Lying and its consequences, à la Viktor Orbán

Viktor Orbán’s speech yesterday was about lying and its consequences. First of all, I should mention that his entrance is always accompanied by the audience’s rythmic repetition of his name: "Viktor, Viktor, Viktor," followed by clapping (in the same mind-numbing rhythm). This is reminiscent of the worst period of Stalinism when no one dared to stop clapping in case the authorities thought you weren’t genuinely enthusiastic about Comrade Stalin, Comrade Rákosi, and/or the regime. The difference now is that the adoring audience claps enthusiastically and of its own free will. Perhaps even more frightening.

The speech itself was a composite of previous speeches, which I don’t find surprising. After all, everybody has only a certain number of ideas, and this is doubly true at the moment for Viktor Orbán. He can offer no constructive suggestions for solving the current fiscal problems nor any vision for the country’s future. It is perhaps sufficient in this regard to mention that Orbán in this speech fondly talked about "those achievements [of socialism] that managed to survive the change of regime," adding that the current evil socialists want to take away these achievements.

The whole speech was constructed around the themes of "lying" and the "new winds" in Europe that Gyurcsány and the socialists don’t want to recognize. The "new winds" have nothing to do with economic reforms. Don’t think of Sarkozy’s emphasis on "reform, reform, reform," or Gyurcsány’s constant reference to the necessity of change because without change a country cannot adapt to new circumstances. Don’t think that both Germany and France are trying to trim the excesses of the welfare state because their leaders realize that otherwise the "old continent" cannot compete successfully in the global economy. Don’t think that Gyurcsány wants to reform what has remained of the Kádár regime (and a lot has remained). These are not the "new winds."

Orbán tried to showcase himself as the politician of the new Europe who will inherit or at least share the mantle of Sarkozy and Merkel. A man who is a real European, who understands the messages new winds bring along while the Gyurcsány government’s "excessive liberalism" is a sign of "provincialism and mediocrity."

And (drum roll, please) what are these new winds? They are, according to Orbán, not economic and social reforms but an attempt to end "moral relativism." He claims that the "old continent has awakened from its dream of cultural relativism" and has begun an entirely new course. Ending an era when "there is no good and evil, but it depends." Anyone who is a bit familiar with German or French politics knows that this interpretation has no basis in reality (and we’d better not contemplate how philosophically muddled it is). Perhaps Orbán’s closest allies in this moralistic cause are the Kaczynski brothers in Poland.

As for lying. According to Orbán the socialists lied in the past, are lying now, and will lie in the future. It is "in their blood." Yes, Gyurcsány admitted that he didn’t tell the whole story of the sad state of the economy before the elections. Well, how many successful politicians campaign with dire predictions for the future, especially when their opponents promise pie in the sky, as happened in the 2006 election campaign? If Fidesz had won the elections, the Orbán government would have had to engage in similar belt-tightening strategies. However, they would have been in the happy position to say to the electorate: "Terribly sorry, we didn’t realize that the situation was that bad. Yes, we promised all sorts of things, but, you see, these horrible socialists left an ungodly mess behind." Gyurcsány was not in such a happy position. The socialists won re-election.

What Gyurcsány tried to tell his fellow socialists in Balatonöszöd was that they had been fooling themselves in thinking that they could preserve the status quo. He argued that unless they deconstructed the remnants of the old socialist system, the "premature welfare state"–as the well known economist, János Kornai, called the late Kádár regime–the whole economic structure would collapse. There had to be a real change of regime because otherwise the country would not be competitive. And he promised that from here on they would not lie to themselves or to the people. Instead, they would try to explain why these reforms are necessary. And this is what Orbán wants to prevent. Not because he doesn’t know that these reforms are necessary but because he senses the population’s dissatisfaction with these changes.

Orbán then launched into a game of pseudo-semantics. The socialists and their "panting collaborators have ravaged the language. Lying is called truth, destroying means building, reducing taxes actually means raising taxes. No wonder that half the population is gasping for air. " To all this Orbán says no: "It is enough." And he continued by accusing the socialists of actually stealing the people’s money. He acted as if he didn’t know where the nonexistent money went. Total amnesia about the forty percent rise in real wages in the last five years. The fact that Hungary has lived beyond its means. Not a word about the thirty percent share in the grey or black economy that prevents the proper collecting of taxes. And one could continue.

Orbán should know better, and most likely he understands that the price of the gas and electricity are not going up because "this is the price of lies," but because the price of many commodities are at record global levels. The Hungarian government has let go about nine thousand teachers, not because these are price of lies, but because there are fewer children and more teachers than 20 years ago. I think that deep down even Orbán knows that co-pay or tuition is not the price of lies but an attempt to bring home the fact that there is no free lunch.

The remedy? Simple. There will be a referendum which, of course, the Fidesz will win and then Gyurcsány and company will simply slink away. Well, we know that this is not so. Moreover, who knows what will happen next spring? He tried his best to convince his audience that it is "Now or never!" And, of course, after the fall of the current government everything will be just wonderful. Just as wonderful as it was before 2002.

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Orban grew up in the Kadar era and that is the style of politics he knows best. It is interesting to note that in the mid 1980s when Gyurcsany was the leader of the KISZ Young Communist leauge, FIDESZ was the student government of the Bibo Kollegium, located only about twenty meters distant up Menesi utca on Gellert Hill. The extreme personal emnity may have its origins in some undergraduate rivalries dating from 1985 or so. I was the English teacher and “nevelő tanár”) at Bibo from 1989-1992, after Orban and the original FISESZ crowd had moved on, but the hatred of the student government there against KISz was intense.