Viktor Orbán at home and abroad

It doesn't happen too often that Hungary appears in important western newspapers. Therefore every time there is an article in The New York Times, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, or any major western newspaper, the Hungarian media and politicians cannot get enough of the story. They analyze every word of the article, be it an opinion piece or straight news. Most of the news, at least in my opinion, is rather superficial, and the outlook of the opinion pieces usually depends on the general political orientation of the newspaper. This time, the Financial Times published an article based on an interview with Viktor Orbán. The headline: "Global crisis opens way for comeback." The author is Stefan Wagstyl, editor in charge of Eastern Europe.

"The comeback kid's" conversation with Wagstyl began with his pronouncement that "the socialist government is missing the opportunity created by the economic crisis to launch serious structural reforms." Well, at that point the Hungarian reader must drop his teeth. What? Who says that? The leader of the very party that refuses to support any of the structural changes the current government has been trying to introduce ever since 2006? Yes, the very man. Moreover, Viktor Orbán expressed his opinion that the emergency loans given to Hungary by the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Union should have been used for these structural reforms. In Orbán's words: "This package could have provided room for maneuver for reforms. We will lose valuable time." I don't quite understand this business about "room for maneuver for reforms," but perhaps the problem is only linguistic. However, let's assume he means that the loans should have provided a cushion for Hungary while it embarked on a program of reform. In that case, he could be a member of the current government. He certainly can't mean that the loans should have been in effect a stimulus package. I suspect that what he is saying is simply that the country is losing valuable time in enacting the appropriate reforms because he is not prime minister.

Orbán admits that there has been a "slight improvement in Mr. Gyurcsany's low popularity ratings owing to the global crisis," but he predicts that this will prove to be temporary. Orban bases his prediction on the assumption that "the voters will want to see action and will be disappointed."

I sometimes wish that Hungarian politicians would use interpreters because their prose sounds so primitive. For example: "The government has said that bad things will happen, that the country cannot win on its own, and that the world must win together. The government makes a lot of noise. But there are no concrete policies and people will suffer for the lack of policies." The fact is that the government is trying all sorts of remedies to mitigate the economic downturn, but like everywhere else in the world the crisis is deepening. Unfortunately not even Mr. Orbán's magic touch could change this situation.

Stefan Wagsyl was a bit behind the times when he wrote that "Mr Orban's reform plans start with a headline-making proposal to cut the number of MPs from 386 to 200." As I mentioned two days ago, it is the government that is proposing to change the electoral system and to reduce the number of MPs. Their proposed number is 199. Interestingly enough, Fidesz refuses even to discuss the matter. They counter that they proposed a reduction in the number of deputies to 200 "sixty-seven" times. Péter Szijjártó and his fellow politicians repeat this claim at least five times a day. The first time I heard this magic number I thought it was simply a turn of phrase. The way we say: "I told him fifty million times!" Well, no. I was wrong. They actually proposed a change in the constitution to reduce the number of MPs to 200 sixty-seven times. These guys are persistent. However, the other parties refused to make a constitutional change in the number of parliamentarians without a proposal to change the electoral law itself. They asked Fidesz to provide details. They refused. And then a few days later Fidesz resubmitted the same proposal for a constitutional change in the size without any proposal about how to achieve such a change. Sounds like the Fidesz version of "Groundhog Day."

Then there is another mysterious sentence: "We have 40 different authorities. Our programme is to unify them into one." What on earth are these "authorities""?  Well, this morning I found out from a government spokesman: they include the ministries as well as specialized departments dealing with, for example, weights and measures. Surely, combining all these into one cannot be taken seriously.

Orbán repeated his party's favorite hobby horse (beside a smaller parliament and a savings on paper clips and furniture). He wants to get rid of more bureaucrats. Not policemen or teachers, but bureaucrats. The trouble is that since 2006 more than 200,000 bureaucrats already got the sack and it is unlikely that there are another 200,000 who could be let go. Finally he threw in his favorite idea about tax cuts. The maximum income tax rate is 40 percent but Hungary must be competitive with its neighbors, for example, with Slovakia or Romania where there is a flat tax of 19 percent. What he neglects to mention is that a reduction in taxes must be counterbalanced by savings elsewhere and these savings cannot come from a smaller parliament or a cutback in the number of paper clips. Mr. Orbán was quiet about all this.

Wagstyl mentioned that healthcare reform was torpedoed by Fidesz that initiated a referendum against a modest co-payment that "won with more than 80 per cent of the vote. The coalition was forced to cancel the programme." But Orbán makes no apologies for opposing the healthcare reform, saying it was "the wrong place to start overhauling the state." The final sentence is from Orbán who makes no bones about his uncompromising approach to party politics. "Political competition should be real and tough." It is especially useful and constructive, I guess, in times of national emergency when reforms are, even according to Viktor Orbán, so important. But party politics dictate a tough stand against anything the other side suggests.

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I admit, we were not careful enough. This article should have never been published in Financial Times. It is full of Orban’s lies without adequate commentary that would put them into context. Fortunately, the damage is not that big but we have to be more watchful.

“Orbán repeated his party’s favorite hobby horse (beside a smaller parliament and a savings on paper clips and furniture). He wants to get rid of more bureaucrats.” This is about FIDESZ’s communication, and it is a fairly typical example, of what is called “dog whistling”. One message is given to the voters – we will protect you, we will raise your living standards. Another is given to the international financial markets – we will be even more neo-liberal than those spendthrift Socialists. And the details for everyone are kept suitably vague so any attacks on them can be fudged. And of course, those, bureaucrats, because government wastes money, if only we would reduce government waste we’d have enough money (well, if you could change the weather, Hungary might become warmer, but wanting to do something, is not the same as actually achieving it). So, he wants to cut personal income taxes. Maybe the electorate deserve to know how he is going to do this. He can (a) raise other taxes (VAT to 25% or higher, for example), (b) cut spending, or (c) try a combination. The problem with (b) is that if you look at government spending by function, in… Read more »
Let’s see for example the vague proposal of following the Slovakian example of 19% tax rate. Seems wonderful. But, that would mean to tax with 19% personal income tax employees, whose annual income equals or less than the annual amount of minimum wage. These people currently are enjoying tax holiday. If Orban government would introduce flat tax rate, means that about 600.000 low paid workers should pay 19% tax out of their monthly 300 euro wage income. This would affect negatively about 30-40% of Hungarian employees. This would hurt especially the domestic owned SME sector, where majority of employees are employed at minimum wage or below (taking into account part time employees). Orban tells one side of the story, and did not mention the other side of the story and its consequence on low paid employees and on SME sector. On the other hand, MSZP is dumb not to highlight, for example, this easy equitation and make clear what is the real issue behind the flashy promises. Unfortunately, without putting forward the consequences of the different proposals, is hard to develop meaningful political discussion and to help people to understand what is the game about. Without a change in the… Read more »
Odin's lost eye

I think that the readers of the ‘old pink’un’ -the FT- are a little bit more sophisticated than you give them credit for. They are not like the readers of the Mirror, Sun or the Daily Gabble and can tell ‘margarine from butter’. Mr Victor and his crew are not as cleaver as they think. Western audiences especially the readers of the so called ‘Quality Papers’ have good judgement and remember when they are being told lies, so long as the reports are correct in every detail the paper has a perfect defence.


Hi Andras, just noticed your post (3 months after the fact): “Let’s see for example the vague proposal of following the Slovakian example of 19% tax rate. Seems wonderful. But, that would mean to tax with 19% personal income tax employees, whose annual income equals or less than the annual amount of minimum wage”. No, it would not mean that. A flat tax can include a tax exemption based on personal or family income. As an example: a 20% flat personal income tax that does not apply to the first 100,000 forints of monthly income. So someone earning 100,000 forints would pay 0% tax, someone on 200,000 would pay 10% and someone on 1,000,000 would pay 18%.

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Study in UK

That’s a problem with us Indians as well. Even if US citizens of Indian nationality achieve something, we go all ballistic about it!

Website Design and Development

maybe these 40 different authorities combining into one would mean more interesting and meaningful developments..

Health and Sport

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