I am noticing some changes for the better after the successful passing of the health care reform bill. Not only do the government and the two parties of the coalition seem to be more sure of themselves but even their antagonists act differently. István Gaskó, the trade union leader who was previously an angry, unyielding man, became a jolly good fellow full of smiles after the unsuccessful strike attempt. The "intellectuals" on the left who announced that the bill and "evil capital" would bring ruin to the people now claim that the bill that passed is not the bill they opposed a few days ago.
The government moved to stem the flow of confidential information to the Fidesz from the national security office. There were several personnel changes (presumably getting rid of some of the people who were constantly leaking information), including the head of the organization. The government decided to appoint Sándor Laborc, a man they obviously trust, as chief of national security. Laborc seems to be an old hand at intelligence and was employed by the same office during the Orbán period. However, the opposition "suddenly" discovered that Laborc studied in Moscow. Of course, there is nothing terribly surprising about this: all the high-ranking Hungarian intelligence officers studied there. The attack on Laborc was fierce. Yet the government didn’t retreat and, in spite of all opposition, Gyurcsány signed Laborc’s appointment. The Fidesz is mighty upset: they announced that from here on they will not participate in the parliamentary committee on national security.
Then there is the battle of the "open letters," that is, letters signed by a list of relatively prominent individuals and published in newspapers. Hungarian intellectuals love the open letter format. In this case, the first open letter came from left-wing intellectuals whose thinking seems to me still greatly influenced by the Kádár regime’s anti-capitalist rhetoric. One of the signatories was Gáspár Miklós Tamás, a political philosopher who has gone through several transformations–from liberal to conservative to what Marx called a utopian socialist (as opposed to the scientific kind) in the last twenty or so years. The other well-known name from the list of about 140 people is Zsuzsa Ferge, a sociologist whose field of interest is poverty, its causes and remedies. The gist of the letter is that the current system is terrible but the introduction of private capital will not provide equal care for everybody.
Of course, there are at least another 140 intellectuals who do not agree with Tamás, Ferge, and their friends and who are equally if not even more respected in their fields: Tamás Bauer, economist, Zoltán Ripp, historian. Tibor Hajdu, historian, Miklós Jancsó, film director, Flóra Fencsik, journalist, Tamás Sárközy, law professor, Ágnes Heller, philosopher, and one could go on and on. They also wrote an open letter that appeared in Népszabadság (December 17) with the title "Answer to the Crossroads." In Hungarian it sounds better: "Válasz a Válaszútonra."
Of course I am not quite objective, but after listening to a conversation today between Ferge and Bauer there was no question in my mind where the real intellectual power lay. Again, it seemed to me that even Ferge realized that perhaps it hadn’t been wise to sign this letter because she retreated by saying that the final bill was not the bill she really objected to. It had gone through many changes since she saw it. However, she kept repeating to the very end the evil consequences of private capital in health care and the worn-out mantra: "health care is not business." No? We all know better, don’t we?
The courage of the prosecutor’s office seems to have been bolstered by President Sólyom’s condemnation of the Hungarian Guard and it looks as if the Guard will be banned after all. I can’t believe that the court would go against both the prosecutor and the president. The gypsies also had enough and announced that if the Guard is not abolished they will organize. The Hungarian Reformed Church decided to act too: they are considering defrocking Lóránt Hegedűs, Jr., thus putting an end to his antisemitic sermons from his downtown Budapest church. I’m sure that he will remain active but at least not from within a Christian church.
All in all, I believe that the government not only survived this very difficult year but came out of the battle strengthened.