Budapest, Hungary – It was a busy couple of weeks for Hungary. As cracks in the Opposition’s Unity started to appear in Budapest, Fidesz searched for a replacement of their disgraced mayor in Győr, Erdogan’s visit triggered mass protests, and the Hungarian national team opened their new national stadium.
Cracks in unity
The newly elected Council of Budapest held its inaugural meeting on 5 November. The council quickly voted for three of the United Opposition’s (who now are a majority in the council) flagship proposals; introducing new decree that would make finances more transparent, protecting the green belt of Budapest’s largest public park from further construction, and refusing to implement last year’s so-called Slave-law, which would allow companies to make workers work 400 hours overtime a year.
But not everything went so smoothly for the Rainbow coalition. Cracks on the unity of the diverse coalition partners are already starting to appear. Mayor Gergely Karácsony had to appoint as many as five vice-mayors to appease all members of the coalition. One of these mayors is Socialist Kata Tüttő, a widely disliked figure amongst some opposition parties and voters (she is the ex-wife of Tamás Leisztinger, a millionaire involved with some dodgy property deals in the city centre). Her appointment paired with the omission of Krisztina Baranyi, an independent mayor, famous for her anti-corruption stance, from any committee raised many eyebrows in the pro-opposition public.
There were more severe conflicts as well. Right-wing Jobbik publicly attacked Karácsony for his plan to suspend the erection of a statue of St Stephen (Hungary’s first king). The mayor is trying to find a new place for the statue which would replace a sculpture of communist philosopher György Lukács in a 13th district park. The council did suspend the operation, however the symbolic incident demonstrates the difficulties the Opposition will face if they want to keep an alliance, made up of several diverse ideologies, together.
A less symbolic but perhaps harsher conflict broke out regarding the appointment of an attorney for DK’s two mayoral seats in Budapest (District 7 and 11). Csaba Czeglédy was appointed to be in charge of representing the two councils in legal matters. Czeglédy was convicted for fraud, and is currently under investigation for a corruption scandal that saw three people go to prison. He also featured on DK’s list of candidates for the European elections earlier this year, questioning his ability to remain impartial in legal cases.
The conflict is inherent between the two sub-groups of the opposition, the pre-2010 parties (the Socialists and DK) and the post-2010 parties (Momentum, Jobbik, and LMP). The latter group argue that appointments such as this should be avoided in order to prevent undermining the trust in the opposition regarding fiscal matters which they fought so hard to regain. Momentum released a statement which said that Czeglédy’s role would ruin the authenticity of the entire Opposition. Jobbik called the appointment “the mockery of the Opposition’s unity” while LMP labelled it unacceptable. DK argued that Czeglédy’s experience and the fact that he cannot be linked to Fidesz make him suitable for the position. They also tend to portray him as a martyr who is unjustly being chased by Fidesz.
Győr’s reelected mayor, Zsolt Borkai, did not stay in his position for too long. Shortly before the elections, footage emerged of the former Olympic champion participating in an orgy. The scandal was widely credited for the significant losses of Fidesz. However, the governing party seemed uncertain as to how to handle the conflict and it seems, the party does not forgive: on the 7th of November, Borkai announced his immediate resignation at the inaugural meeting of Győr’s council.
The meeting was disturbed by protesters who sang Pákó Fekete’s Add ide a didit!, a song which was heard in the video depicting Borkai’s orgy. The protesters were accompanied by MPs such as LMP’s Péter Ungár, Jobbik’s Andrea Varga-Damm and DK’s Zsolt Gréczy who tried to convince security guards to let the protesters in to the meeting.
Borkai’s move to resign after taking his mayoral oath, instead of doing so before the elections, ensured that in the time until the byelections in January, a Fidesz vice-mayor is able to stay in power in the city. It also keeps the current council line-up, where Fidesz now has a majority. According to Magyar Hang, the party is reported to have already found Borkai’s successor Csaba András Dézsi, a respected cardiologist who has been a councillor in Győr since 1998.
Who he will go up against remains a question. Local Momentum suggested holding a primary (in a similar format which lead to Karácsony’s election in the capital) to decide the Opposition’s candidate. DK’s Tímea Glázer, who was the opposition’s candidate a month ago, said she would also support such elections.
On the same day some protesters gathered at Győr’s city hall, others marched through the streets of Budapest to voice their opposition to Recep Tayipp Erdogan who met Viktor Orbán in his office as part of a state visit. This was the Turkish President’s second visit to the capital in two years causing huge disruption and road closures throughout Budapest.
There was an official protest organised against the state visit and in solidarity to the Kurds in which thousands participated by marching through one of the busiest avenues of the city with Kurdish flags, often bursting into chanting “Erdogan go home!” or “Murderer!” “I don’t like the hypocrisy of Orbán who poses in the image of the protector of Christianity but makes friends with a man who really doesn’t represent these values,” said a protester to Azonnali.
Interestingly, however, not everyone at the protest was explicitly anti-Orbán. A lady told the same news organization that “I don’t like the fact that we are making friends with Erdogan. But I understand it on a practical level, as if the immigrants will not be held back, there will be trouble!”
It is likely that similar criticism from Fidesz’s own camp will worry the prime minister and his circle who, it is understood, feel that things are not going well at the moment. According to hvg.hu, several of Fidesz’s teams are analysing their performance during the local election-campaign by examining every single campaign material in seats they ended up losing.
This uneasiness can also be detected in Fidesz’s communication. One day they seem to be striking a more peaceful tone with the opposition, on others a very heavy one. Curiously, a very rare article was published in heavily pro-government paper Magyar Nemzet by György Pilhál which criticised Viktor Orbán for not listening to his voting base anymore, a move which is pretty much unprecedented in the pro-government media.
Orbán unveils new stadium
Not everything is bleak for the government. In a huge propaganda-win for Fidesz, the Hungarian National Football Team played their first match against Uruguay in the newly built Puskás Arena on Friday. Before the grand-opening, Viktor Orbán published a short promo video for the stadium which shows cabinet ministers, well known commentators, and footballers passing the ball to one another. The final pass was by Orbán himself, who kicked the ball to the stadium from his office signifying that he wishes to portray the stadium as his achievement.
The official video for the stadium’s unveiling could play strongly on Orbán’s desired image; pseudo Hungarian folk music can be heard playing throughout the entire video where average builders, farmers, and families are depicted passing the ball to cabinet ministers and the prime minister himself as well as established politically neutral figures such as the nation’s favourite commentator, István Hajdú B. The video very heavily mirrors Fidesz’s main messages about national unity and plays on Orbán’s one-of-the-people image.
The propaganda value of this stadium is highly significant. Even opposition journalists who usually criticise the government’s excessive stadium building agenda, praised the quality and atmosphere of the new stadium which was partially built for Euro 2020 where Hungary will be hosting a number of group-stage matches as well as a match in the last 16. The first match in the new arena ended with a 2-1 win for Uruguay.
By Ábel Bede
Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and is currently studying History at Durham University. He wrote his dissertation on early 20th century Hungarian politics and culture and published several pieces in prominent Hungarian newspapers. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!