Yesterday I received Christmas presents from my relatives in Hungary and as usual I got books. I was looking forward to reading all of them, but József Debreczeni’s book on the riots of September-October 2006 especially interested me since I have been fascinated by the way in which the history of a series of events can be rewritten. One needs only a communication avalanche supporting a slice of the whole and magnifying it beyond recognition.
Debreczeni’s book has been #1 on the Hungarian bestseller list ever since it appeared a few weeks ago. So it seems that I’m not the only one who wants to read a minute-by-minute account of those days.
There are three narratives of the events as summarized by Debreczeni. The first is the right-wing version where Good does battle with Evil. The event is described as a spontaneous democratic protest against a government that came into power by lying and that was answered by brutal police terror. The second is the left-wing version that describes the riots as being fueled by Viktor Orbán who couldn’t make peace with losing two elections in a row. According to this version, the events were directed by politicians who hoped for a coup d’état that would remove the Gyurcsány government from power. The third version is that of the civil rights activists: TASZ (the Hungarian version of the American Civil Liberties Union), the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Védegylet, an environmental group in which András Schiffer and László Sólyom were active. These groups were aided by such Internet papers as Origo, HVG, and Index that tried “to find their place somewhere between the warring political factions.” In Debreczeni’s opinion these groups belittled the danger the rioters posed to society.
Naturally, Debreczeni has to deal with the immediate cause of the riots of September 17 and October 23-24: Ferenc Gyurcsány’s leaked speech before the MSZP parliamentary caucus on May 26. Here I would like to summarize briefly Debreczeni’s description of how it ended up in the hands of Viktor Orbán.
The quality of the audiotape was too good to have been done by an amateur. It had to have been copied from one of the two official tapes of the speech. One went to the prime minister’s office where it was placed in a safe. The other ended up in the headquarters of MSZP where it was lying about on an open shelf in a room that many people had access to. Thus, whoever stole and copied the original audio tape most likely got it from the party’s headquarters.
And now comes brand new information straight from Ferenc Gyurcsány who obviously shared his suspicions with Debreczeni. In July 2011, when the relationship between MSZP and Gyurcsány was sorely strained, Gyurcsány wrote a letter to Attila Mesterházy in which he told the party chairman that he was fairly certain about the identities of the three people who leaked the speech to Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány told Mesterházy that he had no hard proof and therefore could not demand a police investigation. Mesterházy refused to open the letter and shredded it unread in public.
What was in the letter? Among other things, that sometime in the summer of 2010 a well known public figure visited Gyurcsány and claimed to know the name of the man who leaked the speech at Balatonőszöd. His son worked in a law office where one of his colleagues kept repeating that he knew who the man was but refused to reveal his secret. Then came a drunken party when he slipped. He named X.
A few months later Gyurcsány was talking to an influential journalist who revealed that on September 18, 2006, a day after the content of the speech became known publicly, a leading MSZP politician asked to meet him. During the encounter the MSZP politician tried to convince the journalist that it was actually Gyurcsány who had leaked the audio. That leading MSZP politician was X himself.
Then in the summer of 2011 Gyurcsány received a message from an MSZP member who doesn’t live in Budapest. According to his story, sometime in the summer of 2006, way before the audio became public, a leading member of MSZP played the tape of the speech for him, adding that “Gyurcsány is in my hands, I can do anything I want with him.” Who was this leading MSZP member? Not X but a very close associate and friend of his. The two families spend their holidays together. Let’s call him Y.
And finally, shortly before Gyurcsány wrote the letter to Mesterházy another MSZP member called him with the information that a few months earlier among a small circle of friends Y revealed that his close associate Z, one of the leaders of MSZP, was the one who had actually smuggled the tape out of the party’s headquarters.
That was what Gyurcsány knew in July 2011, but since then he learned something else from another person who is ready to testify if necessary. The informer implicated Imre Szekeres who in July 2006 in Székesfehérvár, only a couple of months after the stunning MSZP victory, told county leaders that the party will have to prepare for the post-Gyurcsány period. The informer even asked Szekeres how such an idea could come up at that time. Szekeres answered that in politics one must be prepared for all eventualities. The person apparently sent a message to Gyurcsány about Szekeres’s odd remark, but Gyurcsány didn’t attach any significance to it at the time and soon enough forgot about the whole thing.
Péter Niedermüller wrote a four-part series on the “Őszöd speech” (Az őszödi beszéd) in which he dealt at length with the possible reactions to Gyurcsány’s announcement of the austerity program. There were some party leaders who realized that the promised reforms would adversely affect their political influence and might endanger their positions, financial and otherwise, within the party. When he read these articles in August 2011 Debreczeni immediately thought of Imre Szekeres and László Puch. Just an immediate gut reaction. It was a year later that he found out from Ferenc Gyurcsány what the former prime minister knew about the affair, which seemed to implicate Szekeres and two close associates of his.
These three men obviously had no intention of wreaking havoc on the party’s national standing. They just hoped that they could get rid of Gyurcsány with all his liberal ideas and reforms that rattled the top leadership of MSZP. The party paid dearly for their ill-conceived political power play.