An exchange of letters: Bajnai and Szijjártó

I decided to translate an exchange of letters between Gordon Bajnai who most likely will be Hungary’s next prime minister and Péter Szijjártó, “chief of staff” of Viktor Orbán and communications director of Fidesz. Although Bajnai’s letter was addressed to Orbán, he didn’t deign to answer it. Instead, the head of the “parrot commando” wrote an insulting reply, surely with the sanction of his boss.

I’m resorting to the use of footnotes in this post, especially for Szijjártó’s letter. It is so full of backhanded insulting subtleties that the prose needs further explanation. A simple translation without explanations might not give the English-language reader a full appreciation of the boorishness of Szijjártó’s reply

Here is Gordon Bajnai’s letter to Viktor Orbán.

Dear Mr. President:[1]

At the end of last week the Hungarian Socialist Party asked me to be the candidate for the post of prime minister and at the same time they voted in support of the more important points of my program. The parliamentary caucus of the Alliance of the Free Democrats did the same, and therefore my candidacy is supported by the two parties that constitute a majority in Parliament. My acceptance of the offer hinged on the consistent and steady support of the program by the parliamentary members of these two parties.

Hungary has no time to waste. We immediately need to take speedy and effective steps to create economic stability, send a positive message to the financial markets, and initiate structural changes that in the long run can guarantee the country’s sustainable development and economic growth. Only with the initiation of such measures can one save tens of thousands of jobs, only this way can we give assistance to thousands and thousands of fellow Hungarians who took out loans in foreign currencies in order to save them from losing their houses or their automobiles.

Some of the steps that must be taken are difficult and painful, but they must be introduced because in the long run they serve the interests of the country. In order to achieve these goals I would like to have the widest possible cooperation and support.

Today we must cooperate, rising above personal and political considerations. With every political dispute and campaign against each other we lose hundreds of billions of forints and thousands of jobs every week. If I receive the support of the majority of Parliament I will begin work without delay, independently from parties, and considering only the interests of the country. For this task I am asking for your and your party’s support.

I am therefore asking for an opportunity to acquaint you and the representatives of your party with my program in its details.

I am convinced that such a dialogue about the ways of handling the crisis may result in a political consensus that will lead to the widest possible cooperation for the execution of the necessary measures. This economic crisis doesn’t care who is on the left and who is on the right. Only those countries can come out of the crisis as winners or at least not too badly battered that stop the bickering and put the interest of the whole country above group interests. I trust that in these extraordinary times Hungary is capable of such action because the country now truly needs the assistance of all of us.

I am looking forward to your answer and meeting with you at your earliest convenience.[2]

Gordon Bajnai

[1] In the original “tisztelt” meaning “honored” is used instead of “dear.” Mr. President is of course Viktor Orbán whose official title at the moment is the president of Fidesz.

[2] Here again I left out the word “megtisztelő” that means “honored.” I.e. Bajnai would be honored by Orbán’s answer.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Mr. Candidate [or, more literally, Designate]:[1]

We received your letter sent to our president. Allow me to inform you that Fidesz made its position public earlier.

In the last seven years because of the socialist-liberal governance Hungary from the lead rider became the one who brings up the rear.[2] We are being strangled by foreign loans, one factory after the other closes,[3] many thousands of people find themselves on the street, and tens of thousands of families’ future is becoming insecure.

The policies that weakened the country and those governments that executed these policies failed, and now you want to push austerity measures down the throat of the people who are not at all responsible for your bringing the country to the brink of ruin.[4]

Dear Mr. Candidate:

No one at any time elected you for anything: a pact between a few discredited[5] politicians and two fallen parties cannot substitute for the decision of many millions of Hungarian voters. Without elections, without a mandate by the people, only an illegitimate,[6] interim, and weak government can be formed. Thus your assuming the duties of the office means only the prolongation of hopelessness[7] for Hungary.

Today Hungary needs a strong government that is born not as a result of wheeling and dealing among parties and politicians but that is formed on the basis of the will of the people, that is, after elections. At the moment you are planning to execute such a brutal[8] austerity program that will bring a significant number of Hungarians into an untenable situation, especially those who are the most defenseless. You have no right to do that and therefore Fidesz will not negotiate either with you or the new MSZP-SZDSZ coalition[9] behind the people’s back.

You for the sake of executing the program of MSZP joined forces with MSZP and SZDSZ, but Fidesz doesn’t take part in any kind of collaboration that aims to harm the people. On the contrary, we join forces with the people.

Now is the time when the citizens of our fatherland must take into their own hands the fate of the country. Now is the time that new elections must be held where they can decide on our common future. Only such an election can bring calm, security, and hope for Hungary.

We believe that Hungary is capable of greater accomplishments than what, by European standards, your disgraceful governance condemned it to.

Greetings:[10]

Péter Szijjártó

[1] Even the salutation is disrespectful. Szijjártó refuses to use Bajnai’s official title, minister. The proper address should have been: Tisztelt Miniszter Úr! I was told by people who know current Hungarian usage better than I do that Mr. Candidate (jelölt úr) is used sarcastically to refer to a student who already failed a subject once and needs a last exam to finish college. However, the likelihood of his passing is slim. Please note that Szijjártó repeats this salutation in the middle of his letter where there is really no need for it.

[2] Fidesz likes to use words connected to warfare. They especially like to contrast the lead rider (éllovas) with bringing up the rear (sereghajtó). By the way, neither description is correct; both are exaggerations.

[3] This is not quite accurate either. Relatively few factories closed down though some of them went on shorter work weeks.

[4] Also an exaggeration. If the world economic crisis hadn’t hit Hungary, by now the country might be in fairly good shape.

[5] I translated “levitézlett” as discredited. Vitéz means hero, soldier. Again another word with warlike connotations.

[6] Fidesz likes to use the word illegitimate instead of unpopular. The Gyurcsány government was illegitimate in their eyes as well. Here, however, I think Szijjártó is actually using the word in a constitutional sense that is total nonsense. The constructive no confidence vote is a perfectly legitimate parliamentary instrument.

[7] “Hopelessness” is another favorite noun in the Fidesz vocabulary. Gyurcsány’s package was also a package of hopelessness although we know that there are huge differences between the two.

[8] “Brutal”–another favorite word. The very mild and according to most economists inadequate response to the crisis was also “brutal.” The problem with these extreme words is that they lose their true meaning. What do you do when you want to say that something is worse than brutal?

[9] MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. There is no such thing. SZDSZ will merely support the minority MSZP government.

[10] Ending the letter with “greetings” (üdvözlet) is again a sign of disrespect. In a formal letter the proper ending would be “tisztelettel” or “respectfully.” “Greetings” at the end of a letter is appropriate in casual correspondence between people who are not very close. I usually use it in e-mails with people whom I don’t know personally.

By the way, the bold face type was in the original.

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SG
Guest

Thank you for translating these insightful sources. Only one remark:
[9] MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. There is no such thing. SZDSZ will merely support the minority MSZP government.
Well, the MPs of MSZP and SZDSZ signed Bajnai’s agenda, so while formally it will be a minority government, it is a de facto coalition.

Andrew
Guest

Eva – Thank you for your wonderful blog. Just wondering if you have any thoughts on the Russians/MOL, and the political impact of this unusual acquisition.

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