Hungarian President Sólyom’s speech and reactions

I wrote this post and then decided it needed a prequel. So, here goes. The Hungarian president is to me the most intellectually annoying figure in Hungarian politics. Somehow he thinks he can be the spokesman for the morality of the country, he can represent the green movement, he can tone down criticisms against the right, and, when push comes to shove, he is clearly opposed to the current government. So, having vented (in however an abbreviated fashion), here’s the current report.

Even Mr. Sólyom agrees that there wasn’t really a "silly season" (cucumber season) in Hungarian politics this year. He began his speech by saying that "the fall opening of parliament is not the beginning of the political season." As usual, the president’s speech created quite a stir. The political discussions, the analysis of the speech began in earnest.

I listened to two programs: Olga Kálmán’s Straight Talk (Egyenes beszéd) on ATV, whose guest was László Kéri, a political scientist, and, also on ATV, the Monday night political discussion called "Newspapermen’s Club," a program somewhat similar to National Public Television’s Washington Week. The four newspapermen are: János Avar, György Bolgár, János Dési, and Tamás Mészáros.

Among these commentators the least critical was László Kéri, who wasn’t at all surprised by the tone of the speech because, in his opinion, Sólyom simply followed his usual form: from some Olympian height he criticized both sides without ever mentioning which side he was talking about. The president repeated again that the change of regime from dictatorship to democracy was real; this repeated emphasis–in Kéri’s opinion–is important because more and more right-wing voices claim that there was no real change of regime. There is no democracy but simply the continuation of the one-party regime, often with the same cast of characters. Perhaps Sólyom is a bit naive or too well-meaning when he simply asked the radical right not to use the red and white striped flag of the Hungarian Nazis because it frightens Hungary’s Jewish population. This may put Viktor Orbán into an uncomfortable situation. After all, Orbán immediately announced agreement and promised compliance with all the wishes of the president. What will he do now, Kéri asked. Kéri admitted that Sólyom is a idealist who stubbornly follows a certain path. The question is what he can achieve by this method.

Avar, Bolgár, and Mészáros (I refer to them as "the three wise men") were less charitable. According to Avar, the Fidesz can always count on the president. After all, he didn’t say one word about the Magyar Gárda, and the real question is whether the Fidesz will stop cooperating with Jobbik. This is the central question at the moment, but Sólyom refused to talk about this. After all, Avar continued, the Magyar Nemzet is the mouthpiece of Fidesz, and this paper for weeks has been speaking of the Magyar Gárda in approving terms.

Bolgár wasn’t too taken with Sólyom’s speech either. The president tried to criticize both sides in the following way: no political side can expropriate certain concepts, like "nation," or "antifascism." The problem with the comparison is that it doesn’t show even-handedness. The right claims not only that it represents the nation but that the other side are not really rightful members of the nation and that they are "foreign thinking." (In fact, Orbán used the Hungarian "idegenszívű" which literally means "foreign-hearted.") At the same time, Bolgár continued, the other side doesn’t call the Fidesz fascists. Bolgár also objected to Sólyom’s comment about the red and white striped flag as "frightening to the survivors and their children," meaning only the Jewish population of Hungary. The activities of the Arrow Cross Party after October 15,1944, were injurious not only to the Jewish population but to the country as a whole. According to Bolgár, this was the wrong speech at the wrong time. What the president should have emphasized was the need for dialogue. In these difficult economic and political times a certain minimum understanding is needed between the two sides. He should have urged the two sides to get together and agree on a program.

Mészáros concentrated on Sólyom’s "misconception" that he is not part of the political system. The president maintains that he is above politics. This is an untenable position. Naturally, he is part of politics. He was elected to his position by members of political parties. Mészáros also inquired what the president could possibly have meant by saying that there is no fascism but that there is a radical right. Moreover, why is he saying that these right radical elements will be out on the streets in the fall? Is he clairvoyant? And why did he contend that the MSZP was right radical when it "frightened the country with 23 million Romanians"? What does he want to say by this?

One thing all three men agreed on: Sólyom shouldn’t have left the building after his speech. If he had stayed, the Fidesz caucus couldn’t have left the room when Prime Minister Gyurcsány rose to give his address. The only question was whether it was just an oversight on the president’s part or whether he purposely did what he did. I don’t know, but somehow I’m afraid that Sólyom by now dislikes Gyurcsány so much that he didn’t want to be present during the speech. I hope I’m wrong.

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boiledbeefand carrots
boiledbeefand carrots
Solyom is a man on a moral revolution which it is likely that only him and his rather strange green backers understand. His moral mission is not shared by the vast majority of Hungarians. Yet he did have some valid points, obscured of course by his bizarre references to himself in the 3rd person and his equally odd suggestion that the land outside the Sandor Palota was available for protest by which ever fringe bunch of loons wishes to avail itself. That said I heartily disapprove of the government holding the world handball championships in Kossuth Ter to bar protests and thats not the only event being staged on days when protest might be expected. Back to what was good in Solyom. 1) If the reforms Hungary desperately needs are to be implemented, then Gyurcsany needs to stop accusing the rest of the political spectrum of being pure fascists 2) There is a risk that the reforms will fail because people feel betrayed, well at least 2 million fidesz voters, so there is no real prospect of reform. I dislike Solyom heartily. I suspect he walked out of parliament because he had attended the opening addressed by each party or… Read more »
Paul Hellyer

Éva – thank you for this entry and others which makes available to the English-speaking world events and reactions to Hungarian events that would otherwise go unreported. Nagyon köszönöm!
I also agree with your reactions to Sólyom. There is something quite irritating about his self-righteousness. He doesn’t seem to have the same degree of moral authority as Madl or Göncz, yet he is clearly articulate, intelligent and decent man.