I have been planning to give a detailed description of the huge MSZP gathering on January 25, which was the unofficial beginning of the campaign. I’m working on a translation of an abbreviated version of Attila Mesterházy’s speech that was well received, even by those who are not really MSZP fans. The gathering was very professionally orchestrated and can be considered a success. But then came the story of the “rope.” More than twenty-four hours after Mesterházy’s speech, Magyar Nemzet discovered that someone in the crowd of 13,000 shouted “rope” as an appropriate fate for Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and director of the Puskás Academy, who in three short years became the 88th richest person in Hungary. The modest artisan whose job it was to bring gas lines to the houses of the people in Felcsút is now the wealthy owner of a construction business and large tracts of land.
Mesterházy jokingly said that Mészáros’s feat is unparalleled and he should teach college students how to do it. Then, according to Mesterházy, someone in the crowd shouted that instead of a lectern Mészáros deserves jail. To which Mesterházy answered in agreement.
But this is not what the reporter for HírTV heard. He heard “rope” although other reporters, for example those from Index and Origo, claimed that all the journalists were too far away to hear properly. They heard someone shouting something but they couldn’t catch the word. In any case, Magyar Nemzet was delighted. The headline read: “Members of MSZP cry for rope and Mesterházy agrees.” The paper claimed that several journalists heard it, but it admitted that its tech people had to change a few settings on the recording for the word coming from the audience be audible. A year ago–the paper continued–Mesterházy was much less vehement. Then he declared that there will be no repeat of socialist and later Fidesz attempts at investigating cases of corruption. But now that Gyurcsány is back, “hatred returned.”
So, who said what? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that someone in the crowd indeed yelled the word “rope.” It can easily happen in a crowd of 13,000. But who would think that Mesterházy, a seasoned politician, would be so foolish as to agree with such a proposition if he heard the word properly? He is no fool. Yet the right-wing media keep harping on the theme. MTV’s Híradó (News) repeated the segment eight times, over and over, to make sure it sticks.
How much political ammunition can be gained by this incident? I don’t think much, but surely what Fidesz has in mind is another “rope” story, this time attached to László Kövér, which might have given a slight edge to the socialists in 2002.
During the campaign Kövér delivered a speech to a small audience in which he criticized those who listen to naysayers and those who see only hopelessness and spread disillusionment and suggested that they should go down to the cellar and hang themselves. It was this speech which Ferenc Gyurcsány, as adviser to Péter Medgyessy, decided to use in the last week of the campaign. He claimed later that before they hit on the idea to use this “rope” speech of Kövér, Fidesz was leading. A week later the socialist-liberal coalition, in a close contest, led after the first round of voting.
Maybe Fidesz thinks that this new “rope” story will have the same impact, but I doubt that they are right. First of all, Kövér not once but at least twice used the metaphor of the rope, the cellar, even talking about a big nail on which these people should hang themselves. It was his own voice that was leaked. The present story, which might even be concocted, is different. It is very difficult to connect Mesterházy to wanting to hang anyone and even more difficult to make Gyurcsány responsible for someone asking for a rope for Mészáros.
Fidesz demands an apology while MSZP is suing Magyar Nemzet. MSZP interprets the Fidesz story of the “rope” as a sign of panic after seeing the large and enthusiastic crowd on January 25. Naturally, they recall the story of Kövér’s speech about the cellar and the rope and promise to sue anyone who claims that Mesterházy said yes to hanging anyone.
The sad thing about this story is that it turns attention away from the rather impressive gathering of the socialists and the program that Mesterházy outlined there. Perhaps this is what Fidesz wanted to achieve.