Four years ago, shortly before the election, I wrote two articles about Péter Tölgyessy, one in Hungarian and the other in English. One is not the translation of the other, but in both I was critical of his assessment of Hungarian politics at the time. I criticized him with perhaps more vehemence than it is my wont because it irritated me to no end that Hungarian liberals looked upon the man as the most reliable source of political analysis. If Tölgyessy says something, well, it must be true.
Why is he considered to be a real guru? I guess that his substantial contribution, alongside László Sólyom, to the new democratic constitution of 1989 is one of the reasons. Second, it was his “pact” with the new prime minister, József Antall, that established the stability of all Hungarian governments between 1990 and 2010. The deal entailed the introduction of several “cardinal laws,” which needed two-thirds majorities. It also included an agreement that a member of SZDSZ, Árpád Göncz, would become the president of the Republic of Hungary despite Antall’s right-of-center coalition government.
Perhaps another reason for his somewhat exaggerated reputation is that he speaks or writes so rarely. His rather unusual political career included eight years in parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus during which he never spoke once. He occasionally comes out with books about politics, but his name rarely appears in the daily press. It seems, however, that he finds it practically compulsory to say something about Hungarian politics every four years.
His contribution for 2014 is long. It was published in three parts in HVG. In preparation for today’s post I spent a considerable amount of time reading and taking notes on it. And the more I read the more I came to the conclusion that Tölgyessy’s analysis is off the wall.
I’m sure that all of you are familiar with those political analysts who can’t refrain from predicting the future but do so in a way that pretty well includes all possibilities. At the very beginning of his treatise Tölgyessy announces that Fidesz can receive 70% of the votes (similar to the situation in Belarus) but that “one cannot exclude the possibility that the opposition will win with a small margin.” He finally settles for a Fidesz win “in the neighborhood of two-thirds.”
Although Tölgyessy foresees the possibility of a national tragedy as a result of Viktor Orbán’s policies, he seems to take this year’s election lightly. In his opinion, both sides exaggerate. Orbán claims that their inability to continue in office would bring disaster to the nation while the opposition charges that another four years of the present government would eliminate even the few remaining vestiges of democracy.
In reality, the cleavage between the two sides is greater than ever, yet Tölgyessy doesn’t see major differences between the two. This is what happens when an analyst pretends to be impartial. Whatever we think of the Hungarian left or the liberals, in comparison they still seem to be a great deal better than those currently in power. Moreover, within the essay it becomes evident that Tölgyessy is not politically neutral: he is now a supporter of András Schiffer’s LMP. He wishes, I’m sure, that LMP would be strong enough to win the election and get rid of all the current politicians. This, to his mind, would allow Hungary to become a truly European country.
In the second part of the essay Tölgyessy turns to the Hungarian left. The real problem, according to Tölgyessy, is the “political civil war” that exists between the two political sides. So far so good, but what can one do with the following statement: “Fidesz now with the help of the two-thirds majority, limited parliamentary system, and the elimination of true democratic election system, is trying to step outside of the warlike vortex of the last twenty years.” Oh, I see. Whatever Viktor Orbán did in the last four years was all for the good of Hungarian political life. He was simply trying to put an end to political division in the country and introduce peace and tranquility. Yet a few lines later we read that since everything works in the interest of extending Fidesz rule “the opposing forces might be directed against the whole system” and not just the Orbán government. I would say that we have already reached that stage.
Or what can we do with sentences like this: “because of the centralization of power, with one single electoral loss we can return to the confused world of the past.” Almost as if Tölgyessy himself believed the Orbán propaganda about the disorderly and incoherent past. Tölgyessy seems to like LMP because in his opinion András Schiffer’s party wants to “break the logic of the two-bloc political system.” Well, what I see is that Schiffer and his friends hate both the left and the right, and I don’t know why three warring groups would be preferable to two.
After this Tölgyessy takes on the opposition parties and finds something wrong with all of them. MSZP today might be a different party than before, but now the problem is that Attila Mesterházy is trying to imitate Viktor Orbán. This party “overpowers the opposition as never before.” A dubious claim at best. An ugly dig is put in for emphasis: “the MSZP activists have no life outside the Party.” The capitalized letter in “party” is a reminder of the Rákosi and Kádár days. Why? Is there life outside of Fidesz for people like Orbán, Lázár, or Rogán? He claims that MSZP politicians “have less feeling of responsibility toward society than Rezső Nyers and Gyula Horn.” Both are old leaders of the MSZMP of the Kádár period. On what basis does he make such an accusation?
As for Gordon Bajnai, he has no political talent whatsoever; moreover, his own past made him a hopeless candidate. After all, he was a member of the Gyurcsány cabinet, and his company’s involvement in the bankruptcy case of a poultry processing plant made him a thoroughly unsuitable candidate. Not a word about Bajnai’s record as prime minister. And finally, Tölgyessy echoes the Fidesz accusation that with the return of Ferenc Gyurcsány to the fold “the old left symbolically returned to its pre-2010 self.”
If we can believe that Tölgyessy is an outspoken supporter of capitalist development and would like to see Hungary adjust to the requirements of the global economy, why does he not notice that Frenc Gyurcsány’s DK is practically the only party in Hungary that embraces modern capitalism wholeheartedly? I guess he can’t come to that conclusion because he views Gyurcsány as a political adventurer with no sense of responsibility.
Finally, Tölgyessy thinks that the cleavage between left and right was caused primarily by MSZP. In his opinion, it is this party that “introduced eastern types of methods that were alien to the other new democratic parties” because its leaders were fearful of losing their old financial security. Honest to goodness, I don’t know what Tölgyessy is talking about. First of all, all the party leaders in 1989-1990 grew up in the Kádár regime. If one can characterize those methods as eastern, then the whole lot of them were students of eastern methods.
The second section of this long essay ends with the following words: “There is far less difference between the two blocs than their enthusiastic supporters think or their leaders try to convince the population of the country. Both are trying to solve the whole mess in their own way without much success. Fidesz, however, with its desire to win and put an end to this warlike opposition went too far and overstepped more limits than at any time before.” It was at this point that I threw up my hands. Others can plow through the section three.