It was certainly a blow not just to the government but to the country as a whole that President Sólyom refused to attend the summit at which sixty or so officials, party leaders, former prime ministers, and heads of the scientific world are supposed to discuss the current economic crisis. President Sólyom most likely purposely misinterpreted the nature of this gathering. He tried to portray it as an attempt on the part of Prime Minister Gyurcsány to spread the blame for past sins and future belt tightening. Or, as Sólyom also charged, the summit would take over the the job of the government and parliament. Instead, in my view, it was organized to show the world that Hungarians regardless of their political views are ready to act together, to show unity. It is also serves as an occasion for brainstorming. The government can listen to other points of view and hear proposals about the best way of handling the crisis. Also, if this gathering ends on a positive note with some agreed-upon guiding principles for a future course of action perhaps then the population will bear the economic burden that may await Hungary more easily.
At the time of the announcement of the summit, it looked as if even Fidesz and the Christian Democrats were ready to cooperate. Sólyom's refusal to attend altered the situation. Right after the announcement Fidesz changed its attitude. All utterances since have been totally negative. Viktor Orbán's latest was, when asked what he expects from the summit: a good cup of coffee. Both he and his spokesman, Péter Szijjártó, have announced time and again that the summit is a ruse devised to cover up "the biggest austerity program in modern Hungarian history." Orbán added that he is going there to fight all the government proposals and to insist on drastic tax cuts.
I admit that this doesn't sound too promising, yet it remains possible that the dog's bark is worse than his bite. First of all, Fidesz politicians often use two different styles: one for internal and another for external consumption. A recent example of this was the meeting of party leaders with the head of the Hungarian National Bank, the finance minister, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Ildikó Lendvai, head of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, claimed that the discussion during the meeting last Saturday was "most constructive." But when Semjén and Navracsics gave a press conference afterward the tone was fiercely negative. Or, another example. Ferenc Gyurcsány asked Viktor Orbán to use his influence among Christian Democratic politicians in Brussels to support Hungary's position during the recent emergency conference of the leaders of the European Union. Viktor Orbán agreed but afterward, although only before Hungarian newspapermen, he said that he did what Gyurcsány asked him to but added that in Brussels the prime minister is known only as "the lying Hungarian."
Another reason that I expect Fidesz to be more constructive than it seems at the moment is a new poll (Medián) that was made public on October 16. According to this poll, the majority even of Fidesz voters approve of the summit and the majority of those surveyed don't blame the Hungarian government for the crisis. They understand that the crisis reached Hungary as the result of a global economy. That is something I don't think Fidesz can ignore. Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians cannot go to the summit and deliver speeches in which they lay the sole blame for the current problems on Gyurcsány. Of course past economic sins (resulting in too large a debt load) play a part in Hungary's current problems, but talking about the past isn't going to help the current situation or satisfy those who want to hear constructive ideas and see constructive steps. Repeating that "the government doesn't do anything," that "the government doesn't even understand what's going on" will not do. Especially since the summit will not be held behind closed doors. At least one television station (ATV) will broadcast the whole thing. A totally negative attitude on the part of Fidesz will not go over too well. I'll bet that at the moment the Fidesz bigwigs are madly trying to figure out what to do.
There is another development that might make Fidesz more flexible. It seems to me that both SZDSZ and MDF are ready to support the government in its decision to postpone the deep tax cuts that until now they demanded and that was the main stumbling block to cooperation between SZDSZ and MSZP. In this case, Fidesz would be the odd man out. Moreover, it is hard to imagine Tibor Navracsics speaking in the same manner at the summit as is his wont in parliament: sneering, malicious personal attacks on the prime minister who "should work instead of writing a blog." They have to look and sound statesmen-like. After all, this is serious business.
European governments on both the left and the right have come together in a common resolve to address the financial crisis. They have devised solutions that are roughly similar and that aim to avoid a negative impact on any other country. They have thrown a ton of money at the problem. Hungary doesn't have to do such heavy lifting. It has ECB backing to address credit issues. But the global slowdown/recession will hit Hungary hard, and the country's parties should emulate the European governments. Will it happen? I'm not saying that there will be a fully cooperative Fidesz at the summit tomorrow but I'll bet (and I truly hope) that the tone will be a great deal less vicious. And perhaps there will be a common cause on some critical issues.