Navracsics’s speech, August 31, 2007

Yesterday I gave a detailed summary and partial translation of Prime Minister Gyurcsány’s fairly lengthy speech in which he concentrated on the close cooperation between the Fidesz and the Jobbik, a party of the far right. Tibor Navracsics, head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation and a very close advisor and strategist of Viktor Orbán, must have been boiling while listening to the speech. Before he became a member of parliament and head of the delegation, he was considered to be a fairly mild mannered, reasonable, and polite man. But something happens to people when they become the leader of the Fidesz caucus. They become ferocious. They forget about manners and decorum. Well, in this case Navracsics seemed to forget that he was at an international press conference; he assumed the fighting stance of his customary battleground, the Hungarian parliament.

Navracsics began by saying that now the whole world can witness that Ferenc Gyurcsány has difficulties with the truth and with agreed-upon norms. (Apparently, the speakers were supposed to have kept their speeches short, under five minutes, and Gyurcsány talked for twenty minutes, according to Navracsics.)

Navracsics then blamed the prime minister for all the problems of today. Ever since he entered politics in 2001 he introduced the politics of hate. It was his idea to frighten the Hungarian public with the 23 million Romanians who would come to Hungary to work if the Orbán-Nastase agreement was realized. (The Fidesz government wanted to give special privileges to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. A passport-like identity card would have enabled its holder to receive discounts when using Hungarian public transportation, get a certain amount of money if his child attends a Hungarian school in Romania, automatically receive a permit to work in Hungary for a certain period of time, and similar privileges. In the first place, it would have been fairly difficult to decide who was a Hungarian and who wasn’t, but that was the least of the problems. The real problem was that neither the Romanian nor the Slovak government would agree to such an arrangement. Eventually, Prime Minister Nastase of Romania agreed to issue such an identity card on the condition that all Romanian citizens could receive one. Of course, the other side took advantage of this golden opportunity and used it in the election campaign. In theory, the MSZP was right. Such an arrangement could have allowed all Romanian citizens to work in Hungary. But only in theory.)

Gyurcsány’s other sin was that he exploited a very unfortunate turn of phrase used by László Kövér, perhaps the closest friend of Orbán in the election campaign. Kövér was criticizing the MSZP for not supporting the idea of applying to hold the Olympics in Budapest. What pessimism, he said. If one is that pessimistic, he ought to go down to the basement and hang himself. Well, it wasn’t too difficult to use that in the campaign against the Fidesz.

So far the two major sins were, in essence, clever MSZP campaign strategy. He then announced that if there is an antisemitic party, it is the MSZP because one of their parliamentary members joked about the Holocaust and, although he is no longer a member of parliament, he is still member of the party. Navracsics also recalled that another politician (locally in Budapest) called Tamás Deutsch-Für the Fidesz’s "díszzsidó," a fairly difficult word to translate but basically it means that he is there only for "decoration" (or, in American parlance, he is the token Jew). Thus, no one could say that in the Fidesz there are no Jews in leading positions. Considering that the politician who called Deutsch "díszzsidó" was himself Jewish and that the consensus was that this was not "Jew baiting," the whole thing is a rather lame attempt at calling the MSZP antisemitic, which is very far from the truth.

He then continued: "I think that what Ferenc Gyurcsány did today is again nothing else but the politics of hate, the sign that there are serious problems in Hungary and that the prime minister is unable to solve them." Gyurcsány doesn’t know how to govern, he knows only how to create hysteria. There is no question that the Magyar Gárda is bad for the country. The Fidesz from the beginning held that one ought to defend the rule of law. "The Fidesz is the party of order and a party that believes in the rule of law. It is not the party of hysteria as the MSZP is." The government should leave the innocent people alone and punish the guilty ones.

If this weren’t enough, Navracsics continued. "If I would lower myself to the level of Ferenc Gyurcsány, I would say that the MSZP is an antisemitic party because it didn’t expel antisemitic people. But I don’t say that because I don’t lower myself to Gyurcsány’s level." The Fidesz came into being in 1988 because their leaders wanted democracy in Hungary. At the same time Gyurcsány was not working for the democratic change; he was one of the important functionaries of the Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség (KISZ = Communist Youth Organization). "And now the same Ferenc Gyurcsány accuses us of wanting to create a dictatorship in this country. How does Ferenc Gyurcsány dare to do this? How does Ferenc Gyurcsány, the prime minister of the Hungarian Republic, dare to call those on the right fascists? How does he dare to say what he said a day before yesterday that the fascists are among us but they call themselves national and conservative? Mr. Prime Minister, I consider myself national, conservative and a right winger. According to you, am I a fascist?" (Perhaps the word "national = nemzeti" needs some explanation. It means more than "national" but someone who deeply cares about the "nation" [with more than a touch of jingoism] as opposed to those on the other side [socialists and liberals] who don’t care.)

And he continued his attack. The prime minister creates hysteria while the university students will be marching on the streets because of the introduction of tuition, while the health care system is in ruins, while the the drivers of the public transportation system will soon strike, and while families with many children cannot survive. In the last year this government destroyed everything which until now worked quite well, and they refuse to remedy the situation. Ferenc Gyurcsány refuses to face the fact that he is not fit to govern. Then he repeated that the Magyar Gárda is bad for Hungary, it serves only the interests of Ferenc Gyurcsány. "Therefore we don’t consider the Magyar Gárda a good and necessary organization." At the same time one must recognize that the constitution ensures the right of assembly. The Magyar Gárda was registered by the court. (Follow the tortured logic: the guard is bad for Hungary; one ought to defend the rule of law. But the rule of law says that it can exist. So if its existence is ratified by the rule of law, and one ought to defend the rule of law, how can the guard be bad for Hungary?)

What the audience must have thought I can well imagine. A few hours later Ferenc Gyurcsány flew to China.

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Dear Professor:
I am VERY glad that I discovered your blog. We had contact while on the Magyar Forum and on the short lived Hungarian Yahoo political group.
I am also a 56-er and received my academic qualifications in history, however, my area of interest primarily is Japan and secondarily China.
I read your observations with mixed feelings: On one hand I am thirsty for unbiased information about my birthplace and find myseld addicted to the viewpoint in your blog. On the other hand I feel frustrated that my original homeland has became so polarized and that the anti-semitic fascist right is still there after all these years of freedom of information and supposed democracy.
Looking at pictures of the Magyar Garda’s first public show, what struck mee that how many of the people wearing the old fascist uniforms were youngsters. In contrast, the counter fascist demonstrators looked much older, closer to my generation. I am very concerned about the future of Hungary and have postponed my planned visit to my birthplace, Budapest, indefinitely.


This echoes the early July FIDESZ statements that were little more than personal sniping aginst Gyurcsány (“he’s going crazy…” etc.) At times like this I remember a Nepszabadsag editorial from about three years ago which pointed out that FIDESZ leadership learned a lot of its political attack style by watching US politics during the Clinton years, and were impressed by the effectiveness of the Gingrich-Dole attacks on Clinton (focusing on ‘moral’ scandals real and imagined)and the subsequent use of anything at hand to bring an otherwise popular the President down. It worked, and that is what FIDESZ picked up on. They learned that unified talking points can swamp media outlets. They learned to use “good cop/bad cop” spokespersons. One problem, however, is that these techniques serve a two party system better than a parliamentary system… so they effectively created a virtual two party system.

a democrat
“The anti-fascists’ overreaction to Arrow Cross-inspired initiatives risk provoking a boomerang effect. An insignificant, peripheral Hungarist micro-grouping has just been given billions of forints’ worth of free advertising. To the hyperventilators we say keep calm! You’ll achieve more that way. The founding members of the Magyar Garda have sought protection from the President in response to Ferenc Gyurcsany’s request that public prosecutors keep a close eye on the far-right grouping. As a private citizen and as a voter, I, too, condemn the stated aims of this Jobbik subsidiary. But as a free-thinking liberal, I believe they have the right to express their views, however revolting they may be. Attempts at banning them without any kind of legal basis for so doing look hurried and even somewhat undemocratic. If a Brasilian, an Icelander or a Senegali were glancing at the latest headlines from the Hungarian Press Agency MTI, he would probably conclude that our country is teetering on the brink of a neofascist military coup. Rampaging storm troopers on the streets are apparently posing a real threat to the lives of peaceful Jews, Roma, gays and left-liberal politicians. Nazi-style parties supposedly enjoy real popular support and are about to bring an… Read more »