Are Hungarian strikes a Fidesz political weapon?

Yes, according to Viktor Orbán. A few days ago he gave one of his so-called interviews on OV TV. What is OV TV? An answer to Ferenc Gyurcsány's blog. Orbán doesn't have the sticktoitiveness to write a blog. Also, he is really not a great fan or user of the Internet. However, he thought that there should be some attempt on his part to speak to his people. He or his advisors picked the television format. The first video on OV TV appeared in May 2007, and it seems that since then there have been twenty-two occasions when Viktor Orbán's interviews, speeches, conversations were filmed. The interviews are pseudo interviews. There is a man or a woman who asks a few questions which Orbán answers. There is no reaction, no follow-up question, no nothing. Then there is another question and Orbán expounds on this new topic for a while. It seems that lately Orbán found it necessary to have such televised interviews more often, about once a week. They are short segments: a few minutes.

The latest video was filmed in Felcsút, the village where Orbán was brought up and where he bought land and built a house. Felcsút was the beneficiary of Prime Minister Orbán's largesse between 1998 and 2002. Among other things he, an avid soccer player, established a soccer academy in the village. The village also has a soccer team with fairly well known coaches. Contrary to his general physical appearance, Orbán apparently, time permitting, goes to Felcsút a couple of times a week to train! Considering his age he certainly looked impressive in the first few clips of the video that showed him running on the soccer field. The video can be seen here. If one is interested in the soccer academy named after Ferenc Puskás one can learn everything there is to be known about the academy (also in English) here: After a few flashy moves on the soccer field Orbán sat down with one of these pseudo-interviewers to assess the year 2008.

No one will be surprised to hear that it was a very bad year and indeed from the point of view of the government as well as Fidesz I would consider the year pretty dismal. As far as Orbán is concerned "the only ray of hope" in 2008 was the referendum initiated by Fidesz which put an end to the reforms and eventually resulted in the collapse of the long-standing coalition of the socialists and the liberals. Orbán thinks that this referendum "for the modern right was a very important event." I found this statement a bit puzzling. I'm not sure what Orbán means by "modern right." As so many people have already observed, no one knows what Fidesz actually stands for. It is certainly not a conservative party. It is not really a party of the middle class. Most analysts call him and his party populist. It would have been helpful if Orbán's pseudo-interviewer would have asked him: "Mr. Orbán, what do you mean by the modern right?"

Another sad event, according to Orbán, was Hungary's relatively poor performance at the Olympics. It will be no surprise to anyone that Fidesz and opponents of the government in general blamed the government for the less than sterling performance of some of the participants. As it turned out, the government spent more money than at any time in the past, and after all it is not a question of money that Michael Phelps is a tad better than the otherwise very talented László Cseh. Or that some of the fencers had a bad day in Beijing. On the video Orbán promised that "the next government will pay a great deal more attention" to the Olympic sports. But there are sports and sports. The billions he would spend on soccer would far surpass the money spent on all other sports combined. I know next to nothing about soccer but even I know that Hungary is so bad that right now in FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) rankings it stands in forty-seventh place between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. How much money do you think would be needed to move it up a bit?

After this less than in-depth analysis of the year we came to the meat of it. He never once mentioned the world financial and economic crisis, but he said that "the country is under economic oppression." He added that a couple of days before in a speech he referred to "economic hamstringing," but there is no contradiction here because "hamstringing and oppression mean the same thing." The oppressor is the socialist government that has to be removed somehow in order to have a better 2009. He made no secret of how he hopes to achieve his goal: through strikes pressure can be put on the government until it is forced to resign. In plain language, he is hoping that the strikes already underway at MÁV (Hungarian National Railroads) and at the Budapest Airport will be long and will weaken the Hungarian government's position. He didn't go into details but I'm almost certain that his great hope was the impending general strike of all state employees promised for January 12. And now comes the newest disappointment. Yesterday the police and the military signed a contract with the government, and this morning an agreement was reached with all trade unions representing state employees with the exception of two very radical unions representing a few thousand teachers and health care workers. Another piece of bad news also from yesterday, the Budapest transit workers signed a contract and therefore there will be no strikes of the bus drivers. A terrible blow to Orbán: no Budapest transit strike, no general strike. Therefore it is unlikely that he can use the power of the trade unions to overthrow the Hungarian government.

However, his open admission that trade unions can or should be used for political purposes upset everybody. Even trade union leaders regretted Orbán's reference to them as political factors. MSZP of course was only too happy to have caught Orbán admitting what they suspected all along–that Orbán is behind these strikes. Especially in the case of István Gaskó. Everybody is wondering what kind of promises Gaskó received in case Viktor Orbán is the next prime minister. Because surely, Gaskó knows as well as everybody else that his demands will never be met. They cannot be met. As far as the Budapest Airport is concerned, initially I didn't think that the workers there (quite well paid) had any political agenda, but by yesterday I wasn't so sure. The day before an agreement seemed to be close. A contract was prepared on the basis of successful negotiations. The management signed it and presented it to the trade union leaders for their signature. Suddenly, out of the blue, the head of the trade union changed his mind. No agreement. At the same time Gaskó who a couple of days before categorically promised that he would suspend the strike for Christmas also changed his mind. The strike will continue throughout the holidays. Well, that cannot be a coincidence. It seems to me that the agreement with the Budapest Transit Workers Union and the fact that the general strike will not materialize completely upset the apple cart and efforts had to be redoubled at the two current strikes.

The two strikes are not faring as well as the trade union leaders or Orbán hoped. The Budapest Airport is functioning quite well. On the one hand, the owner of the Budapest Airport imported forty Greek workers to replace the missing Hungarians and, on the other, a lot of workers showed up anyway against the wishes of the trade union leaders. As far as the railroad strike is concerned, Volán, the Hungarian bus service (the equivalent of Greyhound, except not a private but a state company) has initiated more frequent runs and allowed people to use their railroad tickets on the buses. As for public opinion? According to the latest Szonda Ipsos poll 52% of the people disapprove of the MÁV strike organized by István Gaskó. Of course, MSZP supporters are overwhelmingly against the strike (81%) but even among Fidesz voters there are slightly more people against the strike (48%) than supporting it (43%). And today an even worse piece of news for Orbán: 71% of the population disapprove of Orbán's refusal to meet Gyurcsány. Moreover, and this is significant: even among Fidesz supporters 64% approve of Gyurcsány's suggestion for a meeting.

I must say I'm not surprised. I have been saying for weeks that Orbán's strategy is dead wrong. Not only will Gyurcsány's government not disappear in 2009 but Fidesz will lose some of its voters as well. Perhaps Orbán's vision is clouded by his hatred of his rival. But is there no one in his party who could set him straight?

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“But is there no one in his party who could set him straight?”
It is the blind leading the blind.

Eva Balogh

Peter quoting me first: “”But is there no one in his party who could set him straight?” It is the blind leading the blind.
I just read that apparently his friends, László Kövér and János Áder, gave him this latest “wonderful” piece of advice.