Friday, March 07, 2008

Hungarian Crunch

We're less than 48 hours away from Hungary's crucial referendum on whether to scrap the doctor and hospital visit fees and tuition fees introduced by the hated Gyurcsany goverment. Here's my piece from the Morning Star on the wider importance of Sunday's vote.

While much media attention in recent weeks has been focused on Serbia in the light of the illegal US-sponsored breakaway of the province of Kosovo, things are hotting up in Serbia’s northern neighbour Hungary too.

Public dissatisfaction with the neoliberal, pro-big business government of Ferenc Gyurcsany (above, with buddy George W. Bush) has reached an all-time high.

Gyurcsany’s ruling Socialist Party (MSZP) has slumped to just 13% in the polls, support for its fanatically pro-capitalist coalition allies, the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) is just 3%. There have been widespread strikes and numerous public demonstrations. With millions of Hungarians struggling to make ends meet because of the government’s ‘reforms’, there is increasing public anger at the country’s corrupt and arrogant political elite: homes of the MPs who support health care privatisation have been attacked.

And on Sunday, there is a crucial referendum on whether to scrap the doctor and hospital visit fees and higher-education tuition fees introduced by the Gyurcsany government.

What is at stake in Sunday’s vote is not just the future of the Hungarian health service and preventing university education from once again becoming the preserve of children from wealthy families, as it was in the 1930s, but the ruling Socialist/Free Democrat coalition’s entire neoliberal ‘reform’ package. A ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum is being supported by a wide range of patriotic and progressive forces, including the main conservative opposition party, Fidesz, the Christian Democratic People's Party, (KDNP), the Hungarian Green Party and the Hungarian Communist Workers Party (Munkaspart).

Although he operates under a ‘Socialist’ banner, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, whose estimated personal fortune of $17m was made from controversial privatisation deals in the early 1990s, has adopted neoliberal policies so extreme that to call them Thatcherite would be an understatement. Even the Iron Lady did not seek to introduce compulsory private health insurance or charge people to visit their GP, as Gyurscany has done.

“Gyurcsany is our kind of socialist“ was the verdict of a US junk bond trader- in other words, Gyurcsany, an open admirer of Tony Blair, is no socialist at all. While even conservative opposition leader and staunch anti-communist Viktor Orban has conceded that for the majority of Hungarians life was easier under the benign 'goulash’ communist regime of Janos Kadar than it is today, Gyurcsany instead launched a hysterical attack on Kadar and Kadarism at a Socialist Party’s conference last year. The attack astonished delegates- if it was so obvious that the Kadar years were bad, why waste time attacking them?

By following a pro-big business agenda, one which has seen over 170 state enterprises sold off and a tax on stock market profits abolished, Gyurcsany has avoided the criticism from western leaders that his authoritarian rule might otherwise have received. When an alleged 108 anti-government protestors were arrested after the elections in Belarus in March 2006, there was loud condemnation from the US and EU. Yet that same year, when 145 protestors were still held being by the Hungarian authorities three weeks after anti-government demonstrations were violently dispersed by riot police, the US - and the EU- stayed silent.

Under Gyurcsany’s watch, a small proportion of Hungarians have got richer, but the vast majority of ordinary people have seen their living standards plummet.

In 2005, a UNICEF report highlighted Hungary as a particularly dramatic example of the worsening situation of children, with child poverty now over 20%. And in October, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that 200,000 people in Hungary, including 20,000 children, were under-fed. Around one in 10 Hungarians lives below the poverty line, with leading sociologist Zsuzsa Ferge warning a conference of the European and Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network that this year's planned price rises would push a further three million people into poverty.

The good news is that the Hungarian people are now fighting back.

They’ve been told constantly since the political changes of 1989 that good times were just around the corner. But apart from a short period at the turn of the Millenium, all they’ve had to endure is wave after wave of austerity. Hungary's GDP fell 20 per cent in the years after 1989, it was only in 2002 that output returned to its 1989 level.

According to the Gyurcsany government, there is no alternative to "economic reorganisation" of the health service and further cutbacks in state provision. The government propaganda leading up to Sunday’s referendum has been unrelenting: the health care and education reforms, will, the Hungarian people are repeatedly told, somehow ‘improve‘ the system.

But although there’s no money for the health care, education, or for Hungary’s seriously underfunded state railway, the Hungarian government is not always so miserly. Somehow it found £7.7m to buy new medium-range air-to-air missiles from the US arms manufacturer Raytheon. And the government also spent £34.5m for "training reforms" to "adapt" the armed forces to the demands of Nato and EU membership.

At the end of the day, Sunday’s vote is not just about Hungary, but about whether ordinary people and an alliance of principled conservatives, principled socialists, communists, greens and other progressives, can defeat the anti-democratic and increasingly tyrannical rule of money power.


Charlie Marks said...

Great article, Neil. Let's hope the liar Ferenc Gyurcsany gets a drubbing - the Hungarian people deserve a victory.

Neil Clark said...

Thanks, Charlie. The latest polls suggest that Gyurcsany will indeed get a drubbing: around 70% of those planning to vote are going to vote 'yes' to scrapping doctor and hospital visit fees and tuition fees. This is in spite of relentless govt propagaganda about how its 'reforms' are about 'improving' health and education!

Karl Naylor said...

Gyurscany lacks any credibility in Hungary know after admitting in a private speech in 2006 that he had 'lied, morning noon and night in order to get re-elected'. The lies being that he would not cut spending and not increase taxes which he subsequently went on to do.

Naturally, Tesco still gets tax breaks. The interests of small businesses and shopkeepers do not matter as they are confined to the 'dustbin of history'.

Now that speech has direct echoes of the announcement made on Radio Free Kossuth at 3.06pm Tuesday 30th November 1956 after the radio station in Budapest had been liberated from Stalinist control

'For many years our radio has been an instrument of lies; it merely carried out orders. It lied by night and by day;it lied on all wavelengths. Not even in the hour of our countries rebirth did it cease its campaign of lies'.

Gyurcsany might want to spin his speech as some heroic determination to face 'tough realities' that had been shirked by the MszP and other parties with regards Hungary's budget deficit.

The point to note is that he should have put that to the democratic mandate as he just did not suddenly have this 'moment of truth' after the election. That's why he's loathed viscerally now by so many Hungarians of all political persuasions.

However, Neil must remember people detest Gyurscany because this secret speech reminds them of Communist duplicity, not least the fact he used the language of the 56 Revolution to push as agenda that effectively diminishes the strength of democracy and reduces it to the kind of spin and political choreography that the much admired New Labour party pursues in Britain.

The 56 Revolution has a great standing in public memory in Hungary where collective amnesia is the condition Gyurscany would like in order to destroy the nation state and reduce the place to a bland investment zone given over to satisfying the demands of consumers and foreign speculators.

Gloating about having lied then having a moment of truth by invoking the language of 56, as if Gyurscany was fighting against 'reactionary' forces was callous and vulgar, not least as he peppered the speech with 'fuck' and 'shit'.

The best way to see the movement to get rid of Gyurscany is a revolt against post-communist elites, that is precisely those who had connections with Kadar's regime and used their network to enrich themselves with the dodgy privatisations in the 1990s.

The MszP is in continuity with Communism in that it reflects what Orwell knew where the Pigs in the Revolution.

Better regarded as 'Market Bolsheviks' there is still the same technocratic centralism, belief in ideology before people, rationalisation of privation and selling out the nation to foreign powers, this time the USA instead of Soviet Russia.

Having said that, Orban's comments which 'conceded that for the majority of Hungarians life was easier under the benign 'goulash’ communist regime of Janos Kadar than it is today' should be carefully interpreted.

Orban is not trying to retrospectively say that Communism was better but that the promise of 1989-90 has been betrayed by precisely the same people who would have profited from living under Kadar's regime. It is meant as an insult to Gyurscany rather than a compliment for Kadar.

Increasingly, the neoliberal consumer capitalist model is destroying liberty no less than Communism did-it aims to reduce the populace to an infantile condition of those who care about Megasztar instead of Petofi Sandor and who surrender their liberty for the illusion of the security
paid for through going to shopping malls.

The people of Hungary will not and should not forget.

The way protestors were treated in October 2006 would indeed be condemned if it had been Belarus doing it. Protestors, often men, women and kids were assaulted with tear gas as policemen without ID and ski masks pushed them together back into a crowd of far right protestors and then lost control.

Little fuss was made in the European press. The coverage of the Guardoian on CiF was a travesty as Orban was called 'merely far right' by the ignorant Patti McCracken who also didn't seem to realise that Hungary lost most of its territory not after WW2 but in the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.

Absurdly, Orban was painted as some kind of crude ethnic nationalist when he is a liberal conservative with a populist streak ie a patriot.

As in Budapest, the Metropolitan elites deride Orban as a 'peasant' when in fact he is Oxford educated and devoted to advancing the interests of those who do not live in Budapest or its suburbs and who have not benefitted from Market Bolshevism. Many of whom also, unlike the repulsive and banal Gyurscany, actually lived through or fought against the Soviet occupation in 1956. Unlike former MszP PM Gyulya Horn who supported the police in repressing the rebels.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what Dirty hungarian phrase book has to say about people like him...