Oct 2, 2006
For two nights, the center of Budapest was the scene of a real riot. On September 18th in particular, some 10,000 demonstrators occupied the square next to the Parliament and clashed violently with police lines. Some of the protesters seized the television building and blocked broadcasts before the police dislodged them. The protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.
What triggered the riots was a radio broadcast of Gyurcsany’s speech to leaders of the Hungarian Socialist Party at a private meeting held four months ago.
The Socialist Party had just won the legislative elections, after making many promises during the election campaign. In his secret speech, Gyurcsany used crude language, “we screwed up,” “no one in Europe has talked crap like us,” “we won the election by lying from morning to night,” etc. He urged the ministers and deputies of his party to stick by him in order to impose an austerity plan on the population. He said,“Reforms or the collapse of our government. There isn’t a choice.”
This frank and cynical speech was made among friends and wasn’t intended to be publicized. But secretly recorded and played on the radio four months later, it illustrates the duplicity of the government.
The speech was even more scandalous because the government’s newly announced austerity plan was particularly drastic. Using the pretext that Hungary needed budget cuts to be able to use the Euro currency, the government is massively cutting jobs in public services, including hospitals and schools. It will cut the number of public employees by 23%, raise the national sales tax from 15% to 20% on items of daily consumption and raise gas and electric rates. Students will have to pay for college education. Public employees will suffer a wage freeze and the elimination of a 13th month of pay at the end of the year etc.
This austerity plan comes from a government that represents the privileged layer of the country. These Hungarians are the ones who built their fortunes under the so-called “popular democratic” regime and in the name of “socialism;” then they continued to enrich themselves after the change in the regime, now in the name of liberal capitalism.
Gyurcsany himself is a perfect example of this privileged layer: an old leader of the Communist Youth, he used his relations in the party apparatus to grab privatized businesses. Specializing in real estate and failing businesses, he became one of the richest men of the country. Once his fortune was made, he returned to the service of his old party, transformed after the change of regime into the “Socialist Party.” Barely 40 years old, he became Prime Minister and an outstanding personality of a “modernist left.”
The cynical and lying Gyurcsany, once in office, carried out the opposite of what he promised during his election campaign. He preaches austerity for others while enriching himself. He certainly isn’t an exception in leading political circles, not in Hungary ... or elsewhere. But for once someone like this may see his political career suffer!
In Hungary, the leaders of a party which pretended to be communist, made an opening toward the West and toward unbridled capitalism. They transformed themselves into a layer of intermediaries, delivering the biggest businesses to Western capital while enriching themselves with the rest. That leaves them open to attack by the right wing in the opposition and especially by a far right which has emerged that blames the rottenness of the regime and the growth of inequalities on the “survival of communism.” During the confrontations, the cries of “down with the reds!” that were heard may have been the act of individuals or little far right groups. But it also means that an explosion of discontent against the government could be channeled into reactionary currents.
Such a turn of events would result in the disappointment of the people who came out into the streets to protest. Either they put their own interests forward or someone else will take advantage of this mobilization.