Blog and dialogue in Hungary

Earlier I wrote approvingly about Ferenc Gyurcsány's blog. Quite a few Hungarian politicians decided at one time or another to write a blog but after a few days, or at most after a few weeks, they gave up the ghost. Ferenc Gyurcsány is an exception. He began writing a blog about two and a half years ago, just before the 2006 elections. It was part and parcel of the tremendous effort that Gyurcsány and MSZP put into winning an election that didn't look too promising a few months earlier. Even in the midst of a grueling campaign the Hungarian prime minister wrote his blog practically every weekday. Moreover, he didn't stop after the election that he managed to win practically single-handedly. Others perhaps would have said: "Well, that was quite a chore and thank God I don't have to go on with it. We won and that's it." I think one reason that he didn't stop is that the readers of the blog were so enthusiastic and so supportive that he felt it his duty not to disappoint the team that supported him with words and deeds. Eventually Gyurcsány and his readers organized personal meetings where people revealed their pseudonyms, where they met each other as well as the prime minister. The fact is that he is a good blog writer. His notes are interesting. Very often he reveals government plans that the readers of the blog are the first to know. By now the members of the media visit the blog every morning to see what's going on in Gyurcsány's head.

To all but the brain dead the importance of the internet in people's lives is obvious. It brought about a revolution in communication and, especially lately, a revolution in campaign strategy as well. Perhaps the best example was the heavy reliance of Barack Obama's campaign on the internet. I don't know whether there are other prime ministers who write a blog with such frequency as Ferenc Gyurcsány and whether there is such a devoted readership, but I consider Gyurcsány's blog and his friends' posts a joy to read. The comments are almost as interesting as Gyurcsány's daily notes. There is a certain intimacy that can be found there. Some people are more formal and begin with "My dear prime minister" but in the text they use the familiar form "te." Others are even less formal and begin with "Dear Feri." In today's blog, a newcomer to the blog says: "Dear Mr. Prime Minister, I hope I can call you Feri." Gyurcsány invites informality. When he was visiting the United States and paid a trip to George Washington University the poor president of the institution had serious difficulty pronouncing his last name. So Gyurcsány turned to him and said: "Just call me Frank!"

He finishes every blog with: "Let's go my friends, let's do our jobs!" (For anyone interested in Gyurcsány's blog here is the link: )

Someone from this close-knit blog family got the idea that perhaps a book should be compiled from some of Gyurcsány's posts. The volume contains 250 blogs from 2006 and 2007; it even includes the infamous speech at Balatonőszöd which he first shared in its entirety with the readers of his blog. The income from the volume will go to a school for Roma students in Komló, not far from Pécs in Baranya County. Yesterday Gyurcsány, his wife (accompanied by Tibor Dessewffy, who teaches sociology at ELTE, Budapest), and István Vágó, a well known and greatly admired TV personality, appeared in a book store close to the Western Station where a large crowd gathered to have copies of the book signed by Gyurcsány. As usual not only his admirers were there but also a handful of demonstrators chanting "traitor" and "murderer." There were about as many policemen as demonstrators. They prevented the real skinheads from entering the bookstore but a couple of people who were better dressed and therefore less conspicuous managed to get into the bookstore where they began a disturbance. The funniest thing was when a well-dressed older lady, book in hand and turned into a weapon, physically took on one of the intruders!

On to the second theme of the day: dialogue. István Vágó tried to have a dialogue with the demonstrators outside. Vágó is the Alex Trebek of the Hungarian version of Jeopardy. He apparently speaks nine languages. He recently decided that he would not hide his liberal political views. Some of his admirers turned away from him as a result. He received a few threatening letters that he decided to ignore. Gyurcsány asked Vágó to be the moderator of the event although apparently they had never personally met before. After Vágó finished with his duties at the event he left the store and decided to have a "dialogue" with the demonstrators. As he said, he was curious what is on their minds. Could they explain to him why they are doing what they are doing? Why are they calling the prime minister a traitor and a murderer? Well, perhaps Vágó is a naive man: needless to say he got no answers whatsoever. They kept repeating: "murderer, traitor." József Orosz today in his radio program Kontra had a conversation with Vágó and maintained that not only was it useless to try to have a conversation with these people but it was outright wrong because it gave the extremists an opportunity to show the world how important they are: even István Vágó talks to them.

To tell you the truth, I don't know who is right (though in this case I lean toward the pessimistic): Vágó who thinks that there is hope for dialogue or Orosz who thinks that such an attempt is counterproductive. One thing is sure. As Orosz pointed out, the responsibility of the media is tremendous. Here was a relatively small demonstration with about a dozen people and one of the online papers announced that "Gyurcsány's dedication of his book ended in turmoil." According to those present it was really not much, but the Hungarian press is increasingly imitating the British tabloids and therefore becoming less and less reliable. Even the better television stations, like ATV, use misleading introductory quotations accompanying their videos. Responsible journalists must continue to fight the good fight; otherwise the whole population will be misinformed as it is already, I'm afraid.

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