A great speech: Gordon Bajnai, the hope of the Hungarian opposition

I had the good fortune, thanks to modern technology, to be able to see or hear all the important speeches today. As I was listening I took copious notes.

I began my day by tuning into ATV, but within half an hour the interest was so great that their server gave up the ghost. However, I still managed to hear Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech. At this point I switched to Klubrádió where I caught Péter Juhász. Then I received a direct link from a friend to Milla’s video where I heard Péter Kónya and Gordon Bajnai. Finally I was able to listen to the whole speech of Viktor Orbán by switching back to Klubrádió.

Let’s start with Gordon Bajnai. If there is a clear winner of the day it is certainly Gordon Bajnai. I always liked him and was impressed by the quiet, resolute way in which he managed to save Hungary’s sinking financial ship during one short year in office. When he handed the country over to “the dear leader,” as more and more people call Viktor Orbán, it was in fairly decent shape. Orbán managed to steer the country into recession in two short years.

But I couldn’t quite imagine Bajnai as a politician. He is basically a modest man who, when he became prime minister, described himself as a goalie rather than a forward. (He does play football like Viktor Orbán, but what a difference!) Moreover, he said often enough during his tenure that he was not a politician but a man who became prime minister because of his problem-solving talents. Yet he managed to secure the support of the two governing parties by telling them that if they don’t promise unwavering support of his austerity package they can forget about his accepting the job. What I missed in him was the fire.

But perhaps the fire was there all along. Perhaps it was just that those times needed quiet perseverance instead of fiery speeches. Bajnai’s other, until now hidden, side came out today. At last we can say that there might be a more than worthy opponent to Viktor Orbán. I think that Bajnai’s speech today just might convince the disparate groups and parties that it is worth throwing their weight behind him as a common candidate leading a united opposition.

Gordon Bajnai at the Milla-Solidarity demonstration
Origo / Photo by Zsófia Pályi

As opposed to Orbán’s forced “My honored ladies and gentlemen” (tisztelt hölgyeim és uraim), Bajnai talked to his “friends” (barátaim) and “compatriots” (honfitársaim). He used the familiar form (te ~ ti).

He began by outlining the psychological road that led to his appearance at this demonstration. On March 15 he attended the demonstration as one of the many thousand participants. Initially he maintained that he wasn’t a politician and therefore he had no intention of getting involved in politics. But at the beginning he wasn’t worried about the survival of democracy in Hungary. Soon enough, however, came “the bitter awakening.” He had  to get involved because, as he said, “I can do no other.” Who doesn’t hear in this sentence the words of Martin Luther? He came to the conclusion that 2014 is not just one election among many; it is an event that will determine not just the next four years but the next twenty-five. He can’t sit and do nothing.

In 2010 a lot of people wanted “change.” They had enough of unfulfilled promises, political warfare, and dilettantism. “They trusted and they were deceived…. We all have to ask forgiveness from each other and from the world…. This government methodically breaks the backbone of democracy vertebra by vertebra.” After describing the “institutionalized corruption” Bajnai went on to say that “the rich get richer and the poor are the poorest,” a nod to a famous poem by Attila József (“Aki szegény, az a legszegényebb”). He talked about the aggressiveness of the regime, but argued that aggressiveness is “the last refuge of the impotent.”

Bajnai continued by saying that one needs more than a change of government, there must be a regime change. In fact, there must be even more, an entirely new era (korszakváltás). To achieve this goal one doesn’t need a new party. Instead, people from the right and the left should “meet in the middle.”

There are four important considerations the opposition must keep in mind. First, they have to deal with the concepts of the “homeland” (haza) and “progress” (haladás). We mustn’t forget that the name of Bajnai’s foundation is Haza és haladás. What did he want to say here? That the liberals and the socialists must pay more attention to Hungarian patriotism. After all, there can be no question that one of the chief appeals of Orbán is his nationalist demagoguery. The left simply doesn’t know what to do with the question of nationalism versus patriotism. On the other hand, the left has a fairly clear concept of “progress.” They want to bring Hungary closer to Europe and achieve greater democracy. But, as Bajnai stressed, “the emphasis is on the “és,” on the “and.” One cannot neglect one at the expense of the other. Otherwise, the opposition forces will not be able to recruit members from the moderate right without whom regime change is impossible.

Bajnai dealt with two more important aspects that must be part of the underlying foundations of this new epoch. One is solidarity, which is sorely missing from the mindset of the current government. Orbán simply doesn’t care about the fate of the poor, whose numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. Right now we are talking about 40% of the population. The economic policies of a new government must deal with this segment of the population by redistributing the burdens that the current tax policy imposes on the less well-to-do portion of society. Finally, Hungarians at the moment are deeply divided over the issue of the country’s relationship to the European Union. Supporters of Orbán look upon it as an oppressive empire that foists its own will upon Hungary. As Orbán put it in his speech today, “we can’t accept that others can decide what we can do in our own country” and, a sentence or two later, “we can’t accept that foreigners govern us.” According to Bajnai, “there must be a new understanding” of Hungary’s role in Europe based on “common interest and a community of shared values (értékközösség).”

Bajnai also said a few words about the Orbán government’s program of “national unity across borders,” which in his opinion can only fail. What the country needs is “unifying the nation within the borders.” Difficult times await the democratic opposition but it can be done. “We want to get our country back, a country we can be proud of. … It can be done together. Only together can it be done.”

It was a great and inspiring speech. A new politician was born today, a man for whom the country has been waiting for some time.

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petofi
Guest

What strikes me is the amazing luck of Hungarians to have such a man in the wings! But now comes the $64
question for MSZP: are they going to be true to their
down-deep, thieving, ways or, will they respond to the greater needs of the country and immediately line up behind Bajnai. The important word is “immediately” because if they dither and drag their feet, their opportunism (to negotiate concessions from a future
Bajnai government) will be palpable. This is the key.

Ms KKA
Guest

My hopes for today have been fulfilled to such a degree that I feel like I can fly! It has been a long, very difficult process, as is any birth, but, my Lord what a beautiful baby!!!!

G.
Guest

I listened to all the same speeches, and Bajnai could not have been better. Gyurcsany’s endorsement was just the right move at the right minute.
On the other hand, Orban was boring, and so anti Eu, it actually made me feel ashamed.
There is hope finally!

G.
Guest

i printed out the speech from ATV.

Pete H.
Guest
Pete H.
Guest

Also for the record, he talked about a new opposition coalition organization:

https://www.facebook.com/egyutt2014

“Célunk, hogy létrejöjjön egy olyan választói szövetség,…. “”Our goal is to build an electoral alliance,….”

buddy
Guest

somewhat OT, but I noticed that while most of the political parties had an event today in the capital, Benedek Jávor from LMP spoke in… Hajdúszoboszló?

Nothing against this fine city, but what was LMP thinking? The crowd looked tiny, like it was just some random people who were passing by and stopped to have a look at what was going on.

Kingfisher
Guest

Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

petofi
Guest
Kingfisher : Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power). Kingfisher : Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Bur how many Hungarians will get to hear or read his speech in full?

petofi
Guest

Kingfisher :
Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

Judge a man by what he does and how he operates.
By those standards, Orban is a con-artist, a thief and a liar.
I’ve heard some Bajnai stories about ‘geese’ and ‘suicides’ and whatnot but when you’re in a barrel of rotten apples…you’re going to get soiled yourself just by being in the proximity.
In his one year in power, Bajnai was honest, reasoned,
precise and respected in all that he did.
Let’s judge by what we know.

Vándorló
Guest

“Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
Bertolt Brecht ‘Life of Galileo’ (1938), Scene 6.

Though, obviously I’m delighted Bajnai is willing to try.

He also made it clear that he is calling for real unity, not just this ‘us and them’,’have and have not’ mentality.

I feel that as this makes LMP and MSZP look like the impotent, irrelevant and divided opposition that they are, they are likely to present the most danger to Bajnai achieving his goals, not Orbán.I very much doubt LMP and MSZP have it in them to be able to sober up and adjust to this change in the political landscape.

observerM
Guest
Having read György Kauk’s article in the Galamus, and the opinions of Gyurcsány and Bauer, among others, also watching Ferenc Juhász on TV, I became convinced, similarly, I believe, to Éva Balogh, that the Milla was following an approach that was destined to be either unsuccessful, or even damaging to the cause of unification for the purpose of replacing the Orbán govrnment. My opinion has changed, based on subsequent declarations of Milla leaders, and especially after the demonstrations and speeches of today. The main element, including parties in the movement at this time, which is in the center of disagreement, is wrought with danger because of an underlying distrust between various elements of the opposition.To deal with that, there is a need for a strategy that needs to be gradual, such as the one I sense may be taking place now. That strategy seems to be the following: first introducing a unifying figure, Bajnai, then creating a social organization, such as “Together in 2014”, then aquiring a wide acceptance of it, then perhaps agreeing on mutually accepted basic principles, and only after that: exploring the possibility of some kind of united appearance at elections. For the above organization to become… Read more »
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Bernard De Raadt
Guest

ja ja a republic jajaja.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

you make the best jokes please go on and tell us it was democratic,,,,,,,,,,jaja

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Kinfosher: “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? ”
I don’t know whether I mentioned it on Hungarian Spectrum but I was very pleased when I first saw the Kossuth coat-of-arms being used by MSZP. I always thought that the MDF-Smallholders-Christian Democratic majority between 1990 and 1994 made a mistake when it forced through the the coat-of-arms with the crown. After all, Hungary has been a republic since 1946.

MDF etc did not make a mistake, they signaled their intentions for the future direction of Hungary.

Kossuth coat of arms = Republic —> democracy
Horthy coat of arms = Kingdom —> authoritarian rule

Member

No crown (or red star) was placed over the shield in 1849, 1918-1919, 1946-1949, and 1956-1957.

Member
Eva S. Balogh : Kinfosher: “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? ” I don’t know whether I mentioned it on Hungarian Spectrum but I was very pleased when I first saw the Kossuth coat-of-arms Although I absolutely agree that the crown doesn’t belong on the coat of arms of the country, in the spirit of Bajnai’s speech I would say let’s leave it there. Just think about the great intellects, like Bernie the Rat (aka. Bernadette). These morons go nuts for shiny objects and whether we like it or not we have to toss them a few things to keep their puny brains occupied. The crown should be the least of our worries. Now I’d like to risk a remark from Wondercat to call me a groupie on this blog (you know the ones she calls “the chorus”) but I cannot agree more on Bajnai. It’s invigorating to listen to somebody who doesn’t just bullshit about unity. Who dares to mention Cardinal Mindszenthy and Bibo in the same speech. The first attempt to reach out to both the civilized conservative right and the left. He said that there will be no… Read more »
Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

I hate to think that with the introduction of the Kossuth coat-of-arms into the political debate the Hungarian public will take the opportunity to go off track and get into a heated but meaningless debate about it. I recall that when the new constitution was introduced 90% of the popular debate was about the “preamble” what should be in what should be left out, etc. Most people had no idea what was really hiding behind the actual paragraphs of the constitution.

The same thing, I am afraid will happen with the coat-of-arms. Crown or no crown, that is the question. Choose, Hungarian! And the economic woes, concerns about the legal system, the freedom of the press, all the important issues will boil down to what they think about the coat-of-arms. Poor move by Mesterhazy.

Respect Beauty
Guest

Are there any detailed discussions of the Orban speech? I have a friend who just posted a photo from the Fidesz rally, and I’d like some ammunition to explain why it’s not such a great thing.

petofi
Guest

Sackhoes Contributor :
I hate to think that with the introduction of the Kossuth coat-of-arms into the political debate the Hungarian public will take the opportunity to go off track and get into a heated but meaningless debate about it. I recall that when the new constitution was introduced 90% of the popular debate was about the “preamble” what should be in what should be left out, etc. Most people had no idea what was really hiding behind the actual paragraphs of the constitution.
The same thing, I am afraid will happen with the coat-of-arms. Crown or no crown, that is the question. Choose, Hungarian! And the economic woes, concerns about the legal system, the freedom of the press, all the important issues will boil down to what they think about the coat-of-arms. Poor move by Mesterhazy.

“Economic woes”…What economic woes?

Hungary is the land of opportunity!

Witness…a $450 investment in something called the Puskas Academy reaps a bounty of $14,000,000!! Where on earth can you
get that? INVEST IN HUNGARY!!!
(That is, if you name is Viktor Orban…)

GK
Guest

At first I was a little disappointed about the reported numbers at each protest, I read approximately 25,000 anti-government and 150,000 pro-government. I was expecting the numbers to at least be a little closer even if not reported that way. However when I thought about it, the 150,000 was reported by MTI, and they “reported” 400,000 for the first “peace march” which even assuming MTI figures may perhaps be a little inflated it is a 62% on the original attendance! I think that says something perhaps they should have laid on more buses?

Member

Off-topic:

HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES MANDATES OPEN ACCESS IN OPEN ACCESS WEEK 2012

One of the rare things to be proud of Hungary about lately (though I doubt the initiative came from the President of the Academy, Joseph Palinkas, but rather from Andras Holl, to whom all thanks are due).

http://roarmap.eprints.org/698/

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M. Riedl
Guest

buddy :
somewhat OT, but I noticed that while most of the political parties had an event today in the capital, Benedek Jávor from LMP spoke in… Hajdúszoboszló?
Nothing against this fine city, but what was LMP thinking? The crowd looked tiny, like it was just some random people who were passing by and stopped to have a look at what was going on.

Eva: Thank you for this summary of Bajnai’s speech. It was an inspirational moment. And I hope that the spirit will carry over the next one and a half years, and beyond.

As to LMP: G. Karácsony and a group of LMP members showed presence at the Milla demonstration. Karácsony is so tall that people recognize him even from the distance in a mass gathering. This may not represent the official party line, but it is still a statement that may indicate a trend. If LMP held a meeting in Hajdúszoboszló, what’s the problem? As long as they don’t divide the opposition in Budapest on such a highly symbolical day. It is evident that they (and others) have to make up their mind now. And as it seems, some have already decided on supporting Bajnai.

Andrei Stavilă
Guest

I am not that joyful yet, I am afraid that opposition members will soon start internal fights for Parliament seats and other positions – a copy-paste from neighbouring Romania. But let us hope I am extremely wrong. A lot of pictures from yesterday’s demonstrations here: http://stavilaandrei.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/my-budapest-23-the-three-rallies-2012-second-edition/

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