I was sorely tempted to title this post “Viktor Orbán is toppled,” perhaps with a couple of exclamation points, but I couldn’t come up with a decent qualifying subtitle. Péter Kónya, the leader of the Solidarity Movement, now part of Együtt 2014-PM, would probably have appreciated the title. Others in the opposition no doubt would have considered it tasteless.
Péter Kónya likes to use unusual props to dramatize his movement’s political positions. Perhaps you recall Solidarity’s demonstration, which became known as the “revolution of the clowns.” Participants dressed up as clowns because Viktor Orbán called the trade unions’ leaders clowns. The clowns collected thousands and thousands of signatures to condemn the Orbán government. And that was back in 2011.
At yesterday afternoon’s demonstration Kónya once again sent a symbolic message. The group had erected a huge statue of Viktor Orbán made out of Styrofoam and painted bronze. At their demonstration they first unveiled and then toppled it. Very much like Stalin’s enormous statue was toppled on October 23, 1956.
Prior to the unveiling of the statue Gordon Bajnai made a fiery speech in which he called the politicians of Fidesz “the best pupils of the communists.” He was even funny at times, although he is not known for his humor. He said, “I’m warning you now: the stadium at Felcsút will not fit into the Park of Statues.” The park he was referring to houses the statues erected during the Rákosi and Kádár periods that were subsequent discarded.
Once the statue was toppled and its head severed as a result of the fall, Péter Kónya called Orbán a dictator who should have a separate room in the House of Terror. In no time the crowd moved the head and torso of the statue to Andrássy út 60 with a detour to the Opera House to mark the demise of the Third Republic on January 1, 2012. Kónya and Bajnai promised the crowd that soon there will be an end to the rule of the comrades, reminding them of the famous poster of MDF: Tovarishi konets, Comrades, this is the end.
One of the first articles to appear about the demonstration and the statue was written by a Magyar Narancs reporter. He admitted that some members of the intelligentsia might think that this kind of campaigning is crude, but the people he talked think that “the population must be awakened.”
The blogger Varánusz was of the same opinion: “What will happen now that some people will play football with Viktor Orbán’s Styrofoam head?” And he continued that the terribly boring leaders of the Bajnai party at last did something a little daring. He noted, however, that some of the people on the left called the statue toppling “tasteless.” And then he lists a few truly “tasteless” Fidesz stunts of late.
Then came the counterattack. The spokesman of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) was László Varga, the man who not so long ago thought that if women bore more children there would be no domestic violence. He called this gag a crime that can be compared only to the activities of Tibor Szamuelly’s terrorist group in 1919 or the horrors that were perpetrated by the ÁVH, the state security forces during the Rákosi regime. For good measure he reminded his audience of the horrors of the Hungarist Arrowcross who shot thousands of innocent men and women and threw their bodies into the Danube in late 1944. He considered the incident “an incitement to murder.” Varga didn’t think that Bajnai could sink that low.
Yes, Gordon Bajnai certainly knew about the planned toppling of the statue. He delivered his speech against the Orbán government standing in front of that statue, then still covered. He admitted that these kinds of gags are not to his liking but added that “we must recognize that the rule of Viktor Orbán fanned such intense anger” that such a reaction is not surprising. He considered the erecting of the statue in this case an ironic gesture because it is only in dictatorships that statues of living politicians are erected. “Viktor Orbán’s regime is rapidly moving in this direction. The toppling of the statue only expressed opposition to Orbán’s plans for the future.” The pro-Fidesz Századvég’s Tamás Lánczi immediately commented that Bajnai’s radicalism will alienate the “center.” That mysterious “center” that nobody seems able to find.
One can understand the right’s indignation. Less comprehensible is the distancing that came from the left, especially from MSZP, the ally of Együtt 2014-PM. Péter Kónya, we must remember, is one of the chairmen of E14-PM. József Tóbiás, director of the MSZP delegation, immediately condemned the action. In a democracy, he said, one doesn’t overthrow a government; it must be replaced. This was, of course, an extreme interpretation of Solidarity’s action. Nobody, including Kónya, was talking about the actual overthrow of the government. The statue was intended as a symbol of Orbán’s regime that indeed must be eliminated. Gábor Fodor of the Liberals and Andor Schmuck of the shadowy Hungarian Social Democratic Party immediately joined Tóbiás. Ágnes Vadai (DK) got out of a sticky situation by saying that the Demokratikus Koalíció doesn’t want to demolish a statue but to defeat the Orbán regime.
Hungarians used to be known for their humor. They used to relish political symbolism. Now, it seems, some on the left are so concerned with appearing politically correct that they can’t enjoy a piece of political theater (and, in the process, stand behind one of their own). They’d better learn, and learn quickly, that it’s hard to tip-toe to victory.