street violence

September 17-19, 2006: Viktor Orbán’s reactions to the street violence

Time flies. More than a month has gone by since December 29 when I stopped writing about József Debreczeni’s bestseller on the events of September-October 2006 although I promised to continue the story. But, as usual, daily politics intervened and I had to turn to current events.

Back in December, most readers of Spectrum from Hungary were unaware of Debreczeni’s retelling of the story of the siege of the Hungarian Public Television Station (MTV). At the time I also saw no book reviews in the Hungarian media. Since then a few did appear and most of them were critical of Debreczeni’s approach. They claim that the author began writing his book with a preconceived idea: Viktor Orbán got hold of the speech Ferenc Gyurcsány delivered to the MSZP parliamentary delegation shortly after the socialists won the elections and at the opportune moment decided to release a couple of choice sentences from it. Meanwhile, in the intervening month, he made sure that the time was ripe for an emphatic response.

Yes, I agree that there is no hard proof of Orbán’s complicity and therefore we have to rely on conjecture, but I don’t think that Debreczeni adjusted the facts to suit his hypothesis.

In any case, let’s continue the story, this time examining how Orbán reacted to the events. On September 17, when the whole country could hear Ferenc Gyurcsány’s voice on the radio saying that “we lied morning, day, and night,” Viktor Orbán was in Brussels. Whether it was planned this way is hard to tell. In any case, he interrupted his trip and returned to Hungary on the evening of September 18.

According to Debreczeni, a reporter for Index asked four high-ranking Fidesz politicians about Orbán’s whereabouts but no one knew exactly what Orbán was doing while the television station was burning. He was quiet until the afternoon of September 19 when he gave a press conference. Here he reiterated that Gyurcsány and his whole cabinet should resign and in their place a “cabinet of experts” should be appointed. Naturally he distanced himself from violence in general, but when he was asked about the siege of the television station he announced that “what happened was the manifestation of righteous indignation, but it was not the cars, not the policemen, not the firefighters, and not the building of the television station that was responsible for the austerity program of Gyurcsány.” So, says Debreczeni, “the real problem was not with violence per se but that this violence was directed at the wrong objects.”

ViolenceAn assignment for "Daily Dawn" /Flickr

An assignment for “Daily Dawn” /Flickr

That same evening Orbán was the guest of MTV’s very popular program Az este. To the question of whether he feels any responsibility that the demonstration fueled by the party ended in violence Orbán answered in the negative. Only Ferenc Gyurcsány, he said, is responsible for what happened: “no one could have thought that the people will applaud the acknowledged lies and forged data.” He then added two sentences that are truly unacceptable from a democratic politician and a responsible leader of the largest opposition party in the country. He urged people “not to retire to their houses but to defend their interests on the streets…. They can always count on Fidesz because we will defend them from every kind of violence.” A rather odd interpretation of the events of the previous day.

Debreczeni, the former MDF member who was a sympathizer of Ibolya Dávid, contrasts Orbán’s attitude to that of Ibolya Dávid, who considered the statement “one of the most irresponsible pronouncements of Viktor Orbán. Every democrat who respects the rule of law and the constitution would have expected the chairman of Fidesz to condemn the criminal acts and the vandalism that took place. We expected Viktor Orbán to recall his sympathizers from the streets and postpone the planned demonstrations on Saturday…. In this situation Viktor Orbán’s behavior is irresponsible and incomprehensible when he urges  people not to retire to their houses but to remain on the streets. Viktor Orbán is endangering not only the future of the Hungarian right but also the existence of Hungarian democracy.”

In the following days he only added oil to the fire. In an interview with Hír TV  he repeated that he “supports all indignation on the part of the population” because after all no one spoke to the Hungarian people the way Gyurcsány did in Balatonőszöd. Orbán time and again called the Gyurcsány government “illegitimate” and thus practically encouraged people to topple it one way or the other. And, indeed, “the peaceful demonstrators” remained on Kossuth Square until October 23. Speakers came from extreme right-wing organizations and their speeches were full of hate and anti-Semitic remarks. There was open agitation against the constitutional order for weeks on end. Almost every night there were demonstrations not just in Budapest but also in other middle-sized cities organized by Fidesz activists and/or members of civil circles. The crowd knew that “it had the support of the political hinterland.”

So, even if  we cannot say for certain that Fidesz was pulling the strings during the actual siege of the television station, there is no question that Viktor Orbán and Fidesz supported the violent actions and encouraged people to join forces with the rabble on the streets. Despicable behavior and unacceptable in  the family of democratic nations. Yet four years later he once again became prime minister with a mandate that gave him unlimited power. No question, that power is in the wrong hands.