Hungarian press conference about the Guard: who won?

Commentators can’t decide who, if anyone, won last Friday’s "debate" during the five-party international press conference. One ought to keep in mind that it was not supposed to be a political debate (brawl?) but preferably a unanimous condemnation of the Hungarian Guard and the Jobbik, a far-right party that is behind its creation. The press conference was the brainchild of Ibolya Dávid, party chief of the MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum), a small moderate right of center party, who is about as critical of Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz as are the leaders of the MSZP and the SZDSZ. The days when the Fidesz and the MDF formed a coalition government and Ibolya Dávid was its minister of justice are long gone. Orbán surely hates Dávid almost as much as he does Gyurcsány. Perhaps even more so because he is convinced that the Fidesz lost the last election because the MDF waged an independent campaign, not under the Fidesz umbrella. The MDP managed to get the necessary 5% of the votes to be represented in parliament; it has eleven members. I find their political stance in the parliamentary debate sober, rational, and consistent. I don’t always agree with them, but they are refreshingly independent.

So let’s consider what Ibolya Dávid had in mind when she invited the other four parties to this press conference. What was her aim? Did she naively think that perhaps in front of the foreign ambassadors and reporters of respected news agencies the Fidesz would see the light and agree to condemn the Jobbik and the Magyar Gárda, which the party had refused to do for at least a week if not longer? Somehow I don’t think Ms. Dávid is that naive. Did she want the whole world to know the real Fidesz stance on the question of the extreme right? I suspect the latter.

And now comes the question of whether Ferenc Gyurcsány did the right thing when in his "lecture" he outlined the history of fairly close cooperation between the Fidesz and the far right. He concentrated only on the Fidesz’s cooperation with the Jobbik and the antisemitic weekly, the Magyar Demokrata, but he could have gone farther back and talked about the Fidesz and its so-called "opposition" in parliament between 1998 and 2002. Then the MIÉP, an extreme right-wing party, actually supported the Fidesz government, and the MIÉP was not a bit better or more moderate than the Jobbik. It’s true, István Csurka didn’t contemplate establishing a guard, but he certainly was no poster child for democracy. At any event, what Gyurcsány said in his "lecture" was based on hard facts. The question is whether it was strategically wise to attack the Fidesz or would it have been better simply to join Dávid in condemning all neo-Nazi formations and distancing himself and his party from the far right. If Gyurcsány had restricted his talk to this simple announcement, then perhaps, some commentators claim, Navracsics in the name of the Fidesz and Harrach as the representative of the Christian Democrats would have had a harder time explaining why they do not condemn the Jobbik and the Gárda.

In my opinion the Fidesz and the Christian Democratic party wouldn’t have joined the other three parties in their condemnation of the Jobbik and the Guard no matter what. They wouldn’t have because the effective, if not nominal, head of both parties, Viktor Orbán, still is striving for a united front. Everybody on the right should be allied with the Fidesz: from moderate to extreme right. He has already lost the MDF, and he doesn’t want to lose the Jobbik-MIÉP-Gárda and all those who write those horrible things on the internet. Orbán’s famous slogan, "One camp, one flag," refers to this aim, in which he firmly believes. The extreme right–judging from the right-wing internet blogs and forums–is not really satisfied with the Fidesz and the Christian Democratic party’s attitude. According to them, the two parties should announce their support openly. What does it mean that "the guard is bad for Hungary?" How can that be? These young people are the hope of the country. They are trying to bring "real democracy" to Hungary. They are the ones who want to have a real change of regime, not like the phony one in 1989-1990.  According to conventional political wisdom, it will be difficult to appease these people, and at the same time the Fidesz might lose some moderate elements to the conservative MDF.

Yes, perhaps without Gyurcsány’s speech Navracsics would have been deprived of an opportunity to attack the prime minister. On the other hand, without the prime minister’s speech foreign journalists wouldn’t have been able to learn about the history of close cooperation between the Fidesz and the far right. And as far as I can see in the foreign press, there is no question that they understand the Hungarian situation better than they did let’s say two weeks ago. On the other hand, the political debate at a press conference was unseemly, and the impression it left was most likely unfavorable. However, one might add that for a better understanding of Hungarian politics it is perhaps better to know the truth.

Perhaps without Gyurcsány’s emphasis on the growth of the extreme right and the danger it poses, the seeming rift between the MSZP and the SZDSZ wouldn’t have occurred. Mátyás Eörsi, head of the SZDSZ parliamentary delegation, represented the liberals. To everybody’s surprise, he announced that there is no fascist danger in Hungary. Mr. Harrach of the Christian Democrats could only agree. Well, this doesn’t happen too often. Later on, Eörsi tried to explain why he minimized the danger coming from the right: he felt that the country’s reputation suffers by overemphasizing the problem. After all, the followers are still relatively small in number and no extremist party’s representatives sit in parliament. Needless to say, Mr. Navracsics and his party’s leadership were delighted. By yesterday, Navracsics announced that Prime Minister Gyurcsány is isolated; even the SZDSZ has deserted him. With his emphasis on the fascist danger, the prime minister is actually "using the tragedy of some people’s parents and grandparents in the service of his political ambitions." As far as the Fidesz is concerned, "the question is closed." But I’m not at all sure this is the case. The question is who came out of the political duel better off: the Fidesz or the MSZP, Orbán or Gyurcsány. I don’t think that one can decide this as yet. Moreover, don’t write off the organizer of the event. Personally, I’m cheering her on. I think that to be a true member of the European Union Hungary needs a competitive, respectable conservative party.