Fidesz birthday bash: Twenty years

It was on March 30, 1988, that a group of university students established a youth organization (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége/Association of Young Democrats) independent of the sanctioned KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). The founding members numbered thirty-seven, and most of them lived in a residential college later named after István Bibó (1911-1977), one of the most original political thinkers of modern Hungary. For Fidesz’s twentieth anniversary the founders, by now with their growing families, gathered in their former residential college to cut the giant birthday cake. And, of course, some of them made speeches.

The most important speaker was László Kövér who was the moving spirit behind the organization. Kövér was not the most assiduous law student so his studies lasted a tad longer (seven years all told) than normal. He was four years older than his friend, Viktor Orbán, who apparently greatly admired him. Kövér admits that originally they didn’t want more than to "be able to organize freely." The leaders of Fidesz are very proud of the fact that they were the first daring ones who managed to formally establish an oppositional group.

While Gyurcsány was making a speech in front of the party faithful, Kövér claimed in his speech that "the same governing elite that was in power in 1988, 1989, and 1990 still holds Hungary captive." This rather exaggerated remark is based on the fact that in those days, the current MSZP leaders, including Ferenc Gyurcsány, György Szilvássy, and Péter Kiss, were all employed by KISZ. Of course, KISZ didn’t have much importance or power. Moreover, the dividing line between the two groups wasn’t that sharp. After all, Kövér three years earlier, in 1985, envisaged himself and his friends as future MSZMP party leaders who would have a political role to play "whether they want it or not."

Kövér went even farther and compared today’s democratically elected government to the one-party dictatorship. The October 23, 2006 "police attack" bears a strong resemblance to the "sins of the late Kádár regime" when police brutally attacked leaders of the opposition. The only difference between the two periods is that in the dictatorship the government had all the legal weapons to crush the opposition while today Gyurcsány had to break the law in order to quell the rightful opposition to his regime.

Kövér emphasized that the most stable characteristic of Fidesz in the last twenty years has been its anti-communist stance. This is certainly true, because otherwise the party has gone through incredible transformations–from the liberal SZDSZ "junior partner" to a "conservative" party that considered itself the rightful successor to József Antall, all the way to what it is today, a radical populist party. As they changed their orientation they gained followers. Kövér proudly announced that the party begun by 37 people had 7,000 to 8,000 members by 2000. Today Fidesz can boast 37,000 card carrying members, the strongest right-wing party in the region, they claim.

Kövér apologized for their behavior between 1990 and 1992 when they, as radical liberals, inflicted quite a bit of damage to the conservative side. On many questions they didn’t hold "the right views." For example, today they would vote for the return of church real estate. (Indeed, back then the party was ferociously anti-clerical.) He expressed his optimism about the future of the party. There will be early elections soon, and within five years the third Fidesz government will be in power. (That is, they will be elected soon and then re-elected.)

He compared the situation of "the so-called Hungarian left" to the "agony of a gravely ill man." The agony may last for years, but it may end abruptly. It all depends on when MSZP realizes that they have to get rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

At the birthday party Orbán only talked to journalists. According to him the present government is a lame duck that has no future, and therefore one must consider holding early elections. However, when asked how he imagines such an event, he admitted that he doesn’t really know. "Perhaps," he said, he "will be wiser tomorrow."

József Szájer, another founder now representing Fidesz in Brussels, also made a short speech in which he became quite lyrical. According to him "Hungary would be an entirely different country without the existence of Fidesz." He came up with the following: "We all [that is, all of Hungary] come out from under Fidesz’s overcoat," a reference to Dostoevsky’s famous saying about Russia coming out from under Gogol’s Overcoat. Not exactly modest. Neither were his other observations. According to him, Fidesz is "a historically unique phenomenon. After all, in other countries no similar youth organization and party came into being." He went even farther. His party showed the way not only in Hungary but because of its innovative capabilities it extended its influence to the whole of Europe. Its original ideas are now in the forefront of European thinking. (I’m thinking and thinking and still can’t quite figure out what had Szájer in mind.)

It’s obvious that the results of the referendum and the latest polls have made Fidesz bold and optimistic. We will see what will happen in the next few months or two years.