A short article in The Economist

Rarely does the English language press spend much time on Hungary. So Hungarian journalists and politicians tend to give undue weight to anything written about the country in reputable English language newspapers and magazines. If in a long article about some shady arms deal to Afghanistan appears in The New York Times in which Hungary is mentioned along with practically all other Eastern European countries, at least two dozen articles appear on the subject and the prime minister launches an investigation. Yesterday Hungary was singled out for criticism in a short article that appeared in The Economist entitled "A Magyar mess." It began: "Financial markets are jumpy about several east European countries. One of the more vulnerable is Hungary, notorious for its budget and current-account deficits. Once the local wonder child, Hungary is limping, its government outmanoeuvred by the opposition, its economy sclerotic and its population resentful." In Hungary, in brief, Chicken Little is triumphant, the sky is falling.

Indeed, there is a totally fatalistic public attitude even, or perhaps especially, in left-liberal intellectual circles. Everybody seems to be convinced that there is no way for the MSZP to win the elections in 2010, which is bad enough. But the real tragedy, in this view, is that the Fidesz will receive more than two-thirds of the the parliamentary seats and then this surely will be the end of Hungarian democracy. They envisage such changes in the constitution that would morph the current parliamentary system into a presidential type of democracy which in Hungary could lead to a destruction of the rule of law as it exists today. They already see Viktor Orbán moving over to the strengthened position of president, and then God help us!

Then there are those, also among the supporters of the MSZP, who think that perhaps the best chance for the party would be the resignation of Ferenc Gyurcsány. These people naively think that Viktor Orbán and Fidesz would be more cooperative without this thorn in Orbán’s side. Didn’t Orbán and his party say that they refuse to engage in any conversation with a liar? Perhaps if Gyurcsány disappeared from the political scene members of Fidesz wouldn’t leave the room when the prime minister speaks. There would be dialogue. There would be cooperation. I don’t think that it is necessary to emphasize that this is an absolutely wrong assumption. Nothing would change. Orbán’s appetite would only increase. With a lame and grey politician, like Péter Kiss for example, the MSZP would have even less of a chance for victory.

Now there is a new twist. A young but influential MSZP politician, Attila Mesterházy, came out with the idea that perhaps the best thing for MSZP would be to get rid of SZDSZ. If János Kóka threatens to quit the coalition if his party can’t achieve its original aims, especially in the questions of health care, then why doesn’t the MSZP say: "Fine! Go! Empty the ministerial seats, give back the car keys!" Admittedly, then MSZP would have to form a minority government. Mesterházy rather optimistically predicted that this new situation wouldn’t be problematic at all. SZDSZ would support the government from the outside. SZDSZ politicians very rightly countered: how can Mesterházy be so sure that this would be the case. Katalin Szili also liked this idea. Gyurcsány, on the other hand, outright rejected it.

Meanwhile, all the former presidents of the National Bank, a number of former ministers of finance, and many, many economists are suggesting draconian economic cuts that would be political suicide. The government cannot take away pensions, child support, the three-year government subsidy after each baby, and I could continue. Yes, it would be advisable to lower taxes but how when, as The Economist points out, "some 20% of workers pay four-fifths of income tax." And Hungarian society is not heavily skewed between the haves and have-nots.

Of course, the government could do a number of things before they take away pensions. The most important problem to address is the black economy. Does that mean targeting the tax-free status of those who allegedly earn only the minimum wage–all 1.2 million of them? That’s a blunt instrument that could hurt the truly poor without identifying those who are gaming the system. According to The Economist the black economy may account for 18% of GDP. I think this is probably a low figure. But, even assuming The Economist’s guess, just think how much more viable the Hungarian economy would be if all income were reported. Tax enforcement is never popular, but it’s almost always effective. Here I am, the small business classic tax evader: "Janos is going to jail for tax evasion. Oops! I’d better record these profits." And all of a sudden the coffers start to swell.

In addition to enforcing individual tax collection, Hungary would be wise to reduce the business tax rate from its temporary 20% back to its original 16%. But let’s be realistic, this is not enough. Politics is still the deal breaker. As The Economist said: "Hungary’s politicians are doing what they do best: squabbling for short-term advantage, while leaving structural problems untouched." An excellent cartoon appeared in today’s Népszava which depicts the situation very well. There is a little boat. Written on its side: Magyarország. At one end of the boat which is sinking, half drowning there is the captain, Ferenc Gyurcsány. At the other end, high up of the sinking boat there is Viktor Orbán in triumphant mood. The title: Az előny (Leading).

Meanwhile let me quote a short comment on the Economist article, obviously written by a right-wing Hungarian. Isn’t it nice to see the world in such simple terms? I didn’t correct the fellow’s English:

"There are some half-truth in your articles, as it is usual. First $2. This vote is not about $2 or not, but against a government, recruited among old communists and close friends and which illegible, couldn’t tell truth either to their supporters, achieved criminal-diplomacy and corruption and the prime minister is mentally instable. The well over than 50% voted against lies, the unlimited corruption and undemocratic way of administration."

Simple, isn’t it? Get rid of the mad prime minister, get rid of the communists, get rid of those who conduct "criminal diplomacy," and bring in democracy as this fellow and many like him envisage it. And all the problems would be solved.

 

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Varangy
Guest
*********But the real tragedy, in this view, is that the Fidesz will receive more than two-thirds of the the parliamentary seats and then this surely will be the end of Hungarian democracy.********* @Eva Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you are not quite rational, and a bit hysterical when it comes to Viki? *********They envisage such changes in the constitution that would morph the current parliamentary system into a presidential type of democracy which in Hungary could lead to a destruction of the rule of law as it exists today. They already see Viktor Orbán moving over to the strengthened position of president, and then God help us!********* Now you may not agree with Viki’s economic policies. Hell, being a libertarian I certainly don’t. But to assert that: a) the Hun. parliementary system will be morphed into a presidential democracy b) which would lead to a dictatorship run by Viki is, uhm, a bit extreme and a more than a bit ironic — being that most, if not all, MSZP and SZDSZ members are FORMER COMMUNISTS. Why do you give the Communists a free pass for their transgressions against and encroachment upon humanity? You, who, if I am not… Read more »
Viking
Guest

Varangy,
I think you need to up your reading skills a bit. The first half of your post you refer to statements not made by Eva, only what she refers to. I did though, initially, became a bit surprised when reading it. The keys to understand Eva’s piece lies in the beginning “But the real tragedy, in this view” and in the end “They already see”.
Also why do you only have a problem with the old Commies in MSZP and SZDSZ? The ones in Fidesz, MIEP etc – They are not worth your attention?

boiledbeefand carrots
Guest
boiledbeefand carrots

The funny thing is that there are more ex-communist party members in Orban’s front line than in the Socialist-Free Dem cabinet. Including the ludicrously moustachioed ex-foreign minister Martonyi who joined the party a year before it was dissolved.

Sandor
Guest
The true aims of the fidesz was blurted out at the last election by MIkola, the “health policy expert” during an election rally. They intended to solidify the fidesz’ rule for the next twenty years.This goal is the raison d’etre of their entire existence. No lie and no chicanery is too low or too embarrassing for them to achieve this. Principled politics has long gone out of the party. I did seem to recognize, on the other hand, in the socialists a glimmer of more discipline and also more intelligence for a while. However, the referendum has elicited from them the most cowardly knee jerk reactions. They somehow came around to think that appeasing the fidesz and adopting their hair-brained, woodoo economical policies will somehow restore the electability of the mszp. Appeasement unfortunately, (or fortunately) carries in itself its own punishment. The socialist government has no choice other then proceeding with the reforms, come hell or high water, or be ground down in the next election into ignominy anyway. Their only saving grace might be a bit of success with the reforms. This will be an admirable opportunity to separate the men from the boys. They also seem to have… Read more »
Vladimir
Guest

While Varangy has a keen mind, it is clear from his initial post that he is exercising some old demons that terrorize and color his current perceptions. Even I, as a relative neophyte Hungarian observer know about the fascinating irony that many in Fidesz and other fringe right wingers are ex social-climbing commies. I even have a couple of in-laws who embody this. They once had high rank party jobs and both are now front-pew Christians who are now big-time Fidesz supporters.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Every one keeps bleating on about “Old Communists”. When communism was the ‘only game in town’ – if you wanted to eat you became a communist. Any person with average intelligence can learn ‘Das Capital’ or whatever ‘Holy Writ’ was used by rote. To do so did not mean that you believed what you had learned. What worries me is the cloud cuckoo-land economic ideas of Fides and their attempt to create as Kruschev said of Stalin ‘a cult of personality’. I have always wondered what makes Olban Victor ‘tick’ I now think I have some idea thanks to the wisdom and knowlage of all those who contribute to this Blog. I would like to learn more about his psyche. I collect poisionous little toads (Lenin, Starlin, Hitler, Haynau the Hyena) and perhaps here we have another in the making. Ferenc Gyurcsány is on the other hand perhaps a Statesman in the making. In his shoes I would leave the Health reforms alone and get onto the big reform – the tax system. *********But the real tragedy, in this view, is that the Fidesz will receive more than two-thirds of the the parliamentary seats and then this surely will be… Read more »
Varangy
Guest
I am am a little late coming back to this conversation. My apologies. Also, I see I mis-read your post. Again, my apologies. Where to begin? @Eva Believe you me — I am well aware of the Communists among the Hun. Right. For the record, I am not a FIDESZ-er, but I also do not suffer from OVDS (Orbán Viktor Derangement Syndrome). I have openly stated my views and biases many a time — my political leanings are very libertarian with a fairly, what I think, moral as well as cynical spin. I trust no Hungarian Party. Eva, I would like to ask you as to your view of the Communists and ex-Communists? I believe massive injury has been done to Hungary, Hungarian society, and Moral Principle as there was no high-level purging undertaken in 1989/90 for the sins against humanity committed by the Communists. Had some blood flowed in the streets of Budapest, perhaps all Hungarians, on the Right and the Left would be better off today. ******Varangy…is exercising some old demons that terrorize and color his current perceptions.****** @Vladimir I find your comment uninformed and, even personally insulting. I repeat, I have also admitted my biases and POV… Read more »
Hatodik Oszlop
Guest
I agree with Varangy that some form of lustration after the system change would ultimately have benefited Hungary socially and economically. It is too far after the fact to try that today. Also, the suggestion that everyone had to become a communist to eat is an outright falsehood. Certainly it came with rewards, but one could lead a middle class existence under the “aristocracy of the proletariat” without becoming a party member. In my family’s case, I have an uncle who was an engineer. Because of his smarts and knack for languages, he did quite well, and despite being approached about joining the party, he refused to out of principle, effectively meaning he turned down a significant pay raise. To this day he stands by that decision. Many of the people who would later go on to form the SZDSZ were the people who supported Imre Nagy in the 1950s, and became disillusioned with communism after Kádár threw a lot of them in jail. Some people are already shouting that a Fidesz super majority will lead to the end of democracy in Hungary, which is quite outlandish of a statement. My question is how democratic is it to lie to… Read more »
Adrian
Guest
Hatodik Oszlop, you ask a very signiticant question about lying and democracy. Reading your and Varangy’s posts makes me realise once again that there are very still bitter personal and family histories involved in Hungarian politics that I can’t emotionally connect with: But, as a Briton who had no connection with Hungary before 1993, the thing that struck me most about the Gyurcsany lies story was this: how could he be so naive as to admit that he had been lying? Tony Blair lied to the British People about the existence and significance of Sadddam’s weapons of mass destruction. This lie has cost almost 200 British lives. When his chief of staff was recently questioned about whether he had any regrets about this, he answered that he wished they had promoted the war in Iraq on the basis of regime change instead. I believe that Tony Blair sincerely believed that fighting in Iraq was the morally right thing to do. He also knew that the majority of British people did not. His political job was to find away of persuading them otherwise: the weapons of mass destruction story was the means he chose. Politics is like this in even the… Read more »
Hatodik Oszlop
Guest

Adrian,
Point taken about Blair, but there are two significant differences between Blair and Gyurcsány. I can’t say why Gyurcsány thought admitting to lying would be a good thing or if it was naivety on his part or not.
Of course all politicians lie, and my guess is the Hungarians knew that too. But Blair never came out and admitted “yeah, I was totally making things up, and now I’ll do the complete opposite of what I promised.” Furthermore, Blair tried to bring people over to his side, as opposed to Gyurcsány, who after admitting to lying, (and not apologizing for it, only for the coarse language), said “don’t worry, it won’t hurt.”
I would say what’s hurt the current gov’t perhaps even more than the lies speech is their attitude of not trying to connect with the people and banking on reforms bringing in quick returns, which obviously, they have not, basically leaving them pissing into the wind.

Adrian
Guest

Hatodik Oszlop,
Your point about Gyurcsány’s “attitude of not trying to connect with the people and banking on reforms bringing in quick returns” is reminiscient of Margaret Thatcher, who like Gyurcsány is, was an immensely devsive figure. It’s worth speculating whether her career was saved by the timing Falklands War, because there had certainly been no quick return on her reforms by the time of the 1983 election.
How much do you think the current unrest is due to Gyurcsány’s personality, and how much due to disappointed expectations of democracy?
I find the existence of the Magyar Guarda, and Orban’s decision not to participate fully in Parliament more disturbing than Gyurcsány’s lies.

Hatodik Oszlop
Guest
Adrian, Most observers would agree that if there is no Falklands War, Thatcher serves only a single term. Incidentally, unlike Gyurcsány, it was public unrest (the poll tax riots) that led to her resignation within a year. I would say a lot of the unrest comes from Gyurcsány’s “I know what’s best for you” attitude. If he had made more of an attempt to connect with the people immediately, that could have been to his benefit, but ultimately, the whole “I lied to get reelected and am admitting that and don’t give a toss what you think” attitude was ultimately too much. Fidesz fully participates in parliament, they just walk out whenever Gyurcsány speaks, which I admit, is very childish and stupid, which the Fidesz campaign against Gyurcsány has also frequently been. They are far from being a perfect opposition, despite the opportunity provided to them by the government to look better than they really are. The Magyar Gárda is as much a threat to Hungarian democracy as Blue Peter is to Gordon Brown. The guard is a fringe proto-fascist organization that diverts attention from real problems, but ultimately achieves nothing other than being the bogeyman the left needs in… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
A British cabinet secretary once had to admit in an Australian Court of Law that he had not lied but had been ‘Economic with the Truth’. I understand that the important part of Mr Gyurcsány’s “lies speech” was not that he had lied (or been economic with the truth) in the run upto an election, but that HE WOULD NOT DO IT AGAIN under ANY circumstances! Not for them, not for the party etc. If this is true and only history will tell, maybe Hungary has found a good leader. I agree with Adrian when he says ***** I think this situation will continue until the knowledge and critical thinking of the electorate improves. In my lifetime, the British electorate came to understand the illusionary nature of the tax and spend economic policies of the Labour party, and it no longer possible for any party to offer this kind of solution to economic problems. ***** I agree with him that there are no ‘quick fixes’s for the economic state of Hungary. Electors always expect jam to-day and are disapointed when they have to wait until tomorrow. As to disconnection from the people when you have to do what Mr Gyurcsány… Read more »
Adrian
Guest
Teaching in Hungary leads to me to think that fascism is more than a fringe interest. I have always thought that there was too much “nemzet” in Hungarian political discourse. Even in Gyurcsány’s recent speech he advocated the MSZP as the party of “national” progress – what’s wrong with plain old progress? My teaching career started in a Roman Catholic grammar school. There a student ernestly expressed the desire to ethnically cleanse his village of gypsies. And the History teacher told his class on 9/11 that the Americans got what they deserved for helping the Jews. Things calmed down when I moved school to a staffroom which was largley supportive of the MSZP. This changed suddenly when Gyurcsany took over leadership of the party, and one of my more reasonable colleagues who had worked with Gyucsany in KISZ (spelling?) the communist youth organisation, moved over to Fidesz. Shortly after another colleague explained to me how she hated the Jews, who had destroyed a History teacher’s legal career and reduced him to teaching. The Anti- gypsy diatribes in the staffroom became so inflamed that I got sick of hearing “cigány, cigány, cigány” and started attacking racism from my colleagues when I… Read more »
Viking
Guest

Adrian,
Keep up the good work in school, it is needed!
My experience is similar about the racist undertone in Hungary today. Arguments and thinking reminds me of my GrandParents generation in Sweden. The IronCurtain obvoiusly encapsulated peoples minds in more than one sense.

Varangy
Guest

Eva,
1) Unbelievably and sickeningly, you are nothing more than a Communist apologist. I will address all your ‘points’ on my blog sometime soon.
2) Why do you ignore the rest of my commentary with a very condescending ‘I must confess that I didn’t get much further than that’?

Varangy
Guest

Eva,
I have cogently responded to your insulting comment here:
http://frappansklise.tumblr.com/post/30621841
I await a response.

Viking
Guest

Varangy,
Get down from your high Hungarian moral horse and deal with reality.
Eva spoke about the Hungarian experiance, not Communism in general.
Some of those 100+ million you claim died due to Communism, died to defend what we in the West call freedom. Stalin and Soviet *were* allied to the US and UK during WWII. Did they die in vain?
Did the Allied sailors and soldiers, who protected the transport of material to Soviet during the WWII also die in vain? So Stalin could send more of his soldiers to die on the front, this time with weapons.
History is not suitable for a BorderLine personality.

NWO
Guest
Varangy and I have tangled on some of these issues in the past, and often I do not agree with him. In particular, I am not convinced a violent outcome in 89/90 would have had the positive “cleansing” impact he/she believes. Moreover, I believe the fundamental negative legacy of communism does not lie not primarily within the MSZP. The problem is, sadly, far graver. The problem is embedded in the society and the people that have (1) a feeling of entitlement (i.e., the the we deserve the Hungarian State to take care of us) and (2) a feeling of such high cynicism (i.e., the system is corrupt so if I cheat or am corrupt it is morally justified). These characteristics are left over traits from the Communist era. Particularly sad is that FIDESZ and Orban in particular while claiming to be anti-Communist pretend that the people are entitled, that the State is the answer for most problems and that all we need is more socialism (just don’t call it that!), nationalism and a strong leader and then Hungary can be rich and happy again and maybe ever restore the pre-Trianon borders. This of course is a lie, and a far… Read more »
Adrian
Guest

Eva,
So why did regime change come? My impression is that that the Hungarian Communist party was ahead of the pack here. Am I mistaken? If not what motivated the leadership to hand over power?

Hatodik Oszlop
Guest
Adrian, Even my very nationalistic acquaintances would never sing the praises of Szalasi. As to the anti-Gypsy comments, I cannot condone them, but bad economic situations tend to bring out the worst in people, irrespective of what country they were in. After the communist rise to power, talk of what Hungary did in WW2 was very limited and it has only been open for discussion since the system change, and obviously a lot of those ugly feelings that were bottled up for so long have come to the surface. You could also compare the East and West Germans, in that a majority of far-right talk comes from East Germany, where after the war, everyone was told they had all been anti-fascists, and it was only the West Germans who had been Nazis. To the rest, WWII deaths are not considered part of the 70-80 million. Those numbers are almost always thrown in as victims of fascism/Nazism. But regardless of what numbers one states, it’s far too many. And while I agree that economics led to the demise of the regime, it was a catalyst, but by no means the sole reason. Replacing the boot stamping on your face with a… Read more »
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