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Gyurcsány faces the Öszöd anniversary

September 19th, 2011

On the fifth anniversary of the leaking of his infamous Őszöd speech, right wing commentators believe there are plenty of reasons to put former Socialist premier Ferenc Gyurcsány behind bars, while a left-liberal pundit suggests the case sets a dangerous precedent.

In May 2006, just one month after voters returned him to power, Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted to his fellow Socialist MPs behind closed doors that he had misgoverned the country in order to win the elections: “We have been lying morning, evening and night,” he told a shocked audience, in a speech richly peppered with expletives. An audio recording was leaked from the meeting, and the most embarrassing excerpts were broadcast on Hungarian Radio on September 17, 2006. Angry demonstrations followed, and on the 18th, a mob assaulted the headquarters of MTV, the Hungarian Public Television, while  anti-riot police, experienced in facing football hooligans, were condemned to watch passively from the sidelines. Two further days of rioting followed, but this time the police were unleashed in their full fury – detaining and maltreating whoever crossed their path. A month later on October 23, the police force failed to prevent an unruly crowd mingling with Fidesz supporters disbanding after a peaceful rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution. The police attacked with tear-gas and rubber bullets, and in the chaos many Fidesz supporters as well as innocent bystanders and even foreign tourists and a Member of Parliament were badly beaten by police. Right wing commentators evoke those events each time their leaders are accused of encroaching on democracy.

In an editorial in Magyar Nemzet, Zsuzsa Körmendy recalls that Ferenc Gyurcsány continued to rule for another two and a half years after his famous speech was unveiled, but from September 2006 he was doomed and is now facing a criminal investigation for his role in a controversial casino-project. (See BudaPost, August 29) “The former prime minister will have to face justice for a tiny fraction of his misdeeds,” – she asserts, adding that in her view, no single figure has done more harm to Hungary since democracy was re-introduced over two decades ago. Those who defend him against the charges, the right wing commentator suggests, must be afraid for themselves, rather than for Ferenc Gyurcsány. She mentions two former liberal leaders who have signed an open letter on behalf of Mr Gyurcsány: former party chairman Gábor Kuncze and former Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky.

Sándor Révész, a leading commentator at Népszabadság, refuses to sign the open letter in defence of Ferenc Gyurcsány. He agrees with the authors on the need to “stand up for democracy.” He shares their view that the charges levelled against him are unfounded.  But he also agrees with those deputies who suspended his immunity, because in his view, neither MPs nor former prime ministers should enjoy special privileges. He also rejects the allegation contained in the letter, that those in power “can now put anyone they like behind bars.” Révész believes that “it is simply not true that verdicts are being dictated by the government.”

I don’t mind if Gyurcsány stands in the dock for Sukoró,” (the site of the failed casino project), writes Zsolt Bayer in Magyar Hírlap, but he believes it would be far more important to bring to justice those who ordered the police to act or not to act in the way they did in the autumn of 2006. He suggests that the police stood idle while the TV headquarters was under siege because someone “was waiting for a policeman to be killed.”

The left-liberal Magyar Narancs is convinced that the Chief Prosecutor has no valid case against Gyurcsány. In the usual weekly editorial signed simply “Editor,” it is suggested that LMP leader András Schiffer should acknowledge his mistake in denouncing Gyurcsány to the prosecutor in 2009 for abuse of power. (See BudaPost, August 29)  “It might undoubtedly seem crazy to raise our voices in defence of a person as despised and detested as Gyurcsány, whom so many people would like to see in Hell,” “Editor” admits, but deems it necessary, for “one lynching is bound to be followed by another.”