Political odds and ends after the Hungarian budget debate

This blog will be something of a hodgepodge because today's news consisted of a series of sound bites that by themselves don't deserve deep analysis. Or perhaps it would be better to say that I don't know yet whether they have any significance. The first piece of news that grabbed my attention this morning was that the liberals who yesterday said that they had decided to vote for the budget for patriotic reasons by today were somewhat sore and acted as if they were not very happy with the outcome. I guess one reason for their letdown is that SZDSZ's votes didn't matter. They now talk about the "Janus-faced MDF" because they came to the conclusion that it was actually MDF votes that saved the government's budget. Poor MDF had been accused earlier of lending a helping hand to MSZP; now here it is in black and white that the MSZP government's success actually hinged on MDF's cooperation. Fidesz will make hay out of this, I'm sure.

I mentioned yesterday that there were three independent members who voted with the government. One of these was actually kicked out of the Fidesz delegation only about a month ago because several times he didn't follow caucus instructions and voted differently from the other Fidesz representatives. His name is Antal Császár and I must say that he is an odd man out in the Hungarian parliament: he is actually a worker. He did not go to college and for years he worked as an engine fitter in a coal mine. In the 1990s he learned a new trade: how to make pálinka. Pálinka is a traditional brandy made out of fruits, especially apricots, plums, or pears. Pálinka is also known in Romania and Slovakia, but, according to an EU ruling, only pálinka made in Hungary can be considered genuine pálinka within the European Union. In my childhood making pálinka was a state monopoly but almost everybody who had a few fruit trees engaged in illicit distillation. I must say that in the good old days pálinka was a lowly kind of drink, but lately I see that it is considered elegant and some of the brands are pricey. It seems that Császár flourished as a distiller of pálinka because he became head of the Party of Entrepreneurs. It was as a delegate from this party that he entered the Fidesz caucus. To return to Császár, the independent. Ferenc Gyurcsány was so grateful that he immediately offered Császár a government post: commissioner for the distribution of the 1,400 billion forint package designed to bolster the Hungarian economy. Császár accepted. HirTV immediately inquired "How much was the blood money?" I wouldn't be surprised if in 2010 Császár were on the MSZP list.

Another interesting event this morning was an interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány on Napkelte. The reporter was Kata Apáti-Tóth, a newcomer to the show after, on Fidesz's insistence, the "liberal" journalists were booted out by the president of MTV. Apáti-Tóth is young and quite good looking but her depth of knowledge of even current events is not too impressive. One has the feeling that the day before the program she sits down with a list of questions which have only one aim: to say something nasty about anything the guest says. So if Gyurcsány says something quite ordinary like big reforms cannot be introduced without the help of the whole society, then Apáti-Tóth will say: "But you're governing." Or if Gyurcsány complains about the opposition's unwillingness to cooperate, then Apáti-Tóth will say: "Why don't you invite Viktor Orbán for a chat?" Of course, she should know that Gyurcsány invited Orbán several times and Orbán refused. Gyurcsány throughout the interview had a kind of forgiving smile on his face while he tried to explain the facts of life to the reporter. It wasn't an easy job. Out of the whole interview only one thing captured the media's imagination: Gyurcsány said that he is just waiting for the final passage of the budget on December 15, and after the holidays he will continue with his reforms. Reforms, reforms? What kind of reforms?

Another memorable moment came at the end of the interview when Apáti-Tóth inquired from Gyurcsány what he thought of President Sólyom's latest brainchild: the Council of the Wise Ones, which came into existence yesterday. I'm not kidding. This is the name of it. Only in a country where respect for authority is as high as it is in Hungary could anyone come up with such an idiotic designation. You can well imagine what Gyurcsány thinks of it, but he was polite. The Council is supposed to deal with education and corruption because Sólyom thinks that these two topics need urgent attention. How four people, two of whom don't even live in Hungary, can do anything practical about either education or corruption I haven't got the foggiest. Gyurcsány smiled sweetly and said that if he wanted to be ironic he would say that government doesn't work that way, but if the president wants to set up a Council of the Wise Ones he can. But, he added, "we don't have half a year to write studies."