In the last week I have become more and more convinced that certain circles close to Fidesz are waging a well constructed and successful propaganda campaign in the media that will "rewrite" the results of the plebiscite. Attila Ágh, the political scientist, made an interesting observation. Every political event has an afterlife, and the massaging of this afterlife is just as important or perhaps even more important than the event itself. He gave a very good example: the events of October 23, 2007. The actual event was a fairly serious disturbance by a violent mob against the police. But its afterlife bears little resemblance to the original events. By now the conversation is not about a drunken mob but about peaceful demonstrators who were attacked by the vicious police. And the police are led by a bloodthirsty dictator, the prime minister, who is criminally liable for endangering the lives of peaceful citizens. With clever manipulation the events we saw with our own eyes on the television set become a mere mirage. Something like that is going on today with the results of the plebiscite.
Everybody knew in their heart of hearts, including Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, that the referendum could not be won. The only surprise was the number of people who went out to vote. A bit over 50% of all eligible voters. The analysis of the results is not ready yet, but according to educated guesses Fidesz managed to convince about 70% of its own followers to vote. Where the other 30% came from remains unknown: from MSZP supporters, from the undecided, from those who never voted at general elections but when the question concerned their pocket books decided to go and write in a big "yes"? There is a strong, and a likely, suspicion that those dollar signs (pardon, forint signs) had something to do with the large turnout. We might recall the earlier referendum of December 2005 that also included a question on the ownership of hospitals. That referendum didn’t attract people in such large numbers.
Following the counting of the ballots of the recent referendum rumors have been flying, especially in the right-wing media. Magyar Nemzet is the leader in this department. This paper ignores the most basic practices of good journalism. The informants are always anonymous, and there is no confirmation of information. There are, however, a lot of conditionals. An article about the prime minister’s possible resignation begins with the words "not unimaginable." I guess not too many things are unimaginable except perhaps that the sun will rise in the west or that we will live forever. The problem with this kind of journalism is that it is highly misleading. The careless reader who looks through an article while having breakfast will not remember the "not unimaginable" phrase. Rather, his takeaway will be that Gyurcsány will not be prime minister by summer time, and he will spread this news to his neighbor.
The homepage of Fidesz announced that this weekend the upper echelon of the MSZP was scheduled to hold a vote of confidence on Gyurcsány, and the article adds that "political analysts are trying to pinpoint the date of his departure." Tamás Fricz, a Fidesz propagandist posing as a political scientist, purports to know that "Gyurcsány will resign this year and Péter Kiss will be the new prime minister." Heti Válasz, allegedly a more moderate right-wing weekly, also has its candidates: Gordon Bajnai, minister in charge of local government and regional development, or András Simor, the head of the National Bank. Needless to say, these prophecies have no basis in facts.
Meanwhile this propaganda campaign even manages to infect the more liberal "intellectual elite" as they like to call themselves. These people are also spreading rumors about grand coalitions, the breakup of the coalition, the MDF’s future role, and all sorts of things that again lack substantiation.
The real news about this weekend’s meeting of the MSZP bigwigs is that it was a rather prosaic, peaceful affair. There was no vote of confidence/no confidence, they didn’t tell Gyurcsány to get lost, they didn’t suggest that he give up his post as party chief. Just the opposite, the "presidium" (elnökség) supported Gyurcsány, and Gyurcsány promised to work more closely with the leading members of the party. Even Katalin Szili promised to be a good girl in the future. This outcome was a bit of a cold shower for the right-wing journalists. Nonetheless, they run headlines that show Gyurcsány in a Lenten rather than an Easter mood: "I am not able to carry on alone…." A pessimistic sounding phrase full of foreboding.
Hungarian society is in a feverish state, and it will be difficult to cool it off given the present situation. There is a slight chance that Fidesz will slow down its attacks on the government because, after all, not even Viktor Orbán wants to have early elections and an early victory. Although he would very much like to be prime minister again, under the circumstances I’m sure that even he thinks that it is better to leave the dirty work to his hated enemy.