Promises up to now: what’s waiting for Hungary?

According to most commentators Viktor Orbán will not say anything substantial about his plans this afternoon. The speech, by the way, can be seen either on HírTV or Duna TV at 3:00 p.m. Budapest time. A group of former SZDSZ politicians and sympathizers organized an Orbán watch on a newly opened liberal website. During the speech members of the group can exchange reactions. I was invited to participate and I'm curious what these well known liberal politicians will think of the "state of the country" speech.

Of course, we might all be surprised and Orbán will outline an honest-to-goodness campaign program. However, in case he doesn't, here are a few promises already uttered. Let's start with the revocation of the savings program introduced by the current Foreign Ministry. They closed a number of embassies and consulates that were not considered vital. Great was the surprise when President László Sólyom while visiting Australia announced that the new Orbán government will reopen the Hungarian consulate in Sydney. According to Sólyom Viktor Orbán told him that personally. But not only will the consulate in Sydney open its doors again but all the others that were closed in the last year or so. Keeping up so many embassies and consulates is an expensive affair. We will see what will happen.

Fidesz also promised that all villages will have their own schools regardless of the number of students. If one takes this literally, a school with a complete staff could be maintained for, let's say, ten children. Not a very rational move, if I may say so. Then there was the question of post offices. Several post offices, especially if they were very close to each other, were closed and instead a mobile post office visited the village once a day. Apparently most people are satisfied. Of course, there are always those who are not, especially in villages under right-wing management. I can think of Ivád, a village where almost all people are related and they are all called Ivády. The mayor, Gábor Ivády (who else?), fought tooth and nail against closing the post office. Eventually I became curious enough and wrote a polite letter to the town hall of Ivád. I asked about the public transportation available in Ivád. I specifically wanted to know how far the next village was. It turned out to be three kilometers away, less than two miles. And of course there was a post office in that village in addition to the daily mobile post office in Ivád itself. I will be curious whether a Fidesz government will satisfy the demands of Ivád and similar villages concerning the restoration of post offices, each with a full time employee.

Orbán also announced that once Fidesz is in power they will halve the salaries of all the ministers. If that promise is fulfilled their salaries would barely reach the average salary of employees in Budapest. Coming from someone who as prime minister had twelve cars at his disposal as opposed to the one car normally allotted to the prime minister, this promise is unlikely to be fulfilled. If it is, I assume that the ministers will then get "allowances" for housing and other major expenses.

The talk about making the parliament smaller is probably just talk. First of all, one cannot do such a thing from one day to the next. Second, especially with a large Fidesz majority, it is unlikely that the government could deprive hundreds of Fidesz politicians of their jobs. There is also talk about reducing the number of elected officials on the local level. Again, it is a good idea but it will not happen any time soon because of the preponderance of Fidesz politicians in the various local bodies.

Fidesz promised to strengthen the police force, a move that would cost quite a bit of money. Moreover, the problem is not that there are not enough policemen but that the personnel are not used efficiently. Fidesz also apparently wants to introduce the "three strikes and you're out" principle, imitating California. Hungarian legal scholars claim that such a change in the criminal code most likely would be unconstitutional. Moreover, the efficacy of such a move is questionable, and we know from California how costly it could be.

Orbán also assured MTV (Magyar Televizíó) that its financial troubles would be over as soon as he is the prime minister of Hungary. Presumably at last it would have a chairman; the so-called independent civic organizations blocked a vote to fill that post seven times. It is clear that Fidesz wants to have a hand-picked chairman. But there are other problems at MTV that are not so easily solved. If BKV and MÁV are bottomless pits, the same is true about MTV. A case of throwing good money after bad.

Orbán only a few weeks ago addressed a letter adorned by his own picture to teachers, school principals, farmers, pharmacists, and police chiefs. He was asking for their patience until he becomes prime minister. The implication was that after the elections and after a Fidesz victory their problems will be over.

Fidesz is dissatisfied with the state of Hungarian education. Well, aren't we all? Unfortunately a change of government is not likely to improve the situation. A few days before Christmas Orbán gave an interview to a conservative Finnish paper in which he outlined his plans to reform Hungarian education along the Finnish model that is perhaps the best in Europe or the whole world. There is only one problem. The Finnish model is based on strictly enforcing attendance in district schools. No such thing as a choice of schools. The outcry that would follow banning free school choice would be tremendous and I don't think that any government could afford it.

The latest promise is doing whatever it takes to make Hungary once again a shining light at the Olympics. Earlier he promised a new stadium for Debrecen after Debrecen's soccer team managed to get into the League of Champions. Mind you, once there the team was beaten to a pulp by everybody. It became evident that even the best of the best within Hungary is not good enough out there. A few days ago Orbán called together the leaders of the various sports associations. It seems that he changed his mind about funding professional soccer in Hungary. So perhaps after all there will be no new stadium for Debrecen. However, no money will be spared for amateur sports.

The standard promise of large tax cuts probably won't pan out, just as no change in the tax code occurred twelve years ago. A significant tax cut at the moment doesn't seem possible. In a shrinking economy tax revenues are also shrinking. The tax cut that was introduced on January 1 should help a bit with internal consumption, but it will be hard to go much farther in the tax cutting department.

I left until last the biggest promise of all, one million new jobs in the next ten years. The only hint of realism in this promise, and it is no more than a hint, is that Orbán looks out ten years, by which point most people will probably have forgotten his rosy projection.

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Sackhoes Contributor

I participated in the market research study, invited to watch the speech and move the slide at the bottom of the screen between “like very much” to “dislike very much”. I found myself, surprisingly, mostly mildly liking the speech. I disliked the unnecessary digs at the opposition, especially at Bajnai, who, unlike Gyurcsany, did not deserve it. I also disliked immensely at the end the rhythmic clapping, for it always reminds me of Rakosi speeches, but I realize I’m simply showing my age and in today’s Hungary it is simply a custom.
So what was there to like about the speech? Well, what was not to like? It was all a collection of vague, feel-good slogans that are hard to argue against. Better economy, lower crime, etc. Applehood and mother pie:)
There was not a single hard campaign item in the speech. Nothing specific about taxes, the economy, education, health care except promises to make them better. “Nesze semmi, foggd meg jol!”
The devil is in the details…

Eva S. Balogh

Sackshoes: “There was not a single hard campaign item in the speech. Nothing specific about taxes, the economy, education, health care except promises to make them better. “Nesze semmi, foggd meg jol!” The devil is in the details…”
That’s exactly what I disliked about it. How can anyone speak about nothing for a whole hour? We still don’t know what he wants to do if he wins the elections. All that talk about strong government, strong Hungary is worrisome and it is absolute nonsense that the Hungarian economy must stand on its own feet. That may have been true in the 19th century but today? It is impossible. All countries are interdependent.


I don’t know, when I read the kind of things Eva writes here, I feel more sympathetically inclined towards Fidesz. What Orban is saying – I think – is that they don’t want to close more village schools… these are more statements of intentions. As has pointed out, Orban’s rhetoric is distinctly social-democratic for a “right-wing” politician.
Ideological confusion reigns – but goodness knows what will actually happen. Eva is right in that events are to a certain extent out of control. But only to some extent. It’s vital that democracy has a political-economic context. The people we elect are crucial to guiding the economy in socially beneficial ways, and we don’t expect them to abdicate responsibility to those who elected them.
Transparency and a tough approach to corruption are important if tax is to be collected properly. In this regards the MSZP are poacher, turned gamekeeper!
I can’t make the leap of faith Eva does in trusting a global financial system which is still in deep, deep trouble: the implications of this are still emerging.

Odin's lost eye
What the ‘All Highest’ of Fidesz is up to is quite simple. He is being like ‘Brer Rabbit’. He is ‘lying low an saying nuffin’. He may have learned from his last visit to the polls four years ago where he behaved like a contortionist. He opened his mouth, ‘put his foot in it’ and lost the election. Only time will tell if the leopard can change its spots. I think that Fidesz’s campaign will be platitudes and attacks on Jobbik with odd digs at the others (MZSP, SZDS, MDF etc). Vis-à-vis Ivád, I did a Google search for it. It has a web-site. The Google/Babel fish translations into English are a bit quaint but they are good enough to show that those who commissioned the site have fallen out of their trees. Ivad is also a ‘GAT free zone’. I wondered what this meant. It turned out it meant a GATT (General Agreement on Tariff and Trade) free zone. Does this mean that Ivád has declared independence from the Republic of Hungary/Europe/the world? I then did a ‘Google Earth’ (which Professor you can get it for free. Do Google for Google Earth and download it). Unfortunately Ivád is in… Read more »

Looking at the MSZP’s campaign to date, it appears to me that they are being driven to the margins with all eyes on the expected winners. In response they are focusing on a “core vote” strategy consisting of the elderly and some of the poorest members of society. The big ticking bomb for the MSZP may be demographic. If there is a crushing defeat, it will be interesting to see what happens in the aftermath.