The first day of the “new country”

Viktor Orbán promised that all those Hungarians who live within the borders of the Hungarian Republic will wake up in a new country on April 26. Such campaign slogans of course cannot be taken too seriously but in some ways Viktor Orbán was right. Topics that had been shelved for years suddenly cropped up.

The first piece of news this morning was that the Christian Democrats, who again want to have their own parliamentary delegation although they don't have a party, announced a warmed-up demand: all supermarkets and shopping centers must be closed on Sundays. Allegedly the reason for this "innovation" is that the Christian Democrats are against the exploitation of the poor employees who have to work on Sundays. The family cannot spend a day together and, after all, for the Christian Democrats the family is very, very important.

Behind this demand to close supermarkets and malls are an alliance and an antipathy. First, the Christian Democrats have a very close association with the Catholic Church. According to rumors, the Catholic Church insisted on having a distinct Christian Democratic group within the Fidesz caucus that would represent the Church within the walls of parliament. However, only about 13% of the population frequent churches on Sundays and therefore arguing on religious grounds might not attract much sympathy. Second, they are antagonistic toward the multinationals who own most of the supermarkets and shopping centers. However, it is difficult to talk about this openly. So there remains their fervent protection of the exploited workers who, by the way, receive double pay on weekends.

Sundays are popular days for family shopping. The kids love going to the malls, and shopping is often accompanied by eating at one of the restaurants inside the shopping center. I heard an interview with the spokeswoman of Tesco who claimed that 10% of their business comes from being open on Sundays. An owner of a restaurant chain is beside himself because his restaurants are in shopping malls and 25% of their business is conducted on Saturdays and Sundays. Both people claimed that they would have to fire some employees if the Christian Democrats' plans become reality.

A socialist sympathizer who likes shopping on Sundays came up with a capital idea. A referendum should be held where people could vote for or against Sunday openings. My feeling is that the yeas would way outnumber the nays. But I think Viktor Orbán knows that too. Moreover, he has been especially friendly with associations representing those "oligarchs" he has been condemning so fiercely in the last couple of days. Among his supporters is at least one very rich man who has built multiple shopping centers in Hungary as well as abroad. Somehow I don't think that Orbán's favorite oligarch would be enamored with the ideas of the Christian Democrats. Thus, although we will hear a lot about this issue, I doubt that anything will come of it.

As for that alleged national cooperation/unity the Financial Times also noticed that although Viktor Orbán emphasizes the necessity of such unity or cooperation, his plans don't include any kind of cooperation with the opposition. Today Fidesz gave another example of the kind of "cooperation" they have in mind. Tibor Navracsics, head of the Fidesz caucus in the last parliament, wrote a lengthy letter to Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai in which he outlined their numerous demands for the transition of government business. Bajnai immediately answered that in fact his government had already prepared the details of the transition that included all the Fidesz demands and more. He invited the representatives of Fidesz to discuss the details. Answer: Fidesz doesn't talk to this government. Period. Good beginning.

A third piece of news concerned the new civil code that was passed during the last legislative session. Fidesz didn't vote for it because they objected to certain provisions. The Christian Democrats were especially upset over the provision for civil unions for gays and lesbians and the omission of an old (1950s) provision in the civil marriage vows that included a reference to marital fidelity. Although the President himself didn't go to the Constitutional Court for a decision on the issue, Róbert Répássy, the Fidesz representative in charge of legal questions, did. The Constitutional Court decided that certain provisions in the civil code are unconstitutional and therefore it cannot come into force on May 1 as planned. What a coincidence! After all, Fidesz said months ago that if the new civil code became the law of the land the new Orbán government would immediately suspend it. The Constitutional Court did them a favor. All that legal hassle will be unnecessary.

And on to something I found amusing. I read in today's Népszava that Jobbik will insist on the creation of a National Hungarian Guard (Nemzeti Magyar Gárda). The courts and the democratic parties have been struggling with how to get rid of the Hungarian Guard, which is the party's paramilitary organization; now Jobbik wants to make it the official national guard of the country. That most likely makes István Simicskó, originally Fidesz and later for convenience sake a Christian Democratic parliamentary member, cringe. Simicskó might be the next minister of defense, and his hobby horse until now at least was the establishment of a volunteer reserve force akin to the National Guard in the United States. But can you imagine if the National Guard is also supported and to a great extent manned by Jobbik and its sympathizers? This force could eventually become a real threat to the Orbán government or its successors. And then there would be the international fallout to any cooperation between Fidesz and Jobbik in establishing a Hungarian National Guard.

One more footnote to the topic of the aborted civil code. A provision that would have been changed, also from the time of the one-party dictatorship in the old civil code, was that a newspaper that quotes a source is responsible for its content. To give an example. Let's say that MTI, the Hungarian news service, reports on an event in which a statement was uttered that someone found objectionable. The "injured person" could then force not only MTI but also the paper that used the item to publish a "correction." twice found itself in this predicament by simply publishing MTI wire news. The editor of the on-line paper made the corrections but wrote a piece in which she expressed her frustration with this practice based on some idiotic law of the 1950s. At the end of her piece she optimistically said something to the effect that people can continue to make these demands for another fourteen days but then comes May 1 when the "injured persons" can save themselves a lot of legal fees. Well, it seems that she was too optimistic. The nonsense will continue.

And finally, there is nothing new under the sun. I was hoping that once Viktor Orbán felt safe as prime minister elect of the country he would give up his old populist ways and actually start governing. But no, he continues with his "national consultations." There will be national consultations on five topics: law and order, social security, recovery of the economy, salvaging health care, and bringing back democratic norms. So again, Orbán is planning to conduct politics outside of parliament and to engage in useless consultations with "the nation." I for one was hoping that he and his team already had some plans worked out and that they were not hoping to get ideas from the people who are singularly badly informed about economic and financial matters. But, of course, this is just a trick by which he is hoping to turn people's attention away from the stark reality of the country: people will not live better for a while and the government will not be able to provide without economic growth that hinges on an international economic recovery.

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John T

“There will be national consultations on five topics: law and order, social security, recovery of the economy, salvaging health care, and bringing back democratic norms.” – er, in most European countries, key policies like that would have been set out in the manifesto and the election would serve as the consultation exercise. Good to see Viktor splashing out some cash already when the country is broke.

John T

As for the Sunday opening, I don’t agree with people being forced to work on Sundays. But if people volunteer, or have a 5 out of 7 working roster that gives two alternate days off, then there should be no restrictions on Sunday opening. Hardly a policy to stimulate economic growth or employment. Still, if it gets some newly unemployed people into Church….