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Former premier in the dock

September 15th, 2011

Left-wing commentators accuse the chief prosecutor of acting on government orders, by   launching an investigation into former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány. They suspect that the aim of the exercise is to terrorize the opposition, and divert attention from severe economic problems which the government is unable to solve. Pro-government journalists depict Gyurcsány as a guilty man who poses as an innocent victim.

Parliament voted to lift the immunity of former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány on Monday. Gyurcsány is charged with abuse of power in a real estate transaction related to a casino development project.(See BudaPost, August 29)

The charges against the former prime minister are not serious,” comments Gábor Horváth in the left-wing Népszabadság.  Horváth recalls that the Orbán government has explored ways to charge Gyurcsány before, first for deceiving the public ahead of the 2006 elections, then again for his possible responsibility for police violence against street demonstrators in Budapest later the same year. The real reason behind the accusations is that the government wants to divert attention from economic woes it cannot resolve, Horváth contends.

He also believes that the accusations may backfire, as if the charges are proven to be unfounded, a huge burden would be taken off the shoulders of the Socialists, whose corrupt image makes them unpopular. The case also establishes a precedent, and it is not inconceivable that members of the current government may one day stand in the dock.

János Kis, former president of the liberal Free Democrats (SZDSZ), in an interview in Népszabadság points out that “former prime ministers are rarely prosecuted in democracies.” The liberal philosopher suspects that the investigation is rather the result of political intrigues, than a serious attempt to unveil past abuses. “Those Hungarians who do not agree with the current PM Orbán… can hardly interpret the case as anything other than an attempt to intimidate them,” Kiss contends, and concludes that “the future of Hungarian democracy is at stake.”

Other socialist and liberal intellectuals, in an open letter signed by over a thousand people so far, go so far as to compare Gyurcsány’s prosecution to the show trials of the 1950s.

Gyurcsány knows what he has to do. To fight for justice for himself and for Hungarian democracy. It is now quite apparent that he is the leader of the opposition,” writes Zsolt Gréczy, a political commentator and adviser to Gyurcsány while the latter was prime minister. Gréczy praises the former PM for his courage in not retiring from politics and standing up to the charges.

The government is trying to extend its power by criminalizing Gyurcsány, János Dési suggests in the left-wing Népszava. He wonders whether “there will be citizens who are willing to do something, at least to express their sympathy with the former prime minister and to warn those involved in this show trial that they are part of something really nasty.”

If politicians are caught driving while drunk, they immediately start whining about  politically motivated revenge and a show trial. Some of them continue the same narrative even after sobering up,” weighs in Miklós Ugró in the pro-government Magyar Nemzet. Ugró is not surprised to see Gyurcsány and his allies claim that the former PM only acted in the interest of the country. “Gyurcsány wants desperately to be Orbán’s serious challenger… but he is politically and personally irrelevant. Which does not mean that he is also innocent,” Ugró contends.

In an editorial in Magyar Hírlap, Gyula T. Máté comments on Gyurcsány’s announcement that he intends to “turn from accused to accuser,” and suggests the former Socialist Premier wants to play the role of Georgi Dimitrov, the Bulgarian communist accused by the Nazi prosecution in 1933 of setting fire to the German Parliament. “Dimitrov did not set the Reichstag on fire, while Gyurcsány did enthusiastically approve the Sukoró robbery.” (Sukoró is the name of the casino project for which Gyurcsány is now under investigation.)