/ From our Special Rapporteur in Budapest /
It’s early Saturday afternoon and I get off the metro at Keleti pályaudvar station, Budapest’s train station. I run to platform number 2 – it is with number one quite far from the main gate, which is a detail that I did not include in my travel plan. I get on the train at the last minute.
He descends; we head to Jászberény, where the pre-election meeting of the six-party coalition of the “rainbow” opposition is taking place. In addition to the local candidate for the Hungarian Parliament, a possible next Prime Minister, Péter Márki-Zay, must arrive on the spot. As I find out later, this is his fourth stop that day.
The city of nearly 30,000 inhabitants is about 60 kilometers east of Budapest, but getting there by public transport is a real headache. About an hour by train, transfer to Nagykata, trot from station to bus stop – then about 30 minutes by bus. Before the fourth afternoon, I play in Jászberény.
The pre-election meeting takes place near the local stream in a small area, where a few hundred people are already waiting for politicians. They have in their hands banners brought by the organizers.
“A lot belongs to the people,” says one of the signs. ” Only ! Another banner calls out. I also read the same opposition slogan on peppermint pinwheels, which some locals carry.
The sun sinks below the horizon, flooding the place with a golden light, in which the speakers a few moments later, including the representative of the Momentum coalition party, Lajos Lőcsei, squint. Otto Kertész, parliamentary candidate for a unified coalition of six in the local constituency, will then appear on the podium. “Hungary had the best position on the starting line after the fall of communism, but now it is the worst of the four Visegrad countries,” explains the politician.
The wind carries the prepared note cards towards Kertész, the audience is entertained and the politician follows – this time on sight. He talks about social problems, especially those that afflict Hungarian pensioners. There are many in the crowd. For example, he mentions low pensions, which he describes as “impossible”.
People applaud: the politician speaks to them from the back of his head, as the pensioner in the beige jacket tells me. She is adamant that if the opposition coalition wins, Hungary will change – for the better, of course.
Hopes and fears
According to those present, the change should take place under the leadership of leader Péter Márki-Zay. A burly man in a black suit with a blue ribbon pinned on it – a symbol of a coalition. A group of journalists and sympathizers is forming around the conservative politician, the mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, whom the coalition elected as its leader last October.
Márki-Zay seems to be keeping his distance, but he’s still smiling and taking pictures with anyone who cares. Eventually, he steps onto the podium, where life-size advertising banners flutter along with his face. And the crowd rejoiced, putting a lot of energy into waving the banners. There is hope in the eyes of some in the audience – as if the speaker were a beacon in the stormy sea of Hungarian politics.
“I fully agree with everything the candidates are saying and what they represent for Hungarian society. Marki-Zay spoke about the coalition’s program and some of its points which affect society as a whole – for example, people who live paycheck to paycheck,” explains engineer Arpad.
He expressed concern that there could be a situation where the coalition wins the elections but does not get two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Which would make it very difficult for her to govern. “You know, in many high and important positions people are now appointed by Fidesz. Let me give you an example: we have a budget council that decides whether the proposed Hungarian budget is realistic. The council is made up of three people. And at least two of them are people from Orbán. And if the council declares the budget unrealistic after the elections, the parliament will have to dissolve. It’s a trap,” Arpad snapped.
An intruder who doesn’t want war
During the leader’s speech, by far the longest of all the speakers, an intruder appears during a still peaceful event. A visibly drunk old man came to the event with a handmade banner declaring that the opposition would bring armed conflict to Hungary. The one who unleashed Russia in Ukraine.
“I don’t want war,” he said, among other things, on a plank nailed to a post. The ruling Fidesz party, led by Viktor Orbán, has the same rhetoric. Prime Minister Orbán explains the inaction (not only) on the issue of sanctions against Russia, to which the Hungarian government is bound, precisely because it does not want a war.
The protection of a drunk protester with a metal military helmet on his head indiscriminately appeases, and local men are also involved in the skirmish. The man squirms and at one point he falls to the ground. It’s a tense and awkward moment. This proves how hostile the atmosphere is between the two camps – dialogue is no longer a solution or a way to find it.
After all, the candidate for Prime Minister later comments on the war: “Viktor Orbán himself agreed in the European Council on the supply of arms to Ukraine, which I am now accused. But he himself was in favor of it. And I support the actions of the European Union – we have to stop Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, otherwise he will continue to Hungary or Poland. It is also our national interest to arrest the head of the Kremlin.”
“However, I agree that Prime Minister Orbán did not cut gas supplies to Russia because he did not support energy sanctions. We are largely dependent on Russia in this regard,” Marki adds. -Zay to the press.
“Fidesz does not have a program but a slogan”
Half of those present probably didn’t even notice the incident, as the Prime Minister’s candidate spoke to them with significant cadence the whole time. Various people gathered on the spot – from pensioners to families to groups of young people who had barely acquired the right to vote.
“I never voted for Fidesz. I’m 44 now, I’m an economist and I know how much they lie and cheat. That’s why I’m here now. The government is now sending a signal that it can do what he wants”, comments Ildiko, who came to the meeting with her son.
“Economically, I don’t think anything will change, no matter who is in government. But mostly it’s a change in mentality. I have a son who has no future at the moment – and I wish it had one. For me and the education and health sector. And also to cheat less – we receive resources from the European Union, but they are stolen, as evidenced by the findings of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), ” concludes Ildiko.
“I basically agree with him”
There is a clear and unsurprising agreement in the crowd: Viktor Orbán’s government must go. “Listen, Peter mentioned that he agreed with Orbán’s measures against the migration crisis. So with this protective fence in southern Hungary. But I don’t think that’s a real problem. The fence is kind of limited in length, so it’s more of a symbol, nothing more, but we spend money on it, and Orbán thus represents various measures, which he gives people as great victories, solutions to big problems. But it is necessary to perceive what it looks like in everyday practice. It does not correspond to his words, “said engineer Arpád, for example.
As the premiership candidate’s speech comes to an end, its intensity also increases. Marki-Zay talks about Orbán and repeats opposition slogans. The inhabitants first nod their heads in agreement, here and there someone does not stay and shouts something in support. Then everyone claps and whistles. The event was a success.
A tall, gray-haired man comes my way after the speeches. “I will definitely vote for Mark-Zay, I don’t like kleptocracy, which is exactly what we have in Hungary now. A country run by someone who plays by Vladimir Putin’s rules and whose government operates on a corruption system. And I have three children and four grandchildren here in Hungary, and I don’t want them to grow up in a country that looks like a banana republic. Hungary is a big country, it just has a government pathetic,” says Peter, a teacher of British and Hungarian nationality.
Before Britain left the European Union, Peter lived in the British Isles. He now considers himself a Brexite refugee and explains that he agrees with everything Márki-Zay said in a perfect British accent that seems inappropriate in the Hungarian countryside. “I wouldn’t sign him until the last word, no, but I basically agree with him. It’s too obvious how opportunistic Fidesz are that they don’t have their own ideas and put everything on the head to play cards,” he said of the Leader of the Opposition.
Read the report from Budapest:
“We will send all criminals to prison,” Péter Márki-Zay will definitively tell journalists after the event. “And whoever steals is a criminal”, he concludes, adding that members of Fidesz, led by the “thief” Viktor Orbán, would be behind bars.
The event ended just in time; it was cold outside and the sun was setting. He still lives on the grass for a while – people absorb the last hour and a half of their experiences and hang out in groups. The opposition led by Mark-Zay may have convinced some undecided voters that day. And there was a seed of hope among those who came out to support her that change could come soon.