East is East, West is West

At the time when France is panic-stricken after the nationalists’ triumph at the presidential elections, a really important event that may still remain unnoticed occurred at the other end of Europe, in Hungary. The Socialist party (former communists) with former banker Peter Medgyessy at its head won the second round of parliamentary elections in Hungary.

On the whole, the success of socialists was predicted. The Socialist Party was a confident leader after the first round of elections held on April 7. The center-right coalition headed by incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban organized demonstrations to catch the initiative. Still, the tactic failed, and the elections were not a success.

Hungary is economically one the most successful countries from the former Soviet Union. However, Hungarians themselves do not share this opinion. The electorate was becoming more and more irritated with inability of Orban’s government to cope with unemployment, inflation, and low wages in the medical and educational sectors. Despite its foreign political success (several years ago Hungary incorporated in NATO and is about to be a EU member now), the Hungarian government failed to cover its failures in the domestic social and economic policies. During his pre-election campaign, Viktor Orban tried to appeal to the people’s nationalistic feelings. He accused the neighboring Czech Republic of reluctance to review the Benes laws adopted after the WWII. According to the laws, not only Germans but also Hungarians living in the country were deprived of their property. However, the stake on nationalistic feelings failed. Instead, relationships with the Czech Republic were spoiled (the Socialist Party is already promising to improve the situation). Orban’s party did not increase its popularity at all. Therefore, the right-wing forces have become the opposition now.

There is one more interesting detail about the whole of the story. At the time when Western European countries are disappointed with traditional political parties, and electorate votes more for nationalists and far rightists, Eastern Europe is experiencing quite a different situation. Leftists (who are mostly Communist successors) have strengthened their positions. The Hungarian elections became a sequel to the victories of Socialists and social democrats in the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, etc. Even the Party of democratic socialism in Germany (former Socialist Equality Party of Germany) has considerably strengthened its positions, but, again, it is in the eastern part of the country, the territory of the former German Democratic Republic.

Why do leftists enjoy such great success? At the beginning of the 1990s, it was not clear at all whether left-wing forces would keep at least some influence in Eastern European countries. Nobody could even suppose that leftists would win in elections. The period of economic reforms caused people’s nostalgia for social and economic stability in the Eastern European countries. The state provided some guarantees in these spheres. Although some people were dissatisfied with the egalitarianism, the country did not welcome life on a free competition principle, especially middle-aged and elderly people, who were used to having guaranteed jobs, free medical services, low public utilities bills, etc. It was really difficult for people to get used to quite different, new realities.

Still, this does not mean that the Hungarian Socialists will jump at the revision of economic reform results. Only some slight changes in the social sphere are to take place. The majority of the population is unlikely to be satisfied with the changes. Thus, the rightists will have a chance to gain revenge for today’s defeat at the next elections. They are sure to take the opportunity.

Oleg Artyukov PRAVDA.Ru

In the photo from BBC archives: Socialists celebrate victory

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/22/40075.html

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