My head is spinning. President László Sólyom has become hyperactive. The man who for a whole week said nothing about the series of attacks against the Hungarian Roma population suddenly got wings. The last time I touched on the topic I mentioned that some people were so upset about his behavior that they demanded Sólyom's resignation; they considered him unfit for his position. People were surprised that he didn't attend the last victim's funeral or visit the thirteen-year-old girl in the hospital. When György Bolgár interviewed Ferenc Kumin, the president's advisor flatly denied that the president had any obligation in this regard. Furthermore, he indignantly rejected any suggestion that Sólyom was not deeply interested in the fate of the Roma population and that he was not worried about the recent attempts on their lives. He in fact claimed that the president talked about all this repeatedly and added that it's enough to go to the website of the Office of the President and type in the keyword Roma or Gypsy (cigány in Hungarian); it will be clear how preoccupied Sólyom is with the topic. Being a curious sort, I put in the search tag and found practically nothing. But perhaps the search engine of the website is poor.
When I saw calls for his resignation or for him to at least visit the young girl in the hospital, I said to myself: Sólyom is a very stubborn man. Surely, he will do none of it. I was wrong. This time it seems that he finally realized that his way of handling the Roma question was so outrageous and upset so many people that he shifted tactics. It is hard to say who changed his mind. On Monday morning he met Gordon Bajnai, the prime minister, and later Ernő Kállai, the ombudsman in charge of national and ethnic minorities. My guess is that it was Kállai who was most influential. (Kállai is a 40-year-old Roma intellectual with degrees in history, journalism, and law. Before being named ombudsman in 2007 he worked as a researcher in one of the institutes of the Academy. He is a quiet and impressive man.) After Kállai emerged from the palace he said that "we agreed that the president would take all necessary steps to calm the whole population." He added that "in the long run democracy must come out of this situation victorious."
Soon afterwards Sólyom made a terse annoucement that most people greeted with satisfaction. He stressed that this is not just a "Roma question" but that it affects the entire country. Tension within the country is high, and the whole population must show solidarity toward the Roma. The stability of the country is at stake. The defense of the Gypsies is a question of honor. What happened must not be belittled. One mustn't find excuses. Of course, some people thought that Sólyom should have said all that a week ago, but they were nonetheless pleased that he made a speech that was clear and couldn't be explained away.
This morning Sólyom, accompanied by Kállai, visited the young girl who is still in intensive care in a hospital in Nyíregyháza. Sólyom spent about twenty minutes with her doctors, about half an hour with the girl's grandmother and aunt, and eventually–gifts in hand–met with the girl herself. He reported that the girl is doing well and most likely will fully recover because of her strong will and her desire to get well. Apparently the girl is a good student and wants to continue her studies. Sólyom promised financial help to the family that will look after the orphaned child. Kállai, who spent a few hours with Sólyom in the car, announced this afternoon that "more steps will be taken by the president soon" toward the solution of the Roma problem in Hungary.
Yesterday Sólyom made another important announcement about an international Nazi demonstration planned for August 15 in Budapest to commemorate the death of Rudolf Hess. Sólyom was "outraged" hearing about the wrangling between a Hungarian Nazi group (NS Forum) and the Budapest police. The police currently has no legal means to prevent such a demonstration other than resorting to the ruse of "hindering traffic." Inventive persons behind this planned demonstration offered nine different locations, and the police decided in each case that the location was unacceptable because it would hinder traffic. Of course, this is not only nonsense but is also dishonest. However, the Hungarian law governing freedom of assembly is so lax that the police can't find anything else on the books.
International lawyers reminded the public that Hungary is a signatory to international agreements that forbid Nazi propaganda and hence such demonstrations. Sólyom, who until recently was a champion of the widest interpretation of both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, suddenly changed his mind. "His decided opinion is that no Nazi demonstration should be held in Hungary." He added that he "trusts that the Hungarian public rejects the exultation of Nazi ideology and the celebration of a Nazi leader." Gordon Bajnai a day before said basically the same thing, but I suspect that Sólyom's unequivocal words on the topic gave the police some added courage. Not only did they reject the tenth application for a permit to hold a Nazi demonstration but, if the demonstrators gather anyway, the police have every right to disperse the crowd.
Parties on the left are united: they don't want to see a Nazi demonstration in Budapest. Fidesz as usual is less forthright. Károly Konrát said nothing about this particular demonstration. Instead he repeated the untruth that during the Orbán government there was no such demonstration and that Nazi demonstrations occur only when the socialists govern. Fidesz doesn't want to commit itself because its politicians don't want to alienate Jobbik, and Jobbik is at best tolerant of Hungarian Nazism, at worst a champion of Nazism. Gábor Vona was a guest on Nap-Kelte's Kereszttűz (Crossfire) where János Betlen, a journalist, asked him about the party's attitude toward the Nazi demonstration planned for the weekend. At this point Vona suggested to Betlen that he emigrate to Israel if he is so interested in Jewish questions. Well, this is what happens when the country's public television station feels compelled to invite Gábor Vona. The producer's excuse that according to the media law public radio and television stations must invite all legally functioning parties during election campaigns sounds hollow. There is no campaign at the moment. And the producer added this studipity: "Of course János Betlen is staying in Hungary." Let's hope so!