First a few words about “the war of numbers.” Only the truly faithful can believe that while the Peace Marchers numbered 150,000, there were only 20,000 people at the Milla-Solidarity demonstration. Even the 150,000 figure wasn’t high enough for some; later the Fidesz organizers claimed that there were at least 400,000 demonstrators by the time the crowd got to Kossuth Square. There is no way that Kossuth Square can hold 400,000 people. Moreover, I looked at several photos taken on the spot, from which it was apparent that the square was not completely full and that people weren’t packed like sardines. Not like 56 years ago when one couldn’t drop a pin.Yesterday it was sparsely filled at best.
From journalistic accounts we learned that a lot of people didn’t even wait for Viktor Orbán’s speech and began to leave in order to beat the traffic. Andrei Stavilă’s pictures also show how dramatically Fidesz supporters have aged, an especially ironic turn of events since the party’s original name was Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége (Association of Young Democrats) and only people under the age of 35 could be members of the party.
Listening to or reading commentators’ reactions to the speeches, one cannot help being amazed at the widely divergent opinions about the same speech depending on political preference. Tamás Pindroch, a right-wing journalist working for Magyar Hírlap, found Bajnai’s speech boring and flat. According to him, Bajnai was nervous throughout. His “instructors” told him to speak slowly and as the result he was unnatural. László Kéri, a former professor of Viktor Orbán and a political scientist, on the other hand, thought that Orbán’s speech was absolutely dreadful. One of the worst speeches of his career. The same Kéri found Bajnai’s speech inspiring and his delivery surprisingly good. Pindroch naturally thought the world of Orbán’s speech.
In assessing the contents of the two speeches I think ATV’s list of “most often used words” in the two texts might be useful. Orbán’s most often used word was “Hungarian” (30 times) followed by “accept” or “not accept,” mostly in connection with Hungary’s relations to the European Union (14 times). Orbán also liked the phrase “we were, we are, we will be able” to do this or that (11 times).
Bajnai’s most often used words were “new” and “politics” (42 and 27 times), “government” (25 times), “change of regime or government” (10 times), “change” (9 times), “together” (8 times), “Europe,” “solidarity,” “homeland and progress” (each 8 times).
I think from this simple list we can see that the two speeches were about two very different things. Bajnai emphasized a new direction, change, and a positive attitude toward the European Union while Orbán mentioned Europe only twice and both times with a negative connotation.
Kossuth tér, October 23, 2012
Photo by István Huszti / Index
Orbán in his speech attempted to compare the collapse of the Soviet system in Hungary in 1956 to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. As you can imagine, the comparison is more than a little forced. The socialist system in Hungary was able to survive for a while, he argued, because it was “attached to the string of a world power.” That string broke or the hand that held it became weak and the whole edifice collapsed. “Just as on one fall morning an American financial giant in New York collapsed and the economy of the west was shattered.” It turned out, according to Orbán, that the economy of the western world, to which Hungary also belongs, “doesn’t stand on its own feet.” It doesn’t stand on the basis of “honest work but it is held by the string of a financial worldwide empire.” After this collapse there is no road back to the pleasant European way of life.
Europe is in trouble because it irresolute and it is a captive of ideologies instead of relying on the power of common sense. “Europe should understand that without nations it has no heart and without Christianity it has no soul.”
It was at this point that Orbán lashed out at the alleged sins of the European Union in relation to Hungary. According to him “there are quite a few people in Brussels who instead of renewing the European economy want to breathe new life into the decaying financial- and bank-capitalism. Instead of an economy based on work, they want to resurrect the regime of speculators. Instead of an equitable division they want to put all the financial burdens caused by the faltering economy on “the people.” His government cannot accept this way of handling the crisis. They also refuse to accept that “others tell us what we can or can’t do in our own country…. or that by however subtle means foreigners govern us.” Finally, “we accept that European institutions deserve our respect but we don’t accept that any of the institutions of the Union be disrespectful of the Hungarians.”
A few words of explanation about Orbán’s reference to the “equitable burden” that on paper sounds so enticing. What this covers is the incredible taxation of banks and certain sectors of Hungarian economic life, which played a large part in the recession that hit Hungary in 2012. Moreover, in the final analysis every penny the Hungarian government gets in the form of extra taxes from banks and businesses is paid by the Hungarian consumers.
As for the part of the speech that was devoted to 1956 there are some questionable assertions. For example, that the participants in the 1956 uprising “gave us the courage forty years later to drive out the Soviets, to topple the socialist workers’ party, to destroy the mines and the barbed wires that separated us from the free world.” Of course, Hungarians didn’t drive out the Soviet troops; they went on their own as a result of the Soviet recognition that their empire could no longer be maintained. The negotiations over the withdrawal were conducted not by the democratic opposition but by the last government of the Kádár regime. There were no mines on the Austro-Hungarian borders ever since the mid-1950s. By the way, that’s why 200,000 Hungarian refugees managed to walk across the border relatively easily in 1956-57. The barbed wire was also dismantled way before the change of regime. In fact, Hungarians by then had valid passports and went in hordes to Austria to buy items that were hard to come by in Hungary.
As for toppling the socialist workers’ party, this is a huge exaggeration. It needed no toppling. The reform wing of MSZMP (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt, and I don’t know why Orbán didn’t use its proper name here) organized MSZP while the hard-core communists organized their own party, the Magyar Kommunista Munkáspárt, which received no more than 0.11% of the votes in 2010. These are the dangerous communists Orbán implores his followers to fight against. But if there aren’t enough true communists, he can always make his followers believe that members of MSZP, many of them born in the 1970s, are the same communists who were turning against their own people in 1956. Orbán said as much when he compared October 23, 2006 to 1956, adding that “the aspirations of the revolution’s suppressors didn’t disappear from Hungarian public life.” Lajos Kósa, who is a great deal less subtle than the prime minister, went even further and announced that MSZP is the same party that suppressed the 1956 revolution and that is an impossible situation that this party is allowed to exist. “As if after the end of World War II a new reform Nazi party came into being hiding within parliament…. If there can be no reform-Nazi party there cannot be a reform communist party. We can close this era only if the successor to the party that suppressed the revolution disappears from politics.”
Kósa delivered this speech in Szentes, Orbán spoke in Budapest. But surely both used the same Urtext.