It is always amusing to read quotations from politicians a few years apart, especially if circumstances have changed radically in the meantime. Lately the Hungarian media has dredged up interesting quotations from people like László Kövér and Viktor Orbán during the summer of 1994 when Gyula Horn asked SZDSZ to form a coalition government although MSZP already had a comfortable majority of parliamentary seats. SZDSZ, encouraged by several polls that indicated the party's electorate supported such a coalition, agreed. Thus, MSZP and SZDSZ had a 72% majority in the House.
It was during the spring of 1994 that I began using the Internet and I joined an English-language discussion forum in which SZDSZ supporters were in the great majority. I was new to Hungarian politics and was just beginning to feel my way around. Therefore I mostly listened. I clearly remember that my new Internet friends knew way before the day of voting that MSZP would win, but as one of them said: "But not that big!" I myself had no doubt that the left would win the elections. That was clear to me just by speaking to people in Hungary when I visited the country in December 1993. Even casual conversations on the streets revealed that the MDF-led Antall and later Boross governments were hugely unpopular.
With SZDSZ joining Gyula Horn's party, the majority of the government parties was indeed overwhelming, and not surprisingly it created a certain unease among the opposition. This unease was natural, just as it is natural today that certain opposition parties, I think of MSZP first and foremost, are deeply worried. But there is a huge difference between the situation in 1994 and now. In 1994 two former opposition parties found themselves at the helm of government; their behavior once in power was an unknown. One could worry about their future behavior but one couldn't point to an earlier period when these parties took advantage of their large majority. This is not the case now. Unfortunately one has vivid memories of the governing techniques of the first Orbán government. Even supporters of Fidesz today, I think here of László Kéri and Péter Tölgyessy, can only say that Orbán has learned a lot since. He is now wiser and less aggressive. Mind you, I haven't seen any signs of this change of heart, but we will see soon enough who is right and who is wrong.
In any case, here are a few quotations from the summer of 1994. I'm relying on the blog of Gábor Török, a political scientist. László Kövér pointed out that in democratic regimes the coalition created by MSZP and SZDSZ is "unusual and it is not to our liking." He didn't question its legitimacy but he "wanted to call attention to its immense responsibility." After all, the new government wasn't restricted by any institutional controls. He pointed out that the new government could change the constitution, the jurisdiction of the president, the position of the Constitutional Court, the electoral law, the structure of the local governments according to its whim. Doesn't it sound familiar?
János Áder, today Fidesz European parliamentary member and speaker of the house during the Orbán government, called attention to "the limitless power of this government." It is only on the government's "gentlemanly or comradely word of honor" that the opposition can rely. By adding the word "comradely," he indicated that the opposition didn't really trust this government's word of honor. As it turned out, comradely or not, the Horn-Kuncze government remained true to its word. It didn't touch the constitution or any of the fundamental laws in a serious way.
István Balsai (MDF), who was minister of justice in the Antall government, didn't trust the government's intentions in spite of reassuring words from Peter Hack (SZDSZ). He saw signs as early as July 1994 that the new government would change the constitution. The same Balsai today, as a member of Fidesz, is entrusted with the investigation into MSZP politicians' criminal activities. To me he is the embodiment of the kind of hatred Fidesz managed to plant in the heart and soul of the entire nation.
The Horn-Kuncze government made a single, in my opinion very unfortunate, fundamental change in the law governing the status of members of parliament. The constitution stated that members of parliament couldn't hold offices in local governments. The change was to the advantage of MSZP because out of the 200 MSZP members of parliament 50 were also mayors of their localities. Interestingly, Fidesz voted with the government parties at the time and since then they have never questioned that particular law. In the last four years an incredible number of Fidesz parliamentary members were also mayors of various cities and towns.
Today, MSZP and SZDSZ politicians are very proud that they showed great restraint when the Horn-Kuncze coalition had 72% of the seats. It was only Imre Mécs (SZDSZ) who said in 1997 that they "should have used the opportunities offered by this 72%" and should have made the most urgent and necessary changes in the constitution." Mind you, after MSZP-SZDSZ lost the elections and Orbán became prime minister, some MSZP politicians mentioned their past virtuous behavior to their Fidesz colleagues, who bluntly replied: "Don't be so proud. You were simply stupid!"