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 NézőpontBut 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."