Viktor Orbán’s phobia: Ferenc Gyurcsány

As the day of Ferenc Gyurcsány's questioning by prosecutors approaches we might find it enlightening to look back at the long history of Fidesz efforts to get this far. Because, although most of us no longer remember, the idea of putting the former prime minister in jail was hatched as early as late October or early November of 2006. It was then that Fidesz came up with the idea of a referendum that could put an end to the contemplated reforms. Originally seven questions were posed, out of which three were approved. The road to the actual referendum was long and arduous. It was only in early August 2008 that Hungarians overwhelmingly said no to hospital fees, tuition fees, and co-payments.

What we are apt to forget is that among Fidesz's original seven questions was one that was designed to allow legal proceedings against the prime minister. The original proposition read: "The imposition of 'objective legal responsibility' for the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet for exceeding the national budget." This particular question was not allowed to be put on the ballot. Zsolt Németh at the time explained to U.S. Ambassador April H. Foley that this seventh question of the referendum had been designed to "hold Gyurcsány accountable for his campaign promises" and their impact on the deficit. May I remind the readers that at present a parliamentary subcommittee is working on the question of responsibility for the sovereign debt between 2002 and 2008. The dates are telling. Gyurcsány resigned as prime minister in March 2009.

The Americans came to the conclusion that Fidesz's opposition to the Gyurcsány government was "emotionally deep but often substantively shallow." They noted that Fidesz politicians were flexible when it came to strategy but they had only one goal in mind: "Gyurcsány's removal."

By early November 2006 the Americans had a pretty clear picture of what Viktor Orbán was all about. It was becoming more and more obvious that Orbán's aim was the destruction of the legitimate Hungarian government with the help of the street. He was quite ready to hold a rally on September 23 when only a couple of days before there had been serious clashes between extremists and the police. Even his closest advisors thought that holding a rally under the circumstances was too risky. In the last minute, his friends were able to convince him not to go ahead.

The local elections brought a landslide Fidesz victory in almost all communities with the exception of Budapest and a couple of other cities. In the wake of that victory Orbán tried a variation on his earlier tactics. He claimed that the local elections reflected the will of the pople and demanded that the prime minister step down by October 6 at noon. If he doesn't, "100,000 people will come to parliament" and will stay on the streets until the prime minister resigns or the coalition removes him.

The Americans agreed with Gyurcsány that "this is fundamentally about the minority's refusal to accept the majority's right to govern." It seemed to the staff of the embassy that Fidesz "set few limits on its tactics whatever the potential consequences."

After Ferenc Gyurcsány received a vote of confidence from both his party and SZDSZ Orbán was furious. He refused to take part in the debate, and after the vote he addressed a crowd in front of the parliament building. He asked the crowd to come every day between 5 and 6 p.m. to protest until Gyurcsány resigns.

A couple of days later Orbán talked to the diplomatic community. He had a new plan. He claimed that there is no time for a new election and therefore asked the government parties "to change plans or change leaders." He would even be willing to cooperate with "another socialist prime minister."

A few days later Orbán again talked to G-7 diplomats. He repeated his belief that under the pressure of the streets and as a result of the austerity measures the government introduced Gyurcsány "cannot survive." He also charged the Gyurcsány government with "criminal negligence." The emphasis is on "criminal." He claimed that the economic situation is worse than the government claims and therefore "MSZP will blink first in the present showdown by withdrawing their support from Gyurcsány." He told the ambassadors that Fidesz was working with trade unions to discuss a national strike committee to coordinate strikes in the coming weeks. He predicted that Gyurcsány would be out of office by the spring of 2007.

The ambassadors had a few hard questions of their own. Orbán was asked, for example, why he didn't put forth a reform agenda of his own. He responded that there could be no "business as usual." Such a step would only "give the government our good ideas." Such tactics might work elsewhere, but in Hungary "politics is all about winning elections." This sentence pretty well sums up Viktor Orbán's attitude toward politics. And if that weren't enough, he added another devastating revelation about his own attitude. When he was asked if he himself might not be blamed for promoting instability, he responded: "that is a risk I'm prepared to take." In brief, he didn't care what the consequences of his machinations were. The American reaction was: "Orbán continues to play his zero-sum game with malicious glee."

The Americans came to the conclusion that Fidesz "believes that the opposition's role is simply to oppose rather than offer constructive alternatives." Orbán doesn't care about the consequences of his actions and has decided "to ignore the very real risk of derailing the progress Hungary has made and the very serious consequences of damaging the reform Hungary must continue."

Here I have described just a couple of months of Viktor Orbán's continuous attacks on the Gyurcsány government which former MDF Prime Minister Péter Boross described as "more in keeping with medieval siege warfare than modern politics." All that against the backdrop of a program of reforms and the necessary introduction of an austerity program.

As it turned out, Gyurcsány's "thoughtful but resolute" demeanor was irrelevant. It didn't matter that he was "very much in command of the facts and of the situation." The diplomats were impressed with him "as a leader who has considered the political, economic, and moral aspects of the issues."  But in the long run he lost to a man who didn't consider any of these issues and who thought, and I guess still thinks, that politics is all about winning elections. Or losing them.


  1. “Or losing them.” (elections)
    No, no. Orbán’s political career will not end by losing an election. He will make sure that that won’t happen. Everything else, like some street riots or some “Hungarian spring”, yes. But I’ll eat my hat if he will ever let it come to losing an election.
    If there are any elections in the future, they will be rigged by gerrymandering and other provisions in the election laws. What’s more likely, just before some elections he feels he might lose, he will declare a state of emergency that doesn’t allow for elections. If you ask me, he could do this tomorrow, judging from what I hear from all sorts of Hungarian friends.
    Anyway, the ablest people are already voting with their feet. Many parents are crying their eyes out because their kids are leaving the country to find a job abroad.

  2. I dunno Minusio. He is on course for being deposed. Fidesz, which was once a tightly disciplined party, is starting to leak, all kinds of awkward stories are surfacing which can only have disgruntled party officials as their sources.
    Once you move from being to being slightly absurd, as Orban has, it’s downhill very quickly. Look for signs of discipline breaking down on the Fidesz benches. And then he has financial backers, whose interests, to put it finely, are not being well served right now.
    I might have agreed with you a year ago, but I’d say there’s a strong chance of him not being PM at the end of 2012. Which isn’t say that he wouldn’t *like* to go out in a blaze of glory.
    The damage is done, however, and the emigration flows will not be slowing.

  3. a3t: “He is on course for being deposed.”
    Nice idea. As you certainly know, a lot of Fidesz members of parlament are also mayors (which is not a good idea in itself, but could theoretically make up for the lack of an “upper” house, a second chamber in Hungary). Why, if they are so disgruntled and up in arms against Orbán did they just vote themselves out of their jobs, as more and more governmental activities are being centralised?
    And look at his underlings: Who will dare to stage a palace revolt? Every one of them owes him some. And they are so mediocre that it hurts.
    Orbán has shown (again) that you can highjack a democracy with good planning and ruthlessness.
    And he’ll leave (and left) his financial backers and the exporting FDI companies well alone. Who will profit by foreign banks withdrawing from Hungary? OTP and its CEO, Orbán’s big buddy.
    Orbanistan is here to stay much longer than all of us can imagine. Belarus is still there and hasn’t changed during the last 17 years, or has it?

  4. There is no one capable of deposing OV in Fidesz, he has surrounded himself with sycophants and idiots. And those who are capable of thinking for themselves know only too well that there is no Fidesz, no power, no snouts in the trough, without Orbán.
    And, as Minusio points out (in a rare moment of realism on here), OV is more than capable of rigging the election, or even of ‘postponing’ it. But he probably won’t need to, given the state the left/liberal ‘opposition’ is in.
    The reality of Hungary is that OV has total power, no opposition and no threat to his position. No one, not even the US, and certainly not the EU, can stop him. He can bring Hungary to its knees, and he will still be PM.
    And if anyone thinks he won’t be, perhaps they could explain to me how this will happen.

  5. can we spread that orban is more corrupt than gyurcsany.
    orban is also the suicidal one who will push the hitlerite jobbik into power.
    who will cry for the genetically poor Hungarians?

  6. Of course, you are again writing something that is completely the other way around.
    Gyurcsány has a phobia and it’s Orbán.

  7. @Johnny Boy: Haha. This is your best one, ever. Sure. Gyurcsany is doing everything he can to put Orban in jail, including setting up various “investigative” committees to find dirt on him and come up with trumped up charges.

  8. An: tell me what Orbán is doing to put Gyurcsány in jail?
    Poor Paul already failed to show ANY hint of the prosecution or courts not doing their job independently in the Gyurcsány case.
    Your chances are even slimmer to prove anything like that.
    Look at Gyurcsány’s facebook entries. He is ALWAYS talking about Orbán. He wanted to be like him, he mimicked him, he even bought exactly the same type van as him, he visited places in that van like Orbán.
    Yet he failed miserably in his imitation.

  9. @Johnny Boy: Orban is the Prime Minister. If you are in opposition, you do talk about the current prime minister. Especially if he is out to get you 🙂

  10. @Johnny Boy: The prosecution failed to come up with any credible charges so far. For example, the latest, the Balsai report finds says that Gyurcsany may have given direct instruction to the police in 2006, but no such evidence surfaced. Similarly ridiculous are the charges in the Sukoro case. Smells politically motivated, very badly.
    Not the mention Fidesz’s latest move that the prosecution have the right to select which judge tries “special” cases, like Gyurcsany’s. Excellent move, if the prosecution want to make sure to case land in the hands of the “right” judge. Again, smells of political motivation,very badly.

  11. @JB Don’t be so cynical. Whatever Orban wants will be carried out on the “lower” levels. Plausible deniability doesn’t really work with dictators. It would be like saying Kadar had nothing to do with the post-56 executions.
    His phobia is also his mania. This guy thinks he has to jail Gyurcsany because he owes this to his voters.
    Gyurcsany is accused basically of knowingly giving a few 100 million HUF price break on a land deal to an investor where the state would have raked in 1 billion+ HUF each year, not mentioning the 2000+ jobs.
    Somebody explain this to me. Why didn’t the Gyurcsany government do this openly? They fudged the appraisals on both lands to make sure the difference is below 15% so public tender will not be required, which would have killed the investment. Why couldn’t they just present this to the house saying here is a deal let’s take it. Is this genetic, that Hungarian politicians have a phobia of being open? Or they just always think that there is nothing to discuss with their own employers (the voters)?

  12. Wow, JB, he bought the same van and is visiting the same places… very convincing mimicry. So he took his five children and visited Ratzinger? I think I missed something here. Funny comment, though, made me really laugh.

  13. I’m really not sure who is running this show and who is trying to make this the greatest political drama ever. Is it Fidesz trying to act as the great “elszámoltató”-s, is it Gyurcsány running for martyrdom or is it both?
    An: “Orban is the Prime Minister. If you are in opposition, you do talk about the current prime minister.” But it is also true that while he was PM he all the time talked about OV. I remember how annoyed I was about it.

  14. An: your claims fail right from the beginning: “The prosecution failed to come up with any credible charges so far”
    Where on earth do you take this from? Their charges haven’t even been raised, let alone tried before court! How can you make such a claim?

  15. Mutt among all your rambling, you still failed to show any indication or proof that the prosecution AND THE COURTS are under Orbán’s influence.
    These are independent institutions and as long as you don’t even have a proof of at least an ant’s prick size you are doing nothing more than maliciously damaging these institutions’ reputation based on your extreme political views.

  16. @JB Don’t be so “antsy”. We don’t even know the judge yet.
    Orban the 5th will make sure that there will be no direct proof of the conspiracy or no live person to testify … 🙂

  17. Johnny Boy; How about if you show some evidence on your own at once or answers questions long time ago and repeatedly asked from you? You are coward. Oh and Johhny, I think Gyurcsany also went to the bathroom today mimicking Orban who done it earlier. You won.

  18. “Poor Paul already failed to show ANY hint of the prosecution or courts not doing their job independently in the Gyurcsány case.”
    Poor Paul never claimed the courts weren’t doing their job independently. In fact I assumed they WERE doing their job independently (at least for now). As I clearly stated in my reply to you the last time you accused me of this.
    As for the prosecution – they are clearly not independent. Even you can’t seriously deny this.
    Get a grip, JB.
    Have you had time to look at my ‘known facts’ post yet?

  19. Eva: “Such tactics might work elsewhere, but in Hungary “politics is all about winning elections.” This sentence pretty well sums up Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward politics.”
    I was thinking whether this is really only OV’s attitude or whether there is some more general truth in this statement. Currently there is also a dearth of alternative programmes. This, then, makes it likely that OV can stay in power. I fully agree with a3t that it is only the lack of alternatives that makes him appear invincible. Also, the comments of the Americans are “political”, as they stick to the logic of the political system (elections, parliament, majority, minority, their rights, and the right of the street). It is a misunderstanding to consider it “more democratic” if the political battle is fought in the streets (more people present than in parliament, sure) instead in more or less civilised disputes within the parliament. But I am afraid this logic of Fidesz is still widespread.

  20. Orbán isn’t the lest interested in democracy. He doesn’t need it to stay in power, and if he allows it, it might take power away from him.
    His whole recent history has been anti-democratic, it’s not something he just discovered when he gained power. When in opposition, he did everything he could to prevent the government from functioning, he tried to bring it down by appealing to ‘the streets’, he used black propaganda to destroy the opposition (and, in the process, parliamentary democracy), and, perhaps worst of all, he deliberately played the Jobbik card to ensure he gained power.
    He didn’t care what he had to do to get into power, and he doesn’t care what he has to do to stay in power.
    Parliament may be (or might have been) more ‘civilised’, but the only sort of democracy that will get rid of Orbán IS the ‘democracy’ of the streets.

  21. Paul, I think we do not disagree here. It is one thing how “democracy” can be restored in Hungary and another how it should work in “normal” times. And in these street protests are certainly legitimate but perhaps not “more legitimate” than the decisions of parliamentarians. This is what I wanted to say. I still think that OV will simply have to quit his job because he will get tangled up in the mess he and Fidesz have created. I do not believe in massive street protests but I think that the patience of people within the system (the ministries and also other institutions) with this bungling must be diminishing quickly. You cannot for a long time deliberately shrink the cake that you wish to distribute among your followers.

  22. It is a great misfortune to be born with a working and fully functional memory.
    Let’s revisit this blog from May 11th 2008 again: “The left got stuck somewhere. In my opinion their problem is that in the last seven years they have been terrified of you. Ever since 2002 basically all their actions have been motivated by the pathological fear of the return of Viktor Orbán. And over the years they got to the point that they sacrificed Hungary on the altar of their paranoia. What is so frightening about you?”, a Magyar Nemzet reporter asked Viktor Orbán. This is how Anna Szilányi begins her piece on “The Language of Fear” (Élet és Irodalom, 57/18)..”
    (Source: This blog )
    Anyone spot the contradiction?
    Anyone really believe Gyurcsány inspires fear in anyone?

  23. @Vandorlo: Yes, and it continues like this:
    “The answer can be found in the socialists’ ambivalent attitude toward democracy.” As far his own person is concerned: “I am the favored person of their pathological fears because behind me there are four years of successful governing that broke the left’s myth of their competence.” A lame if not misleading answer to these questions. There is certainly a fear of Orbán’s return because the socialists and the liberals are convinced that the returning Fidesz leaders would use undemocratic methods and would take vengeance on their political opponents whom they consider their enemies. ”
    And your point is? Seems like the fears were well-founded.

  24. Spot on, An.
    Vándorló puzzles me. At times he is logical and clear, at others he is rambling and illogical. Sometimes I strongly agree with what he says, but, in the very next para, it’s as if I’m reading JB in full spittle spate.
    It’s getting to the point where I just don’t bother with his posts any more. It’s far too much effort for something that leaves me confused as to exactly what the poster was on about.

  25. @Vandorlo Please explain! I’m staring at you quote and … nothing. Contradiction between what and what?
    If not fear that what makes Orban the 5th so desperately try to put his political opponent on trial? Is it just plain hatred? Or is it something to justify the bogus enemy image Orban is feeding to the country to explain the difficulties?

  26. @An: Well done, you get a gold star. Your reading ability puts you up there with *your* peers.
    The underlying premise of this blog post was? Answer: That Orbán has a fear of Gyurcsány. The Source: the wikileaks dispatches which a majority here poo-pooed for their wanton display of vacuity just weeks, if not days, ago.
    Now they are treated as credible sources. On what basis?
    Just like Kende was once considered by ESBalogh to be ‘the best investigative journalist in Hungary’, right up until he turned his eye to Gyurcsány and his circle – then she thinks this source less creditable. On what basis?
    @Paul: Point out any logical inconsistencies and I’d be happy to repsond to them. Again with “rambling”, feel free to point those out. You will be expected to defend your remarks and logic, so choose wisely. All that said I can perfectly understand that you are reduced to remarking that for you “It’s far too much effort for something that leaves me confused as to exactly what the poster was on about.” I can’t help you out there. Some people just never reach Paiget’s formal operational stages – there is nothing I can do about that. Be happy and live within your means would be my advice (assuming you can process that).
    So one day we believe Wikileaks if ESBalogh tells us, the next we don’t.
    One day we are to believe Kende, the next day not – because ESBalogh tells us.
    Getting back to this specific blog post: who fears who? As ‘An’ so carefully read the link I provided for him (csapd le csacsi!): “There is certainly a fear of Orbán’s return because the socialists and the liberals are convinced that the returning Fidesz leaders would use undemocratic methods and would take vengeance on their political opponents whom they consider their enemies.”
    Where is the fear of Gyurcsány?
    Answer: It is non-existent. The premise of this blog post is unfounded and is underlined (if not proved) by ESBalogh’s own contradictory statements from May 11th 2008.
    ps. Thankyou An. Thankyou Paul.

  27. @Vandorlo: Getting back to this specific blog post: who fears who? As ‘An’ so carefully read the link I provided for him (csapd le csacsi!): “There is certainly a fear of Orbán’s return because the socialists and the liberals are convinced that the returning Fidesz leaders would use undemocratic methods and would take vengeance on their political opponents whom they consider their enemies.”
    Where is the fear of Gyurcsány?
    Nobody said that this would be in that article… what is your point again? Yes, liberals were afraid of Orban in 2008, more specifically they were afraid of him getting back into power because of his undemocratic tendencies, says the above quote. (And turns out their misgivings were well founded, unfortunately).
    Now how does that negate the possibility that Orban may have Gyurcsany phobia?
    Also, the fear of something that actually happens (like OV dismantling democracy) is not a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear.

  28. Why is Vandorlo so afraid of taking sides? He is so carefully trying to avoid make any statements about the present government or Orban. Every time he posts something by the time we reach the end of the inebriated pseudo-intellectual pontifications we have absolutely no idea what his views are, what the hell is he talking about.
    He could just simply say: No, silly. Orban is not afraid of Gyurcsany. Then I wonder why does he think Orban’s goons are so viciously after Gyurcsany?

  29. Poor Paul: “Poor Paul never claimed the courts weren’t doing their job independently. In fact I assumed they WERE doing their job independently (at least for now). As I clearly stated in my reply to you the last time you accused me of this.”
    Well, your claims about Gyurcsány being a victim of a show trial doesn’t leave anything to the imagination: it implicitly states that the courts are under political influence. So the only way out of this is to withdraw your claim about the show trial.
    “As for the prosecution – they are clearly not independent. Even you can’t seriously deny this.”
    I can very well deny it and my denial won’t be any weaker than your accusation. You did not provide anything to support your claim, again.
    “Have you had time to look at my ‘known facts’ post yet?”
    I seem to have lost track of it, sorry. Could you point my nose in the right direction?
    “Vándorló puzzles me”
    Please show me where he went rambling and illogical.
    You quite often seem to mistake the left-extremist rambling that is overwhelming here for logical trains of thought. These two are perfectly distinct things.
    (about Orbán): “His whole recent history has been anti-democratic”
    Pretty weird to call it anti-democratic that he waited for 8 years in opposition to become prime minister again, as a result of sound elections. It is probably high time that you take your medication.

  30. Johnny Boy,
    You want anti-democratic?
    Orbán lost his democratic credentials when he failed to do what he was elected by the Hungarian people to do and to act as the leader of the parliamentary opposition for eight years, refusing to face the government with concrete questions or proposals of his own and to engage in civil debate. Instead he took it to the streets and the subsequent events — from reckless populist referendi to burning autos in the streets — is his responsibility.
    What a civics lesson for Hungary’s young people!

  31. GW: what you write makes no sense, and the small amount that can be figured out is not true.
    Why waste your time on posting such things?

  32. Johnny Boy,
    Examine the written record of debate in the Hungarian Parliament from 2002 to 2008. Compare it with the recorded debate in all of the major democratic parliaments on the planet and one thing will be crystal clear: the elected opposition took their pay but did not do the job they were elected to do which was to oppose, as per the constitution, within the parliament itself.

  33. With this report the Hungarian Goebbels is warming up the Avarage Joe for next Monday, for the Gyurcsany hearing, that may end with his arrest. A mass demonstration is planned to the courthouse so it’s going to be interesting.
    All this without a shred of fear of Gyurcsany? Simply motivated by the quest for truth? We are not stupid …

  34. Johnny Boy to GW: “what you write makes no sense,”
    Oh, I am afraid it does but it takes a certain amount of intelligence to understand that, and you have to be free from dementia (forgetting facts). Based on many of the posts from Johnny Boy, for him it is just to hard to grasp.

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