Ferenc Gyurcsány: There is no Gyurcsány problem

September 20, 2017

Translation of “Will there be documentation about Orbán’s secret foreign bank accounts? – Interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány” published on 16 September 2017 on zsurpubi.hu.

The Orbán system is a historically unsuccessful system that has caused enormous damage, says Democratic Coalition (DK) chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány.  In an interview with our paper by the former head of government, the subject of the irresolvable dispute over principles with László Botka and the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) came up, as well as the striking differences between the politics of the two parties.  We covered why he does not support Gábor Vágó’s referendum initiative, what he thinks about Márton Gulyás’ movement and Agora. Youth also came up and neither DK nor the other parliamentary parties address them.  We also learned that for Christmas baby Jesus will bring documents about Viktor Orbán’s secret foreign bank accounts.  Finally, we spoke about what he thinks about Bernadette Szél and LMP, the kind of person Ron Werber is, and the subject of his recent SMS exchange with him.

What do you think? Will baby Jesus bring documents about Viktor Orbán’s secret foreign bank accounts for Christmas this year?

I would like it if he would bring it by October 23rd.

How are things? Have you managed to meet since then with the person who is in contact with him?

There is one point of contention.  If I buy a washing machine, I would like to know that I am really getting that and not a toaster.

You’ve already served up this analogy in a few places.  Can you elaborate?

Look, if I were to give a fraction of the money for it, I would still like to know what I am seeing with my own eyes if authentic. For this I need to be able to authenticate it before paying for it.  There are various, rather complicated, legal and trust issues.

But is there any progress in the matter?  Because this way the thing just hovers.

Hovering is better than crashing. I can only come forward with authentic papers.  I am working on obtaining them.

Some weeks ago I had an interview with political analyst Zoltán Ceglédi who said “Whenever did it happen that anyone within DK expressed a firm opinion that went contrary to Ferenc Gyurcsány?” I don’t really recall there being any public discussion, but it is certain that it never happened that somebody prevailed over Gyurcsány. In the last five years only Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy and Tamás Bauer dared to criticize DK.  One of them immediately left the party’s leadership and the other the party itself.  And yet we do not speak of Gyurcsány being a dictator, even though the existence or failure of cooperation depends on his person. Do you also believe in party discipline rather than parading internal conflicts within the party in public as is customary with MSZP?

I believe in a lot of discussion. In this regard I have changed a lot. I think our task is to present the common policy of the party. But this does not happen on my command!  Indeed, it is necessary to discuss matters a lot, and it is for this reason that once a week we hold an extensive common discussion where we often vote. Certainly, it has happened that I was voted down. But for the most part everyone accepted that we conduct these debates in-house. I would add that it has happened more than once that the person holding the press conference found himself in the minority.  Tamás left of his own accord, regretfully.

Following sharp conflicts?

Yes. There was a disagreement over our 2014 parliamentary election program regarding the historic ideal of the United States of Europe in which we said it needed a strong social character. For example, sooner or later there must be a common European wage policy. That does not mean that we want comparable wages or a wage union. For example, we are in favor of an EU proposal that, wherever minimum wages exist, they reach the subsistence level. We called for a proposal, not a directive!  Tamás did not agree with this, and he was left alone with his opinion during the vote. At the end of the argument he politely said that he was resigning from the presidium. Szabolcs was another story. His case hit us like a lightning bolt from the blue. There wasn’t any argument before our conflict. Nothing. For a while he was quieter at presidium meetings, and for this reason I spoke with him several times to try and find out what the reason was. Then all of a sudden, we were confronted  with him going public, how should I put it . . .

He started maligning DK.

That’s the lesser problem. But if someone says from within about the party that it does not want to win, that is an accusation against which one cannot defend oneself. It is an indelible stigma. In this case we asked, specifically the presidium asked in Szabolcs’s presence, that he leave the party because he was harming the party in a matter that was not true and which damages and destroys us. I didn’t even have to say anything. So with us there is no iron-clad order and discipline, but we are infinitely loyal to one another, about that there can be no doubt

On the subject of MSZP, let’s talk about László Botka. Nowadays you say with greater and greater confidence that there will be cooperation with them.  But what form  will this take?  For the time being we see nothing of the sort.

Look, I’ll tell you a very important theoretical point of view. Everyone says they want a civil world, right? There is a very important foundation to the civil world, and that is that we recognize individual and group freedom and independence. Neither the prime minister nor the prime minister candidate should have any say in who runs a company, who is the head of a civil organization, who is the leader of a university, or who is the leader of a party.

And with this we have arrived to the point, if I’m not mistaken.

This is a  question of principle. I also consider it natural that entities independent from us exist in the country, which, moreover, are rather different from us. If we want to cooperate with them, then the first step is that I have to acknowledge their independence. If it were not the case, then we are simply going around in circles.

A big part of our argument with Orbán is that he wants to neuter (his opponents). He wants to say how a civil organization should operate, how CEU should work, how independent a research institute should be, and when you are a good Hungarian. We say, no, to the contrary: we want a world where those in power respect our independence.

In fact, we are glad for it. Here there is no Gyurcsány problem, but a very important theoretical, cultural, and behavioral disagreement. And in this regard we think it is not about DK but about a point of view that does not lead us in the direction of civil deportment. Who today wants to say who should be a DK representative will the day after tomorrow want to tell others how to behave and who should represent them.  But we stand opposed to this!  I think every European democrat stands opposed to this.

Well, then it seems that this difference in viewpoint is irresolvable.

Of course, it is irresolvable with regard to this point. But at such times what does a leader do?  A leader must integrate. He has to acknowledge that what he thinks cannot, for some reason, be realized. At such times it is necessary to strike a compromise!  Without that nothing will come of it. Today there is no cooperation without MSZP. I strongly dispute Botka’s point of view, but even if truth were not on my side, even then I would not know what to do about László Botka in this regard, as we are independent entities. Then we have to confront the fact that there will not be a common party list. If he maintains his point of view, then there is no common list. However, we need to find a compromise in this situation.

And what would that be?

We would agree on the 106 (electoral districts). I would add that Együtt says the same thing. And there are those who do not even want this, like LMP and Momentum. In this regard who has Botka managed to agree with over the past eight months?Okay, but on that subject you have only managed to agree with the Lajos Bokros head of MoMa.

Naturally the reason for that is that MSZP should be at the center of a desirable agreement. 

Everyone understands that if we cannot agree with them, then every partial agreement is at best palliative. Moreover, those who act wisely do not conclude closed agreements, but hope that they will continue to expand. In other words, everyone on this side is waiting for MSZP. So are we, although I do not even participate in this argument. A party vote will take place this week which, knowing my own party, obviously will not cause a huge surprise. But it will make it very clear that it is not Gyurcsány’s point of view, but that of the vast majority of our members. We are the only party that does not stipulate any conditions and make demands of others. But there is one thing we do not allow to be called into question, and that is our own independence.

You mentioned Együtt. Just this morning I saw Péter Juhász on TV, who thinks that DK and MSZP should run one common list and the “New Pole” parties another. In other words, Együtt doesn’t even want to be part of a common list with MSZP or DK.

True, I think there is no chance of having  a common list embracing all the democratic opposition parties. But Együtt also says that they need to coordinate in the 106 electoral districts. After a certain point, it doesn’t matter who is right, just look at what the alternative is like.

What are the main contrasts between MSZP and DK politics?  How could you solve the problem of one party defining its character at the expense of another?

We are saying very different things.  First of all, we are cautious when it comes to promising a thirteen-month pension and excessive social or wage promises, because it won’t happen.

You think that today, but for a while there has been talk . . 

Okay, but now we are talking about what the differences are, aren’t we?  We can also speak about the old things as well.

True. Let’s stick with the present!

Who behaves irresponsibly in opposition will behave irresponsibly in government as well. Secondly, we are cautious when it comes to failing to notice that it is not possible to do one-dimensional politics.

There are very successful people in this country, and there are groups living modest middle-class lives, and there are those who are very poor. Playing these groups against one another is not a good idea. “Make the rich pay!” says MSZP. By contrast, I would say that we need a fair social agreement, because if we do not value success, and if we look for scapegoats, then sooner or later the country will be ruined. I believe in more moderate politics. Thirdly, we accepted a principled position with regard to the rights of Hungarians living abroad to vote. We said that those who do not actually live here should not vote. Fourthly, we ask for revision the contract with the Vatican, they do not. Fifthly, we support EU attempts to condemn the Orbán government. In this the MSZP’s European members of parliament are cautious, because they are afraid Fidesz will respond by saying that the worthless left-wingers want to harm Hungary. We are not afraid of Fidesz but fear for our country. I think it is crystal clear what we say on these matters. MSZP represents far more traditional social policies than we, and surrenders far more easily on many issues when confronted with Fidesz’s unacceptable policies.

Not long ago you declared rather optimistically that DK will continuously grow.  However, what I see is that if there will be additional supporters, it is certain that young people will not be among them.  On the basis of my own experience today’s people in their twenties did not turn away from politics, but rather they were never interested in it in the first place because for the past ten years or so such shards of information remain, according to which “Gyurcsány, disturbances, Balatonőszöd speech,” then more recently “Orbán, stadium construction, Lőrinc Mészáros.” To them those in power, as well as the opposition parties, are invisible. On the other hand, it is easy to experience if a funny Two-tailed Dog Party billboard appears in the street, or if they paint neglected, crumbling sidewalks four colors, or even erect a roof over a bus stop. Do you not think it would be a wise thing to focus on future generations, that is future voters, instead of adhering to the status quo?

We are not adhering to the status quo but rather to our own principles, culture, and style. Look, we cannot represent much else other than what we believe. These quasi-pirate parties like the Two-tailed reflect well in a curved mirror. Protest parties. And it’s certain that they can obtain the support of many tens of thousands. But the end goal is still governance. If the question were whether the Two-tailed Dog Party was capable of governing, then I think that 1-2 percent or less of the people would vote yes.

That was not the point of the question, but rather the targeting and addressing the youth.  Apart from the Two-tailed Dog party there is Jobbik, which for many years has been consciously building a youth organization thanks to which according to my knowledge it has become the most popular party among university and college students.  No one else really deals with us. We are only addressed to the extent that once a year all the parties attend the EFOTT festival.

Whoever is twenty years old and is not rebellious and does not protest is not twenty years-old.

They protest, only not about politics but against something else. Politics does not even reach them. So try again. 

I have become a moderate politician. My party conducts moderate politics. Those who are impatient and want fast solutions require radical solutions, pithy and terribly hard words, and in some cases scapegoats, just as for years Jobbik had groups looking for scapegoats. We cannot satisfy such needs. To us politics is not about obtaining five percent at any price, because then we sell our souls for thirty pieces of silver.  From that point of view, democracy is a trade and true in that if DK offers one alternative and somebody does not like this, then he finds another. That is completely all right.  We cannot and will not compete with the likes of Two-tailed or Jobbik, even if we love the former’s attitude. I think that if we have our own party list, which is looking more likely than a common one, then somehow we will end up with between 10 and 15 percent.  We can be a  stable centrist party. Of course I would be happier with 30 percent, but for that we will not give up everything!

We are not going to take the same path as Viktor Orbán who has been everything during his life in order to obtain a majority.  We can only say what we believe in.  If somebody doesn’t like this, then I am eternally sorry, but this is the alternative we embody.

Why doesn’t your party support Gábor Vágó’s referendum initiative on capping the salaries of the directors of state-owned companies?

The final decision will be taken in the next few days, but I think that at best we can take a permissive stance: who wants may sign, but are not going to get substantively involved. Why? Because I do not agree with it.

(So much for DK party members having their own opinion independent of Gyurcsány’s-tran.)

How is that?

I see that a state-owned company needs to be just as competitive as privately-owned ones. The state does not dictate the market for wages. If a certain wage level emerges in the private sector, say with large infrastructural development companies, then — in the event the state wants to operate competitive state-owned companies — it has to hire competitive people. Those will not go there to work for one-third of the wages. In other words, sometimes what offends our sense of justice and what proves collectively useful sometimes conflict. I think Gábor Vágó’s demands are popular now. But the death penalty is also popular, so why don’t we support it? Because we are principally opposed to it. I think it is not possible to conduct correct politics exclusively based on popularity and opinion polls because that takes us down the wrong path. We don’t want to be popular at the expense of having to support matters which we happen to believe are not good for the country in the medium term, even if the majority agrees with it today.

I understand the principle of competition. But for example Gábor Vágó cited György Matolcsy who obviously earns an outrageous amount, especially if we add the various dirty money flowing from his foundations. There are those who in his case would not be saddened if he took a little less home.

Okay, but that is a different question, if you don’t mind my saying. To say that a government of the democratic opposition will do the following with regard to the earnings of the heads of the Hungarian National Bank, that’s all right. Or to say in general that we do not agree with this terrible disparity in wages that has come about in Hungary between blue-collar workers and CEOs, that’s also okay. But we do not solve this problem one iota if we say, for example, that companies must pay a punitive tax if wages exceeding a certain amount are paid, and that beyond a certain point it is not worth paying them so much. We could say that the highest wage paid at companies should not exceed the average wage by a factor of five. Or that whoever pays more than this should pay at least the same amount to the state. I do not say that this is the best solution, but at least it is more sophisticated and would apply equally to state and non-state-owned companies

But for this the party that promises this and whose program stresses this must come to power. The goal of the current effort is to compel something to immediately come about.

Do you imagine that a valid referendum will result from this in which four million people participate? You must be joking!  Maybe Gábor says this and honestly believes it. But the political reality of this compelling some sort of legislative act is zero. It whips up certain passions without reaching its objective. Of course those initiating it — and I do not mean this in a pejorative sense — can derive some political benefit from it: Gábor will become better known, play a role, and realize some of his ambitions with regard to public life. Put another way, in a more positive light: a normal debate stemmed from his question for which we should be happy.

On the other hand, if I am not mistaken, DK representatives are supporting the Jobbik-initiated procedure stripping János Áder of power.

No. We will never sign off on anything Jobbik initiates. Out of principle.

I’m certain, however, that they are in the habit of attending the “Agora” roundtable discussions organized by Márton Gulyás’s Common Country Movement.

Yes, I was there. And from the beginning a DK representative has attended every discussion.

So you are participating in the struggle for a proportional or I would rather say fair electoral system?

Yes, even though according to our program we do not agree with it. That the electoral system is not free and fair is indisputable. But the biggest problem is not that it is not proportional. Look at the German electoral system. Is that proportional? No. The British system is a purely majority system, and yet it is free and fair. There is only one criterion to determining whether an electoral system is free and fair: whether it is built on an agreement of political parties having conflicting interests. Is it the result of consensus and mutual compromise? Our main problem is that it is a one-party electoral system!  We think there are two main principles. The one is that the will of the voters be reflected in their representation, that is the principle of proportionality. The other is that the electoral system ensure governability, that is, that it help the formation of a majority capable of governing.

The latter places emphasis on the principle of the majority.  Since both have their own logic, we would like a mixed system. But there are an awful lot of other solutions as well. Marci Gulyás says that it should be clean, proportional, include electoral lists of candidates, and perhaps that is the good solution. The point is that we received a polite invitation to the Agora, which is the symbol of dialogue. That is absolutely all right. Then let’s talk!

Let’s talk a little about LMP.  Since the start of September we have been witnessing two exciting developments: one is the candidacy (for prime minister) of co-chair Bernadette Szél . The other is the hiring of Ron Werber. Presumably you know both actors. What is your opinion of them?  How does all of this influence LMP’s changers and the campaign?

I think I’ve spoken with Benadett Szél twice in my life.

In the corridors or over coffee?

Once recently at length by telephone in a cordial manner. The other took place in a make-up room. That is the extent of my direct connection with her. Judging from her actions in parliament and elsewhere in public, I think she’s a talented politician who is past her initial difficulties. I cannot say when she will mature or whether she has already matured, but I am positive about her person. Ron Werber, on the other hand, I’ve known for about 16 years.

What kind of person is he?

Very talented. The kind of person who can persuade the blind that they will see again, the deaf that they will hear again. Someone who is very important in an election campaign. Like most talented people, he is a difficult person. He is not easy to work with because he insists on his point of view from beginning to end. There are two things I think he is good at: he is extraordinarily good at mobilizing base supporters, something  a party greatly needs, and he is excellent at molding the character of certain politicians. I think Bernadett Szél is in need of the latter, as she is a new candidate without decades of experience as a politician.

In a certain sense he is also the victim of character assassination in Hungarian politics, as are some of us. He never ran a campaign of hate. If I can put it elegantly, he ran a critical campaign, which is entirely warranted, and I have no problem with this. For opposition parties — which was the case with MSZP in 2002 — it was natural to make a critical campaign. LMP is in such a position now.

They claim they are preparing a positive campaign. Can you imagine this? 

No party will ever say that we are preparing an ugly, disgusting negative campaign.  Voters don’t like to hear this. Furthermore, opposition parties whose campaigns do not mostly consist of critical elements hurt themselves. If someone thinks that in a positive campaign the stronger message will be which of us promises what in public education, and that with this we unleash unbelievable energy and passion in the voters, then he doesn’t know them. We say “Orbán or Europe?” If I see it from their perspective, this is a strongly critical campaign. If I see it from our perspective, then it is positive in that we are offering an alternative. But allow me to add something: the key to LMP’s success in my eyes is whether they are capable of understanding that it is not possible to win many votes from the right.

You say they won’t be able to capture many votes from the right. It tones the picture somewhat that a recent survey indicates that Jobbik supporters would vote for Szél.

Except this will not be the case. They would stand behind her if it were a question of Orbán or Bernadette Szél?  (Jobbik chairman) Gábor Vona is a candidate for prime minister, who will not be abandoned by Jobbik voters for Szél’s sake. If, in the final months, it appears there is actually something at stake in the elections, or that there is a chance of changing the government, then 1-1.2 million people will turn out to vote who would not do so otherwise if the match was already over. In this way, participation will be 75 percent instead of 65 percent. Our task is to reach in the final months this relative plateau so that there is something at stake in the elections, and that is what will turn out so many people.

I think it’s a vain reverie that voters are quick to change parties. Those who are disaffected with Fidesz will for a good while say that they do not know whom to vote for, or rather simply will not vote. A lot of time, months or even years must pass before they find a new party for themselves. It is not really possible eight months before an election to take voters away from one party or the other. For this reason there is a huge competition for one million people who will probably vote, but still do not know whom to vote for, and there is another one million who only vote if the election is close. That’s two million people who can stir up things.

When did you last speak with Ron Werber?  Did you contemplate hiring him as a campaign guru?

We spoke often, and I met him frequently. We last spoke and exchanged short messages when I learned of his agreement with LMP before the story appeared in the press.

Did you merely discuss this by SMS?

Of course, absolutely.  During our meets there was an exploratory part whether we wanted to cooperate or not. In the end, we decided not to.

So there was receptivity on his part?

I wouldn’t say that. There was definitely an aspect of this to our conversations. Our friendship has remained, to the extent a friendship of this kind can exist, but the decision was not to work together with him.

And are you thinking of engaging another well-known or less well- known foreign campaign guru? Or are you confident in their own expertise?

You won’t get me to say who will be our advisors. But that isn’t even important. The person of the campaign advisor itself is only exciting if it’s an insanely strong public character. By the way, who works for a party is not that important because the final decision is  the politicians’ anyway. The advisor is responsible for offering advice, but it is for the politicians to decide, as we are responsible for our decisions.

A large number of slogans and catchphrases are mixed up today in connection with the NER (System of National Cooperation):  mafia state, crony capitalism, new Kadarism, neofeudalism, illiberal state.  How would you briefly summarize the point of the system?

I would say it is “rotten.”

Concise, but that doesn’t say much . . .

Look, I know all of these slogans. And I know most of the expert debates as well about the extent to which Bálint Magyar is right, and to what extent those using the term crony capitalism are right.

This “national” attack on all fronts is a corrupt system that goes contrary to centuries of progressive efforts in Hungarian history. I think it is unwarrantable. There can be no question that it will fail.

But there is a question of how and when?

As well as what it leaves behind. One must understand that political and historical success are two different things. There were many successful political systems in the 20th century that were capable of sustaining themselves for decades, and still we consider them to have led our nation into a dead-end street. I have no doubt that the Orbán system is historically an unsuccessful system causing enormous harm. As for how much time is needed to understand the political consequences and for an alternative to be born, or what the alternative will do with what is left behind, there are indeed a lot of questions. What we can do, we are doing.  I have no pangs of conscience in this regard. The rest depends on the election.

Many are of the opinion that a simple change in government will not do away with the NER. What concrete actions are required to wind it up?

Very much depends on whether we are talking about a two-thirds majority or a simple majority. There is no disagreement that priority should be given to the restoration of constitutional order, civil rights, media independence, and freedom of religious practice and the freedom to establish a church. What can be done about these things largely depends on the size of the majority, in other words, what means can be used.

Nor is there any debate — given the corruption of the system — that it is necessary to restore the independence of the judiciary, courts, and prosecutors. Furthermore, a large number of regulations are required in order to obstruct the corruption encompassing the whole state to a greater or lesser degree. Nor do I think there is any disagreement about the need to restore a greater level of freedom and independence to public education. We need to return the schools to the local governments, primarily to the teachers, children, and parents. This could be done relatively easily. It will be a much more difficult thing to put health-care in order because too much money is missing to achieve quick, visible success. Finally, we think it is necessary to restore the European and Atlantic orientation and to end this freedom fight which is leading nowhere, because it is destroying us.

What do you realistically expect from the 2018 election, and how do you see your own role?

I cannot answer unequivocally because the situation today is very complicated. If there is an agreement on the side of the opposition, and an agreement comes about between the political leaders, and if the voters maintain the previously unfamiliar habit which we first saw in the four by-elections involving a strong mood for a change in government, in which thousands of voters leave their own party and ad absurdum vote for the other side, because they see that candidate as having the greatest chance of victory, then Fidesz could lose 60-70 constituencies. Fidesz today is the largest minority. A majority with only 35-40 percent support can only work if the opposition is very divided.  Otherwise, it is discarded, because its support falls to under one third. If, on the other hand, the disparaging infighting continues, and everyone attacks everyone else, then Fidesz can win 100 electoral districts for a two-thirds majority. Between these two possibilities everything is possible. I am calm with regard to myself and my party because we will perform significantly better than before. At the same time, this is not great news for the entire democratic opposition. Frankly speaking, the most important thing is not what percentage DK has. At best, that matters to us and a few hundred thousand people. The real question is how the opposition will perform as a whole But the key to solving this question lies not with us but with other parties.