About truthfulness

I don't want to underestimate the brain power of the people around Viktor Orbán, but the last few days have shown an incredible confusion in Fidesz. One gets the distinct impression that the people involved with policy making haven't got the foggiest about the steps to be taken or the difficulties they will most likely encounter.

There is no polite way of saying the following: Fidesz politicians in the past eight years became accustomed to fibbing, to falsifying data outright, giving examples from other countries that turned out to be wrong. In brief, lying was the order of the day. But now, under the changed circumstances, when the responsibility will soon be theirs, this kind of lying just won't do. It seems to be difficult to break an old habit, however.

Here are a couple of examples. They might be small things but they say a lot about the mentality. Orbán and his fellow politicians kept repeating that Hungary lost stature in the world because the socialist government  lost "credibility" when the world learned that Ferenc Gyurcsány was lying before the elections. They will be the ones to restore it. But I fear that one cannot convince the world of their moral fortitude if they start with lies. Here is the first example. Viktor Orbán in his speech before naming his cabinet emphasized that he  hoped that the ministers would pick very able undersecretaries because they will be the ones who will have large responsibilities earlier handled by ministers. So far so good. But two or three days later I was listening to an interview with the new superminister of National Resources (health, education, welfare, culture, sports) and during the conversation it became quite obvious that Dr. Réthelyi didn't know any of the already appointed undersecretaries. But even without his admission anyone who knows Orbán's style should have suspected that no one but no one has any right to appoint undersecretaries on his own in his government. It will be he who decides such weighty matters.

Then there is the case of the new leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, János Lázár, who on May 5 on MTV's "Az este" claimed that in the preliminary discussions about parliamentary positions it was MSZP who helped Jobbik receive one of the positions of deputy speaker of the house. Jobbik didn't even demand such a thing, claimed Lázár, the lover of truth. And he said that despite the fact that cameramen videotaped the negotiations. In no time a video turned up on YouTube that proved that Lázár was lying. The original Fidesz suggestion was that there would be only three deputies, two from Fidesz and one from MSZP. On the video one can see and hear Ildikó Lendvai saying that this arrangement was satisfactory to MSZP. And then came Gábor Vona who demanded a post for Jobbik. The same Vona Lázár claimed didn't even bring up the subject, that the MSZP delegation foisted the position on them. This, I guess, is supposed to be proof that Jobbik and MSZP are working hand in hand!

The Hungarian media's reaction to such a revelation is interesting. They don't dare call such statements lies, I assume for legal reasons. On ATV's website one could read that Lázár "sumákolt" which means something like "dodged" the issue or "cowered." Well, that is not what I would call it. It was a brazen lie in order to give the impression that the two "extremist" parties are working together against the democratic middle. Absolutely shameful but after all Fidesz politicians have been lying all along when they called the socialist party extremist. If anything, MSZP is faulted by most critics for not being socialist enough.

What I don't understand is that these guys don't seem to realize that lying is a difficult business in the best of circumstances. Let's say that a woman claims she is younger than she really is and says that she was born in 1943 rather than in 1940. A small lie, not a very important lie. But the woman who made herself three years younger must adjust her whole life accordingly. It is easy to make a mistake when recalling some event from the past. The date of her graduation from high school, the names of her classmates in college, the date of her marriage and so on and so forth. Most liars are caught after a while. And I'm talking about ordinary people in earlier times without YouTube, without videos, without the Internet.

With a politician this kind of lying is a very dangerous business. Even when in opposition. But from a man who will be prime minister within a few days or the head of a parliamentary delegation of 260 some people it is really unforgiveable.

And I haven't talked about the other, truly big lies. About the skeletons or about promises of drastic tax cuts when it is almost certain that the IMF will not allow a higher budget deficit. Look at what happened in Romania. The IMF said no only a few days ago and the Romanian government is giving many thousands of government employees pink slips as a result. Where do these people live? Do they really believe their own lies? Viktor Orbán was talking about the High Street of Europe where he is going to lead Hungary but they behave like lost travelers in some God-forsaken village wandering aimlessly on a dirt road.

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John T
Guest

Eva – to some extent, do you not think that Hungarians are just not particularly good at running things for themselves at the top level. There don’t seem to be any real people of stature that the country can turn to. There are certainly people who are effective, but nobody of really high calibre.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
John T.: “Eva – to some extent, do you not think that Hungarians are just not particularly good at running things for themselves at the top level.” I think that they are terrible organizers. If there is some kind of catastrophe they run around like chickens without heads. Everybody is in charge and thus nobody is. I don’t think that this kind of behavior is restricted to the top brass. I didn’t go into all the details about Orbán’s inability to understand what was going on but during one weekend he was found in his office with stacks of papers. A minister of his asked: “What on earth are you doing here?” The answer was: “I am trying to understand the pension plan.” He simply didn’t get it without spending his weekend with it. Perhaps this is what Lajos Kósa meant when after Orbán lost the second elections when he said that perhaps next time Fidesz will have to pick someone else for prime minister because Orbán is really a “shaman” (táltos). I.e. he can come up with strategy but someone else must execute it. I would go even further. He is most likely best in opposition and not while… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

Éva, don’t forget that the piece you refers to (with Orbán sitting among piles of paper etc.) can very easily be a spin, portraying him as more mature now than was eigth years ago, learnig the lessons etc. Anyway, there would have been eight years to discover such stories but these are surfacing only now… Not that Orbán’s capabilities couldn’t be overestimated.

latefor
Guest

Dear Eva,
I am a diligent follower of your blog and also an admirer of Mr. Gyurcsany. (In my view he was the Hungarian Messiah coming 20 years earlier as He was supposed to…).
With all due respect, I do not agree with your comments re: Mr. Orban “trying to understand the pension plan”. In my view, Mr.Orban is very similar to Mr Gyurcsany in many ways, they are both brilliant theorist, (strategist) but it seems to me than Orban is luckier in his choice of dedicated supporters in his cabinet as Mr. Gyurcsany was. Do not ever underestimate Mr Orban’s intellect.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Gábor: “Éva, don’t forget that the piece you refers to (with Orbán sitting among piles of paper etc.) can very easily be a spin, portraying him as more mature now than was eigth years ago, learnig the lessons etc.”
Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. This happened sometime between 1998 and 2002 and it was Kálmán Katona who found him there pondering over stacks of paper. I think Katona is trustworthy and he himself was most likely surprised that Orbán had such difficulties understanding some of the important issues.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Latefor: “Do not ever underestimate Mr Orban’s intellect.”
We will see, we will see. Among other things I think that he is half-educated. His speeches of late are full of empty clichés. Some of his comments about European political and philosophical trends are shallow, half digested.
As for Gyurcsány. As a friend of mine said when Gy. showed up first on the political scene and had difficulties: “Hungarians don’t deserve him.” But I agree with you that he didn’t do to well in practical politics. Perhaps one reason is that he is not ruthless and canny enough. Orbán is both ruthless and canny.

John T
Guest

Eva – Outside of Hungary, Orbán would be a non-entity in society. As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s the lack of any decent alternatives that has given him the chance to get where he is. I’m sure there are capable people about, but I just think too many Hungarians drift along and do the minimum required in their lives. I don’t see much “can do” attitude from Hungarians – most of the progress is driven by ex-pats or by having to conform to World / EU standards. I think there is also a morality deficit, much like in Greece.

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