Vera Lánczos

From the Don River to the proclamation of western artists and scientists

I have a very long list of possible topics but I know that I will never get to the end of it because in the meantime newer topics keep emerging. So I decided to deal with several themes today.

Let’s start with the older ones. For a few days in January, the newspapers were full of historical reminiscences and debates about the role and fate of the Hungary’s Second Army in 1943. I myself wrote a post on January 15 which engendered a lively debate among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. As usual, after a flurry of articles interest in the subject waned until two months later when a book of Soviet documents was published that revealed that some of the occupying Hungarian soldiers behaved abominably. One of the editors of the volume is Tamás Krausz, who for a while was also active in MSZP’s left wing.

The documents are based on eyewitness accounts that were collected immediately following the withdrawal of the German, Finnish, Latvian, Romanian, and Hungarian forces. According to Krausz, German historians consider these documents authentic. He emphasized that the Hungarians were no better or worse than the other occupying forces but that members of the Second Army committed “war crimes and genocide” alongside the others. Why didn’t these documents emerge earlier? According to Krausz, because during the socialist period neither side wanted to talk about the other side’s crimes. As long as the Hungarians didn’t mention the behavior of the Soviet troops in Hungary, the Soviets decided to be quiet about Hungarian atrocities. But now that former satellite countries are bringing up the sins of the Soviets, the Russians decided to release these documents. There are a couple of good summaries of an interview with Krausz and of a conversation between him and a couple of Russian historians on ATV.

It was inevitable that historians whose ideological views are at odds with those of Tamás Krausz would raise their voices. And indeed, there was a round-table discussion between the two sides that turned into a shouting match. The right-leaning historians doubted the very authenticity of the documents. The final word came from Krisztián Ungváry, who admitted that Hungarian soldiers, like all the others, were responsible for mass murders. But he added that this is “a sensitive topic” and therefore it is not surprising that there was deadly silence in historical circles after the documentary volume appeared. All this came as a shock in Hungary because it has long been accepted that the Hungarian soldiers, unlike the Soviets, behaved admirably in the occupied territories.

Another older story is also connected to history and historians. László Karsai, a historian of the Holocaust, in an interview on ATV called Jobbik a neo-Nazi party back in December. Jobbik sued because Karsai, by referring to them as a neo-Nazi party, damaged Jobbik’s good name. The trial was scheduled for January 10. As usual, no decision was rendered and the verdict was postponed until March. At last the verdict was announced on March 22. The judges decided that Jobbik is not a neo-Nazi party. In my opinion, the courts simply shouldn’t accept such cases because the ideological nature of a party cannot be decided by a court decision. Such historical debates have no place in a courtroom. In any case, Karsai was fined 66,000 forints and he must in a private letter apologize for his “mistake.” Jobbik can make the letter public. Karsai is appealing the verdict.

Benjamin FranklinAnd finally, there was a fascinating interview a few days ago with Iván Sándor, a writer. The interview was conducted by Vera Lánczos, one of my favorite members of the Galamus Group. Although Lánczos was interested in the cultural and educational “reforms” introduced by the Orbán government, Sándor went back to the Horthy regime with the example of the Klebelsberg reforms and their consequences. In his opinion the new structures of the present government “will force the spirit of tyranny on the new generations.” After all, there is a return to the program of Kuno Klebelsberg. Yes, says Sándor, Klebelsberg did a lot of good things but “not much is said about the content of these educational reforms.” Even during Klebelsberg’s life one could feel the results, but after his death, especially during the premiership of Gyula Gömbös, the negative results of this educational program came to full bloom. The Hungarian youth were not taught to think, and therefore they could easily be manipulated. Many of them willingly served a regime that led the country into the abyss.

Klebelsberg’s cultural policies can also be criticized. Although he sent talented Christian youth to western countries to study, at the same time he tried to promote a kind of culture that turned against western European literature because that kind of literature “doesn’t serve” the spirit of the country and its culture; it is not patriotic enough. Present-day Kulturkampf in Hungary bears a strong resemblance to its 1920s variety.

And that leads me to one of today’s news items: Western artists called on Hungarians to rebel against Orbán’s regime. They claim that with the usual kinds of protests one cannot achieve anything in Hungary anymore and therefore they call on the intelligentsia of Europe to intervene. Everybody must work together–writers, scientists, philosophers, film and theater directors, musicians, poets, Greenpeace activists. Everybody who wants a democratic Hungary. “Hungary must be liberated.”

That’s all for today.

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The LMP parliamentary delegation is no more

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled “Talking heads of Hungary” in which I mentioned that Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, called attention to a young political scientist who said that “the sole difference between the two factions [of LMP] is that one of them likes [Gordon] Bajnai while the other doesn’t.” It was a flippant description of what is going on because, after all, the divide between the group led by András Schiffer and the so-called platformists of Benedek Jávor and Tímea Szabó is much deeper than their differing attitudes toward Bajnai. They differ fundamentally on strategy. Or at least this is what it looks like from the outside.

I also predicted–it wasn’t too difficult, mind you–that by the time parliament convenes there will be no LMP parliamentary caucus. Indeed, on Monday  Benedek Jávor will officially inform László Kövér, the speaker of the house, that the eight members of the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary) will leave the LMP delegation. Since according to house rules a separate delegation needs at least twelve MPs and the Schiffer faction has only seven members, neither group can form a caucus. They will have to sit with the independents, who number fifteen at the moment. With the addition of the present and former LMP members their number will double. It will be an interesting group; it includes former Jobbik members, the left socialist Katalin Szili, and the “independent” Gypsy-hater Oszkár Molnár whom even Fidesz refused to back as the party’s candidate in the 2010 general elections.

The public perception is that the cause of the split is a deep division over the future of Hungary. Most people claim that the platformists’ main concern is the removal of the Orbán government at the earliest possible moment, and to this end they must not follow the road András Schiffer envisages for the party. Schiffer wants to keep some distance from both left and the right. As Katalin Ertsey (LMP MP) said in an interview, as a “green party” LMP is steadfastly in the middle avoiding the right as well as the left and keeping its eyes on what is ahead. Given the new electoral law, critics of Schiffer claim, this strategy only helps Fidesz.

But from the inside it seems that some of the pro-Schiffer members of LMP see the struggle differently. Yesterday Katalin Ertsey described the situation as a simple “power struggle” between Benedek Jávor and his followers and András Schiffer and his group. Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP MP) elaborated on the same point, claiming that the platformists caught the common disease of politicians, a “hunger for power.”

Alone by Fahad-Nasir / Flickr

Alone by Fahad-Nasir / Flickr

These two were joined by Beáta Eszes in an article that appeared in Galamus. She isn’t sure that the Jávor group is at all serious about negotiations with the opposition forces. To bolster her claim she reminds her readers of past utterances of the platformists that contradict their present orientation.

At the time he became LMP’s whip in February 2012, Benedek Jávor vehemently attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány because of the events of September-October 2006. And let’s not forget that Gordon Bajnai was a member of Gyurcsány’s cabinet. Of the three-member LMP caucus in the Budapest City Council two refused to vote against the proposal to strip Ákos Kertész of his honorary citizenship and thus joined with the representatives of Fidesz and Jobbik against Kertész. The still unified LMP decided to bring suit against Ferenc Gyurcsány. Gábor Scheiring and Gergely Karácsony suggested a strategic coalition with Jobbik in order to remove Orbán in 2014. LMP refused to join a demonstration against the Horthy cult, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia because MSZP and DK also took part in the demonstration. Dávid Dorosz engaged in a discussion with a Jobbik MP about “national policies” (nemzetpolitika) on the notorious Echo TV. At the end of the article Eszes points out that while the platformists declared that their group would establish a left-wing party, “the person of Gordon Bajnai is no guarantee of a left-wing, socialist type of government.”

Like Eszes, I also have my reservations about both groups. Yet the claim that the difference of opinion on strategy stems solely from the platformists’ hunger for power doesn’t sound plausible. In fact, by leaving LMP and sitting as independents they lose a lot. They will have less opportunity to speak in the House and will have to give up their seats on parliamentary committees. This means less political influence as well as a financial loss to individual parliamentary members. They are also giving up their share of the state subsidy allotted to parties that from here on will go to Schiffer’s LMP. They’re losing the assistance of fifty-five men and women who have been helping the LMP caucus. So, I don’t see how individual ambitions are being served by this move.

But one thing is sure. If the Párbeszéd Magyarországért Párt (PMP) is serious about forging a united democratic opposition, they cannot continue the strategy that LMP has pursued. Otherwise, the break-up of LMP was a useless exercise that will serve no one.

“Talking heads” of Hungary

After a brief foray into foreign policy and history it’s time to return to domestic politics. Today’s post was inspired by a television program and its viewers’ reactions to what was said there by young so-called political scientists, and, more importantly, by a thoughtful article written by Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, who doesn’t make a secret of her support for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció. I should also mention that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at the II. Congress of DK (January 26, 2013) was made available today both on DK’s website and on Galamus.

Let’s start with the television program on ATV called “A tét” (The stake). Its host is András Bánó, formerly of MTV, who received the Hungarian version of the Pulitzer Prize a few years back. By and large I like the program, but some of the young  “political scientists” often irritate me. Political commentators should take their job seriously, and that means in-depth and more or less impartial analysis of current political events. Instead, some of the regular guests only vent their political prejudices. There is one young guy whose superciliousness and flippancy are more than I can tolerate.

Well, it seems that I’m not alone. The show aired last Wednesday and György Bolgár’s call-in show “Let’s talk about it!” was full of angry callers condemning our young man’s attitude toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK. Naturally, Vera Lánczos’s criticism is much more reasoned and therefore more weighty. But she also objected to the tone these fellows use in connection with such an important issue as the current state of the opposition and the need for a united stand against Orbán’s regime.

Talking heads

Talking heads

Because right now the opposition is in disarray. New formations appear, old ones reappear, and LMP just fell apart. The way things look, the LMP caucus will be gone by the time parliament convenes in February because the two factions cannot agree on how to keep the LMP delegation together. Separately neither group has enough members to form a caucus. The main sticking point is LMP’s course of action. The position of the Schiffer faction is utterly unrealistic. Although they keep insisting that their main goal is to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2014, they are planning to achieve this alone even as LMP’s share of the electorate hovers around 3%. It is clear that  for Schiffer and the party leaders supporting him, the party’s future is more important at the moment than a united front in which LMP most likely wouldn’t carry much weight. The Jávor faction, on the other hand, is to my mind a great deal more patriotic. It is a shame that the only thing one of the young political scientists had to say about the LMP split was that “the sole difference between the two factions is that one of them likes Bajnai while the other one doesn’t.”

Gordon Bajnai’s E14 is not doing well. In mid-November the enthusiasm for an umbrella organization under the leadership of Gordon Bajnai surged after the October 23 mass meeting. Since then support has slowly dissipated and the number of  undecided voters has begun to grow again. According to some observers, the problem is that Bajnai entered the political arena too early. I disagree. After all, the campaign season has already begun, and to hammer out a common platform takes a long time. A year is barely enough, especially given the uncertainties of the present political situation. No, the problem is not timing. The problem is Milla and Péter Juhász. E14, a movement at the moment, initially announced that it would start proceedings to establish a party. After all, only parties can enter the race. A few days later we learned from Péter Juhász that Milla “isn’t ready to lend its name to the formation of a political party” and E14 pulled back, at least temporarily. Milla is a mysterious and amorphous organization–if you can call it that–about which we know practically nothing. For the longest time Juhász seemed to be the only embodiment of Milla, although lately one can also hear references to Péter Molnár, a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998 (Fidesz and later SZDSZ). Juhász’s latest is that he will never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I also doubt that he would cooperate with MSZP. All in all, Bajnai picked the wrong “civic organization” to launch his attempt to bring together the various opposition parties and forces.

After the discussion about LMP, the young political scientists moved on to Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party is described by its politicians as “the party of unity.” Indeed, it is this party that most consistently and without any reservation supports a joint effort to dislodge Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány has given up personal political ambition, at least for the time being. He realizes that his party will not be able to capture millions of votes. Therefore he is not forced to make compromises for fear of a mass exodus of followers. He advocates unpopular measures that in his opinion are necessary to turn Hungary’s faltering economy around. Those 100-200,000 people who today would vote for DK will not abandon Gyurcsány because they agree with the details of the party program.

At the II Congress 2,000 people gathered to hear the speeches and vote on the program. I understand that there was only one dissenting vote. The party has 7,000 members with local chapters in 750 cities, towns, and villages. All that without any outside financial assistance. A DK party member won the mayoral race in a smaller town, and DK took second place ahead of MSZP in another.

“A tét” showed a clip from Gyurcsány’s speech at the party congress in which he emphasized the necessity of a common stand. He considers this “a patriotic duty” and argues that those who refuse to cooperate only strengthen the regime of Viktor Orbán. According to our flippant “political scientist,” that means that “everybody should embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány” who wants to force everyone into one big unified opposition that would also include his own party. But what is wrong with this? Isn’t Gyurcsány’s party democratic? The other Young Turk on the program announced that the only reason DK wants a unified opposition is because otherwise DK couldn’t be represented in parliament. Total nonsense. As things stand now, a maximum of three parties could get into parliament if the opposition forces don’t manage to build an electoral coalition–Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. And most likely Fidesz would win.

This kind of irresponsible talk doesn’t help anyone. It only confuses the already confused and disappointed electorate. As Vera Lánczos wrote, “The electorate doesn’t want the opposition parties to compete with each other but to come to an agreement for their sake.” To fan the distrust of parties in general and add to the division of the opposition is not the job of political commentators. It’s no wonder that so many people who truly want Viktor Orbán out of office are outraged.