The Őszöd speech: An anniversary of a shameful moment in recent history and a reminder of the dangers of poor leadership

They “screwed it up” once. We must not let them do it again.


Fifteen years ago today, Ferenc Gyurcsány, then the Socialist prime minister of Hungary, delivered an infamous speech in the small town of Balatonőszöd, near Lake Balaton. Addressing the Hungarian Socialist Party’s (MSZP) annual congress in 2006, around a month after their election victory that April, Gyurcsány confessed, among a number of outrageous statements, that he “had to pretend for 18 months” that they were governing, when, in fact, they “were lying morning, noon and night.”

Although the party congress was held behind closed doors, a recording of the speech surfaced some months later, in mid-September. It sent shock waves through the country — not only for its alarming admission of incompetence but also for its brazen profanity, as the former PM indulged in some of the worst swear words in the Hungarian language throughout the recording.

Hungarians, understandably outraged by the “Őszöd speech,” took to the streets, the leaked recording sparking a nationwide scandal and political crisis. The following weeks witnessed mass anti-government protests – and shameful acts of police brutality, with the widespread use of tear gas grenades and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrators.

Ferenc Gyurcsány refused to resign and take responsibility for the situation, instead insisting on staying in power. Despite the mass atrocities that affected hundreds of Hungarians, victims of the brutal police actions on the streets of Budapest, the “Őszöd speech” became a watershed moment in Hungarian politics.

Gyurcsány’s leaked remarks made it clear that the post-communists managed to preserve one of the communist dictatorship’s most shameful traditions: lying to their people even regarding the most important questions. What’s more, a regime brazenly used violence to silence critics.

His Socialist-liberal government presided over spiraling deficits and debt and led Hungary to the brink of default. They turned to the IMF for an emergency bailout. Unemployment soared to over 11 percent and tens of thousands of Hungarians simply left the workforce.

Yet even today, Gyurcsány plays a leading role in today’s opposition. Some argue that he still pulls all the strings on the Hungarian Left.

It’s true that most of the Hungarian opposition’s prime ministerial candidates belong to Gyurcsány’s clique: his wife, Klára Dobrev, and Gergely Karácsony, the incumbent mayor of Budapest, who was, ironically, working for the former prime minister in 2006. Even far-right, anti-Semitic Jobbik leader Péter Jakab, who, if I recall correctly, was an active participant during the anti-Gyurcsány protests in 2006, has come to terms with Jobbik’s former enemy. They all have links to Gyurcsány, a man remembered by many on this 15th anniversary for his utter lack of responsibility and respect for the people.

They “screwed it up” once, we must not let them do it again.