Gordon Bajnai: This government has systematically broken the spine of Hungarian democracy, vertebrae by vertebrae
Gordon Bajnai, Hungary’s former left-centre prime minister (2009-10), staged a comeback on October 23rd, 2012, when he gave a keynote speech at a pro-democracy rally in downtown Budapest and announced the formation of a political alliance entitled Together 2014 (Együtt 2014). The Alliance, which includes an opposition Facebook group called Milla, the Hungarian Solidarity Movement and Bajnai’s Patriotism and Progress Public Policy Foundation, aims to foster cooperation among all those political parties and civic groups that oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orbán authoritarian regime. Bajnai, someone often perceived more as a sober, competent–though slightly technocratic–caretaker prime minister and a policy wonk, rather than a rousing speaker and charismatic politician, had high expectations to meet in his speech. Whether he will able to walk the tightrope of centrist politics that he charted for himself and the political minefield that is Hungary’s very eclectic democratic opposition remains to be seen. His speech, nonetheless, was historic, and it clearly envigorated the crowd of demonstrators.
Thank you for inviting me. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on issues that affect us all.
Returning to this stage was a difficult decision for me. The last time I was here was on 15th March, together with all of you. I stood there, in that colorful and diverse crowd, among democrats and patriots – that’s all I knew of those standing alongside me. Not what they believe, nor whom they vote for. But I knew that they want to live in a constitutional state and that they love their country. That was enough then, and it is enough now.
It is enough for me to step onto this stage. To stand up for those things which unite us all.
I am aware I once said I am not a politician. At that time, I sincerely meant it. Because in a normal, well-functioning country there is no need for everyone to be a politician.
When I left office, I still believed that Hungary could be such a place. But the past two years have proved a rude awakening. Our country has once again become a place where we must take to the streets for our common future and take to the streets for our rights. Where even someone who simply wants to be a citizen, a “civilian”, must engage in politics.
I must engage in politics as well, I have no other choice.
The reason I return to this stage is because I have realized – and I want to tell you all – that 2014 will be more than merely the date of the next election: 2014 will be a year of crossroads.
A crossroads that will fundamentally determine our future for the next quarter of a century. The coming 25 years shall be the remaining active years of my generation; and for our children’s generation, it will be the most vital, decisive period of their lives. And we don’t want a country to which our emigrated children will perhaps be willing to return one day – instead, we want a country they will have no reason to leave in the first place.
This is why we had to meet today! Because we cannot once again let dissent, division, corruption, pettiness or stupidity chart the course of our destiny!
This is why my peers and I have established the Association for Patriotism and Progress: to encourage, organize and – through our programs – support the efforts of those seeking change.
I am sure that many of those present here today already voted for change in April 2010. They had good reason to do so. Sound reason, because they wished for corruption to end once and for all; because they wanted to get rid of harmful compromises, rushed and incomplete reforms, promises left unfulfilled.
And above all, they wanted to free themselves of the perpetual political war characterizing the last 10 years, which has divided and turned us Hungarians against each other on every issue.
Already in 2010, many people did not vote for parties, but for change. They expressed their beliefs and were betrayed. Those in office now govern against those whom they can thank for their victory. So it is: the Fidesz voters of April 2010 know by now that the reward for their votes is one and the same with the punishment of others .
Because Hungary installed a government for which we must apologize to the world. But most of all to each other, and to our own children.
This government has systematically broken the spine of Hungarian democracy, vertebrae by vertebrae.
This government is carving up the country among its vassals. These vassals make money from political power, investing the money in greater power, so that they can earn yet more money. This is how the vicious circle works, round and round. The state has become a vehicle for corruption.
This government allocates wealth so that the rich can be richer, the middle class poorer. And those who are poorest shall remain by far the most impoverished.
This government promised 1 million new jobs and is now embarking upon a job protection scheme to defend what positions remain after its own policies.
Through its education reform, this government impedes the progress and mobility of the poor, while it drives our most talented people out of the country.
This government asks us to make more and more sacrifices in the present, whilst it burns the candle of our future at both ends.
This government calls itself powerful, but it is only over-powering. Still, we all know very well that resorting to abuses of power is a refuge of the weak. And this government is weak. The problem is not just that it breaks every rule, but that it nevertheless continues to be unsuccessful.
In exchange for votes, this government promised security, peace and prosperity. Instead, what we see in the country today are fear, hopelessness and rising poverty. This is a government of failure.
This government must go!
A change of government in itself is not sufficient: the regime that the current government has built over the past two years – which would ensure its staying in power even if the majority preferred some other alternative – must also be dissembled.
A change of government is therefore not enough: a change of regime is necessary!
And yet, even this is inadequate: what we truly need is a new political culture, a new political era! A constitutional guarantee that no politician can once again expropriate power in our country.
A change of government, a change of regime, a change of era. This is what we must achieve for the crossroads of 2014 to bring about a new chance, a new opportunity for Hungary.
Fellow citizens wanting change!
Back in 1990, we all understood the term democracy as the option to change course every four years, the possibility to throw bad governments out of office. And we have done so on several occasions.
The current regime did not see this understanding of democracy as a case for good governance. Instead, it saw it as a case for curtailing the rights of citizens. Curtailing our right to change course, if we so wish.
They are forcing a new election law upon us, one that serves their interests, regardless of governmental performance. The mandatory registration process is simply an austerity package against free and fair elections.
All this implies that electoral cooperation is necessary already now for a change of government.
Electoral cooperation is even more crucial for dismantling the power-hungry regime. Because this strange creature is sustained by laws requiring two-thirds majorities and cynical constitutional amendments.
But the need for electoral cooperation is most dire in order to embark upon a new era through regime change.
An era where our constitution is a common cause for all patriots, for all democrats. Because we drafted it together, we all respect and uphold it, and so we protect it as one.
The year 2014 shall not be the usual contest between the political left and right.
Instead, the year 2014 will mark the battle between those who will join together to forge a normal country and the forces seeking to cement their power through our disunion.
This fight calls for us to reorganize ourselves, to strengthen the political center. A new political middle ground is needed, one that is strong enough to overcome the powers bent upon dividing our nation. A new political middle ground, one that is widely diverse, but united by a common feature: its rejection of any force of radicalism. The communists. The far right. Those obsessed with, and those peddling in, power.
Because the actors on the new, strong political middle ground may argue with the other side’s proposed ideas and solutions, but never with the other side’s right to exist.
Forging an alliance to bring about a change of government, to usher in a new era, requires common denominators. New common denominators.
Once, back in 1990, at the fall of communism, we planted the seeds of our future in the soil of national consensus.
At that time, we had common national goals. We all agreed that we wanted democracy. That we wanted a market economy founded on the sanctity of private ownership. That we wanted solidarity and to catch up with the West.
Over the past years, our dreams, our purposes have fallen victim – victim to divisive politics.
Therefore, we must set new common goals, the necessary preconditions for a normal country, for a peaceful life! We must once again agree on the most fundamental issues.
Not on everything, but finally on something.
At the very start, we need to agree that Hungary must be a constitutional state: a constitutional state once more. One that is not limited by any form of power. And one that – in turn – can restrict any such power.
This is the foundation, this cannot be disputed. In all other questions, we must reach agreement – a common denominator.
First of all, we must settle the question of the nation. Ten years ago they told us “the nation cannot be in opposition”. But as I look around you all, it is apparent that an ever greater part of our nation is forced into opposition. Because we are also part of the nation!
Everyone here in person and in spirit today is Hungarian. And so are of course all those who are attending speeches at Kossuth Place. As are those making the speeches!
Those spending the holiday at home in their gardens, or with their families are also part of the nation. We are all, collectively, the nation: our Hungarian identity does not divide us – instead, it binds us together.
Second, we need a new agreement on the issue of solidarity, because it is not true that people are worth as much as they own… Solidarity is not an act of goodwill; rather, it is based on responsibility and mutual respect for one another. The responsibility of those at the top for those at the bottom. In return, the responsibility of those born to the bottom or fallen behind to help us achieve our common goals; through work and by seeking employment, through learning and teaching, through joint effort.
We want to live in a society rooted in solidarity, where it is harder to fall behind, and easier to rise up. This is what makes the nation greater than the country itself.
Third, we should finally clarify the subject of progress. Fundamentally, we must ascertain that patriotism and progress – upholding national traditions and rejuvenating the country – are not contradictory, nor mutually exclusive terms. Patriotism and progress go hand in hand; it is the “and” between them that should be stressed.
We must come to an understanding that a lack of progress implies falling behind. There is global competition, even if some try to deny this. And he who denies the very existence of this competition does not have any chance of winning it.
Maybe that is why we are not winning it at the moment…
Anyone who realizes this shall succeed. Anyone who buries his head in the sand will be impoverished.
There was a time when we understood this. Twenty years ago we tried to forecast how many years it would take us to catch up to the Austrians.
Today, we have given up on such estimates. We just stare despondently at Slovakia and Poland as they overtake us.
We must once again be among the best performers of the region! We have the talent, if we muster enough willpower! We have demonstrated our ability before – we can show the world again!
Fourth, we must strike a compromise with regards to Europe! Europe is our opportunity to succeed in the dizzying global competition. To us, Europe represents a community of both interests and
values. It not only provides the means to realize Hungary’s potential, but the necessary cultural framework to do so. Peaceful strength, a civilized tone, openness and curiosity. Quality of life.
Europe’s success is in our own national interest: and we must vindicate our true national interests within Europe!
Our European identity stems from 1,100 years of national tradition; it is the voucher of our survival. We all carry St Stephen’s heritage within us. For over a millennium, we have been born into this legacy, not the one of the turul, the sacred falcon. We must protect this heritage.
Patriotism and progress, solidarity and Europe. The few, but nonetheless pivotal, issues that we must agree on for the decades to come.
This is why the task before us is so monumental: the reunification of Hungary within our borders!
As long as we cannot reach an agreement on the common goals immune from political power struggles, the reunification of our nation across borders is doomed to fail. Anyone who divides the 10 million-strong nation creates a rift in the nation of 15 million.
Fellow citizens calling for change!
As a first step to reunifying Hungary, those wanting change must themselves be unified. This does not require yet another party competing for votes.
That is why we have decided to lay the foundations for a new, strong political middle ground.
That is what today is all about.
This is the message of October 1956. This is what the various heroes of 1956 stand for. Imre Nagy and József Mindszenty, István Bibó and Péter Mansfeld, Pál Maléter and Gergely Pongrátz. They hailed from different walks of life, but were united in one goal: their memory teaches us that the nation can join hands to achieve a worthy purpose.
And as then, so today: we have come from both the Right and the Left. So that we can meet in the middle!
The country meets at the center!
We are therefore not establishing a new political party, but calling for cooperation. We invite all those united by these common goals to join our alliance. Those with whom we can find a common
denominator with regards to the principles, the ethics and the programs for turning the political page.
Those with whom we can agree on issues of the constitutional state, on patriotism and progress, on solidarity and Europe.
And when we have reached a consensus on these questions, it can serve as a basis for elaborating a specific program for recovery and development: the program of good governance.
Milla, Solidarity and Patriotism and Progress have decided on establishing such an open and accommodating movement.
This electoral movement has been named Together 2014 and its program is based on the common denominators of the nation. Through the creation of Together 2014 we are leading by an example of cooperation, placing our faith in the conviction that the reunification of our national community must start with the unification of those calling for change.
We must create a framework for cooperation between hopeful left-wingers, disappointed right-wingers, politically abandoned free-thinkers and committed Greens. As well as those who are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to choose a party for themselves.
This alliance should include democratic parties and politicians, since we understand that this regime can only be changed by political means. Politicians in turn must restore the honor and credibility of the political process. Voters need to once again be able to trust politicians who are worthy of that trust, or else we shall squander further years or decades.
We call upon our compatriots who do not wish to deny their own party affiliations. They need not do so! And we also call upon those who have no intention of aligning themselves with any political party, but want to contribute to bringing about change.
We call upon those who – through their votes – want to support the goal of closing the door on the past and opening a new political chapter in the history of Hungary.
We call upon everybody who feels ready and able to face the lessons and consequences of these past 2 years, the preceding 8 years and the last 22 years. To reasonably come to terms with the crimes, mistakes and opportunism (as well as the virtues) of each period.
This fairness is a prerequisite of rejuvenation. Taking into account all merits and shortcomings, whilst rejecting the notion that in politics, everything should be seen in the same light.
Because there is a clear-cut, fundamental difference between the past 2 years and the 8 years preceding it. Anyone who denies this is being unfair.
Yes, the decade prior to 2010 had its own share of lessons, of mistakes and crimes. Anyone refusing to accept this is not ready to turn over a new leaf.
All governments of the period behind us can be challenged from a number of perspectives, but they cannot be seen as being the same. Their differences cannot be obfuscated.
The renaissance of Hungarian politics requires more fairness and more self-reflection. A political and ethical rebirth, for which the 12 points enumerated at Milla’s demonstration on 15th March this year can provide a basis.
This can serve as a guarantee to voters that they are not just endowing us with a mandate for a “usual” change of government, but for laying the foundations of a new era. A new period that blocks the bad governance of the present, or of the recent past, from creeping back into their lives.
I know it will be difficult. Difficult because they will try to turn us against one another. Difficult because they will want to divide us. And difficult because there will be dozens of issues on which we do not agree.
But we must never forget that there are four vital questions on which we do agree: patriotism and progress, solidarity and Europe! And based on this consensus, we constitute the new, strong political middle ground of this country.
It will be difficult because the other Hungary, the one that lives in our hearts, has two enemies.
Despair and waiting for miracles.
These are our two principal enemies, and both hinder action. And we all know that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good to do nothing”.
Therefore we must all take action. Parents and children, pensioners and students all need to act. Civilians and activists, bloggers and former prime ministers, goal-keepers and strikers alike!
It will be difficult, but it can be achieved!
That is why you should go and tell everybody: there is hope, if we come together! Assemble those wanting change: provide your signatures, get involved with Milla, with Solidarity, with Patriotism and Progress or with your chosen party! Protest and organize yourselves. Tell your representatives, your parties, that you want collaboration, that you expect cooperation from them and between them!
Tell them the question is not what position anyone can expect to get. Rather, the issue at stake is how much everyone can do for a change of government, a change of regime and a change of
political eras. Tell them: if they do not do everything in their power for collaboration, they are protecting the power of the destructive regime. If not by words, then by action. If not by action, then by omission. And that is unforgivable!
Meanwhile, do not forget that the regime is built upon intimidation! Jobs, mandates, contracts are in danger. The tax authority, blacklists, Kubatov-lists, mandatory registration processes hover above us as threats. Hungary is administered by cunning fear.
But do not fear! Look around yourselves: you are not alone! Let that give us all strength! Even when they sling mud at us, even when they drag us in front of committees. Even when they threaten us with court cases, even when they send us messages behind the scenes. Even if they attack us with tax-funded regiments. Against us, against those who believe Hungary must change, and who are acting for this conviction.
Be peaceful, but determined! Let it be known to everyone, that there is hope once again. Let it be known that we want our county back: an aspiring and growing country. One that we can love, and where we can trust each other. A country governed by common sense, where real problems are solved by comprehensible answers. Where the reward of achievement is well-deserved security. Where politics is not founded on animosity, but upon mutual respect.
A country we can be proud of.
We know this other Hungary exists – if nowhere else, then within us. This is our home. We want to live here, to be happy and to develop. This is where we want to see our children and our grandchildren grow up. This is what we call home, and this is where we shall stay!
And, if bad politics ruins this country, it is not us who must get out of the way, but the bad politics itself.
So let today’s message be known to everybody: it will be difficult, but together, we can succeed! Only together can we succeed.
We may fail on our own, but together, we shall prove victorious!