Hungarian politicians at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad, Romania

I have never been in Tusnádfürdő in Harghita County, but it looks like a beautiful place at an altitude of 2,000 feet. TusnadEvery year since 1989 a five-day camping festival, often referred to as the Transylvanian Woodstock, is held. In addition to being an occasion for having fun (presumably without all the Woodstock "additives") participants can listen to political lectures and speeches. Viktor Orbán, often accompanied by other Fidesz politicians, makes his yearly pilgrimage to the heart of the "Land of the Szeklers" and usually makes important announcements, not so much about the Hungarian minority in Romania as about politics in Hungary. It has become customary in the last eight years or so for Viktor Orbán to send important messages "home" from Tusnádfürdő. The Hungarian media always eagerly awaits his latest. In the past, when Fidesz didn't have such overwhelming support in Hungary, Orbán felt much more at home in Transylvania, especially in the three Hungarian counties where the population seems, to me at least, more inclined to listen to right-wing rhetoric than used to be the case in Hungary. Perhaps the Hungarians' minority status is responsible for this inclination toward the right. In any case, Orbán normally gives even more sharply worded speeches than usual in Romania, although lately he hasn't had to go to Tusnádfürdő to find inspiration.

Two years ago it was in Tusnádfürdő that Orbán first talked about Ferenc Gyurcsány as a liar and by extension as someone whose government was illegitimate. For some reason unknown to me, Orbán's speech last year was sparsely attended. This year he drew a full house, although I was surprised to see the many middle-aged and older people at a camp site organized for students. Perhaps these older folks came only to listen to Viktor Orbán and this time Traian Băsescu, president of Romania who spoke alongside Orbán. The camping festival is certainly an important event in the Hungarian community of Transylvania. As this poster says: Tusvanyos "Tusványos, naturally." On the twentieth anniversary of the festival the organizers even found an apt quotation from Attila József, the Hungarian poet, at least in its first line: "Húsz esztendőm hatalom …" (My twenty years is power), but it is a good thing they didn't continue: "Húsz esztendőm eladom…." (My twenty years I sell).

The sharp-tongued spokesman of MSZP, István Nyakó, suggested to Orbán before his departure for Romania that perhaps he could tell his audience his opinion of Jobbik because in Hungary he judiciously avoids the topic. According to Nyakó, Fidesz "created a monster that simply doesn't let go and that contaminates Hungarian political life." Orbán can react to this situation either by trying to outdo Jobbik in radicalism or by turning against it not in "empty words" but in deeds. (Actually Nyakó used the Hungarian slang word "duma" that can perhaps be best translated as "hot air.") Because, Nyakó continued, to say that Fidesz will never accept Jobbik as a coalition partner as Orbán did means nothing. After all, in 1998 he said the same thing about József Torgyán's Smallholders and what happened?  Came the coalition. (Torgyán, who is rarely seen these days on TV, just recently said in an interview that the poor abandoned voters of the Smallholders Party, smashed by Fidesz, ended up voting for Jobbik!) Orbán should announce in Tusnádfürdő that his party will stop all cooperation on the local level with representatives of Jobbik.

The reaction was predictable. Fidesz was outraged and answered: "Perhaps for a socialist politician even twenty years after the change of regime it is difficult to swallow and it is painful that in a democracy it is not MSZP that decides who says what and when." Fidesz told Nyakó "to learn to read" because after all the "Fundamentals" accepted by the Fidesz Congress and allegedly the party's program clearly states that they will not form a coalition with Jobbik. Of course, this is not really an answer to Nyakó who demanded an immediate cessation of cooperation between Fidesz and Jobbik in several local governments.

As for Orbán's speech, as usual it had its undeniable shock effect. This time he attacked free market and liberal economic policies. "Up to now there existed a myth that the market is holy, moral, and self-regulating and those who expressed doubts were called heretics, old-fashioned, and extremists." An economic regime came into being that turned out to be no more than "witchcraft." It became clear that "this wizardry is a colossal worldwide failure." Because of the international financial and economic meltdown for which Orbán for some strange reason holds the left responsible, the "age of the right" will come. And not for only a few years but "for twenty." (Didn't we hear that twenty years somewhere? Oh, yes, István Mikola, the doctor of the nation, slipped a bit when he said that once the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries receive citizenship, Fidesz will govern the country for twenty years! And, of course, the festival was celebrating its twentieth anniversary.) As for the Hungarian left, "it was bought up by a group of neo-liberal capitalists." This group smashed the Hungarian health care system into smitherings, sapped the savings of pensioners, did away with assistance to families and those in need, and undermined public safety. The left eroded the deep sense of national affinity when it campaigned against citizenship for Hungarians living in neighboring countries. The left demolished people's faith in democracy when it commanded the police to attack peaceful demonstrators on October 23, 2006. (I saw those peaceful demonstrators. It's is really amazing how some people manage to rewrite history. I might mention here that in this rewriting Krisztina Morvai had a lion's share.)

Then came Romanian President Traian Băsescu, who was decidedly more moderate than Viktor Orbán. He started his speech by saying that in the last twenty years Romania has become a democratic country but that this democracy is still fragile. He mentioned that the European left was unable to survive the economic crisis unscathed and that the right gained strength in the European parliament. The economic crisis is not the failure of capitalism; capitalism only needs correction. He emphasized that no country can get out of this economic crisis on its own. He talked about Romania's good relations with the United States and the countries of the European Union. He did mention autonomy that the Hungarians in Transylvania demand, but not in the sense that we think of autonomy. He simply called for a strengthening of local government and lessening the centralization prevalent in Romania as well as in other East European states. So far his audience was probably in a yada-yada mood. But he upset his Hungarian audience when he talked about the Romanian constitution that states that Romania is a unitary nation-state. At that point his audience booed.

Then came Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the foreign ministry between 1998 and 2002, who tried to smooth things over by saying that dialogue is necessary between Romanians and Hungarians. Orbán courted Băsescu by pointing out that the Romanian president's "former party" belongs to the same parliamentary delegation in Brussels as Fidesz does; he added that  "we in Fidesz can hardly wait for the moment when we [Băsecu's and Orbán] can take joint responsibility for the relationship between Romania and Hungary." Orbán expressed his hope that Băsescu will be reelected at the forthcoming elections and that as a result the two countries will march in lockstep in the years to come. I have my doubts. The Orbán government's relations with Romania were singularly bad. The Hungarian right's aggressive nationalism is usually a source of trouble in the neighboring countries. But I am certain that Orbán speaks the truth when he says that "we in Fidesz" can hardly wait for the moment when he will be the prime minister of Hungary.

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Vladimir
Guest

I can’t help but wonder how many of Fidesz powerful supporters are persons who benefited greatly from the “free market and liberal economic ideas.” How many of them worked for these large multi-national corporations in Hungary?

Pistefka
Guest
“Orbán felt much more at home in Transylvania, especially in the three Hungarian counties where the population seems, to me at least, more inclined to listen to right-wing rhetoric than used to be the case in Hungary” I beg to differ. On the political level, the RMDSZ gets the vast majority of the Hungarian vote in Romania, and works hard to be a moderate party, willing to co-operate with whichever Romanian party it thinks will form a government. László Tőkés keeps trying (with Fidesz’s backing) to turn things to the right, but has only managed so far to gain one seat in the European parliament. At the grassroots level, Hungarians in Romania have mostly learned to live alongside ethnic Romanians, and get on with them OK. Unlike in Hungary, where you will hear lots of (negative) opinions about Romanians – from people who have never spoken to a Romanian. Perhaps you have picked up your impression from “exiled” Transylvanian Hungarians in Hungary. The ones I have talked to tend to live in a time warp, and think Transylvania is just like it was when they left, in 1989 or whenever. That is just my impression though, as an Englishman who… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Pistekfa: “Perhaps you have picked up your impression from “exiled” Transylvanian Hungarians in Hungary. The ones I have talked to tend to live in a time warp, and think Transylvania is just like it was when they left, in 1989 or whenever.”
You’re correct. That’s exactly where I picked up this impression. Thanks for the correction.

M.J.
Guest

Dear Ms Balogh, with a couple of friends, we are following your blog with great attention.
We believe it would be very interesting for Slovak readers of our project:
http://www.jetotak.sk/
to get some specific insights on Hungarian politics as developped on this Hungarian Spectrum. Please contact me if you would be willing to consider any kind of collaboration. Thank you and best regards,
M.J.

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