Viktor Orbán’s speech on “the state of the Hungarian nation”

I was right. Viktor Orbán said absolutely nothing specific. Attila Mesterházy said jokingly that Orbán spoke as if he were afraid that his name might be stricken from the Fidesz list! Some commentators felt that it was a moderate speech and basically positive. Others considered it a lukewarm speech that was quite boring. It is true that there was no applause in the first fifteen minutes and even then it was in response to a joke about Zoltán Kodály that might not even be true. However, in the second half of the speech there were plenty of enthusiastic rounds of applause, especially when Orbán made anti-capitalist, anti-foreign, and pro-nationalistic statements. If one tells an audience what a wonderful nation they belong to it never fails to work, and there was plenty of that in the speech.

I saw only one man who fell asleep by the end; when his wife saw that the camera was focusing on him she tried to wake him up. But, on the whole, the audience seemed to be bright and bushy-tailed and full of enthusiasm. There is a wonderful video available on Index in which the departing celebrities are being asked what they thought of the speech. Well, critics might fault Orbán for not outlining a program, but this audience didn't feel deprived. They all said that it was a wonderful speech.

I will mention here only a few items that I found worth pondering over. First and foremost, he described Hungary today as a weak nation. People used to look up to Hungary, especially twenty years ago, but now foreigners feel sorry for her. It is better to be envied than to be pitied. One needs a strong government that is capable of "solving problems at home and bringing back the country's prestige abroad."

He immediately plunged into economic matters, and that's always dangerous because Orbán seems to know so little about economics. In addition, he harbors strong anti-market sentiments that he finds difficult to hide. He knows that he must pay lip service to competition, open trade, and so on because foreign investors might turn their back on Hungary, but the veneer is very, very thin. At the same time what he says about economics is primitive. One of his misconceptions is that only "labor" produces "value." Doesn't that sound familiar to those of us who learned something about Marxism? One doesn't have to be an expert to know that value can accrue in many ways, not just through labor.

Hungary must immediately stop trying "to conform, to adapt, to accommodate." In Hungarian he used the word "alkalmazkodás." However, it is almost impossible to imagine a world in which countries, quite independent of size or political clout, don't accommodate or adapt. In place of adaptation Orbán "believes in the greatness of Hungarians." Unfortunately, this alleged greatness cannot be a substitute for negotiation and, yes, mutual accommodation.

Bajnai's name wasn't mentioned, most likely because Orbán knows that Bajnai's reputation outside of Hungary is pretty high at the moment. However, he mentioned Gyurcsány three or four times. His rather unique explanation of Hungary's economic woes is that "the problems started when the Hungarian electorate chose Hungarian billionnaires as leaders." He also used the word "oligarchs," presumably trying to reinforce his notion that these men were not only rich but communists as well. According to Orbán these rich capitalists think only of "short-term advantage." They think only for their own profits. As we know, both Gyurcsány and Bajnai refused to accept salaries and both men were very much preoccupied with the long-term consequences of their actions.

Another problem is that instead of work there is only speculation. He coined a phrase I had never heard before: "money capitalism." The only thing I can think of is that an old Marxist term cropped up here again from the past, "finánctőke," but that sounds outrageously old-fashioned. I don't remember people using this word in Orbán's lifetime. In any event, instead of "money capitalism" one ought to restore "production." According to him, "banks put their money into securities instead of production" and therefore "Hungarian capitalism is only money capitalism." The banks didn't do their job and the national bank and the central government stood by helplessly.

It seems that the chairman of the Hungarian National Bank and the head of PFÁSZ, the body that oversees financial institutions, can start packing. Orbán made it clear that they will be "reorganized." This is especially interesting since the National Bank is supposedly independent of the government. He continued saying that "the Hungarian economy must stand on its own feet." Generously parsed, this might mean that Hungary should get its financial house in order and never again need to be bailed out, but the statement also has an anti-globalization ring to it. He emphasized that "the Hungarian land, Hungarian products must be defended from foreign competition at least as much as France, Germany or the United States defends their own."

An empty promise is the restoration of complete job security. As we know, there is no such thing in a market economy. One could of course go back to the Kádár regime, but we know what happened to that system and why. There will be also law and order in addition to trust in one another because Hungarians "will love their compatriots." This business of en bloc loving one's compatriots has always amused me. Well, I like some of them and I don't like others. But since when are we compelled to love them all?  

Finally, he appealed to common sense which, according to him, we get with our mother's milk. Common sense demands voting for the moderate party, that is Fidesz and not the extremists. Without mentioning names he indicated that he considers the present government just as extreme as Jobbik. He called on the disappointed MSZP voters to vote for Fidesz and join in the work for the "national cause."

Unfortunately, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to show off with his new familiarity with Facebook. "On Facebook–because there is such a thing, you know–an admirer wrote about the present government this way:  'to steal is honor, to lie is duty, and to hit is delight.'" What a stupid, uninspired, and untrue comment. And yet Orbán deemed it worth mentioning.