News – 1st November, 2006

Art and politics – part eight

News–1st November, 2006


As I am writing this article on the night of the 50th anniversary of the ’56 Hungarian Revolution, there are barricades and street fights in Budapest. There are large crowds of protesters gathering at several key points of the capital.

They are armed with stones, metal bars and Molotov cocktails, facing a mighty police force – thousands of policemen in riot gear, armed with truncheons, tear gas and shotguns – shooting rubber bullets and sometimes real ammunition at the flag-waving, hooded throngs of angry youth, who demand the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister and possibly his government also. Of all things, I despise violence the most, and watching these events unfold makes me nauseous.

The government’s concept of commemorating the last fallen Hungarian uprising – throughout the past centuries we certainly have had a glorious series of those – was based on heavy numerological symbolism. The “official” ’56 memorial (a 56-degree-wedge-shaped arrangement of 1956 tall columns of hard steel) was unveiled exactly at 19:56. On October 23, fifty-six kings and foreign heads of state came to pay respect to the heroes of the ’56 revolution. After they participated at several celebrations organized by the government – from which common citizens were all but banned – they had to be sneaked out of the city in haste, on bumpy back-roads, because the anti-government protesters blocked Budapest’s main thoroughfares and traffic routes. Cars were burning; water cannons were shooting bursts of water dyed blue to make protesters easily identifiable wherever they may show up later. Clouds of several vicious brands of tear gas covered the bridges and avenues; wounded people lay on the pavement; badly beaten handcuffed protesters were thrown into police cars. Peaceful passers-by – including a Jesuit and some elderly gentlemen and women – were casually kicked and beaten by helmeted, unidentifiable policemen, right in front of TV cameras. Earlier in the day protesters managed to hijack an old, Soviet made T34 tank, one of the props at the government organized celebration. Young protesters paraded with it until the tank ran out of gas. The movie-like, media savvy scene got an instant spot on CNN’s Breaking News. (Some more videos on Youtube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

The events of the past year or so clearly show that there are serious problems with the young Hungarian democracy. One of the main causes for the malfunctioning of the system is that there was virtually no accounting for the past. The heinous crimes committed against the Hungarian people during the half-century-long Bolshevik dictatorship were unceremoniously swept under the carpet. There were no serious discussions about the dark decades; no real conclusions were drawn after the change of the regime. The ill-gained wealth and newly acquired power of some of the main players of the ancient, bloody regime is still an irritating factor in the eyes of millions of disenfranchised citizens who fared much worse than they had hoped at the arrival of political freedom 15 chaotic years ago.

The very epitome of former prominent party apparatchiks making a material and political fortune, mostly on the merits of strong ties to the past, is Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, once a fierce Communist youth leader and now a very wealthy businessman by Hungarian standards. He is a well-spoken, tall, thin, nerdy-looking man in his early 40s with the aura of a teacher’s pet. His government and decision-making circle of friends and “former” business partners is heavily spiked with people of similarly tainted pasts and hard-to-explain formidable gains in wealth.

The governing Socialist Party (a straight successor and inheritor of the assets, the information bank and the well-oiled, country-wide network of hundreds of thousands of experienced and obedient activists of the late dictator János Kádár’s party) and their liberal coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats, blundered up the state budget royally during their last term in office. They borrowed so much money in the past four years that paying the interest on the mountainous debt alone precludes economic growth. Most Hungarians are losing faith that they will ever enjoy a Western European life standard.

One keeps on wondering if all those “internationally acknowledged financial and economical specialists” whom the ruling parties employ in the government have a clue of their own doings. Looking at the very results of their four plus years of feverish activity, one cannot escape the thought that these supposedly knowledgeable “international experts”, these smooth talking managers of the country finances and economy, are all but either dilettantes; or, they are prevented from above from doing anything worthwhile in their fields.

As the PM himself admitted in a speech at a party gathering, the socialist–liberal coalition won the parliamentary elections last spring with falsified reports on the real state of the budget and the economy. At the beginning of their second term, they proceeded to lay plans on how to introduce harsh taxation in order to reduce the deficit. Most of the burden of repaying the government's extravagant loans falls on small businesses and on the common citizens once again. The planners clothed the obviously unpopular idea – of further taxing an already overtaxed and grossly underpaid population – in the vague outlines of so-called “reforms”. In order to fulfill the deficit-cutting expectations of the EU, they are now obliged to quickly fix the hole they themselves have ever so skillfully cut in the nation’s pocket during their first four years in power.

At around the time of finalizing these plans, the Prime Minister gave a secret speech at a closed meeting of his party’s leaders in May. In this now world-famous, desperate speech, Gyurcsány acknowledged that they have lied to the people throughout their rule and tricked with economic statistics in order to win the elections and stay in power.

The secret speech somehow made it to the media a few months later – timed to influence the forthcoming municipal elections. The revelation of blatant government lies and the manipulation of economic data, along with the speech’s foul language and rude style strongly reminiscent of old Communist verbal manners, provided the last spark needed to set off massive public unrest all over the country. As a direct result, the ruling party suffered a disastrous defeat at the municipal elections.

In older democracies, a country’s prominent leader would instantly resign if such a speech were to come to light, especially if his own indiscretions led to such an overwhelming loss of an election. In 21st century Hungary – “a country of no consequences”, as the popular definition goes – the Prime Minister does not feel obliged to resign amidst such credibility-destroying scandal, but stubbornly stays in power. Instead of resigning, he has, in fact, declared himself to be the only politician capable of bringing up the country’s finances to European Union standards.

After confessing in his infamous secret speech that “we lied morning, noon and night” (sounding like the refrain of an anti-gospel or a reggae song), Ferenc Gyurcsány has the nerve to play the role of Messiah, the only possible redeemer of a long-suffering nation. Most probably, he has the backing of Tony Blair’s England, of Russia, and of the banks, as well as the blessing of the US. Alone, with no such backing, no sane politician would dare to do acrobatics of this magnitude.

After confessing his lies and his falsification of important numbers, after going back radically on his election promises by introducing heavy taxation instead of tax cuts and more bureaucracy instead of easing the rules, and after calling Hungary “this fucking country” in his scandalous speech, the Prime Minister should not be so surprised that the sizeable nationalist opposition (about 50 % of voters) is up in arms now and ready to take to the streets. Many of those who do not participate in the demonstration and remained neutral in the political brawl are feeling insulted by the Prime Minister’s careless choice of words.

After the authorities barred the common citizens from most government-organized ’56 celebrations and after the heavy-handed police actions on the very night of the revolution’s 50th anniversary, it seems the atrocities will keep on escalating, perhaps even driving the country into the collapse of democracy and further economic deterioration.   

Unfortunately, there seems to be no peaceful solution to solve the current, steadily growing social, political and economic crisis. The opposing political sides are too remote in their demands to reach any lasting agreement. Hungary is historically cursed with untalented politicians who led the country into lost wars and centuries-long misery. This new generation of politicians is not better then their predecessors were. Why would they be? Submerged throughout their entire adult life in political conspiracies, having little or no real knowledge of the average citizens’ problems, they are unable to see themselves in context, and they have no credible, wise advisors at hand.

Most of the intellectuals who could have advised both the politicians and the citizens objectively and impartially were totally discredited in the past years, in a never-ending series of agent scandals. More and more formerly top secret documents are becoming available for public scrutiny, perpetually proving that a large percentage of the country’s leading artists, writers, journalists and thinkers were snitches, all kinds of agents of the fallen dictatorship’s feared and loathed secret police, resulting in a serious loss of popular credibility for all intellectuals. Besides the similarly discredited churches and politicians, there is nobody the people can look up to; they see nobody trustworthy in the higher echelons of society.

In the upcoming parts of my series on the relationship of art and politics, I am going attempt to detail a few of the most shocking agent scandals of the past years involving Hungary’s intelligentsia, our venerable Brahmin cast.

(To be continued)

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