Being the wife of the Polish Defense Minister and all, one would think that Anne Applebaum knows her Central European politics. But this strikes me as just wrong:
“We have screwed up. Not a little, but a lot. … If we have to give an account to the country of what we have done in four years, what are we going to say?”
I wish I could gleefully report that the words quoted above had been spoken by an American politician, preferably at a large public gathering with lots of media. But, alas, they were pronounced by a foreign politician with an unpronounceable surname: Ferenc Gyurcsany, the prime minister of Hungary. For those readers who don’t follow Hungarian politics on a daily basis, he also said that “we lied, morning, noon, and night” and conceded that his country had stayed afloat during his government’s first term thanks to “divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy, and hundreds of tricks.”
Gyurcsany made these refreshingly frank comments during a private meeting. They were taped, and leaked. He now says he spoke that way to impress upon his colleagues the urgent need for radical economic reform in Hungary, by which he means higher taxes (his party had promised lower taxes) and tighter budgets (his party had promised few cuts). Shakily, he’s sticking to that line.
It won’t be easy. In Budapest, his comments sparked several nights of riots, about 250 injuries, and daily demonstrations. Hungary’s currency and credit rating took sudden dives. The opposition is calling for his resignation. Inexplicably, Gyurcsany still managed to show up late last week at a conference on European Union reform in Berlin, where I watched him make an emotional and not entirely comprehensible speech. He warned, among other things, of “radical nationalism,” by which he presumably meant all of those people angry at him for “screwing up.” He looked close to tears.
The lesson here is clear: Prime ministers, presidents, and other sundry statesmen beware. In democratic politics, you get in trouble not for what you do but for what you say—particularly if it’s true.
No, it’s not. It’s that if there’s ironclad proof that if someone lies his way to an election victory, that person is going to be punished – and rightly so. Suppose that Gyurcsany had started an unsuccessful school voucher program, say, that it didn’t work out, and that he announced that he was wrong and would eliminate the program. Then suppose that there were protests in the street. That would be an ironclad case of a leader being punished for honesty. This, on the other hand, is a case of a leader secretly admitting to serious campaign malfeasance, and being appropriately punished for said malfeasance, as well as for not telling his constituents. It’s not about honesty. It’s about the dirty tricks.