Two Hungarian interviews: Viktor Orbán on the campaign trail

On October 15 I wrote a blog entitled "Political Interview, Hungarian style" in which I summarized a twenty-minute interview with Viktor Orbán on TV2's early morning show "Mokka." My impression was that the reporter, Róbert Kárász, was so awed or frightened by the former prime minister that by the end he completely ran out of steam and/or brain power. The roles were switched: Orbán took over the lead and said whatever he wanted. When the reporter tried to remind him at one point that he hadn't answered his question, he told him that he had answered what he found more important. He became increasingly flippant until, by the end, Orbán acted like a cat with a half-dead mouse. One could see how much he enjoyed the interview and how self-satisfied he was.

Yesterday Orbán was interviewed by Olga Kálmán and it was an entirely different story. First of all, the campaign must have started in earnest in spite of Fidesz's protestations to the contrary because Viktor Orbán goes to ATV only if he thinks he can't avoid it. It is necessary to make the rounds even of the liberal media. While Kárász in the earlier interview was visibly nervous and Orbán cool as a cucumber, this time the roles were reversed. One could feel a certain tenseness in Orbán's body language while Olga Kálmán behaved in her normal manner: hard questions with lots of smiles. At the beginning Orbán tried his old tricks: short ironic comments coupled with self-satisfied smiles. The message was: "You see how clever I am." He also tried once to play the wise teacher who will explain how politics works. But it was obvious that with Olga Kálmán these tricks didn't work.

Orbán began the interview with the by now empty accusation that the socialists' only goal is "avoidance of early elections." That may have been the case a few months ago, but by now this claim is ridiculous. After all, the official date of the elections is only about five months away. Moreover, the first round of voting on the budget went off without a hitch, just as expected. To say that the goverment is "not thinking of the future" doesn't sound believable.

In response to this obvious misrepresentation of the facts Olga Kálmán very rightly pointed out that the budget that was passed was very tight and that it will not bring popularity to the government and the parties. If they cared only about their own interests, this is certainly a very strange way of promoting them. Moreover, she added, international financial institutions and leading economists are more than satisfied with the performance of the Bajnai government. That didn't impress Orbán who doesn't give a hoot about the opinion of these experts because according to him the numbers presented as part of the budget are false. Either the finance ministry's officials falsify them or they just don't know their job. According to his own experts, the deficit by the end of 2010 will not be 3.8% as calculated by the government but at least 7.3-7.5%. At least 1,300 billion forints are missing somewhere.

Again Olga Kálmán interjected. She knows that Mihály Varga, Fidesz's financial expert, claims that the debt of MÁV (Hungarian Railroads) and BKV (Budapest Transit Authority) is huge, but their debt is not the central government's responsibility. These are separate entities. Moreover, even if it were, the loans don't come due by the end of 2010. Orbán was not deterred. He switched gears. He was not talking about 1,300 billion forints (of course, he did!). What he meant was that 300 billion is missing from the daily operations of these two companies. The "engines will not be able to run after a while." The amount of money taken away from the cities and towns will make it impossible to open the schools half way through the school year. Further horror stories followed. Therefore, surely, more money will have to be spent. Where this money is coming from remained his secret.

So what would he do? He would immediately lower taxes. He has in mind large tax cuts. When pressed about the approximate figures, he refused to answer. After all, he still doesn't know the exact financial state of the country. You know, all those skeletons in the closet! But as soon as he slashes taxes new job opportunities will present themselves. Olga Kálmán again questioned the economic wisdom of such a policy. After all, if there is less demand for goods and services then it is unlikely that either large factories or smaller companies will hire more people. Orbán had his answer: Gyula Horn did this and, behold, it worked. The reporter came back again, reminding Orbán that then there was no world economic crisis.

World economic crisis? That didn't impress Viktor Orbán at all. He announced that the ailing Hungarian economy is in no way connected to the international situation. One can imagine what Olga Kálmán's reaction was to that absolutely ridiculous statement. But Orbán didn't budge and repeated this nonsense, adding that if the world economic crisis were such a controlling force there would be no need to have elections and change the political leadership! Surely, he and his team will turn things around radically. There will be plenty of work, greater prosperity, happier people because everything depends on what the government and politicians decide. If they decide to achieve all this there are no outside forces that can hold a country back! I think this is called "voluntarism," and it doesn't have a very good ring to it.

Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is no longer a faithful blogger, felt compelled to say something today. Gyurcsány announced that Orbán "swears that black is white." In brief, what he said was a pack of lies. The spokesman of MSZP, István Nyakó,  said that there was only one truthful sentence in the whole interview: Viktor Orbán was the prime minister of Hungary between 1998 and 2002. Jenő Ranschburg, a wise old psychologist, disagreed. He thinks that the situation is worse: Viktor Orbán by now believes everything he says. If Ranschburg is right, the trouble is really serious. It shows that the man has lost all sense of reality.

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However
Guest
Excellent. First time here. It is wonderful to see a Hungarian who thinks being a liberal isn’t something you need to apologise for. It seems that “losing touch with reality”, is the order of the day for members of Fidesz! If a political party, sure of a SIXTY PLUS PERCENT lead cannot be reasonably expected – despite the almost certainty of a supermajority – to take a stand against extremism… what party possibly could? Of course fringe nutcases like Oszkár Molnár will always come out with trash, the point is that you don’t have to put up with them if you are strong and guaranteed of success only if you are weak and sure of failure. If Fidesz don’t have the guts to kick him out before the vote, they never will after. And it says something VERY worrying about Fidesz’s TRUE nature if they don’t and it looks certain they won’t. More than this though, the international community is to be rebuked for not coming down on Orbán like a ton of bricks, over his refusal to eject this bigotted, racist, anti-Semite from his party. Where is all the well placed outrage of Die Welt, the Washington Post and… Read more »
Vándorló
Guest
@esbalogh: “First of all, the campaign must have started in earnest in spite of Fidesz’s protestations to the contrary…” Well, it’s certainly true that MSZP’s campaign has started as they appear to have even abandoned the pretense of caring about the people they professed to serve. Yesterday a story in Index, ‘Are the Socialists not interested in the Roma murders,’ (“Nem érdekelték a szocialistákat a romagyilkosságok”) it was pointed out that despite the importance of the Roma situation and in particular the serial killings that the Roma community has suffered over the last year or more, the ‘socialists’ couldn’t be bothered attending the parliamentary sitting that discussed the issue. Well not strictly true, of the five members set to attend only one of them turned up. And why are they not carrying out their parliamentary duties? Campaigning, apparently. Apparently this takes precedence over all. Party before people. Party before honesty and decency (ref: ORTT contracts etc…). This is hard for normal, decent people to stomach, which is why their voter base that should be strong (particularly given Hungary’s demographics) has disappeared and is unlikely to reappear. n.b. Just for reference the relevant part of the article was this paragraph: ‘In… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Professor you report in your article * “Jenő Ranschburg, a wise old psychologist, disagreed. He thinks that the situation is worse: Viktor Orbán by now believes everything he says.” * If this is true we have a man who may well be Hungary’s ‘fearless leader’. One who believes his own propaganda! I suspect that he will follow some of the ‘Oxford philosophies’. He read law for two years at Pembroke where I think he became a disciple of the late C L Dodgson whose college is just across the road. In fact the buildings now occupied by Pembroke were in fact once an annex of ‘The House’ (Christchurch College). One of Dodgson’s ideas I think he has already adopted is ‘Bellman’s rule-of-three’. If this is true then I hope the Hungarians like cheese because he will tell you that the Moon is made of good green cheese For those who do not know, C L Dodgson wrote under the name of Lewis Carroll and the ‘Bellman’ features in the epic poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ (an agony in eight fits). The ‘Bellman’s rule-of-three’ is “What I tell you three times is true.” I only hope for Hungary’s sake that… Read more »
Vándorló
Guest

@Odin’s lost eye: Jenő Ranschburg is a *child* psychologist, not a political analyst, cognitive psychologist nor a forensic linguist. The inclusion of his opinion was an attempt at argumentum ad verecundiam, nothing more.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Mr Vándorló Thank you I stand corrected. I am afraid I used the reference as an ‘opening gambit’ to express thoughts which have been in my mind for about a year. It was my late wife who mentioned the period of two years and I tracked him down to Pembroke. At first I thought it was Pembroke Dock, but later I realised it was Pembroke College, which lies between St Aldates and St Ebbes behind Pembroke square and is flanked by Beef Lane to the north and Beer lane to the south. Draw your own conclusions. Mr Vándorló you write “Campaigning, apparently. Apparently this takes precedence over all. Party before people. Party before honesty and decency.” I fear in this land it is ever thus. Politicians seem to think that people are oafs. They use ‘sound bytes’ because they think that the ordinary folk have attention spans of 2 to 3 seconds. They twiddle the truth until it becomes like a corkscrew. This technique was enhanced by Peter Mandleson and was used to ensure ‘New Labour’s’ election victories. The problem starts when the politicos start to believe their own spin and propaganda. To my mind, although I cannot understand what… Read more »
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