Yesterday I left off with Péter Szijjártó, the spokesman of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, suggesting that MTI’s reporters misunderstood the German government’s position on the Hungarian media law. He in fact phoned Angela Merkel’s office and talked to the deputy spokesman asking for an explanation. Subsequently, he gave a less than complete summary of the spokesman’s message to the Hungarian government.
The Germans in turn decided to make sure that there is no further “misunderstanding.” First, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle phoned János Martonyi and, to make sure that the message doesn’t remain a secret, Werner Hoyer, undersecretary, gave a radio interview. In it he emphasized the seriousness of a situation in which there is even the suspicion of government interference with the free flow of information.
Meanwhile the European Parliament also moved into action. Markku Laukkanen, chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), made the following announcement: “In a democracy, media must not be treated as enemies of the state. The Media and Communications Authority to be established in Hungary on 1 January is an alarming sign that Hungary wishes to police the media…. The PACE Sub-Committee on the Media will discuss the state of media freedom in Europe in January 2011. I do hope that the Hungarian government will have clearly set by then the limits on this new Media and Communications Authority which must not function like the censorship bodies sadly known in Hungary under communist and fascist rule. Media censorship has no place in the democratic Europe of today.”
Shortly after this announcement there came others. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal caucus of the European Parliament, released a communiqué in which he emphasized that the time when Pravda and similar party papers existed in Europe is gone. “This new law is unacceptable. Hungary must give an explanation and the European Council must act.”
Meanwhile the European and British papers kept going. The Times published three articles today, one of which was entitled “Press Ganged,” a historical term meaning to force a person to join the navy or army by a press gang or detachment of men used for that purpose. In the article which I could read only in MTI’s synopsis the author recalls that in the last years of communist rule the political leaders of Hungary thought themselves pioneers of liberalization of the system, yet they were incapable of understanding the real desire of the people for freedom. Their current successors, it seems, don’t respect the constitution and freedom of the press any more than they did. The populist Viktor Orbán’s regime hasn’t yet used the petty dictatorial practices of the communists, but they have already turned against the values of the family of European nations. The whole European Union must unanimously protest against this law.
Die Welt continued its criticism, and this paper’s very negative attitude must be a real disappointment to the Orbán government. Die Welt is a conservative paper in which articles about Fidesz used to show sympathy for the party and its leader. And yet here is the second very critical article. In the article “Führerstaat Ungarn gefährdet die EU,” meaning authoritarian Hungary threatens the European Union, the author Günther Lachmann gives a rather frightening picture of “fascist tendencies [in Hungary] that cannot be ignored.”
While all this is going on, the Hungarian government is standing fast: it has no intention of changing the law. Or at least this is the government’s position at the moment because I still maintain that if more pressure is put on Orbán, he might change his mind. A threat such as taking away the rotating presidency of the European Union would surely change his mind in a hurry. I know people could say: it is impossible, it is too late. But let’s face it, the rotating presidency isn’t a very important political role. It is more a matter of protocol. The European Commission could make the decision to ask Belgium to continue its duties for another six months.
While the world is protesting the Orbán government’s undemocratic actions, Prime Minister Orbán announced on Facebook the ten accomplishments he is most proud of. So, let’s see what they are. (1) He managed to create the greatest national unity at the general and local elections in Europe. (2) The government introduced the greatest tax cut in the last twenty years. (3) They introduced tax deductions for dependent children. (4) For the first time in Europe they introduced a tax levy on banks. (5) After ninety years there is dual citizenship in Hungary. (6) They introduced the severest punishments for convicted criminals. (7) They managed to create worldwide solidarity after the disaster of the red sludge. (8) They put an end to outrageous severance pays. (9) They halved the number of politicians. (10) They allowed Hungarians to homebrew pálinka.
Practically none of these so-called great accomplishments has any foundation. The greatest tax cut is not so much a tax cut as a redistribution of taxes. The tax deduction for dependent children is helpful only to the better-off segment of society. It is not true that his government introduced a bank levy for the first time in Europe. It was actually the Gyurcsány government. They didn’t halve the number of politicians. In fact, there are more now than a year ago. Adding making pálinka at home as a great accomplishment is only laughable. Especially since he claims that this decision clearly shows the philosophy of his government, which tells the people “just do it.” A great ad slogan for Nike, a less compelling theory of government.
The country is in an economic mess, the European Union is outraged, and Orbán talks about the great accomplishments of his administration. Fitch, the international rating agency, downgraded the Hungarian state debt to just above junk status. One of the reasons for the decision was that Hungary again raised the paid maternity leave from two years to three. According to Fitch this move reinforces the feeling that the Hungarian government is not really committed to prudent financial management. And Fitch at that point hadn’t even heard what Orbán had to say about his plans on Facebook concerning support for the family. He promised that in a few years parents will not have to pay taxes at all on money spent on children. Wow! Hungarian children will be dependents of the Hungarian state. Meanwhile here we are at the end of the year and the government managed to spend 150% of the budget. Less money is coming in, more money is going out. And he is proud of his accomplishments.