Viktor Orbán and cooperation?

It sure doesn't sound like it. I will outline here his messages of the weekend. Saturday morning Viktor Orbán spoke at a party gathering that was supposed to assess the achievements of the year while in the afternoon he went to the opening of a sports arena in Nagykáta. Addressing the party faithful, he didn't beat around the bush. According to him the socialists not only lie but their government is utterly incapable of handling the crisis. They are doing exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to do. With their austerity program the socialists are hamstringing the Hungarian economy, and therefore Orbán suggests an "economic freedom fight." Whatever that means. The country shouldn't not be led by "pickpockets" but by those "who think differently and would handle the crisis differently." He forgot to mention his party's strategy that would be so superior to that of the socialists.

Whatever plans he has they don't include "reforms" because "they were rejected once already by the people." Indeed, with the active help of Fidesz people voted against the first modest reforms that were so essential to putting the Hungarian economy on more secure footing. Today as a result of the world financial and economic crisis the government might have an easier time introducing the reforms that they were too timid to do last year. The planned reforms are nowhere yet, but Orbán is already talking about "a brutal austerity program." There's no question that the government must reduce the deficit dramatically and that such a reduction cannot be achieved by petty savings on ministerial salaries or having fewer members of parliament as Fidesz suggests by way of remedy. The "brutal" austerity program according to most economists and businessmen is not "brutal" enough. It is simply unimaginable that if Fidesz won the elections Orbán's party could do anything other than what the current government is doing. The suspicion, in fact, is that their austerity program would be a great deal more "brutal" than the current one.

Whenever Orbán talks about economics he makes absolutely no sense. According to him the government has "no economic policy," only a "fiscal policy" and that without any new ideas. "One doesn't have to think if one has only a fiscal policy. Fiscal policy means taking money away from people as pickpockets do." The socialists "locked the country into an economic jail while they are estimating how much smaller the country's economic growth will be next year." One "can't save the sinking ship by tying people down and closing the door on them." The Orbán plan (at least as outlined in his speeches) seems to include no structural reforms, higher salaries in order to stimulate the internal market, and immediate investments on borrowed money. The results would be disastrous. Hungary can't borrow more money even if there were no credit crunch because of the constraints of the convergence program. To do so would result in losing the billions and billions the country is receiving from the European Union. And the Hungarian internal market is not big enough to stimulate the economy and raise the GDP. All in all, this is a dead end.

As for his political ideas. It seems that Orbán hasn't been taking his party's steady decline over the last three months too seriously. Not even Szonda Ipsos's stark figures about his strategy managed to wake him up. He is betting everything on one card: the socialist government's collapse next year under the weight of the economic crisis. And then "comes our time." The "years of freedom will arrive" after a total economic collapse. The present socialists, regardless of their age, are the same people who ruled the Hungarian people prior to 1990. As he put it: "an ass might travel around the globe but he will not come back as a horse." Moreover, this ass seems to be very "tired and burned out" as opposed to him and the Fidesz politicians who are full of fresh ideas and energy. They "think differently" and are "simply a different breed," and this is what the country needs at the moment.

This is a lot of empty talk and to my mind shows that Orbán's political strategy is built on hopes and dreams instead of reality. Who knows what will happen next year? A party's strategy must address current voter trends in devising its strategy, and the momentum is going against him. The Fidesz camp is steadily shrinking, and even among his own people there are growing doubts about his leadership. Under these circumstances one can't just blithely go ahead believing that next year there will be a total collapse of the socialist government very similar to that of the Soviet Union. According to some observers Orbán's hatred of Gyurcsány is so great that all he can think of is trying to discredit the man who beat the hell out of him at the 2006 television debate. It was a knock-out all right, and it made Orbán a mortal enemy of the prime minister. Orbán simply can't forget it and his conduct of his party's affairs is governed by this personal hatred. This kind of emotionalism is very dangerous because it may lead to wrong conclusions. It may adversely influence his assessment of the situation.

And this leads me to the course I am listening to on Greek civilization. The topic was the Peloponnesian War and the lecturer talked about intangibles, like emotions and intentions, in politics and international relations. He observed the fundamental difference between political scientists and historians. The former disregard human aspects, like in our case the hatred and resentment of human beings who happen to be politicians as well. Here he was talking about the relationship between nations, but I think the same is true about the political history of a given country. According to Donald Kagan, the professor, political scientists look upon nations as if they were "billiard balls. You can't look inside them; they're not made up people. They're not even made up of factions or parties. The state does what it has to do because of the place on the pool table where it is located. Historians like to ask what were these guys interested in, what did they want, what were they afraid of, who were they mad at?" Some of the young Hungarian political scientists do exactly the same thing. In their minds there is in every party a well designed plan for the future and every day the politician is constructing an edifice, piece by piece, that will eventually bring about the desired outcome. Therefore, these politicians always act rationally. And then comes the surprise: some very odd and unexpected step is taken by one of the politicians that doesn't fit that picture. At this point the political scientist somehow has to explain this event as still part of the great design. And the oddest explanations spew forth. I would like to see political scientists come up with a rational explanation of Orbán's strategy that is built on dreams and hatred. Knowing them, I'm sure they will come up with some cock-eyed story.