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Two aspects I think are important. It does predate my time here, but when the MSZP won heavily in 1994, I believe people voted for what they thought would be old-school social democracy, something similar to the non-communist threads of the old MSZDP in the brief period they had a sniff of power after the second world war. A Swedish-style welfare state, mixed ownership, a regulated economy. Something that the MSZP (or most of the leadership) both didn't want to deliver, and arguably, couldn't have delivered. To be fair, it seems to me Horn actually offered little other than technocratic solutions - and with the financial pressures in the period after the election, the left of the MSZP was pretty much finished. The political spectrum narrowed in Hungary, as it did in many countries - not to the exclusion of the far-right, but to the exclusion of the far-left.
It's possible to make the argument that everything that happened since 1998 has been a response to this almost total failure of meaningful social democracy in the new capitalist economy. In the light of this, the second aspect is the right-wing appropriation of leftist themes. Fidesz in opposition always based their appeal on a 'national social democracy' which, if anything, offered something for nothing.
As we know, the basis of post-war social democracy in Western Europe was lots of people working hard, for rather poor wages initially. The Attlee government actually had to reduce rationing after the second world war (partially to feed Germany and other allies). I hesitate to describe Hungarians as generally lazy, but neither do I regard them as generally having a massive work ethic. So there is a problem here, in promising a top-quality welfare state and infrastructure unless people produce top-quality work in a high-skill export environment. This is not to say Hungary's external circumstances are easy, post shock therapy, but none of the trends, towards the black economy and property speculation, have helped Hungary get a long-term basis for a decent welfare state.
Actually, I think it was a minority of the leadership, and definitely a minority of party members, who didn't want a social state upon election victory in 1994. (For my view of the wings of the party, see this 2008 comment.) Problem was, they had no clue about the economy, were naive, and those in charge of the money at the time (to some extent the first finance minister László Békesi, but above all his successor Lajos Bokros, and of course foreign influences like the IMF) knew how to scare them. Even so they had some influence. On one hand, the austerity programme called the Bokros Package was not a classic IMF austerity programme: in addition to spending cuts and VAT raise that pushed millions into poverty, it included a one-off currency devaluation and import taxes, and the mass privatisation was at least not a fire-sale and was used for a significant debt reduction. On the other hand, there was a correction: the Bokros Package wasn't finished and he was made to resign (Horn opposed his plan to privatise healthcare). This was enough to regain a majority of voters by late 1997. Then came Horn's attacks against the liberals and his attempt to re-start the construction of the dam on the Danube at Nagymaros (stopping which was one of the key themes of the 1989 democratic movement). But, even that wasn't enough to lose the elections (though the record low turnout spoke volumes): the government parties and the Socialists actually won the first round; then came the televised debate between Horn and Orbán (Hungary's version of Kennedy-Nixon) and Fidesz's sweep in the second round.
In the light of this, the second aspect is the right-wing appropriation of leftist themes.
There was some of that in 1998, but I think it is necessary to connect Fidesz's appropiation of leftist themes since c. 2004 to more recent events.
First, the Socialist part of the Medgyessy government wanted a socialist government, and delivered in the form of several raised and restored benefits and a public sector wage raise. This economic policy failed, however, for multiple reasons: it was a purely consumption-driving measure, without a serious industrial policy; it was paralleled with an explosion of private debt (sowing the seeds of the foreign currency denominated credit crisis; though the Orbán government's housing credit reforms had their part too); and paired with tax cuts to please the increasingly neoliberal liberal coalition partner (retrospectively, Medgyessy identified the tax cuts as the main reason for his failure).
At this time, Fidesz's propaganda wasn't leftist, far from it. I remember they criticised 'spending excess', but focused on Medgyessy's counterintelligence past (you'll remember D-209). However, there was also Fidesz's need to explain its 2002 election loss. While among supporters, they allowed free rein to the movement claiming an election fraud (do you remember this?), for themselves, they identified the economically inactive benefits-receiving voter: see Orbán in the Wikileaks. (They might have been influenced by Zsolt Bayer in this, who introduced the idea in hate speeches during the campaign; Fidesz leader László Kövér, although falsely credited with the authorship of the expression panelproli = plattenbau apartment block prolearian, picked up railing against the Socialist-supporting "proletarians" later in 2002.) From the identification of a group of voters as the reason for their loss follows the need to win them over. Fidesz could then switch to social populism when Gyurcsány came in, and with him, the least inspired neoliberal discourse. (As far as I followed right-wing media, the stealing rhetoric from the Western European and Latin American Left was pioneered by István Lovas, BTW.) Fast forward to the spending promise escapades of the 2006 campaign, the hospital privatisation referendum, etc.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
Really interested to read your take on the MSZP, yet it is hard to say that the core of the MSZP - shall we call it "Kobanya-Kispest Nyugdijasok" are really socialists, I would simply call them Party loyalists. The results can be hilarious - I remember seeing a particularly stern Gyurcsany speech on TV, with a backdrop of what seemed to be 5000 old ladies, many of whom appeared to be drifting off to sleep or knitting, only to be roused by the need to clap enthusiastically, once in a while. My enduring memory of the period is how from 2004 the MSZP really did become a one-man show, with Feri dominating the circus. There were no serious opposing poles, no serious counterarguments, just a few people who had personal resentments.
In my naivety I was quite shocked that a member party of the PES had so little social, intellectual and cultural capital .. is this all there is? I also remember the MSZDP making noises at the time - of course, a quick chat put paid to all talk of rebellion from the pocket party. In conclusion, I found the MSZP to be quite a different beast to Labour or the SPD in Germany - it really is a post-communist party in habit. In this regards Fidesz are correct, even if their conclusions following this are wrong. The Hungarian left have been poorly served by the MSZP and if Fidesz do dismantle it, this could actually be a positive thing in the medium term. Not sure if a combination of 4K and Szolidaritas would have the answer.
are really socialists, I would simply call them Party loyalists
I certainly don't disagree with your low opinion of Gyurcsány and the stupidity and low intellectual capital of his supporters, but I don't see a mutual exclusion here. People can be damn superficial even if ideologically committed, as demonstrated by the millions who sticked to Gyurcsány role model Bliar in successive elections despite the government breaking all 1997 election promises. (At least a lot of German Social Democrats split off the SPD and joined Left Party predecessor WASG when Schröder was into Agenda 2010 and Harz IV at the same time Medgyessy was implementing his spending promises.)
The Hungarian left have been poorly served by the MSZP and if Fidesz do dismantle it, this could actually be a positive thing in the medium term.
The MSzP can sure go to hell, but Fidesz will find a framing for demonisation against everyone, and for the Left, IMHO, Jobbik (which now took the role of the misappropiator of leftist rhetoric) and Fidesz are now greater problems than MSzP or even DK not just on the short term but the medium term too.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
Having been generally appalled at the direction of travel of the Blair government, Peter Medgyessy was a welcome relief at first, and I remember feeling quite happy when he scraped in. Though he was a bit flaky on a number of issues, and lacked a direction of travel after the first year, arguably his first year in office was the closest encounter I've had to a social democratic government since 1979! (I'm that kind of geek). Of course, Medgyessy is an unlikely hero figure. In the second year he was already into mini-austerity measures - which eroded his popularity to a large extent. Erzsebet Szalai has written that 'big capital' orchestrated his replacement with Gyurcsany through placemen in the SZDSZ. Is there truth in this, do you think? As I remember the MSZP had a set of bad results in European elections and were easily panicked.
Instances spring to mind from 2002... angry arguments on trams. People carrying flags, going to Fidesz rallies shouting at people drinking beer at cafes, asking why they are ashamed to be Hungarian. Lots of small shops selling pretty shit produce, talking right-wing politics all day. Ooops sorry, the last one is happening all the time. But you get the picture. It was almost as if Fidesz was the angry sweating man in the room, somehow emptying the oxygen. The rhetoric needs serious deconstruction, similar to that which Norman Fairclough did with 'New Labour, New Language?' I know there have been critical books written about Orban - but maybe not the right ones.
I notice I forgot to link: it was in Népszabadság. I think the one you referred to was her 2005 piece, however (no mention of SzDSz here).
I see no broad arsenal of violence of play in Hungary
I found that off, too, but Szalai being a sociologist, she may not be thinking of physical violence.
Forgive me if you know this already, but the nagy generáció = "great generation" in Hungary corresponds to the "baby boomer" in English context, or (with more direct political allusion) soixante-huitards in French context, resp. Achtundsechziger in German context. What she wrote on this caught my eye because I'm well aware of this generational conflict from Germany, but didn't think much about it in relation to Hungary, although it's even more obvious here (with most of the famed liberal intelligentsia of the system change belonging to the 'great generation', and Fidesz to the next that rebelled but without a generational ideology [and I belong to the even more underachieving and even more nihilistically 'rebelling' generation after Orbán's, but that's another thing]).
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
The 3rd mentions Tamás Kolosi by name. He is the head of economy researcher, think-tank and later pollster Tárki, which started out in 1985, became a Fidesz supporter/subsidy receiver in 1998-2002, then switched sides, and was certainly pro-Gyurcsány. However, I don't recall direct ties to SzDSz (but I may have missed them). That paragraph also mentions a turning away of big capital from MSzP; in 2005, she was more specific and wrote that big capial turned to Fidesz. As to whom she may think of, I think these two:
My view of SzDSz at the time was more as useful idiots for big capital than paid tools. If you look back to 1989, SzDSz still had a strong social-liberal wing (including Ottilia Solt who died in 1997 and Erzsébet Szalai herself), and civil rights were their main platform until Bokros. Around 2002, it was my feeling that the party leadership drew all the wrong conclusions from the far-right attacks (well that begun with the promotion of Gábor Kuncze back in the Horn era): they almost completely abandoned civil rights as signature theme and switched to a completely neoliberal economic platform,hoping to win the entrepreneur votes Fidesz gained. This was on full display in 2006 when they campaigned for a flat tax (something former SzDSz leaders forget to mention now that Fidesz ruined the budget with the same), and the party suicide was sealed when they saw their saviour in a spineless and uninspiring neolib and former yuppie businessman promoted under Gyurcsány, János Kóka, and made him party boss in 2007.
With all that said, I'm not saying that all of SzDSz was merely useful idiots back in the Medgyessy era: I'd count then economy minister István Csillag as the main placeman for big business. And he was indeed the key to Medgyessy's resignation (Medgyessy wanted to replace him but SzDSz threatened a break). I thought you may have read of that in an earlier article.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
Kuncze was a kindof hero to a certain type of polgari ember. A friend of mine once remarked that all 3 main political parties in the UK could safely exist in the SZDSZ and Kuncze was very much in the mould of a UK Tory for me, with the same sense of self-confidence and overall self-satisfaction. The legacy for Hungarian politics is that more muscular forms of social liberalism only briefly registered with the electorate, if at all, as MSZP politicians have proven either incapable of communicating on a cultural level, or have played dog-whistle themselves (eg Szekeres comparing Trianon to the Holocaust).
I've read that corruption and the SZDSZ had a relationship that really got going in the mid-1990s, some rumours about the Ujpest local government, perhaps? Of course, Fidesz produced the big Wikipedia to document some of them, including the Strabag affair, etc. In any case, I've also heard hair-curling allegations against senior MSZP politicians going well beyond simple financial misdemeanours - whether or not it was an attempt to prove that shit sticks, I will never know, but I've never looked at these people the same way since.
All of this has made LMP's job a difficult one - I note that you think there's a chance that LMP would support a Bajnai candidacy - is that where they will end up, do you think? I'd be very surprised, but I don't know how the internal battles are playing themselves out. One thing in Hungarian politics - it seems that the smaller the party, the greater the internal divisions...
very much in the mould of a UK Tory for me
I must admit I don't even know if the stereotype I think Kuncze embodied and was chosed to embody (jovial countryside bourgois with two feet on the ground, as such a counter-point to the liberal stereotype of the dour cosmopolitan intellectual speaking from an ivory tower) has any parallel in British political life (the FDP would have [had] elements like that in the German system which I know better). That sense of self-confidence and overall self-satisfaction... is a more widely shared (and transmitted) attitude over here :-(
some rumours about the Ujpest local government
I'm not sure what you mean, because there are several rumours about the local government of Újpest [for others: a quarter of Budapest], most of them centered on mayor Tamás Derce (and I note I could add one myself). However, Derce was an SzDSz member only until 1994, and gathered his infame in the following time. (There were other, true-blue SzDSz mayors who were implicated in corruption affairs, the mayors of districts VIII, XIV and XIX. However, they were juniors compared to MSzP moneybaggers like Boldvai, Schmuck, Zuschlag, Hagyó, or possibly Csintalan who switched to Fidesz.)
whether or not it was an attempt to prove that shit sticks, I will never know
At one point I gave up trying to figure out what is genuine corruption scandal used by Fidesz media and what is minor irregularity blown out of proportion or baseless smear created by Fidesz media (but there were certainly all of those). I did note, however, that they haven't been all that successful in proving allegations before court even after their takeover, for example against Gyurcsány (and they really tried: I saw an email to my higher bosses with my own eyes in which a ministry guy asked for any information on business ties with the companies of Gyurcsány).
I note that you think there's a chance that LMP would support a Bajnai candidacy
Who knows where LMP will go now, after this amateurish display of internal divisions and spiteful reactions in public. (Now resigned leader András Schiffer says there was no support for his idea of an independent party line, well I'd rather call what LMP tried in the first 18 months a sad excuse for triangulation rather than independent party line.) But, Schiffer's attacks against Gyurcsány were not ideological but mainly along the 'moral' line in connection with the "we lied" speech (naively enough to be a useful idiot for Fidesz in approving quite politicised and biased parliamentary reports, for example on the 2006-7 police violence) and for a specific instance of alleged corruption, same with the Socialists, and Bajnai is IIRC not even a member. That's not a strong enough basis for the future rejection of a PM Bajnai or a government with the policies represented by Bajnai for me.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
Unfortunately things appear not to be good within the LMP, which has always had some hopeful aspects, despite a rumoured informal proximity to Fidesz, and an oft-quoted SZDSZ inheritance. As there seems to factional infighting, verging on civil war, by the time of the next election, LMP might not really be offering much of an actual alternative.
Considering the condition of the MSZP - including their finances - it isn't clear to me if Fidesz will face any serious challenge at all from the current parties in 2014. In such circumstances, a centrist bourgeois organisation, possibly headed by Gordon Bajnai might be the main option. And this, in my view, isn't a good option at all, playing Prodi to Orban's Berlusconi. Bajnai's spelt his ideas out recently, and whilst of course they're preferable to Horthyism, there's a lot missing, and a lot which is simply neo-liberal.
It's not totally hopeless. Solidarity looks very promising, and the MSZP's monopoly on the left is truly broken...
Maybe the liberal intelligentsia will manage to prop up Gyurcsány or another neoliberal as saviour at least atracting urbanite voters and re-establish the old Republic, repeating Poland's recent history but with greater upheavals.
..but I didn't imagine then that Bajnai will pop up. (For the uninitiated: Bajnai, a financial sector yuppie without 'communist' background whom Gyurcsány knew as business parter, was brought in to be the PM of a fake "expert" and de-facto Socialist minority government in the last year before Fidesz took over, one which conducted yet another austerity programme. He claimed upon taking office that this one year will be all the time he spends in politics; but this week, he released a critique of the Orbán government's one and half years that sounds like an announcement of leadership competition.) Now that he did pop up, I'm not surprised that all the main non-right-wing media are jumping on-board. Paradoxically, Bajnai is less discredited than his predecessor Gyurcsány, which gives me the bad feeling that propping him up as the Socialist-DK-LMP(-IMF-ECB) candidate will be less difficult... Milla and Szolidaritás should strive to outshine him.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
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