A new year and at least partially a new political tactic. Viktor Orbán's strategy remains unchanged, but there are signs that MSZP and the government will use harsher words. Until now the rhetoric on the left was restrained because MSZP didn't want to use the tactics of Fidesz: absolutely no cooperation, verbal attacks, and hate speech. On the contrary, they tried to show themselves as reasonable, ready to cooperate, asking for help from the opposition. It seems to me that this period is over. Perhaps the communication experts of MSZP and the government decided that the former tactic brought absolutely no results and that it was time to move on. And perhaps they listened to the party's faithful supporters who were angry with the "peaceful approach" and who demanded a tougher stand.
So here we are on Sunday, the last day of a four-day holiday, and the politicians couldn't even wait till Monday. The culprit is most likely MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda), the Hungarian news service that today published an earlier interview with Viktor Orbán. The message of the interview was in keeping with most of Orbán's interviews and speeches. However, the reaction from the other side was a great deal more forceful than usual.
The message was that there is no compromise, there is no cooperation, there is no communication with Ferenc Gyurcsány in 2009. István Stumpf, a so-called political scientist, formerly the right-hand man of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, pretty well predicted the other day that given the Fidesz strategy up to now it would be virtually impossible to change course. I don't agree with Stumpf very often, but this time I felt that he was right. The antagonism has been so high pitched, the verbiage so vicious, the rejection so complete that indeed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a retreat from this position. The question is, of course, whether this particular strategy could be successful in a country where the majority of the population longs for cooperation, a political truce, and peace and quiet in general.
But Viktor Orbán is convinced that his strategy will bring fabulous results because, after all, there is very little time before the elections for the European Parliament, and he is sure that his party is so far ahead in the polls that MSZP will have a very bad time of it. And Orbán thinks, not without reason, that in 2004 the poor showing of MSZP at the European Union elections resulted in dumping the prime minister and creating a crisis within the government and MSZP. Perhaps something like that could happen again. Because Orbán thinks that these elections will be very important, it seems that he plans to conduct a vigorous campaign in anticipation of a stunning victory. He already indicated that he will have a Fidesz list by January 17 and that he himself will be actively involved in the campaign.
It would certainly help Fidesz if the economic crisis hit Hungary hard between now and the summer. But what if it doesn't? What if the gloom and doom scenario spread by the media, the opposition, and the president doesn't fully materialize? What if there are neither 75,000 nor 250,000 newly unemployed workers as President Sólyom envisaged in his New Year's message? What if the government is able to distribute speedily the large amounts of money received from the European Union and therefore the effects of the recession are lessened? What if some of those people who are still undecided or refuse to divulge their political preferences actually go and vote for the MSZP list? There are indications that perhaps even the majority of these undecided people prefer the left to the right. What if the MSZP rhetoric hardens as a result of the unyielding attitude of Fidesz? That can awaken the fear of Fidesz in some people. What if MSZP comes out with a massive campaign recalling the not so wonderful times of Fidesz governance between 1998 and 2002? Although he is gambling on an economic breakdown that he can pin on the government, I guess Orbán cannot really choose another strategy. If he wants to be the next prime minister of the country it is to his advantage to have an unsuccessful government and country. The worse the better from the point of view of the opposition.
There wasn't much new in the Orbán interview. He even dragged in an old, meaningless slogan about "patriotic economic policy" from the 2006 campaign. Otherwise, according to him the government's policies are utterly mistaken but Fidesz has the remedy. His government will apply "the successful European methods." What these successful European methods are he refused to divulge. The only thing that I found new and frightening is that Orbán, while reminiscing about the change of regime in which he and his youth organization (Fidesz wasn't really a full-fledged party then) participated, brought up something that until now only the far right ever mentioned: an alleged pact between the Soviet Union, the hard-core communists, a representative of the Vatican, the CIA, and representatives of MDF and SZDSZ. It is no more than an urban legend about which I wrote rather extensively on August 7, 2008. And if someone doesn't believe me he can read about it in English in a Hungarian weekly, HVG http://hvg.hu/english/20060502uleng.aspx Orbán, to my utter horror, announced that he doesn't know whether there was a pact or not. This question simply cannot be answered. It is true, he admitted, that Fidesz was present at the negotiations but they were watching the events from the sidelines and didn't know what was happening behind the scenes.
It's no wonder that Dávid Daróczi, one of two government spokesmen, compared Orbán to István Csurka, the first well known political leader of the far right. And István Nyakó, the spokesman of MSZP, compared Orbán to an "envious and lazy fishwife who belittles the merchandise of others because she has nothing to offer." A good beginning! It will be an interesting year.