Remembrance of October 23, 1956

Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech last night in the Opera House was excellent. He is an amazingly good speaker. Unlike most politicians he writes his own speeches, or, to be more precise, he spends some time in his study, walking up and down, and "thinks out" his speech. Then he appears without even a piece of paper in hand.

Viktor Orbán’s speeches used to be praised because of their eloquence, but he works from a text, most  likely composed by a speech writer. Of late, people who used to like Orbán’s oratory are less enthusiastic about his performances. They find his speeches lacking in substance, and he seems to be lost in a mass of forced metaphors. Moreover, József Debreczeni, who used to be a teacher of Hungarian literature and history in high school, has complained about Orbán’s style, saying that he wouldn’t have accepted such verbal flourishes from his high school students. And not just one such flourish but one after another after still another.

Because I still don’t have the text of Orbán’s speech, I will not try to compare the two speeches in content or in style. I will do that perhaps in the next few days. Suffice it to say that Orbán didn’t even pretend that his speech had anything to do with 1956. It was a political speech pure and simple. As Mátyás Eörsi, leader of the SZDSZ caucus in parliament, said: he didn’t think that "the martyrs of 1956 died for Viktor Orbán’s ambitions to be Hungary’s prime minister again."

Tonight’s gathering was very moving. Actors read literary pieces written during those fateful days; afterwards a modern dance troupe offered an interpretation of the revolution, from the initial euphoria to the return of the Soviet troops.

And yes, there were a few disturbances but the police handled them well. Sixteen people were arrested, and a few policemen were injured–not the four hundred of last fall but perhaps nine. The troublemakers soon realized that they were too few in number and that the police were too well equipped. This was a very different situation from that of last year.

As for the Fidesz demonstration. The organizers expected 100,000 people but official estimates talk about 20-30,000, which was actually not bad considering the pouring rain. (The Fidesz likes to exaggerate. According to the organizers 250,000 turned out.) Just as I suspected, the extreme right managed to break through the cordon and join the Fidesz’s "peaceful" demonstrators. Thus, Nazi flags were seen in the Fidesz ranks although the organizers asked people to leave those flags at home. There were quite a few skinheads among them but luckily not enough to cause trouble. The march to the House of Terror went off well. It took the crowd about half an hour to get there; by that time at least half of the people had had enough of the rain and wind and went home.

I’m curious what Orbán’s next move will be. I can’t think of too many new things, but I should know better: Orbán always finds something new and surprising, if not always successful.

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Paul Hellyer

The problem with Gyurcsány is that for a goodly proportion of Hungarians he is damned for a) his Balatonőszöd speech and b) the corruption associated with his MSZP government. So no matter how clever and thoughtful and articulate he is, and no matter how much he appears, to me at least, to be interested in solving Hungary’s problems, for a lot Hungarians this is not the issue. For them he could say the sun was going to rise tomorrow morning and they would not believe him.
On the the other hand, the Right is poorly led, mired in an almost Kádárist-like mentality of pretending that all problems can be solved by the State, rather than by individuals. Sometimes I wonder if both FIDESZ and the far right (Jobbik/Magyar Garda) regard each as “useful idiots”. Who would know who is correct!
Nonetheless this October 23rd, a sadness pervades the land and as one Hungarian said to me, more or less, “Jaj, de nagyon szomorú ország”. We can only but agree.