The first time I heard the name of Gordon Bajnai was when I read in 2006 that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány called on him to be the head of the National Development Agency. Later appointments in more and more important posts followed; eventually he became head of the newly formed National Economic Development Ministry. And now, of course, prime minister.
The prime minister's given name, Gordon, is not exactly commonplace in Hungary. Actually I would be surprised if there were another person in the whole country named Gordon unless, of course, it is a brand new baby whose parents became enamored with the prime minister or the name. As things now stand, that it is not at all impossible. Gordon Bajnai is becoming more and more popular. And not without reason.
As I said, I knew nothing about Bajnai because he entered politics from the business world. However, I have a very good internet friend who happened to be his college classmate who kept telling me that this guy was very, very smart and very, very nice and that he will do a fantastic job. The same person started a "let's support Gordon Bajnai to be the next prime minister of Hungary" on Facebook, and I think she was very disappointed when there were not too many supporters. When she first mentioned her initiative to me I was amused. Although his name had been mentioned several times as a possible successor to Gyurcsány, I didn't see how this quiet, unassuming fellow whom I elsewhere called a "boy scout" could be a really good prime minister. I guess I was too accustomed to Ferenc Gyurcsány who is anything but quiet or unassuming.
Then he took over and, although he didn't talk much as opposed to his predecessor, it soon became obvious that this quiet man had a will of steel and a power of persuasion to go with it. From the business world he brought along a willingness to compromise that is such an important ingredient in politics and that is in short supply in Hungary. He announced on day one that the 3.8% deficit target is "carved in stone" and kept his word. Then I heard Paul Lendvai, the well known Austrian (Hungarian born) journalist say that he heard Bajnai give a lecture in English in Vienna and he wished that Austrian politicians could speak English as well as he does. At home he was making headway both in parliament and in handling the economy. Moreover, in foreign policy about which he really shouldn't know much, he did a good job when he sat down and, in my opinion, had quite a successful meeting with Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister. Then I talked to people who met him in New York and who gained a very favorable impression of him. As László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava, wrote in Népszava (the Hungarian variety), in New York "a miracle happened." Even right-wing Hungarians who came to listen to him "were jealous of the socialists" for having such an excellent man as Gordon Bajnai. Bartus said something that I found interesting. This man really didn't want to be prime minister and tells the world that he is not planning to be one. And, Bartus added, perhaps that's why he is so good at it.
And now I'm continuing my "delusions" as NWO called one of my posts when I was a bit more optimistic about left-liberal chances at the 2010 elections than most people (September 13: "Some good news from Hungary"). The trend that started in August seems to be continuing. According to the Századvég-Forsense poll released today, the popularity of socialist politicians has grown by five points while Fidesz politicians lost three points on a scale of 100. The lead of Fidesz politicians over their socialist colleagues is only 6 points at the moment. The greatest change is in the popular assessment of Gordon Bajnai. In the last quarter his standing went up by nine points. Right now Bajnai has 45 points out of 100. At the same time Orbán's went down by four points and therefore he has only 52 points. I am always amused when in Hírkereső, a Hungarian Google News, I look at the headlines. The left-liberal papers, the very few, hail the changes and therefore their headlines are optimistic. For example, Népszabadság introduced the news about this latest poll: "Bajnai is pressing hard on Orbán." Right-wing papers, on the other hand, prefer such headlines as "Fidesz politicians are still ahead." It is not a lie, indeed they are still more popular than the socialists, but the real news is that the gap is closing and not that Fidesz is still leading.
László Bartus introduces his piece by saying that Bajnai might be the only serious rival of Viktor Orbán because he so different. And then he brings up a photo that appeared in Népszava (September 25). I must admit that I was also amused at seeing this picture but Bartus put it really well: "On the protocol photo released by the White House the Hungarian prime minister is standing between Barack Obama and his wife. Gordon Bajnai looks on this photo as people normally think of him on the basis of his looks. He gives the impression of a tourist who just happens to be there. He lacks the political savvy that made Obama and his wife able to produce the same smile while being photographed with all the presidents and prime ministers gathered in New York. But his look on this picture is much more honest and much more human. He has no illusions of stardom, his posture is that of 'everyman'." Bartus then points out the difference between his outward appearance and his inner workings. He thinks, and I tend to agree with him, that "the current prime minister of Hungary may surpass his predecessors and his rivals."
My suspicion is that Viktor Orbán is somewhat worried about Bajnai and the achievement of his government. Otherwise he wouldn't be trying so hard and wouldn't use tactics which under the circumstances seem totally unnecessary. If the Fidesz lead is so overwhelming and unchangeable, why would Lajos Kósa (the most popular Fidesz politician, by the way) feel compelled to organize a demonstration against the government's decision to give 4.5% less money to the local governments than they got last year. In all seriousness he said in the new "Ma reggel" (that seems to be functioning instead of Nap-kelte) that children will go hungry, schools will have to be closed, and hospitals will not be able to receive patients. The demonstration is planned for October 10 in front of the Parliament. Kósa talked only about a gathering of (Fidesz) mayors, but the inimitable Szijjártó yesterday called on everybody who is against the government and this horrific budget to join in. Starting street demonstrations again? Why? With an overwhelming lead? Hard to fathom. Unless they also have the feeling, as I do, that this is not the end of the story.