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
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe