Until now we heard only of the American eighty-niners, homesteaders who settled Oklahoma in 1889. Ferenc Gyurcsány invented the Hungarian eighty-niners, people who stand fast by the Hungarian constitution of 1989 against Viktor Orbán who is in process of creating a new constitution, most likely to be enacted in 2011.
A civil organization known as Fapados Alapítvány organized a conference entitled "One hundred days–Hungary deceived." The scheduled speakers were Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, and Iván Vitányi of MSZP, Kinga Göncz, MSZP member of the European Parliament, Tamás Bauer, economist, József Debreczeni, political analyst, and Gábor Iványi, a Methodist minister.
The conference was slated to be held at the Kossuth Klub, a place of historical significance because that is where the reform communists held their meetings in the spring of 1956. Today all sorts of educational programs find a home in the Kossuth Klub. Its hall, which can seat 200 people, is frequently rented out to various organizations. All was in order until yesterday afternoon when the director of the Kossuth Klub cancelled the event. His rationale was that it is already campaign season and he deemed this conference a campaign event. The Kossuth Klub, he continued, cannot get involved in politics. He claimed that even if Viktor Orbán wanted to speak there he would have been turned down.
In any case, in the last minute the organizers managed to find another spot, a community and cultural gathering place called Eötvös10 Musical Studio. If I were to summarize in one sentence what I think this gathering signalled I would say that it is the beginning of Ferenc Gyurcsány's return to the political scene. He made no secret of his plans to head a broad coalition of people and forces whose aim is to make Viktor Orbán's premiership as short as possible. My impression was that, if necessary, the coalition might even be outside of MSZP. Unless, of course, the socialist party "reforms itself."
There were a few socialist politicians present as well: Zoltán Szabó, Mihály Kökény, András Tatai-Tóth, and Mária Vojnik. Népszabadság's Tamás Lajos Szalay, who reported on the event, also spotted István Vágó, the Hungarian "Jeopardy" host, who is a committed liberal and a fan of Ferenc Gyurcsány.
The speakers didn't mince words. József Debreczeni, the harshest critic of Viktor Orbán in the last six years or so, was the first to speak. He predicted earlier in a 450-page book practically everything that actually happened in the last one hundred days. He was mostly concerned about the dangers Viktor Orbán's return to power posed to democratic institutions, and therefore he concentrated on this topic. According to Debreczeni the checks and balances, without which there can be no democracy, are already in ruins. In name they still exist but they are all under the direction of Viktor Orbán's men. Debreczeni is also worried about the effort to "legitimize" the new revolutionary regime. He considers this sudden urge to come up with a new constitution part and parcel of this legitimization effort. He pointed out that the last Hungarian leader who called his own regime "revolutionary" was János Kádár. Debreczeni emphasized that Fidesz is not a center-right party as it is usually labelled in the media but a "right radical" party.
Kinga Göncz, MSZP member of the European Parliament, shared with her audience some impressions she gained in Brussels concerning European politicians' opinion of Viktor Orbán. According to her a significant portion of EU politicians are aware that Orbán is a dangerous populist and a nationalist. Her fellow MP's were wondering what Orbán will do with his two-thirds majority and whether he would attempt to dismantle the working mechanism of democratic institutions. In the last 100 days it became quite clear what Orbán's plans are and "in informal conversations one could hear voices doubting whether Hungary will be able to carry out the duties of the Union's presidency with this government at the helm."
Tamás Bauer, being an economist, concentrated on Fidesz's economic policy. There is reason to worry about the future because "what happened in the past few weeks is Fidesz's economic policy." Trying to revive the economy by emphasizing internal consumption "in the short run is destined to fail." Economic independence can lead only to bankruptcy. Surely, Orbán will stop before the abyss, but the problem is that "he himself cannot necessarily know where the edge of the abyss is." Hungary needs a government that instead of protectionism emphasizes integration and export. He criticized MSZP which for the time being is doing nothing else but complaining about unfulfilled promises on welfare-type issues. The country cannot be entrusted to Fidesz, but at the moment he sees no other force that could lead the country successfully. "That force must be created." A clear call for organizing a party.
Iván Vitányi is the grand old man of MSZP's liberal platform. He described the current regime as carrying out "hungaroputinist rule." Somewhat optimistically he claimed that this is the first time in Hungarian history that there is an opportunity to prevail over "right-wing absolutism." He criticized the politicians of the last twenty years who lived under "the spell of promises." Anyone who wanted to break out of this bad practice "was knocked out flat." A clear reference to Ferenc Gyurcsány's attempt to leave "lies = promises" behind and face facts.
Csaba Molnár is in my opinion a very promising young politician. He was heading the prime minister's office under Gordon Bajnai. I'm sure that Fidesz politicians really hate him because he is a very forceful speaker and facts and figures are at his fingertips. In his opinion the last one hundred days was spent on "maximization of power, attacks against the constitutional order and the politics of revenge." According to him the Hungarian right is no more than "a bolshevik world colored orange." He compared Fidesz to a "closed sect that wants to force its orange bolshevism on everybody." What happened wasn't revolution. "It is an aggressive war against the constitution and against democracy." Under Fidesz guidance the country is turning back to the past and turning away from Europe. "We must act! There can be no compromise with a bolshevik right-wing vision of the future."
Then came Ferenc Gyurcsány, striking a very optimistic tone. "I can guarantee one thing: Viktor Orbán will fail." Of course, he added, every politician fails sooner or later but "from the point of view of the country it would be better if it happened very soon." The real question is not "what will happened to Orbán. We know that more or less. The question is, what will happen after Orbán. Who will come after him."
Before one can answer this question one must find out who constitutes the left today. "We are Hungarian patriots, Europeans and democrats. We are the democratic eighty-niners who are in opposition to the eleveners…. who want to dismantle the third republic. The next fight will be between the eighty-niners and the eleveners…. To be an eighty-niner means the acceptance of a western civilization…. I'm talking about a Hungary which is embodied in writers like [György] Spiró, [Imre] Kertész, or [György] Konrád. The eighty-niners are not a homogeneous group: there are among us right-of-center conservatives, liberals, socialists, social democrats…. Where we see Imre Kertész, they see Albert Wass."
Then he moved on to the practical steps that should be taken. According to him the eighty-niners must decide what kind of opposition they want to be and, later, on what basis they want to govern. Surely, Fidesz will lose voters and if the eighty-niners want to get the undecided votes they "have to speak more clearly." He warned that they have to be honest. Sometimes the interests of the country and the interests of the people are not the same, and for a politician this is a real dilemma. However, the interests of the country in the long run are the more important because the individual's well being largely depends on the state of the country as a whole.
People often say that to be in opposition is much easier than to govern because in opposition politicians can say anything without any consequence. But such a strategy backfires. Orbán is in the same predicament the socialists found themselves in during 2002 and 2006. He irresponsibly promised heaven and earth and now he stands empty-handed. Gyurcsány would like to convince the eighty-niners to be a different kind of opposition. A hard-hitting disciplined opposition but at the same time a responsible one. One mustn't fall into the trap of populist promises. "From irresponsible opposition there will be irresponsible government."
He called for the creation of a coalition of democrats to defend the constitution of 1989. They must organize a strong, responsible opposition movement. He added that there must be change within MSZP as well. If that change doesn't take place too many people will feel that there is no one who can lead this country. "There should be a party which accepts the role of responsible opposition and later responsible governing." He refused to elaborate on exactly what he had in mind.