Ferenc Gyurcsány’s long-awaited speech (I)

It was a year ago, on March 21, 2009, that Ferenc Gyurcsány resigned. Since then he made no public speeches although he will most likely be a member of the next parliament because he is number four on the MSZP list. But he broke his silence and accepted an invitation by the Hungarian Democratic Charter (Magyar Demokratikus Charta), a small group of like-minded liberals. This group was established in October 2008 in defense of human rights, freedom and democracy. According to their website the Charter has about 10,000 members. A couple of weeks ago members received an invitation to attend the gathering yesterday at which the former prime minister would speak. About 3,000 people asked for tickets.

The audience was certainly sympathetic; Gyurcsány was preaching to the choir. I personally found it rather peculiar, however, that Péter Tölgyessy, considered by some the most talented political analyst in the country, called the attendees "members of a sect." If these people belong to a sect, then how shall we describe those who in rapture keep repeating, "Viktor, Viktor" at the invitation-only gatherings when Fidesz's leader speaks?

Indeed, there's no question that the audience loved him because, although Fidesz did everything in its power to smear his name, Gyurcsány still retained a very sizeable following. And these people are not just liberals who have lost their party and now pin their hopes on Ferenc Gyurcsány's return to politics. His popularity is considerable even among the higher echelons of the Hungarian Socialist Party. I was surprised to see the standing ovation he received at the last party congress when Ildikó Lendvai mentioned in her speech that "Feri Gyurcsány is also here."

First I have to say a few words about Ferenc Gyurcsány's skills as an orator. They are considerable. This is an especially remarkable achievement in a country where in the last half a century or so the speechmaking talents of party functionaries wouldn't exactly have earned them prizes. I still have some old volumes of János Kádár's endless speeches. They are painful reading. He also gave practically no radio or television interviews. Since the Kádár regime was a one-party system politicians didn't have to be worried about the opposing side, and therefore there was no one to debate and no reason to give inspiring speeches. Long lists of accomplishments and numbers and that was all.

Gyula Horn, the first MSZP prime minister, was of the old school and in 1998 when Viktor Orbán forced a television debate on him, he lost mightily.  Orbán is a fairly good speaker but it didn't come naturally to him. He first had to learn to speak slowly. Unfortunately even as he mastered the fundamentals of public speaking the poverty of content in his speeches and their patchwork nature became increasingly more evident: too many cooks (speechwriters) spoiled the broth.

I don't know where Gyurcsány learned to speak so well. I have the feeling that in his case it is a natural talent; he was born with it. While Fidesz politicians took lessons in speech making I'm sure that no one taught Gyurcsány to speak. And no one wrote his speeches. He closeted himself in a room and put together his speeches which he often delivered without any notes. The first time I heard him was sometime in 2004, shortly after he became prime minister. Even then among university students Fidesz was very popular and the socialists not at all. Gyurcsány decided to change that, and he embarked on a tour of the most important universities. Someone sent me a DVD of these speeches, and it was amazing to watch the audience. At the beginning the students were quite antagonistic; they were making faces and one could see sarcastic smiles. But as time went on there was more and more laughter, more and more encouraging gestures, and at the end a standing ovation.

In this speech Gyurcsány wanted to talk about the successes and failures of the last eight years. Things got terribly entangled and they cannot be cut like a Gordian knot, he said. Viewed from a historical perspective–but he added that no one really cares about history–Hungary is experiencing the most successful decades of the last five hundred years. But the people don't see, don't feel that success and therefore Hungarians "are disappointed in their past, unsure of their present, and immensely impatient concerning the future." Taken together, disappointment, insecurity and impatience are an upsetting, sometimes maddening combination.

He admitted that he cannot be completely objective. After all, he was part of the events of the last eight years. But he promised to be as honest as possible. All the governments in office since 2002 had the best of intentions: they all wanted Hungary to move toward modernity, toward building a strong middle class. He also reminded his audience that these governments had to strengthen the democratic institutions because after four years of the Orbán government they were in shambles. Instead of weekly parliamentary sessions, the Orbán government illegally changed the rules so there were sessions only every three weeks. The opposition was stripped of its rights. The Orbán government kept no records of cabinet meetings. No historian will ever know what happened at those weekly meetings.The Medgyessy government restored the proper functioning of these parliamentary institutions.

As for the "sin" of Péter Medgyessy in raising the salaries of public employees by 50%, Gyurcsány tried to defend it: it was "a belated social compensation." The people who benefited from this compensation had been the losers of the regime change. They had to be rewarded at last. Medgyessy promised something before the elections and he delivered. However, added Gyurcsány, by 2006 "after ten years of an economic dream came the bitter awakening. All these dreams couldn't be financed given Hungary's economic situation. It became clear that the growing well-being of the citizens wasn't covered by the work of the people but by the state and often from loans." Gyurcsány explained the situation that led to the disaster. Between 2001 and 2006 altogether 1,500 billion forints were spent by the successive governments, financed through loans. Medgyessy was responsible for half of this amount, Orbán for one-third, and Gyurcsány for one-sixth. "Something else became clear. What is true in mathematics is not so in politics. While in mathematics four times two equals ten minus two, this is not so in politics. If someone gives a lot but later takes back some, that person gives less than if he had slowly, calmly given less."

Just as I anticipated, I can't summarize the whole speech. I still have three very important topics to discuss: the accomplishments of the last eight years, the reforms and their failures, and finally Gyurcsány's opinion of Fidesz and Jobbik. But that must wait until tomorrow.

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Paul
Guest

“But he promised to be as honest as possible.”
hahahahaha. suckers!

Öcsi
Guest

“First I have to say a few words about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s skills as an orator. They are considerable.”
A non-political friend told me he voted for Gyurcsány because he saw Gyurcsány as a “communicator.”

John T
Guest

Paul – Whatever your view of Gyurcsány’s politics or of him as an individual, the fact is, compared to the rest of the politicians, he can communicate well. I’d like nothing better to see a competent group of Parliamentarians who can debate and set out their platforms intelligently and eloquently. I guess I’ll have to wait a while yet before that happens.
Anyway carry on with your sniping. I note that you don’t respond to most of the serious points people make to you. Why is that? – is it because you don’t have the bottle (courage), or because you actually haven’t thought through the serious issues yet?

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Does anyone know exactly what the total Hungarian debt is? This would allow us to get things in proportion.
One of the problems with the Hungarian system is that you vote for a party and not the candidate. This means that the make up of the parliament is controlled by the Party Managers and not the voters. There were in the U.K. candidates from a party I do not support who if they had stood in my constituency I would have voted for. Most people can spot a skunk when they see one and will not vote for him/her even though they support the party. They will even support a good person though they do not support that party.

Paul
Guest
I agree he can communicate well – how else could he maintain such support in the face of his past actions and admissions? I am saying however that anyone who still believes a word he says must be pretty gullible. How many years must someone lie for (and get caught!) before you can’t trust him? How many budgets must he falsify before you can’t trust him anymore? Hitler also communicated well, and thus maintained a strong following despite his actions. Hungary’s budget and populace has had about all the Gyurcsány can it handle. I don’t want to pull out some of those infamous quotes of his, but you would do yourself a favour by reviewing them. Gyurcsány “promising” to be “honest” is a joke. Get real. Let’s face it – much of Jobbik’s popularity is due to Hungarians’ distrust of the political elite and democracy in general. The (enormous) lies, corruption and arrogance of the Gyurcsány government has carried the Hungarian far-right into the mainstream. I don’t have time to respond to all of the considerable number of blind socialists who post here. I try merely to balance the debate wherever possible. Seeing an article about Gyurcsány being “honest” has… Read more »
John T
Guest

Paul – Then we agree on his communication skills. That’s all I was commenting on. And I agree with you about the corruption. But cleaning it up is an internal matter and there are millions of people who are corrupt and dishonest to a degree. So there needs to be a real change in mindset.
But this election goes way beyond corruption – it will determine Hungary’s future in many key matters. I’ve raised some practical issues when replying – I’ll acknowledge you may lack the time, but if you support the Jobbik programme, it would be useful to see your reply.
As I’ve said previously, dealing with corruption is pretty easy in terms of setting rules, improving governance and transparency and implementing changes to the law.And where people are corrupt, you deal with them, either through fines, prison or baring them from holding any public office or company directorship. To quote the Meerkats – simples!

Vándorló
Guest

His account of himself and the portrayal here is simply disgusting. This is such a deliberate and willful distortion of reality.
I have already detailed here Gyurcsány’s blatant disregard for honest and open government, which is underlined by the fact that international organisations such as Transparency International walked away from Gyurcsány’s government in disgust.
I have also here detailed economist’s accounts and opinions of Gyurcsány’s reign of torpor. You will not find a single internationally respected economist that has anything good to say about Gyurcsány.
Really, he was enormously unpopular when he was PM and since leaving that has declined even further.
http://www.nol.hu/archivum/archiv-452155
You can look at the stats provided by multiple sources to confirm this. One of the easiest is from Szonda Ipsos:
http://www.ipsos.hu/site/graph?type=2
Those that left really have no fix on reality and would rightly be called a “sect”:
“The audience was certainly sympathetic; Gyurcsány was preaching to the choir. I personally found it rather peculiar, however, that Péter Tölgyessy, considered by some the most talented political analyst in the country, called the attendees ‘members of a sect’.”
Though I think with Lendai’s popularity skating along the bottom ‘covern’ may be a more fitting description.

PassingStranger
Guest
I don’t believe Gyurcsyany is a great communicator. He is politically completely inept. Otherwise he would never have made his infamous Oszodi beszed. It was an act of momentous political stupidity to make the speech in the first place. It was even dumber to make it in front of such a large audience, which almost guaranteed it would be leaked. If it is true that, as some people think, this was all deliberate and Gyurcsany leaked the speech himself, then that is even worse. Whatever the case, Gyurcsany completely misjudged the mood of the country, and surely that in itself proves he is no great communicator. A good communicator has a knack of knowing what people think. He handed his political enemies enough munition to keep them going for years. I’m surprised Paul, the paid Jobbikos troll on this forum, is not cheering slick Feri. If there is one single person in Hungary who can be blamed for the rise of Jobbik, it is Ferenc Gyurcsany. Once Orban gets his two-thirds majority, he should put up a statue to him Gyurcsany in front of Parliament, because that is who he’s got to thank. The lack of basic political instincts alone… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

In 2009 Hungary ranked 19th worst national debt out of 129 countries. The debt as a fraction of gross domestic product was a 72.40%. (CIA Factbook).
As Gyurcsany has himself conceded, the debt was a result of many years and three “administration’s” worth of bad decisions.
Hungary is on an unsustainable path and I am not surprised at the anger toward the government.
What’s remarkable is that the Fidesz leadership was a part of the failure of the last decade, and yet they are still able to garner so much support.
It is a shame there is no viable center-left party in Hungary to fill the void left by the failure of the MSZP. I am revolted by Fidesz and share many concerns about the anti-Democratic leanings of Fidesz.
Over the short-term, I do not see much bright in Hungary’s political future.

John T
Guest

Pete H – It’s a shame there isn’t just a decent centerist party that can overcome the hostility of the left & right paties and govern properly for all Hungarians. Maybe the LMP might become this. Or it would need to be started from scratch. Of course, it might be strangled at birth by one of the existing parties.
Additionally, too many Hungarians view everything that goes on in the world in a simplistic black/white fashion. Whilst this may be the case for certain things e.g. corruption = bad, there are many aspects of life that are complex (grey). Until more people with a sensible, balanced view come to the fore, things are unlikely to change.

John T
Guest

Vándorló – whatever skills he might have as a communicator don’t extend to his judgement 🙂

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

As far as the speech at Őszöd is concerned it wasn’t about lying. In fact, what he wanted to say was that it was time to stop lying. And not just the MSZP politicians have beeing lying but all politicians ever since 1990 when they promised an earthly paradise while the underpinnings of a welfare state were missing. His verbal construction was sloppy and the other side took advantage of it by releasing only one sentence out of a fairly long speech. Most people have never read the whole thing.
As for Gyurcsány. He is either adored or hated. There are a few people here who have a gut reaction: they loath him. I happen to think highly of him although I also think that the speech at Őszöd even without the distortions was a huge mistake. A lot of young people who will be Jobbik voters claim that they decided to join the ranks of Jobbik after Őszöd. Of course, this might be a later construction but there is no question that the leaked speech did an awful lot of harm.

PassingStranger
Guest

What the speech was really about does not matter. Politics is the art of letting your enemies make the mistakes. Gyurcsany should have realised what would be lifted from his speech. Soundbites are what modern politics are about. Gyurcsany can complain that the speech was distorted, but he has no-one but himself to blame. Considering the polarisation of the country at the time he should have realised the havoc it would cause.
Oszod is certainly a reason for former MSzP voters to switch to Jobbik. The fact that Orban failed to channel popular unrest after Oszod and basically left the leadership of this movement to the streets (i.e. far right hooligans allied to Jobbik)
is the other part of the explanation.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

PassingStranger: “Gyurcsany should have realised what would be lifted from his speech…. Oszod is certainly a reason for former MSzP voters to switch to Jobbik.”
Gyurcsány spoke without any notes and most likely he himself didn’t realize that the sentence could be misunderstood. That’s the first thing. The second that when he spoke he wasn’t thinking that this speech was going to be leaked. Therefore this argument is specious. As for former MSZP people voting for Jobbik that is wrong assumption. Most Jobbik votes come from Fidesz. And that is what worries Fidesz most.

PassingStranger
Guest

Even when ad libbing before a trusted audience politicians should be able to exercise restraint. Especially the leader of a party and a prime minister.
Any politician speaking to a reasonably large audience should realise that what he will say there can be leaked. In fact, this a standard method of leaking information. You make sure that enough people have access to an ‘internal’ speech or document so it that it can be leaked without fear of detection. Thinking it could not be leaked was incredibly dumb, all in all I find it an extremely amateurish mistake for a senior politician to make.

Pete H.
Guest

Correction, I meant to say I am revolted by Jobbik.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

PassingStranger: “Even when ad libbing before a trusted audience politicians should be able to exercise restraint.”
Sure, but you must admit that average Hungarians are horrified that Gy. used some four-letter words. Indeed, that’s bad but it is ridiculous that people who speak like Hungarians, men, women, educated, not educated, today dare to say a word about manners.
Why should politicians be any better than the rest of society. They can look at themselves in the mirror. It is enough to read some of the comments in Hungarian on-line papers! They are horrifying!

Paul
Guest

PassingStranger:
“Paul, the paid Jobbikos troll”. Paid? I wish! Unlike the corrupt socialists, I doubt Jobbik has much spare cash at the moment anyway. Jobbik supporters don’t expect monetary compensation or a workers paradise for their reward – they act in what they think is genuinely the best interests of our nation.
I don’t love Jobbik, or any political party. But I do love Hungary, and so seeing what happened to it under his regime pains me. I too wish there were no social ills, and no need for Jobbik at all – but I can recognise that all is not well, and that there is a serious need for national change, which only Jobbik is truly committed to.
Eva, having read the entire speech, I fail to see how quoting just a few choice lines is really much worse than taking it in its entirety. You can try to make excuses for him but at the end of day he is simply another corrupt, dishonest leader who did untold damage to his country and its democratic processes. he should never be trusted again. His party are now only popular in the geriatric demographic – and rightfully so.

Öcsi
Guest

Paul wrote: “I too wish there were no social ills, and no need for Jobbik at all – but I can recognise that all is not well, and that there is a serious need for national change, which only Jobbik is truly committed to.”
Paul, are you aware of the English idiom of “jumping from the frying pan into the fire?”
That is Jobbik’s remedy for Hungary. Everyone will lose. And Hungarian society will be set back generations. That is my fear and that is why I would not vote for Jobbik if I had a chance to vote.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Mr Osci voting for Jobbik will be like asking to be sent back to jail. In the West we used to say of Hungary that it was ‘the happiest cell in the prison’. Once they get into power there will be no getting rid of them without outside help and that may mean bloodshed.

Pete H.
Guest

There was a lot wrong in Germany in the 1920’s too. They sought the wrong solution for their ills. I am hoping Hungary will not make the same mistake.

isti
Guest

“It is a shame there is no viable center-left party in Hungary to fill the void left by the failure of the MSZP.”
Pete H: You are sadly mistaken if you think MSzP was a center-left party. You represent what is wrong with the electorate in Hungary.
In a global sense, FIDESZ and the “centre right” is far more senstive to the idea of a social safety net than anything spewed by the contemporary “left” in Hungary.

John T
Guest

isti – Fidesz appear to me to be a somewhat confused party, particularly on economic policy, where they seem to be old fashioned socialist, almost communist in their approach. They certainly don’t fit the mould of of western european centre / centre right party.

Mark
Guest

isti: “FIDESZ and the “centre right” is far more senstive to the idea of a social safety net than anything spewed by the contemporary “left” in Hungary.”
Let’s see if this can be credibly said in a year’s time. In the past twenty-four hours figures close to FIDESZ have been signalling that their party (and its voters) may face an unpleasant encounter with the budgetary situation:
http://index.hu/belfold/2010/valasztas/kosa_szerint_rendkivuli_intezkedesek_johetnek/
The cautious shifts in the mood music coming from FIDESZ reminds me of something – it reminds me of the MSZP campaign between the two rounds in 2006, when they began to subtlely (far too subtlely) prepare the electorate for what was coming after it.

Mark
Guest

John T: “They certainly don’t fit the mould of of western european centre / centre right party.”
They are certainly not the British Conservatives (who would be denounced by most on the Hungarian right as “liberals”), or the German Christian Democrats. The best point of comparison are right-populists like Berlusconi and Haider who both combine “social” themes, with nationalism and right-wing rhetoric. FIDESZ’s “million strong” street demonstrations were plagiarized from Forza Italia, and its use of the referendum from Haider.
Not surprisingly FIDESZ, and its Italian and Austrian siblings have all suffered from a gap between the lure of their propaganda and the rather more dismal reality of their performance when they got near power.

Erik the Reader
Guest

Face it Gyurcsány is a liar who hopefully never will be part of the Hungarian political life. What an irony he was selling his infamous speech with the 2006 electoral debate with Orbán where he accused Orbán of lying. You can see the irony. Who was proved to be liar? Gyurcsány. And one can talk endlessly about his corrupt camarilla sucking away the money from companies like BKV.
More and more cases are coming to light.
The country destroyer Mszp , Szdsz clique
will receive the proper RETRIBUTION.

Erik the Reader
Guest

With due respect I see Eva S. Balogh is a Gyurcsány fan like the linked Galamus csoport therefore one cannot expect unbiased views on her part. The foreign reader should be aware that this blog conveys the views of a Hungarian expat living in US since decades thus renders
the view of someone who has no contact with daily Hungarian life.
I am sorry that Eva S. Balogh chose Hungarian politics as a hobbyhorse but I can say she was and is betting on the wrong horse. 😀

John T
Guest

Erik – The Hungarian voters are faced with wall to wall liars, hangers on, incompetents at every turn in the political arena, not just MSZP. MSZP will get thumped and deserve it. I’m interested in what you mean by RETRIBUTION.

Erik the Reader
Guest

@John T Accountability!
Hungary should stop being the country without consequences. Don’t you find it odd that the children and heirs of the communist tortuners (Mszp) want to set the standard who is democratic or no? One should not forget that their fathers were beating up in the prison cellars the “collaborators of the imperialist America”. Also Gyurcsány started as a communist leader of KISZ and it’s no secret that before 89 he worked on quenching and undermining the movements of the democratic opposition. Read into his writing and reports from that time.

John T
Guest

If there are people who took part in torturing others, then there is justification for bringing them to account, through due legal process.
But on the other hand, you can’t blame a kid for their parents either. And there were 800,000 communist party members – were they collaborators? They certainly propped up the system, whether it be for self interest or genuine support of the communist ideals. So, where do you draw the line? Finally, you can spend so much time looking to the past – but in doing so, the country doesn’t move ahead. So you have to decide whats more important.

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