Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
We all know he lies.
Some of us even assume that this is true of politicians in general. But Hungarians rarely take to the streets for moral reasons. This is not just because the communist era made us accustomed to political lies, but also because Hungary had been under foreign domination for centuries before that – and none of the leaders of those times were more honest than the current prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany. What actually led to the revolt in Budapest following the leaking of Gyurcsany’s secret speech to Socialist Party members was not the lies, but the fact that the prime minister had, for once, spoken honestly.
It is not clear whether the revolt was initiated by any particular political group. People started to gather in front of the parliament building on the same day that Gyurcsany’s speech was made public. Reports described how they used mobile phones and community websites to spread the news about the gathering.
There is no doubt that rightwing organisations soon took charge of the gathering, however – something they freely admitted. ‘You need professional political organisations to get things up and running in such a process,’ a member of the Movement for a Free Hungary told me. This is a group that demands, for example, that the number of Chinese people doing business in Hungary should be limited.
Other right-wing groups involved in the protests include the 64 Counties Movement. The name refers to the time, before the loss of two thirds of its territory in the first world war, when Hungary used to have 64 counties. The group often holds protests in the former territories where Hungarian minorities live; its leader was expelled from Slovakia in September for organising an illegal demonstration in Bratislava.
Another far-right group seeking to steer the anti-government protests in its direction is Dávid Kovács’ Movement for a Better Hungary. (Its abbreviated Hungarian name, Jobbik, is a play on the words ‘better’ and ‘right’, which are both represented by the word jobb in Hungarian.)
Kovács’ party has campaigned strongly for the right of traditional churches to take political stances, and in opposition to positive action to improve the lot of Romanies. It has also made various statements that contain encoded anti-semitic messages.
But these and other right-wing groups were not the only ones involved in the protests, which were targeted at not only the parliament, but also other significant institutions in Budapest. Many people of various political backgrounds attended gatherings on the main square, and took part in the siege of the Hungarian national television building. Up to 100,000 people have turned out on protests all over the country, including 80,000 people in Budapest on 6 October, the day that Ferenc Gyurcsany faced – and won – a confidence vote in parliament. Many of the protesters are sympathisers of the main, centre-right, opposition party, Fidesz (the Young Democrats, a party which began life as a dissident social movement against the old communist regime in the late 1980s). While distancing itself from the violence of some of the protests, Fidesz declared that it supported ‘people expressing their feelings’.
The majority of Hungarians, however, remained at home – not because they thought that the prime minister was right to lie to them, but because there was no cause on the streets that they wanted to join. And there was nobody, no group, no party, no initiative that they felt they could trust and follow.
One night at the height of the protests I followed a group who marched to the headquarters of Gyurcsany’s Hungarian Socialist Party, a successor to the old communist party. Its present political profile is similar to that of New Labour in Britain. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has led the way in introducing many of the structural changes in Hungary’s political and economic system. These include the marketisation of public services and infrastructure and opening the economy to international trade and investment.
This is the Socialists’ third term in office since 1989. It is impossible to be sure what they want now – the prime minister lies, you know – but it’s reasonable to assume that it will include liberalising the national health care system, the public transport service and higher education. It’s a fully neoliberal agenda, served with a nice rhetoric of ‘solidarity’ and ‘social justice’. And the people who marched to the party headquarters and clashed with the police, throwing stones and inhaling tear gas, have little faith in these policies, to say the least.
Many of them are people with only secondary education, living in the suburbs, wearing worn out Nike shoes and facing fewer and fewer job opportunities – sometimes none at all. Most of the time, they are invisible. You never see them on TV. The only time anyone is alerted to their predicament is when they set cars on fire, as in France, or throw stones at the police as in Hungary. They are, nonetheless, a global phenomenon.
So far, the principal beneficiaries of the crisis in Hungary politically have undoubtedly been on the right. In the local elections held within days of the revolt breaking out, the opposition parties won all over the country. Fidesz is urging demonstrations to continue until Gyurcsany is removed.
But people in Hungary are also now more open to criticism of unregulated capitalism. For example, on a trade unionorganised demonstration this summer against the government’s austerity measures, a union leader declared – much to my surprise – that ‘the multinational companies have more say on political decisions than the people’. You can hear this kind of sentiment more and more often. Fidesz has even started to build its core political message around statements such as ‘Health is not a business matter’. A couple of years ago I had to travel many hours to social forums in Italy, France or London to listen to this kind of opinion because it was unheard of in Hungary.
In reality, Fidesz remains committed to the same neoliberal agenda as the ruling Socialists, but for now its leaders are less honest about it than the prime minister. Despite declaring, before the last election, that it was against the liberalisation of the health service, during the campaign the party nominated as deputy prime minister the former minister of health, who had been involved in private health companies and as minister had introduced new legislation allowing the privatisation of hospitals.
The crisis caused by the prime minister’s confession of his lies has inspired a public debate in Hungary about ‘how to restore real democracy’. For many people, the answer is simply to kick out Gyurcsany’s Socialists and install the opposition Fidesz, who they believe had the election stolen from them by untruths.
But it is a great illusion to believe that the opposition party does not lie. The truth is that for years there has been a kind of political consensus here that is utterly based on lies. And many people are refusing to face this truth because this would require looking much deeper for answers.
Many other Hungarians accepted all this a long time ago.
‘Didn’t your Tony win the last election when the majority knew that he had lied to them?’ they ask British friends. Just like our Frank -as Ferenc Gyurcsany likes to be called by foreigners – in Budapest. That’s Frank as in honest, by the way. A great name isn’t it?Laszlo Bihari is a journalist and activist in Budapest
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali