Late last night Viktor Orbán had a half hour conversation with Csaba Azurák, reporter on TV2's "Tények este" (Facts at night). The conversation covered a lot of topics from the local elections to "renationalization." But the topic that raised a lot of eyebrows was the prime minister's assertion that the deficit at the moment is 4.4% because the Bajnai government's budget "was full of falsification, wrong numbers and mistaken calculations." According to Orbán the country is sweating blood in order to honor the promised deficit of 3.9%. "Because of the international environment the country cannot possibly change this number and therefore we must collect the missing income in the form of surtaxes."
Not surprisingly the reporter wanted to have concrete examples of these falsifications and tricks with the numbers. The answer was somewhat confused, I assume purposely so. According to Orbán "if we talk about the year 2009 there it is obvious that the numbers are false." Which year are we talking about? Surely, not about 2009 but about 2010. So, what is the prime minister's point? He claims that expenditures that were supposed to be taken care of in 2009 were moved forward to be paid in 2010.
The reporter was still not satisfied and inquired, "Where do you see that?" Meaning which specific items are we talking about? But by virtue of the way he formulated the question "Hol látják ezt?" (Where can one/you see that?) Orbán could get out of a sticky situation by claiming that "they see this for example in Brussels and that's the problem…." It is safe to say that Viktor Orbán is not telling the truth (unless, of course, he is using "Brussels" to refer to the Fidesz delegation to the European parliament rather than the EU officials who are overseeing Hungary's budget) because both the IMF and the EU maintained all along that there were no skeletons, no tricks in the Hungarian budget. But he continued in this vein: "We here at home can be clever but in Brussels unfortunately they see clearly. In fact, everybody who is familiar with the workings of the Hungarian economy can see it clearly." Again, I would like to remind everybody that only Fidesz and later the Orbán government claimed that the budgetary figures were false. All those foreign experts claimed exactly the opposite. And again, he talks as if he were speaking a language that no one understands and that this whole conversation remains a secret to the outside world.
The nasty reporter wanted to know more and inquired how much money we are talking about. It is a fairly substantial difference, was the answer, half a percentage point. So, instead of a budget deficit of 3.9% it is at the moment 4.4%. And he added, "we will be forced to report this to Brussels." In order to plant an impression of gravity and urgency he told the reporter that "the experts are working all night in order to analyze the differences and find out the consequences of all this."
And once again comes the confusing communication. A few hours later György Matolcsy set out to calm nerves by saying that "we are naturally not happy about the 0.5% increase in the deficit, but we are not scared either." In monetary terms this means a gap of about 120-130 billion forints which can easily be taken care of. He also revealed that next week he is going to Washington to take part in the IMF's yearly meeting where he is going to explain that today's Hungary is in a very different place from where it was three or four months ago. He will tell the IMF that "we made all the necessary hard decisions by which we will consolidate Hungary's finances without any austerity measures." Moreover, soon enough they will embark on lowering Hungary's debt load. At the same time they "will begin economic growth and [they] will do their best to raise the level of employment." As if it were that simple!
Well, these words were primarily for foreign consumption. At home, with local elections imminent, Fidesz politicians continued to harp on the sins of their predecessors. Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman and a master of exaggeration and even outright lies, was in his element. "Today what we have suspected all along became fact: the socialist governments of the Gyurcsány era manipulated the budget data." So here we go again! Antal Rogán, who has lately been parading as an economic expert, was already talking about the "mistakes, sins, and responsibilities" of the Bajnai government because the 2010 budget "was born in a lie." While Matolcsy says "no sweat," there is enough money to fill the hole, Rogán is talking about "solutions the government must present to parliament." Gordon Bajnai as well as Péter Oszkó denied all the accusations, but their explanations surely don't reach as many people as an interview with the prime minister.
So, again, the Fidesz government is spinning a financial tale that can negatively affect Hungary's international standing to make political gains at home. The whole thing seems superfluous and petty. Fidesz will win big on Sunday at the local elections. There will be very few towns that will have socialist leadership, but then why risk a possible run-in with Brussels? It's hard to understand. It is most likely the pathological hunger for power that leads Viktor Orbán. The other side must be totally destroyed. However, he should know that politics doesn't work that way.