In both Hungary and the Czech Republic we have seen recently so-called “technocrats”, ex-bankers and so on, being called to form governments, which the main political parties apparently have nothing to do with. It is a fig leaf behind which they are trying to hide their complete capitulation to the capitalists, and thus hopefully save them from the wrath of the people. How long can this last?
The governments of the Czech Republic and Hungary recently fell almost simultaneously. It was late March and in both cases something happened unusual. The main opposition parties, after having succeeded in undermining the governing coalitions, paradoxically have shown no interest in calling immediate early elections which they would be very likely to win – and thus be able to form their own governments. Instead, all the major parliamentary parties rediscovered common ground for collaboration and decided to form a so-called “government of technocrats” headed and formed by unknown bureaucrats or businessmen with no visible connection to any political party.
“We are not holding onto our positions, but have found a resolution which genuinely brings us out of a certain instability,” said outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, leader of conservative right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Newly appointed Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who will stay in office until elections in late October this year, does not formally belong to any political party. He held the position of head of the Czech Statistical Office. He also worked in an International Monetary Fund mission. And as he put it: “This will not be a government of visions, but one of hard work”.
The Hungarian Parliament endorsed Gordon Bajnai as prime minister in early April, giving him a mandate for austerity measures supposedly aimed at reviving the economy. Mr. Bajnai, a “non-partisan” former economy minister, will head a government facing an economy in severe recession, with rising unemployment, a deeply depreciated currency, a dissatisfied electorate and a fragile majority in Parliament. The economy is also being kept afloat by a $25.1 billion loan package led by the International Monetary Fund. "If we do not act immediately and drastically, then we cannot avert bigger trouble," he said. The new Prime Minister also pointed out that, "The implementation of the programme will hurt, it will demand sacrifices from many... it will affect every family and every Hungarian…"
What does this game of non-partisanship and hesitation on the part of the main Czech opposition party, CSSD (Czech Social Democrats), and the Hungarian FIDESZ (Hungarian Civic Union – conservative Christian Democratic Party) demonstrate? Where does this unprecedented willingness to stand back and hand the leadership of the country over to little known individuals come from? One of them (Ferenc Gyurcsány) has happily offered his resignation and those in opposition have suddenly started to be uncertain; it may even seem that they were taken by surprise, facing the very real prospect of assuming the lead.
In the conditions of a rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Central and Eastern European countries, when government deficits are growing fast and with them the national debts, the biggest concerns are becoming plummeting income from tax revenues, the halting of foreign direct investment inflow and increasing flight of capital. With ever-rising unemployment, deficits in the budgets for healthcare and social services steadily widening, extra strain is being placed on the already seriously destabilized government spending.
The recipe which is traditionally applied for treating this kind of problem by international capital markets consists of cutting government spending in all its departments, which in practice means wage cuts for all public employees and the further erosion of vital public services (meaning privatisation and downsizing). Among those affected by this policy will be teachers, hospital staff, as well as council workers all around the country. And those who will be primarily in need of assistance, such as pensioners, unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged people, will be most at risk of falling into dire poverty.
Therefore, the leadership of every political party which has identified itself with the policy of austerity measures wrought upon the working people, has quickly realized that the recent opportunity of open and unrestricted ascent to power presents itself with the high risk of a rapid falling back down; and to a much lower level than where they were before, shortly after the first attempts to implement the so-called “neo-liberal economic reforms”.
However, the major parliamentary parties in both the Czech Republic and Hungary found an elegant way out of this peculiar and uncomfortable situation. They put together a government based on a silent agreement among the strongest parties, which on the surface will bear no direct links to any of them. The result is a de facto government of “national unity” – for neo-liberal capitalist principles which will provide an improvised shelter for the bourgeois political parties to weather the political storms ahead. In the coming times of heightened mass protests it will act as a lighting rod to direct the political responsibility away from individual bourgeois parties and limit any possible damage by spreading the risks equally among all the willing participants of the scheme. The philosophy behind it is not dissimilar to what the investment bankers had invented, formerly called “innovative investment vehicles” a strategy of spreading the risks, but which is now commonly called “toxic waste”.
Everyone is welcome, the more the players in the game, the safer the scheme is; and the more diverse the political spectrum in it, the better. Whatever the name, conservative, nationalist, Christian, social democratic, socialist, they have all found their common bottom line: the preservation of good old capitalism. And if they do get beaten, at least they are all in it together!
Difficult economic times, such as those we are certainly bound to go through in the coming years, tend to disturb and mix up the colours of the established political spectrum and what first comes out of it presents itself in various shades of blue. At this stage of political developments it is becoming increasingly irrelevant who actually formulates the political agenda of the Hungarian government, whether it be Ferenc Gyurcsány and his Hungarian Socialist Party or the conservative right-wing FIDESZ with Viktor Orbán.
Similar forces are at work on the Czech political scene, with the gravity of the economic crisis bringing closer together the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) and the conservative right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS). The preservation of the political system is at stake, and thus bitter political rivals pull in the same direction. The current leadership of the major political parties at this moment in time represent above all the interests of owners of the means of production, while those who depend on selling their ability to work to earn their monthly wage are finding themselves deserted by all of them, with no or little political representation in parliament.
Setting up of the “governments of technocrats” is a way of leaving the dirty work of destroying millions of lives of working people to individuals without a direct political allegiance to any parliamentary party and without any responsibility to answer to any of their voters. In reality it is a political coup against all the workers, a method aimed at confusing and disorientating people. It is a cunning move aimed at pushing through drastic austerity programmes, according to the script of world capital and its major institution IMF, euphemistically called “reforms”. How long all this will last is another matter.