The other day I heard on the radio that Gábor Fodor, chairman of SZDSZ, the Hungarian liberal party, sent open letters to Ferenc Gyurcsány, head of MSZP, and Viktor Orbán, president of Fidesz. From the prime minister Fodor asked for "more deeds and fewer promises"; he asked the head of Fidesz to give up the idea of early elections. He sought a truce and an end to the constant conflict leading nowhere. Under the circumstances what Hungary needs is "an effective government and a responsible opposition." Fodor asked the two to bury the hatchet. Instead of dissecting their past grievances, they should put their energy into solving the problems facing the country.
Well, I couldn't help laughing out loud. Fodor asking Gyurcsány and Orbán to cooperate? There is no way Orbán would be willing to exchange a word with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Of course, the prime minister would be most willing to have a dialogue because under the circumstances the government needs all the help it can get. And with an opposition that says no to everything it is very difficult to run the country.
The question is whether Fodor is hopelessly naive or whether he had another agenda in mind. One "political scientist" thought that Fodor wrote these letters because, being the head of a small party, he cannot get into the news otherwise. That doesn't sound too plausible to me. Perhaps he thinks that the ever decreasing numbers of his followers would find such an attempt attractive. Or, more grandiosely, he may see himself as the perfect bridge builder given his former prominent role in Fidesz and his former membership in the Gyurcsány cabinet. If this was his intent, it was misguided. These Fodor moves only arouse suspicion on both sides. MSZP supporters suspect him of being somehow in league with Orbán while Fidesz supporters are convinced that Fodor has ulterior motives when he tries to court his old roommate, Viktor Orbán.
Four days have gone by. Gyurcsány hasn't answered Fodor yet, but Orbán wrote "a very polite letter" in which he agreed that in today's Hungary there is need for collaboration, but Fidesz "wants to cooperate with the people against faulty governmental policies." He reminded Fodor that his party (SZDSZ) prevented unified action against the government that would have opened the door for early elections. However, he continued, he has not given up hope that "all political forces will realize that the interest of the country is more important than that of any party. In this endeavor we count on the assistance of SZDSZ and you personally."
The reaction to this exchange is interesting. On the left, Tamás Mészáros in Népszava (February 6) wrote a lengthy opinion piece called "Levelét megírta." The title is a paraphrase of the first lines of a famous János Arany poem entitled "Mátyás anyja" (Mother of Mathias): "Szilányi Örzsébet / Levelét megirta; / Szerelmes / Könnyével /Azt is telesirta." The romantic tone of the poem is in stark contrast to the intent of Orbán's letter and therefore amusing. Mészáros is no friend of Fodor although a few days ago he praised the SZDSZ chairman for his speech in parliament, calling it perhaps Fodor's best speech ever. Mészáros isn't quite sure why Fodor decided to write a letter to Orbán, but he's inclined to think that Fodor simply wanted Orbán to reiterate his fierce opposition to the government and his demand for early elections. He certainly got that. In addition Orbán repeats his accusation that the government is responsible for the economic crisis and that it is aggravated by the world's distrust of Gyurcsány and his policies. Mészáros is convinced that Orbán wrote this letter not so much to Gábor Fodor but to his own followers. He wanted to assure them that there is not now and never will be any dialogue between him and the government. There will be no constructive opposition, regardless of any overtures he receives from the other side. Mészáros thinks that Fodor and his friends should learn once and for all that if SZDSZ really wants to have a positive role in handling the crisis it is useless to keep repeating their fierce opposition to the government. Surely, they ought to be able to understand that there is no possibility of cooperation with Fidesz unless they are ready to assist them in removing the current government and holding early elections. If they are unwilling to do that, as they are, then, says Mészáros, they should support the government openly.
Well, if Orbán wrote this letter not so much to Fodor but to his followers he may not have been too successful. It is enough to read an opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap by Ferenc Sinkovics (February 6) "Nyúl a bokorból," a Hungarian expression that can very loosely be rendered in English as "Smoking them out." If we can believe Sinkovics, many people on the right "surely think that Viktor Orbán lost his mind" when he wrote a letter to Gabor Fodor, head of SZDSZ. "This letter is written to the heart and conscience of Fodor and SZDSZ but it is well known that SZDSZ is an organization without heart and conscience." A good beginning, don't you think? Not only did he write to this unfeeling, amoral bunch, but Orbán "brings up, even if indirectly, a possible political alliance. And he does this despite the fact that there is no group, voter, political friend or foe that party didn't deceive." Getting better and better! But he continues: "It is indeed painful to read this letter, to read the sentence 'we count on SZDSZ.'" However, Sinkovics says, Orbán is a good tactician and right now he needs SZDSZ because without this party there can be no early elections that are so urgently needed. After all, the number of unemployed is growing, "600,000 people are unable to pay their debts" (where he gets his numbers, don't ask). Something has to be done. There is no time to waste. SZDSZ is only "half a step from the trap-door, perhaps not even that much." Perhaps they realize that they have no future and perhaps this letter will make them say yes. After all, József Gulyás, a close friend of Fodor in the party, said that "SZDSZ may get fed up" with the government's inaction. Perhaps this letter will "smoke them out."
I have the feeling that Fodor will not listen to Mészáros. It is also unlikely that Orbán's strategy to get SZDSZ on board will work. SZDSZ has been adamant that it will not be the partner of Fidesz in bringing elections forward to 2009.