Budapest, 25 September 2006
Having spent most of the last week in London, I have the impression that even that part of the British public which is interested in and favourably disposed towards Hungary, fails to grasp how most Hungarians feel in this present political crisis.
In the last years of the Kádár regime, Communist leaders amassed a huge foreign debt because (as a lesson of the 1956 revolution) they had the prime objective to keep the population satisfied; they financed consumption – the prolongation of their own political rule – from foreign loans. Since 1989, Hungarian society have come to face long unknown income differences, unemployment and sharp social tension, state property was mostly taken over by foreign capital – still, most of the people thought that the balance of the changes was positive, having won freedom: the occupying Soviet troops have left and democratic political institutions were established.
Now, however, we have to face a situation not unlike in 1989: the Socialists won elections by extravagant promises in 2002 and by now they have managed to put Hungary in number one place in the world with its over 10 per cent of budget deficit compared to the GDP (and Hungary has slid from the first place in the region to the last, pushing the introduction of the euro farther into the future than any time since the country’s joining the EU). Before this spring’s elections, the government boosted its popularity with further spendings, also concealing the budget figures from the public. So, again, the government has plunged the country deep into dept to insure its own political survival. However, there is now hardly any state property left to counterbalance the foreign debt.
The fact, that the previous Gyurcsány government did not simply commit serious faults, but consciously “lied day and night and evening” for a year and half and they and the preceding – also Socialist – Medgyessy government “did not do anything” only making a “mess” in Hungary, was brutally (and obscenely) brought to the light when Gyurcsány’s secret speach held to Socialist MPs in May leaked out on 17 September. Ever since, there has been a continous demonstration demanding his resignation in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, in Kossuth Square. Since establishing democratic political institutions represented the gain of the changes in the last 16-17 years which counterbalanced all the losses, it is no wonder that wide strata of the society feel cheated when the find out that their essence has been stolen. It does not help much, either, that most of the present day Socialists happen to be former Communists, only some of them made a fortune since 1989, as Mr. Gyurcsány himself.
The Prime Minister does not try to excuse himself, he rather seems to be positively proud of his statement, trying to put the stress on the present and not the past: now he is telling the truth and he is determined to introduce severe austerity measures. For that 15.000-50.000 people, nevertheless, who gather each evening in Kossuth Square, he has crossed a “moral threshold” (to use Paul Hollander’s term, who argues that not only opression and depravation led to the 1956 Hungarian revolution). They are peacefully but resolutely staging a big farewell party for Mr. Gyurcsány insisting that his behaviour is clearly not acceptable. The British public might want to know about this as well and not only about the spectacular storming of the headquarters of the Hungarian Television last Monday night by 100-150 hotheaded youngsters. Hopefully, the parliamentary majority will also soon realize that Mr Gyurcsány’s person has become a liability both in Hungary and abroad and that he has to go.
István M. Szijártó
historian, Loránd Eötvös University