A lot of people thought that János Lázár was a politician with a bright future. Even his political opponents. I remember rather distinctly when Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP, called him a talented politician and a man to whom one should pay attention. Some analysts thought that Lázár was among the few in Fidesz who might one day occupy a very high position in the party. He even held independent views on occasion and came up with unique and progressive solutions for the integration of the Roma in his city of Hódmezővásárhely.
These are the positive opinions, but unfortunately I also remember a few occasions when Lázár was “carried away” to such an extent that one doubted the man’s fitness for higher office. One such occasion was when he delivered a speech in front of a partisan group of Fidesz supporters who gathered to protest the Gyurcsány government’s feeble attempt at the reorganization of Hungarian health care. It happened that a hopeless drunk was sent to the hospital in Hódmezővásárhely and that the doctor there refused to treat him and sent him off to another hospital in a nearby town. On the way to the second hospital the man died. Lázár announced that he was the first victim of the government’s health care reform; in the crowd a demonstrater held up a placard comparing the minister of health to Josef Menghele. I said to myself at the time: something is wrong here. This guy doesn’t know what to say when.
Arrogance was always noticeable every time he opened his mouth, but once he was chosen by Viktor Orbán to head the huge Fidesz delegation (225 men and women, mostly men) this innate arrogance was only strengthened. Being the leader of the caucus is a very important position because, after all, he is the one who speaks practically every day when parliament is in session. He is the voice of his party. All that, I think, went to the head of the thirty-six-year-old Lázár.
Yesterday I already mentioned that Lázár was always a little too greedy and that the media found out a few things about his financial dealings that couldn’t have pleased his boss, Viktor Orbán. After all, the party that for years attacked MSZP as a party of billionaires and their government as one led by bankers and capitalists must be very careful in avoiding even the appearance of financial impropriety. Orbán would love people to believe that Fidesz politicians are better than the socialists who are interested only in their own well being. Fidesz politicians, on the other hand, are there to serve the people.
And here is this business with Lázár. First I thought that it would blow over. Fidesz’s answer to such unfortunate incidents is usually silence. Or counterattack. This time they chose counterattack when Lajos Kósa, deputy chairman of Fidesz, tried to explain the whole thing away by claiming that it was a socialist forgery. Considering that the tape on which one can hear Lázár talk about poor people deserving their fate was released by kuruc.info, a far-right website, Kósa was sorely confused. Lázár himself began by attacking those who made the tape public. He claimed that it was falsified. He even threatened a law suit. But soon enough the transcript of the minutes of the whole meeting was released and it became evident that there was no falsification. He said what he said, although admittedly the words were uttered in the middle of a discussion about the salaries of politicians.
Then came the second stage of the salvaging operation. He announced that he had dropped the idea of legal action. He emphasized yesterday as well as today in parliament that although his words were misunderstood and misconstrued, he is apologizing. He didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.
This afternoon we arrived at a new stage in the rescue operation that might not be the final one either. This time he said on MTV that he might give up his post as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely in 2014. After all, he has won three local elections and perhaps after twelve years it is time to leave. And as an afterthought he added that he might even retire from politics altogether in 2014.
The reaction to Lázár’s tape was more vehement than I would have ever thought. People feel personally insulted. I read a comment in which the writer tells the story of his seventy-year-old mother who brought up three children. She was an elementary school teacher in a village. Her husband died and today she has a small house with only one room besides the kitchen and bath. She has about one million forints in the bank. And “according to Mr. Lázár she is a nobody.” As for Lázár’s possible retirement in 2014 the reactions are what one would expect: “Why wait so long?” or “Don’t wait so long, leave now in a hurry!”
And the possible last stage is indeed that he leaves the political scene. Perhaps it will even be demanded of him. It all depends on how much damage Lázár inflicted on his party and on Viktor Orbán’s government. Gábor Török, the political commentator, suggested that he resign from at least one of his positions. After all, running Hódmezővásárhely and a 225-person parliamentary delegation is far too much for one person. Perhaps the suggestion has already been made because in Magyar Nemzet Gergely Gulyás, who is becoming more and more important in Fidesz, announced today that Fidesz is seriously thinking of changing the law that currently allows politicians to be mayors and members of parliament at the same time.
I can only applaud that decision if it is serious. I was outraged when the MSZP-SZDSZ government of Gyula Horn with its two-thirds majority changed the law because too many MSZP and SZDSZ mayors also received mandates in parliament. If Fidesz revokes that change it will be a step in the right direction. One of course wonders whether Gulyás’s mention of this possibility is really a signal for Lázár to relinquish one of his posts or it was just a coincidence. I somehow doubt the latter.