Former prime minister Gordon Bajnai will address a large opposition rally on 23 October, news website index.hu reported on Wednesday. This echoed a report on the website of news weekly HVG, which suggested two days earlier that the leader of a one-year technocrat government in 2009-2010 intends to return to politics and seeks to unite the democratic opposition in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in elections scheduled for 2014.
Grassroots spread fast
Protest group Milla – which has its roots in a Facebook protest against restrictive media laws the government attempted to introduce last year – is planning the rally on 23 October, a public holiday. Besides Bajnai’s reported appearance, Milla’s chief organiser Péter Juhász and Solidarity leader Péter Kónya are slated to speak. Solidarity is a union-based civic anti-government protest movement that borrowed its name and logo from the better-known Polish organisation.
Since Milla diversified its protest to a general call for a change in Hungary’s leadership (system and staff), its rallies have attracted crowds in the tens of thousands, young and old. The movement’s numerical success prompted pro-government media figures in January to organise a rally of Orbán’s supporters in a bid to demonstrate the popularity of the current administration.
Bajnai’s Socialist-backed “crisis management” administration was credited with reining in the budget deficit through major reforms in the aftermath of an International Monetary Fund bail-out, such as the abolition of a 13th-month payment for public-sector employees and pensioners. Although he has also served as development minister in a Socialist-led government, the successful businessman’s supporters hope the fact that he has no official party affiliation might broaden his appeal.
Think again: DK head
However, the man who brought Bajnai into politics, former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, expressed doubts over the wisdom of his friend’s decision to ally himself with Milla. In a Facebook post Gyurcsány wrote that the movement is opposed in principle to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Gyurcsány’s breakaway Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), not just Orbán’s Fidesz party.
Political flags and sloganeering were banned at Milla’s previous rallies, which attracted tens of thousands of anti-government protestors. Juhász announced on Wednesday that Milla had registered as an official political movement, albeit not a “party”.
“(Bajnai) cannot share in the politics of erasing the past, the MSZP and the DK,” Gyurcsány wrote. “If he plans to announce opposition cooperation, he has chosen a very bad stage on which to do it.” The strategy could prove fatal, the former prime minister said.
On the other hand, by isolating himself from the Milla demo Gyurcsány could well be doing both Bajnai and the Socialists a favour. Gyurcsány is remembered by many chiefly for his “lies” speech, in which he harangued his party to acknowledge having lied “night and day” to voters.
A recording of his tirade, uttered at a closed party conference after the MSZP was re-elected in April 2006, was leaked and broadcast nationwide the following September. It sparked a series of sometime riotous anti-government demonstrations, not to mention the return of Orbán, who had been looking politically moribund after leading his party to two successive electoral defeats.
Despite Gyurcsány’s misgivings about Milla, and the DK’s refusal to join its demo, the MSZP has encouraged its supporters to attend the Milla rally near the Danube (not by coincidence on Szabadsajtó utca or Free Press Street). But he is not alone in having misgivings: the only other opposition party beside the extreme-right Jobbik is also ambivalent towards Milla.
Politics Can Be Different, known by its initials LMP, is a green-liberal party created in a reaction to the divisive left-right split that divides Hungary political – and to some extent, civic – life. One of the LMP’s founder members, András Schiffer, has been fairly consistent in his refusal to have anything to do with the Socialists, ruling out a joint electoral platform.
The party’s caucus leader, Benedek Javor, will be giving a speech in far-off Hajdúszoboszló on 23 October. If his intention is to distance himself from the politicking in Budapest, he could only have gone further away by leaving the country for the day. A spokesman said on Wednesday that the party has received an invitation from Milla organisers but has not yet decided whether to participate.
So once again Budapest will be split along political lines on 23 October, which saw spectacular rioting six years ago on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Uprising. Orbán will address his supporters outside the Parliament building at 4pm. A pro-Fidesz group called the Civil Unity Forum (CÖF) is planning a repeat of the pro-Orbán “Peace March” of 21 January.
Milla’s protest begins on Free Press Street at 3pm, when Jobbik’s many black-shirted supporters will be lending their ears to the usual invective at Deák tér, the large square in central Pest. Gyurcsány will make a speech at his DK event on Egyetem tér in District V at 1.30pm – leaving his supporters plenty of time to join the nearby Milla protest.