Yesterday’s announcement by Endre Hann, chairman of Medián, about the unexpected success of Gordon Bajnai’s new civic organization called Együtt 2014 (Together 2014) made quite a splash. I already noted that LMP’s Benedek Jávor for the first time expressed his intention to negotiate with the group that offered to serve as an umbrella organization for democratic opposition. That is a profound change of strategy practically overnight.
The need for such an umbrella organization has been clear for some time, especially since Gordon Bajnai’s foundation Haza és haladás (Nation and Progress) released a study in August that demonstrated that only a united opposition has a chance to defeat Fidesz at the next elections. A summary of the study can be found in an earlier post.
Everybody is stunned because if Együtt 2014 were to become a party, it could be the largest opposition voting bloc. That is about a week after Gordon Bajnai announced its formation. Although the media have been quite skeptical about Bajnai’s chances, his first appearances in Komló, an old mining town near Pécs, and in Budaőrs drew large crowds.
Of course, the results of Medián’s poll have also put the fear of God into the leading Fidesz politicians. Here they are in the middle of working out an election law that is foolproof from their point view and then comes Gordon Bajnai whose popularity is growing and whose organization is a greater threat to Fidesz than MSZP, whom I don’t think they feared much.
The anti-Bajnai campaign began right after Bajnai’s announcement of his return to politics on October 23, but this latest poll made Viktor Orbán truly worried. He decided on an attack before the whole thing blows up in his face. Of course, Fidesz and Orbán didn’t want to do the dirty work, so instead the party turned to the “independent” civic leader László Csizmadia, one of the organizers of the Peace March.
You may recall his name because I wrote about Csizmadia at length on October 25. Csizmadia is heavily involved with countless civic organizations that I suspect are phony groups doing promotional work for the government. On the one hand, Csizmadia is a civil servant because he was appointed to be chairman of the Nemzeti Együttműködési Alap (NEA / National Co-operation Fund), a government agency that has about 3 billion forints at its disposal to hand out to deserving civic organizations. On the other hand, he is also the recipient of some of the grants given to the groups because he is the chairman of an umbrella organization representing some 400 civic groups.
László Csizmadia has still another job. He is the chairman of an organization called Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF / Forum for Civic Co-operation). It was in this capacity that László Csizmadia together with Tamás Fricz, the political scientist, and Zsolt Bayer, a journalist and one of the founders of Fidesz, organized both peace marches, the first in January and the second on October 23. Both times Csizmadia and his friends managed to gather very sizable crowds, and Viktor Orbán is most grateful. After the January Peace March Orbán expressed his belief that without the organizers’ efforts he would not be prime minister of Hungary today.
So, what does Csizmadia have to do with an anti-Bajnai campaign? A lot. It is Csizmadia’s Forum for Civic Co-operation (CÖF) that will be in charge of the campaign. Csizmadia this morning gave a press conference in which he expressed his “dismay at hearing that Gordon Bajnai, who took part in the ruination of the country, is planning to return as a political actor.”
Of course, Csizmadia didn’t talk about a campaign against a political opponent. He described CÖF’s strategy instead as “a civic informational movement.” CÖF is planning to send a publication to every household which would include a laundry list of “what happened in the last eight years” (2002-2010). Csizmadia hopes that people will wake up and realize that it was the cooperative effort of Gyurcsány and Bajnai that was responsible for “laying down the landmines” that caused the collapse of the Hungarian economy.
Csizmadia and his his friends are not wasting any time. By next week the first batch of political propaganda will be ready to be mailed. He added that they are hoping to receive small donations to cover the cost. I guess they have to hide the fact that apparently CÖF is an extremely rich organization that garners millions and millions, if not billions from the government.
Tamás Fricz added his own assessment of Bajnai. According to him, the former prime minister “is a man of the past and the reincarnation of Ferenc Gyurcsány.” Bajnai wouldn’t strengthen the flourishing Hungarian democracy. On the contrary, Bajnai would work toward strengthening “post-communism and its network.” Moreover, he wouldn’t represent the nation’s interests but would serve the interests of international groups.
There seems to be a new spokesman for CÖF whom I haven’t met before. His name is Endre Szabó, and he represents civic groups concerned with the state of family life in the Carpathian Basin. He criticized “civic groups that are involved with politics and are trying to overthrow the present government.” I guess Szabó has no problem with his own civic groups’ involvement with politics if that entails a defense of the present government. Clearly, logic is not Mr. Szabó’s strength.
Such a publication and strategy might backfire. I would like to remind the Csizmadia-Fricz-Szabó trio of what happened in 2006 when Fidesz strategists tried to convince people that they were better off in 2002 than they were in 2006. A very sad-looking older woman appeared on huge billboards. Soon enough she became the butt of jokes. After all, most people knew through their own experiences that in fact they lived a great deal better in 2006 than in 2002. What will happen now if the electorate remembers that the 2002-2010 period wasn’t so bad after all, especially if they compare it to the economic situation today?
Bajnai’s Haza és Haladás responded quickly. Victor Szigetvári is one of the deputy chairmen of the foundation and a talented campaign strategist. He was in charge of MSZP’s campaign in 2006 and 2010. Szigetvári naturally knew that 2010 was a lost cause, but someone had to take the job and he sacrificed himself, so to speak.
According to Szigetvári, CÖF is perhaps the richest civic organization in all of Europe. He claims that “the resources of CÖF are practically inexhaustible,” so it will be able to publish millions and millions of pamphlets with pseudo-scientific financial data for the 2002-2010 period. It will be, said Szigetvári, a second Magyar Vizsla.
A few words about Magyar Vizsla. It was a publication that tried to discredit Ferenc Gyurcsány and other leading members of the government in 2006. It was a primitive collection of lies that could easily be disproved. Naturally, it wasn’t Fidesz who lent its name to the publication. They dredged up a woman who claimed that she as a private person paid the millions of forints for the publication. Eventually, Magyar Vizsla was traced back through a fax number to Fidesz headquarters. But no problem. In typical Fidesz fashion they acted as if nothing had happened. Szigetvári expects a publication similar to Magyar Vizsla. Of course, by now Fidesz has perfected their dirty tricks, but who knows when they will trip up. Richard Nixon had much more practice, and still….
P.S. Anyone who would like support Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 2014 can do so on the Internet: