The “Sólyom for president” movement

At the beginning of May eleven "intellectuals" petitioned the Hungarian parliament to consider seriously the renomination of László Sólyom as president of the Republic of Hungary. The eleven people who initiated the movement are hard-core Fidesz supporters: Gábor Karátson, a writer; Mária Kopp, professor of medicine and one of those who endorsed and recommended to the electorate Fidesz's program; András Lányi, writer, philosopher, environmentalist; László Majtényi, former ombudsman; Imre Makovecz, architect; Tamás Mellár, former head of the Central Statistical Office under the first Orbán government; István Schneller, former chief architect of Budapest;, Gellért Szabó, president of the Association of Hungarian Villages; Péter Tölgyessy, political scientist and former Fidesz member of parliament; Gábor Vida, biologist, member of the Hungarian Academy of Science; and János Zlinszky, formerly a member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court.

The petition stressed the virtues of Sólyom's activities as president, especially that he is "a man of the constitution" and "the staunch guardian of democracy." Soon enough the number of signatures grew to 500 and later, when the organizers opened a site on the internet, five thousand people supported the idea. Why the sudden great enthusiasm for keeping Sólyom in his current post? The answer seems to me fairly simple: they are afraid that the next Fidesz-picked president will be no more than a puppet of Viktor Orbán. They note that the people whose names are circulating as possible successors to Sólyom have no legal background and therefore would be less able to judge the constitutionality of laws passed by parliament. But this stated objection is rather weak. After all, Árpád Göncz was no laywer either and he turned out to be an effective and much loved president. The president has a legal office which can do a reasonable job of deciding the constitutionality of bills submitted.

The organizers wanted to give their petition, together with the names of the supporters, to the Speaker of the House, Pál Schmitt. First Schmitt informed them that "he had another engagement" and when Lányi and his fellow petitioners asked for another opportunity, Schmitt didn't even bother to answer. One ought to mention here that Pál Schmitt is one of those people who, according to rumors, might succeed Sólyom. Lajos Kósa a few days ago talked about six possible candidates but besides Schmitt one can hear only about the former and current presidents of the Hungarian Academy, Szilveszter E. Vizi and József Pálinkás. The former is a pharmacologist while the latter is a physicist. Both are devoted followers of Fidesz. Schmitt actually served as one of the deputy chairmen of the party.

As it turned out, the organizers didn't try to reach any other politician when they hit a brick wall with Schmitt and immediately gave a press conference "in order to remind members of parliament of their earlier request."

I happened to hear an interview with Lányi this morning. He said that he and his fellow petitioners had been faithful supporters of Fidesz while it was in opposition. At that time the party considered them to be useful and it was grateful, but now that it has reached its goal and is in power they are ignored and snubbed.

During this intervew I had the distinct feeling that I'm witnessing the beginning of the splintering of the until now rock solid Fidesz bloc. I suspect that these people, conservative though they may be, are genuine supporters of democracy and constitutionality. I can't believe that they are looking upon the new government's activities with enthusiastic approval. Their shabby treatment can only push them farther away. Most likely during these heady days the Fidesz leadership isn't worrying too much about the feelings of the organizers of a movement championing for Sólyom's presidency. After all, Sólyom as far as they are concerned is history.

But if more and more of the intellectual supporters of Fidesz become dissatisfied, there is the likelihood of an intellectual revolt embracing both liberals and conservatives against the undemocratic tendencies of this government. Such a revolt can be a powerful weapon against an aggressive, arrogant, and cocky political elite.