Political demonstrations in Hungary

Back to politics. As I was re-reading my posts of the last week or so, I suddenly realized that I failed to mention that there were two fairly sizeable demonstrations in Budapest against the government. The attack on the constitutional court was the last straw, it seems. I should note here that the Hungarian left hates to demonstrate. To move the anti-Orbán forces is extremely difficult. In the last eight years it was very easy for Viktor Orbán to call his people to the street. Huge crowds gathered at the appropriate national holidays. Of course, Fidesz exaggerated the numbers quite a bit but, still, these gatherings were impressive.

The Fidesz forces also always managed to have a few hundred rabble rousers on hand to follow Ferenc Gyurcsány everywhere he went. These people were ready to demonstrate against him or even to disrupt official events. The other side never made such an attempt. Why not? One might hypothesize that people on the left are intrinsically more peaceful, but most likely the reason is that there was no attempt from above to organize such demonstrations. During the last eight years there was only one occasion, during the 2006 election campaign, when a really large crowd gathered to boost the spirits of MSZP.

So, getting out five or six thousand people in early November on short notice was quite a feat. Especially since the first demonstration organized by the Hungarian Democratic Charta took place on November 2, after a three-day-long weekend. The organizers "advertised" the event only on the Internet, and I wasn't at all sure whether even a few hundred people would gather in front of Imre Nagy's statue for the occasion. Great was my surprise when the crowd turned out to be quite large and also quite spirited. This liberal crowd came with posters, yelled slogans, and altogether behaved in a way that is unusual in these circles.

If one visits the Democratic Charta's website and clicks on the word "Aláírók" (Signatories) one will find there the best known liberals in the country, starting with Árpád Göncz and ending with Iván Vitányi, an important supporter of Ferenc Gyurcsány within MSZP. The Charta is a civic organization, but it is clear that the people involved are Gyurcsány supporters. Just lately the Charta organized a conference where Gyurcsány gave a speech. At the November 2 gathering there were three speakers: Tamás Bauer (formerly SZDSZ MP), Rudolf Ungváry (who is really a moderate conservative), and Ferenc Gyurcsány. MSZP's leadership didn't join forces with the Hungarian Democratic Charta, but certain important party members were spotted in the crowd: among them, Ildikó Lendvai, formerly chairman of the party; László Kovács, foreign minister in the Horn government, and László Mandur, former speaker of the house.

The official MSZP leadership decided to demonstrate alone and later, on November 27. It seems odd to me to wait a whole month to demonstrate against the assault on the constitutional court, but the explanation for the late date is that they want to organize a nationwide demonstration, not just an ad hoc Budapest affair. And, they add, that requires time and a real organizational effort. Moreover, they said that they want to have such a meeting every year, just as Orbán gave his "assessment of the affairs of the country" every February while in opposition. I wish the socialists could come up with some original ideas just once.

My feeling is that the official MSZP simply didn't want to be associated with the Democratic Charta they consider Gyurcsány's political vehicle. Gyurcsány has a lot of enemies within the party although his chief enemy, Katalin Szili, left the party already. But there is still the choleric Tibor Szanyi who is always ready to say something outrageous. This time he managed again. On an Internet website he called Gyurcsány a traitor to the party.

Let's get back to the the demonstration itself. As I said, the speeches were more fiery than one might have expected from this intellectual crowd. In fact, some people objected to Gyurcsány's calling Orbán a "political monster" and to Ungváry's use of the f-word at the end of his speech. Ungváry really surprised me because he is such an old-fashioned Hungarian gentleman. The background of the f-word is that Sándor Petőfi, the great national poet, used it in connection with the "Germans," i.e. the Austrians in 1848 in one of his less than illustrious poems. Some people were offended, others thought that it was appropriate for the occasion. For anyone who would like to listen to the speeches, they are available in video form on the Hungarian Democratic Charta's website, under "Hírek." By the way, there were some right-wing demonstrators but only a handful. I guess old habits die hard.

MSZP wasn't the only group that refused to demonstrate together with the Charta. LMP didn't either. András Schiffer made it clear even earlier that he considers Gyurcsány to be as antidemocratic as Orbán because he was allegedly behind the police brutality against "peaceful demonstrators" on October 23, 2006. I might add here that in this respect the "democratic" Schiffer is no different from Jobbik's leading personalities–Krisztina Morvai, Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, or Zoltán Balog (Fidesz). As far as I'm concerned, the greatest historical falsification in modern Hungarian history has been taking place in the last four years concerning the events of that day. Although there were a few cases where the police were perhaps a bit rough, the people one could see there were not at all "peaceful demonstrators." Yet LMP cooperated in the falsification process by sending its own delegate to the parliamentary subcommittee "investigating" the affair when it was clear from the beginning that the subcommittee, whose meetings MSZP refused to attend, was set up for only one purpose: to prove that Gyurcsány was in some way responsible for the "bloody" events in October 2006. The delegate, a young woman, had the temerity to announce that in her opinion the work of the subcommittee was fair and its chairman impartial!

So, LMP had its own demonstration the next day. It was a much smaller affair, but it's true that it was raining that day. Schiffer again tore into Gyurcsány right in front of the building of the constitutional court instead of concentrating on the real issue. All this just shows that the Hungarian opposition is unable to cooperate. I don't think that there can be any meaningful cooperation with LMP because it is very hard to figure out where these people stand politically. However, in the long run it really doesn't matter because my feeling is that LMP will not survive. At the moment only 2% of the electorate would vote for them.

As for Gyurcsány and MSZP. Only time will tell who will be able to unify the party making it a serious political force again. Attila Mesterházy is a very weak leader who in my opinion will not be able to inspire the electorate. 

Last week word spread in the media that Ferenc Gyurcsány wants to ask a question from Prime Minister Orbán "before the official agenda." Today would have been the day, but Orbán is out of the country. Tibor Navracsics was there to answer Gyurcsány, but naturally Gyurcsány refused to deal with the stand-in. According to house rules Orbán will have to engage in a dialogue with Gyurcsány within three weeks. Well, that will be interesting. Gyurcsány is a formidable speaker and Orbán lost the elections in 2006 primarily because in the television debate he performed terribly. Even Fidesz supporters had to admit that their hero flopped. It was from this point on that Orbán refused to speak with the prime minister and ordered his troops to leave the chamber when the prime minister rose to speak. I'm looking forward to this encounter. Luckily the parliamentary debates are available online. 

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John T
Guest

As an addition to the Constitutional Court issue, look at the latest on the “severance tax”. Absolutely bizarre!!
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/cikkek.tdp?k=2&i=21194

Paul
Guest

Good to get back to politics, although it’s doubly sad now when you think how much we tended to rely on Mark to throw light on subjects like the October 2006 demo.
Éva, I share your opinion of LMP, it’s too Budapest based, too mixed up in its aims and policies. And, more importantly, it’s strength is entirely drawn from the current vacuum on the left. It doesn’t look or ‘feel’ like the usual European Green party.
But, I wish I didn’t share that view, as Hungary desperately needs a viable alternative to Fidesz, and who is going to provide that?
The only hopes at the moment seem to be the revial of the MSzP or the creation of an entirely new opposition. Unfortunately I can’t see either of these happening quickly enough to trouble Fidesz in the foreseable future.
My only hope is that politics is such an unpredictable business. Something unforseen WILL happen in the next few years, and hopefully that will be enough to destabilise the Fidesz Thousand Year Reich.

Paul
Guest

Thanks for that link, John. Bizarre indeed.
Do Fidesz not appreciate that it was the retrospective aspect of the new law that was the problem, not the fairness of the threshold? In seeking to reduce its unconstitutionality (if such a word exists) they have actually just made it worse.
Although I may well have misunderstood the article – this whole thing is utterly confusing for us Westerners.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I just finished listening to Újságíró Klub (Journalists’ Club). I have never heard Tamás Mészáros sound so down. He thinks that Hungary is no longer a democracy. Apparently even with the modifications of the proposed law concerning the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court, the right of private property is not included as one of those they are competent to rule. Thus, the Court will not be able to stop the “stealing” of people’s savings that accumulated in the last twelve years or so in private retirement funds.
Basically, they can do anything they want. There is no one to stop them.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Although I may well have misunderstood the article – this whole thing is utterly confusing for us Westerners.”
Oh, you didn’t misunderstand the article. Yes, what they are doing is unconstitutional at the moment. But no problem. They will change the constitution. The constitutional court will not be able to do anything about really important matters. They will take care of this little problem. They will be able to appropriate a very sizeable amount of money currently in private retirement funds. The too high retirement packages were just an excuse, a trial baloon: to see what the constitutional court will say. If it says that it is unconstitutional it will also most likely say the same thing about the pension plan and perhaps even the retroactive extra taxes on certain businesses. And then, the whole castle of cards, otherwise known as the budget, collapses.

Paul
Guest

“Basically, they can do anything they want. There is no one to stop them.”
And I fear the EU or other European countries won’t do much to stop them either. Perhaps ironically, the only hope lies with the Hungarian people.
But I fear it’s going to be a long, hard, and quite possibly bloody, struggle.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Very bloody, as about 90% of the people (according to the latest poll by Századvég) support these severance and extra taxes.
Yes I know, Századvég is Fidesz-friendly, ergo they lie.

Paul
Guest

Welcome back Szil.
Nice to read your comments on the sad loss of Mark, by the way.

An
Guest

@Kevin: 100% of the people would support a 0% tax rate. Should we do it?
If Szazadveg is doing the survey, the 110% .. just kidding 🙂

OpenDog
Guest

Kevin,
Was the cutoff date for the retroactive tax also included in the poll? Would this 90% support 10 years to include the 2002 severance pays of the by then stepping down FIDESZ folks? I bet not.
Disgusting.

pgyzs
Guest

“Was the cutoff date for the retroactive tax also included in the poll? Would this 90% support 10 years to include the 2002 severance pays of the by then stepping down FIDESZ folks? I bet not.”
I bet they would. Hungarian people on average have very low opinion about politicians in general (just look at the number of penises and Eric Cartmans on the ballot). But if their opinion on Fidesz is ten feet below the ground then their opinion on MSZP is in China right now.
This is a very good summary of the situation:
http://hirszerzo.hu/publicisztika/20101103_orban_valasztas_fidesz
(excuse me those who don’t speak Hungarian)

Odin's lost eye
Guest

This whole business seems to be a trial strength to determine just how absolute Orban Victor’s power is. How mighty is the ‘Mighty One’?
Thieving people’s retirement funds is absolutely necessary to support the Fidesz’s spending plans. When all that money is spent what then? The present government, like Mr Micaber, seems to be hoping that something will turn up but there are still those three tigers in the corner (the E.U Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Court). They may be joined by one more (The European Parliament). These tigers move slowly and quietly. None of them indulge in ‘megaphone diplomacy’, everything is done quietly. However the European Court and the European Parliament have to be brought into action by those affected. They cannot act on their own volition.
As is implied in piece the ‘cut off date will just miss those Fidesz members who were ‘severed’ in 2002. There has also been talk in this blog of the 25% of the shares in MOL. The reason for the wish to repatriate the shares now becomes blindingly obvious they will form the Fidesz’s nest egg.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin: “Very bloody, as about 90% of the people (according to the latest poll by Századvég) support these severance and extra taxes.”
Just because a lot of people support something it doesn’t make it legal.

Kevin Moore
Guest

I was not talking about being legal or not: I was responding to Paul’s comment of us being ahead of a bloody struggle.
I doubt it.
It is apparent that you would support direct cuts and raising taxes to burden the population more instead of banks and profitable companies but that’ll never meet the preference of the population.
So you are kind of doomed to frustration for being permanently out of power.

Kevin Moore
Guest

OpenDog: rest assured the electorate would never oppose these taxes on these outrageous severance pays that were practically a form of governmental theft, no matter how retroactive they are.
Tax cases become forfeited after 5 years under Hungarian law, and it was the idea of Jobbik to extend the retroactive effect back to 5 years, analogously.
(Now one more reason for you to shout Nazi at Fidesz.)

Kevin Moore
Guest

Paul: it is very sad what happened to Mark. I expressed here multiple times that he was by far the most capable leftish person here who, despite his political views, usually acknowledged proven facts (something which most other ppl here refuse to do).

An
Guest

@Kevin: “It is apparent that you would support direct cuts and raising taxes to burden the population more instead of banks and profitable companies but that’ll never meet the preference of the population.”
The reason Fidesz is introducing the extra tax on these industries and want to get hold of the private pension funds is to fulfill its irresponsible election promise of tax cuts. Which, in the end, the way they are doing it, will turn out to favor the rich.
The alternative of this policy is not the policy of tax increases (as you suggest), but simply not decreasing taxes right now, until the country is in a financial shape when that can responsibly be done. (Or decreasing business taxes only that have a better chance of helping economic growth).A very different story.
Fidesz is gambling that the tax cuts will bring economic growth and thus help to stabilize the country’s finances. At this point whether that will happen is highly doubtful.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin: “It is apparent that you [me, ESB]would support direct cuts and raising taxes to burden the population more instead of banks and profitable companies”
You are wrong. I would spend less money on a Pretorian guard to defend the prime minister (10 billion), I wouldn’t find it necessary to order new uniform for the police force, I wouldn’t spend another ten billion on a stadium in Debrecen, and spend less on running the government.
In addition, I wouldn’t have introduced a flat tax that grossly favors the well-to-do. I wouldn’t allow women after forty years of work to retire early because it isn’t fair and it isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t give huge tax cuts after each child because in my opinion that doesn’t change the European trend. I wouldn’t allow women to stay at home for three years after childbirth because it is not good for the women’s career and I’m not even sure whether it is good for the child.
Otherwise, there is no real tax cut for 90% of the population.

Pete H.
Guest

Kevin, the main point is not about whether this tax policy or that is fair or supported by polls, it is about Fidesz’s tactic of trying to limit the power of the constitutional court because it does not support their particular policies. The negative or positive aspects of the tax policy changes will be short lived, while the attack on the system of checks and balances will have long term impacts on the democratic process in Hungary.
I don’t think anyone here has labeled Fidesz tyrannical or suggested that their rule would produce political unrest simply because they had disagreements about tax policy . People are concerned about them because of how they rule.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Pete: they will write a new Constitution in the Spring anyway. The current changes are temporary only.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Here’s a nice offtopic piece (I know, concept charge):
“Charge raised against Hunvald: the Central Investigation Prosecution has raised charges against György Hunvald, György Gál and 23 others”
http://www.mno.hu/portal/747150

Paul
Guest

“I was not talking about being legal or not: I was responding to Paul’s comment of us being ahead of a bloody struggle.”
Szil, even a Fidesz troll should have understood I was talking about the future, not this current dispute.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Well now what have we had revealed to us today • “the extra tax” on these industries. If these taxes do not apply to every industry equally and only to those owned by other foreign companies the Trade and Competition Commissioners will be interested, but those affected will have to report this to the relevant authorities. • “The Government want to get hold of the private pension funds”. The big question here is how? If it is by what is effectively confiscation or against vague promises for the future this is theft. There are property rights in the E.U. These were established as a result of Fidesz last spell in power • To continue allow women after forty years of work to retire early. This is totally contrary to Art 14 of the European Charter. The European court has already ruled on this one in a case against the U.K Art 13 Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity. If the Hungarian authorities deny this Hungary will be deep in the… Read more »
OpenDog
Guest

@Kevin
I see … Extending the law beyond the statue of limitations would be unconstitutional Good to know.
Wait! I have an idea! Let’s extend the status of limitations … 🙂

John T
Guest

Kevin – As others have said, the issue is not about taxing the payments, but the retrospective nature of the taxation. While a few people may have received the payments under dubious circumstances (if there is corruption, then prosecute them), many will have simply got them as part of their contract, perfectly legally. Now if public servants are getting payoffs that are too generous, then the employment contracts should be changed going forward, to ensure the terms are affordable. But what is being proposed by the government is theft, pure and simple. And what do they propose to do to those people who’ve spent their payments?

Kevin Moore
Guest

John T: you are perfectly right – in theory. Yes that would be the “correct” and hard way to do this: prevent such severances in the future, and possibly, start civil lawsuits against outrageous severances already paid.
The problem is that in practice it would probably result in quite nothing. As with many things in life, you either deal with problems yourself or face the probability of your problem not getting resolved if you choose the ‘right’ way. Yes this is an ‘umbrella’ thing that can be used for many evil purposes, but in this case we’re talking about obviously outrageous severances that were, as you write, unfortunately legal because theft was implemented on both sides of the contract at the time.
This is one of those cases when gross injustice is legal. The option is which side you choose: twist the law to suit justice or adhere to the law and lose justice.
The government chose the first and as long as they are utilizing and not abusing the privilege, they are supported by the electorate.
It finally seems we reached times when thieves hiding behind the law they made for themselves can’t get away with their theft.

John T
Guest

Kevin – Unfortunately for you, I’m right in practice too. I work in the UK public service and the new government has recently looked at the compensation scheme in place for redundancies, stated that the the terms are too generous and has negotiated changes (with most of the employee Unions), backed by legislation for future leavers. All done sensibly. But they were very clear they would not penalise those people who’d already left.
You speak as though everyone whose had a severance payment is a crook, when I’m sure most aren’t. As I said, if there is corruption related to the contracts, then prosecute. But if they are legal, they should be binding. If Hungarian employers can’t issue decent contracts, then shame on them. But your defence of this state inspired theft is laughable.

Paul
Guest

I don’t understand why everyone treats ‘Kevin’ so seriously. He never participates in the non-political threads, he never posted a word about Mark’s death, he only ever pops up when the ultra-sensitive Fidesz feels it is under attack.
He isn’t a poster, he isn’t interested in facts or discussion, he is just a Fidesz troll, and therefore should be ignored or laughed at.
He exists to wind us up and waste our time, don’t let him do either.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Paul, I’d quite like to use the F word for you as you do nothing else than try to eliminate me.
If you’re completely unable to add anything to the topic, as you apparently are, get lost.

Kevin Moore
Guest

John T: what was state inspired theft is the contracts in the past few years. Those who spent 1-2 years in public ‘service’ and left with tens of millions of HUF as ‘severance pay’ (some of them even still employed at the same place there after that!) are all crooks. And this is the vast majority of severance pays amounting to more than 2-3 million HUFs. This was quite an ‘industry’ based on this.
If you’re thinking with a UK mind you may find this unbelievable but we’re talking about a half-balkanised country here. This is the truth.

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