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The Miskolc controversy weighing over MSZP’s new leadership

July 21st, 2014

As the Socialist Party elects József Tóbiás as its new Chairman, left-and right-wing analysts continue to lambast the MSZP and DK for supporting a former local police chief as candidate for Miskolc mayor who is widely criticised because of his controversial remarks on Roma crime in the city.

In an analysis of the electoral base of the MSZP, Nézőpont (Point of View), a conservative think tank, warns that the choice of Albert Pásztor, the former Police Chief might justify Fidesz’s claim to represent moderation against two extremist forces – Jobbik and the MSZP. Pásztor became famous in 2009 when he ascribed 100 per cent of all street robberies in Miskolc to the Roma and added that “co-existence with our minority fellow citizens just does not work”.  Mr Gyurcsány, who was Prime Minister at the time, said those words sickened him, and his Minister of the Interior removed Pásztor from his job, although he was re-instated shortly thereafter, yielding to pressure from local Socialists. Nézőpont suggests that the Socialist Party has run out of funding, its organisational network is in shambles, it is devoured by infighting among rival groupings and its brand has lost most of its value. In fact, the new Socialist leadership has promised a new program and more vigorous nationwide infrastructure, but it has not addressed the main problem – how to win back its lost constituency. The only novelty in this field has been their “law and order turn” in supporting Pásztor’s candidacy, but that choice risks merely deepening the identity crisis the party is going through. In fact, the analysis continues, the MSZP has little to gain from competing with Jobbik. Their constituencies are very different in character. Jobbik’s voters tend to be young, rural and not highly educated, whereas inhabitants of Budapest, university graduates and pensioners are overrepresented among the Socialist electorate. A mere 5 per cent of potential voters say they might vote for either of these parties, but in their values they tend to be conservative and right wing. And by courting them through espousing anti-Roma attitudes, the MSZP risks losing far more of its core voters, Nézőpont believes.

In Népszabadság, Sándor Révész is outraged by Pásztor’s latest idea that the “Voivod-system” should be restored in order to keep the Roma population within the boundaries of the law, “since that system performed well for centuries”. Slavery also used to perform well, the liberal pundit retorts. The problem is that modern societies are based on the equal rights of all citizens. He also reminds the former police chief that the Voivods were not genuine Gypsy leaders but an invention of the Austro-Hungarian authorities in the 19th century. They were appointed by the local administrations and held responsible for any transgression committed by their clans. They were mostly considered as agents of the gendarmerie by the Roma themselves. In modern Hungary the law must be the same for all, Révész warns.

On Szuverén, Zoltán Miklósi goes so far as to suggest that the MSZP and DK are losing their right to stand up for democratic values by supporting Pásztor’s candidacy. Not only has Pásztor never withdrawn his earlier statements, but he has even gone on record recently as saying that there was more than poverty behind crimes largely committed by the Roma. “In other words, Pásztor believes criminal propensities are determined by ethnicity”. Miklósi also quotes DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány who asked whether “in addition to poverty and awful racist prejudice there isn’t something else in the background.” The liberal philosopher does not deny that certain crimes are mostly committed by Roma, but condemns the term “Gypsy crime”, because it is understood by most people as meaning that all Gypsies are criminals and that they transgress the law because they are Gypsies. But he opposes Pásztor’s candidacy in the first place because it sends the message that the man most fit to handle Miskolc’s ethnic conflicts is a former policeman. Miklósi praises the national leadership of Together – PM who withdrew their support from the candidacy, thereby “saving some of the Left’s lost honour”, but urges them to put up a counter-candidate, otherwise they would send the disgraceful message that “winning the post of mayor from Fidesz is more important than honest anti-racist left-wing policies”. In the absence of such policies, he asks, what is the point in winning those elections?

In 168 óra (print), Tamás Mészáros calls the case “distressing”. Supporting Pásztor’s candidacy, he declares, is simply a populist move, while the democratic opposition should distinguish itself from its political opponents first and foremost by representing “authentic values”. That said, Mészáros questions whether Márton Gulyás, a left-wing activist was right in trying to “hack” a DK rally last week-end. (See BudaPost, July 15 .) Nonetheless, the fact that he was physically assaulted by self-defined democrats, is proof of the “shameful intolerance of party militants”. Mészáros also criticises Ferenc Gyurcsány, who later apologised to Gulyás, but committed himself to reacting on the spot. Left-wing politicians and activists, he complains, are still unable or perhaps even unwilling to discuss their divergences or to make mutual concessions in order to come forth with a political alternative. That kind of rivalry plays into the hands of the ruling Fidesz administration, Mészáros concludes.

In Demokrata (print), Péter Farkas Zárug, who teaches political science at Miskolc University, suggests that Pásztor’s choice was prompted by the strikingly successful record of the incumbent Fidesz Mayor. Ákos Kriza has refurbished local historic buildings and attracted a substantial amount of new investment, while repaying the city’s debt. Now he has started addressing the crime problem and re-locating inhabitants who were not registered as having a permanent address in Miskolc. He started dismantling the dilapidated ghettos and gathered 30 thousand signatures to back his policy in a town of 160 thousand inhabitants. Albert Pásztor, Zárug continues, first tried to offer his services to Jobbik and to Fidesz, before deciding to run as an independent candidate backed by the left-wing parties. “They wanted to show that they too are on the side of law and order”.

In Magyar Nemzet (print), Dávid Megyeri calls the Pásztor candidacy an example of “Machiavellian adventurism” which will not prove useful in terms of new followers, since Jobbik voters are not inclined to opt for the Socialists, while the centre-right electorate will find them even more repellent as a result. Megyeri suspects that the idea must have come from France, where President François Hollande tried to “neutralise” his far-right rival, Marine le Pen by “playing racist chords in the run up to the electoral campaign”. Hollande also appointed Manuel Valls, the former Home Secretary who ordered the deportation (kiutasítás) of masses of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma from France, as his Prime Minister.  Since then, the approval rate of the French Socialists has sunk to record lows, Megyeri remarks.

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