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Looking back on last week’s big protest rally

October 31st, 2011

Commentators wonder whether the mass meeting held under the slogan “We don’t like the system” will give birth to a new left wing opposition, or if it was a one-off event.

The anti-government demonstrators, Gábor Kardos remarks in Magyar Hírlap,  could not articulate any positive message about how to face the current international crisis. They are supposed to be progressive young intellectuals, but while their peers throughout the world demonstrate against the Western system which has led the world into deep crisis, these Hungarian protesters expressed their dislike of a government strongly critical of the present global system. The right-wing government – Kardos suggests – has become the number one representative of these progressive ideals, because there is no credible left-wing-liberal intelligentsia in Hungary. If there was, we would have seen it demonstrating for democracy after the infamous Őszöd speech in which the then Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted to having lied and misgoverned the country in order to win the elections in 2006. Kardos thinks that in actual fact, no real right-wing exists either, “or only very sporadically”, and finds it sad that Hungary’s intellectuals exhaust their energies in a phony and unproductive war between Left and Right.

In Népszabadság, veteran political analyst László Lengyel believes the demonstration marked “a takeover of the public square by the liberal-minded left wing”. He sees a new mass movement in the making in a series of demonstrations that have taken place in recent weeks. First the trade unions, then the Facebook-mobilized “We don’t like the system”- people, and late last week, the thousands of students protesting in several cities against a Higher Education bill, to be enacted before the end of the year. Lengyel welcomes the civilised behaviour of the demonstrators. “In Budapest and the big cities, faith in resistance is alive and well, and the culture of resistance has been born.” So far, the masses have played a secondary role in right- and left-wing demonstrations alike: now they are the protagonists. What remains to be done now, is a diagnosis and a programme on the one hand and building political representation for the new social forces on the other. The left-wing parties have been unsuccessful in countering the right wing so far, because they too, are organized around a central figure, a leader. “Gyurcsány’s departure opens a window of opportunity for the Socialists: it may allow them to break with the leader-principle,” – Lengyel believes.

Magyar Narancs does not share the enthusiasm of the rest of the left wing press for last week-end’s mass rally. In one of its regular twin editorials, the weekly contends that Viktor Orbán has already failed as Prime Minister, because his original economic policies have failed. His tax cuts could not generate growth, so he has to resort to restrictive measures which contradict the philosophy he has professed for the past fifteen years. Nevertheless, Magyar Narancs suggests, Orbán may win the next elections, because the opposition is too fragmented, while he has a united organization behind him.

In its other twin editorial this week, Magyar Narancs suggests that Viktor Orbán is moving “against the tide,” as while the leading countries of the European Union are trying to enhance co-operation, he tends to stress the importance of a separate road for Hungary to follow. The economic burden of the crisis and of the special financial shields being erected may submerge a series of governments, but they are also busy devising counter-measures which define “who can get a seat in the lifeboat.” “They may all end up on the losing side, after all,”– Magyar Narancs fears. “But those who don’t join in, will surely succumb.”

András Bencsik, editor of Demokrata suggests that the anti-government demonstrators don’t understand the epochal changes underway in today’s world. He contends that “mass democracy has failed”, because the “masses will invariably promote to power those who promise swift and cheap happiness.”

In bad years, the analysis continues, it takes huge loans to conceal the campaign lies, thus accumulating tremendous debts, which makes it increasingly painful to get out of the crisis. Bencsik suggests that “Viktor Orbán’s government is making incredible efforts in order to stabilise the country’s position, and although he might fail, any sober minded person would follow the same path.”

Would it be sacrilegious, Bencsik asks, to ask what will follow mass democracy? “What will replace the dictatorship of the masses? Another dictatorship? Will Rome, once sunken in vulgarity, be saved by a new Caesar?… Or should participation in public affairs be confined to those who meet certain material and cultural standards? Is the time ripe to reason in these terms? Or would that be blasphemy, which will result in being burned at the stake?”

“We certainly don’t like it!”, Bencsik exclaims, emphatically borrowing the slogan of the anti-government demonstrators. When Fidesz won a two thirds majority in Parliament last year, “this is not what we were dreaming of.” But the crisis “compels us to start thinking.”

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