A great speech: Gordon Bajnai, the hope of the Hungarian opposition

I had the good fortune, thanks to modern technology, to be able to see or hear all the important speeches today. As I was listening I took copious notes.

I began my day by tuning into ATV, but within half an hour the interest was so great that their server gave up the ghost. However, I still managed to hear Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech. At this point I switched to Klubrádió where I caught Péter Juhász. Then I received a direct link from a friend to Milla’s video where I heard Péter Kónya and Gordon Bajnai. Finally I was able to listen to the whole speech of Viktor Orbán by switching back to Klubrádió.

Let’s start with Gordon Bajnai. If there is a clear winner of the day it is certainly Gordon Bajnai. I always liked him and was impressed by the quiet, resolute way in which he managed to save Hungary’s sinking financial ship during one short year in office. When he handed the country over to “the dear leader,” as more and more people call Viktor Orbán, it was in fairly decent shape. Orbán managed to steer the country into recession in two short years.

But I couldn’t quite imagine Bajnai as a politician. He is basically a modest man who, when he became prime minister, described himself as a goalie rather than a forward. (He does play football like Viktor Orbán, but what a difference!) Moreover, he said often enough during his tenure that he was not a politician but a man who became prime minister because of his problem-solving talents. Yet he managed to secure the support of the two governing parties by telling them that if they don’t promise unwavering support of his austerity package they can forget about his accepting the job. What I missed in him was the fire.

But perhaps the fire was there all along. Perhaps it was just that those times needed quiet perseverance instead of fiery speeches. Bajnai’s other, until now hidden, side came out today. At last we can say that there might be a more than worthy opponent to Viktor Orbán. I think that Bajnai’s speech today just might convince the disparate groups and parties that it is worth throwing their weight behind him as a common candidate leading a united opposition.

Gordon Bajnai at the Milla-Solidarity demonstration
Origo / Photo by Zsófia Pályi

As opposed to Orbán’s forced “My honored ladies and gentlemen” (tisztelt hölgyeim és uraim), Bajnai talked to his “friends” (barátaim) and “compatriots” (honfitársaim). He used the familiar form (te ~ ti).

He began by outlining the psychological road that led to his appearance at this demonstration. On March 15 he attended the demonstration as one of the many thousand participants. Initially he maintained that he wasn’t a politician and therefore he had no intention of getting involved in politics. But at the beginning he wasn’t worried about the survival of democracy in Hungary. Soon enough, however, came “the bitter awakening.” He had  to get involved because, as he said, “I can do no other.” Who doesn’t hear in this sentence the words of Martin Luther? He came to the conclusion that 2014 is not just one election among many; it is an event that will determine not just the next four years but the next twenty-five. He can’t sit and do nothing.

In 2010 a lot of people wanted “change.” They had enough of unfulfilled promises, political warfare, and dilettantism. “They trusted and they were deceived…. We all have to ask forgiveness from each other and from the world…. This government methodically breaks the backbone of democracy vertebra by vertebra.” After describing the “institutionalized corruption” Bajnai went on to say that “the rich get richer and the poor are the poorest,” a nod to a famous poem by Attila József (“Aki szegény, az a legszegényebb”). He talked about the aggressiveness of the regime, but argued that aggressiveness is “the last refuge of the impotent.”

Bajnai continued by saying that one needs more than a change of government, there must be a regime change. In fact, there must be even more, an entirely new era (korszakváltás). To achieve this goal one doesn’t need a new party. Instead, people from the right and the left should “meet in the middle.”

There are four important considerations the opposition must keep in mind. First, they have to deal with the concepts of the “homeland” (haza) and “progress” (haladás). We mustn’t forget that the name of Bajnai’s foundation is Haza és haladás. What did he want to say here? That the liberals and the socialists must pay more attention to Hungarian patriotism. After all, there can be no question that one of the chief appeals of Orbán is his nationalist demagoguery. The left simply doesn’t know what to do with the question of nationalism versus patriotism. On the other hand, the left has a fairly clear concept of “progress.” They want to bring Hungary closer to Europe and achieve greater democracy. But, as Bajnai stressed, “the emphasis is on the “és,” on the “and.” One cannot neglect one at the expense of the other. Otherwise, the opposition forces will not be able to recruit members from the moderate right without whom regime change is impossible.

Bajnai dealt with two more important aspects that must be part of the underlying foundations of this new epoch. One is solidarity, which is sorely missing from the mindset of the current government. Orbán simply doesn’t care about the fate of the poor, whose numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. Right now we are talking about 40% of the population. The economic policies of a new government must deal with this segment of the population by redistributing the burdens that the current tax policy imposes on the less well-to-do portion of society. Finally, Hungarians at the moment are deeply divided over the issue of the country’s relationship to the European Union. Supporters of Orbán look upon it as an oppressive empire that foists its own will upon Hungary. As Orbán put it in his speech today, “we can’t accept that others can decide what we can do in our own country” and, a sentence or two later, “we can’t accept that foreigners govern us.” According to Bajnai, “there must be a new understanding” of Hungary’s role in Europe based on “common interest and a community of shared values (értékközösség).”

Bajnai also said a few words about the Orbán government’s program of “national unity across borders,” which in his opinion can only fail. What the country needs is “unifying the nation within the borders.” Difficult times await the democratic opposition but it can be done. “We want to get our country back, a country we can be proud of. … It can be done together. Only together can it be done.”

It was a great and inspiring speech. A new politician was born today, a man for whom the country has been waiting for some time.

56 comments

  1. What strikes me is the amazing luck of Hungarians to have such a man in the wings! But now comes the $64
    question for MSZP: are they going to be true to their
    down-deep, thieving, ways or, will they respond to the greater needs of the country and immediately line up behind Bajnai. The important word is “immediately” because if they dither and drag their feet, their opportunism (to negotiate concessions from a future
    Bajnai government) will be palpable. This is the key.

  2. My hopes for today have been fulfilled to such a degree that I feel like I can fly! It has been a long, very difficult process, as is any birth, but, my Lord what a beautiful baby!!!!

  3. That’s my luck. I just finished the summary of Bajnai’s speech and at that very moment the Haza és Haladás Foundation sent me the transcript of the speech. No problem, I will be able to quote from it in the future.

  4. I listened to all the same speeches, and Bajnai could not have been better. Gyurcsany’s endorsement was just the right move at the right minute.
    On the other hand, Orban was boring, and so anti Eu, it actually made me feel ashamed.
    There is hope finally!

  5. somewhat OT, but I noticed that while most of the political parties had an event today in the capital, Benedek Jávor from LMP spoke in… Hajdúszoboszló?

    Nothing against this fine city, but what was LMP thinking? The crowd looked tiny, like it was just some random people who were passing by and stopped to have a look at what was going on.

  6. Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

  7. Kingfisher :
    Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

    Kingfisher :
    Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

    Kossuth can’t be right. If it’s anybody it has to be something to do with Sechenyi…

  8. Kingfisher :
    Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? Or any thoughts about his speech? My own feeling is that it is just painfully out of touch and passionless. And thank goodness, Bajnai seems to have caught the imagination. I do worry that this initiative will be capsized by MSZP deciding it wants to go it alone but I do feel a vague optimism which I’ve not felt for a while (but be warned, Bajnai is not Snow White in terms of what he was up to behind the scenes when in power).

    Judge a man by what he does and how he operates.
    By those standards, Orban is a con-artist, a thief and a liar.
    I’ve heard some Bajnai stories about ‘geese’ and ‘suicides’ and whatnot but when you’re in a barrel of rotten apples…you’re going to get soiled yourself just by being in the proximity.
    In his one year in power, Bajnai was honest, reasoned,
    precise and respected in all that he did.
    Let’s judge by what we know.

  9. “Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
    Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
    Bertolt Brecht ‘Life of Galileo’ (1938), Scene 6.

    Though, obviously I’m delighted Bajnai is willing to try.

    He also made it clear that he is calling for real unity, not just this ‘us and them’,’have and have not’ mentality.

    I feel that as this makes LMP and MSZP look like the impotent, irrelevant and divided opposition that they are, they are likely to present the most danger to Bajnai achieving his goals, not Orbán.I very much doubt LMP and MSZP have it in them to be able to sober up and adjust to this change in the political landscape.

  10. Having read György Kauk’s article in the Galamus, and the opinions of Gyurcsány and Bauer, among others, also watching Ferenc Juhász on TV, I became convinced, similarly, I believe, to Éva Balogh, that the Milla was following an approach that was destined to be either unsuccessful, or even damaging to the cause of unification for the purpose of replacing the Orbán govrnment. My opinion has changed, based on subsequent declarations of Milla leaders, and especially after the demonstrations and speeches of today. The main element, including parties in the movement at this time, which is in the center of disagreement, is wrought with danger because of an underlying distrust between various elements of the opposition.To deal with that, there is a need for a strategy that needs to be gradual, such as the one I sense may be taking place now. That strategy seems to be the following: first introducing a unifying figure, Bajnai, then creating a social organization, such as “Together in 2014”, then aquiring a wide acceptance of it, then perhaps agreeing on mutually accepted basic principles, and only after that: exploring the possibility of some kind of united appearance at elections. For the above organization to become a party, perhaps joining with Solidarity, also could be a possibility, depending on developments.To me it seems to be a very realistic approach, perhaps the only one, since it could have another effect: it could open the door for a crucial segment of the population, the disillusioned Fidesz voters, without whom achieving the goal of regime change is practically impossible, to join in. People need time to come to the realization that the perceived evils of the past regime may not be as bad as they thought, especially in comparison with the present, as the dificulties of ordinary people mount. I think that this may be exactly the strategy of the Milla leaders. We are not seeing a public description of this strategy now because they may be thinking, rightly, that to make it public in a manner that I just did, would be premature, perhaps misunderstood, and therefore counterproductive. There is a need for the pasage of time. My hope is that there is enough time for that.

  11. Kinfosher: “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? ”

    I don’t know whether I mentioned it on Hungarian Spectrum but I was very pleased when I first saw the Kossuth coat-of-arms being used by MSZP. I always thought that the MDF-Smallholders-Christian Democratic majority between 1990 and 1994 made a mistake when it forced through the the coat-of-arms with the crown. After all, Hungary has been a republic since 1946.

  12. Eva S. Balogh :
    Kinfosher: “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? ”
    I don’t know whether I mentioned it on Hungarian Spectrum but I was very pleased when I first saw the Kossuth coat-of-arms being used by MSZP. I always thought that the MDF-Smallholders-Christian Democratic majority between 1990 and 1994 made a mistake when it forced through the the coat-of-arms with the crown. After all, Hungary has been a republic since 1946.

    MDF etc did not make a mistake, they signaled their intentions for the future direction of Hungary.

    Kossuth coat of arms = Republic —> democracy
    Horthy coat of arms = Kingdom —> authoritarian rule

  13. Eva S. Balogh :
    Kinfosher: “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol? ”
    I don’t know whether I mentioned it on Hungarian Spectrum but I was very pleased when I first saw the Kossuth coat-of-arms

    Although I absolutely agree that the crown doesn’t belong on the coat of arms of the country, in the spirit of Bajnai’s speech I would say let’s leave it there. Just think about the great intellects, like Bernie the Rat (aka. Bernadette). These morons go nuts for shiny objects and whether we like it or not we have to toss them a few things to keep their puny brains occupied. The crown should be the least of our worries.

    Now I’d like to risk a remark from Wondercat to call me a groupie on this blog (you know the ones she calls “the chorus”) but I cannot agree more on Bajnai. It’s invigorating to listen to somebody who doesn’t just bullshit about unity. Who dares to mention Cardinal Mindszenthy and Bibo in the same speech. The first attempt to reach out to both the civilized conservative right and the left. He said that there will be no unity of the 15 million until there is unity of the 10 million. See what I’m saying? It’s such an art to separate shit from the chocolate in Hungarian politics but we CAN talk to a patriotic right wing (even Christians – I’m really wound up) as a partner despite of the disagreements and leave the drags of the Jobbik and the FIDESZ out. Let’s follow Gordo (pun intended, ok not really) and make sure we don’t blow it.

    Vive la republique!

  14. I hate to think that with the introduction of the Kossuth coat-of-arms into the political debate the Hungarian public will take the opportunity to go off track and get into a heated but meaningless debate about it. I recall that when the new constitution was introduced 90% of the popular debate was about the “preamble” what should be in what should be left out, etc. Most people had no idea what was really hiding behind the actual paragraphs of the constitution.

    The same thing, I am afraid will happen with the coat-of-arms. Crown or no crown, that is the question. Choose, Hungarian! And the economic woes, concerns about the legal system, the freedom of the press, all the important issues will boil down to what they think about the coat-of-arms. Poor move by Mesterhazy.

  15. Are there any detailed discussions of the Orban speech? I have a friend who just posted a photo from the Fidesz rally, and I’d like some ammunition to explain why it’s not such a great thing.

  16. Sackhoes Contributor :
    I hate to think that with the introduction of the Kossuth coat-of-arms into the political debate the Hungarian public will take the opportunity to go off track and get into a heated but meaningless debate about it. I recall that when the new constitution was introduced 90% of the popular debate was about the “preamble” what should be in what should be left out, etc. Most people had no idea what was really hiding behind the actual paragraphs of the constitution.
    The same thing, I am afraid will happen with the coat-of-arms. Crown or no crown, that is the question. Choose, Hungarian! And the economic woes, concerns about the legal system, the freedom of the press, all the important issues will boil down to what they think about the coat-of-arms. Poor move by Mesterhazy.

    “Economic woes”…What economic woes?

    Hungary is the land of opportunity!

    Witness…a $450 investment in something called the Puskas Academy reaps a bounty of $14,000,000!! Where on earth can you
    get that? INVEST IN HUNGARY!!!
    (That is, if you name is Viktor Orban…)

  17. At first I was a little disappointed about the reported numbers at each protest, I read approximately 25,000 anti-government and 150,000 pro-government. I was expecting the numbers to at least be a little closer even if not reported that way. However when I thought about it, the 150,000 was reported by MTI, and they “reported” 400,000 for the first “peace march” which even assuming MTI figures may perhaps be a little inflated it is a 62% on the original attendance! I think that says something perhaps they should have laid on more buses?

  18. Off-topic:

    HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES MANDATES OPEN ACCESS IN OPEN ACCESS WEEK 2012

    One of the rare things to be proud of Hungary about lately (though I doubt the initiative came from the President of the Academy, Joseph Palinkas, but rather from Andras Holl, to whom all thanks are due).

    http://roarmap.eprints.org/698/

  19. buddy :
    somewhat OT, but I noticed that while most of the political parties had an event today in the capital, Benedek Jávor from LMP spoke in… Hajdúszoboszló?
    Nothing against this fine city, but what was LMP thinking? The crowd looked tiny, like it was just some random people who were passing by and stopped to have a look at what was going on.

    Eva: Thank you for this summary of Bajnai’s speech. It was an inspirational moment. And I hope that the spirit will carry over the next one and a half years, and beyond.

    As to LMP: G. Karácsony and a group of LMP members showed presence at the Milla demonstration. Karácsony is so tall that people recognize him even from the distance in a mass gathering. This may not represent the official party line, but it is still a statement that may indicate a trend. If LMP held a meeting in Hajdúszoboszló, what’s the problem? As long as they don’t divide the opposition in Budapest on such a highly symbolical day. It is evident that they (and others) have to make up their mind now. And as it seems, some have already decided on supporting Bajnai.

  20. GK: “At first I was a little disappointed about the reported numbers at each protest, I read approximately 25,000 anti-government and 150,000 pro-government.”

    Wishful thinking on the part of the government controlled MTI.

  21. Some great images there Andrei. I especially like the second one. A well-composed and dramatic shot, it should be submitted to a photojournalism competition.

  22. Well, Kossuth square is pretty elastic!

    When the opposition was still allowed to demonstrate there and it was full, official media reported 10,000 demonstrators. Yesterday they reported 400,000 demonstrators in the same square. The police know more exact estimates – they surveyed the Milla crowd from a helicopter several times yesterday – but it is top secret and heroic whistle-blowers are rarities here.

  23. “Anyone have any thoughts about Mesterházy’s announcement of the Kossuth Cimér as a unifying symbol?”

    This sounds like a startegy to give the opposition a meaningless triviality to divide themselves over and then they can tell their children that when democracy was ended they couldn’t stop it because they were arguing over the contents of the national crest.

  24. The vibrancy of Hungarian democracy was on view again as supporters of four major political points of view demonstrated peacefully on October 23rd. Based on aerial photographs, from a number of sources, supporters of the government outnumbered each and all groups overwhelmingly. It is obvious that none of the opponents, the left or the extreme right, have the support needed for a change of government. The left is not helped by a widely circulated film clip showing members of their present leadership, including some of the speakers, singing the ‘Internationale’, the communist hymn in Hungarian. Obviously they are tarred or ‘born again’?

  25. Haza es Haladas Alapitvany sent me the English text of Bajnai’s speech. (I wish I knew how to bring the pdf to this post) It is indeed inspiring.

  26. Csaba K. Zoltani :
    The vibrancy of Hungarian democracy was on view again as supporters of four major political points of view demonstrated peacefully on October 23rd. Based on aerial photographs, from a number of sources, supporters of the government outnumbered each and all groups overwhelmingly. It is obvious that none of the opponents, the left or the extreme right, have the support needed for a change of government. The left is not helped by a widely circulated film clip showing members of their present leadership, including some of the speakers, singing the ‘Internationale’, the communist hymn in Hungarian. Obviously they are tarred or ‘born again’?

    This sounds like an official communiqué by the Propaganda Ministry (that includes Szazadveg in my count). Every single poll I know of shows the popularity of the Fidesz party between 15% and 18% of the adult population, hardly a majority.

    Why would Fidesz change the election laws again and again, if they were sure in their winning the 2014 election fairly?

  27. I completely agree with Tappanch’ view to consider only the popularity of the parties within the society in general, as opposed to look at the ratios among those who choose parties and say they would vote at the next weekend (if elections were held then). First, between two elections when the next one is rather far away people cannot put themselves realistically in such a position (to really tell whether they will vote or not) and so it makes no sense to look at the latter figures. In addition, given the registration obligation, the polls simply cannot at this point (or even until the final weeks) realistically translate the future registered (and thus potentially voting) population into a meaningful sample. I agree that Fidesz is very much afraid of losing and will in my view further amend the voting system even in the last weeks if they believe that it would be useful for them/detrimental to the opposition. At the same time I believe that these changes still reflect a ‘play’, an insurance from their part, they are not panicking yet that they could lose. Also, in order to keep the party discipline they also need to believe with conviction that even if the numbers are bad this is only natural for a governing party at this time of the cycle and that they can, for example with their superior campaign machinery, ownership or control of the media, reserves of the NBH which can be spent if necessary etc., win again. That said, I think that they live in their echo chambers without real feed back and trust their get out of the vote machinery (though the most formidable in Hungary by far, using by the way Republican know-how and relentlessness) too much and underestimate the discontent felt by the median voter.

  28. Sackhoes Contributor :
    The same thing, I am afraid will happen with the coat-of-arms. Crown or no crown, that is the question. Choose, Hungarian! And the economic woes, concerns about the legal system, the freedom of the press, all the important issues will boil down to what they think about the coat-of-arms. Poor move by Mesterhazy.

    The so called “Kossuth Coat of Arms” has no crown – hence the distinction – since it signified the ‘detronizing of the Habsburgs during the revolt of 1849.
    So, if anybody really mean using the “Kossuth címer”, there is no question about it, how should it look like.

  29. @Andrei
    Great images, thank you!
    Finally something down to earth and still professional! Good work, Andrei!

  30. @Spectator
    Thank you so much – I am trying for already one year now, but my connections with English-speaking Hungarians who are interested in politics and could also give me informations in advance about what’s happening are still weak. I lost the Jobbik march last evening 😦

  31. yes, I always look forward to Andrei’s images on such event 🙂

    There’s also this image for comparison (400,000 v 20,000) :-

    And the walker zombie marchers :-

  32. Andrei Stavilă :
    @Spectator
    …my connections with English-speaking Hungarians who are interested in politics and could also give me informations in advance about what’s happening are still weak.

    I’m out of the picture, I’m afraid, living abroad over twenty-something years now, but you are in the right place – pretty sure, you’ll get more contacts!
    /Regards!

  33. @muttino: Do you know, I quite enjoy the description of the Szent Korona as tinware suitable only to keep morons distracted… that may be not just punchy but also correct.

    It’s not all choral singing among the comments on this blog; nice solo there, Mutt!

  34. enufff :
    yes, I always look forward to Andrei’s images on such event
    There’s also this image for comparison (400,000 v 20,000) :-
    https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/68298_439694999400478_349794095_n.jpg
    And the walker zombie marchers :-
    http://m.cdn.blog.hu/co/comment/image/2012%20okt/zombimenet.jpg

    I was particularly impressed by the declaration, which stated something like ‘we won’t be enslaved by debt’ – or the similarly advanced variation of the same message!
    Really!
    However, I missed greatly the banner with the slogan:
    “we will be Viktor’s slaves instead” – it would have been much more appropriate…

  35. I just learned that yesterday ATV was the most watched program all afternoon and evening. One million people!!!! That’s quite something. It means something. There might have been fewer demonstrators at the Milla meeting but obviously the number of those who are interested in this heretic, anti-government station is growing!!!! And keep in mind that ATV is available only on cable.

  36. Back to basics, I hope, that this sentence, this message too gets through somehow, because this is something new in the contemporary Hungarian politics.
    At least, I find it significant:

    “Everyone here in person and in spirit today is Hungarian. And so are of course all those who are attending speeches at Kossuth Place. As are those making the speeches!”

    If anything, this sentence counters all the orbanist ramblings in a very intelligent and subtle manner – even who endlessly shouting ‘them and us’ is a fellow Hungarian – one of the most patriotic statement I’ve heard from a long time!

    Or the most Christian one, if you look into a bit deeper.

  37. Paul :
    Entirely OT, but no apologies:
    Only 65 years late, but can you imagine this happening in the centre of Budapest?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20050780

    If people do not feel offended by these 65 years, which I could easily understand, and really see that as a positive action, then you may already suspect that we will have to be grateful if something similar is happening in Budapest in 45 years. 🙂

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