The first day of the year in Hungary

The big surprise was President Sólyom’s speech: it was quite acceptable. He didn’t dwell on politics, which was a blessing because Sólyom and politics don’t mix well. He was also mercifully short. He simply asked all Hungarians to get along and called attention to the fact that the painter’s palette has colors other than black and white. He seemed to have abandoned his bad habit of scolding both sides, but never equally; the left was always the real villain. This time his formulations suggested–at least in my reading–that Sólyom may have discovered that the cause of the political deadlock lies more with Viktor Orbán and his team. We will see whether action will follow words.

Then, there is Gyurcsány and his government. The successful passing of several bills in parliament and Sólyom’s decision not to send the health care bill to the Constitutional Court certainly were received with a sigh of relief in government circles. The prime minister and his family went for a longer vacation. They spent Christmas in Bulgaria because Klára Dobrev, Gyurcsány’s wife, is half Bulgarian. Knowing the prime minister, he will return from this vacation with renewed energy. In his first days back he will visit each of the ministries and will have a chat with his ministers. They will jointly evaluate their performances. According to rumors he is most satisfied with József Gráf, minister of agriculture, who indeed performed miracles: he managed to appease the farmers who for the most part had been on the side of the opposition. Apparently, he is less satisfied with Gordon Bajnai, the man responsible for the distribution of the money coming from the European Union. The success of this program is of vital importance for Gyurcsány and his political future. There are rumors that the approval of projects is lagging; in the last few days I saw several critical articles in opposition papers according to which there is a lot of talk but practically no money spent. The other minister who will be most likely criticized is István Hiller, minister of education and culture. Again, Gyurcsány apparently is not quite satisfied with the speed of changes in higher education. I find Hiller anything but decisive. On the other hand, I’m almost sure that János Veres will be praised. After all, the convergence program is proceeding splendidly. More money was received through tax revenues than anticipated, the budget deficit is smaller than planned. Although I’m sure some people would be very happy if Gyurcsány said some ugly words to Ágnes Horváth, minister of education, apparently Gyurcsány is satisfied with the work of the ministry because I’m sure he realizes the heavy burden this ministry has to carry.

Another piece of good news is that MÁV Cargo was sold to a joint Austro-Hungarian company. Apparently, the freight division of the Hungarian Railways is profitable, but in order to remain so a substantial investment is necessary. Given the MÁV’s problems (a deficit of many billions of forints every year), there was certainly no way the Hungarian government could underwrite the freight division’s modernization. The opposition is crying foul, but the deal was sealed today.

Finally, a really amusing bit of news. Zsolt Semjén, party leader of the Christian Democrats (a caucus without a party), announced that he prays daily for Ferenc Gyurcsány because–as he said–a good Christian prays even for his enemies. I think that says a lot about the political situation in Hungary.