A week in Hungarian politics

There is a new weekly program on ATV called "A tét" (The Stake). The moderator is András Bánó who used to be one of the moderators of "Napkelte" (Sunrise) on MTV, the Hungarian public television station. I don't want to go into the gruesome details, but about a year and a half ago there was incredible political pressure put on the producer of "Napkelte" to get rid of reporters not to Viktor Orbán's liking. It all began by Fidesz boycotting the program: no Fidesz politician would show up for an interview. (In fact, they still don't.) Then they named two reporters they definitely wanted to be fired. Eventually under pressure one resigned his position, but that was not enough for Fidesz. Most likely Fidesz approached the president of the public television station (at the end of his term and hoping to be reelected) and intimated that if he fired a couple more objectionable reporters on the staff he might receive support from the right-wing members of the board. He obliged. One of these two was András Bánó who for a few months was unemployed but eventually was hired by ATV, known as a liberal station, to replace Olga Kálmán of "Egyenes beszéd" (Straight Talk) who went on maternity leave. As of September Kálmán returned, but Bánó got the opportunity to have a weekly program of his own. That is "A tét." The format of the program is that Bánó invites four "political scientists" to discuss the political events of the week. The first week was rocky: his choice of guests was politically lopsided, with three right-wingers (one of them István Stumpf, by now infamous in the Ibolya Dávid scandal) against one committed supporter of the government. Well, Bánó learned something from that experience, and in the last two weeks he managed to put together a more intellectual, enjoyable program. "A tét" reminds me of our public television's "Washington Week in Review." Anyone interested may find the video or podcast of the American version at http://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/  The url for the video  of "A tét" is http://tinyurl.com/3smf49 The video is recorded in two half-hour parts.

In any case, Bánó usually asks the question: "Who was the winner and who was the loser of the week?" This week's guests were József Debreczeni who likes to call himself a publicist because, as he says, he is not an independent observer; Zoltán Kiszelly, a political scientist who often contributes to Népszava, the oldest social democratic paper of Hungary; Zsolt Pétervári, also a political scientist who can often be heard on József Orosz's program Kontra (Klub Rádió); and Zoltán Somogyi of Political Capital, the firm advising MDF. The four men were pretty much in agreement: the winners were Ibolya Dávid and Ferenc Gyurcsány while the losers were Fidesz, Viktor Orbán, Gábor Fodor, and Almássy Kornél. Fidesz and Viktor Orbán were Debreczeni's choice; the reason for this choice is obvious. Debreczeni's reading of the by now infamous telephone conversation is that it was Fidesz and Viktor Orbán himself who wanted to get rid of Ibolya Dávid and thus through Kornél Almássy pull MDF closer to Fidesz. By the way, this is Ibolya Dávid's interpretation of the telephone conversation as well.

Ferenc Gyurcsány was considered to be a winner because his party managed to survive a vote for the dissolution of the parliament and because he gave a well received lecture to the students of Corvinus University (previously Karl Marx University), an institution specializing in economics, business, and finance. By now Gyurcsány's visits to Corvinus have become a yearly event; in an auditorium that seats 500 he gives a lecture on the current state of the Hungarian economy. Out of the four analysts only one, Zsolt Pétervári, thought that "it is not the business of a prime minister to give lectures." All the others felt that since other prime ministers give talks in front of businessmen or members of the academy, why shouldn't the Hungarian prime minister do the same? Especially, in my own opinion, when the prime minister is as good a lecturer as he is. I'd bet that Gyurcsány would be "lecturer of the year" based on student votes at any university in the world. First of all, he really knows what he is talking about. That does help. Second, he has an incredible memory for numbers and events. He needs no notes. He stands there and talks off the top of his head about complicated economic matters in a way that everybody, even the students' grandmothers, could understand. Moreover, they would be convinced that he was right. That is a talent that a politician should certainly take advantage of. For anyone interested in this last Gyurcsány lecture here is the link: http://www.mtv.hu/videotar/?id=29815 

Everybody agreed that Gábor Fodor was one of the losers of the week. He managed to get himself and his party into an untenable situation. There are only two bad choices left for SZDSZ: either they help Viktor Orbán and Fidesz into power, and they don't really want to do that, or they crawl back to Gyurcsány and MSZP. And they don't want that either, especially after they categorically announced "never with Gyurcsány." As one of the participants rightly said, SZDSZ leaders sound confused because there is no way of reconciling this dilemma. I don't know what the outcome will be, but I wouldn't predict a long tenure for Fodor as leader of SZDSZ.

Tomorrow will be a busy day on the streets of Budapest: The Hungarian Charta will march in favor of democracy, freedom, and tolerance and against the extreme right. The right is also organizing. In addition, the Gypsies are gathering to show that they have had enough of the Hungarian Guard that seems hell bent on intimidating the Gypsy population. Fidesz already announced that it is the left-liberal crowds who are provoking the population by going out on the streets. We can all recall that Fidesz organized dozens and dozens of street demonstrations in the last few years while the left sat at home hoping that nothing terrible would happen.

Today I participated in a radio program (Kontra, Klub Rádió) the topic of which was the Hungarian extreme right. One of the participants was a film maker of Gypsy origin. He said that he is afraid to go out on the street at certain times. He is not sure whether he will return home. And he added: these people are not the unwashed masses. He encountered medical students who hated Gypsies so much that if eyes could kill he would already have been dead. And he added: I would not like to be one of their patients. I was shocked. Unfortunately it was the end of the program and I couldn't respond.