Hungary: A view from Budapest

Recent political developments in Hungary

A Socialist Party member in London has been corresponding with a long-time friend in Budapest about the recent political developments in Hungary. Her letters give her account of the background to the present situation and her feelings about the present and recent governments. She has expressed warm appreciation for the analyses carried on the CWI web-site and in the Socialist and for the interest and concern of socialists world-wide.

A view from Budapest

Dear M,

I read the article you attached to your last e-mail and it was really thought-provoking and very true – in the details and its insight. It is very good to know that there are people in the UK who show such deep interest in our affairs both in the past and in our days. I especially liked the lines about our Prime Minister in the article you sent. We call him a ‘limousine communist’. Your comparison about Tony Blair as "Real” Labour and our Prime Minister as a “socialist” is more than convincing. They are, at the same time, on very good terms.

At the moment there is a wide-scale inquiry about the actions and measures of the police during the events of 23 October. There was a massive use of water canon, tear-gas and rubber bullets and other beatings and violent methods which are now under investigation.

There is still no peace here, though the sudden frost and chill have started to prevent active demonstrators from participating in every demonstration and protest…With the severe winter setting in our hardships will increase, undoubtedly.


Commentary No 1. Background to our present political arena

Do not expect me to give you a detailed analysis but I am trying to put you in the picture. Here I go with my very limited knowledge about the background to our present political arena.

The year of the great changes, 1990 or rather 1989.

The first free elections were held in 1990. The first term was between 1990 and 1994. The winning party was a kind of centre right party called MDF – Hungarian Democratic Forum. It was a bit conservative and a bit nationalist but definitely very far from any extreme trends. Most of the politicians were honest amateurs who had not been in power at all in their lives and they started to act properly. But they made a lot of mistakes both from a political point of view and economic-wise, too. They were in their late 40s or rather in their late 50s. They were in alliance with the Christian Democrats only.

The second term – 1994-1998

The Hungarian Socialist Party managed to win the election with a huge majority. This party has a kind of double nature. A certain percentage of its members and supporters definitely come from the old Communist Party and a certain percentage may be really people with genuine leftwing values. Basically, this party has always remained closely connected with the Kadar regime of between 1956 and 1989 (the last year without Kadar) and with all the lies and corruption.

The real betrayal for the left-wing voters was that this party forged an alliance and made a coalition government with the Free Democrats, which was the most radically right party formed since 1990. It is a small party with about 5% of the voters supporting them today. In 1994 they had the support of about 8%. Anyway, the sincere supporters of both parties got totally disappointed in 1994. It was so evident and crystal-clear that it does not matter whether a party manages to win elections with left-wingish ideas or whether a party is the main melting pot of the richest capitalists; they are more than happy with each other if the question of power is at stake.

The third term:  1998-2002   

It was again the central right that won, but already led by the  FIDESZ i.e. this strong and enthusiastic centre right party led by Victor Orban who was a great hero in the year of 1989 as one of the main advocates of those who wanted to get rid of the Red Army still occupying Hungary.

This winning party made a coalition government with the party that had won in 1990 – the Hungarian Democratic Forum plus the Christian Democrats and the Hungarian Party of Small-holders. Small-holders’ party was the first and only representative party of the Hungarian farmers who actually compose 6% of the voting population. This party had a crazy leader and a horribly amateur and silly policy-making administration. With the help of its political rivals this party has now disappeared, leaving the Hungarian farmers unrepresented in reality. 

The fourth term: 2002-2006

This was a coalition of the Hungarian Socialist Party with the Free Democrats again. The HSP was then led by Peter Meggyesi and there was a political take-over in their mid-term when Ferenc Gyurcsany got the steering wheel of the party – the steering wheel of the government. He is the most controversial figure on the scene. He is in the club and league of the richest Hungarian capitalists. Actually, he has been registered as one of the richest 20 in Hungary with billions (not millions) of hard currency here and there. He is the main ’representative’ of left-wing values in Hungary… The adjective ’ridiculous’ is not strong enough to describe this contradiction. 

The fifth term: 2006 –

At the end of April this year, the previous coalition was re-elected (for the first time in this area of ours). The victory of the coalition parties was marginal and the main slogan of the election campaign was: ‘Hungary is in a fantastically good economic state’. The opposition parties tried to draw the voters’ attention to the opposite, i.e. that we are in a deep economic crisis and our state debt is bigger than the debt of any other EU country. But the winning parties declared that that was only the propaganda campaign of the opposition side.

The austerity package shocked the people in June with all the horribly belt-tightening measures, with all the cuts in salaries, with all the rises in taxes etc.  To top the story, there was a tape recording made at the end of May at a party meeting of the Hungarian Socialist Party and on this tape it was clear that they had lied profoundly and massively about everything before the election.

That was the situation on 17 September when the leaked tape came out. It was six weeks ago now. All the unrest, demonstrations, street clashes started immediately then on 17 September. 

Commentary No. 2. Our prime minister angers everyone

So Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsany our Prime Minister is extremely rich and extremely impertinent. He is without any inhibition in telling a pack of lies in order to reach his next goal. We can speak until now of a period of six weeks during which there are permanent demonstrations, absolutely unlike ordinary Hungary. We are really surprised at witnessing events like that.

Everybody was stunned, both politicians and ordinary people, when Gyurcsany admitted that he and his party had lied. As he is a contradictory figure, with being a millionaire and shooting to power in a party coup, he has never been really a favourite guy.

Now he seems to be determined to push through some reforms but only because he cannot go on with his ’generously giving’ but actually ’spending to win’ policy. It was shocking for the ordinary Hungarian to get the message directly from our PM that they had consciously falsified the figures only to win the elections. This shock triggered riots. Now there is an ill-famed sentence quoted from him: ’We lied in the morning and we lied in the evening.’

I am sure you in Britain also blame a lot on the media influencing the reading public. Well, it is the same here. The ruling guys do use the media consciously and cleverly and so a kind of stream of lies is still going on. Of course, the conservative right-wing camp loathe the PM vehemently as he is more shrewd, sly and talented than any other previous socialist leader. He seems to be a real match for the famous leader of the right called Victor Orban. A lot of truly left-wing people are desperately bitter about him and he is referred to as the ’ limousine socialist’. He was the main guy at the beginning of privatisations and he has accumulated a lot of wealth and huge properties. So far the “socialists” have stood firm in backing him as there is not an immediate candidate to replace him.

Punished in elections

On 1 October we had local elections (regional and local councils were elected) and the “socialists” and their allies lost heavily. Undoubtedly, it was a failure for them and a very clear sign of bitterness and dissatisfaction on the part of people. This punishing defeat in the regional elections created a somewhat new situation.

After it, the opposition started to be louder about their demand i.e. to force the PM to resign. He said he would not resign and he called a vote of confidence in the parliament. Of course, as it was his party that won the general elections in April, he knew that he would have the majority of the votes in the parliament.

So the situation is the following: a majority for the “socialists” and their allies in the parliament, a majority for the conservatives and their allies in the regional and local governments. The third arena is the arena of the streets. People speak about a moral crisis with an inveterate liar in power. More and more Hungarians condemn the Socialist Party from going against the will of the people and call on it to force Gyurcsany to step down. Now even our president, Laszlo Solyom, is also urging the governing coalition to pick a new leader. The confidence of our society in our elected government is really in ruins but the vote of confidence in the parliament was won by the supporters of the PM.

As the planned reforms of the austerity package make people’s life very difficult and as the economic problems are coupled with this total lack of any morality and honesty on the part of our leaders, more and more people, right and left-affiliated, have decided to participate in mass demonstrations to protest against this situation.

Drastic changes to health care, higher education, energy prices and state administration have been announced.

Anniversary clashes

The past six weeks have seen daily protests calling for the PM to step down. So it was not very surprising that demonstrators and police clashed in the afternoon of 23 October which was the 50th anniversary of the country’s revolt against the Soviet rule. Of course, it is interesting who the protestors were. They belonged to a mixed bunch, mostly on the right of the political spectrum but some anti-Gyurcsany left-wingers too.

The demonstrators included students, professional people like doctors, dentists, businessmen, teachers and a lot of white-collar workers but also some radical right-wing elements who are always happy about any clashes or street conflicts. What they all had in common, right-wing and left-wing protestors, is a strong belief that our PM has insulted our country. It is better to use the present tense as it is still in the air.

…We hope everything will be settled very soon and Hungary will come out of the gutter. There are a lot of poor people who are deprived in many ways. They are not only socially and financially deprived but morally, spiritually and emotionally too. There are regions in Hungary where the rate of unemployment is about 40-50% and there is hardly any hope for a quick economic recovery. The big ex-giants, factories and plants based on non-existing resources, have been closed down. There is no more raw material from the ‘Big Brother’ and the men in their 40s and 50s are unable to take part in any re-training project and they tend to become alcoholics and social outcasts.

It would be interesting to talk more about all the phenomena here in Central Europe…

Thanks a lot for your attention to our affairs here in Hungary.

Special financial appeal to all readers of

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November 2006