A YEAR ago he was considered a joke. Polls showed his support among
Hungary's Stalinists and neofascists languishing in single figures.
But a population disillusioned with the austerity package
introduced by a Socialist government is turning to the man dubbed
the "clown prince of the right," Jozsef Torgyan, leader of the
Independent Smallholders Party, a rural-based nationalist group.
A Hungarian opinion poll published Sept. 8 shows Mr. Torgyan's
party to be more popular than the governing Socialists, 16 percent
to 14 percent.
"The main reason for our breakthrough is that the nostalgia for
communism has turned into real disillusionment," Torgyan says in an
interview. "The people recognize that we have taken the cover off
communism all along. We have been consistent, and I can say for
sure that we will be in power after the next elections."
Not only the government lost support. The mainstream opposition
conservative parties that formed Hungary's first post-communist
government are in disarray after being hammered in elections last
May. Torgyan has stepped into the vacuum.
A joker in the house
The violinist-turned-lawyer is a master of rhetoric, and his rough
sense of humor can leave usually dormant backbenchers howling with
laughter. In contrast to the slick mobile-phone image of most
Hungarian members of parliament, he plays the straight-talking,
His party claims to be the successor to the prewar Smallholders
Party which, after being banned under the rule of the fascist Arrow
Cross, won Hungary's 1945 elections only to be outlawed by the
After the party reemerged in 1988, it split into a half-dozen
competing factions. Torgyan's was victorious.
Torgyan is a bundle of contradictions. He slams the West for
placing too many restrictions on Hungary. Then he criticizes the
government for slowing Hungary's integration into NATO and the
But a common thread runs through his rhetoric: The former
Communists are still in power and must be defeated.
"This government cannot escape from the people who helped them into
power - the inheritors of the Communists whom Hungarians have
learned to hate. The nomenclature has returned - at first quietly,
but now openly."
His language is often more colorful when he is surrounded by loyal
followers. Speaking to 10,000 supporters on Hungary's Independence
Day in March, he declared, "The liberal Bolsheviks, the
privatizers, and the bankers who sink millions into their pockets,
are about to push the world's most talented people, the Hungarians,
into a state of slavery. …