with areas that vote overwhelmingly for Fidesz. The new electoral system favors the monolithic, highly centralized Fidesz as opposed to the smaller parties of divergent political views that were forced to cooperate in order to have a chance. Then there is the generous government support for any candidate who collects a few hundred signatures to run in the next election. At last count there are 45 such parties already registered with the National Election Committee. Admittedly, these phony parties will take away only a few hundred votes, but in districts where the election is close between Fidesz and Összefogás (Unity) they may help the governing party.

And let’s not forget about the “foreign” vote, especially from Transylvania and Serbia. These new citizens can easily cast their ballots even by mail while the half a million Hungarian citizens by birth who are living abroad cannot do the same. The former are mostly Fidesz supporters while the recent emigrants are a more varied lot politically. Perhaps even the majority  of emigrants would vote against the current government because of their experiences at home which prompted them to leave. And let’s not forget about the Roma population which the government is planning to disenfranchise by urging them to register as members of a minority, an option that would allow them to vote only for the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (National Gypsy Self-government), an arm of Fidesz.

But this list is nothing in comparison to some of the amendments and local ordinances that seem to be issued every time one turns around. From the start, campaigning was severely limited. For example, commercial television stations couldn’t  show political ads and on the public television stations they were greatly restricted. After pressure from the European Union, the Orbán government “generously” changed the rules: commercial stations could air ads but couldn’t charge for them. The European Union was satisfied. This is one of those occasions when one understands Victoria Nuland’s sentiments. How could they ever agree to this “compromise”? I don’t think that it will come as a great surprise that the commercial stations are not exactly rushing to offer their services. Why should they? Not only would they receive nothing for airing these ads but they would incur the wrath of a vengeful Fidesz.

Then came more restrictions on advertising on streets. In previous years smaller posters carrying the pictures and slogans of candidates could be affixed to electric poles, but now that practice is forbidden. Candidates can still put up huge billboards but again the number of surfaces has been greatly reduced, especially in Budapest where the Fidesz-dominated leadership approved a new ordinance regulating the posting of ads. Even if the opposition parties have the money they will have difficulty making themselves visible. As someone jokingly said, perhaps Összefogás (Unity) will put up posters in apartment staircases because the government and the Budapest city council haven’t yet thought about making them off limits.

And now comes the really clever move. While “political parties” find that their opportunities to advertise their program and their candidates are severely restricted, none of the restrictions apply to “civic organizations.” In reality, we should really talk about only one such organization: CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fóruma). Earlier I wrote about CÖF, an organization that came into prominence about a year ago when the first Peace March took place. The organization of these peace marches must have cost an incredible amount of money, which CÖF cannot account for. It is almost 100% certain that CÖF, through some intermediary, receives its entire budget of millions if not billions from the government. Civic organizations can advertise anywhere at any time. Even before the official election campaign begins, when theoretically at least no campaigning is permitted. In the last few months CÖF has launched two large campaigns. First, against Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány and, second, against Unity. They put up huge display ads everywhere, including the sides of city buses. Their latest move is campaign literature mailed to every Hungarian household (4 million) in which CÖF tells the voters why the “Gyurcsány coalition” shouldn’t have a second chance.

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

The final straw in this series of discriminatory practices was the news yesterday that the government’s slogan “Magyarország jobban teljesít” (Hungary is performing better), with which they plastered the whole country, from here on will be the slogan of Fidesz. The Hungarian government generously allowed the governing party to use its own campaign slogan. Actually, by today the story changed somewhat. According to the latest information, the Fidesz parliamentary delegation paid 200,000 forints (650 euros) for the right to use the slogan in an agreement with the Prime Minister’s Office signed in August 2013. In October the Prime Minister’s Office made a similar deal with Fidesz as a party, but the party didn’t have to pay anything. “Unity” is planning to go to court over this arrangement.

All in all, Fidesz will not have to pay much for its election campaign this year. The taxpayers will foot the bill for CÖF as well as for the slogan by which the Orbán government advertised its own fantastic accomplishments. The slogan, logo, and poster cost the taxpayers 150 million. This figure doesn’t include the fees the government paid for placing the self-congratulatory ad in newspapers and on Internet sites.

So, this is the situation at the moment. The reader can decide how fair an election we can expect on April 6.

Corruption and conflict of interest in Hungarian politics

Although Medián came out with a new poll on voters’ party preferences, it tells us practically nothing new. Fidesz is still leading and the united opposition has no more support than before even though a majority of people would like a change of government.

So let’s move on to two embarrassing cases, both involving leading MSZP politicians. The first is the easier to deal with. Gábor Simon, one of the deputy chairmen of the party, is accused of having two bank accounts, totaling €700,000, in an Austrian bank which he didn’t reveal in his financial statement. At the time Simon deposited the money he told the bank officials that the money was acquired by selling a piece of real estate and a firm he owned. The problem is that Simon didn’t own or sell any real estate or a company.

It was only on Monday that Magyar Nemzet published this explosive story, the timing of which was most unfortunate for MSZP. Attila Mesterházy, József Tóbiás, and Csaba Horváth are currently in the United States, but word already reached Budapest that Simon must give up all his important positions within the party. Simon, realizing his untenable position, “suspended his party membership.” A few days ago he was still a candidate in electoral district XIII, but according to rumors Ágnes Kunhalmi will run there in his stead.

Up to this point one could say that Simon was a bad apple and MSZP an innocent victim, but the situation is a bit more complicated. The prosecutor’s office has been investigating Gábor Simon in another case ever since last March. This particular case involved little money, only 300,000 forints. But his immunity was suspended despite MSZP’s protestations in committee. Although the two cases are not connected, the MSZP leadership should have been more cautious early on and not just say that it was a baseless accusation against one of the leading politicians of MSZP.

Apparently Simon’s downfall was caused by his wife, whom he divorced recently. (One has to be careful with estranged wives. Just think of the former wife of Attila Szász, Aranka, who spilled the beans about Viktor Orbán’s questionable business deals in Tokaj.)

The second case is a great deal more complicated. It involves István Józsa, an important MSZP politician who is the energy expert of the party. The background is as follows. Fidesz desperately wants to prove that MSZP always wanted to build one or two more reactors in Paks and that they also wanted to use Rosatom and Russian technology. This is what, they contend, Gyurcsány, Bajnai, and Mesterházy said before 2010, but now that the Orbán government made this fabulous deal with the Russians they are suddenly against it. Yesterday Fidesz came out with another “discovery.” István Józsa, who had a 42% share in a company called Gépkar Kft., received 6.6 billion forints worth of orders from Paks between 2000 and 2010. The Fidesz politician György Balla charged that Józsa’s opinions on Paks changed with his financial interests. Before 2010 he was for building the new reactors but now he is against it.

Józsa, who gave an interview to Hír24 on the fly in one of the many corridors of the parliament building, sees nothing wrong with his company getting work from the state-owned Paks nuclear plant. He pointed out that in 2002 when he became a member of parliament he withdrew from the actual management of the company. The company got the bulk of its orders from Paks between 2000 and 2002 when Fidesz was in power. Moreover, the sum of 6.6 billion forints in ten years may sound like a lot of money but anyone who is familiar with this industry knows that it is not considered to be a large amount. In 2010 they sold the company because they no longer got any orders. Zsolt Nyerges, a close business partner of Lajos Simicska, made their situation untenable. The man who bought the company eventually went bankrupt; under the circumstances the business was no longer viable.

ethics

The reporter inquired from Józsa several times whether selling his stake in the company wouldn’t have been more appropriate once he became an MP, but the politician indignantly refused the suggestion. He is upright man; he had nothing to hide; he didn’t do anything illegal; the company received work from Paks through competitive bidding. He doesn’t understand what’s wrong. I fear Józsa is not the only one who seems to be unable to grasp the inappropriateness of such arrangements.

On this score one could congratulate the Orbán government’s decision to forbid outside business or professional activities for members of parliament. However, as we know, in the political structure Viktor Orbán set up members of parliament are not the ones who truly matter. Fidesz MPs currently function as puppets or robots and most likely will do so in the future as well. The money and power are elsewhere, in the financial and economic circle of oligarchs around Viktor Orbán. They are the ones who matter.

Tomorrow I will investigate a case involving close friends of the prime minister in one of the shadiest business dealings of late.

American-Hungarian relations and John McCain’s visit to Budapest

It was a week ago that Gergely Gulyás, the young rising star of Fidesz, attacked the American ambassador designate, Colleen Bell, accusing her of bias against the current Hungarian government. At that time I pointed out that without Viktor Orbán’s approval or perhaps even instructions the open letter Gulyás published could never have appeared. Now, in light of the recent visit of Senator John McCain to the Hungarian capital, a fuller picture emerges about the circumstances of that letter.

The public learned only on January 30 that Senator McCain will be spending a day in Budapest. He came not alone but as part of a nine-member bipartisan delegation consisting of three senators and six congressmen.

Surely, the Hungarian government must have known for some time about the impending visit of the American delegation. I venture to say that they knew about it before January 22 when Gulyás published his outrageous letter accusing Colleen Bell of partiality toward the opposition. Those Fidesz politicians who watched the video of the Senate hearing realized that the Republican McCain had a rather low opinion of the ambassadors Barack Obama proposed and may therefore have thought that an attack on Bell would yield brownie points with McCain. If that was the case, it was based on a total misunderstanding of American politics. Sure, at home McCain will show his dissatisfaction with Obama’s choices, but in Budapest he will not cozy up to Viktor Orbán just because he thinks that Bell knows nothing about Hungary or diplomacy. He will follow American foreign policy toward Hungary, which is currently very critical.

A day before the visit of the American delegation János Lázár continued the attacks on the United States in connection with the electronic listening devices that were most likely used on Hungarian citizens as well. Here they found themselves in a strong position. All of Europe is up in arms over the facts disclosed by Edward Snowden, and the decision was most likely made at the highest level that this topic could be used effectively against McCain during the talks. Another miscalculation. McCain didn’t apologize but instead emphasized that surveillance is necessary in the face of terrorism. They will be more selective in the application of these devices in the future. Period.

Meanwhile the parliamentary committee investigating American surveillance held its first meeting on January 30.  In addition to the official members, János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and János Martonyi, foreign minister, were also present. By the way, the so-called “moderate” János Martonyi, the favorite of former American ambassadors, also condemned Colleen Bell’s testimony as if he were not aware that Bell didn’t express her own opinions but simply presented the official position of the United States government. Pintér promptly made the proceedings secret while Martonyi announced that the topic of surveillance will “remain on the agenda,” adding that “it will take a long time to repair the trust that is so important between allies and friends.” János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.” All in all, the Orbán government was ready to receive John McCain in full armor. Lázár also said at the press conference after the meeting that the new ambassador “will have to appear before the parliamentary committee,” something that will surely not happen. Máté Kocsis, the youthful chairman of the committee, went even further. He wants to see Edward Snowden himself in Budapest to answer the committee’s questions.

It was only on Thursday that McCain’s impending visit leaked out. The Hungarian media was convinced that the chief topic of the conversations would be Ukraine. The newspapers recalled that McCain had visited that country in December, but they really couldn’t give any reasonable explanation why Hungary would be that important in connection with the crisis in Ukraine other than having about 200,000 co-nationals living in its subcarpathian region who at the moment don’t seem to be threatened. What we learned afterwards was that Viktor Orbán “informed the American delegation of the V4 [Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary] discussion on the situation in Kiev.” So, Ukraine was not at the center of the discussions.

McCain

So, let’s see what McCain himself had to say about his time in Budapest. Besides the usual round of praise for the faithful ally, he stated that “we understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious…. The United States and the rest of the free world have an abiding interest in Hungary’s continued development as a strong, inclusive, and tolerant democracy, with a free market economy, an independent judiciary, and a free media.” During the conversations “we also expressed our hope that Hungary will address its energy security needs in ways that further diversify Europe’s supply of energy.” To translate all that into plain English, McCain criticized the state of democracy in Orbán’s Hungary and also must have shared his concerns over Hungary’s sole reliance on Russian energy sources, especially now that Orbán seems to have committed Hungary to Russia in building two new reactors on borrowed money.

From other Hungarian sources it became clear that the forthcoming election was also discussed. McCain must have expressed his worries about the fairness of the election because apparently Orbán readily agreed to have international observers. McCain was also worried about the lack of transparency in the negotiations with the Russians concerning Paks. And at this point I’m not at all sure that McCain knew that all the financial details of the Paks negotiations have already been made secret for years to come.

McCain and the others present were familiar with the memorial to be erected on Szabadság tér. They even talked about anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Democratic congressman from Florida, Ted Deutch, told Orbán that he must be sure that the monument will not be used “to whitewash history.” Apparently, Viktor Orbán gave his word, but unfortunately we know how much his word is worth.

The American delegation met Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Benedek Jávor, and Gábor Fodor. I assume that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not present because in 2007-2008 he was accused by the Americans, with help from Viktor Orbán who was then in his anti-Russian mode, of being a great friend of Vladimir Putin.

Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap, the government’s mouthpieces, have for some time been publishing articles with a sharp anti-American edge, but since the Orbán government decided to take on the American government through an attack on Colleen Bell the articles and opinion pieces written in these two organs have become outright vicious.

Magyar Nemzet after the official meeting  made a flippant remark about “the former presidential candidate who suddenly had an attack of worry for Hungarian democracy.” István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Magyar Nemzet entitled “At last,” in which he expressed his delight that at last Hungary is hitting back: “Goodbye servitude, goodbye hopelessness.” Magyar Hírlap just today published four articles on American-Hungarian relations where they talk about John McCain as “a somebody called McCain, … a loud American” who lectures Hungarians about democracy and who “worries himself sick” over undemocratic Hungary. Hungarians are bored with all that talk about checks and balances they keep repeating. A few weeks ago an article in Magyar Hírlap described the oft repeated phrase “checks and balances” as American whining (nyivákolás).

I’m pretty sure that this fierce anti-American rhetoric is popular in certain circles in Hungary, but I have to believe that it will have very adverse effects on both the diplomatic and the economic relations between Hungary and the United States.

The Russian view of Paks; the right-wing rant on the united opposition

I’m staying with yesterday’s topics: Russian-Hungarian relations and the most important domestic development, the new united opposition. But with a difference. In the case of the Russian-Hungarian understanding, I will take a look at Russian reactions. How does the Russian media view these developments? As far as the gathering of the opposition forces is concerned, I will share some excerpts from the right-wing press, especially Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap.

I was initially skeptical that whatever Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán signed the other day would be more advantageous to Hungary than to Russia, or even equally advantageous. And not just in economic terms. But I became truly concerned this morning when I saw a Hungarian translation of a Russian article that appeared in the well-known Russian daily, Kommersant. The author of the article, Andrei Kolesnikov, called attention to Viktor Orbán’s eagerness to please his Russian partners. The reporter pointed out that the Hungarian prime minister volunteered the information right after the ceremonies were over that Hungary will fulfill all its obligations as far as the Southern Stream project is concerned. There is no formal connection between the agreement signed on the Paks nuclear power plant and the Southern Stream project, and therefore mentioning the controversial arrangement was not at all necessary. Orbán’s reference to the pipeline could serve only one purpose: to make it clear that regardless of EU objections Hungary will go through with the project. He is ready to engage in another fight with the bureaucrats in Brussels, this time over the Russian pipeline.

I became curious about other Russian media reactions and found an incredible number of articles. In addition, I was lucky enough to catch a radio interview with Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a historian of present-day Russia, whom I consider one of the most reliable and knowledgeable students of Putin’s Russia. According to him, Viktor Orbán’s visit was the leading news item on the Russian state television station. Hungary was hailed as “the most independent country in the European Union.” Long opinion pieces appeared about Orbán, who was described as “the ally of Putin within the European Union.” One article’s headline hailed the agreement as a great victory for Russia because, after all, now “Eurasia is at the Danube.” According to another analysis, this Russian-Hungarian agreement is more than an economic act; it is a kind of political alliance. Another reporter described the event thus: “We already bought Ukraine, and now we are buying Hungary.” The goal of Russia, according to Sz. Bíró, is to have an ally inside of the Union, to whom under certain circumstances Russia can turn. To have a country that can be the spokesman for Russia in Brussels.

Of course, there are also critical voices concerning the Russian-Hungarian deal, mostly in the relatively small independent media. Critics don’t understand why Russia has to spend billions and billions when the Russian economy has slowed considerably in the last few years. It was not too many years ago that the Russian GDP grew 6-7% a year. Today, if all goes well, that figure will be 1.4%.

Although we have no idea what interest rate Hungary will have to pay on the loan, apparently the Russian finance minister already indicated that it has to be high enough to equal the interest rate at which Russia would be able to borrow in the market. This would indicate that the interest rate will not be as low as János Lázár would like us to believe.

Today’s Russia is a politically much more oppressive country than it was before the 2011-2012 elections. The election was rigged, the urban middle classes are increasingly dissatisfied with the regime, and in turn the government is clamping down more and more. To have such a close relationship with Putin’s Russia is anything but wise. Andrei Kolesnikov in his article in Kommersant called attention to the similarities between Putin and Orbán: “the Soviet gene is alive in both of them, whether they like it or not,” which makes them kindred souls.

And as long as we’re on the theme of “the Soviet gene,” perhaps it might interest you to know that Ágnes Seszták, who is a regular contributor of opinion pieces to Magyar Nemzet, began her article about the new five-party alliance this way: “The chartered train arrived which brought Comrade Rákosi, Comrade Gerő, and Mihály Farkas to the podium. Comrade Révai is ill-disposed but he will join the group. Oh, what am I talking about? This is not that age. This is the team of today.” The reference was to the joint appearance of Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor on ATV. Gordon Bajnai was invited but couldn’t attend. This is how the right-wing propagandists assist the Orbán government’s efforts to equate the present-day socialists and liberals with the the worst figures of the Rákosi regime.

As the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and the liberals

The way the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and liberals

Another regular, Miklós Ugró, called the left-center gathering “the little nincompoops” (kis idétlen). I guess that is better than comparing it to the Rákosi-Gerő-Farkas-Révai quartet, but Ugró couldn’t resist calling these politicians comrades who “loathe each other”(rühellik egymást). And the style doesn’t get any more acceptable as he goes on. He mentions “the few political traveling salesmen [vigéc] who betrayed LMP.” Solidarity is “a collection of rowdies [tahók].” And his final word is that this team is nothing but the “reconvening of the old MSZP” that naturally ruined the country and would again if given the opportunity.

Zsolt Bayer in Magyar Hírlap also accuses the socialists of all sorts of sins.  They still consider György Lukács and Oszkár Jászi their intellectual heritage–a murderer and a traitor. They dare to adore Béla Kun and the other commissars, although only in secret.  But their real idol is Kádár. As for Gyurcsány, he is “the greatest, the vilest, the most disgusting crook of the regime change.” Yet, the pro-government forces and voters shouldn’t think that Gyurcsány’s presence will take votes away from the present left-of-center alliance. No, he will bring votes “because they are like that.” Thus, the right has to fight doubly hard to win this election because if “the socialists lose in April, they are really finished. For ever and for good.”

Bayer could have given Attila Mesterházy sound advice. If he had decided not to get together with the others and MSZP had run alone at the next election, he would have had a chance to be prime minister in 2018. “But this way he will disappear with the rest of the crooks. Forever!”

Viktor Orbán looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and was reassured

Yesterday, given the very crowded news day, I had  neither time nor space to discuss an article by Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság about some of the details of the negotiations between Russia and Hungary over the Paks nuclear plant. What you have to know about Csuhaj is that she seems to have fantastic connections to important Fidesz and government officials and usually comes up with impressive “scoops.”

As we discussed in the comments, information coming from these circles cannot always be trusted and, in fact, one suspects that some of the leaks that reach Csuhaj might be purposely planted in the leading left-of-center paper. In any case, Csuhaj received lots of information about the Paks deal from her unnamed sources. Some of the information sounds entirely plausible. For example, that the plan to have the Russians build the extension to the power plant was first discussed in January 2013 during Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow.

I don’t know whether any of you remember, but the opposition belittled the significance of the meeting last January and pointed to the extremely short duration of the visit. The left media drew the conclusion that Viktor Orbán offered himself to Vladimir Putin but the president of Russia wasn’t interested. In brief, the meeting was no more than a courtesy visit. Today we know that during that visit Orbán got an offer of Russian collaboration on the Paks project. Apparently he pondered the issue for a few months and by the summer made the decision to go ahead. In mid-summer serious negotiations began, which continued all the way to the last days of December.

According to Ildikó Csuhaj’s source, what inspired the Orbán government to add two extra reactors to the existing plant was its desire to achieve sustainable economic growth. Building such a large project, especially if the story is true that 40% of the work will be done by Hungarian companies, will be a stimulus to employment and will give impetus to faster growth.

So far the story sounds plausible, but what comes after that must be taken with a grain of salt. According to the Fidesz story, Viktor Orbán began making inquiries at large German industrial concerns. Apparently, negotiations were conducted with RWE AG, the second largest utility company in Germany, and Deutsche Telekom. On the basis of these conversations, according to the Fidesz source, Orbán came to the conclusion that what German industry will need in the future is cheap energy. But those nasty German environmentalists are against building reactors on German soil. Given the Russian offer, Orbán apparently hatched the idea of building a large nuclear power plant that will be more than enough for Hungary’s energy needs. The rest of the capacity could be sold to Germany’s energy-hungry industrial complex.

The project couldn’t be financed from private sources as the Finnish nuclear power plant will be. Moreover, Orbán apparently made it clear that the plant must remain in state hands. Thus, a bilateral financial agreement signed by Russia and Hungary was needed which is a first within the European Union.

Csuhaj’s Fidesz source claimed that Viktor Orbán received the European Union’s blessing for the bilateral agreement. Allegedly, János Lázár talked to Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for energy. The EU Commission even sanctioned closing the deal without a tender.

Apparently, the Edmond de Rothschild Group, a private Swiss banking concern which among other things offers investment advisory services, was especially helpful to the Hungarians in handling all these sticky negotiations with EU officials. The Rothschild Group advised the Hungarian government to get in touch with the law firm Hengeler Mueller, which has offices in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Munich, Brussels, and London. It is a large firm with 90 partners and 160 associates. They give “high-end legal advice to companies in complex business transactions.” It was allegedly this law firm that managed “to convince” the European Commission about the legality of the transaction.

Well, it seems that the European Commission has not yet blessed the deal. Eszter Zalán, the Brussels correspondent for Népszabadság, asked Sabine Berger, the spokeswoman of Günther Oettinger, who informed her that Oettinger’s office will examine the agreement and decide whether it conforms to European laws. This legal scrutiny may take weeks to complete. It also became clear that details of the agreement reached Brussels only in December. The announcement yesterday, however, didn’t come as a surprise to the European Commission.

Domestically, there is an outcry over the agreement, signed secretly with no consultation with the opposition, experts, or the general public. Fidesz politicians responded to this criticism by claiming that it was during Bajnai ‘s tenure that parliament authorized the government to conduct negotiations about doubling the capacity of the Paks nuclear power plant. They called members of the opposition, including Bajnai, liars for denying their authorization of the negotiations.

Well, this is not a correct description of what happened in 2009 when the topic of the enlargement of the power plant came up in parliament. Csaba Molnár, then minister in charge of transportation, communication, and energy, was the man who turned in the resolution to which Fidesz is now referring. In it there is not one word about permission to start negotiations with anyone concerning building two more reactors. It simply talks about authorization to begin a study of its feasibility, its environmental impact, future requirements of the population, etc. However, all Fidesz politicians keep referring to this resolution as authorization for making a deal with the Russians.

Finally, let me tell you a funny story that I read in today’s Magyar Nemzet. The article quotes Viktor Orbán as saying, “It was three years ago at one of the meetings of the Valdai Club that Vladimir Putin turned a bit to the right and winked; his eyes told me that everything will be all right. He talked about energy cooperation, about Paks, and about many other matters. He made it clear that Hungary can only win from all his plans. I looked into his eyes and saw that he means it, and Hungary will be a winner of all this.”

Putin turned a bit to the right and squinted

Putin turned a bit to the right and winked

I assume many of you remember another quotation, this time from George W. Bush, about Putin’s eyes. It was uttered in 2001: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” So, I wouldn’t rely on Putin’s eyes if I were Viktor Orbán. And while we are at Putin’s eyes, John McCain said in 2007 : “I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and I saw three things — a K and a G and a B.” Viktor Orbán should keep that in mind when he gazes into eyes of Vladimir Putin, whom he apparently admires greatly.

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?

Russian-Hungarian agreement concerning atomic energy: What will Putin and Orbán sign tomorrow?

It was again Magyar Nemzet that first came out with a short news item heralding Viktor Orbán’s forthcoming “diplomatic offensive.” The paper’s guess was that the move was in some way connected to the election campaign. The prime minister is supposed to visit Russia, China, and several other, mostly Arab countries.

I didn’t find Magyar Nemzet‘s explanation for this diplomatic onslaught terribly convincing because I’m sure Viktor Orbán still remembers his mistake during the election campaign in 2002 when he decided not to dirty his hands with campaigning but instead showed himself as the real statesman hard at work. And he lost the election.

The pro-government paper did mention, with reference to his Russian trip tomorrow, that “Viktor Orbán may sign an agreement about the continuation of the existing cooperation between the two countries concerning atomic energy matters.” It added that “the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant” might also be discussed.

Népszabadság learned more about the plans from Fidesz sources. The paper reminded its readers of János Lázár’s announcement about the “advanced negotiations” concerning the enlargement of Paks’s capacity, which would double the output of the power plant. The government claims that this addition to the existing facilities would lower utility prices. The opponents of the plan claim the opposite: prices would rise because of the high cost of expanding Paks. Indeed, this particular investment will be costly. Experts talk about 3-4 trillion forints, which naturally Hungary doesn’t have. But that’s not the only problem. In her present financial situation, Hungary can’t even borrow that much money because it would upset the precarious balance the government achieved as far as the deficit is concerned. But it seems that thanks to the “good offices” of the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation the Hungarian partner may be able to pay the cost of the investment on the “installment plan.” Originally, even Orbán was talking about an international tender, but none of the other companies that are in the atomic power plant business was ready to be so generous. Of course, this generosity has its price which might take several forms: joint ownership, profit sharing, and various other business arrangements.

Paks Aromic Power Plant /www.sff.hu

Paks Atomic Power Plant /www.sff.hu

Not surprisingly it was the politicians of Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM/Dialogue for Hungary) who were the first to raise their voices against the plan because these politicians are committed to the idea of green energy. They objected, with good reason, to the secrecy with which these negotiations were conducted. They raised objections to making such a momentous and controversial decision without any public discussion or any consultation with independent experts. Why the hurry? Is Viktor Orbán afraid that he might not win the election and does he therefore want to push the decision through his parliamentary voting machine prior to April or May? Benedek Jávor, co-chair of PM, declared that he and his party consider any agreement arrived at in Moscow without parliamentary authorization null and void. Such a momentous decision cannot be the private domain of the prime minister. It is not only a very expensive undertaking, but the planned arrangement also puts Hungary at the mercy of Putin’s Russia.

The government’s answer to the critics was lame. András Giró-Szász, the government spokesman, declared that it would have been impolite to refuse an invitation from Putin. This explanation is utterly ridiculous. As if Putin one morning woke up, had a burning desire to meet Viktor Orbán again, and out of the blue dropped an invitation in his mailbox. Giró-Szász, perhaps realizing the absurdity of his first claim, added that “after all, it is very important to take a look at the past year’s economic results.” As if they had anything to do with the matter at hand.

Today we learned that Gordon Bajnai (Együtt-2014) and Benedek Jávor (PM) jointly wrote an open letter to Viktor Orbán in which they pointed out that the expansion of Paks would determine the country’s energy policies for the next sixty years and therefore such a decision cannot be sanctioned without a public debate and without parliamentary authorization. They demanded immediate information about any negotiations and decisions.

A couple of hours later Bajnai and Jávor got an answer: “yes, there will be a bilateral agreement” signed in Moscow. The Government Information Center pointed out that the government has been studying the possibilities of the use of atomic energy. A year ago Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán discussed questions of cooperation at the time of Orbán’s visit to Moscow. An agreement was reached in December. After the prime minister’s return from Moscow the government will inform the public about the details.

Thus, we don’t know more about the agreement than before. Obviously Viktor Orbán can make the decision, whatever that decision is, alone. The “people” this government talks so much about have no business questioning the wise man’s decision. He knows what is good for the people. Another case of Hungarian democracy at work.

Some musings on Hungarian politics today

I hope I haven’t bored you to death with my continuing saga of the Hungarian democratic opposition’s struggles, but there are still many aspects of the issue that are worth investigating.

The general consensus is that Gordon Bajnai is the victim of a political game that has been going on for the last year and a half. On October 12, 2012, Gordon Bajnai seemed to be the messiah the anti-Orbán forces were waiting for. He offered himself as the beacon of the opposition; with his name on their banner they could march toward a better future in the name of democracy. He didn’t establish a party at that time but a kind of umbrella organization under which the groupings on the left could gather.

The initial reaction was fantastic. There were at least 50,000 people who cheered him on, and a few weeks later Medián registered a 14% approval rating for his organization. But from there on it was all downhill. Attila Mesterházy seized the initiative and suggested immediate negotiations with all the parties and former eminent politicians on the left. It was at this point that Gordon Bajnai, most likely on the advice of his former chief-of-staff, Viktor Szigetvári, decided to postpone negotiations. The rest of the story is only too well known, and there is no need to repeat it here.

Most commentators are burying Gordon Bajnai as a politician. In fact, many of them suggest that his failure is largely due to the fact that he is not a politician but a technocrat. They talk about his inept moves. Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus who rarely minces words, blames Bajnai for “ending up exactly where we were in 2010.” According to her, he “stepped back into the nothingness, he ceased to be a counterweight, even if a minimal one, and handed full powers to Mesterházy.” The title of her short piece is “Congratulations to Gordon Bajnai.”

In this game most people see Attila Mesterházy as the ultimate winner. Someone who first managed to get rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány and hence remained his party’s only authoritative voice. And then came his next victim, Gordon Bajnai. However, according to one analyst, there is still one more possible victim–Ferenc Gyurcsány, who by joining the Mesterházy-led formation will find himself in the same corrupt socialist party that he left two years ago. Surely, the commentator, Zsolt Zsebesi of gepnarancs.hu, is no friend of the socialists and its chairman. His Mesterházy is a schemer and a power-hungry man who has been wanting to be prime minister ever since childhood. According to him, Mesterházy loves power as much as Viktor Orbán does. But what is worse, he writes, is that Mesterházy, other than being good at jostling in the intra-party power games, has no other redeeming qualities. He has no vision and no competence when it comes to becoming the next prime minister of Hungary.

Árpád W. Tóta, a witty commentator and sharp observer, goes even further. He recalls in his opinion piece that an economist complained just the other day that the democratic opposition cannot offer anything more than a return to the pre-2010 world. But, Tóta continues, such a program would actually not be bad at all. The problem is that this crew within the socialist party is a great deal less talented than their predecessors. Gyula Horn, László Kovács, Ferenc Gyurcsány were ready for victory. Mesterházy is the only one who seems to be at a loss. (Actually Tóta, who sprinkles his writing with four-letter words, said something stronger than that.) His final conclusion is that the socialists, by trying to distance themselves from the infamous “last eight years” (2002-2010), are committing a folly. They can win only by identifying themselves with those years and should be glad  if they are not judged by the last three and a half years.

I must say that I have a better opinion of Mesterházy than those from whose writings I just quoted. Mesterházy seems to have managed to keep the party together which, considering the devastating defeat they suffered, was quite an achievement. Any comparison with Viktor Orbán, of course, is ridiculous, but having Mesterházy at the top of the ticket is certainly not a calamity. The only question is whether he can run a successful campaign that results in a change of government. And no one knows that yet.

Perhaps the most interesting comment came from Gábor Török, a political scientist whose comments usually annoy me because they are insipid and wishy-washy. One cannot pin him down on anything. But last night he made a good point on his blog. His argument goes something like this. For the time being Mesterházy seems to have won, but it will be some time before we know what his fate will be in the long run because, if the joint opposition forces lose the election, it can easily happen that he will be blamed for the failure. That his personal ambition was too high a price to pay for another four years of Viktor Orbán. On the other hand, for Ferenc Gyurcsány it is a win-win situation. He won this round and, if the new formation headed by Mesterházy loses the election, he will be declared a prophet, an excellent politician whose advice should have been heeded.

I should also say a few words about the PM contingent within the Együtt-2014-PM alliance. PM stands for Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary). The politicians of PM are the ones who broke away from LMP due to András Schiffer’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with other democratic parties. Some of these people swore that they would never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. And now, here they are. Katalin Ertsey, a member of LMP’s caucus, even today can repeat with disgust that her former colleagues in the party “lie in the same bed with Gyurcsány.” Yet the PM members are ready to cooperate because they rightly point out that times have changed and it would be most irresponsible not to do so.

However, Péter Juhász, a civic leader who organized large anti-government demonstrations on the Internet, refuses to be on the same ticket with Gyurcsány. But that is not his only problem. He also rejects joining a ticket that is headed by Attila Mesterházy.

I always considered Juhász muddle-minded. I can’t understand how it was possible that Juhász didn’t notice until now that there was a very good chance of Mesterházy’s becoming prime minister if the Együtt-2014-PM-MSZP coalition happens to win the election. Because according to the original agreement the head of the list that receives the most votes will become prime minister. And there was never any point in time when Együtt-2014-PM was anywhere near MSZP’s popularity. Then what are we talking about? In any case, my reaction is: good riddance. I found Juhász a detriment to the cause.

And finally, Mandiner, the conservative site run by mostly young journalists, decided to devote a whole article with lots of pictures to Gyurcsány. It was supposed to be funny and whole thing was written in an ironic style. They included a video from the great MSZP campaign demonstration on Heroes’ Square and Andrássy út in 2006.

Of course, I saw this video earlier. In fact, I think I watched the whole fanfare. But it is an entirely different experience to watch it today, eight years later. The comparison between the self-confident MSZP in 2006 in the middle of the campaign and now is really staggering. I thought I would share this video with you to see the contrast and the sad state of the party today. Can it be revived? And if yes, how? And by whom? Or will it die and will something else come in its place?

A new political coalition in Hungary? Let’s hope so!

As I sit here to write about the latest and perhaps the most important political development of 2013, the situation is still far too fluid to be able report on the final outcome of this new round of negotiations among the democratic opposition forces.

Yesterday Gordon Bajnai on ATV and Attila Mesterházy on Magyar Rádió practically simultaneously announced that the negotiations that resulted in the ill-fated bilateral agreement between E14-PM and MSZP proved inadequate to strengthen the anti-Fidesz forces and therefore a renegotiation of the terms is necessary. MSZP has been languishing while E14-PM has been losing support. At the same time Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) has been gaining ground. According to some polls, it has garnered more potential voters than E14-PM which, in its agreement with MSZP, received 31 electoral districts out the available 106 in which the party could name its own candidates. At one point MSZP offered only two losing districts to DK and told the DK negotiating team that several of the party’s top politicians, including the party chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány, were not welcome on the MSZP list. Not surprisingly, DK refused these offers and demands.

In the last couple of months those voters who would like to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his corrupt and incompetent government have become discouraged and dispirited. By mid-December it seemed that at least four democratic opposition parties would run with separate lists and their own candidates, which would make a Fidesz victory in the coming election inevitable. Saner observers pointed out that as long as the anti-Fidesz voters don’t see a united and hence strong opposition, they will not be inspired to either work for the cause or vote for opposition candidates. After all, their efforts and votes would be wasted.

Yet both the Bajnai and the Mesterházy camps remained adamant. They not only refused to listen to “the voice of the people” but also attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány with such vehemence that at one point it looked as if any understanding with DK was impossible. Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), for example, called Gyurcsány “a mentally disturbed Bolshevik billionaire with whom one cannot build a future.” Bajnai accused him of betraying the aspirations of the democratic opposition. László Puch, the powerful MSZP politician who handled the party’s shady finances, said that “Gyurcsány all his life uttered only stupidities.” Gyurcsány stood fast. He has good political instincts and knew that these would not be the final words if events dictate otherwise. Moreover, he claims to be impervious to insults. He considers them part and parcel of politics.

Some people might complain that opposition politicians could have saved themselves a lot of headaches if they had realized the force of Gyurcsány’s opinion on the issue at the very beginning: given the new electoral rules, one can win against Fidesz only if there is a common list and one candidate for the post of prime minister. Mesterházy claimed yesterday with some justification that MSZP’s original idea was indeed to have a common platform, and negotiations to that end even began about a year ago. At that time it was Gordon Bajnai’s team that decided not to attend these meetings. And so the idea withered away.

negotiations2In fact, E14-PM kept postponing negotiations with MSZP in the hope of making the party stronger and thus having a stronger negotiating position. Mesterházy also indicated yesterday that it was E14-PM that was dead set against the participation of DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány in the negotiations. Apparently, it was not so much Gordon Bajnai who felt so strongly against his former friend and political ally but the few former LMP politicians who had left their party and joined Együtt 2014. This antagonism was understandable because, after all, LMP was a political formation that came into being in direct opposition to Ferenc Gyurcsány and his policies.

But finger pointing doesn’t lead anywhere. It is possible that originally it was E14-PM that was the obstacle to wider cooperation, but MSZP’s Mesterházy and some politicians around him were quick to follow the lead of Bajnai’s party. In fact, in the last few weeks one gained the distinct impression that E14-PM had had a change of heart and instead of the earlier harsh talk against Gyurcsány, E14-PM politicians were carefully leaving the door open for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement signed by the two parties.

According to yesterday’s Népszava there were a number of influential liberal intellectuals who helped Gordon Bajnai make up his mind. Népszava mentioned by name László Bitó, formerly professor of ocular physiology at Columbia University and writer of fiction since his retirement in Hungary; Ágnes Heller, philosopher; Bálint Magyar, SZDSZ politician and former minister of education; Sándor Radnóti, literary historian; and Iván Fischer, conductor and music director of the renowned Budapest Festival Orchestra. These people have argued passionately for some time that the opposition’s ticket should include all parties and individuals who could contribute to an electoral victory in April.

Gordon Bajnai announced his willingness to abandon the idea of becoming the next prime minister of Hungary. Actually, if the old agreement between E14-PM and MSZP had remained in force, even then it would have been unlikely that Bajnai would have become prime minister given the large difference in size between the two parties.

Mesterházy in theory also showed his willingness to talk about all possible issues, even including giving up his candidacy for the post of prime minister. Lately there has been a lot of talk about both men stepping back and finding a third attractive and inspiring candidate. What we heard this afternoon, however, after a three-hour meeting between the negotiating teams of Bajnai and Mesterházy belies the latter’s openness to giving up his claim to the leading position on the common ticket.

MSZP seems to be rather inflexible in other respects as well. According to some socialist sources, the party doesn’t want to give a place on the common ticket to Ferenc Gyurcsány. We know enough about the membership of DK to realize that neither the membership nor the party’s other leaders would ever agree to his exclusion. I can’t believe that MSZP will be able to maintain that position. People are sick and tired of politicians in general and are especially tired of those politicians whose political ambitions seem to override the needs of the country. Too much insistence on the premiership may backfire. Moreover, Fidesz’s spokesman concentrated her criticism of the announcement on the selfishness of the politicians involved, whose only concern is personal gain.

We don’t know what the final result will  be. After three hours of negotiations this afternoon the two teams decided to continue talks this evening. We will see what tomorrow brings. And the next day. And the day after that….