Viktor Orbán’s thoughts on the “Hungarian quality of existence” (II)

As promised, I'm continuing my close reading of Viktor Orbán's speech delivered in Kötcse on September 6, 2009, but released in full only about a week ago. Yesterday I outlined the "cultural" half of the speech where Orbán tells us about the role the intellectual elite must play in supporting the government's "cultural policies." In the second half he moves over to the political sphere. First he outlines the story of the Hungarian left between 1990 and 2010. He then continues by summarizing the victorious revival of the right after its total collapse in 1994. Finally he talks about the future.

He starts off by stating that the 2010 elections will bring to a close a whole era after which something entirely different will emerge. After 1990 the Hungarian left built a structure that guaranteed the long-term survival of their power base. In fact, he uses the word "hatalompolitika" or power politics, but in English the term is reserved to describe power relations among sovereign states. There are a couple of problems with the notion that immediately after 1990 the left managed to erect a structure that ensured their continuous rule. Orbán here seems to forget the four years of the right-of-center government of József Antall as well as his own four years in power. So if the socialists built a power base in 1990 it was a rickety structure all right.

For this power base, according to Orbán, one needs three things: money, ideology and votes. And, he continues, "after 1990 the socialists discovered privatization as a source of money and once that money was gone they began borrowing money in order to finance their power base." Again one is a bit puzzled. Orbán seems to have forgotten several things here. In order to lay down the foundations of a market economy the privatization of the state-owned industries was a must. Moreover, even if the government had wanted to keep all the industrial complexes it couldn't have because they were either close to bankruptcy or were so antiquated that without large infusions of capital they couldn't have survived. And the Hungarian state lacked such capital. In fact, it was heavily indebted already in 1990 to which the Antall government only added. And interestingly it wasn't a socialist government.

As for ideology, Orbán thinks that the ideology of the left had helpers: the media and the intellectual elite. Members of the elite "made people believe that being a man of the left was the natural state of things. Everything which is leftist is modern while everything on the right is antiquated."

As for the votes, the socialists came up with an ingenious plan: make more and more people dependent on the state and therefore these dependent people will gratefully vote for the socialists. Orbán admits that not all of these people automatically voted for the left, but "statistics clearly show that those who depend on the state are more easily reachable by the left." Again, I'm not sure what Orbán has in mind. If he means the pensioners they certainly voted for the socialists but not because they were "state dependent" but because of their age. If he means the close to one million "disabled," they were not the creation of the socialists but rather of the Antall government. In fact, it was Gyula Horn who once complained about a country where there are 700,000 "cripples." Giving miminal "disability pensions" to close to a million people was the Antall government's answer to the massive unemployment created by the change from a socialist to a capitalist economy. Moreover, giving more money to the people in exchange for votes is not the monopoly of any one party. In 1998 Orbán promised all sorts of things for votes. It is another matter that he didn't deliver on them. However, starting in 2000 when the elections were approaching he introduced an entirely irresponsible fiscal policy. He started the wanton economic policy that led to the situation in which Hungary found herself in 2006. Once the 2002 election campaign began, both sides promised all sorts of economic benefits but Péter Medgyessy, the socialist candidate, made the mistake of actually fulfilling his promises. In 2006 election promises continued when Orbán again tried to outdo his socialist rival. If they gave thirteenth month salary and pensions, he promised a fourteenth. So he can't say that he is entirely innocent when it comes to indirect vote buying.

Orbán thinks the only reason the socialist structure collapsed was that there was no more money to finance it. This claim in my opinion is too simplistic but Orbán is most likely right that the slow and steady decline of the socialists was due to the unavoidable introduction of an austerity package. As I said earlier, support for Gyurcsány and his party began to drop immediately after the announcement of the "convergence program." Not after the public learned about Gyurcsány's speech at Balatonőszöd.

Orbán's story of the right in the last twenty years also has some gaps. Among other things he doesn't mention that he and his party were on the radical liberal side before 1993. Reading his words one would imagine that since 1990 Fidesz was always the stalwart flag bearer of the right. Orbán claims that he tried to create a "civic alliance" of right-of-center parties already in 1994 but because of the Christian Democratic People's Party's opposition this attempt failed. Perhaps, but I remember differently. In 1994 Fidesz and SZDSZ were still allies at the 1994 elections. The much desired alliance of right-of-center parties (notably Fidesz, MDF, the Christian Democrats, and the Smallholders) came into being in 1996 which eventually led to the 1998 election victory. I may add here that the election victory wasn't overwhelming and in fact after the first round MSZP was leading. The Smallholders who did exceedingly well offered a deal for the second round. The Smallholders withdrew their candidates in one hundred electoral districts that made a slight Fidesz lead possible. The price was a coalition with the Smallholders although the Fidesz leaders had sworn earlier that "with the Smallholders never!"

Why were they successful in forming an alliance of right-of-center parties in 1996? For two reasons according to Orbán. First the Hungarian Catholic Church offered the Hungarian right assistance. "The criticism of the left that the cooperation between the churches and the Hungarian right is too close is not without foundation." Not that anyone had any doubts on that score. Second was the support of "Professor István Nemeskürty … who brought with him the traditionally conservative, patriotic intelligentsia and encouraged its members to join the alliance." I really think that one day I have to say something about the professor who is by now 85 years old. He is a perfect dilettante who thinks that he is a historian. He wrote a couple of historical potboilers during the Kádár regime that are absolutely full of egregious factual errors.

Originally I thought that I would be able to finish the summary of the whole speech today but I see that I'm running out of time while the most portent messages are still to be analyzed. Therefore, I will continue tomorrow.

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@ESBalogh: I note Jobbik are chanting something similar on their homepage ‘Twenty years in exchange for the 20 years’ („Húsz évet a húsz évért”).
This is putting Fidesz in a difficult position, which is probably why Bayer Zsolt has written an open letter to Zazrivecz (Vona) Gábor
Interestingly Bayer notes many of the things you write, that the last 20 years have not been uniform, asking the question of why Zazrivecz joined Fidesz in 2002.
Fidesz are haemorrhaging votes to Jobbik with every pronouncement. And still Orbán insists on these long-winded, opaque fairy stories.
Bayer is trying his best in his own senseless, crude way to fight Fidesz’s corner against Jobbik, but this is pathetic. Already he has 8245 responses in under a day.