Gyurcsány’s speech, August 31, 2007

This morning I was able to read Prime Minister Gyurcsány’s speech given yesterday morning at a press conference attended by many ambassadors and foreign journalists. Moreover, Tibor Navracsics’s answer is also now available on the Fidesz home page. Although there are several good English-language news reports that summarize the prime minister’s address, they cannot go into the details. Gyurcsány’s speech was quite lengthy and full of historical references that may need some elucidation. Here I feel at home because I spent quite a bit of time studying and writing about Hungarian history between the two world wars.

Gyurcsány began his lecture–it was in essence a lecture–by answering a hypothetical question: "Why do we attach such importance to the increasing number of far-right incidents?" And he answers: "For two reasons. First, because history has taught us to be on our guard. Second, because these right-wing groups, unlike their predecessors in the last seventeen years, are not working in isolation but in cooperation with an extremely influential parliamentary party."

After these introductory words, Gyurcsány recounted the growth of the German and later the Hungarian right. In 1919 the German Workers Party had only six members until a certain Adolf Hitler joined the group. One of its branches was allegedly interested in sports, but in reality it was called by insiders the Sturm Abteilung (SA). This SA soon enough tried to overthrow the Bavarian government. The SA had only 2,000 members, as many as the Magyar Gárda is planning to have by October. Shortly afterwards their membership was 30,000, and by 1933 three million.

Gyurcsány gave a similar Hungarian example: "In 1935 [Ferenc] Szálasi’s followers were fewer than the membership of the Magyar Gárda. Four years later, the political right, the government, tried to be clever. The government thought that in order to divide the forces of the extreme right the best strategy was to draw some of its members into the government. Sound familiar? Everybody knows what happened five years later, on October 16, 1944. So much about history." October 16, 1944, was the day when Szálasi, with German backing, took over the government and a reign of terror began.

Then Gyurcsány launched into the details of the connections between Fidesz and the Jobbik, who is behind the Magyar Gárda. A few years ago the Fidesz invited Gábor Vona, leader of the Jobbik, to join the civil cell movement. (The cell movement was Orbán’s brainchild by which he was trying to build a network of politically active people all over the country.) In fact, Vona and Orbán were charter members of the same cell. Last fall at the local elections, the two parties jointly nominated candidates in eighty-one places. To this day in twenty-seven districts the two parties have joint representatives. One of the charter members of the Magyar Gárda is the editor-in-chief of the Magyar Demokrata, a misnomer for sure since it is an openly antisemitic, far-right weekly with very close ties to the Fidesz. A couple of years ago he even became a Fidesz party member. "No leading politician in the party we have been talking about here draws the right conclusion: one doesn’t cooperate with the extreme right, but fights against it."

Gyurcsány continued: "What is the real political content of the Magyar Gárda? … I would like to make clear that the Hungarian Socialist Party is convinced that what the Magyar Gárda represents is national socialism, Nazism." After giving a mini-lecture about Transylvanian runic writing and what it means on the insignia of Nemzeti Őrsereg–the other paramilitary group present at the swearing in ceremony, Gyurcsány argued: "This is the gathering of hungarists, fascists." (Hungarism was supposed to be the "ideology" behind Szálasi’s movement.) "Let us be clear: fascists are gathering not behind the bushes but in front of the President’s Palace. Two different things."

Then Gyurcsány went into some of the more horrendous articles that appeared in the Magyar Demokrata, a newspaper promoted by the leader of "the largest opposition party" (Gyurcsány assiduously avoided mentioning the name of the Fidesz or Orbán in this speech). Apparently he called on all good Hungarians to subscribe to this weekly. One the Demokrata’s articles claimed that the number of the Jews worldwide was the same in 1948 as it was in 1938. "This is called everywhere in the world a denial of the holocaust." The same paper considered David Irving, the Holocaust revisionist, the pioneer of liberal thinking. Another article entitled "IQ and Genetics" claimed that blacks are 200,000 years behind whites. "This is not conservatism, this is fascism." And, the prime minister continued, "the editor-in-chief of this paper is one of the charter members of the Magyar Gárda and an active member of the cultural section of the largest opposition party. Well, this is the problem."

Gyurcsány then outlined what the government can do to restrict the activities of the extreme right. According to the current civil code an individual can sue if a threat or a denigrating remark is directed against him personally. ("You deserve to die. You are a criminal.") But no suit can be brought if such a threat or denigrating remark is directed against a group. ("Jews deserve to die. Gypsies are criminals.") They want to change the civil code in such a way that those who as members of a group find themselves attacked could bring legal action.

Finally, Gyurcsány tried to clear up the question of responsibility. "There are some people, even in this room, who think that the Hungarian government and the prime minister are responsible for all this. But take notice: the examples I gave [from the Demokrata] are from before April-May 2006. At that time there was no government program, there was no [Balaton]öszöd speech, there was nothing. This is a slow but relentless drift toward the extreme right."

Tomorrow I will focus on Navracsics’s answer.