Tag Archives: Balatonőszöd

András Kósa: “The speech of the chief: Őszöd ten years later” Part II

fonok-beszedeAndrás Kósa, a well-known Hungarian journalist, just published a book titled The Speech of the Chief: Őszöd Ten Years Later. It is a collection of interviews with former and current politicians as well as with political commentators. Interest in Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech and its impact on subsequent political developments doesn’t seem to wane. A reader and friend of Hungarian Spectrum, Steven N., who is also a friend of Kósa, approached me asking whether we would be interested in Kósa’s interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. If yes, he would translate it for us. I gladly accepted his offer. This is the second part of the interview.

But first, a few words about András Kósa. I remember him from the days when he was writing in the still liberal Magyar Hírlap in the early 2000s. Later he worked for Hírszerző, which was eventually absorbed by HVG. For a short while, he wrote for vs.hu. The website received some bad press when it became known that New Wave Media, the owner of vs.hu, had received 642,255,760 forints from foundations of the Hungarian National Bank. Six of the website’s journalists immediately resigned. András Kósa was one of them.

This June Kósa joined Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. As he said, “I know both editorial teams and I could say yes to both offers in good conscience.”

My heartfelt thanks to “Steven N.” for his work in translating the interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. This second part is not about the speech but about the current state of Hungarian party politics. I found it fascinating and am looking forward to the third and final installment.

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András Kósa: Returning to the identity crisis issue: earlier there were serious attempts by you and MSZP to be more open towards young people (which even involved popular entertainment venues) so you could build a network with them. These attempts also failed. What was the reason for this?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: This was successful between 2004 and2006, and of course many things changed after the fall of 2006. This was partly because a credibility crisis arose from Őszöd, and also from social pressure that came about through our austerity program. It wasn’t cool or trendy enough at the time for young people to support the left, and the way it looks now; this basically hasn’t changed since then either.

I suppose it’s little comfort for you that it isn’t that trendy or cool nowadays to be a Fidesz supporter either. These days it really does seem that only Jobbik is able to reach young people.

But based on research that’s available, for the moment we don’t have to ring the alarm bells just yet. I rather fear that younger generations are simply staying out of the political realm, both in their everyday life and also during elections. They simply don’t take part in it. I’m not counting on things to turn for the better anytime soon. It is customary to characterize every left-wing public forum as “an audience predominately made up of retirees.” But if we look at similar forums for Fidesz, older people there also make up most of the attendees. They have much more determination and a greater willingness to vote, and of course, they are basically independent of the state, since they can’t be individually pressured because they receive a pension. Retirees are the strongest and most important demographic of the electorate today.

When you launched the Demokratikus Koalíció, where would you have guessed the party’s position and support in mid-2016?

It’s a good question, as it was very hard for us to be able to estimate at the time how high our support could go. There’s now roughly a consensus among analysts that we may have around half a million stable voters, or 10 percent support, plus or minus 1-2 percent, which is still growing. Some have previously said that we would have trouble getting past even the 5 percent threshold, while others did not rule out us getting as much as 30 percent. I’m not displeased with what we have achieved. In a real electoral situation, on an independent list, we could get roughly 15 percent, and I predict this for 2018 too.

However, there is also consensus among analysts that DK and MSZP are sharing the same “left-wing electoral cake” amongst themselves, and at the same time are unable to reach new groups of voters for now.

I wouldn’t presently be able to either confirm or deny this. All I can say is that based on polling, it is certain that a good number of our supporters have come from Együtt, the former party of [ex-PM] Gordon Bajnai. As they have collapsed, we have started to gain support. It’s also certain that there has been some crossover between the DK and Socialist voting bases. Based on my political experience thus far, I can say that this “communicating vessels” phenomenon will persist. We will be able to reach voters from those who are undecided once we finally have a more united alternative on this side. When there’s a better possibility of believing – which we, of course, have confidence in – that “these guys really can win.” Uncertain voters have no strong party preferences and do not judge ideologically: if they see a force that can unseat the ruling government, then that can be attractive to them, as they want to be part of this success. But for this to happen, many things still have to take shape within the left wing in the upcoming period to create such an alternative.

Could a primary election possibly play a positive role in this?

In any given local voting district, say, in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, no one would give a hoot about a primary. We wouldn’t even have the resources to organize it. Thirdly, knowing our side, a primary process and campaign would only result in leftist candidates bashing each other for weeks during the campaign, and by the time there’s a winner, our only achievement would be that person unable to get the entire left-wing camp behind him. So I don’t consider a primary election a sensible or useful instrument at the local level. If there were a joint alternative who headed the left, meaning a joint candidate for prime minister, I would consider that a good thing. But this entails a serious prerequisite: there should be at least two candidates in the first round. There isn’t even one now. Or rather, there are some techniques that can be applied in certain political situations, but these are not present at the moment. In this regard, the situation is radically different than it was before 2014. Back then, two candidates who were unable to come to an agreement with each other (MSZP Chair Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai) competed for the nomination. That’s when a primary would have solved the problem. But if there isn’t even one, then how can we call for a primary election?

In retrospect, what would you have done differently in 2014 instead of creating the joint ticket that proved to be a complete failure?

The fundamental error then was committed by Gordon Bajnai, despite all of his good intentions. Launching a political movement with the aim of bringing together democrats against the Orbán regime, without any preparation, without any consultation with the leaders of potential participants, launching this, simply announcing it, then expecting everyone to applaud it the next day and “get behind me” – this was a serious folly. It attests to a certain type of self-confidence that I had after the 2006 election, one of “I will be able to do everything in this country.” This is not a good advisor. And then, launching an independent party when you realize this isn’t working is no less of a serious mistake. Moreover, while Gordon Bajnai had gained very serious credibility following his one year of governing, it’s as if he did not understand that by not running in 2010, and even effectively removing himself from the skirmishes of party politics for two years and not having led a campaign, he was in a completely different situation than a party politician who puts himself to the test during an election. It’s a completely different genre. The mistakes were encoded into the situation. On the other hand, had I been in Attila Mesterházy’s place, especially at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I would have conceded to Gordon Bajnai the nomination for prime minister. There was a small chance then that this team would win – so let Gordon Bajnai carry this burden. Attila’s insistence on being the nominee was completely senseless and irrational. It even cost him his career, at least for a while.

However, he could rightfully say that since he had undertaken the leadership of MSZP in the midst of a political crisis, when many people hadn’t ruled out even the complete disintegration of the party, and somehow had still continued to manage it until the 2014 elections, then why shouldn’t he be their nominee for prime minister?

Obviously, since he decided to do it the way you said. But this is not ultimately what swept Attila away, but the party’s disastrous results in the subsequent European Parliament elections, when they got 11 percent of the vote.

During the 2014 campaign, you also received quite a lot of criticism. Such things were said about you like, “Ferenc Gyurcsány is unreliable and unpredictable. If there’s a rally, then you can never know what he’s going to say when he steps on stage. He steals the show from others and always draws attention to himself at the worst time.” What do you think of these claims?

They can’t blame me for trying to shape the political relations on the left so that they wouldn’t be allied against us, the DK Party. For me, the strange thing is that this surprises anyone. This has been the preeminent political interest of the Demokratikus Koalíció party. I could not allow the other two actors (Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy) to push me out. It betrays the underdeveloped political skills of whoever is surprised by this. In any case, once the decision was made to create a broad coalition under Attila’s leadership, I don’t think you could find anyone else who came out more forcefully for Attila Mesterházy and pushed through the campaign without a single political comment about him or about our united efforts. Someone who spoke practically in superlatives about our candidate. I cannot do any more than this. It is true, of course, that I am a guy with personality. But this is valuable in politics. If I use my personality for a joint victory, what would be the problem with that?

Why is it that apart from you, there aren’t any other “guys with personality” on the left today?

I don’t know why. All I see is that many people try to explain their own mediocrity and mediocre performance by saying almost automatically, “It would be so much easier without Gyurcsány!” But it’s not me that’s preventing András Schiffer, Viktor Szigetvári, Gergely Karácsony, or Gábor Fodor from becoming better politicians. Or anyone else who pops up. This is a competitive political world. It is certainly not the case that politicians who call themselves democrats share each other’s’ roles within the remains of an otherwise diminishing political framework. If I have half a million voters (and it’s at least that many) for whom DK is a valuable alternative, why would we take this possibility away from them? Let someone else also get half a million, or a million! If everyone could do this on our side, we would defeat Fidesz in two days.

Don’t you feel that you’ve taken the Hungarian left hostage? The other players can neither swallow you nor spit you out. As long as you’re still here, you are the focus, giving Fidesz a perfect opportunity to “blame Gyurcsány for everything.” And yet, for now, there is no one else besides you.

Is it because of me that József Tóbiás [then MSZP chair – trans.] is not more exciting? It isn’t because of me. The reason isn’t me, but rather him, and his party. You were correct with your comment about Fidesz. It’s a very conscious political strategy on their part to present a clear picture of the enemy to maintain the unifying force of the right wing. In the world of Hungarian politics, anyone who dares to go against Fidesz becomes an enemy. Like Bajnai, George Soros, or Brussels. I have a privileged place in this line. But knowing Fidesz, I don’t believe for a minute that if it wasn’t me but a similar leader with personality who came along and opposed Fidesz in the same way, that person would not become public enemy number one in an instant. All it takes for a world-famous, Kossuth Prize-decorated conductor is to get into an argument with the mayor of Budapest, and he immediately becomes one of Soros’ henchmen.

How long do you think this will continue to work for them? How long will Fidesz be able to blame Gyurcsány for everything?

For an ever-shrinking core group, it will absolutely continue to work for them. The Őszöd story is ten years old – it hardly means anything to those who are now 25. In addition, we can also see that there are a lot of things I said in which the real world seems to have proven me correct. Was I right when I said that running the health care system in its present condition was unsustainable? And so I wanted to shake up my party to dare them to touch it? Yes. Was I right when I said that in the educational system today the disadvantages brought from home were not decreasing but increasing? Yes. Was I right when I said that we didn’t need to be a politician just because we couldn’t go back to polishing cars? But because there has to be some ethos to what we do as politicians? I believe so. Quite a few people over the past few years have shed their previous outrage at me and are now willing to say: maybe this guy was right. Six weeks ago I sat around with a group of people, and a good number of them were center-right leaning. It was awfully exciting when one of them came up to me at the end of the conversation and said, “I was there on October 23, 2006, yelling and honking at you, and now I’m a little ashamed of myself because of it.” I think this is now part of the Őszöd story too.

Hungarian political life – at least in the medium term – will remain three-pronged: along with Fidesz and Jobbik, the Hungarian left-wing will need to attain a majority that can form a government. When do you think this is likely to happen?

What we’ve observed in the past two years is a completely new phenomenon in Hungarian politics: some voters who oppose Fidesz from any political orientation have a greater desire to see the ruling party fall than the attachment they have to their own party. So they are willing to make insanely large moves just to keep the Fidesz candidate from winning the election. We had an unprecedented transfer of votes from the democratic left to the extreme right, and vice versa. A consequence of this could very easily be that Fidesz – even with a relative majority – loses 75-80 out of 106 electoral districts. One possible consequence of this would be that no one will get an absolute majority in 2018, and the chance arises for a minority government to form, or we are forced to have new elections.

Getting back to your chances in 2018 – and the left wing’s identity crisis: earlier I spoke with two MSZP leaders who, independently of each other, both said that the left can win if they find a candidate for Prime Minister who is someone that nobody knows yet, but is otherwise well-known, even a person widely recognized in society; who is both young but already has a large network of connections, who can’t have his financial means taken away from him (which probably means a wealthy businessman), yet no questionable issue can be tied to him, and of course, if possible he shouldn’t even enter politics until 2017, so as not to give Fidesz much time to “mow him down” in a political sense. It would be quite funny if that were your only chance, don’t you think?

More and more people believe that Fidesz skews the opinion polls in its favor, possibly by as much as 4-5 percent. If this is our starting point, then the ruling party’s current share of around 40-45 percent shows that in fact support for Fidesz has dropped below 40 percent. This is more than likely. The combined support of the Socialists and DK is around 30 percent, while the tiny parties (Együtt and Párbeszéd Magyarországért) together have a few percentage points. That is, two years before the election the difference is within 10 points. I don’t consider this dramatic. In 2002 we made up an even greater differential than this by 2004 when I was chosen as prime minister. We had an even bigger disadvantage. In this regard, the race may be even more open. You are correct that our main problem is whether or not we can respond to three major challenges. The first is a lack of credibility – this may be the most difficult to solve. The second is unifying the fragmented democratic side – I consider this a smaller concern at present. And the third is coordinating the party programs, which are quite varied right now – with the appropriate amount of counsel; this is the most easily solvable.

If Fidesz stays in power in 2018, can the current Hungarian left wing hold out for another four years?

I think that we will have a delegation of at least 10-15 members in the new Parliamentary session, even if the left is defeated in the election. I can’t really see into MSZP’s situation, so it is hard to say what will happen with the Hungarian left wing as a whole if we remain in opposition after 2018. The question is whether any of the current political fragments will disappear if the picture clears up, and if some kind of rapprochement begins to form amongst the remaining parties. It’s difficult to say any more about this right now.

Is it worth seriously discussing any kind of electoral cooperation with the Párbeszéd Magyarországért Party, which has 1 percent support, or with Együtt, which has around 2 percent?

I remember very well what it was like when we only had 1-2 percent support, and how others treated us then. I didn’t consider it proper of them, and I would not like to behave now in a way that I didn’t approve of at that time. In 2002, the socialists won by a few ten thousand votes in total: by a couple of tenths of a percent, if you like. So I am more inclined to have as many as possible come on board.

One of the foundations of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s strategy for power is nominating as many absolutely loyal supporters as they can to head every public institution (Constitutional Court, Fiscal Council, Media Council, Chief Prosecutor, National Office for the Judiciary, etc.) with a long mandate. If a change of government occurs under these circumstances, how much room will the new cabinet have to maneuver?

Quite a few people in the background are examining these kinds of situations that could be traps, and we do the same in DK as well. There’s a trap which, legally – with a little innovation – can be avoided, and one that will persist. And there’s a trap that can be avoided through political means.

Such as? What kind of things, and how?

I wouldn’t want to say any more about it, of course, since I don’t want to spoil our chances.

According to my sources, Viktor Orbán, speaking even earlier about the possibility of a change in government one day, said in a backroom discussion that they would resist a new government’s efforts to reshape the system, and that the extent of this will depend on how vigorously this particular government attempts to tear down the established order. How far do you think Fidesz can go to maintain its System of National Cooperation?

I don’t think they have any scruples. The “Fidesz of Orbán,” I think, would go very, very far in this area. I can presume anything of a person who is able to let the phrase “any means can be used to make a legitimate government fail” come out of his mouth. The question is not whether Fidesz will have the will, but whether they will still be in a position and have enough public support, credibility, and power to mobilize so that they can realize their will or not.

December 5, 2016

András Kósa: “The speech of the chief: Őszöd ten years later”

András Kósa, a well-known Hungarian journalist, just published a book titled The Speech of the Chief: Őszöd after Ten Years. It is a collection of interviews with former and current politicians as well as with political commentators. Interest in Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech and its impact on subsequent political developments doesn’t seem to wane. A reader and friend of Hungarian Spectrum, Steven N., who is also a friend of Kósa, approached me asking whether we would be interested in Kósa’s interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. If yes, he would translate it for us. I gladly accepted his offer. Here is the first part of the interview.

But first, a few words about András Kósa. I remember him from the time he was writing in the still liberal Magyar Hírlap in the early 2000s. Later he worked for Hírszerző, which was eventually absorbed by HVG. For a short while he wrote for vs.hu. The website received some bad press recently when it became known that New Wave Media, the owner of vs.hu, had received 642,255,760 forints from foundations of the Hungarian National Bank. Six of the website’s journalists immediately resigned. András Kósa was one of them.

András Kósa

András Kósa

This June Kósa joined Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. As he said, “I know both editorial teams and I could say yes to both offers in good conscience.”

My thanks to “Steven N.” for his work in translating the interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I know we will have a brisk discussion on this very controversial subject.

 ♦ ♦ ♦

András Kósa: Ten years after these events occurred, are you still interested in how the speech was leaked in the end?

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Not really. Of course, I wouldn’t mind it if some day it became clear what happened.

How much did your tenure as prime minister and the leaking of the Őszöd speech affect Hungary over the past ten years?

Significantly, because of its consequences. First of all, it discredited a very important reform policy that I still feel is the right direction to go. We would be much further along today in many respects if we could carry out reforms in education, health care, and other areas. I can immodestly say that the Őszöd scandal gravely wounded a politician who certainly had within himself the possibility of attaining further success – me. It can’t be denied that it contributed to the difficult situation that the left finds itself in these days. Individually as well as collectively, these are substantial developments in the life of the country. Incidentally, I can’t even count on one hand the number of European leaders who have said to me, “I’ve said things even more colorful than that, Feri!” This is not to say that I do not bear any responsibility in this matter. With greater wisdom and experience, I would have handled the situation that emerged after the 2006 elections differently. But those who did what they did with the speech, all the way from those who leaked it to how my opponents deliberately misinterpreted it, bear a grave, criminal responsibility.

Do you know who leaked it?

Interestingly, Fidesz brought up this topic again during the 2014 campaign. I can only say now what I said then: I am 99% certain of who did it.

At what point would it have been best to step down?

In spring 2008, after the Fidesz “social” referendum, which symbolically signified a defeat for my reform policy? It would have made sense then. And although I even experimented with this, the former MSZP board wasn’t behind it.

Many have said that your party wasn’t expecting to win the 2006 elections and was preparing for a role in the opposition (this was certainly the belief of your coalition partner SZDSZ), which is why the party didn’t have a ready program, and why it was already in trouble by the summer. Is this true?

I think that’s ridiculous. I can state with confidence that I and those I was in direct contact with in the government and in the MSZP leadership strongly believed in the possibility of victory. The so-called “100 steps” program announced a year earlier set the main directions for our governance post-2006, and at our request Prof. Sárközy prepared a comprehensive proposal package for the reform of state administration. So we were ready to continue governing.

Following the leaking of the speech in September and the first street disturbances, there was a vote of confidence in Parliament on October 6, 2006 that reaffirmed your role as Prime Minister. Was this not at all an issue for MSZP at that time? Were you supported uniformly?

If there really was such an issue in the party, they did not give any indication of it. I didn’t hear any kind of information that anyone had doubts about me continuing to lead the government. It’s possible that this was in some people’s heads, but such concerns never reached me.

If you had resigned in 2006 or 2008 and Fidesz had won early elections, then several commentators – for example, Gábor Török also discussed this with me – think you would have been able to triumphantly return to power even in 2010.

Who can know for sure after the fact? I certainly wouldn’t be able to say.

Many people have subsequently said that there would have been much less controversy if Ferenc Gyurcsány had delivered this speech (though not of course with these same words) in Parliament, at a public event or in a televised speech.

Yes, many have said that. Maybe they’re right. But I gave similar types of speeches at that time – though of course they weren’t like this one – and no one really paid any attention to them. Let’s face it: there are two exciting parts to the Őszöd speech. You can say that “the speech was leaked because it was secret.” That’s not true, because of course it was never secret, but it is a fact that it was “leaked.” The other thing, that there are two or three crude remarks in it, together with the swearing, truly put a horribly powerful weapon in the hands of my opponents and made these phrases barely defensible in the public sphere. Yet the text that lies behind it is one of the best since the change of regime in 1989. And it had a different function than a public speech. The Őszöd speech was the way it was because I had to shake up a reluctant party that found it difficult to take action, so I chose passionate, exaggerated words for this situation. If I have to confront people in a public setting, then naturally I formulate my words differently, because that speech has yet another function. It’s not that the Őszöd speech can’t be said publicly because you can’t swear in public. The speech stands on its own even without the profanity. It’s because making a statement in Parliament is different from a speech attempting to shake up my party and which wasn’t intended for the public.

Many have said, and subsequently this is a fact, that already by the summer of 2006 the element of “this government has lied up and down to us!” had already appeared in Fidesz’ rhetoric. They built a campaign on this, which suggested that Viktor Orbán and his party knew about the speech well before its disclosure to the public.

We are almost certain of this, and we essentially know that Viktor Orbán, as the head of Fidesz, was informed very early about the speech, and that he knew exactly when and how it would be leaked. And we also know that Fidesz played a key role in preparing the ground for the disturbances that followed the leaking of the speech.

What do you mean by that?

As I said, literally.

Was Fidesz in contact with groups of football hooligans, or extreme right-wing elements that took to the streets and besieged the television headquarters, for example?

I can say this about it: I now know that there is a paper in the Hungarian public administration that describes this factually and is classified as a state secret. And I also know that there’s also a copy of this paper that Fidesz will not be able to get rid of, should they ever be concerned when the government changes and the new government declassifies these dossiers. From these reports, it became perfectly clear that leaders from the upper-upper-uppermost level of Fidesz were involved in this process.

Did you try in any way – informally – to confront them with this? Did you try to ask them, “Why are you doing this?”

We didn’t know this then. What we knew was that those who were involved came from the middle stratum of Fidesz’ leadership. But this was said in sessions of Parliament’s Defense Committee, and later also in sessions that were made public. Investigations by the state security services at that time revealed that mid-level Fidesz leaders had also organized the disturbances. So this brings us to the autumn of 2006. It was our clumsiness that even then we weren’t able to use this knowledge to our advantage. I learned about the involvement of Fidesz’ inner circle after 2010, long after I had left office. We weren’t even able to take advantage of the situation when, during Parliamentary hearings on the siege of the television headquarters in September 2006, it was precisely Fidesz politicians who demanded much tougher action from the police. For example, questioning why they didn’t use weapons. Compared to that, we are at the point now where I am considered the “one who shot out people’s eyes.”

The breaching of the cordon in February 2007 and the completely passive behavior of the police made it clear to all, even to laymen, how uncertain the entire state apparatus and even the legitimate bodies of violence were with respect to the government. What was your sense of this?

This is what we felt, of course. Absolutely. The police felt then that the left wing, which exactly 15 years earlier had passed through the eye of the needle and turned from a dictatorial state party into a democratic political force, was itself also very uncertain about whether or not it could use the powers of law enforcement, and if so, then for how long and to what extent it could use them. This uncertainty has been throughout our entire culture. The police themselves were also uncertain. They didn’t intend to sabotage the situation, but even they had not encountered such a situation for decades. Of course, it not only about them, as there were legal proceedings that resulted from breaching the cordon. The Hungarian court – in an unparalleled way – stated that according to the general principles of criminal law, the general condition of the realization of a crime (regardless of whether the Penal Code includes such facts or not) is that “the behavior must be dangerous to society.” And the court found that the fact that a police cordon was torn down was not dangerous to society, so it didn’t have to examine separately whether or not it qualified as disorderly conduct or something else.

Could there have been any political pressure on the court at the time?

I don’t have any direct proof of it, but I can’t rule it out.

In your own criminal case, what did you feel was the attitude of those who represented the administration of justice?

They wanted to charge me with many things, but altogether they only dared to accuse me of one. In this one case I was informed that Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt was constantly informed of the state of the proceedings, while he informed Viktor Orbán, and the Prime Minister constantly had an opinion about what should be done. I was also informed that there was considerable pressure on the prosecuting attorneys, and that enormous pressure had been placed on suspects in other cases to get them to cut an informal immunity deal and testify against me to have their charges dropped or reduced. It was about whom also spoke publicly. I was likewise informed that at the end of my case (the so-called Sukoró case), the prosecutor wished to terminate the proceedings due to the absence of criminal activity, and at the instructions of his superiors had to rewrite this to the absence of proof. But the absence of proof for the suspicion in question was practically conceptual nonsense.  They accused me of abuse of official authority. But if this was the accusation, then they had to be able to show factually where I abused my authority. It either happened, or it didn’t – to end this because of the absence of proof? It’s absurd.

To this day, people in Hungary still recall your debate with Viktor Orbán for the candidacy of prime minister in the spring of 2006, which was viewed as a clear victory for you over the Fidesz chairman according to most commentators. Afterwards, you also had meetings with Orbán as prime minister. How did you view him subsequent to that?

There were some who told me that Orbán was very frustrated that he didn’t get into power right away after the Őszöd scandal, but had to wait out the four-year cycle. If he had become prime minister sooner, perhaps he would not have acted so ruthlessly against the left wing.

Do you think we would be seeing a different Orbán now had he come to power sooner?

I’m not good at offering political-psychological analyses, and I don’t even know Viktor Orbán all that well personally. But even after the Fidesz defeat in 2002 that surprised everyone, there were statements about how they needed to learn from this failure, and that they had to be even harder on the opposition next time. So I’m not certain that it was the defeat in 2006 that fundamentally made him this way.

How can you explain that even after eight years in the opposition, Fidesz was able to continuously build up its own media and create a base of support, while the left, after eight years of governing, now finds itself bled dry, and in a very difficult situation? What do you think the reason for this is?

There are several reasons for this. In part, the success that Viktor Orbán has had in building a very strong political base can’t be denied. Its internal cohesion and capacity to withstand stresses are even now significantly stronger than those of its rivals. In 2003, I made a kind of analytical statement to the effect that Orbán was constructing a shadow government, and so would be able to hold on to positions of power even in opposition, which was unusual not only for a Western-style democracy, but also for Hungary. This also demonstrates the capabilities of this camp and of course their lack of inhibition as well. Thirdly, using not a small amount of “grey” money, Lajos Simicska, the party’s former treasurer, built a strong economic power base, one that endured for eight years while they were in the opposition. For us in the opposition, poverty mostly characterized us. So while these three factors have undoubtedly been a success from the point of view of Orbán and Fidesz, in terms of the fate and future of the country, many negative lessons have rather been associated with them.

Fidesz’ economic model, based on Lajos Simicska, was really very effective for a long time, and incidentally, operated in a completely open way. Didn’t it ever occur to the MSZP to adopt this model?

Many certainly thought about it. For me, there are some things in politics that will never be venial sins, such as corruption. Along with others, it also appears likely to me that parties who were large during the regime change had a background full of murky financial affairs. This had the consequence that I sponsored a new bill on party financing in 2006 – and Fidesz thwarted it. A two-thirds majority was needed to pass it, and they didn’t support the bill in Parliament.

Yet it seemed that Hungarian politics would have a moment of grace, and that the parties would be able to agree with each other on a very important issue.

Fidesz initialed the draft law. Following the discussions, I was informed by the Parliamentary delegations that it would soon pass through Parliament. But then it didn’t happen. I then asked someone I knew who was in touch with Fidesz’ party treasurer to go to him and find out the reason for this incredible about-face. A few days later, I was told: Party Chairman Viktor Orbán does not want others to look into Fidesz’ finances. For him, things are fine the way they are now. If it didn’t really happen the way I said it, then I was also misled. But what I’ve quoted to you now was pretty much word-for-word what I was told at that time.

2006 also brought a strengthening of the Hungarian far right and Jobbik. There have been all sorts of theories, even conspiracy theories, about which political side is responsible for this, and may have provided support for it. To what extent was the political crisis that arose in the wake of the Őszöd speech the breeding ground for this development, as you see it?

There are many reasons for this, but I do not want to hunt for responsibility in anyone else. We, and I myself, did not have a quite accurate feel at the time for the kinds of consequences, in part socially and in part psychologically, that would accompany the austerity policy that we continued from autumn 2006 for another year and a half or two years, or for its capability of radicalizing certain groups of the electorate. In this sense, we did have something to do with voters migrating to the Jobbik camp from both the left and right wings alike. All other statements about us deliberately and consciously looking for ways to build up such a camp belong to the world of conspiracy theories.

There are two general opinions about the current difficult situation of the left wing: the first is that fundamentally there’s a kind of personality crisis (there haven’t been any personable leaders since Ferenc Gyurcsány’s term as Prime Minister), while the other says that the left wing has (also) become vacant ideologically, that the well-known “third way” of Anthony Giddens/Tony Blair, which you also previously wanted to introduce here, has proven to be a dead end, not only for left-wing parties in Hungary, but for European ones as well. What do you think the cause of this crisis is?

There’s some truth in both of them. The Hungarian left lacks people with personalities. The great age group, which played a key role (and a progressive role) during the time of the regime change and had Gyula Horn as its leader, has reached its end of life, and the next generation has basically found Fidesz as its own party. Support for the left is very low among those now in their 30s and 40s, while those in their 20s are more prone to being radicalized, and it’s there that the far right is stocking up. The other phenomenon is more complex, and global in nature. We see its manifestations in the U.S. presidential elections with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; we see the success of the Freedom Party in the Austrian presidential elections, the advance of the National Front in France, or even UKIP in Great Britain. The two major German parties, CDU-CSU, as well as the SPD, garner a total of 50 percent support. Those in this new generation have arrived at the beginning of their adult lives unable to enjoy things now that previously seemed almost natural (a relatively good job at some point, with relatively good pay, an apartment that is relatively easy to acquire). Therefore, they first became disillusioned with the left wing (since previously it was the “obligation” of the left wing to create the conditions for these things), and have now become disillusioned with the centrist parties as well. This is the real reason behind this radicalization. I don’t think that there are any big tricks to reversing this bad trend: if we do not democratize the political system, then radicalization and anti-elitism will continue even further, and will eventually reach all moderate parties.

November 7, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s (temporary) retreat in his battle with Ferenc Gyurcsány?

Some of my readers and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the government’s decision to release two secret service documents that deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s controversial speech of 2006. They are convinced that this move is a fantastic coup against the opposition and that if the united opposition had any sense whatsoever it would drop the subject as soon as possible. Anything, they claim, that has to do with the speech is political poison.

I see it differently. Even if the two documents had substantiated the government’s claim that Gyurcsány was complicit in the leak, the political gain for Fidesz would have been minimal. But the documents didn’t support their claim. Moreover, since Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány knew not only about the two released documents but about others that contradict Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’s assumptions, questions were bound to arise about a half forgotten story. And in that story Fidesz was very much involved.

The release of the documents raised the possibility that someone would slip up. And indeed Lajos Kósa did. Only half a year ago he denied that he knew anything about the tape prior to its publication. So did Tibor Navracsics and Viktor Orbán. And now here in black and white was a detailed description by Flores of how the tape ended up in his hands and went from him via an intermediary to Lajos Kósa. Confronted with the document and pressured by Antónia Mészáros, Kósa cracked. He admitted that they have been lying about their knowledge of the tape and their own role in making it public. Fidesz politicians who in the last eight years have talked incessantly about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s lies are found to be liars themselves. It was time for damage control.

I can only imagine what Lajos Kósa got from Viktor Orbán after that interview. He must have been ordered to correct his “mistake,” which he did this morning on Magyar Rádió. While yesterday he admitted that he got hold of the tape from a fellow from Miskolc which he then distributed to the press, by today his story had been substantially edited. He denied any knowledge of the tape’s content before it was read on Magyar Rádió.

Sándor Pintér was also asked to do his best to squelch the growing scandal. After all, only Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap were talking about the sins of Ferenc Gyurcsány;  other publications started probing into the revelations of Fidesz’s involvement. And that probing went beyond the leak itself. People kept asking about Fidesz’s role in the preparation and organization of the disturbances themselves.

Pintér’s line of reasoning at a late afternoon press conference was interesting. While two days ago the big news was the source of the leak, i.e. whether Gyurcsány initiated the leak of his own speech or not, today Pintér claimed that “the circumstances of the leak are unimportant” because the unauthorized removal of the tape is not a crime. The important part of the story is the content of the speech, he emphasized. But then why did they release these documents that centered on the circumstances of the leak, circumstances that two days later were deemed unimportant? There is no good answer here.

In addition to Pintér’s feeble explanation Magyar Nemzet came up with one of its ownThe argument goes something like this: Why the big fuss about the leak? Who really cares who was responsible? After all, we just heard from the former editor-in-chief of Népszabadság that J. Zoltán Gál, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, approached him to ask whether he would be interested in an edited version of a terrific speech his “boss” delivered. So, the argument goes, let’s not spend any more time on this trivial matter, especially when MSZP wanted to have it made public anyway. Another misguided argument. With this claim they only support Gyurcsány’s contention that his audience was enthralled and that he didn’t think there was anything in the speech one had to be ashamed of.

The most worrisome announcement that Sándor Pintér made at this press conference was that there is no other “final report” on Balatonőszöd. We are talking here about the report that both Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány saw and that both claim contains some damaging material on Fidesz’s involvement in the affair that ended in violence on the streets of Budapest. That indicates that as things stand now the Orbán government is planning to eliminate in one way or another an important piece of evidence.  I’m sure that Bajnai cannot lay his hands on the document, but Gyurcsány may have a copy of it which, as he said, “landed on his desk.”

source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Moreover, the Népszabadság article to which Magyar Nemzet referred also states that two days before the release of the tape Ferenc Gyurcsány sent an article to the paper entitled “Haladás vs. maradás” (Progress versus Backwardness) in which he pretty well told the reading public what he said in his Balatonőszöd speech. The editors asked him whether in light of the new developments he wanted to change anything in his text. His answer was “no.” Obviously even after the speech was released he saw no reason to change anything in the text.

As I said earlier, any party would have taken advantage of the opportunity the leaked tape offered Fidesz sometime in July-August of 2006. I don’t blame them. What on the other hand, a responsible democratic party cannot do is to systematically prepare a coup d’état. Unfortunately, it looks as if this is exactly what Viktor Orbán was doing. There are just too many signs pointing in this direction.

Finally, here is a new piece of information from Péter Zentai, today a journalist with HVG but at the time Magyar Rádió’s Berlin correspondent. Right after the Budapest siege one of the German television stations organized a round-table discussion on the Hungarian events. Zentai participated in this discussion, as did a British TV journalist. The British journalist insisted that the outbreak of violence couldn’t have been spontaneous because his television station and Sky TV had been approached by a Hungarian news station a week before the fateful weekend. They were invited to come to Budapest because “interesting things will happen.” Zentai was stunned and tried to air this story on Magyar Rádió. Even then, however, MR was partial to Fidesz, and one of the middle managers refused to report Zentai’s information from the British television journalist.

Bits and pieces of new information emerge day after day. Viktor Orbán seems far too eager to eliminate his arch-rival and thus keeps making mistakes.

It was a mistake to release documents relating to Gyurcsány’s speech of May 26, 2006

I predict that Viktor Orbán will regret, if he has not already done so, his decision to dredge up those two documents that Sándor Pintér released two days ago. They were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány was himself responsible for his infamous speech of 2006 becoming public. Not that, even if it were true, which it is not, it would make any difference. It is not really news. News would be if we learned who the people were who were responsible for the theft of the tape from either MSZP headquarters or the prime minister’s office.  The release of the documents was supposed to serve only one purpose: to remind the public during the election campaign of Gyurcsány’s unforgivable sins against the nation. It seems to me that instead of achieving the desired outcome Viktor Orbán is now facing uncomfortable questions about his and his party’s role in this whole sordid affair.

We learned nothing new from the documents about the circumstances of the leak, but we found out something that Viktor Orbán has steadfastly denied ever since September 2006. For the first time a Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, admitted yesterday that they knew of the tape’s existence earlier. Not that we didn’t suspect as much. Most commentators who analyzed the events prior to the siege of the Hungarian Television building came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán already knew about the contents of the tape in July 2006 and that by the beginning of August the Fidesz team managed to lay their hands on the actual tape. This timeline was also assumed by József Debreczeni, who relied heavily on a blogger’s detailed description of the events, available online, for his book A 2006-os ősz. Orbán decided to withhold the release of the tape until the time was ripe. And that day was September 17, just as Viktor Orbán was en route to Brussels.

Now, for the first time, Lajos Kósa under the pretty aggressive questioning of Antónia Mészáros of ATV admitted that they made several copies of the speech and delivered them to the more important media outlets, including Magyar Rádió, where two or three sentences were lifted from a long speech. So, instead of learning anything new about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s complicity, we are now faced with a Fidesz admission of something we until now only surmised. That was Fidesz’s first own goal, and more may follow because questions are pouring in.

How is it possible, for example, that Viktor Orbán weeks before the siege predicted what would happen on September 19? Tamás Lajos Szalay of Népszabadság calls attention to a three-part article of Orbán published in Magyar Nemzet entitled “Watershed.” The first part was published on July 29, the second on August 5, and the third on September 9. Why the long gap between the second and third articles? If it is true that the tape arrived sometime in early August, it is likely that Orbán had to rewrite his article to reflect his new found knowledge. In any case, Orbán in his piece exhibits prophetic faculties when he sees only two possibilities. He envisions unrest unless “we find a peaceful way out of the crisis.” The peaceful way was the Gyurcsány government’s resignation.

Most likely not too many people remember the tape sent to several radio stations in the name of “The Warriors of Democracy” which sent a chilling message to the government. On September 14 a distorted male voice called on the government to resign. If they don’t do so by September 20, Budapest will be in flames. Most commentators dismissed the threat as the work of a crackpot, but in light of what happened on September 19 I wouldn’t dismiss it. The police at the time said something about a crime that can be viewed as a terrorist threat, but by January 2007 they were no longer investigating the case. We will never know who the warriors of democracy were or whether they had any connection to Fidesz. But the long-forgotten warriors of democracy cropped up again in today’s Népszabadság.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy expressed the opinion of the Demokratikus Koalíció on the matter. They demand the release of all documents. He pointed out that with Kósa’s admission we now know that Viktor Orbán has been lying about his own involvement in this affair. “It has become clear that Hungary has a liar as prime minister.” Admittedly, not exactly a new discovery. Another observer, István Gusztos, remarked in Gépnarancs that while the released documents tell us nothing about Ferenc Gyurcsány, they do tell us a lot about Fidesz, which “had a determinant role in the outbreak of disturbances.”

The next step will be a serious second look at the football hooligans’ role on September 19, 2006 during the siege of the television building. In Hungary the worst football hooligans are the fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). The Fradi fans were in a foul mood at the time because their favorite team had lost its place in Division I. Orbán, who is an Újpest and Videoton fan, paid a surprise visit to the Ferencváros-Jászapáti match, their first one in Division II. He settled in the middle of the Fradi fans and even gave an interview to reporters present. He expressed his disgust at what had happened to Fradi, which was in his opinion “a scandal” (disznóság). Commentators were a bit surprised at Orbán’s sudden appearance at a Fradi game. The precise connection between this visit and the Fradi fans’ active participation in the siege of Hungarian TV is not known, but in all probability the two occurrences were not unconnected–especially in light of a later development when as a result of a new investigation of the case during the Orbán government, the sentences already passed on a handful of hooligans by the courts were annulled. The suspicion lingers that those half-crazed, drunk men had been assured ahead of time that their actions would have no consequences once Viktor Orbán was the prime minister of Hungary.

MTV ostrom

All in all, I believe that it would have been better for Viktor Orbán, however fervently he wants to “get” Ferenc Gyurcsány, to let sleeping dogs lie. There is just too much muck around Fidesz headquarters which seems to surface every time the subject of Balatonőszöd comes up.

Sloppy Hungarian journalism misleads the public

It was at the beginning of January that Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, first mentioned rather casually in a television interview that he might release some of the secret service documents related to the leak of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary delegation after their electoral victory in 2006.

Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with what happened. The newly reelected prime minister rather irresponsibly made a speech in front of almost 300 people that was sprinkled with obscenities and that contained passages which, if taken out of context, could be very damaging. Of course, the speech was leaked. Fidesz, then in opposition, picked out the most damaging couple of sentences from the fairly long speech (almost 18,000 words) and passed them on to the president of Magyar Rádió. The rest is history. Football hooligans attacked Magyar Televízió and another round of riots, fueled by Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians, occurred a month later on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Ferenc Gyurcsány became damaged goods.

Ever since that time wild speculations have been circulating about who leaked the speech. The most authoritative person in this case, Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, said several times in the last couple of years that there is strong indirect evidence that points to three prominent MSZP members. However, he refuses to divulge the names because he is–as he stated tonight on ATV–only 97% sure that the three people whom he has in mind are actually the ones who turned against their party’s chairman and their prime minister.

And now comes the latest incarnation of this rather tired story. Naturally, it is being resurrected with the national election in mind. Viktor Orbán will never forget what happened to him in 2002 when most opinion polls showed Fidesz about 10% ahead of the opposition parties–and yet he lost. This time Fidesz  is pulling out all the stops, which includes calling attention again to the Gyurcsány speech from 2006. But this time with a twist. The couple of documents Pintér released are only part of the pertinent material. He has not released the most important final report that, according to Gyurcsány and Bajnai, concluded that the Hungarian secret service agents who investigated the case didn’t have a clue who leaked the tape of the speech and in exactly what way it ended up in Fidesz hands.

The two documents are available on the website of the renamed secret service agency that originally investigated the case. One is pretty straightforward and contains nothing new. The second one is a summary report (összefoglaló jelentés) not of the investigation of the leak but of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who three years later, in 2009, died in Bolivia where he wanted to foment a revolution against the Bolivian government. The report concludes that Rózsa-Flores was a right-wing extremist who was an opponent of the MSZP-SZDSZ government. Although the report is for the most part simply a collection of generalities about Flores’s politics, it touches on the question of the leaked speech. During a conversation with an undercover agent Flores gave details of how he ended up receiving the tape of the prime minister’s speech which he then passed on to Fidesz politicians. It was Flores’s theory that the leak was organized with the knowledge and blessing of Ferenc Gyurcsány who by creating a scandal wanted to divert attention away from the country’s grave economic situation. In brief, what the agents learned from Flores was no more than speculation. A wacky hypothesis offered by someone who couldn’t possibly know the details of the leak.

So, let’s see how the Hungarian media handled the news, starting with Népszabadság. It is normally one of the more reliable newspapers in Hungary, but this time I was amazed at the sloppiness of Gy. Attila Fekete. The headline reads: “Őszöd: Here is the secret service report.” That is really misleading because the “meat” of the story, Gyurcsány’s alleged role in leaking his own speech, is not in the interim report on Őszöd but in the final report on Rózsa-Flores whose surveillance came to an end when he was brutally killed in a hotel room in Bolivia. A brief editorial in the paper is to my mind outrageous. If this is all true, says the editorial, “we just shudder. We can barely comprehend it.” On the other hand, “if the story is not true then we have every reason to feel totally lost in our own country.” At this point I’m the one who is totally lost. What does this mumble jumble mean? Finally, the editors call on Gyurcsány to divulge who leaked the speech. “He indicated several times that he knows what happened. He must tell.”

journalism

Moreover, the great journalists at Népszabadság seem to think that the investigation of Őszöd ended on July 27 2009 and that all the information contained in the final report on Flores has been kept secret for four and a half years. This “final report” was written because Rózsa Flores was killed in Bolivia and therefore his surveillance ended. Őszöd was an entirely different matter; we still haven’t seen the secret service’s final report on the leak which was written in December 2009. Viktor Orbán for very good reason didn’t want to release that document: it contains nothing about either the culprits responsible for the leak or about Gyurcsány’s alleged complicity.

It’s no wonder that Klára Dobrev, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s wife, had some harsh words for Népszabadság. The editors didn’t check the facts; they didn’t question; they presented lies as facts. Népszabadság, according to Klára Dobrev, even managed to outdo Magyar Nemzet. “My friends, I believe that we have one fewer independent newspaper.” She thinks that the shift is due to the paper’s change in ownership. Heinrich Pecina, an Austrian businessman, acquired a majority stake in the paper. In an interview with Márton Galambos and Irén Hermann of Forbes he expressed his admiration for Viktor Orbán’s leadership, without which, in his opinion, Hungary would have ended up like Greece.

All the other online sites pretty much repeated as fact Rózsa-Flores’s theory. As Zsófia Mihancsik pointed out, it was only Origo that gave an accurate description of the two documents released by Sándor Pintér. Origo called Flores’s claim “a bombastic theory.” But since most online sites copy from each other, one can be sure that all the wrong conclusions will be reached regardless of what anyone says. For example, Gordon Bajnai who saw all the reports, including the unpublished final one, announced on his own website that the two released documents try to lead the public to wrong conclusions. Moreover, he claims, the present government deleted information even from these less relevant documents that would reflect badly on Fidesz politicians. He considers this latest Fidesz trick a manipulation of the election which he “finds illegal and unacceptable.” Since then, Gyurcsány gave his side of the story. One thing is sure: only facts can prove someone innocent or guilty and in these documents there is nothing that would prove that Rózsa-Flores’s theory has any merit whatsoever.

Ferenc Gyurcsány the campaigner in his element

Ipsos was the first company to release its monthly poll on the electorate’s preferences for parties and politicians. As far as the two large parties, Fidesz and MSZP, are concerned, the changes are minimal and most likely insignificant, Fidesz’s 27% is one percentage point higher than it was a month ago; MSZP lost one percentage point and now stands at 14% in the electorate as a whole. In the case of the three smaller parties, the changes may be more significant. Jobbik lost 2% of its followers, which means that only 6% of the electorate would vote for this far-right party. Együtt 2014-PM lost a point and by now is the second smallest party in Hungary, with 3%. DK is still the smallest political formation with 2%, but this number is nonetheless something of a breakout for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party which this year never had more than a 1% share of the electorate. In a month–at least according to Ipsos–the Demokratikus Koalíció doubled its support. Mind you, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the party’s chairman, declared only yesterday that support for the party is much greater than the polls indicate although he would hate to guess how much greater. It could be 4% or even 12%.

One reason for the upsurge might be the incredible energy of Ferenc Gyurcsány who, realizing that elections are closer than most people think, moved into high gear. Here are a few numbers. In August Gyurcsány’s name appeared in the news 72 times, fewer than Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, or Attila Mesterházy, but it was Gyurcsány who had the most air time. He spoke on TV and radio for 2,218 minutes as opposed to Mesterházy’s 1,367, Viktor Orbán’s 683, and Gordon Bajnai’s 353 minutes.

Another reason might be that his message is the simplest and the most uncompromising as far as his attitude toward the Orbán government is concerned. Many voters who want change find Együtt 2014-PM’s messages confusing and the latest declarations of Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári, and Péter Kónya worrisome. Bajnai’s mysterious reference to an offer that Fidesz will not be able to refuse led some people to think that Bajnai may be thinking in terms of a grand coalition, an idea that sent shivers down the spines  of members of the anti-Fidesz forces. I also suspect that Gyurcsány’s shabby treatment at the hands of MSZP politicians will only help’s DK’s fortunes. Next month’s polls will reveal whether or not my hunch is correct. I might also add to the list of reasons for increased DK support Gyurcsány’s superior oratorical skills.

I assume that the above figures regarding Gyurcsány’s media exposure did not include the speech he gave on Saturday when he, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju attracted about 5,000 people. Or his recent long interview with HVG. Or another interview that MTV’s Híradó published only a few hours ago.

Here I would like to say a few words about the HVG interview. It is about twice as long as my average-length post. Although it is upbeat, it also includes a level of self-criticism that one couldn’t hear from Gyurcsány before. He came to the realization, he said, that in 2004 he “became prime minister without the necessary experience or wisdom.” Today he knows that to be beaten once or twice, or to be in opposition, are perhaps prerequisites for success as prime minister.

Gyurcsany HVG

He then returned to the subject of Őszöd because he wants to “rehabilitate” that speech, portraying it as the first attempt on the left to depart from the kinds of economic policies for political gain that led to the economic decline of the country. A lot of people said at the time, including President László Sólyom, that Gyurcsány should have resigned right then and there. Gyurcsány disagrees. In that fateful speech he told his audience that if the reforms he was planning to introduce fail, he will resign. He should have resigned, however, he admits, in 2008 after the reforms were roundly rejected by the disastrous referendum on the 300 forint co-pay and the introduction of a small tuition fee. He “missed the tempo.” Instead of resigning, he attempted to scale back the reforms, which he now calls “reforms light.”

As for DK’s chances, Gyurcsány thinks that the party will be able to get 7-8% of the votes, plenty to become a parliamentary party. If DK doesn’t manage to qualify for parliamentary representation, then the party is finished and with it Ferenc Gyurcsány as a politician.

If the democratic side loses the election and DK is in opposition, he will be the head of the DK delegation “to show how one ought to speak and act in opposing Viktor Orbán.” If the current democratic opposition wins, he will not occupy the post because he doesn’t want “the new prime minister to feel his presence in his back.” He is optimistic. “According to public opinion polls, 53% of the electorate want to see Viktor Orbán’s government go and only 31% stick by it. One can go back as far as 1990: no government could remain in office with such a level of rejection.”

And finally, the conversation turned to his person as an obstacle for the unity of the left. MSZP maintains that Gyurcsány will take more votes away from the opposition than he will bring to the opposition. (Vera Lánczos in today’s Galamus argues that the poll the Republikon Institute took in the spring doesn’t support that claim.) Gyurcsány in this interview gives new polling figures that I was not familiar with. He claims that 60-70% of left-liberal voters like Bajnai, Mesterházy, and him equally well, although he admits that he is less popular among the undecided.

The Demokratikus Koalíció has embarked on a membership drive and is also in the middle of amassing a database. The party called 550,000 households, using Gyurcsány’s voice, asking for support. Apparently in 14% of the cases people showed a willingness to allow DK to collect their personal data.

Gyurcsány might yet surprise us all, especially if the extreme right-wingers spit in his face a few more times as happened yesterday inside and outside of the courthouse where he went to show his solidarity with the two police chiefs who are facing charges in connection with their alleged negligence in the September-October 2006 disturbances. By the way, the court procedure, for which 100 days were set aside, was scheduled to begin on September 18, the exact day when the one or two sentences from the long Őszöd speech were read on the Hungarian public radio and prompted, with lots of help from Fidesz, the siege of the Hungarian Public Television station. The choice of the date cannot be an accident. The Orbán government has a sense of the dramatic.

The siege of the Hungarian Television Station, September 18, 2006

For those of you who are either not familiar with the fateful events of the fall of 2006 in Hungary or don’t remember all the details I should state again that there were two distinct phases of the riots. The first took place on September 17-18 and the second at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution, an occasion attended by scores of foreign dignitaries.

Every time the topic of these riots comes up Fidesz supporters like to make a sharp distinction between the “peaceful demonstrators” of October 23 and the next few days and the criminal elements who laid siege to the Hungarian Television Station on September 18. However, immediately after that bloody night on Szabadság (Liberty) Square Fidesz politicians insisted that the siege was a spontaneous outburst of justified indignation. At the same time they accused the government of purposely sending the ill-equipped policemen into harm’s way, thereby compromising the opposition that supported them. One thing is sure: the violence that characterized the siege and the characters who took part in it didn’t rock the government. According to a Medián poll taken before the siege, 52% of those asked thought that Gyurcsány should resign. After the siege, only 45%.

First let’s examine how “spontaneous” the gathering was on Kossuth Square on the evening of September 17, right after the release of the incriminating lines from Gyurcsány’s speech. Initially the police noted only 20-30 people, but minute by minute more people came from all directions. To the police it looked as if recruiting were taking place, most likely through cell phones. Eventually there were at least 1,000 people, if not more. Soon enough they even had loudspeakers and managed to put together a podium. Speaker after speaker kept repeating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech. It began to rain and somebody distributed yellow raincoats used at Fidesz gatherings. The demonstration was peaceful at the beginning, but eventually some of the people broke the cordon the police had erected.

This “spontaneous” demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered with the police. The police leadership, especially Péter Gergényi, the police chief of Budapest, misjudged the situation by declaring it part of the campaign season for the municipal elections. During such times spontaneous gatherings indeed are permitted. Gergényi talked to József Petrétei, the minister of justice, and his deputy Ferenc Kondorosi and informed them that there was nothing to do. “Let them let off some steam.” He predicted that the demonstration planned for the following day would also be peaceful. Petrétei happily agreed. According to Debreczeni, the real culprit of this story was the incompetent Petrétei, in civilian life a professor of law at the University of Pécs who, according to his job description, is supposed to “direct” the police. Instead, he was watching the events on television at home.

Some of the crowd didn’t leave the square even during the night. Soon enough someone was serving them food and Gyula Budai, today undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the first two years of the Orbán government the commissioner in charge of “political crimes” of MSZP politicians, provided them with portable toilets. He also brought along a tractor with which he led some of the people to Jászai Mari Square in order to lay siege to the building that serves as an office building for members of parliament.

Meanwhile extremist groups came with their flags and slogans: the Honfoglalás 2000, Hatvannégy Vármegye, Magyar Nemzeti Front, and Jobbik. Football hooligans who used to fight among themselves now united in order to attack the television station the next day. Busloads of football fans arrived from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, the UTE (Újpest) fans came straight from a game in Sopron. They arrived with a police escort! Maria Wittner, the heroine of 1956 and an extremist politician, made a speech and announced that there was a new “revolutionary situation.”  By evening the word came that “Fidesz assures the demonstrators its solidarity.” Naturally, a huge ovation followed the announcement.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the siege of the building the following evening. Instead I suggest you view a video by Ádám Csillag entitled “Under  Siege” (Ostrom alatt).

The police leadership turned out to be singularly untalented and the policemen’s equipment was woefully inadequate. Hundreds of policemen were seriously injured. In 2002 the question of providing the police with proper riot gear came up after a demonstration that blocked Elizabeth Bridge, but the undersecretary in charge of police matters in the Ministry of Interior vetoed it. It was too expensive and unnecessary. Instead they bought 40 Ford Mondeos for patrolling the streets.

Not only the equipment was problematic. The Hungarian police force, especially those who can handle riots, was very small and ill-trained. On that day no more than about 850 policemen were available in the whole country who could be called to the scene. Altogether there were only 2,400 policemen on the streets nationwide, including ordinary traffic cops. In the Netherlands there are 16,000 available at any given moment.

Eventually, they came up with a twenty-five-year-old water cannon whose power was negligible. And when it was a question of getting equipment to fire tear gas, the staff couldn’t accommodate because the equipment was locked up in a room where arms were kept.

Some of those who showed  their "justified indignation" against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

Some of those who showed their “justified indignation” against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

It was an incident with this water cannon that make people very suspicious that someone was actually giving orders to the crowd. There were a number of policeman inside the water cannon which the rioters set on fire. Everybody was expecting that either these people will burn alive inside or, if they come out, they will be lynched. But no, when they came out the crowd retreated. Obviously, the organizers were careful not to go too far.

Another episode also indicates some kind of central planning. At one point a number of policemen were cornered; they were practically lying on the ground trying to defend themselves from the stones hurled at them. However, the organizers allowed another unit to rescue them.

In addition to Maria Wittner, Gábor Kubatov, currently the president of Ferencváros and right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, most likely also had a large role to play behind the scenes in the events of September 17 and 18. At least this is what József Debreczeni heard from some people in the Office of National Security.

I should also mention László Sólyom’s rather unfortunate role on September 18. He decided to talk about the “moral crisis” that had developed as a result of the Balatonőszöd speech and practically called for Gyurcsány’s resignation. That added oil to the fire. The attackers felt perfectly justified. After all, even the president thinks that they are on the right side. If Gyurcsány doesn’t resign, they will force him to do so. Standing behind this crowd, be it Viktor Orbán or László Sólyom, showed either very poor judgment or cunning. With Sólyom I suspect it was a lack of knowledge of what was going on exactly and who the actors were. With Orbán, I think one must be less forgiving. He was ready to exploit criminal elements if they served his purpose.