Budapest-Warsaw express: Palikot, Kaczyński, Gyurcsány and Orbán

Lately news about Poland abounds in the Hungarian media and not only because a week ago there were elections in Poland. Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s center-right Civic Platform won 40% of the votes while Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (PiS) lost with 30%. The arch-conservative PiS won in only five of the eastern provinces of the country which by now Polish humor labeled “Hungary.”

The big surprise was the showing of Janusz Palikot, a maverick liberal politician, who in the deeply religious Poland managed to get 10% of the votes with a decidedly anti-religious message. Poland is changing. It is becoming less insular and more secular. Meanwhile, the Polish socialists, who have been unable to recuperate from the severe blow they received a few years ago, did poorly.

Some people find Janusz Palikot’s emergence and his respectable showing something that might be applicable in Hungary. After all, the Hungarian socialist party seems incapable of recapturing its former voters while the liberal SZDSZ is a thing of the past. Endre Aczél, a veteran journalist mostly interested in foreign affairs, wrote an opinion piece in Népszabadság a few days ago entitled “The liberal lesson from Warsaw.” In his opinion the situation is so fluid in Hungary that “some creativity (the Solidarity movement) and political charisma (Gyurcsány) might create miracles.”

Janusz Palikot’s career is interesting. He was a student of philosophy who eventually became a businessman. Once he was well off from distilling vodka he dabbled in politics. He was originally a supporter of Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform but a few months ago he struck out on his own with a distinctly liberal message. And the message resonated, especially with younger voters. In Poland the right is still very strong but Palikot with his 10% share of the votes managed to more or less reach the majority of the Poles whose sympathy is with the center-left and not the right.

Palikot’s message is truly revolutionary in Catholic Poland. He wants to lift the ban on abortion, he campaigned for the equality of gays and for same-sex marriage, he argued that crosses should be banned from the Polish parliament and all public buildings, including schools. He is also against any form of nationalism. In addition, he did something few politicians do. Told the truth. He wasn’t promising all sorts of goodies. On the contrary he preached a smaller government and a frugal economy. And yet the votes came.

One can imagine what Jarosław Kaczyński thinks of it all. The work of the devil, I think were the words he used in connection with Janusz Palikot’s politics. On the other hand, Kaczyński thinks the world of Viktor Orbán. After he lost the election he announced that his political career was not over. He will return. Soon enough “there will be Budapest in Warsaw.” The other side seized on the occasion and began two sites on Facebook. One was called “I’m afraid of Budapest” and the other “I don’t want to see Budapest in Warsaw.” Within a few days 20,000 people joined. So the Kaczyński forces decided to follow suit and established another site called “We want Budapest in Warsaw,” but apparently only a few dozen people became “friends” of the PiS site.

But that wasn’t the end of the Budapest jokes. The cartoonists had a ball. Here for example is the “Papryka i salami” cartoon. Keep in mind that Kaczyński’s party is called Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS):

This one about Kaczyński’s shopping because “today there will be lecsó” is also good:
There is a commentator who unfortunately too rarely writes very clever opinion pieces in Hírszerző under the pseudonym of Elek Tokfalvi. He called attention to a curious phenomenon in the relationship between Kaczyński and Orbán. Orbán, while praising Kaczyński and in fact imitating the Kaczyński brothers’ policies, doesn’t think that his copying might come to a sorry end just as the Polish twins’ brief rule did. At the same time it never occurs to Kaczyński that Orbán’s tenure might end up the way his own did. Orbán could learn a thing or two from Kaczyński’s case. Sooner or later people, it doesn’t matter whether Poles or Hungarians, find the kind of nationalistic humbug Orbán and his friends specialize in empty rhetoric. For a while young conservatives might be able to describe being Hungarian as “tragic but beautiful.” But for how long?

Speaking of cartoons and jokes, anyone who follows Hungarian news and the Hungarian community’s activities on the Internet had to notice that the number of jokes about Orbán is multiplying by the day. And that brings to mind an interview I read with László Majtényi, former ombudsman and legal scholar. He came to the conclusion in 1970 that the Kádár regime’s days were numbered. Why? He noticed that every time someone uttered the word “comrade” it was said in a sarcastic, ironic way. Today, this is the way people talk about Viktor Orbán and his regime. Admittedly, he continued, it took another twenty years for the Kádár regime to disappear, but today things move much faster. Moreover, there is no more Soviet Union.

October 17, 2011