What really surprises me as I am following the government’s response to the first major internal crisis is their political ineptitude and total lack of comprehension of the seriousness of the situation. As if the leading politicians of the Orbán regime didn’t really live in the country. As if they didn’t notice anything about the growing dissatisfaction. The leading figures have become completely isolated and have begun to believe their own propaganda.
But what can one expect from a government that hires pollsters whose data bear no resemblance to reality or who signs up a company to collect news summaries for politicians and government officials whose associates are so far to the right that they practically automatically filter out all news that doesn’t suit them and who consider every negative remark only a political ploy having no foundation in reality.
Yes, one cannot expect much from people who live in a bubble of surefire legislative victories. The spineless or stupid or both Fidesz-KDNP MPs vote and vote without really knowing what they are voting on. One hundred and thirty amendments in five minutes. Nothing to it. Mind you, even that servile Constitutional Court finds bill after bill unconstitutional. The latest is the law on the family. Earlier the bill on the homeless also failed. I can predict many more failures unless next year’s newly appointed judges are Orbán’s toadies.
As for the total lack of comprehension of the situation, here are a few remarks from László Kövér. I consider Kövér the perfect embodiment of Fidesz: crudity, lack of solidarity with others, an anti-democratic worldview, and aggressiveness. Everything I consider unacceptable in human behavior. Kövér obviously considers the educational policy of the government perfection itself. Less money, fewer students! How could this possibly be the answer to Hungary’s economic and social ills? Yet Kövér thinks that the only mistake the government made was that “they leaked bits and pieces of information without preparing the political groundwork for them.” And the government didn’t count on “those people behind the students” who for political reasons incite the students. In plain language, the democratic opposition parties are using the students. He called the student leaders “paid revolutionaries.” The leaders of the student revolt were not elected leaders just as the KISZ leaders were not elected. The HÖOK leaders, just like the KISZ leaders in the Kádár regime, don’t represent the interests of the students. Oh, where is that old revolutionary Kövér of 1988?
How to solve the problem? According to Kövér one has to sit down and calmly discuss matters. The hysteria should be quieted down. Even more important is to quiet down “those who create this hysteria.” I wonder what kind of method Kövér would recommend.
As one sees the videos of the demonstrations and the messages the students are sending to the world via the Internet, I don’t think that these young people need much coaching. The student leaders seem to be very much with it. Moreover, even their historical knowledge is greater than one expects. Surely, it wasn’t a coincidence that last night the demonstrators headed toward the public radio station to have one of the student leaders read their six-point demand. After all, they know about October 23, 1956. They call their movement “télirózsás forradalom” (Revolution of the Winter Rose). Surely, the reference here is to the October Revolution of 1918 called “őszirózsás forradalom” (Revolution of Michaelmas Daisy or “autumn rose” in Hungarian).
Kövér thinks that this whole thing will just blow over. Yesterday when some MPs expressed their concern over the demonstrations, Orbán told them “nyugi, nyugi,” which in this context means “calm down! calm down!” However, I disagree with this government interpretation of the events. This series of demonstrations will be a defining moment in the lives of this generation of college students. Just as the events of October 23, 1956 were a defining moment for those who lived through it.
In any case, there seems to be a total disconnect between the government and parliament on the one hand and what’s going on outside on the other. While the discontent is raging on the streets, inside the MPs are pushing their “yes” buttons to a piece of legislation against which the demonstrations are being staged.
What’s going on with the so-called negotiations with the students is surreal. First, Viktor Orbán meets about 15 hand-picked students who all belong to Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. A few hours later Zoltán Balog asks HÖOK to meet with him as early as Monday. Eventually there is a meeting on Tuesday but HÖOK insists that HaHa, another student association, should also be present. After officials try to bar HaHa, eventually its representatives are allowed to join the meeting, but the students are not there for long. After a short time both associations break off negotiations. Later the student leaders claimed that Balog delivered a monologue that even included accusations that the university students have been also responsible for the sad state of the country after eight years of liberal-socialist rule.
Balog had absolutely nothing to offer. The students demanded more money for education but Balog couldn’t promise anything. Although Orbán in the last minute made a few changes in the wording of the law, they consisted of simply renaming the objectionable parts of the law. Just as Dávid Nagy, chairman of HÖOK, said, just because “we call krumpli burgonya it is still krumpli,” a reference to potato (krumpli) and its more elegant equivalent (burgonya).
So, at the end of the meeting Balog stood alone in front of the microphones and announced that “the students didn’t hear the voice of the government.” On the other hand, the government “did hear the voice of the students.” Therefore there will be no tuition fees. They will not have to become indebted. In fact, he claimed that next year at least 40,000 students will not have to pay a penny. The problem is that Balog most likely lied. One of the student leaders present told György Bolgár that there was not a word about 40,000 tuition-free places.
I really wonder how long Orbán and his friends can play this game. Not for long because the Conference of University Presidents is squarely behind the students. Moreover, the university students have other supporters. Yesterday they were joined by high school students, one of the teacher’s unions, the association of healthcare providers, and a group of theater people.
Meanwhile one piece of legislation after the other is being passed, all of which inflict further and further pain, not just on education but on health care as well. If the government doesn’t wake up the house will fall on their heads.