Tuesday, September 19, 2006


BBC report on violent demonstrations in Hungary.

Basically, what the report describes. The whole truth is a little more complicated.

Gyurcsány, the current socialist PM as a result of an election a couple months back, was addressing MPs in his party at a private meeting and made the basic political error of telling the truth in a situation where he could be surreptitiously recorded.

The background is that the election took place at a time when Hungary is basically up to its nostrils in the effluent...huge debts, no longer able to afford to subsidise gas and electricity prices etc...and, as people seemed to be of the opinion that 10 years since the change of regime was long enough to get the country and economy on track and end the years of austerity and belt tightening, there appeared to be an unspoken pact between all the parties contesting the election to not make waves. The political reality was such that any party who actually told the truth about the economy would not stand an Unsworth at left back's chance of being elected.

Also, two of the major reasons why 10 years has not been long enough are the usual post regime change corruption whereby state industries are sold and contracts awarded to cronies for respectively nominal and extortionate fees in exchange for bungs and backhanders to politicians and the fact that the black market here is larger than the legal one. In other words, every single person in Hungary is corrupt to some extent whether it be the housewife who accepts the plumber's offer of not issuing a bill for the work done and thus gets a cash discount, the teacher giving private lessons after school, the manager diverting company concrete to his patio or the politician abusing his position to stuff his back pocket. Fact is they're all at it. The only difference is in the amounts involved. And people being what they are, they do not equate their own, small financial scale corruption with that of the politicians and bureaucrats.

So, tax base therefore very small or at least smaller than it should be given the extent of the black economy and therefore, taxes themselves on a par with those of Scandinavia...very high.

Result of all this? A population not at all receptive to any notions of further belt-tightening and cuts in government expenditure. A simple political formula that telling the truth equals electoral suicide. Plus the fact that the sheer scale of the corruption makes it almost impossible to deal with. How is the guy with a small allotment style vineyard going to be persuaded to declare his earnings on a few litres of illicitly sold wine which will help him pay the increase in his utility bills when he is aware that people in higher positions have made billions at the same game?

Gyurcsány understands all this and attempted to tell his party a few home truths. The two most quoted parts of his speech, both in the BBC report, sound pretty damning but, without either the context of the whole speech or knowledge of the political situation here in Hungary, are succeptible to being used to manipulate those bears of little brain that make up the target audience of huckstering politicos.

The first, "Of course we lied to win the election" breaks the unspoken contract between any electorate and its politicians that 'we know you lie but we will accept this as long as you do not say so to our faces'. Hypocritical? Of course but a fact nonetheless. Home truth number 1 anyway.

The second refers to the Socialist's 4 years in office before the latest election. "We did nothing for four years. Nothing." Again, out of context, pretty damning.

But, if we take both in the context of an intelligent man talking privately to the members of his party doing what all voters profess they want their politicians to do, that is to tell it how it is and attempting to hold up a mirror to the MPs and shake them up enough to at least attempt to change the status quo, to say that this is how it has been and I am heartily sick of it, then they become something else entirely. That which should be a kick start for real political change, an acceptance of responsibility and a new contract with the electorate.

The cassette containing this speech was broadcast on Hungarian radio on the 18th of September. Gyurcsány himself published his entire speech on his blog on the 17th. Okay, he knew of the existence of the tape by then either, and here is the interesting bit, because he had been told of it or because the whole thing happened with his knowledge and approval. Either way, he is standing by his speech and will not apologise for nor retract one single word of it.

I have read this and, although my Hungarian is not up to understanding it in its entirity, the gist of it seems to be that 'the country is fucked, we have been content simply to be in power and in denial of the real situation and we have to try to break the culture of lies and actually do something to try and fix the problems'.

So, the tape is broadcast on the 18th. On the 19th, demonstrations break out simultaneously in all the major towns and cities in the country, including Nagykanizsa. The focus is on the 2 quotes above and there is a lot of Hungarian flaggage in evidence.

Spontaneous eruption of public feeling? My arse. Just further evidence that the right is more organised than the left is all. They hardly needed their political antennae set to maximum sensitivity to recognise this as a perfect opportunity to make political capital. Firstly, just how many people would take the trouble to actually read the whole speech and not rely on the selected soundbites? Secondly, what party could resist such a golden opportunity to brand the opposition as congenital liars thereby keeping their part of the contract whereby we know they lie but they have not told us so to our faces and can therefore, be trusted?

It's the flaggage on display that gives it away really. I mean, what normal Hungarian voter would think, "In a whore's life! The PM lied to us. Now, where's my flag?"?

Again, a bit of background. Before the election, the main opposition party, FIDESZ, was running a tad short of policy ideas and, as afraid of telling the truth as the ruling socialists, decided that their best chance of victory was by playing the nationalist card. Thus, whenever they held rallies the faithful were instructed to turn up not with their party flags and colours but with Hungary's red, white and green.

Anyway, as demonstrations do, some turned pretty nasty, particularly the ones in the capital. Finding the parliament building closed and/or too well defended, they turned their attention to the State TV headquarters where they overpowered some 100 riot police and stormed the building. To what end? Ostensibly to have a petition read live on air but I doubt the majority were even aware of this. Most of the participants seemed to be the Hungarian equivalent of our own dearly beloved BNP supporters and were probably acting on some genetic memory from 1956 that storming the TV building is what one does on these occasions.

As ever with the really important political events, this one will play itself out on an emotive rather than rational level especially since the election was only narrowly won and the country split almost 50/50 between the Socialists, a kind of New Labour/Third Way lite and the right wing, nationalist FIDESZ. I can't help feeling that, despite his best intentions, Gyurcsány has handed the opposition a lethal weapon and that his days are probably numbered.

Which, for a lifelong socialist (champagne or otherwise) and rabid anti-nationalist such as myself is definitely...Not. Good. News.

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