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Hungary: Campaign Season Opens

by DoDo Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 03:52:39 PM EST

Elections will only be held about May 2006, but last weekend, three of the four parties in parliament held conventions in campaign mode. Now, before I tell something about it, consider:

Argument against middle-of-the-road centrism in the USA
If one party says the sky is blue, the other says it is green, where is the truth?

Argument against partisanship too in Central-Eastern Europe
If one party says the sky is green, the other says it is red, where is the truth?

Argument against politics in Hungary
If one party says it'll paint the sky green using red paint, and the other says it was their idea stolen by the others, then add that it will cause the sky to fall down, will you care?...

Actually, the main campaign themes were spookily like it should have been in a 'normal' Western democracy:

At the convention of the nominally centre-left MSzP (if you need an introducion to Hungarian politics, see second part of this earlier post), PM Ferenc Gyurcsány declared that they want to eradicate poverty.

At the convention of the nominally centre-right Fidesz, ex-and-probably-next-PM Viktor Orbán announced plans to reduce taxes and bureaucracy (and, true to the modern spin-age ideal - Berlusconi, Bliar, Bush - of one nonsensical catch-on phrase for every speech, the number of politicians).

Sounds all great, except:

The MSzP is in practice a pro-business party with a naive base sometimes appeased (with a supporting business circle in large part, but not completely, being ex-cadres-in-the-ancien-regime). Beyond own interests, they always tried to please Western (elitist) observers too, and their few and between social policy ideas rarely went beyond some deficit spending on wage raises and symbolic micro-programs.

The new wider-reaching promises don't sound convincing with the backdrop of a huge budget deficit, which they also promise to reduce so that the Euro can be introduced in 2010. (The deficit problem has some parallels to stuff we discussed regarding the US economy: Hungarian governments practiced some creative bookkeeping, holding spending on highway construction outside the budget. Now the EU declared this invalid - and lo', the deficit jumped from 3% to 6% of GDP.)

And Fidesz has tried just about every possible rhetoric and policy from the far left to the far right; before last weekend, they were all social conscious and blasted the government for the high budget deficit. (Cure the budget deficit with tax cuts - that'll work, sure... yet, half the voters follow them.)

Funnily enough, just last week, the positions were inverted: Fidesz called for a definite end of privatisation, while the governing coalition held against - grotesquely, with the liberal junior partners saying let's go on, and the Socialists claiming it's over anyway in practice. Considering how things went in 1998-2002 (and, in institutions they staffed, even later), I'd expect Fidesz just wants to turn remaining state companies into their own private fiefdoms.

Meanwhile, a pollster released a poll on what groups of citizens people think police should check more often - and declared in the press release that the 60% who think Gypsies should be one such group are not racist...

...what fun can you tell me about for a change?

Question - to what extent are the senior ranks of the ex-communists drawn from full time cadres of the CP? In Poland the two dominant figures of the ex-communist party since the fall of communism have been Leszek Miller and Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former appealing to the apparatchik base, the latter to swing voters. Miller was in turn party chief at a major factory, Central Committee apparatchik, CC department head, chief of a provincial party, and member of the CC secretariat. Kwasniewski was head of the communist student org, editor of the party youth paper, minister, CC member, candidate member of the  politburo. Going down the ranks the second two most powerful ex-communists are Jozef Oleksy and Wlodzimierz Cimosiewicz. Oleksy was a senior apparatchik in the 'Ideological Education' department of the CC, head of internal party discipline, provincial party chief, minister.  Wlodzimerz Cimosiewicz on the other hand was  never a full time apparatchik though he was head of his university's faculty party organization.  The Cimosiewicz type is, IMO, forgivable - just someone who used party membership to get an advantage over others within the system of Communist rule - a mostly passive beneficiary if you will.  The Miller, Kwasniewski, Oleksy type was a signficant cog within the Party-State and that's something else entirely.

Note for those unfamiliar with the way Communist states functioned: the secretariat was the collective leadership of the (huge) CC bureaucracy which was what actually ran the party and the state. As such CC secretaries were in their own way at least as powerful as Politburo members.

by MarekNYC on Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 06:51:52 PM EST
Question - to what extent are the senior ranks of the ex-communists drawn from full time cadres of the CP?

To a very large extent, but I'm not sure how much that matters in guilt terms (socialisation and sense of power is another thing). Four factoids in advance:

First, in 1989, there was a party break: the reform wing took over and this led to today's MSzP, while the 'traditionalists' with most of the non-retired nasty guys formed Munkáspárt. Second, since the internal coup that replaced the PM a year ago, most remaining leaders climbed high only in the youth organisation. Third, a lot of former Party members ended up with neither MSzP nor Munkáspárt, but all the other parties on the right and centre. (For example, maybe you remember from the news the names of Imre Pozsgai and Mátyás Szűrös from 1989 - being from the now defunct national-reformist wing of the party, they ended up supporting Fidesz.) Fourth, but important, I also note a local speciality: not all MSzP-nominated ministers are MSzP members (and those typically had no Party past, either), and that includes important and influential posts.

Now, here is the level of taintedness for those I checked:

  • Ferenc Gyurcsány (PM): was party youth secretary in his hometown, later at the university, then for a very short time the chairman and transformer, after 1989 businessman, was not even MSzP member until lately (brought in by previous PM at his own detriment)
  • József Petrélei (justice): learnt "scientific socialism" at the university (after learning law at home and in Aachen)
  • János Kóka (economy & transport): too young for any involvement (but not to be an a**hole)
  • János Veres (finance): party member, worked in collective farms, later businessman
  • Ferenc Juhász (defense & first party vice-chairman): was a highschool party secretary (and a teacher)
  • Péter Kiss (chief of PM's office): Budapest party youth secretary, an instigator of the reform wing, rose to CC membership in 1989
  • István Hiller (party chairman): none I could find (that's something - far-right webpages would certainly have digged up everything), was graduating/PhD-ing as historian during the eighties-early nineties
  • Imre Szekeres (deputy party chairman, said to be influential): was regional party youth secretary, then regional council member
  • István Újhelyi (second vice-chairman): another young hot-shot
  • Ildikó Lendvai (faction chief): worked in the science-culture section of the party bureaucracy under the CC, while teaching philosophy & ethics (yet she is one of the very few I actually like - somewhat)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 10:04:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In 1988-89 the Party leadership was divided between reformers who wanted to keep power by giving a slice to the opposition and those who wanted no significant concessions. The former included Kwasniewski, the latter Miller. There was also a strong grass roots reform movement that wanted massive change not just in terms of dealing with the opposition but also within the Party. As the Party was turned into the new post-communists in 1989-90 the grass roots reformers were systematically excluded by the joint efforts of Miller and Kwasniewski. Many of these people were involved in the various (failed) attempts to create an alternative left-wing party. A couple ended up in the SLD later on.

The leadership of the right wing parties and of the now defunct centrist ex-dissident one include no ex-cadres and almost no ex-party members, not counting those who were members through the sixties before becoming dissidents and bouncing in and out of detention after that.  That probably has something to do with the existence of a mass and politically diverse opposition movement in the 1980's which did not exist in Hungary.

I'll note that unlike in Poland it does not seem that the current ex-communist leadership includes those being groomed as the next generation of Party leaders - Miller and Kwasniewski were clearly being fast-tracked to the top and had just about made it there when the whole thing collapsed. Miller had the standard working class route to Party leadership, Kwasniewski the intelligentsia one.

by MarekNYC on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:07:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gyurcsány and Kiss may have been fast-tracked for leadership in 1989, then again, the power groups within MSz(M)P were already fighting then.

However, prior to 2004, there were three important MSzP leaders who were already top-rated in the eithties:

  • 1994-98 PM Gyula Horn: he was foreign minister, maybe you recall him for opening the iron curtain and letting East Germans pass the border; during his party leadership he already pushed out some older members of the original reform wing
  • Péter Medgyessy: the 2002-2004 PM, was finance minister, also counter-espionage secret agent (comically, part of his job was supposed to be to keep the Russians in the dark when Hungary set about to join the IMF)
  • László Kovács, was state secretary in the foreign ministry, during Horn and Medgyessy he was foreign minister, after Horn he was party leader, he promoted a younger generation; after the 2004 coup, the formation of the new EU Commission was seen as golden opportunity to get rid of him

The relationship of these (past and present) leaders and the MSzP grass-roots reformers is too complex to draw an analogy to what you describe for Poland. The MSzP is a real mess.
BTW, I always wanted to ask you this - what is your non-single-sentence opinion of Kwasniewski? On his policies, ideology, style, corruptness, and whether he was some kind of least bad option or not?

Finally, I'm not sure how to interpret that about a lack of mass and diverse political opposition movement - by what measure was it lacking, and what trait is connected to ex-cadre migrating to other parties? I note many of these ex-cadre live in denial (and with the support of whitewashers in their new party) - the worst examples are the once communist, now far-right propagandists; and others 'arrived' only later - when Fidesz tought it needs them to woo a certain kind of voters. (I note that from what I read - or believe having read :-) -, similar 'mixing' happened at least in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, too.)

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:11:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kwasniewski was the architect of the post-communist movement along with Miller. Together they forced the 'beton' (cement - apparatchik class) to understand that it was change or die in the fall of 1989 and the first half of 1990. They also systematically shut out the genuine reformers - those who wanted to create a new left wing party rejecting the traditions of the PZPR in favour of those of the PPS (Polish Socialist Party) and European social democracy. It is very difficult to separate out Miller and Kwasniewski during this formational phase. The new party was devoted to preserving as much power and wealth as possible with little if anything in the way of a real ideology. The SLD first came to power in 1993 with Kwasniewski as the power behind the throne as several PM's came and went. That government instituted corruption and patronage on a massive scale, particularly within the state-owned sector. As president (starting in 1995) Kwasniewski has generally done his job well, but with no discernable ideology beyond a generalized attempt to advance Polish national interests and, when he can, those of the post-communists. During the past four years he has also fought with Miller's faction over control over the SLD. As far as personal corruption goes, relatively little (by Polish standards) - just various family members getting lucrative 'consulting' contracts. He did, however, play a key role in institutionalizing the patronage and kickback nature of the SLD in its early years. His style is that of the youthful technocrat rising above the division of communist/anti-communist.

On the other question - I believe that the existence of so many active oppositionists made it both unnecessary and difficult for Party members to get into the non-SLD. There were literally thousands of full time anti-communist activists tied together by both fervent opposition to the system and tight knit social connections. Tens of thousands more (at least) were part-time activists, ten million adults had been members of Solidarity. In those circumstances the taboo against accepting ex-communists was able to be maintained. Hungary never had the sort of comprehensive mass movement bureaucracy that Solidarity automatically created in every factory, university, and institute, down to the smallest towns. When that activist base was decapitated through mass internment in Dec. 1981 new activists immediately stepped up to work underground. These were people with hands on experience in grass roots organizing and political journalism, coming from every class in society with every possible political opinion from left wing socialist to far right.

The far right has plenty of people who worked with the regime, but for the most part they were not Party members. Rather they were members or associates of the PAX movement, a set of collaborationist Catholic organizations created in 1945 by the NKVD under Boleslaw Piasecki, founder and Leader of the ONR-Falanga (Radical-National Organization), the most extreme of Poland's fascist groupings in the thirties.  At lower levels some of the former ultra-nationalist Party propagandists work for them, but I don't know of any ex-Party types at the top levels of the extreme right.

by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 01:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There were literally thousands of full time anti-communist activists tied together by both fervent opposition to the system and tight knit social connections. Tens of thousands more (at least) were part-time activists, ten million adults had been members of Solidarity.

Ah, now I understand your distinction.

Yep, in Hungary, up until about 1988 there were two organised groups, each only a few hundred to thousand: the more rebellious liberals and the 'folkish' (rural-connected and conservative) group. When the system started to fall apart and parties were legalised, the new opposition parties constituted organised opposition counting tens of thousands of members. But no equivalent of 25%-of-population membership in some organisation - the great masses only showed themselves in mass protests (March 15).

The two most important parties formed around the aforementioned groups; however, the larger one also received support from nationalist wing 'rebels' in the Party (most of these soon dropped, however), and was taken over by 'dormant' conservatives who didn't do much in terms of active opposition over the last few decades.

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

by DoDo on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 06:03:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, this was a new development, Orbán tried to build credibility in his speech by praising the government for some measures - ending the military draft among them. A funny thing, at the time they argued against it (which, along with not ending it during their four years in government, was a betrayal of Fidesz promises from much earlier, from the time they were a progressive youth party).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 10:07:33 AM EST

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