Poland and Hungary

It seemed that wherever I turned today the comparison of Orbán's Hungary to the Kaczyński brothers' Poland cropped up. First I looked at The New York Times where there was a fascinating article about Poland that reminded me very much of the Hungarian situation. The title says it all: "Poland, Lacking External Enemies, Turns on Itself." Although Poles have every reason to celebrate their success–for example, Poland is the only country in Europe that managed to avoid a recession during the financial crisis–they feel insecure and pessimistic, and in their confused state they have turned against each other. The population is hopelessly split and therefore not surprisingly the politicians are also at each other's throats. The author reports that personal attacks and insults are daily affairs: they accuse each other of mental illness, collaboration with the Nazis or being agents of Moscow. Politicians even wished each other dead. Doesn't it sound familiar?

Groups of protesters have been keeping a nightly vigil in front of the presidential palace ever since President Lech Kaczyński died in a plane crash. In the beginning the protesters only demanded setting up a cross in front of the palace, but by now they demand the resignation of the newly elected President Bronisław Komorowski. Jarosław Kaczyński, who lost a bid to become president after his brother's death, refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. That also has a familiar ring: recall when László Sólyom refused to shake hands with certain people who had just received decorations and when a recipient of a high decoration refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

The Law and Justice Party of the Kaczyński brothers stands for a more conservative, more religious, and more nationalistic Poland. This vision stands in contrast with that of the right of center party of Prime Minister Donald Tusk who focuses more on Europe and on adopting the euro.

Viktor Orbán's first foreign trip as prime minister was to Poland, a signal to the world that Hungarian foreign policy will concentrate on the East European region. His predecessors' first trip was usually to Brussels or Paris, signaling a western orientation. While in Warsaw, Orbán naturally talked with Donald Tusk and Acting President Komorowski, but he also visited Jarosław Kaczyński who was at that time only a candidate for the presidency which a month or so later he lost. Although Orbán's Hungary has close relations with Tusk's Poland, his vision of the future more closely resembles that of the Kaczyński brothers' Law and Justice party. But for the time being the Fidesz government must settle for Tusk.

Viktor Orbán's talk of a revolution and lately even the illegitimacy of the change of regime twenty years ago strongly resembles the program of the Kaczyńskis. They also turned against the past and wanted to create a new society. They were completely involved with eradicating the alleged and real sins of the past, and there are many signs that Orbán and Fidesz are contemplating something similar in Hungary. However, one should remind Viktor Orbán that the Kaczyńskis' new world came to an abrupt end about a year and a half after their party won the elections. The majority of the Polish people had had enough of them.

So, while I was thinking about the similarities between Orbán's Hungary and the Kaczyński's Poland, the topic came up in a conversation between Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ who became a radio and television host after quitting politics, and László Lengyel, an economist and political commentator. Lengyel pointed out that Orbán's political philosophy closely resembles that of Robert Fico of Slovakia and the Kaczyński brothers of Poland, but there is one big difference. They didn't want to turn the economic life of the country upside down. They pretty much left the economic setup they inherited intact. But Orbán's half a year proves that he is planning to introduce an economic revolution as well. Lengyel is quite skeptical of the success of such a revolution. Even the "nationalization" of the private pension funds will not solve the government's problems because more than half of these funds' wealth is in Hungarian government bonds. The government has to sell them to obtain cash, but who is going to buy them, especially in the current situation when most people are getting rid of bonds they purchased earlier.

Way back in May, Iván Scipiades, a journalist familiar with the Polish situation, warned Orbán that following the Kaczyński's example might not be the smartest move. After all, look what happened to the twins. But if the Orbán-Matolcsy economic revolution also fails, the possibility of defeat will be doubly possible.

In Poland's case, even with a more liberal-conservative Tusk government and a currently booming economy, some Polish economists are afraid that there will be serious economic problems soon. Because Poland didn't introduce any structural reforms either. All reforms ended in the 1990s, just like in Hungary where the only tangible reform concerned a restructuring of the pension plan. The very one Orbán is dismantling now. Polish economists predict that once the convergence money from the European Union slows after 2012, the country's economic situation will be perilous. In Hungary, the situation is much worse. So, if I were Orbán I would be careful not to put my party and government into double jeopardy. The population may eventually get tired of his autocratic rule, and if he cannot deliver the material promises he made he will be in real trouble. And that looks rather likely.

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Paul
Guest

Perhaps Orbán and his inner circle could be persuaded to accept a flight in a Russian plane?

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

@Paul: That’s mean… But actually, flying with Malév might already do the job.

NWO
Guest
I completely agree with the comparisons drawn between the Hungarian government and the PiS (Kaczyński’s party and former government). The big difference in Poland is that there developed a credible, anti socialist serious conservative opposition that eventually was able to become the governing party because of the failures of both the populist right and the traditional left. Tusk’s party, the Civic Platform, is not burdened by historical ties to socialism and was perceived as less corrupt (and more competent) than the other parties. Hungary lacks a credible opposition and has never in the past 20 years had a real free market (or near free market) conservative opposition. As such, the political landscape is totally tilted to the left where the MSZP competes as a traditional (corrupt) social democratic party and FIDESZ competes as a radical, nationalist (corrupt) populist party, with socialist/left wing preferences in economic policy. Great choice! Fantastic results! Having said this, I feel sadly that the people get what they deserve. The population wants to be babied. They like the welfare state, and they have no faith in their own ability to compete in the real world. Given this, it is no surprise the parties spoon feed them… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Apologies for the double post. I have absolutely no idea how that happened!

Thomas
Guest

Except for some shared paranoias I fail to see real similarities between Poland and Hungary. Poland at least has a two-chamber parlament. After power changes there was terrible talk and foul language and sometimes silly behaviour towards the EU. BUT: The democratic checks and balances and the constitution are still intact. There was never an attempt at a silent coup d’etat as in Hungary. Soon everybody will be happy if Hungary is not compared to Belarus.

Pistefka
Guest
The comparisons between the Polish and Hungarian situations are valid up to a point, but with some important differences. the kaczynskis’ Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc party is a newer party than Fidesz, about 10 years old if i remember correctly. In Hungary there have been more or less the same parties since 1990, with only more or less important fringe parties emerging since then – Jobbik and LMP. In Poland they have at least changed the names of the parties since the early 90’s, even if many of the same players are active. That in itself is to me a good sign – the Poles will reject parties that don’t work (where are the Polish PSD now?) and form new ones. Its also worth remembering that the first time PiS got into power they were in a coalition, with several Jobbik style populist right wing parties – the “League of Polish Families” and “Self defence” – whose names speak for themeslves. Only later did they gain a near majority. My Polish friends talk of the despair that overcame many Poles when they realised that the Chuckle brothers had got into office. There was talk of it being a sunny day on… Read more »
hgh releasers
Guest

The longer this nonsense is allowed to go on the bigger trouble Hungary will find its self in and the greater the fine will be.

Triactol
Guest

I have no idea what you are talking about. I have no idea what this has to do with Hungary.

vitrier le kremlin bicetre
Guest

We appreciate you this article, It had been an unbelievable review which was extremely beneficial.

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