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Adding to the last point here, too: this doesn't mean that I'd think Fidesz's political opponents didn't issue poisionous comments, but it wasn't them who launched the "full-pitch attack", relied on MIÉP for majorities, and sought the media support of far-right jackals like András Bencsik, István Lovas and Zsolt Bayer.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 9th, 2012 at 05:25:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, of course the sting in the tail here is that some of these people are Orban's mates - I guess he's the sort of person that doesn't have 'friends' - but Bayer is definitely a buddy. Someone to drink beer with, and riff on the subject of Hungary's betrayals.

I moved here 10 years ago, having lived in the UK up until that point (mainly around London). I'd heard racism of different forms, but up until 10 years ago, I hadn't ever heard different people talk of Hitler in an admiring way, hark back to the old days of the civil guard association who used to keep the gypsies in order, and on top of that piles, and piles, of shameless racism and national self-pity. I've had to listen to a lot of it, even at a time in the early 2000s where material prosperity was really kicking off.

Whilst the twins in Poland, and Meciar and Fico in Slovakia were grim, is someone like Bayer given the time on TV channels and newspapers anywhere else? Is racism so deeply ingrained, combined with such intense, yet deeply subsumed feelings of personal anxiety, manifesting itself in national self-pity? Do Czechs have such a lack of self-consciousness in their bigotry?

I don't know the answer to this, but I've always thought that people in Hungary would be wide-open to the appeal of 'restoring order' to the nation. Wide open.

Alexei Sayle's autobiography has a chapter in which he visits Hungary (in the late 1960s) and points out a particularly decrepit looking block of flats. He's told by the tour guide, that's where the gypsies live. Apparently the tour guide later arrives in Liverpool, and is shocked by the little houses and working-class lives of the comrades by the Mersey. Before I offend anyone else this morning, I'd conclude by saying Hungary under communism simply became classically opportunistic. There are no ideological constructs to analyse here. The implication is, that the Orban regime will survive until an opportunity exists for  to come up with something which will make more people a bit richer and more powerful.

by car05 on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 04:40:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know much about Hungary, having only visited it during the transition in the late Eighties. I did however often visit family in Czechoslovakia from the Seventies to the fall of Communism.

From my perspective here in Italy Orban's coalition seems a far more rabid version of Bossi's Lega Nord, a spearhead of the European Right. Of course it's no wonder that Berlusconi praised and praises Orban.

The only other take I could add was the facility with which the Italian mafia and its economic referents infiltrated Hungary in the 90's and I wonder idly about the impact of organized crime on Hungary's economy and its effective capacity to influence parties there. What is Hungary's situation regards Eurojust, corruption, relaundering.

Organized crime has a devastating effect on Italian society and economy. And it has always found a friendly ear in Berlusconi's governments. Does Orban's policies favour the illegal economy?

I'd conclude by saying Hungary under communism simply became classically opportunistic.

I noticed something similar in Czechoslovakia, a parallel economy based on exchanging favours. The Russians call it blat and it's been around since long before communism. It's a sort of an informal chum system in which all hang together through solidarity and blackmail to forward common interests and favours.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 05:17:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's certainly some evidence of Russian mafia activity in Hungary, but I can't say for sure regarding the Italian mafia. In terms of political figures, lots of people talked about the links around a former finance minister called Veres (under the socialists) who also incidentally, compared tax-dodging to driving without the seatbealt on.
by car05 on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 08:03:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was a strong ex-Soviet mafia presence back in the nineties, when Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich resided in Budapest, not even in hiding from the public. He wasn't arrested but left the country under circumstances we'll never learn (but allegedly he was warned ahead of FBI action from the very top of police).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 02:46:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I moved here 10 years ago

So you only saw the end state of what Fidesz made, in particular the promotion and 'liberation' of the far right. (Were you already in Hungary during the elections, when virtually all billboards of the liberal party in Budapest were smeared with anti-semitic slogans?) Allow me to write in length on two elements of this which came up, and one extra first.

Fidesz first came touchy-feely with far-right elements when it swung behind a referendum campaign on land ownership by foreigners started by a far-right group in 1997.

One serious connection I mentioned was the use of MIÉP, the first far-right party to enter parliament in 1998, having just made it across the 5% limit. Under the then rules of parliament, MIÉP's faction didn't have the numbers to form a faction, which has the right to get seats in commissions. However, the Fidesz-led government majority approved their formation and their candidates anyway. Later, the issue was brought to the Constitutional Court, which ruled the parliamentary rule unfair, leading to a new regulation that even small parties can have a faction at the number of seats they enter parliament with. However, when MIÉP lost MPs, the Fidez-led majority still kept them. Why, you ask? Because the MIÉP delegates in party-proportional commissions and boards gave the Right a two-thirds majority, and of particular importance were the media boards. This was a virtual coalition, and with collusion came a non-aggression pact, and some presents. In particular: an already MIÉP-close Sunday magazine on public radio (Vasárnapi Hírek) got free rein, and government members (including Orbán himself) gave interviews between anti-semitic tirades. Beyond the very fact of an uncontrolled far-right attack on the Overton Window, it's worth to note the spillover effect of the lack of cordon sanitaire.

From 1998, Fidesz governed in de jure coalition with the centre-right MDF (the onetime leader of the 1990-1994 government) and the rural right-populist Smallholders' Party, and in de facto coalition with MIÉP. However, what they wanted was hegemony on the Right, and had successful schemes to take apart all three partners (none of them made it in 2002). Splitting leaders off MIÉP was less successful, but to draw voters away, Fidesz courted and won over a group of far-right journalists, of which the three most important are the ones I named. At the time, András Bencsik was a virulent anti-semite and Holocaust denier who ran the small MIÉP-close weekly Demokrata. (Like his equally abominable wife, Ágnes Seszták, he was a Party propagandist before 1990.) Bencsik swung behind Fidesz around 2001. Onetime Radio Free Europe journalist István Lovas is a spineless soldier of fortune with a shady past (the nastiest parts of his biography are a prison term for gang rape which he sought to wash together with his minor role in 1956, and marital violence against his wife in the USA which made him a fugitive of US justice), who returned to Hungary after having been rejected immigration to Israel, for which he took revenge in a special way, also on the pages of Bencsik1s paper. The third guy, Zsolt Bayer, is an original Fidesz member who first had the role of a follower to the other two, but had the zeal of the convert. In 2001, the trio came to fame and made competition for MIÉP's media bastions with the notorious TV show Sajtóklub (press club) on a cable television channel. Later, after the 2002 election loss, Orbán declared that Demokrata is among his favourite media and told his followers to buy it. (Still later, these three luminaries of Fidesz's in-house far-right had spats among each other and drifted further apart.)

is someone like Bayer given the time on TV channels and newspapers anywhere else?

Poland had (and has) the vehemently far-right media empire of Tadeusz Rydzyk, and in addition to the twins' own right-populist Law and Justice party, the Kaczyński government included the (Rydyk-supported) far-right party League of Polish Families, which was like a mix of MIÉP and Jobbik. In Slovakia, I don't know nationalist media personalities, but Slota and his party members did enough to poison public discourse and promote racism in public (let1s not forget that beyond Hungarophobia, Gypsies were a prime target there, too), while Fico was known for gross insults and was at a constant war with opposition media (resulting in a media law similar to the one Fidesz implemented). (And lest we forget, in the Mečiar era, political survival fight included abductions, secret service black ops and assassinations.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 04:20:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
none of them made it in 2002

Minor correction for the record: MDF made it, but only on a joint list with Fidesz. The internal conflict and the break with Fidesz followed only then.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 10th, 2012 at 05:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I made a point earlier about a cultural study, as the only way to understand the real dynamic... and this involves being able to follow Hungarian, I guess. Maybe such an approach would use discourse analysis, sifting through speeches to look at the dog whistles which have characterised political communication, at least since I've lived here.

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.

by car05 on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 02:17:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
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.

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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 09:01:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A friend of mine points to a number of changes made during the first Orban government, which appeared to indicate a more welfarist approach than the MSZP. I see Medgyessy's promises as a response to this, rather than a genuine re-invigoration of social democracy.

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.

by car05 on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 10:20:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My problem with the retrospective lists of Fidesz's so-called welfare measures is that many items aren't what they are presented as, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Some of these:

  • Politically speaking, the biggest own goal of the Horn government in the Bokros Package was the introduction of tuition fees: intended as a signal of an equal sharing of burdens, they drove the politically most active segment of society into Fidesz's arms. So the Orbán government's number one act to demonstrate a break with the prior policies was to abolish tuition fees. Well, not really: only the general tuition fee was abolished while special tuition fees were expanded greatly, and the effect on student income counterbalanced by a holding back of stipendium growth by inflation. (For full disclosure: I was a student throughout this time, including participation in the failed anti-Bokros-Package student protests.)

  • The poor tend to have more children than the well-off. The right-wing solution is not to end poverty (because poverty is the poor people's own fault), but to provide incentives to the well-off and disincentive the not-so-well-off. This was achieved with a combination of income-independent family benefits at a frozen level (not following inflation), tax benefits for parents with income up to a limit (leaving out the truly well-off and the jobless), and the disproportional increase of the lowest income tax bracket.

  • Another supposedly social measure was the provision of housing credits. This was a Thatcherite ownership society measure. While not directly aimed at the upper class, credits are certainly something aimed at the better-off, at the credit-worthy. In the particular case of the Orbán government's housing credits, there was the extra perversity that it was tailored for the children of the well-off, in requiring other homes as collateral. While not directly aimed at the upper class, credits also benefit the financial sphere (as I wrote earlier, this was one of the seeds of the currency crisis).

  • In addition to the not-so-social measures remembered as social measures, there are the forgotten anti-social measures. For example, pensions were held under what a Horn-era law mandated, and Fidesz pioneered the idea of hospital privatisation (2001 attempt by Szeged's Fidesz major followed by the law named for then health minister István Mikola, which was thrown out in the first days of the Medgyessy government; though soon they would do a 180 degree turn and prepare their own version).

If the spending spree of the 2002 Socialists was in reaction to something from Fidesz, then not to Orbán's non-welfare welfare policies (which were obvious enough to anyone with a tighter bourse), but Fidesz warnings in the campaign that the Socialists will restore parts of the Bokros Package.

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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 12:58:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I really appreciate all this fantastic detail, it's helping my understanding enormously. The period 2002-2006 is also quite interesting for me, considering what has happened since.

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.

by car05 on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 02:09:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of Erzsébet Szalai, already back in September (before the final push of laws and before the market attack), in a longer piece on the development of the elites in Hungary (touching on the big capitalists as well as generational issues), she notes that Fidesz's dear national capitalist class is not able to create growth and may even commit capital flight.

A politikai rendszerváltás utáni több mint húsz évben Magyarországon másfél millió munkahely szűnt meg - és a beáramló multinacionális cégek, valamint a magyar burzsoázia együttesen sem voltak képesek e munkahelyeket pótolni. Sőt tevékenységükkel még gyorsították is a leépülést. Orbán Viktor és csapata ezért hamar felismeri, hogy bár a magyar burzsoáziának és az ,,embereknek" egyaránt szánt nacionalista retorikája alapvető tényezője volt átütő választási győzelmének, a magyar nagytőke továbbra sem lesz képes beindítani a gazdaság szekerét. (Már csak azért sem, mert megrettenvén a tökéletesen bizonytalanná váló hazai gazdasági közegtől, amelyik nagyvállalkozó csak teheti, külföldre tart.) Ezért, ha sikeres akar lenni, óhatatlanul gesztusokat kell tennie a külföldi befektetők (autógyárak behozatala) és a mindenki reménységének számító kínai vezetés felé.In the more than twenty years after the political system change, one and a half million jobs were lost in Hungary - and even the incoming multinational companies and the Hungarian bourgeois together were not able to supplement those jobs. What's more, they have even accelerated the degradation with their activity. Hence, Viktor Orbán and his team quickly realizes that, although its nationalist rhetoric aimed at both the Hungarian bourgeoisie and "the people" was a fundamental factor of its punch-out electoral victory, Hungarian big capital still won't be able to kick-start the cart of the economy. (If anything because, frightened of the domestic economic medium becoming perfectly uncertain, any big entrepreneur that can is moving abroad.) Thus, if they want to be successful, inevitably, they need to make gestures towards foreign investors (bringing in carmakers) and the Chinese leadership which counts as the hope for everyone.
Orbán kiépülő, nyíltan diktatórikus rendszere ezért nem lehet kizárólag a magyar nagyburzsoázia érdekkifejeződése -ma már helyesebb, ha egy olyan rendszernek tekintjük, melyet egy ,,nagy nemzetfelemelő vízió" megfogalmazói a nagy céltól vezéreltetve az erőszak legszélesebb eszköztárával építettek (és jelenleg is építenek) ki.For that reason, Orbán's in-construction openly dictatorial system can not be an expression of the interests of the domestic big bourgeois only - today, it is more correct to view it as a system that has been (and still is) built by the drafters of a "great nation-raising vision" under the direction of the great goal with the broadest arsenal of violence.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 13th, 2012 at 04:27:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I was referring to this article, some of which I found really interesting, other parts which left me a bit bemused. For example, I think there's a danger of hyperbole and exaggaration around Orban's regime - not to overinflate myself, but I've been in many demonstrations in London, with miners, peace protestors and anticapitalists. I see no broad arsenal of violence of play in Hungary, and no great goal either, as Orban pulls levers and pushes buttons on a machine of state that just clanks and splutters. He may own the whole machine, but it's still a crap one - let's not exaggerate the capabilities of the Hungarian state. I didn't get Erzsebet Szalai's generational references entirely either, but I think the main premise and analysis was pretty sound.
by car05 on Fri Jan 13th, 2012 at 04:44:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I was referring to this article

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.

generational references

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]).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 13th, 2012 at 05:05:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I found her description of the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraph to refer to the SZDSZ, but you're right, it could equally be referring to the MSZP at the time. I wonder if the SZDSZ' obvious ties to business was partially exploited by the MSZP to distract atttention from their own - 'oh it's those darned liberals again, demanding the privatisation of the health system' ...
by car05 on Sat Jan 14th, 2012 at 02:20:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraph

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:

  • Sándor Demján: the construction business magnate who had a key role in the spread of malls, and was actually switching back and forth between Fidesz and MSzP;
  • Gábor Széles, an industrialist who built his empire of former state companies by gaining good relations with both MDF (when he got electronics company Videoton) and MSzP (he gained bus maker Ikarus under Horn), and who, after switching to Fidesz, built up a media empire (ECHO TV, Magyar Hírlap), infamous in particular for employing Zsolt Bayer.

the SZDSZ' obvious ties to business

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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 14th, 2012 at 06:30:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could maybe argue that the SZDSZ were the epitome of the Third Republic, a promising start, but gradually corroding over time. As one kicked the bucket (or became that most Hungarian of organisations, a zombie party of the undead) the other couldn't survive. I normally ascribe the mentions of co-operatives in the previous constitution to the presence of the SZDSZ, as no doubt many of them had some idea of a mixed social economy at the time.

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...

by car05 on Sat Jan 14th, 2012 at 11:51:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(A late reply)

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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 11:15:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the dominance of Jobbik+Fidesz is the main problem, but in tackling this, the real question surrounds the situation of the opposition. Without someone else to vote for, I can't see a way to present any kind of alternative.

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...

by car05 on Fri Jan 13th, 2012 at 04:31:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Among the scenarios I drafted in a comment to my own diary, there was this one:

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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 13th, 2012 at 04:45:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Another long comment I started to write up last night but got to finish only now)

In contrast to the poisoned discourse, the situation of the Roma is one point where I do think it's worthwhile to look back over a longer timespan for causes and cultural trends.

Note that the situation is bad in basically all countries with significant Roma populations. It is most perverse in the Czech Republic. Most of the original Czech Roma population perished in the Holocaust, the present population is the result of re-settlement by the 'communist' regime, and that's how most of them were made stateless when Czechoslovakia broke up (also see this comment of mine). Czech city Ústí nad Labem was also the first to build a wall to separate the Roma ghetto (1999), and in the past year, there has been serious conflict in villages near the German border (see for example this Salon comment). In Slovakia, where the situation is more similar to Hungary, there was the only case of Roma launching riots I'm aware of, in late February 2004. In Kosovo, Roma were collectively accused of collusion with the Serbian regime by Albanian nationalists and hunted away under NATO's guard. At one time, European Tribune was visited by a class of students of a Bulgarian college, and you can read what attitudes are common even among educated people in the diary Bulgarian Gypsies (Counter Argument)! and its comments. On ET the situation of Roma in Greece was covered by user deviousdiva, for example in Votanikos Today. What IMO ties most of these cases together is the more distant past of the forced settlement of an originally nomadic population, in particular in the 18th century and in the 'communist' era (I wrote about this too in Rádió ©); and the more recent past of the effects of capitalist reforms and austerity on both the Roma population (primarily on the jobs front) and the underclass within the majority population (supceptibility for xenophobic arguments).

Then again, before anyone in other parts of the world thinks that current events follow straight from endemic social problems specific to a region and long-term and near-inmutable local cultural characteristics stemming from them, it's worth to recount some events: the Burnley riots preceded the 'War' in Sajóbábony; police investigating the mostly West German attacks of the NSU (see Another far-right terrorist group under the radar) assumed mafia connections on the part of the victims instead of a racist motivation five years before Hungarian police did so after the first attacks of the Gypsy-hunters (on whom see Hate crime: cell phones and arrests and Hate crime: erring policemen and erring terrorists); the 2005 car-burning riot by recent African-origin underclass youth across France and the recent British riot were on a bigger scale than the 2004 Roma riots in Slovakia; and the location of the deadliest attacks during the xenophobic attack wave in Germany in the early nineties, Mölln and Solingen, was in West Germany rather than East Germany.

So I'd differentiate three levels:

  1. There is institutionalised racism, which is tolerated/approved on some level by majorities (from looking away to active hate).
  2. There is the issue of how openly and confidently (free of fear) racist sentiments are discussed in public. This is something that changes faster in time (and the popularity of specific racist views changes with them). IMO this is less related to the flavour and strength of the institutionalised racism, and more to political context which involves specific decisions by specific people (e.g. Hungary under Fidesz, the rise of Jobbik, Poland under the twins, Slovakia under Fico).
  3. Outbreaks of violence are even more connected to a smaller set of people responsible for stirring the pot.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 07:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Roma has low status in Europe in general. Sweden is no exception with a long history of forced migration followed by forced settlement. And forced sterilisations continued well beyond WW2. Eugenics was seen as a necessary component to the welfare state by all parties (or at least all except the commies, but that is only because the commies was so marginalised that I do not know there position) as otherwise bad elements would breed and swamp the systems.

Recently read an article in a Swedish paper with some interviews with young Romani. Though formally equal and with legal protection against discrimination, being Roma is not something they mentioned when trying to get a job or an appartment, because if they did their chances dropped like a stone.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 08:27:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This reminds me to add that more virulent forms of anti-Roma racism popped up in Western European states upon significant influx of Roma from new EU members, too: I'm thinking of the state-supported assault on the Roma in Naples and Rome back in 2008 (for an account see Italy: Government Wages War on Roma; on ET there is probably a long de Gondi comment on this somewhere I can't find), and the 2010 deportations from France (see Colman's Cry me a river. Try to resist herding immigrants into it.for example).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 09:08:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...but is that really anti-Roma racism or anti-immigrant, or some combination of both?

What I'm talking about is people in Hungarian villages who have lived near the Roma all their lives, who know them, and yet speak warmly of Hitler's final solution. I've heard this more than once. I don't think this is exactly equivalent to Western European fears of immigration...

by car05 on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 01:37:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've heard this more than once.

I did, too. It's one issue that there are people who think so, and another that you can hear it (it's not just mumbled to oneself or close friends in the back of a pub). I distintly remember when I first heard such talk in public (at a camp in 2000).

I don't think this is exactly equivalent to Western European fears of immigration...

I didn't say it's equivalent. On the other hand, those killed in Solingen and Mölln and those attacked in Burnley weren't recent immigrants, in fact you could say for the young attackers that they attacked people who lived near them all their lives; and even when not, I don't see not living beside the victims all their lives as mitigating factor when xenophobic fears turn into aggression.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 02:04:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Romani people has it in generally worse in Eastern Europe then in Western, but how much is a function of culture and how much is a function of the poorest being poorer in the east is a good question.

Roma has lived in most of Europe since before Enlightenment and is in general not accepted as "one of us". When I was a little kid in Sweden I somehow knew that Gypsies drank, stole and always carried knifes - creating a fear and resentment towards the few that actually went to my school. Not that I ever dared to talk with any of them. Don't think many would agree that they should be genocided, but I don't think it would be to hard to find people who would want to throw them out of the country (where Romani has lived for centuries).

So I would still argue that it is a matter of degree.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jan 11th, 2012 at 02:41:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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