The reference here is to the description of the late Kádár regime as “the happiest barrack” in the Soviet bloc. The country was isolated but within that small East European world it was a relatively liveable place, especially in comparison to the other countries in the region. Today, as a result of the Orbán government’s policies Hungary is isolated again, except now its inhabitants are deeply unhappy with their lot.
At least this is what Ferenc Gyurcsány claimed this afternoon in a speech lasting an hour and a half. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to watch Gyurcsány, he is an exceptionally fine speaker. His speeches are delivered without notes, except perhaps for a 3×5 card he holds in his hand but never looks at. Yet his speeches are well structured and he is practically never at a loss for words. While most important politicians’ speeches are written by speechwriters, one can be certain here that whatever he says is his own.
Ferenc Gyurcsány with his 3×5 card, Photo: Pályi Zsófia, Origo
It was a good and thoughtful speech. I can’t summarize it adequately because after all it was long and he covered a lot of topics. Therefore I will mention only those points that I thought were especially important.
Perhaps one of the most crucial parts of the speech was spent on Viktor Orbán’s role in recent Hungarian history. It is not enough to remove Orbán’s government at the next election because Orbán is “the expression” of a large part of Hungarian society. Orbán might be gone one day, but those who follow him will remain. And the worldview of these people is injurious to the nation’s interest. After all, Hungary cannot look inward, cannot insist on sovereignty when economically and in every other way it depends on cooperation with others. Orbán is not just the “embodiment” of this part of Hungarian society; in the last twenty years he substantially helped to shape it.
Gyurcsány seems to think that “this old-new idea” of a far-right ideology first began to be propagated in 1992 by the recently deceased István Csurka and that within twenty years it captured the heart of perhaps the majority of Hungarians. József Antall in 1992 knew that one could not come to an understanding with Csurka. Csurka was removed but the problem wasn’t temporary. It persisted and Orbán came to use this sentiment and the people who believe in it to gain power. Orbán’s aim was not governing but establishing a new regime. This new regime, in Gyurcsány’s opinion, is already in place and will be very difficult to change.
Gyurcsány calls this new regime “counter-Hungary,” and this counter-Hungary has considerable political strength. This world doesn’t believe in Europe, and in Brussels it doesn’t see a place of cooperation but a source of assault on the Hungarian nation. This counter-Hungary is a world of power and subservience. Counter-Hungary looks inward and whatever is outside it considers a source of threat.
Sooner or later Orbán will be gone but the question is how the other Hungary, the one that believes in the republic will handle that counter-Hungary. The country will not be able to live constantly under war-like conditions. Peace will have to be found between the two Hungaries, the counter-Hungary and Hungary of the republicans.
Gyurcsány also spent a considerable amount of time on the impoverishment of a very large segment of Hungarian society, including the Roma. He pointed out the cynicism of the leading Fidesz politicians when dealing with the plight of the poor. The most infamous claim was uttered by György Matolcsy who said something to the effect that a family can live on 47,000 forints a month. This is what a man or woman on public works is getting from the government. Since then several other politicians slavishly repeated this nonsense until János Lázár, head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, said point blank that there is no way anyone can live on 47,000. But this whole debate shows the callousness of Viktor Orbán and his entourage.
The former prime minister also talked about the radicalization of the Hungarian right and blamed Fidesz for having overly cozy relations with Jobbik, which he called a Nazi party, in the hope of maximing political support.
In addition he talked about changes in Hungarian education. He gave a short history of educational ideas that were introduced after the end of World War II. In the West they opened the doors of education to everybody, but even behind the iron curtain strides were made, especially in primary and secondary education. While in 1950 very few people finished high school, forty years later public education was widely available to both men and women. Higher education in the Kádár regime was still highly restricted but in the last twenty years the number of students attending universities and colleges has been greatly expanded. It is this trend that Orbán, who himself was the beneficiary of the Kádár regime’s policies, is now trying to change.
Gyurcsány had a few harsh things to say about the churches, especially the established churches, that spend mighty little time and effort helping the poor and the downtrodden. They seem to be much more interested in having a cozy relationship with the government.
The former prime minister asked his audience to face the country’s present difficulties squarely. One doesn’t merely have to defeat Viktor Orbán. One must convince the majority of Hungary’s citizens that the country could be a better and a more liveable place if its citizens live in freedom and in a true republic. I am sure that Gyurcsány himself knows that this is a Herculean task. It goes against centuries of Hungarian history.