September 18, 2006

The "right-wing riots" in Budapest - A non-lesson in young democracy

I wouldn't even know where to start in terms of analyzing one iota of Hungary's politique as I know next to nothing...

(AP) "We screwed up. Not a little, a lot," Gyurcsany was heard saying. "No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have."

The prime minister also told colleagues the government needed to end its duplicitous ways.

"I almost died when for a year and a half we had to pretend we were governing. Instead, we lied morning, evening and night. I don't want to do this anymore," he told his fellow Socialists.

The 45-year-old Gyurcsany, his party's golden boy since he was elected prime minister in late 2002, said the economy had been kept afloat only through "divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy and hundreds of tricks."

(Reuters) [...] Protestors shouted "56" in memory of Hungary's failed uprising against Soviet rule in October 1956. Some used flagstones to attack the television building.
...and I don't know how much of a right, if any at all, that I have to make comments on the current political crisis in Hungary being that I am a third-generation American.

But one thing I have to say is this:



1 9 50 #@$&ING 6!!!!!

Update: This guy "Happycrow" explains the situation and who's who. He at least seems to know what he's talking about. Which is more than I can say for myself.

Posted by Kyer at September 18, 2006 11:09 PM | TrackBack

You're right, you don't know what its like here. As an American living in HU let me give you some perspective.

In 56, people also took the streets here (and in 89) because they felt betrayed.

Hungarians then, as now felt their politicians line their pockets and behave the way they do because they're unaccountable.

The media for the most part has had a strangely forgiving relationship with MSzP (which is, by the way, the modern name for the same party running the country in 56 - who you might know by the name Communists), Gyurcsany's party both out and in government, frequently neglecting scandals nor reporting counterpoints; but apply a double standard to the Fidesz, the main opposition. It's likely that this is the reason for the riot in front of the MTV, the Hungarian equivalent of the BBC (but with commercials!).

Others have raised the issues about the economy, the ridiculous white elephants & pork doled out, etc. only to have the points mooted by MSzP and the media... It was Gyurcsany admitting these points, that he felt the government had run out of tricks, that they had been "impudent" and finally, the contempt in which he holds the electorate which ignited peoples' passions.

During the election debates, when the opposition tried to bring the looming economic crisis to the fore, Gyurcsany scolded his opposite saying there was no crisis, that the opposition was scare-mongering and being dishonourable.

Given that people vote mainly along party lines and not issues, many swallowed this, thinking the opposition really was just inventing the issues.

Not knowing what's going on but being able to take a position on it isn't exclusive to you. You've got good company, plenty of Western investors. Their money continues to flow in here, buying the bonds & bolstering the currency. Several analysts believe that Gyurcsany's "Solidarity Package" (note its not called Austerity Package!) will deliver the needed reform. However on examination, the measures don't deal with core problems in the country. Instead they attempt to squeeze more out of the few rocks that pay taxes while not really cutting costs.

The country has a major problem with tax evasion; mainly because the taxes are so high (the top rate, with social costs is 49% and starts at 6000 USD - and before you say life is cheaper here, think again nearly everything here comes from outside the country).

And it's targeted some costs that will lead to more unrest, namely cutting the subsidy on heating fuel and charging more for health and closing hospitals. With so many people already unable to make ends meet, this promises to make 2006/7 the Hungarian Winter of Discontent. (Already, the cut backs are appearing. There was a segment on Vezprem last week that they've run out of plaster so people have been asked not to break their legs).

The country has some 3000 Town Councils (I understand the UK with 6 times the population has 680); no attempt is made to fix this.

Lastly, there are many who are scared about their mortgages. Several have government subsidised loans; MANY have foreign loans (as Forint loans have prohibitively high rates). This is one reason given for the Forints great performance in the last few years (as this money was borrowed from Western sources).

People are asking, what has Gyurcsany told them truthfully? What are they going to lose?

So what 56 is meant to convey is that people are finding they are not alone in their dis-illusionment.

Posted by: Rolrox at September 21, 2006 05:40 PM


I tried to email you this comment, but your email address is either incorrect, not legit. So I'm posting it here should you check back.

Thank you very much for your very thorough analysis of the situation in Budapest a few days ago and for your explanation behind the motive for the protesters shouting "56". I am unsure how to read the intention behind your initial line, "You're right, you don't know what its like here.", but allow me to explain my intention for the post.

I am a third-generation American of Hungarian descent (my grandfather having been born on a boat on the voyage to America as his parents and siblings fled in 1905). I am very careful about having strong opinions about the political actions of foreign citizenry in their respective domestic affairs. However, feeling a strong connection to my ancestral homeland, certain things tend to evoke my opinion more strongly than others (however much right I may arguably have to do so is irrelevant to me in this case).

The reason why I published my post (more specifically, the part about shouting "56") was because currently I am trying to learn more about my Hungarian ancestry, and thus the politics and culture. At the moment, I am beginning a book about the 1956 uprising in anticipation of the 50th anniversary in October.

Though I admittedly know very little about Hungary overall, my point with the "56 issue" was that political deception, no matter how despicable and no matter how dire the economic condition may be for the majority of Hungarians presently --- I thought it was a stretch to compare this to an all out Soviet repression complete with tanks and troops and the whole nine yards. Though you (as I hope I understood you correctly) were drawing a comparison to the sentiments of betrayal and disillusionment the Magyars were feeling a few days ago to 56 (and 89), I was looking at it very literally, in terms of the historical differences (again, a modern econo-political betrayal and the violent Soviet suppression of a "popular uprising") Not to belittle the economic hardships of the people as you and many others, both personally and in the media, have described, but I was comparing the two times in very hard terms.

Thank you again for your highly informative and insightful commentary and for visiting my website.

Posted by: kyer at September 22, 2006 09:52 AM

I didn't mean anything snide by you not being here. Only that you're seeing snippets of info and drawing conclusions.

Things are definitely a lot better than in 56 (see the humourous take on; but still, there's a great deal of disenchantment - and I'm sure it's similar to how the Hungarians felt in 56 (8 years after the Soviets imposed their style of life on HU; they had a few years of democracy after WWII)...

The point is politicians of all colours here are unaccountable and the people are being choking.

Each time there's a huge scandal (today's by the way is that Austrian construction firms illegally contributed to the re-election coffers of MSzP and SzDSz), the perps usually get off scott-free - or find a fall guy (for a banking/stock scandal 2 years ago, it ended up being a former building security guard).

The average tax-paying Joe knows things are a mess and unfair, and works 50%+ of his day just to support the political elite/self-admitted boneheads.

Like 56, how can one trust a coalition that denies the issues, and then claims they have the solution when there's no further means to cover things up?

If they knew the fall was coming, why didn't they stop 4 years ago (when the shortfall was just 5% over GDP as opposed to today at 10+%)?

And if they were truly clueless then (as they admit), how do they now have the solutions? All they seem to know how to do is create more taxes.

When you hear Gyurcsany talk about belt tightening, realize people are already several notches too tight already. Most people don't have disposable income... The country sold off most of the chattel - and there's nothing to show for it... So to now tell people, pay more and get less - was never going to be a happily received.

Sorry if this saddens your nostalgic view of your heritage; take some solace in the fact that those Hungarian ancestors were very clever, industrious and honest. The current situation is a vestige of 50 years of state-imposed kleptocracy.


Posted by: Rolrox at September 22, 2006 12:51 PM

1. I liked the "This is how an Italian (Christian) dies!"
2. Let me give you some really, really simple details:
1. The PM said (NOT admitted) to a bunch of party people, that we: (he ment the party that governed between 2002-2006)
1. DID NOTHING for 4 years
2. LIED all the time to win the 2006 election
3. FUCKED UP. In Hungarian: elkúrtuk. (alcoortuk) its much more of a slang then fuck.

AND, when this tape came out, he said he is proud and he wanted to break the lies in HU politics. Yeah, right. And you´re right it´s not ´56. But the communists are the same, only they are wearing Armani..

Posted by: Attila Dubecz at September 23, 2006 08:07 AM


I beg to differ - on DID NOTHING... MSzP did do things, They:-
1) Handed out lots, spent money they didn't have, increased the national debt.
2) Implemented lots more taxes and fees.
3) Encouraged more professionals to leave the country.

Anyway, if it's just about the lying then I'd not be fussed.

For me it is about MSzPs demonstrating their competence. I saw one translation of the PM's tirade where he referred to MSzP as Boneheads - (I like the sound of that, the "Hungarian Bonehead Party").

I'm wondering, was MSzP/Gyurcsany either:-
1) really clueless that things were going bad and did nothing before the election, or
2) fully cognizant about driving into the abyss and deliberately stepping on the accelerator (like James Dean, 'live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.')?

"Call me Frank" (*from his opening line in the CNN interview) rants that the major problem is tax evasion. Wonder why? Count Dracula treasury tactics force the otherwise honest, law abiding do-er's (who make up most of the tax-base) to places they'd rather not go, alienating them from their "government."

More taxation appears to be the only tool MSzP know... Take a lesson from Slovakia and Russia who have shown lower taxes delivers more revenues.

Turn from "Call me Hot Dog" for a moment to talk about the 25% of the country that aren't disgusted by the whole situation; or those who threaten to bomb Heroes' Square as they don't like the theme of the rally. (Who says Western Democracy is dead?)

How are people so easily duped? Fool me once, shame on you; but we're now on like a month of April Fools. These are the same guys who scheduled the Fireworks (which it turns out they bought on credit) and forgot to check with Met Office...

"I'm a weener" claims his credibility now comes from the fact that he no longer has to lie. He's a changed man. He says that he wants to get away from the lying (morning, noon and night) in Hungarian politics. (He'll delay mastering remorse and empathy til later.)

For the Stability/Solidarity package to work, people have to buy into it. It has to be sold to the country, Brussels and foreign investors... Not just the 25% who aren't upset... It requires good stage and presenting skills. "Frankie Goes to Hollywood" has to be out there, not just saying "I'm staying", but giving us proof why he's still the man for the job. He's got to be demonstrating that track record of years of making sound economic decisions (how much did that mortgage interest subsidy programme cost the country, by the way - oh yeah, ill-thought thru Fidesz idea that MSzP was going to repeal their first day in office - pass the pork barrel please).

It was once asked of Richard Nixon (also a serial liar who employed various tricks to get (re) elected President), "Would you buy a used car from this man?"

Well would you?

- - -

Have you ever noticed how Hungarians say "Hello" for good-bye and "See Ya" for hello? I think somebody must have, at one time, mis-translated these from English and since then, all of Hungary has it wrong..

Now, perhaps I'm overly worried - but same thing might be happening again. You see, "Solidarity" doesn't mean "Austerity" in English. Solidarity is about us working shoulder-to-shoulder, all suffering the same; like all of us having to give up our Audis and ride the Siemens trams to work - and Austerity is about - well not having any money to pay the heating bills this winter, or the foreign-currency mortgage repayments when the currency devalues.

So what do you think? Should I worry that these words are also going end up with mangled meanings in Hungarian?

Posted by: Rolrox at September 23, 2006 06:23 PM