Viktor Orbán's knowledge of history is not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination. One must keep in mind that after finishing high school Orbán, according to the European custom, immediately entered law school. I checked the current curriculum of the law school in Budapest where I could find only one or two subjects vaguely connected to history: history of the Hungarian constitution and legal history. To my mind a future politician should learn some history, some political science, and some economics in college; after that, a law degree might be helpful. In Europe it is also a good idea to know foreign languages, especially in countries whose language is not widely spoken outside its borders.
I don't want to say that without formal courses one cannot be a student of history. There was, for example, Harry Truman who never even went to college but was a real history buff. Or, in Hungary, there is Péter Boross, former prime minister, who finished law school in 1951 but whose incredible knowledge of Hungarian history came only from voracious reading on the subject. The few times Ferenc Gyurcsány talked about history, for example about 1848, he exhibited a firm grasp of historical facts and was able to deliver a sophisticated interpretation of them.
The same cannot be said of Viktor Orbán. It is hard to tell whether his falsification of history comes from ignorance or whether he knows the truth but bends it to fit his current political message. And because his political messages often change, the interpretation of the very same historical events also changes from time to time. I remember the upheaval he caused when as prime minister he delivered a speech about the revolution and announced that 56 was a "bourgeois democratic revolution." You can imagine what historians had to say about this nonsense. This year he kept away from an interpretation of the ideology of the 1956 Revolution but instead emphasized the "sobriety" and "moderation" that is so typical of the Hungarian people. Off the bat, I could find a lot of people who wouldn't find "sobriety" and "moderation" the chief characteristics of the Hungarian psyche, but as with all generalizations this one is false too. In the revolution there were indeed sober and moderate voices but one cannot say, as Orbán did, that there were no displays of vengeance or outright cruelty. There were instances of summary justice as well as moderate voices, especially in intellectual-student circles. In general, life works that way.
When Orbán began his theme of "sobriety" as opposed to "extremism" I first thought that he was talking about Jobbik and was warning his followers not to succumb to the voices of extremism. But no, true to his claim that Fidesz doesn't have to worry about Jobbik, he wasn't talking about his former friends, Gábor Vona and Krisztina Morvai. He was talking about the "dictatorship" of the current government. The current political leaders of the country are trying to govern against the people. They don't listen to the citizens but follow "the dictats of money" while "they are trying to piece together a botched budget." Unlike the sober Hungarian revolutionaries who "were building instead of destroying," this extremist government "breaks everything in sight into smithereens." Thus his government will have to do a lot a rebuilding. Well, again, we could ask: what did the Hungarian revolutionaries build? What could they build in thirteen days. Nothing! But thanks to the Russian tanks there was a lot of destruction.
The Rákosi regime failed, Orbán continued, because the political leaders lost touch with the people and governed against their wishes and interest. Along came the revolutionaries and the old regime collapsed. This socialist government will also fall because they didn't learn from the communists of pre-1956 times. They will be swept away by Fidesz and the new united Hungary. Of course, this evil force, the socialists, will not disappear because they will have the temerity to "want to come back." (Indeed, the party in opposition always wants to come back.) What a shame! What a crime! Surely, this man, if he tells us the truth, hasn't got a democratic bone in his body.
Among all the lies there was at least one truthful sentence in the speech. Orbán announced that he "has been waiting for a long time for this moment," meaning the moment when he will again be Hungary's prime minister. Yes, indeed, amid awful frustration and often great depression, but the coveted position is now in sight. He must be elated.
As for the reaction? First of all, Viktor Orbán who two years ago purposely organized a huge gathering in front of the Astoria Hotel only a couple of blocks from Deák tér where the extremists gathered, this time decided to move the event to one of the farthest points in Budapest, Nagytétény. This time he surely wanted to be as far as possible from Jobbik and other extremist groups that picked places in downtown Pest. Perhaps he wanted to know how many people Gábor Vona and Krisztina Morvai can muster; perhaps he might also have been afraid that some of his own followers would saunter over to the meeting of Jobbik. But as a result of moving to Nagytétény the crowd was very small. Perhaps three thousand as opposed to thirty or forty thousand that usually gather to hear Viktor. Or half a million, as Fidesz boasted about the size of one of its demonstrations. Accordingly the applauses were also thin, and Orbán often had to stop and wait a few seconds before the audience realized that it was time to clap. It was expected.
Jobbik's crowd on Deák tér was larger, perhaps five thousand. Some people were afraid that Vona and Morvai would draw a much larger crowd. Not only was Orbán introduced to his gathering as the future prime minister of Hungary but Gábor Vona as well at his. I talked to a friend yesterday from Hungary who is convinced that Jobbik might even receive 16% of the votes at the next elections, especially if participation is low. Orbán of course is hoping for a huge victory. However, there are five more months until the elections, and we will find out between now and then how "sober" and "moderate" the Hungarian people are when the chips are down.