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.
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.