Another kind of “opinion poll” in today’s Hungary

A friend of mine who goes to Hungary quite often happens to be there at the moment on a short visit. The last time she was there, which was only two or three months ago, she reported total apathy even among her politically minded friends. Life in Budapest is enjoyable, and people would rather go to concerts and the theater. They simply don't want to get involved with politics, even on the level of talking about it. They refuse to read the papers or watch TV news.

When she reported that to me, I got really angry. My reaction was that if this is the situation then the Hungarian people deserve what they get. There is nothing worse than burying your head in the sand and one day waking up to discover that the rule of law in Hungary no longer exists. Then they will start screaming about the fate that has befallen them.

Well, today I got an e-mail from her about her first impressions. They took a taxi to go somewhere. As they passed the former Roosevelt Square where with a red line the name Roosevelt is crossed out, the taxi driver out of the blue said: "These guys will not be in power for long." My friend soon found out from the taxi driver that he hates István Balsai the most but that Pál Schmitt is not far behind. He told his passengers that even his young customers "hate Fidesz." The only thing he couldn't understand was who on earth voted for Viktor Orbán's party in the first place.

At this point my friend mentioned that although this might be his experience, Orbán is still the most popular politician with 38%. That didn't impress our taxi driver who gave a whole lecture about the real meaning of that number. It turned out that yesterday he listened to Olga Kálmán's "Egyenes beszéd"(Straight Talk) on ATV and he had already read Árpád W. Tóta's blog written only a few hours before.

And since our taxi driver mentioned ATV, it is worth reporting that their Nielsen ratings are getting better and better. ATV's Híradó (News) hit an all-time record: close to 10%. Almost half a million people watch Kálmán's "Egyenes beszéd." Monday night's "'Újságíró Klub"and András Bánó's "A tét" (The stake) are also very popular. One reason is the very poor quality of the obviously slanted news coming out of MTI, the Hungarian news agency, that is feeding all public TV and radio stations with carefully picked-over news items.

Of course one taxi driver is no proof of anything, but the steady loss of popularity of both Fidesz and Viktor Orbán is quite clear from the monthly opinion polls. Unless, of course, one believes Nézőpontlaughing smileyBut beside the bare figures I can see a shift away from Fidesz even among the young. The student associations that used to be a breeding ground for young Fidesz politicians are outraged at Rózsa Hoffmann's plans to restrict the number of students and to reduce the number of tuition-free slots within the shrinking student body. They also find it unacceptable that according to the ministry's plan those students who don't pay tuition will have to sign a contract even before entering college according to which they will be tied to Hungary after graduation for a number of years. Their position could be compared to the old system of indentured servitude. I wonder what the European Union will think of such a contract since free movement within the Union is a right of all EU citizens.

Then there are other very stupid moves on the local level which will further alienate those in their twenties. There is a very popular outdoor entertainment center called "Zöld Pardon" (Green Pardon). It sits on the bank of the Danube at the foot of the Petőfi Bridge. There was a huge Fidesz victory in Budapest, and now there is a new Fidesz mayor and Fidesz city council in District XI. One of their first moves was to order Zöld Pardon to close its doors. MSZP, which can't get more than 5,000 people out on the streets, should learn a thing or two about how to rouse 45,000 people. Because that's how many people came together the other day to protest the closing of Zöld Pardon. And 130,000 people signed an Internet protest. However, that didn't impress the Fidesz leadership. The city fathers decided to ignore all the protests and banish Zöld Pardon. I would be curious how many votes Fidesz lost by that move.

And what is even worse from the governing party's point of view is that Viktor Orbán's credibility is in tatters. By now only the hero worshippers believe in him. As Árpád W. Tóta says in his most recent blog, those who didn't turn away from Fidesz after the last year and a half "would eat anything put in front of them." These are the same people who applauded madly when Tito was the chained dog and later when the President of the Yugoslav Republic visited Budapest. For these people it really doesn't matter what Orbán "sings" to them. They are hopeless. "But the others… they know that your royal highness is lying."

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Rigó Jancsi
Guest

I was astonished by the figure 45,000, which is backed up by the pictures I saw about the demonstration. And I remember how long it took until there was a decent number of people at the demonstrations against the media law. So people still can be moved from their apathy, that’s good news. It’s just their priorities that I worry about. They keep silent as long as they have bread and circuses and only move when those are in danger, too? Ok, in the end it will be the same result, because Orbán will not be able to provide the bread anymore. But still, it makes me a bit sad.

Pete H.
Guest

Closing the Zöld Pardon will not only anger people in their 20’s. Depending on the bands playing there you’ll see a mixed audience all the way up into their 50’s and over. I’m no tween and I enjoyed plenty of shows at the Zöld Pardon over the last two years. This and the handcuffing of the Tűzraktér are just a few of the examples of the cultural purification starting to slowly creep into Budapest.

Member

My friends and relatives whe were ardent Fidesz supporters seem to be in denial nowadays. We don’t bug them with questions and they don’t bomb us with the greatness of the 2/3 revolution. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing.

Member
Re Zold Pardon, a couple of classics to show what kind of Alice in Wonderland-Kafka-esque world we’ve descended into. First is the proposal that an enormous Hungarian flag (“probably the most enormous flag in the world” I’ve been reliably told by a breathless Nat)is to be planted on the site by the local government as a homage or memorial to God or Viktor only knows what. Secondly is this ridiculous comment from the district’s Fidesz faceless and brainless functionary: “In August, district mayor Tamas Hoffmann said the council did not wish to renew ZP’s lease for another five years due to complaints received from local residents.” What local residents?! It’s bordered on one side by the Danube, on the other by a four lane highway and a *degenerate* student hostel!!! Even Tarlos has said perhaps it wasn’t the wisest decision politically. Whilst I can understand the liberal intelligentsia’s frustration over public apathy over things that *matter* (press freedom, judicial independence, theft of private pensions etc)those issues are too abstract to ignite the masses. But all the time, little things are adding up (the tabloids are a good barometer)and we are on a countdown to an explosion that will probably finally… Read more »
Jano
Guest

oneill: Tarlós said that he was explicitly against closing ZP.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Tarlós said that he was explicitly against closing ZP.”
Yes, but keep in mind that the Fidesz district mayors don’t like Tarlós. They are currently contemplating of changing the system of elections for lord mayor. The district mayors want to elect him/her instead of the inhabitants of the city. So, most likely Tarlós’s opposition only made the district council even more determined to get rid of ZP.

Paul
Guest

“total apathy even among… politically minded friends… people would rather go to concerts and the theater. They simply don’t want to get involved with politics, even on the level of talking about it.”
This is what I picked up in Debrecen as well. People were actively avoiding even talking about politics.
I admire your optimism, Éva, but the facts remain that none of the lost Fidesz support is moving leftwards, and MSzP is flatlining at ‘minor party’ level of support (and doing its upmost to commit political suicide). Almost whatever happens, Fidesz will win the next election.
Unless people can be persuaded to care as much about their future as they might do about going out for the evening, and unless a party capable of defeating Fidesz appears in the next year or so, nothing will change.
One taxi driver does not a revolution make…
But, let’s see what happens this weekend. If I see thousands on the streets defying the police ban, if I see the police sympathising with the protestors, then I will start to feel a little hope.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

As Eva pointed out recently, the largest “party” is the Independent’s Non-party, around 60% of the voters. My take is that these people, when forced to take a stand (in the voting booth) voted for Fidesz and are now slowly retreating into the center. More than likely, in 2014, they will return to Fidesz, although not in such large numbers as to give Fidesz another 2/3+ majority in Parliament. I hate to say it, but neither the LMP nor the MSzP has any attraction for the independent, centrist “silent majority”. The only danger is the possibility that some of the independents, throwing caution to the wind, will end up voting for Jobbik.
I am personally glad that I do not have to vote in Hungary. I know I would not vote for the Socialists (sorry, it’s a gut reaction to a lifetime of a variety of Hungarian Socialism), neither would I ever vote for the racist Jobbik. I have no idea what the LMP’s program is to govern. That leaves Fidesz… like I said, I’m glad I don’t have to vote at all.

Robert Johnson
Guest

ONeill wrote “”In August, district mayor Tamas Hoffmann said the council did not wish to renew ZP’s lease for another five years due to complaints received from local residents.”
What local residents?! It’s bordered on one side by the Danube, on the other by a four lane highway and a *degenerate* student hostel!!”
You seem to forget it’s a music festival that lasts 6 months. Depending on the wind direction, the music can be heard kilometres away so it’s a quite normal decision to move the scene further away from where people live.
Due to the proximity of people, the music can never be very loud so it would be a much better decision to move the Zöld Pardon to the nearby Lágymányi Öböl – that would be a wonderful place for a concert venue.
Concerning Fidesz: I think the current concentration of power is a really dangerous situation, and I truly hope the other parties will get their act together so they can break the 2/3 majority in 2014.

web design company Landon
Guest

. I’m no tween and I enjoyed plenty of shows at the Zöld Pardon over the last two years. This and the handcuffing of the Tűzraktér are just a few of the examples of the cultural purification starting to slowly creep into Budapest.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Professor you write ** “They also find it unacceptable that according to the ministry’s plan those students who don’t pay tuition will have to sign a contract even before entering college according to which they will be tied to Hungary after graduation for a number of years. Their position could be compared to the old system of indentured servitude. I wonder what the European Union will think of such a contract since free movement within the Union is a right of all EU citizens.” **
This is a very interesting point as it breaches no less than 8 articles of the European Charter of Human Rights. However the Hungarian Government may have a solid defence. This is that the person who signed the document did so ‘Voluntarily’. Whether the ECHR would accept such a plea is a moot point.
The fundamental thing is that it must be the aggrieved party who brings the case to the ECHR and to do trough the Hungarian courts would take half a lifetime and reduce the plaintive to the status of a non person. That is a person which the state and it’s apparatus deny exists.

Paul
Guest

The company I worked for until a few years ago ran a graduate training course, and this was offered strictly on the condition that the graduates worked for the company for at least two years after completing the course. If they left before then they had to pay back the cost of the course (several thousand £).
How is this different from a government expecting graduates to work within their country for a number of years after graduating?
It’s strikes me as pefectly reasonable that, if a country funds your degree, it should expect to get some (limited) benefit from it afterwards. The Hungarian education system doesn’t exist to supply Germany and the US with graduates.

GW
Guest
Paul wrote: “The Hungarian education system doesn’t exist to supply Germany and the US with graduates.” Three comments: (1) German, Austrian, French, Dutch, UK and other education systems don’t exist to supply Hungary with graduates, but in fact many Hungarians have and are studying abroad, often with generous state subsidies. (2) The one area in which Hungarian higher education has found a useful profit center is in programs (in English and in German) for paying foreign students, for example in Medicine (Semmelweis), Music (Liszt Conservatory), International Law and Business (Andrassy) and the broad spectrum of post-graduate offerings at CEU. (3) I believe that the government (like the UK government) has made a serious error in not taking into account the long-term financial plans of most Hungarians, which include the costs of their childrens’ educations. In one fell swoop, they have upended all of this planning. For many, when a young person has the language skills, study abroad has suddenly become a much more reasonable proposition and — much like the brain draining experience of the numerus clausus period — one can now expect that many of the best and the brightest will not only study abroad but also stay abroad… Read more »
Member

GW: “but in fact many Hungarians have and are studying abroad, often with generous state subsidies”
… and they usually settle down there after graduation.
This problem, the “benching” of the graduates can be solved with the tuition, actually with the student loans. Student would be eligible for subsidized loans (or government grants) only if they stay in the country for N years. I don’t think that should be more than five. I would actually say five years in Hungary in the next 20 years after graduation.

Pete H.
Guest

OK Paul then have the Hungarian government guarantee them jobs in what they trained to do. Otherwise you’re just holding them back from success and the chance they might return to Hungary as seasoned professionals.
And of course the Hungarian government could never do that. So, improve the economy first and then they might just stay.

Member

Pete H, It is not only about the guarantee of jobs, but guarantee that the wages would keep up somehow with European expectations. In a previous thread Eva pointed out how overpaid most politicians are in Hungary compared to other developed countries. I wish the same could be said about our doctors, teachers and so forth.

M
Guest

I remember ZP when it started. It was a patch of grass by the Danube with a bar, stage, dance floor and nothing else. Hungarian students and backpackers from all over Europe chatted in the grass until early in the morning. The place seemed to symbolise Hungary just prior to EU accession: an entepreneurial, open-minded country that looked to the future. Replacing it by a huge national flag, especially one usually associated with Trianon, symbolises more than anything the degredation of Hungary in recent years. It has become a stultified, inward-looking place, where wallowing in nationalism is more important than business or simply having a good time.
I understand though, that the flag plan may be cancelled. A local opinion poll showed a small margin of support for closing ZP based on an argument of noise pollution, but no interest at all in a national flag. Obviously, should the flag be built and knowing what young people are like, I would not be too optimistic about its life span….

Member
M: “knowing what young people are like, ” I think M raises an excellent point here. THe changes in 1989 came to whole Europe and arrived to Hungary with young people being at the helm. That time Fidesz was run by forward thinking, fresh, energetic individuals, who looked at the “old f*rts” as obstacles to changes and to the new way of guiding a country to new found democracy. Most of these youngsters as soon as got areal taste of political power with the money that comes with it, started to change the rules of their own game. First they changed the age limits to the membership of their forward thinking party. That was something that even Orban could not manipulate, as he realized in panic that he will not stay forever young either. Then they changed their alliance to God and brought him in to everyday politics, as it was a choice to make that made skeptics with religion supporting the party. Now all those forward thinking, young “pranksters” are becoming the reincarnation of their own nightmares from twenty-something years ago. They are the old f*rts, clinging on to power, making decisions that will make them popular or embed… Read more »
Member

What I see in the ZP case is again the same pattern.
Hungarian politicians, local at this time, making decisions … because they can.
No need to explain he decision, support with facts, showing their noise expert opinions, showing written complains from residents, organizing town hall meetings, trying to mediate (!!!) between residents and businesses, trying to find compromises, perhaps hiring more volunteers along the streets, closing certain streets from traffic.
Ick! The dreaded “M” word creeps up again (munka=work). When will the Hungarian politicians realize that representing people if WORK!

Paul
Guest

“I wish the same could be said about our doctors, teachers and so forth”
My brother-in-law is a doctor, as are most of his wife’s family, and they may not be paid much officially, but they certainly aren’t poor.
He only qualified a few years ago, and yet he has already moved to a bigger flat, bought a second car and a dacha in Balaton – and a sizeable piece of land on which to build a house.
OK, so he is a surgeon, and his in-laws are specialists or surgeons, so maybe it isn’t the same for the humble GP?
Well, when we called the doctor out for my daughter a few weeks ago, we only had 2,000 Ft in cash in the flat and he made it quite clear that this wasn’t enough. And an injection for our toddler, which took two minutes, cost 10,000 Ft – on top of the cost of the vaccine.

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