It seems that even some of Viktor Orbán's friends and advisors think that his "honest" talk was a mistake, and they immediately began damage control. How effective these efforts will be against an onslaught of MSZP attacks remains to be seen. Uncharacteristically, MSZP has moved into high gear: the party leadership is taking out full-page ads in different publications. And ads are expensive in Hungary. Even on-line ads may cost half a million forints.
Ferenc Gyurcsány in his blog, not unsurprisingly, had some harsh words to describe Viktor Orbán's behavior. As I reported earlier, Gyurcsány is a diligent blogger. For two years now he has kept up his blog, writing almost every weekday. Gyurcsány spent two days on Orbán's speech. Yesterday the topic was pensions and pensioners. He talked at length about the meaning of "freezing" pensions. In today's papers there were already calculations of how many thousands of people would lose how many thousands of forints a year if Orbán had the opportunity to make his plans a reality. Today Gyurcsány sharply attacked the leader of Fidesz on moral grounds, territory previously occupied only by Fidesz. It seems that bits and pieces of Orbán's talks with business leaders also became public. According to this information, he apparently told his audience that first he wants to win the election. For a period of time he would do nothing and then only slowly would he reveal his program. Gyurcsány interpreted this as an admission that Orbán would wait until local elections were held (normally in early October of the same year as the national election) before introducing his intensified austerity program. Gyurcsány added: "This is cowardly behavior. What mendacity! Especially from the mouth of someone who until now kept repeating that a government can introduce only those measures that were sanctioned by the electorate before the elections." Fidesz is attempting to trivialize these comments; on the party's homepage the headline reads "A new Gyurcsány outburst!"
Meanwhile rumors are circulating that after all there is a recording of the Orbán talk and that it was offered for five or ten million forints to anyone interested. Apparently MSZP was approached but declined to buy the tape.
And the incipient Hungarian gray panthers are on the offensive. An official organization of pensioners is calling a meeting to discuss Fidesz plans that it considers injurious to their interests. Tibor Navracsics is trying his best to minimize the damage by claiming that "freezing pensions" is actually a good thing. Today the value of pensions is being eroded by inflation; if Orbán's plans were introduced, the purchasing power of pensions would remain constant. (So, under the best of voodoo economics, no bonanza for seniors, just a "freezing." I doubt that this damage control would warm the cockles of the geriatric heart.)
So the real war of words has begun. The question is who is going to get the better of it. Oddsmakers would bet on Fidesz. MSZP is the long shot. But sometimes long shots deliver huge returns.