Even supporters of the government constantly complain about the "lousy communications." Although the government hired more and more communications experts, nothing ever changed. While Fidesz gave at least two and sometimes three "press conferences" a day on the most trivial things, the government was sluggish in its reactions to accusations and hopeless when it came to boasting. Modesty might be a virtue but not in politics. Now that Ferenc Gyurcsány's tenure as prime minister is coming to an end Zsolt Gréczy, director of communications in the prime minister's office, decided to boast a bit. Where? On the website of MSZP. And who looks at that website? Mostly supporters. The bragging should have been done earlier and to a wider audience. In any case, here is what is touted as the accomplishments of the Medgyessy and Gyurcsány governments. Unfortunately most of the accomplishments came with a very high price tag.
Gréczy entitled his piece "A modest summation of what Fidesz could only lie about." He claims that the "economic accomplishment of the country" in 2001 was only 9% better than in 1989, the last year of the old regime. In 2008 it is 36% higher. Between 2001 and 2008 the GDP grew by 25%. In 2001 the purchasing power of pensions was 18% less than in 1989. Today it is 16% higher. In 2001 the average value of pensions was 38,000 Ft. In 2008 it was more than 82,000 Ft. The purchasing power of pensions is 40% higher than seven years ago. During the last seven years both the gross and the net income almost doubled. In 2001 the average gross salary was 104,000 Ft but out of this the employee received only 65,000. In 2008 the average gross salary is 199,000 and the average take home pay is 122,000. The purchasing power of the average salary is 30% higher than it was in 2001. In seven years government support given to families with children has grown more than twofold. In 2002 the government spent 250 billion forints; in 2009, 540 billions forints. That includes support for all children under the age of 23 and gyes and gyed given to new mothers. The amount of money given to children didn't change between 1998 and 2002. Since then it has grown from 9,400 Ft. to 26,600 Ft. in 2008. The purchasing power of child support has grown seven-fold since 2002.
In the last seven years 258,000 new apartments have been built and close to one million people could move into new homes. Annually, between 1998 and 2001 22,000 apartments were built; between 2002 and 2008 37,000. The number of automobiles was 2.6 million in 2001. Today it is 3.1 million. Today every second family owns a car while in 2001 only 39% of the families had a car. In the last seven years 1.3 million new cars were sold. That averages out to 178,000 new automobiles a year as opposed to 148,000 in 2001. In 2001 there were 49 cell phones for every 100 inhabitants; in the last quarter of 2008 that number is 122. The number of families with a computer has grown threefold. In 2001 only 18 families out of 100 had a computer. In 2007 that number was 53. The number of internet subscribers has grown fivefold. In 2002 there were 445,000 subscribers while in 2008 2,319,000. Even more spectacular is the growth of internet subscribers who use the internet at home. In 2001 only 6% of homes had an internet connection, by 2008 47% of all families have an internet connection. Ninety percent of the internet connections are broadband. In 2001 only 40% of them had that luxury.
In seven years the length of superhighways has doubled from 534 km to 1,100 km. Today one can reach Miskolc, Nyíregyháza, Debrecen, Szeged, Dunaújváros, Nagykanizsa, all the way to Slovenia and Croatia. Three new bridges were built over the Danube: at Dunaújváros, at Szekszárd, and at Megyer. Gréczy claims that thanks to the new superhighway from Budapest to Debrecen 1,300 new jobs were created in that city.
As far as Hungarian agriculture is concerned today a great deal more money goes for agrarian and regional development than previously. In 2002 213 billion forints were spent while in 2008 438 billion forints. Between 2002 and 2008 the amount of subsidies quadrupled: from 8-12,000 ft/hectar to 40,000.
After many years of ever increasing cost of drugs in 2007-2008 the government managed to strike a deal with the pharmaceutical companies and as a result the price of about 1,000 meds decreased by 23% in 2007 and 850 others became cheaper by 13% in 2008. While earlier there were restrictions on how many pharmacies can operate (and therefore the current owners had a monopoly) the Gyurcsány government changed that policy. As a result 400 new pharmacies were opened. Moreover, today about 400 over-the-counter medications can be purchased outside of pharmacies in 700 different stores for everybody's convenience. Several hospitals were renovated and modernized.
The MSZP-SZDSZ government, mostly on the insistence of SZDSZ, put an end to conscription. The Hungarian army today is a 40,000 strong professional army. 1,000 Hungarians serve in different international units from Afganistan to Kosovo.
The birthrate is still low but it is no longer decreasing. In fact in 2008 2,400 more children were born than in 2002. Statistics of infant mortality are also much better. In 2002 there were 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2008 only 5.6. Life expectancy also improved: in 2002 72.4 years while in 2007 73.3 years. The number of nurseries had decreased prior to 2006 but from that date their numbers have grown from 532 to 556. (By the way, still not enough!)
As a result of the strict adherence to the convergence program the budget deficit which was 10% in 2006 in two years has decreased to 3%. Hungarian companies' investments abroad today is 12.5 billion forints. This is the second best in the region after Poland with a population four times greater than that of Hungary. Today one can establish a firm in an hour and the expenses involved have decreased from 100,000 Ft to 15,000. In comparison to 2005 the value of exports has doubled (18.3 billion euros). Because of attempts to widen trade with certain countries there is spectacular growth of trade with Russia (5.7 times), Ukraine (5.3 times), and China (4.8 times). The government made serious attempts to enlarge the tax base and as a result in 2008 alone the central budget received 250 billion more forints than the year before. The number of people who allegedly receive only minimal wages and therefore don't pay taxes has also decreased.
In comparison to 2002 there are 50,000 more students in colleges and universities today. While in the school year of 2001-2002 there were 193,000 registered students, in 2007-2008 there are 243,000. The percentage of students who don't have to pay tuition has also grown. In 2002 51% of students were exempt; in 2008 65%. The government started the National School Renovation Program which will renovate and modernize 500 schools. From 2010 on the study of English will be compulsory. Between 2002 and 2008 800,000 students passed the official examination in English.
Hungary became a member of the European Union in 2004. In 2008 she became part of the Schengen zone and thus citizens of Hungary can travel without passports as far as Portugal. Hungarians can now travel to the United States without a visa. The Hungarian government also initiated joint cabinet meetings with the Romanian, Austrian, Croatian, and Slovenian governments on a regular basis.
Between 1998 and 2002 the parliament enacted 464 laws. Between 2002 and 2006 574, while between 2006 and February 2009 399. There was a serious attempt to cut down on the expenses of the central government. Between 2006 and 2008 the number of administrative units decreased from 429 to 182. The number of employees of the different ministries decreased from 8,000 to 6,000. That is a 27% reduction.
In 2007 850,000 people visited foreign countries in organized groups while in 2002 only 520,000. That is a 60% increase. Between 2002 and 2008 the foreign visitors' number has grown to 4.1 million which is a 30% increase.
These are impressive figures and I must say that although I follow Hungarian political life diligently, I didn't know a lot of these statistics. But as I said, this self-aggrandizing should have been done repeatedly. It is not enough to say something once or twice because it will not sink in. One has to repeat it a hundred times. This is what the MSZP-SZDSZ government didn't do. Its opposition, on the other hand, kept repeating how wonderful everything was between 1998 and 2002 and since then the country has been in continuous crisis. They said it so often that by now most people believe that the Orbán era was paradise itself. As we have seen from this list, the standard of living is much higher today than it was seven years ago. People have bigger apartments, they have newer cars, they go abroad more often, and one could go on. Yet the mood of the country is decidedly downbeat. MSZP did something very wrong in the communication department.
But we mustn't forget that this relative well being of the population was very costly to the country and to the government as well. Most of the foreign loans were spent on higher salaries, higher pensions, greater child support. Viktor Orbán not long ago said that his government didn't take out loans in order to provide social benefits. I don't know whether this claim is correct. But the country's indebtedness was high even in the 1998-2002 period. The fact is that Hungarians have been living on borrowed money for a very long time, ever since the early 1970s. This is what has to be stopped. But, unfortunately, first they have to pay back the loans. It won't be easy.