People have been asking me to comment on the recent riots in Budapest so I thought I would say a few words. First, a necessary caveat. I don’t follow Hungarian politics closely.* In fact, I don’t follow Hungarian politics much at all. I could probably write a whole separate post as to why not, suffice it to say that I don’t live in that country for a reason (or two or three) and years ago I decided that it was simply not good for my blood pressure to keep track of events. So I don’t. That said, when something especially noteworthy happens, I am curious to know what it is and will go to Hungarian sources instead of relying on various international reports. I’ve read up on recent events a little bit so here is a quick summary.
Politicians lie. Yawn. The twist here is that apparently many Hungarians naively assumed that they don’t. Worse yet, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was caught on tape saying that his party lied a lot before the elections last Spring. To clarify, the instigator of the riots was not some public speech the Prime Minister made in the last few days. Rather, someone taped and recently leaked a discussion [link to Hungarian text] he had with
a few top people in about 180 of his party representatives back in the Spring.
The level of honesty in his comments is naive, refreshing and scary all at the same time. Imagine if you could give some magic potion to a president or prime minister of your choice that would lead the person to talk about his/her actions and policies from the last few years completely openly and eagerly. It could result in some frightening and fascinating speeches. And who knows where that would lead.
Hungary’s got a lot of problems. The main point of Gyurcsány’s speech was that it was time to fix at least some of them. Yes, the irony is that the point of the speech was to say that it was time to stop the lies and make some difficult, but important changes.
Students organize demonstrations, because they don’t want to pay any tuition for college. Pharmacists are appalled, because the government wants to stop their monopoly on selling drugs. (You can’t even buy aspirin in Hungary anyhwere but a pharmacy. Talk about a ridiculous monopoly!) Other than public servants, almost nobody pays the taxes they should, because there are so many ways to cheat the system. So the country runs on a deficit and needs some major fixing. It’s going to be painful. It’s not as though any other political party or coalition could fix these problems without major repercussions. People are freaked out. And now the person who’s introducing painful changes is heard saying that he lied to get elected.
Many people seem naive enough to think that the other side didn’t lie before the elections. Unfortunately – and see any parallels in US politics? – for whatever reason the left won’t start pointing fingers at the right to note that for every lie Gyurcsány’s party told, Orbán’s party (the opposition) told double (if not triple or quadruple). So the question of interest in my opinion is why/how some get away with lies so much better than others. (Okay, I realize being taped admitting to lies is not helpful in keeping it out of the spotlight.)
As to the rioting, it’s probably due to a few, but enough bad elements to spin things out of control. The impression I get from talking to my parents is that the city seems to be functioning just fine and it doesn’t sound like there are major concerns about things getting much worse on that front.
[*] For those not familiar with my background, perhaps I should clarify: I was born and raised in Hungary.