Life and Work of Kálmán Széll

2011. 10. 03.

Kálmán Széll 

MTVA Press Databank


Budapest, Tuesday, 1 March, 2011 (MTI) - On Tuesday the government disclosed the Széll Kálmán Plan, designed to reduce government debt.  The biography of Kálmán Széll, the former politician, prime minister, finance minister, and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the eponym of the plan, in the compilation of the press databank of MTVA:


Kálmán Széll was a pragmatic politician, who believed that historical foundations and progress were inseparably the one and the same. It was with the cool calculation of the sober businessman that he viewed the world around him - a feature that was much admired even by Emperor Franz Joseph. Kálmán Széll believed that: "Relying purely on financial regulators, government finances cannot be improved on. We definitely need radical measures affecting all branches of public life as well as a set of rules aimed at the development of the economic and financial powers of the country. The interests of financial welfare and development intricately interweave the entire government organisation with fine threads."


Born on 8 June 1843 in Gasztony of Vas county, Széll remained proud of the noble traditions of his family and their role in 1848. His father was a high-ranked public official and MP. Kálmán Széll began studying in the Sopron Benedictine grammar school then went off to Szombathely to pursue his academic career with the Premonstratensians. He graduated as a law student in 1863 in Budapest, then went on to obtain his doctorate two years later.  He began his career in Rátót in Vas county in 1867 as a Iudex nobilium (noble judge). He took this office on the encouragement of Ferenc Deák, the guardian father of his wife, Ilona Vörösmarty (daughter of the celebrated poet). The young lawyer was preparing to pursue a career in politics and in 1968 he was elected MP for Szentgotthárd with a political programme defined by the ruling party.In recognition of his work, he was asked to take the office of interior state secretary at the age of 28, but he declined. From 1881, he was representative of electoral district No2. the Pozsony, and from 1901 of Szentgotthárd.


On the advice of Ferenc Deák, he started studying finance and soon he became on of the most celebrated financial experts in the country, a permanent speaker of the National Assembly's financial committee. In March 1875, he was elected finance minister of the Wenckheim-cabinet in the colours of the Liberal Party. From October of this year until 11 October 1878, he remained in this office in the government of Kálmán Tisza; his greatest success in office was the establishment of the Austrian-Hungarian Bank, which was responsible for the issue of banknotes.  He kept the general government in order, increased government revenues, and organised the tax supervisory institution. In 1878, at the time of the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, he resigned because of the high costs of the occupation. Retreating from high politics, he entered the most versatile period of his life. Upon the request of Viennese banker circles, he managed and oversaw the operations of two major financial institutions with great devotion and diligence. In 1881-99 he was the director of the Leszámítoló Bank, and between 1886 and 1899 and again from 1907 until his death, he was the President of the Board of Directors of the Magyar Jelzálog Hitelbank (Hungarian Mortgage Credit Bank). At the same time, he had succeeded in turning his Rátót estate into a model farm.


In the closing phase of the Bánffy-government, amidst deepening crisis, he again joined the realm of active politics towards the end of 1897. On 26 February 1899, he accepted the office of Prime Minister (he was simultaneously also Interior Minister). The slogan of his government programme of "law, rights and truth" soon became a political maxim. His compromising negotiating skill had almost always resulted in instant success: the opposition parties consented to the election of the president and deputy of the house of representatives and to the passing of the budget and the conscription law. He continued to remain ready to make compromises, which helped establish long-term internal balance and he expanded the parliamentary foundations of his party by amalgamating the National Party. In 1901, the Liberal Party achieved a spectacular victory in parliamentary elections despite the fact that its members represented a whole range of different interest groups. 


One of the greatest achievements of Kálmán Széll was the agreement made with Ernst Körber, prime minister of Austria, on 31 October 1902, which secured the appropriate economic parity between the two states of the Monarchy , which is considered a new economic compromise between the two countries. It was the defence debate that led to the eventual fall of the head of government. For in the debate, instead of arguing for the raising of new conscripts, he attempted to increase the number of soldiers by introducing additional reservists, which had caused fierce internal political commotion and eventually led to his resignation from the prime ministerial office on 27 June 1903. But Széll did not entirely retire form politics; he continued to  work as an MP, and in 1906-10 he was elected the president of the Constitution Party. After 1911 though, he limited his public role to the economic life. In 1893 he was granted the cross of the Lipót-Order, in 1902 he was given the Grand Cross of the St. Stephen Order, and in the same year he was elected member of the board of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He died in Rátót on 16 August 1915.