Gordon Bajnai is the new Hungarian prime minister

Today was the day. The so-called "civic organizations," apparently all five hundred of them, organized a mass demonstration in front of parliament to demand immediate elections. They claimed to be the voice of the "people." I must say that if five hundred "civic organizations" managed to gather only 5,000-7,000 people that is not a great feat. The number of demonstrators seems about right. With few exceptions this is average number, perhaps a little more, for a mass demonstration. My problem is with the five hundred civic organizations. I didn't even know there were that many in Hungary. In addition to the human demonstrators there were also sixty geese who were let loose by members of the Hungarian Guard. This is the newest form of protest against Gordon Bajnai, whose firm at one point was involved with closing a company that was exporting chickens and geese to Russia. The market dried up and the company went bankrupt. Bajnai apparently had nothing to do with the affair, but such trivial considerations never bother the Hungarian right. So, besides dealing with the human demonstrators, the police tried to catch the sixty geese as well.

After a while the peaceful demonstration turned out to be not so peaceful because there are always people who join in order to create trouble. In addition, in far-right circles there are visible signs of hostility among the various splinter groups. The members of the "civic organizations," for example, turned their backs on Gábor Vona, head of Jobbik, when he rose to speak. Most of the civic people left peacefully enough, but the 200 or so Hungarian guardists attacked the police and at one point even tried to overturn an ambulance. In the scuffle three guardists were slightly injured. About 25 "Goy Bikers" also arrived; they were ready to drive straight into the police cordon. Several policemen were injured in the fracas while over ten demonstrators were arrested. The Goy Bikers led about 1,000 people to the Castle district to give President Sólyom a petition with the request that he dissolve parliament, thereby allowing for early elections. The only problem with this brilliant suggestion is that President Sólyom has no constitutional authority to oblige.

Meanwhile inside the building there was a three-hour debate preceding the vote on Gordon Bajnai's acceptance as the new prime minister of Hungary. The first speaker was Ferenc Gyurcsány who in an elegant and moving speech asked politicians on both sides of the aisle to support Bajnai in the interest of the country. Bajnai in a sober speech emphasized that he has no political ambitions and he will concentrate on solving the country's economic problems. Again, he asked for the support of the opposition parties as well. The answer was swift. Tibor Navracsics made it clear that no help can be expected from his party. It is unfortunate that Navracsics's speeches are normally no more than ad hominem attacks on his political opponents. Today's speech was no different–to the great delight of his colleagues in Fidesz. Károly Herényi, as an independent but formerly head of the MDF caucus, also made a speech in which he criticized Bajnai's program mostly because it is not yet apparent whether the new prime minister's plans include reforms or concentrate only on austerity measures. Gábor Fodor of SZDSZ, known for his polite ways, felt that he had to say something about the uncivilized behavior of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic leaders after the Navracsics speech. At least Viktor Orbán forbade the Fidesz members to cackle during Bajnai's speech. Because this was their plan! On the other hand, he was the only party leader who refused to shake hands with the new prime minister.

Ildikó Lendvai's urbane and eloquent speeches will be greatly missed. Every time she spoke it was a delight to listen to the well formulated phrases and appropriate literary references. She was witty and sometimes cutting but always fundamentally polite. She is a good speaker and a great debater. I'm afraid that Attila Mesterházy, her most likely successor, will not be able to fill her shoes. At least not verbally. He stumbled several times when misreading the text in front of him. The other side was gripped with fits of laughter. Let's hope he improves.

The vote was no surprise. In order for Bajnai to become prime minister, he needed 193 affirmative votes. He received 204 yeas and eight abstentions. MSZP unanimously supported the candidate while out of the nineteen-member SZDSZ caucus sixteen voted for him and three (Béki, Gulyás and Velkey) abstained, breaking party discipline. Fidesz, KDNP, and MDF members were present but didn't vote. After Gordon Bajnai was sworn in, Ferenc Gyurcsány rose from the customary chair of the prime minister and moved to the very last row, taking his place there as an ordinary backbencher. I have a very high opinion of Ferenc Gyurcsány's intelligence and political savvy, but listening to Gordon Bajnai's measured words and looking at his calm demeanor I think that perhaps his temperament is better suited to the turbulent times Hungary is witnessing. In any case, as soon as Bajnai was sworn in the Hungarian forint strengthened. At the moment one euro is worth 288 forints. Only a few days ago it was close to 310. All the ministers, the seven new ones and the eight old ones, will make their appearance in front of the various parliamentary committes. The procedure has already begun. After all, time is of the essence.