As the day of Ferenc Gyurcsány's questioning by prosecutors approaches we might find it enlightening to look back at the long history of Fidesz efforts to get this far. Because, although most of us no longer remember, the idea of putting the former prime minister in jail was hatched as early as late October or early November of 2006. It was then that Fidesz came up with the idea of a referendum that could put an end to the contemplated reforms. Originally seven questions were posed, out of which three were approved. The road to the actual referendum was long and arduous. It was only in early August 2008 that Hungarians overwhelmingly said no to hospital fees, tuition fees, and co-payments.
What we are apt to forget is that among Fidesz's original seven questions was one that was designed to allow legal proceedings against the prime minister. The original proposition read: "The imposition of 'objective legal responsibility' for the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet for exceeding the national budget." This particular question was not allowed to be put on the ballot. Zsolt Németh at the time explained to U.S. Ambassador April H. Foley that this seventh question of the referendum had been designed to "hold Gyurcsány accountable for his campaign promises" and their impact on the deficit. May I remind the readers that at present a parliamentary subcommittee is working on the question of responsibility for the sovereign debt between 2002 and 2008. The dates are telling. Gyurcsány resigned as prime minister in March 2009.
The Americans came to the conclusion that Fidesz's opposition to the Gyurcsány government was "emotionally deep but often substantively shallow." They noted that Fidesz politicians were flexible when it came to strategy but they had only one goal in mind: "Gyurcsány's removal."
By early November 2006 the Americans had a pretty clear picture of what Viktor Orbán was all about. It was becoming more and more obvious that Orbán's aim was the destruction of the legitimate Hungarian government with the help of the street. He was quite ready to hold a rally on September 23 when only a couple of days before there had been serious clashes between extremists and the police. Even his closest advisors thought that holding a rally under the circumstances was too risky. In the last minute, his friends were able to convince him not to go ahead.
The local elections brought a landslide Fidesz victory in almost all communities with the exception of Budapest and a couple of other cities. In the wake of that victory Orbán tried a variation on his earlier tactics. He claimed that the local elections reflected the will of the pople and demanded that the prime minister step down by October 6 at noon. If he doesn't, "100,000 people will come to parliament" and will stay on the streets until the prime minister resigns or the coalition removes him.
The Americans agreed with Gyurcsány that "this is fundamentally about the minority's refusal to accept the majority's right to govern." It seemed to the staff of the embassy that Fidesz "set few limits on its tactics whatever the potential consequences."
After Ferenc Gyurcsány received a vote of confidence from both his party and SZDSZ Orbán was furious. He refused to take part in the debate, and after the vote he addressed a crowd in front of the parliament building. He asked the crowd to come every day between 5 and 6 p.m. to protest until Gyurcsány resigns.
A couple of days later Orbán talked to the diplomatic community. He had a new plan. He claimed that there is no time for a new election and therefore asked the government parties "to change plans or change leaders." He would even be willing to cooperate with "another socialist prime minister."
A few days later Orbán again talked to G-7 diplomats. He repeated his belief that under the pressure of the streets and as a result of the austerity measures the government introduced Gyurcsány "cannot survive." He also charged the Gyurcsány government with "criminal negligence." The emphasis is on "criminal." He claimed that the economic situation is worse than the government claims and therefore "MSZP will blink first in the present showdown by withdrawing their support from Gyurcsány." He told the ambassadors that Fidesz was working with trade unions to discuss a national strike committee to coordinate strikes in the coming weeks. He predicted that Gyurcsány would be out of office by the spring of 2007.
The ambassadors had a few hard questions of their own. Orbán was asked, for example, why he didn't put forth a reform agenda of his own. He responded that there could be no "business as usual." Such a step would only "give the government our good ideas." Such tactics might work elsewhere, but in Hungary "politics is all about winning elections." This sentence pretty well sums up Viktor Orbán's attitude toward politics. And if that weren't enough, he added another devastating revelation about his own attitude. When he was asked if he himself might not be blamed for promoting instability, he responded: "that is a risk I'm prepared to take." In brief, he didn't care what the consequences of his machinations were. The American reaction was: "Orbán continues to play his zero-sum game with malicious glee."
The Americans came to the conclusion that Fidesz "believes that the opposition's role is simply to oppose rather than offer constructive alternatives." Orbán doesn't care about the consequences of his actions and has decided "to ignore the very real risk of derailing the progress Hungary has made and the very serious consequences of damaging the reform Hungary must continue."
Here I have described just a couple of months of Viktor Orbán's continuous attacks on the Gyurcsány government which former MDF Prime Minister Péter Boross described as "more in keeping with medieval siege warfare than modern politics." All that against the backdrop of a program of reforms and the necessary introduction of an austerity program.
As it turned out, Gyurcsány's "thoughtful but resolute" demeanor was irrelevant. It didn't matter that he was "very much in command of the facts and of the situation." The diplomats were impressed with him "as a leader who has considered the political, economic, and moral aspects of the issues." But in the long run he lost to a man who didn't consider any of these issues and who thought, and I guess still thinks, that politics is all about winning elections. Or losing them.