Someone wanting to follow Hungarian politics through the English-language foreign press is in real trouble. I receive a Google service that alerts me to items in Google News about Hungary and anything Hungarian. When it comes to "Hungarian," beside Hungarian Spectrum one usually finds recipes for Hungarian goulash! (There are a number of English-language internet sites originating in Budapest that report on political and economic events in Hungary. They help to fill the void.) In the foreign press the silence is deafening–except if there is trouble. Right now it is bonanza time because there is big trouble. For example, CNBC's truck is parked in front of the Hungarian parliament and CNBC gives hourly updates on the Hungarian situation. No wonder: the situation is volatile. For anyone interested in CNBC's latest report and the accompanying video on which András Simor, governor of the Hungarian National Bank, is being interviewed here's the link: ttp://www.cnbc.com/id/27317280
Far more provocative is an article that appeared in The Washington Post by Anne Applebaum, an experienced foreign correspondent for such British publications as the Economist, the Spectator, and The Evening Standard. She spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe and wrote a book about the region: "Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe" (1995). She received the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004 for her book "Gulag: A History" (2003). She writes a weekly column in The Washington Post. This week's column absolutely shook Hungary, not without reason.
The title of the piece is "The Iceland Syndrome." It begins by describing what happened in Poland. The largest bank in the country is Italian-owned and is doing well. The parent bank in Italy is doing less well, and a certain amount of money was transferred from the Polish subsidiary to Italy. This matter was reported "in a marginal, far-right newspaper in somewhat different terms: 'A billion dollars transferred to Italy! [The country's] hard-earned money going abroad!' Within hours, as if on cue, everyone started selling shares in [the bank] whose stock price plunged. So did the rest of the country's smallish stock market. So did the country's currency." Oh, yes, that can be Hungary too, the reader familiar with the Hungarian scene thinks. In fact, Applebaum mentions that such a scenario happened in several other countries in Europe.
Applebaum discounts most official explanations of the current crises: Hungary's finances were long mismanaged or Ukraine is not well governed. "The speed with which some of these defaults are happening, coupled with the paranoia inherent in the political culture of small countries, has led many to suspect political manipulation as well." According to Applebaum: "If you wanted to destabilize a country, wouldn't this be an excellent time to do it? If [a country]'s stock market can crash after the publication of a single article in an obscure newspaper, think what might happen if someone conducted a systematic campaign against [a country.]"
Applebaum continues: "All governments have enemies, internal and external, or at least are faced with elements that do not wish them well: the political opposition, the country next door, the former imperial power. For someone, there will always be the temptation to bring down the government, destabilize the country and thus create political chaos." I think a lot of Hungarians have been suspecting something like that for some time. It was discovered that the comparison between Hungary and Iceland first appeared in a blog written by a Czech Ph.D. student whose field is physics. A day later an obscure Viennese paper published by the city picked up the idea. The following day the news could be found on the homepage of Fidesz. From there it spread to forty some, mostly right-wing papers and television stations.
Today, Olga Kálmán, a political reporter for ATV, asked Ferenc Gyurcsány what he thought of Applebaum's proposition. He was, of course, very careful, but at the end he said, "It is not impossible." One thing is sure: ever since Ferenc Gyurcsány appeared on the political scene in 2004, Orbán has had a single overarching desire: to get rid of Gyurcsány whom he considers his only worthy political rival. But as Gyurcsány said to Kálmán: Orbán can't circumvent me; he'll have to confront me head on. And only the voters will decide.