One problem with György Matolcsy, among many others, is that he talks too much. I very much doubt that it is necessary to repeat ad nauseum that Hungary is not planning to sign another loan agreement with the IMF. Yet every time he opens his mouth he volunteers this information. Wouldn't it simply be better not to talk about the subject or, if someone asks, to give an evasive answer? Because what will happen if after all Hungary is in need of help? I'll tell you what will happen. Matolcsy will fall on his face.
He is also prone to talk big. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the tale of János Háry, a hussar veteran from the Austrian army who sits in the village inn and tells fantastic tales of his heroism. How he won the heart of the Empress Marie Louise, the wife of Napoleon, and how he singlehandedly defeated Napoleon and his armies. Matolcsy reminds me of this Hungarian tale-spinner who was made world famous by Zoltán Kodály's Háry János Suite. Kodály's piece starts with a huge musical sneeze because "according to Hungarian superstition, if a statement is followed by a sneeze of one of the hearers, it is regarded as confirmation of its truth…. One of Háry's faithful listeners sneezes at the wildest assertions of the old tale-spinner." I already have an itchy nose.
Way back in July when introducing the New Széchenyi Plan Matolcsy said that "according to plans Hungary's economic development and the country's living standard must supersede the European Union average by 2030!" Yes, you heard it right: by 2030. This is the plan. "This will be a historical success … because in the last 150 years Hungary has never managed to reach such levels." It seems that this plan is so well developed that everything is already worked out for the next twenty years and this is… what do you think? The New Széchenyi Plan!
By September he drew a much darker picture. The inherited problems are almost insurmountable. Hungary must navigate a veritable minefield. The economic downturn will definitely last until 2012. Yes, the future is bleak but "we must retrace our steps from the future toward the present instead of trying to crawl from the present inch by inch toward the future." An interesting idea! A few days later in a lecture, "New government, new economic ideas, plans and opportunities in the economy," he said that "Hungary must be re-industrialized." Whatever that means.
Hungary will not only supersede the EU's economic development and living standards by 2030 but "there is a real possibility that Budapest might become a regional center of a Budapest-Vienna-Bratislava triangle." What Budapest-Vienna-Bratislava economic triangle? Did anyone ever hear of such a thing? It is certainly new to me. And if that weren't enough he added to this triangle the Czech Brno. Budapest will be a center of research and development and a hub of innovation. He didn't let us know what kind of innovation he had in mind.
But now comes the real surprise. All this depends on the excellence of Hungarian universities. Hungary will have to create "one of the 200 best universities in the world." Oh my! Wouldn't it be wonderful? At the moment no Hungarian university can be found in the first four hundred best universities in the world. Moreover, one cannot create a top-notch university overnight. Not even in a decade. If Budapest's future as a center of research and development of the Budapest-Vienna-Bratislava triangle depends on the creation of a university that belongs to the prestigious list of the top two hundred, I'm afraid the Hungarian capital must wait a long time to reach the heights envisaged by György Matolcsy.
So, on the one hand, Hungary must be re-industrialized because high living standards can be achieved only in countries with a strong industrial base. On the other hand hand, Matolcsy emphasizes elsewhere the development of tourism and agriculture that would employ many unskilled workers. His other hobby horse is medical tourism which again is a pipe dream at the moment because Hungary simply is not equipped to provide first-rate medical care for people from all over the world seeking treatment for relatively little money. Hungarian hospitals cannot even take care of the country's own population properly.
Matolcsy cannot come up with anything more imaginative than more and more spas while apparently there are many underutilized ones already. These were built or renovated with government assistance in the original Széchenyi Plan. Another pipe dream is sport tourism. The best drawing card is soccer but Hungarian soccer is in terrible shape although Viktor Orbán is spending billions on soccer academies. However, there are no modern arenas and the soccer games usually end up in brawls. Respectable people rarely attend them. However, I was happy to hear that the town of Debrecen is getting a huge arena with government help. I hope you haven't forgotten who the mayor of Debrecen is. None other than Lajos Kósa who played such a major role in creating the financial crisis in June that cost Hungary and the Hungarian people billions of forints. I guess this new arena is payment for a job well done.
Even I was astonished when I put together this short survey of Matolcsy's utterances in the last few months. So much nonsense on one page: hard to fathom. But what will happen to a country's economy in the hands of a man who lives in fantasy land?