Interview with Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány: "I Am Not Weakened"

The protests in Budapest have largely diminished despite Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány's decision to remain in office. SPIEGEL spoke with the embattled politician about his legitimacy and the need for drastic reforms in Hungary.

SPIEGEL: Tens of thousands of Hungarians have been calling for your resignation for the past week. When will you give in to popular pressure?

Gyurcsány: I won't. I will remain in office.

SPIEGEL: Didn't you lose your legitimacy to run the government when you admitted to members of your own party that you haven't achieved anything in the past few years?

Gyurcsány: There is one thing you must understand: It was a dramatic monologue filled with emotion, and it included one-sided and to some extent exaggerated statements. But it was necessary to convince the party to accept my plans for reforms. The context in which I said these words is important.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean that perhaps you have the wrong party behind you?

Gyurcsány: I admit that they simply were not courageous enough in the past. But I am not willing to continue this policy of doing nothing, a policy pursued by every political leader since the early 1990s. We will see, after this debate, whether or not I receive the necessary support.

SPIEGEL: But you had enough time for reforms before being re-elected.

Gyurcsány: No more than one and a half years, because I only came into office at about the middle of the last legislative period. I gave this speech all of three days after I received the mandate to form a government this spring.

SPIEGEL: You have announced a comprehensive savings program, including tax increases. In your weakened position, will you be able to push through such far-reaching measures?

Gyurcsány: I am not weakened. Not at all.

SPIEGEL: The people on the street would disagree.

Gyurcsány: Ten thousand people are demanding that I withdraw my cost-cutting package. And what will happen then? Our economy needs this correction. There is no alternative. None of the commentators in our newspapers has called for my abandoning my program altogether. On the contrary, they write: Gyurcsány must remain firm.

SPIEGEL: Given the dramatic obstacles to reform in your country, aren't you forced to reach out to the Fidesz Party, the most important opposition movement?

Gyurcsány: Viktor Orbán's program, with its social promises, would contradict the budget consolidation process. Last week I invited all party leaders to discuss the current situation. However, the Fidesz Party was the only one that didn't attend the meeting.

SPIEGEL: How will you ensure that your country doesn't succumb to a wave of violence in the coming weeks?

Gyurcsány: We have learned our lesson from the past few days and we are ready.

SPIEGEL: It was the worst outburst of violence since the fall of the communist regime in 1989…

Gyurcsány: It serves to demonstrate that some political forces support such extremism. But one must not confuse the motives of tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators with those of groups prepared to resort to violence.

SPIEGEL: Can you still be trusted by foreign investors?

Gyurcsány: Without a doubt. There are no alternatives: either reforms with a man who admitted, full of emotion, that we have lacked the necessary courage in the past …

SPIEGEL: …and who himself lied during the campaign…

Gyurcsány: (nods)... or the policy of the other side, which has no political concepts.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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