People who didn’t vote for Fidesz talk wistfully about the civilized change of government in Great Britain. In Hungary, by contrast, they say that boorishness rules. The president of the country refuses to shake hands with a man who just received some decoration although it is his job to conduct the ceremony. Another man, an actor, refuses to accept an award from the hands of the prime minister. The leader of the opposition refuses to congratulate the winner. And these are only a few examples of unacceptable behavior on the part of those chivalrous Hungarians who are so proud of their noble heritage.
The leader of the Hungarian opposition barely made an appearance in parliament because he found his changed position too hard to take. Try to imagine that in Great Britain. And now that he has won the elections he is still battling the former government with all his might. A few days ago there was a caricature in Népszava that is telling. It says: “Revolution.” Orbán, flag in hand, is ready to climb the wall of the fortress when one of his men says to him, “But, chief, the Bastille is already ours.”
Since the appearance of this cartoon the revolutionary rhetoric has only intensified although one would have thought that in the last couple weeks Viktor Orbán could calm down and realize that his eight-year struggle to be prime minister again is over. He can relax. Let go. But no. Just the opposite. First we just heard about a revolution in the voting booths, and by now we have a “revolutionary parliament” and a “revolutionary government.” Magyar Hírlap came out with this incredible headline: “Revolutionary parliament signals the end of a defeated regime.”
I just read a wonderful article by Endre Bojtár, professor of comparative literature, about “The shady side of romanticism” in www.galamus.hu in which he spends quite a bit of time on East Europeans’ fascination with revolution. I’m sure that the flow of this nonsensical talk about revolution inspired the piece. He mentions that even absolutely peaceful transitions are called revolutions. The Hungarian negotiated settlement during 1989-90 is often described as some kind of revolution, if necessary turning to the Czechs for a little velvet. Or everybody talks about March 15, 1848, as a revolution when in fact it wasn’t. The same could be said about the October 1918 events that are called “the aster revolution.” 1956 was a revolution all right but, as Bojtár rightly points out, not only was it not allowed to be called a revolution but those who took part in its defeat called their newly formed government “the revolutionary government of workers and peasants.” I’m very much afraid we will not be able to get rid of this nonsensical adjective for a while. I know the Fidesz parrot commando only too well.
One thing is sure. Viktor Orbán is not tackling the very serious problems facing the country with any humility or modesty. Here are a few telling lines from his speech in parliament. “I’m not standing in front of you for the first time. It isn’t the first time that I accept the post of prime minister. I know what I have to do. I know what the country expects from me and I will not disappoint them. I will do all that people expect from me. [Great applause.] I am ready to struggle against all odds, but those who know me also know that difficulties and obstacles put in my way don’t deter me. It doesn’t matter what kind of powerful forces try to thwart me, I will succeed because the Hungarian people entrusted me with the task. People want drastic and fundamental change in all aspects of their lives. For this change I received a mandate and authority and this is what I will fully accomplish.”
Let’s stop right here. There are far too many problems with this passage. Most importantly, we don’t even know what Fidesz voters expect from Viktor Orbán, just that they had had enough of the socialists. I suspect that they would like to have a higher standard of living first and foremost. Another serious problem is that Fidesz voters really didn’t know what they were voting for. Orbán kept his plans secret. His voters had to go on faith. Therefore any reference to expectations, especially fundamental and drastic changes, sounds hollow.
The next problem is with his claim that his endorsement was so overwhelming that it allows him to introduce those drastic changes he wants to introduce. But the fact is that this doesn’t hold water. In 1994, 2002, and 2006 the socialists and the liberals had just as many voters and they didn’t think that they were authorized to initiate a “revolution.” It is also presumptuous of him to think that the whole nation is behind him because it is not so. It is very unlikely that the voters of MSZP and LMP would like to see “a victory over the past” as Orbán said in another part of his speech. These people don’t want to turn against the twenty years that brought democracy to the country. Orbán in no uncertain terms makes clear that he considers this particular election the final act of the regime change. According to him the period between 1990 and 2010 was a communist transitional period. But with this election the time of freedom from bondage has arrived. But in that case what on earth did he do as a member of parliament between 1990 and 2010 and as prime minister of the country between 1998 and 2002? Prime minister in a semi-communist country? How is that possible?
The government hasn’t been sworn in but already storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. But as Orbán said in his speech: he is not deterred. He is a strong man, a strong prime minister of a strong country. And he flexes his muscles. But so does Robert Fico, prime minister of Slovakia, and we don’t know yet what muscles will be flexed when the IMF sits down with György Matolcsy. And we haven’t even talked about the “revolutionary” attack on democracy that is beginning to take place. But more about that some time later.