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We are a couple of days now into 2006, but President László Sólyom's new year address is still making waves. The attacks are coming from all quarters, but at least people are talking about it. Maybe that is what he wanted?

It was a strange New Year. The new president did not give his address early in the morning, when all were slumbering, but waited until 'the people' had slept off their hangover. His speech was delivered on the morning of the following day on public television, with the commercial channels broadcasting it that afternoon. He was right. However moving the speeches of Árpád Göncz or Ferenc Mádl, however perfectly they trimmed their speeches to match current events, whether those were the chaos of the regime change, the after-effects of the Bokros package, or the period of expectancy before EU enlargement, nobody remembers what was said. Even when the speeches were given, not everybody was in a fully sober state.

Both Sólyom's speech and its circumstances reflect the president's approach. This was uncomfortable for many, both on the right and the left. Where was the national flag, some demanded. Others wondered why Sólyom had spken of "responsible citizens [ polgárok ]" in connection with the coming elections, saying that only democratic, constitutional parties were running in the election, that no potential election victor would bring the country to its knees. And why was Sólyom opposed to character-assassination campaigns?

The accusations were unjustified. We like the president not because he clothes himself in the Hungarian tricolore, but because of what he says. Sólyom only said things that every sober (or perhaps hung over) Hungarian citizen could agree with, whatever his political persuasions. He spoke of how the Hungarian nation had to be preserved "regardless of borders", saying that the election campaign should consist of more than unrealisable promises and character assassination. He said the new government should plan for the long term, that it should make headway with delayed reforms. He said that it should "be good to live in Hungary." Does this not have more power to move than a symbol? Everyone can calm down: the national tricolour will flutter next to Sólyom come the next national day.

The most absurd accusation was that Sólyom was speaking an untruth when he spoke of responsible citizens voting. The argument was that "society is stratified, elections are not in the least based on informed, conscious decisions, and the decisions will be taken by hundreds of thousands and people who are not in the least bit able to assess the condition of the country." (They are stupid.) The Népszabadság columnist who wrote this was implying that the field was open, that the parties should simply reach out to the voters most susceptible to manipulation by promises.

This reasoning is alarming in itself. Not to mention the fact that both Árpád Göncz and Ferenc Mádl talked of Hungary's citizens in their New Years' speeches using the first person plural. It was neither the time nor the place to address the dilemmas arising from the stratification of society. And why would they have done it? Perhaps Sólyom should have manipulated and denigrated rather than appeal to our higher instincts?

Many are watching the president's every move, believing he is a capricious, unpredictable figure. Many predict that, whether Gyurcsány or Orbán is the prime minister, sooner or later a conflict will arise between the two offices. But this should not be a problem. On the contrary, it proves that we have a president who cannot be bent to the will of whichever political elite happens to be in power. With this president, there would be little point in trying.

' Rr '
HVG English version

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HVG English version

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HVG English version

Growing distance from the euro?

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HVG English version

Bankers roots

Hungarians pursuing stellar careers in the banking world abroad always talked of wanting to do something for the mother country. Nowadays, Hungarian is heard increasingly often in the world's financial centres.

HVG English version

A lost generation

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