Jozsef Debreczeni's biography of Gyurcsany, which was being signed by both biographer and subject at the Book Week, is a bit like the opposite of a magic mirror. The book makes Gyurcsany and his circle look better the closer you get.

The author
After completing his posthumous biography of Jozsef Antall, Debreczeni started work in 1999 on a biography of Viktor Orban. In the preface to his third political biography, Debreczeni writes: "The prime minister was not happy about this: he refused to cooperate." We should add that this boycott did nothing to weaken the book. Debreczeni's biography of Orban is objective, analytical, rich in facts and also highly readable.

Reading the Gyurcsany biography, the critic soon comes to the conclusion that the author has not come close to matching his earlier achievement, despite a head start. Unlike his predecessor, Gyurcsany was keen to help his biograper. But the endless interviews and private conversations have led to a less effective book.

For a start, it is always suspect if an active public figure is too helpful towards a biographer. Not for nothing are Greeks bearing gifts to be avoided. There is always the risk of manipulation. The writer can always compensate for this by talking to witnesses from the other side and scrupulously assessing the documents.

But Debreczeni has made no attempt to achieve balance. The book is based upon Gyurcsan'y and his friends' testimony. The author asks to be excused for this, saying that he lacked the time, adding: "I deliberately avoided active politicians, believing that their position prevents them from speaking freely. I though it pointless to talk to his political rivals." This is a weak argument.

The genuine biographer should talk to his subject's colleagues, but also to his opponentes, including those who remain active, but have fallen out with the subject in some way. The biographer's job is to filter the testimony he gathers, working out how much of it is the product of a damaged ego, and how much is the truth. Yet, apart from some self-justifiying or self-revealing handwringing from Medgyessy, Debreczeni has not succeeded in this.

That's a forgiving description of the process by which a simple teacher training student in Pecs in the early 1980s managed within three years to become had of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party's university and city secretary. During Gyurcsany's time in that position, there was a student movement called the Dialogue Peace Group in Pecs, with whom the party clashed - yet this story is told through the eyes of the prime minister. The viewpoint of the other side is barely addressed. Debreczeni does occasionally criticise the prime minister's past. But one often feels that he attacks only in order to have a reason to praise him later.

The worst problems occur in the description of Gyurcsany's role in the privatisations and in the construction of the Altus empire. Debreczeni certainly takes a close look at those transactions that followed immediately after the regime change. The question he seeks to answer is whether Fleto's party role played a role in his wealth. He concludes that talent played a greater role than corruption in Gyurcsany's success. We have to question this claim. Not just because former functionaries are massiely overrepresented among Gyurcsany's business partners, but also because, despite his enormous talent for business, Gyurcsany would never have got where he is today without making use of the contacts and support base of the former state party.

And to do this, he had to make his peace with the regime.

Tamas Laszlo Papp