‘…the state will wither away’: ‘left-wing’ government in Hungary

After the Hungarians lost their chains

‘…the state will wither away’

The Hungarian Socialists are true to their Marxist roots in one respect: contributing to the running down of the state. In the postcommunist condition, the liberation from the central power, decentralisation has been a popular goal. In government, the Hungarian Socialist party of Ferenc Gyurcsány, with their Liberal junior partner Free Democrats, seeks to minimize state functions and expenses in the difficult economic situation the country has found itself.

Hungary was found having a heavy budget deficit. This emerged slowly after the previous elections held April 2006, and when the Finance Minister and the PM admitted having deliberately lied about it, riots broke out in September and October.

Gyurcsányi, the PM who lied, kept his post and even strengthened his position, as he was elected the party chief end of February 2007. What is happening in Hungary? Where do the left and right lie, and what’s going on with the parties an the state?

Basically, the country has been showing symptoms of deep polarisation, bipolar party system, since 2000. The primary goal of each of the two political elites is to be in power. When in power, the elite rules for itself and its supporters. Strong statehood and democratic politics as a cross-party conversation has lost its point – what is left is the two main political parties.

The dominant line of argument between the polarisation is nationhood. For the Hungarian right, who were in power 1998-2002 with PM Viktor Orbán – still a top politician in the country – the role of the state is to strengthen the power of the nation. When celebrating the so called millennium of Hungarian statehood in 2000, the emphasis was on the national character of the Hungarian nation-state. Not for nothing did professor George Schöpflin, now a Fidesz MEP, write about etatism and nationhood as highlights of postcommunism (1993, 2000).

For the left, the unspoken aim of the reforms is that the state should wither away in order not to function as a platform for the celebration of the nation. In part they seek to follow the neo-liberal economic models. To put it crudely, the final reason for the running down of the state is to privatise some of its functions for the left-elites.

The problematic of the nation manifests itself in anti-Semitism and accusations of such. Recently when abroad the Socialist PM has been accusing the main opposition party of supporting anti-Semitism, which he claims now is as bad as ever before. It is rather well-known for anyone reading key speeches and observing symbols of the Fidesz party that irredentalism and anti-Semitism are present in their rhetoric. One of the reasons is that it is impossible to revive the Interwar period’s heritage without also importing these dominant aspects of it. (After all, Hungary passed the first anti-Jewish law already in 1922.) Nevertheless, does this heritage really need to be recovered?

Riots are to be expected in 15 March 2007, when the prime minister will be giving speeches on the national day. It is a traditional holiday commemorating the 1848 revolution celebrated by all parties, but often monopolised by the right and the mass gatherings of the extreme right.

For the Hungarian right it would be unthinkable to reduce the state. They have been loudly against privatisations (such as the Budapest airport). Also, it is unthinkable for anyone with a traditional ideological map in their head to have the Socialist party selling state property.

This nevertheless, is happening. Not only with firms and functions but also with the real estate of the state. The government will sell all the building it is based in to cover the budget deficit. The aim is to create a new Government Quarters, built ‘without tax-payer’s contribution’ so that all the funds could be targeted to the budget and in brand new environment-friendly and functional rented property next to the western Nyugati square and train station (formerly Marx square) and near the West End city centre.

The site (see picture on NOL) belongs to the city of Budapest – lead since 1990 by a liberal mayor Gábor Demszky, who has been equally a red garment to the right-wing leaders as Ken Livingstone once was for Margaret Thatcher. Here the controversy lies in the Jewish roots of Demszky’s party (while Livingstone has more recently caused some by his anti-Semitic comments). It can therefore be seen as another reinforcement of alliance between the left-wing national government and the capital city

The idea is not only to relocate but also to shrink the state bureaucracy. The model for this Government Quarters was sought, for instance from Washington, as the related article in the Socialist newspaper Népszabadság on 18 August 2006 suggests.

‘Go west, get rid of the state-functions and property, think in short-term and rent in long-term’, the policy position seems to hold. Not only this, it stresses the importance of the party over the state. The crowning of the PM as the head of the Hungarian Socialist party. It highlights the process where the party is taking over the role of the state ‘whithering’ away.

Would it be different from the right? No, on the anti-communist side the party would adopt in a more traditional state socialist manner the control of the strong state and merge these two and the Hungarian nationhood into a single unit.

Postcommunism has its paradoxical side that may be difficult to comprehend, even in our Blairite post-Fordist polities.


Népszabadság online (NOL)

Treasury Property Directorate (KVI), press release 8 November 2006, http://www.kvi.gov.hu/index.php?akt_menu=83&hir_reszlet=53

George Schöpflin (1993) Politics in Eastern Europe 1945-1992, Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell. (2000) Nations, Identity, Power; The New Politics of Europe, London: Hurst.

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