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Will October 23rd demonstrations be a showdown between pro- and anti-government forces?

October 12th, 2012

A pro-government columnist argues that with former Prime Minister Bajnai on the stage, anti-government demonstrators may draw the crowds, but pure hatred does not equal a political alternative. A left-of-centre journalist celebrates an occasion on which anti-Fidesz forces start to coalesce around a single candidate.

On October 23rd a group which began on Facebook and which drew crowds in the past is organizing a demonstration together with Solidarity, a new trade union. The event is expected to launch a much-awaited return to politics by former prime minister Gordon Bajnai, who will speak about “what comes after Fidesz”. On the same day, the pro-government association which organized the “Peace March” this January in support of the government, attracting about a hundred thousand people from all over Hungary, Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries and Poland, has announced a second such demonstration to mark the anniversary of the 1956 revolution. (See Budapost January 4, January 24 and March 17.)

Magyar Nemzet columnist Szabolcs Szerető writes that the January Peace Walk with its overwhelming support disproved the foreign press which had reported that with the demonstrations of 2011 and early 2012 the opposition “was taking over the streets.” In the nine months since, “the consolidation promised by the government hobbles along” yet the country stands firm without IMF help, he adds. For October 23rd however, the opposition have managed to take the initiative and “fire up” the dissatisfied – notes the author – so they might draw big crowds. The moment might also seem fortuitous in the wake of MSZP election victories in two municipalities.  ‘Petty bickering and uninhibited hatred,’ however, are not foundations for meaningful cooperation. If on October 23rd 1956 the crowds in the streets represented national unity, this time these demonstrations will show a country divided. Despite Szerető ‘s avowed preference for a more peaceful celebration, he deems the pro-government demonstration inevitable, as many Hungarians long for a government “whose head is not an agent of foreigners,” a prime minister who does not want to impose all the burdens of the crisis on families and individuals – he concludes.

In hvg.hu, Árpád W. Tóta, a wildly popular columnist who has made his mark with vitriolic commentary, this time encourages readers “to hold hands,” without any sense of irony. Gordon Bajnai, he writes, has been patiently waiting in the wins for a more ambitious contender to arrive but the time has come when he feels compelled to step forward. “The rival to Orbán cannot be some committee,” – he comments, referring to the chaotic leadership structures of most new civic formations. Bajnai has nothing to be ashamed of – he argues – as his restrictive moves in handling the crisis during his one-year-premiership have not been undone by Fidesz. The MSZP has nothing to be ashamed of either – he continues – as even as wretched thieves they let themselves be whipped into place behind Bajnai’s attempts to balance the budget. The whip might still prove necessary, but the country fared better even under “the commies,” who knew their numbers better, and had more internal debates to check unrealistic plans. “Divided we fall”, he quotes in English, to describe the LMP, the left-of-centre opposition party that tries to stick to its independence. Such a strategy, he believes, is obscure romanticism. The goal now is to beat Orbán, “the potbelly general who crowded out the Hungarians”; cautious negotiations can come later. The objectives of the opposition groups may clash but the “visceral hatred” must be left behind – he concludes, in reference to the aversion of many opposition groups to the MSZP.

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