Being an MSZP politician today is not a calling. It’s an occupation that has occupational roles assigned to it. But this job is something that the system keeps alive.” – Richard Szentpéteri Nagy, political analyst
Richard Szentpéteri Nagy is a constitutional lawyer, political scientist, and notable researcher at the Budapest-based Center for Fair Political Analysis. He worked for The British Institute for International and Comparative Law, and as a research assistant at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for State and Jurisprudence.
The soft-spoken intellectual recently gave an interview to Hungarian weekly 168 Óra, in which he said that the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) has no political character and has condemned itself to political obscurity. Meanwhile, precisely because of its lack of character, Hungary’s long-living socialist party serves an incredibly important purpose for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
According to Szentpéteri Nagy, Orbán owns key figures in MSZP.
“The biggest player [in this political game] is the one with the most power, the prime minister, the one who has several people inside MSZP, people who – directly and indirectly – are moved around, kept alive, and instructed by Fidesz. There are those who simply try to adapt and ‘make gestures’, thereby sending a signal that they pose no threat. And there are those that can simply be instructed, those who are kept in line with the appropriate tactics,” Szentpéteri Nagy says.
The political scientist says that MSZP is responsible for sabotaging Gordon Bajnai’s prime ministerial bid during the 2014 national elections. This, according to Nagy, is also evident in the manner in which “a significant portion of MSZP [politicians] have seamlessly integrated into the National Cooperation System (NER).”
“MSZP itself is a naturally stable component of NER. And this is true for a large portion of the entire left-wing opposition,” he says.
Szentpéteri Nagy says MSZP’s current referendum mishaps are a direct result of the party’s history.
“One can never start over on a completely blank sheet in politics, just as one cannot freshly re-start a marriage. One error will also lead to the next. From this either the participants learn their lesson, or at least promise not to make the same mistake again,” he says.
According to Szentpéteri Nagy, MSZP – unlike the now-defunct Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) – has not died out as the natural result of no longer serving its originally intended function as an “institutional party of the transition.”
SZDSZ had served a unique purpose in serving the cohesion inside MSZP — without which, Szentpéteri Nagy says, MSZP would have collapsed. But when coalition between the parties ceased to exist, so, too, did MSZP begin to crumble.
SZDSZ was no longer wanted by anyone in the Hungarian political system by 2009-2010. Fidesz issued the party’s death sentence and it “annihilated” SZDSZ.
“In contrast, Fidesz needs today’s MSZP, and it needs MSZP in its current form,” Szentpéteri Nagy says.
“Because this party is a cornerstone of NER without which the system does not work. MSZP will not die out because it is needed. This is precisely what the commonly cited term ‘central power area’ means. This term does not refer to the exercise of power or political system, it is a crucial feature of the party system, it intends to govern from the center. In order for this to happen, there needs to be one strong opposition party on the left and one on the right.
“The ruling power can crush either opposition. If one gets a little stronger, there are plenty of ways to weaken it — administrative and financial tactics, propaganda, and with political and legal machinations. This is the purpose of the election system. If one of these opposition parties becomes too weak, they are then helped because it is imperative that there be power on both sides. This shabby left wing is good for securing the left-wing balance. It is indispensable for this,” Szentpéteri Nagy says.
According to him, it is not likely that Hungary will be able to rid itself of MSZP any time soon.
“Two things would help the Hungarian left and competitive multi-party system at this point. One such possibility is for MSZP to become so incredibly small and insignificant that it would just disappear on the trash heap of history, just like other institutional parties from the transition. The other possibility is to have MSZP grow so large that it lead the left-wing pole as an unavoidable motor for renewal, to dub itself a center for integration for the entire left wing. None of these things have happened yet. These haven’t happened for six years.”
The political scientist stops just short of comparing Orbán’s political system to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While it is tempting to compare the two systems, Szentpéteri Nagy says such a comparison would not be just.
“Putin’s party is a very large party. Essentially, it cannot be defeated,” he says.
Szentpéteri Nagy says MSZP is not a party of convictions as much as it is a party that follows the whims of voters. In this sense, the party is being kept alive. Its popularity is not soaring, but it cannot really drop. In either case, “it is not MSZP that is dictating the tempo.”
Regarding MSZP’s dancing to Fidesz’s tune on the refugee issue, and therefore inadvertently becoming an opponent to Pope Francis, Angela Merkel, and the European Union, Szentpéteri Nagy says the party is no different than the rest of the country.
“The entire country has come to oppose the migrants. Even MSZP’s voters. Despite this, the government’s decision to move forward with the referendum is incredibly risky. Getting four million voters out to the polls is no small task. That is why the level of hate-mongering has no bounds, an incredible amount of money and energy is being spent on this. But this also comes at an incredibly high moral cost. This campaign will one day be shown as part of a documentary on the History Channel,” he says.
Szentpéteri Nagy dismisses MSZP claims that their message “is not coming across” in the media.
“What isn’t coming across in the media? [Their] nothingness? Please, they are just waiting for this entire affair to blow over, they are waiting for October 3rd. Then they just want October 23rd to pass, then the new year, and then March 15th. Being an MSZP politician today is not a calling. It’s an occupation that has occupational roles assigned to it. But this job is something that the system keeps alive.”