The Hungarian opposition’s newest strategy

It is clear that next year's national election campaign, even if unofficially, has already begun. At least the opposition has swung into action, heaping abuse on everything their opponents do. Be that foreign policy or the budget. And sometimes this abuse has ramifications outside of the country. For instance, the Fidesz assault on the Fico-Bajnai meeting and its promising results has consisted of bellicose nationalistic talk on the part of Orbán and his "foreign policy" expert, Zsolt Németh. Such an attitude, especially uttered by the leaders of a party that most likely will win next year's elections, gives rise to anxiety about regional squabbles between Hungary and her neighbors. The first reaction already appeared: Václav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, expressed his fear that Hungary's long-range plans include territorial expansion. This may be an exaggeration, but it's pretty clear that relations between Hungary and the neighboring countries will be strained if and when Orbán returns. They were very bad between 1998 and 2002 and it took at least two years before the new Hungarian government could patch things up. I might add that there will also be tension between Russia and Hungary just as there was during Orbán's earlier tenure. If I may predict: Orbán's Hungary will be the pariah of Europe. I also doubt that relations between Hungary and the United States will be exactly rosy. After all, even during the Bush administration Orbán never managed to get an invitation to the White House while his successor was put up in Blair House.

Moreover, as it is, Hungarian public opinion is solidly against Fico and Slovakia, and therefore calling the agreement signed by Fico and Bajnai a total failure will not help reconciliation between the two countries. A few days ago the media happily noted that for the first time in years there was total agreement among the parties about handling the Slovak situation. Now this agreement has been violated by Fidesz. At least this is what Attila Mesterházy, head of the MSZP delegation, claimed today.

Orbán made a speech at a conference organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung) dealing with the opening of the border twenty years ago. Orbán uses every occasion to  advance his pet theme: how awful the socialists are. Instead of talking about the Németh government's decision to allow about 60,000 East Germans into Austria, Orbán talked about German reconstruction after 1945 when the German people had to rebuild the country brick by brick. Well, that was off topic but what came afterwards was even more interesting. Just as in Germany after 1945 Hungary will have to be rebuilt brick by brick after the ruins the socialists left behind. And he also made sure that his audience understood that the socialists of today are no different from Kádár and his apparatchiks. What a speech about "Border Opening, Road to Freedom"!

The new budget will be very tight. Everbody knows this, and most people are also aware why it is necessary to spend less. The Hungarian GDP decreased by 7.5% and thousands of people lost their jobs. Tax revenues shrank even more drastically than the government anticipated. The terms of its IMF and EU loans constrain the budget deficit. Yet Orbán began his speech at the party meeting that marked the beginning of the new parliamentary session thus: "Enough of the austerity measures, enough of the socialist politics that ruin the population by taking their last pennies. We call upon the government to take this budget back and step aside from the way of change." The budget, he said, is the budget of a mendacious and irresponsible government. It is the most dangerous budget of the last twenty years. He further claimed that if this budget is accepted–and it looks as if it will be–"there will be financial collapse." Interestingly enough I always hear from  economists that Hungary got to the brink of financial collapse becase it spent too much. Now financial collapse will come because the country spends less. So Orbán obviously has a different notion of what financial collapse means. He is certain that the health care system will collapse, local governments will go bankrupt, families will be ruined, and the sick will die. However, there are only six months left of this government's tenure and after that an entirely new world is waiting for Hungary and the Hungarians. This new period will be a time of plenty. Where the money will come from Orbán fails to mention.

In addition, according to Orbán this government "is preparing to rob people of their future." The name of the prime minister may be Bajnai, but he is just a stand-in for Ferenc Gyurcsány. Orbán and Fidesz spent the last four to five years attacking Ferenc Gyurcsány, and therefore it is a good idea from their point of view to bring Gyurcsány back into focus somehow in case people notice an improvement in the country's economic situation. In fact, Gyurcsány and Bajnai have very different leadership styles, and saying that Bajnai is actually a double of Gyurcsány is highly unfair. Orbán finished with the prediction that 2010 may be the most important year in the whole history of Hungary and the Hungarians.

I'm beginning to fear that Orbán himself believes all this drivel. Or, as some Hungarian commentators claim, he is trying to outdo Jobbik because his greatest fear is losing Fidesz voters to the extreme right. There seem to be mixed signals about Jobbik's standing in the monthly polls. Nézőpont (Viewpoint), a think tank close to Fidesz, has been trying to minimize Jobbik support, claiming that the party is losing voters. Other pollsters claim that Jobbik's camp is actually growing. One thing is sure: Orbán is afraid of Jobbik and I believe that's why Fidesz doesn't censure Fidesz parliamentary members who say outlandish things about Gypsies or gays. That's why Fidesz refuses to tell the mayors of those towns who wrote unspeakable letters to Robert Fico to stop meddling in international affairs. The party is hoping to show the extremists that Fidesz is a party they can trust. They will be tough on Gypsies, on gays, on Slovaks. Just please vote for us.

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Ida Kiss

Bright resume, dim future…

Eva: I have very little tolerance for FIDESZ’s policy ideas and rhetoric. Yet your point that Orban/Hungay will be the “pariah of Europe” is silly. He has lots of company forthat position in Europe, including among many others Mr. Klaus himself (who you quote) who is despised in European quarters. Under Orban, Hungary is likely to be slightly less irrelevant on the foreign policy stage than it has been over the last seven years because he will say things that are not welcome and which may well provoke neigboring countries. Today, Hungary is irrelevant. I have heard more than once EU people lament how disorganized Hungarian foreign policy has been. Gyurcsany thought he would be a player in Europe, but he was a joke. The next administration can continue that fine tradition but at a slightly higher volume. On the budget, Orban is 100% correct that the health care system is nearing some form of collapse. He is wrong, I believe, however, that keeping the system in the current form and just pushing more Government money through it will improve the system fundamentally. Far deeper structural changes are required, and will not happen. Orban is also correct that an auterity… Read more »
NWO: “In the end, I like you, do not trust Orban because he is a megalomaniac and a populist, but to think this country will change from a gleaming democracy to a dangerous autocracy overnight is far fetched.” I agree with you absolutely on this point – and with much of your analysis (where we disagree will be familiar to those who have read our discussions in the past, and I’m not going to repeat myself now). It follows that we are focussed on perhaps the wrong danger. The real danger is this: 1) Hungary faces a prolonged period of stagnation, and the economy is not likely to recover to 2005 levels of performance for the forseeable future. 2) Orbán is motivated by popularity and the consolidation of his personal power, rather than by any coherent philosophy or notion of the long-term good of the country. All of his other policies will be subordinated to extending his personal power. 3) If FIDESZ has anything approaching a coherent economic strategy they have yet to share it with the voters. I suspect that while different elements of FIDESZ have ideas of what to do, I think the party as a whole and… Read more »

Éva: “Orbán is afraid of Jobbik” Orbán shouldn’t be ‘afraid of Jobbik,’ he should join forces with Jobbik. Based on opinion polls and a past election a Fidesz Jobbik coalition would yield a permanent 2/3 to 3/4 majority in parliament. Which is an offer no politician can refuse.

Eva S. Balogh

NWO: “Yet your point that Orban/Hungay will be the “pariah of Europe” is silly. He has lots of company forthat position in Europe, including among many others Mr. Klaus himself (who you quote) who is despised in European quarters”
Sure he is despised, but he is only president of the Czech Republic with only little more power than Sólyom. So, he can do less damage than the prime minister. I might add that Klaus since corrected his remark about Hungary’s territorial expansion. He simply talked about ‘influence.’ I’m sure he wasn’t misquoted as he claims.