Before I tackle the newly released Jobbik election program I thought I would say a few words about two of Hungary's neighbors. What's going on in Slovakia and Romania. Not long ago, the common wisdom at least in Fidesz circles was that Hungary should follow the example of Slovakia and Romania. In Slovakia, according to Fidesz, everything was better; Slovakia was surpassing Hungary in every respect. In Slovakia, pensions are higher, the salaries of bus drivers are better, the country managed to introduce the euro–and look at Hungary. As for Romania, although it's true that Romania is still behind Hungary as far as living standards are concerned, the country is forging ahead so rapidly that very soon Romania will be better off than Hungary.
Lately the news from these neighboring countries is not so rosy. Although Hungarian unemployment is very high (10.5%) the Slovak figures are even higher, over 12% by now. Here is a good summary of unemployment figures in Europe. Just the other day I heard that Romania will let 100,000 people go from their large civil service corps because the Romanians have been unable to reduce their deficit as demanded by the IMF. Increasingly commentators are suggesting that the introduction of the euro might not have been entirely beneficial to the Slovak economy.
Here are some recent news items from Slovakia and Romania. Transparency International Slovakia conducted a survey lately according to which half of Slovakia's citizens perceive the courts in Slovakia to be corrupt. "Nearly every other Slovak considers bribery in courts and the prosecutor's office to be widespread." At least in Hungary it is not bribery that one is worried about in the courts and the prosecutor's office but political bias. Interestingly enough, distrust of the justice system has grown since 2006, that is since Robert Fico's government came to office. Mind you, Slovaks consider the parliamentary deputies, cabinet ministers and civil servants even more corrupt than the prosecutors and the judges. This unhappy state of affairs greatly resembles the Hungarian situation.
We all remember the upheaval concerning the H1N1 vaccine. Although a fair number of Hungarians eventually, however reluctantly, got vaccinated, who can forget the political fight over Omninvest, the manufacturer of the vaccine? But at least in Hungary the vaccine is available. In fact, the country is so well endowed with the vaccine that Omninvest is now selling its product abroad. In Slovakia the vaccine was not available until the very end of 2009. It was in mid-December that the head of the Public Health Office, the first person to be vaccinated, got the shot. It was on December 14 that Sanofi Pasteur, a pharmaceutical company, delivered the first 30,000 doses of the vaccine called Panenza. They promised another 20,000 by the end of the year while for January they promised 400,000-500,000 doses. I might add that by mid-December Slovakia had registered 860 cases of H1N1 flu and 18 deaths. Compare that to the Hungarian situation and the Hungarians should be grateful. But they are not.
Meanwhile Robert Fico is on a rampage again against the media. He recently accused the publishers of some of Slovakia's major dailies of plotting a unified campaign against his party. The publishers of course rejected his charges. They also complained about Fico's vulgar expressions which were inappropriate and insulting. Fico has a long history of verbal attacks against journalists. In 2008 Fico's government introduced a new press code that elicited much international criticism. Details can be found here.
In Romania, as I mentioned, the IMF is breathing down the neck of the new Romanian government because while at the beginning of 2009 the deficit was a little over 4% by the end of the year it had risen to 7.7% of GDP. According to the latest news an austerity program has begun in Romania. Wages and pensions are frozen. No stimulus package, no new investments are foreseen. The allotment to local governments from Bucharest was reduced by 10%; that means the loss of about 17,000 jobs. The central government must let about 80,000 people go. The agricultural sector will receive only 1.4% of the GDP and the Agrarian Trade Union announced that its members will organize a mass demonstration. Pensioners also threatened a strike, but it is hard to imagine what that strike would entail considering that they are not active wage earners.
As for the H1N1 virus, it didn't leave Romania untouched either but, as opposed to Hungary or even Slovakia, Romania still has no vaccine. Romania has had 82 deaths from the flu and 6,061 confirmed cases! And the numbers are growing. It seems that the vaccination program against the H1N1 flu for children (between the ages of six and fifteen) will start only in February. The vaccine is produced by an institute in Bucharest, but the vaccine has not yet passed all the necessary tests.
Perhaps the neighbors' pastures are not always greener.