I have the feeling that it is safer to talk about the present than the past. It is becoming quite obvious that one cannot have a rational discussion about events a hundred years ago. And when it comes to earlier times, the situation is even worse. Yesterday as I was trying to learn a little more about the history of the Voivodina I encountered an article on the Internet which began with the statement that the Serbs inhabited the area already in the seventh century. When I read something like that I immediately become suspicious that the piece is most likely a nationalistic harangue. On the other hand, a couple of sentences I read about the first mayors of Buda in the middle of the eighteenth century were revealing. German last names but Hungarian first names. One was called Farkas Posner. Surely he was originally Wolfgang but a certain Hungarianization was already creeping in. Buda was changing from a German to a Hungarian town. At the time of Farkas Posner it was about half way through the process.
I found another interesting tidbit years ago, also on the Internet–facsimiles of lists of taxpayers in certain Transdanubian towns right after the Turks were expelled at the end of the seventeenth century. In Pécs, although German settlers were already trickling in, the large taxpayers were neither Hungarians nor Germans but Bosnian Muslims!
Now, really, back to the present. President László Sólyom a few days ago announced that the first round of the elections will be held on Sunday, April 11. Nobody was terribly surprised. Sólyom likes short campaigns and, given the calendar restrictions, this was the first available Sunday to hold the elections. I don't think that I have to emphasize that campaigning, especially on the Fidesz side, has been going on at full tilt ever since they lost the elections in 2002. The second loss in 2004 put a few months' lull to Fidesz's campaign urges, but the leak of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech to the MSZP parliamentary delegation gave it new impetus. Since 2006 the campaign included insistent demands for the government's resignation.
Fidesz and MSZP didn't wait for the official opening of the campaign and put out huge posters. Although the word "campaign" wasn't mentioned, the messages weren't subtle. On one Fidesz poster Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány and Miklós Hagyó, former MSZP deputy mayor of Budapest in charge of BKV, are in the company of two MSZP politicians currently in jail, both in shackles. On the left there is György Hunvald, mayor of District VII in Budapest, who allegedly sold some property for less than fair value. He has been in jail for months but his case is nowhere. I saw an interview with him and I'm not at all sure that he is guilty. The young guy in jeans on the right is János Zuschlag, once upon a time a young shining light of MSZP who received about 70 million forints for various youth organizations that didn't exist. His trial is going on at the moment. So by putting Bajnai, Gyurcsány, and Hajó right next to these two guys in jail Fidesz is sending a clear message. The text says: "Resign! Do what you ought to do!" Well, not exactly a normal campaign poster but a fairly typical one for Fidesz.
Fidesz's campaign strategy is to say nothing because there are fears, not unfounded, that the secret plans of Fidesz will leak out and, once people hear about these plans, their enthusiasm for the party might wane. There have already been mishaps. First was Mihály Varga's interview a couple of weeks ago in which he pretty well admitted that in party circles serious discussions have been taking place about some radical changes as far as pension distribution is concerned. Not surprisingly MSZP grabbed hold of the story and wouldn't let go. MSZP accused Fidesz of wanting to raise the retirement age to 70 while Fidesz said the same thing about MSZP's intention. Neither was true. The whole discussion became ridiculous and by now I'll bet that no present or future pensioner understands what on earth is going on. Although Mihály Varga is no longer allowed to appear in public, the pension debate is going on full force. The only real difference between the two positions as far as the current crop of pensioners is concerned is that while MSZP promises to raise pensions once there is growth in the GDP, Fidesz wants to maintain it at its real value. That is, taking into consideration only the rate of inflation. Clearly the MSZP position is more favorable to the pensioners, but I fear that the economically not too sophisticated Hungarian public hasn't got the foggiest idea what the difference is between the two positions.
Then two days ago came another "leak." This time the culprit, László Mádi, a real Fidesz old-timer, wasn't just shelved like Varga but after twenty years of being a Fidesz parliamentary representative was removed from the list. His political career is over. What I don't understand is why Fidesz is so nervous. Admittedly, MSZP is creeping up a bit in the polls and Fidesz's lead is decreasing somewhat, but the lead is still overwhelming. What are they worried about?
One thing is sure. Viktor Orbán will not debate anyone on television as he did four, eight, or twelve years ago. Four years ago he was so badly beaten by Ferenc Gyurcsány that he surely swore that he would ruin this man and never talk to him again. Everybody wants to have a debate with him, especially Lajos Bokros (MDF), but the Fidesz spokesman sent him to Attila Mesterházy. Orbán will not debate anyone and that's it.
The question is what will happen once Fidesz wins the elections and it becomes clear that Hungary has not been transformed into an earthly paradise. Perhaps they will try to divert people's attention by dragging to court every socialist politician in sight. In fact, István Balsai, formerly MDF and minister of justice in the Antall administration, was already appointed to be the "chief executor." He is a very unpleasant man and therefore perfect for the job. Balsai has already begun his activities. Fidesz is suing Ferenc Gyurcsány and János Veres, former minister of finance, accusing them of falsifying economic data just prior to the 2004 elections. Never mind that one court already decided that the charge was false and the data were readily available from month to month all the way to the date of the elections, that doesn't seem to deter Balsai. But let's face it, I don't think that they care what will happen. In the campaign it serves their purpose. Fidesz admirers will hear again that these two horrible men lied to the Hungarian people and that their favorite party lost the elections because of their brazen lies. Perhaps that will help Fidesz to climb up again a bit in the polls. But meanwhile Mádi must disappear and Varga must be forgotten.
After the sacking of Mádi there must be real panic in Fidesz circles. If Mádi could be kicked out like that, what can happen if they say something that they shouldn't have? Just today I read an article about the ten women (out of 176!) who are on the Fidesz list. Not one of them was ready to say anything substantive. Maybe they will answer questions in writing. One did say that the half an hour she spent with Viktor Orbán was the most wonderful time of her life! I find the whole phenomenon more than worrisome.