Viktor Orbán’s pearls of wisdom

Just as I said yesterday, I have been–and I'm not alone–completely bogged down with the media law to the exclusion of some other newsworthy events. Although Viktor Orbán has made quite a few appearances and delivered some speeches lately, relatively little was reported on their content.

Let's start with the press conference that was hastily arranged for the fifty or so foreign journalists. That was the occasion when he lashed out at France and Germany for daring to criticize Hungary. But that wasn't all. He had some other interesting pronouncements.

Here is one I don't fully understand: "Hungary belongs among those European countries that still have a chance to significantly reorganize their state and thus make it competitive." What does this mean? Why does Hungary have this chance when others perhaps do not? What does the state's reorganization have to do with competitiveness? With which countries would Orbán want to compete? "I want to make Hungary competitive with China and Brazil." A tall order, I would say, and note the use of the first person singular.

Then came another interesting piece of information that Orbán would never, but never, say in front of a Hungarian audience. He praised Hungary for doing an enormous amount to increase competitiveness. Mind you, he got a bit mixed up as far as the dates were concerned because he claimed that all this happened in 2010. "The Hungarian government" reduced the pension payments by one month; it raised the retirement age from 62 to 65. Of course, these austerity measures were taken not by the Orbán government but by the Gyurcsány and the Bajnai governments. In 2009 the budget deficit was less than expected: 3.6%. Although Orbán told the journalists that the actual budget deficit was 7.5% in 2010, I'm afraid that figure is simply wrong. The Bajnai government's deficit target was 3.8% and, although this was tight, it could have been held without extra bank levies and taxes on certain businesses. It wasn't necessary to "nationalize" the private pension funds that have accumulated in the last twelve years to keep to the deficit goal. All this was necessary because of the Orbán government's decision to switch to a flat tax of 16%. As for raising the retirement age, Orbán could say such a thing only to foreign journalists unfamiliar with the Hungarian political scene. It was in fact his government that lowered the retirement age for women who spent forty years on the job. So, if someone started working right after high school she could retire at the age of 58.

He also stated that he was planning to lower the sovereign debt from 80% to 70-73% by 2014. This might not be as difficult as it looks at first blush. After all, 80% of the private pension funds by law had to be invested in government bonds. By nationalizing them, the government is performing what some might benevolently call a magic act: a great deal of the domestic debt will simply disappear.

Then, there are the so-called "structural reforms" about which we still know nothing. According to some economists these reforms might not be as substantial as foreign investors expect. They base that opinion on the lack of any funds allocated for changes in the 2011 budget. However, Orbán announced at this press conference that "the structural changes planned will be instructive and useful as a model for other foreign countries." The man's hubris is amazing. Here is Hungary, a country that in the last twenty years managed to introduce only one meaningful structural reform, establishing and making compulsory for certain age groups participation in private savings for their old age. It was the current government that dismantled this pension plan, and yet the prime minister now wants to teach other countries how to introduce structural reforms! Moreover, in the last four years every attempt at reform was torpedoed by this very same man!

Viktor Orbán demonstrated the same kind of hubris at a joint press conference with José Manuel Barroso. Orbán announced that "in Hungary we recognized and I assume that some other European countries will also recognize–and this sentence sounds ominous but it must be said sooner or later–that in the next fifteen or twenty years we will not be able to live as well as we did in the past." Again, Hungary is ahead of all other countries in the Union in recognizing that Europe must tighten its belt and lower its standard of living. 

Naturally Orbán couldn't escape at least one question about the media law. He simply repeated what he had said earlier, but there was one sentence that was telling: "If there is no reasonable argument and common sense criticism I will not make any changes whatsoever." He alone! The first person singular also cropped up later when he talked about the fact that Hungary is a poor country. He mentioned that almost a third of the country's population lives under the European Union's poverty line. Pensions are low and "I will have to come up with a budget with a deficit of 3.8%, lower the sovereign debt, begin economic growth, attract foreign investment and at the same time make the country competitive." Single-handedly!

Let me add that for the time being none of these ambitious plans seems to be realized. In fact, unemployment is growing. In October unemployment stood at 10.9%. In November it was 11.3%. And it might be even higher in the next few months when most likely more civil servants will be fired. 

 

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Minusio
Guest

Megalomania is a psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of omnipotence, or so the dictionary says.
“Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” (T. S. Eliot)
President Nixon – who despite his personal oddities didn’t make a bad foreign policy at his time – once felt compelled to assert: “I’m not a crook.” As it turned out, in the Watergate case he behaved like a crook and had to resign. But then that was in a democracy – and took agonisingly long.
I can’t imagine this happening with Orbán although he clearly has a troubled relationship with the truth. After all, he seems to own the country. (“Die Heimat schickt man nicht in die Opposition!” is what he said when he lost an election for the last time.)

Paul
Guest
A personal perspective on the hypnotic power of OV: My wife listened to his speech in parliament the other day and said how impressed with him she was, and how proud she was of him, speaking as the new EU President in the wonderful Hungarian Houses of Parliament. In the conversation that followed (using the word ‘conversation’ fairly liberally), I did my best to show her proof of how, not just I, poor, deluded non-Hungarian, was worried about Orbán destroying Hungary’s democracy and economy, but also practically everyone outside the country was as well. I showed her articles in several European and American papers, her hero’s letter to the Washington Post, the Guardian leader criticising OV (and one from 2006 attacking Gy, just to prove that we DID know about what the MSzP were up to), and the Economist’s letter to Hír TV refuting their picture editing claim (this accusation came up as a statement of ‘fact’ during her defence of Fidesz). None of this made any difference. I should be used to this by now, she has no real interest in history, economics, politics and current affairs, and has always believed whatever her parents and brother tell her is… Read more »
Paul
Guest

“Die Heimat schickt man nicht in die Opposition!” is what he said when he lost an election for the last time.
Why did he say it in German??

Minusio
Guest

Paul:
“Die Heimat schickt man nicht in die Opposition!” is what he said when he lost an election for the last time.
Why did he say it in German??
He didn’t. But I couldn’t find it in any other language… Sorry. 🙂

Sandor
Guest

Paul, what a wonderful description of a wonderful marriage and a wonderful husband that you are. I am mightily impressed, selfishly, because your marriage is frightfully similar to mine. Although in my case the Hungarian is me, without the usual encumbrances, and the encumbered one is my loving and beloved wife. The bone of contention between us is not Hungary, but we have several and all are similarly intractable to yours.
But considering how boring other’s marriages are, I think we can be reassured somewhat. Or…?

An
Guest

@Paul: “Nothing until Hungary is close to collapse and the EU is forced to intervene, or until there is a great deal of blood being spilt on the streets of Hungary.”
Unfortunately there is some truth in this…though I don’t think blood needs to be spilled. I kind of hope that most people wake up when they realize they are not living any better under Orban than before.. and for a lot of them it is actually going to be worse. Right now, with all the idiots Orban is surrounding himself, the country is heading towards an economic meltdown. Hope we won’t have to hit rock bottom for people to realize he is not fit to lead the country.

Minusio
Guest

Paul: “A personal perspective on the hypnotic power of OV”
This is the most heart-rending account of how the enlightenment can be eclipsed in certain times and certain countries and with certain people I have read in a long time. And you in the midst of this. What a complicated situation.
My hunch is that early good education matters a lot in obtaining – and badly wanting to obtain – the tools to form your own informed opinions. And a propensity to ‘believe’ clearly doesn’t help.

Minusio
Guest

@ An: “Hope we won’t have to hit rock bottom for people to realize he is not fit to lead the country.”
And then what? What do you think will happen when the people realise that Orbán isn’t fit to lead the country? Do you expect him to cry in his pillow or go packing? Or will he blame the people that they are not worthy of him, declare a state of emergency and tighten the screws even further? What is more likely?
I am with Paul on this: Orbán will not have a voluntary or even peaceful exit. It’s not in his plans for the next 15-20 years.

An
Guest

@Minusio: “And then what? What do you think will happen when the people realise that Orbán isn’t fit to lead the country? Do you expect him to cry in his pillow or go packing?”
I expect Fidesz to fall apart. Without his support base, Orban won’t be able to stay in power, no matter how hard he tries. I maybe too optimistic, but I do not think that blood needs to be spilled.

Alias3T
Guest
Paul, that was the most affecting post I’ve ever seen from you. It was very touching, and I can only agree with what Sandor said so beautifully. As for Minusio’s quote, he said: “A haza nem lehet ellenzékben,” or “the homeland cannot be in opposition,” in 2002, if I remember right – that was after refusing to leave the prime minister’s office for weeks after losing the election, and then spending months in a depressive sulk. I think. Eva will have the facts. So would have Mark. There are ways Orban could go. You could see a deterioration in party discipline if the economy gets no better towards the end of this parliament, when MPs will start worrying about whether they’ll be re-elected. It’s also clear that he’s working himself up to a showdown with Csanyi. If other oligarchs prick up their ears and develop a sense of self-preservation, then you could see them deploying their financial muscle to make things difficult for him: supporting opposition press, paying off MPs. And you can’t exclude the possibility of him humiliating himself further over the course of this EU presidency. Still, I agree – things look bleak, and he’s not the kind… Read more »
John G
Guest

The cult of the Vezer, or all knowing all powerful leader is ingrained so deeply in Hungary that the only thing needed to reignite it is a personality large enough to wear the mantle. After that it’s easy-peasy. Though it is not much different from the American attitude of “my country right or wrong”, only transferred to a person, in Hungary.
In Hungary the personality cult is also imbued with elements of religion, eg. the Holy Crown. If a man wears the Crown,(or is acting on behalf of it as Orban would suggests) since it is Holy, anything he does must be God’s will. Who are mere mortals to argue with anything so powerful as God.
One of the reasons why Gyurcsany lost his power was because he failed to understand the Hungarian’s need for a Vezer and tried to govern as an anglo-saxon Prime Minister would. (Note: one of the many reasons)

Joseph Simon
Guest

Hungarian Spectrum should be called the Doom-Sayers Club. These daily Epistles written in vitriolic pen are seething with a pathological hatred of Orbán. These sad writings are your daily bread, you are all feeding on them.
Orbán indeed might fail but not because of his alleged moral shortcomings and turpitude. Hungary’s problems are almost intractable. I have said this before that some parts of the country look like North Korea, the legacy of socialism. Yet many people are nostalgic of those years: under Kádár things looked ever so simple, secure. The MSzP only led people on, not confronting the real issues and difficulties. Now try to change all that. A tall order for any politician.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

What Orbán said was: “The nation cannot be in opposition.” (A nemzet nem lehet ellenzékben.) Thus, anyone who didn’t vote for him and his party doesn’t belong to the nation.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “Right now, with all the idiots Orban is surrounding himself,”
This is usually the downfall of an autocratic type of personality. Can’t stand anyone who is intellectually his equal or superior to him. So, come these incredible mediocre or worse characters while the original brighter ones have been pushed aside or exiled to Brussels.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “I expect Fidesz to fall apart.” I join An in this. Cracks appear usually during times of trouble. And this is such time. I heard from a reliable source that Martonyi is so fed up that he would like to resign. It must be a hell of a job trying to defend Orbán’s action outside the country.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Alias3T: “As for Minusio’s quote, he said: “A haza nem lehet ellenzékben,” or “the homeland cannot be in opposition,” in 2002, if I remember right – that was after refusing to leave the prime minister’s office for weeks after losing the election, and then spending months in a depressive sulk.”
You’re right. This was the exact quote. And yes, it happened in 2002 when he lost the elections and disappeared for months. According wagging tongues he was under treatment in Graz in some psychiatric institution. No one knows whether these rumors about his psychological instability are correct or not but they do circulate.
A few months ago the rumors surfaced again when allegedly the whole Orbán family went on vacation to Bulgaria after winning the elections. He even cancelled a meeting with Angela Merkel on account of this family outing. But then, after the trip to the Vatican, his wife gave an interview in which she said that this was the first foreign trip of the whole family together since the elections. People immediately began to talk again.

Alias3T
Guest

Those rumours are too universal to be taken seriously, I feel. The same was said of Bajnai, who was meant to be making regular trips to Vienna for his anti-depressants. The fact that near-identical rumours appeared about two PMs makes them less credible, I feel.
I also think they’re destructive: being PM is a very stressful job, and, if the individual concerned needs treatment to do it well, then I’d prefer him or her to get that treatment. It shouldn’t be shameful. Anyway, I see basically zero evidence that OV has had his psychological issues addressed by a medical professional 😉

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

The American saying “my country right or wrong” has been mentioned twice here. I decided to find out the origin of the saying. It was uttered by Stephen Decatur, one of the fathers of the U.S. Navy. He was born in 1779 and was active during the British-American War of 1812. After his return from some successful encounter there was a banquet in his honor when he said the following: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” This is somewhat different from the way it is being used.

John G
Guest

@ESB: The lofty sentiments expressed by Decatur are definitely not the intended meaning in the current vernacular. It is meant today as pigheaded defense against any criticism of American foreign policy or military activity. Because we do it it must be right; a political version of “if it’s good for GM then it is good for America”. Not too different from what’s happening in Hungary today.

Kirsten
Guest

@Paul: I am sorry to ask and apologise for the intrusion, but do you know anything about how the Hungarian relatives of your wife shape their opinions? Do they repeat what they read in the paper or is there any discussion among them? And has it changed in the past years?

cba
Guest

@Alias3T:
Those rumours are too universal to be taken seriously, I feel. The same was said of Bajnai, who was meant to be making regular trips to Vienna for his anti-depressants. The fact that near-identical rumours appeared about two PMs makes them less credible, I feel.
Perhaps that is why the latter one emerged

a3t
Guest

@cba
Devious. Very devious. 🙂
But now you mention it…..

Paul
Guest
An, I don’t really ‘know’ anything, I’m afraid, my Hungarian is just too limited. Almost my entire knowledge of this sort of thing comes from my wife and is limited and patchy. But my personal analysis is that their politics are the product of having lived in Trans Carpathia. In other words a mixture of being both citizens of the USSR AND Hungarians – but Hungarians who were almost, but not quite, Hungarian (they could receive Hungarian TV and visit twice a year, but they weren’t born there and didn’t live there). In addition to having all the ‘normal’ attitudes of those who lived under the Soviet system (hating the system, but also being used to being looked after by that same system), they also carry the scars of being ‘outsiders’ in their own land -regarded by the Russians as being suspect, disloyal, even second-class. And if that wasn’t enough, they also lived in a part of the world where Trianon wasn’t history, it was day to day experience. My wife’s granparents were born in Hungary, became Czeckoslovaks, then Hungarians again, then USSR citizens, and finally Ukranians – all without moving from the village they were born in. (And, in… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

Paul: the only change that could have started in 2006 was the source you were getting your misinformation from about Hungary.
In fact, the term between 2002 and 2010 was easily the most homogeneous and persistent one since the regime change in 1990. There was no change, only maybe insignificant little shifts.
The most radical change came in 2002 when things started to turn ferociously into a horrible direction, of what as an a outcome we saw the punishment of the ‘left-liberal’ (actually not left, nor liberal) parties in 2010.

Mutt Damon
Guest

Kevin. This is a friendly question (take a deep breath … good).
Then why did the nation voted off FIDESZ in 2002 and why did they keep the Socialists for a second term? How do you explain it?

kormos
Guest

Well…Mutt as you probably know;
The FIDESZ led coalition won 188 seats with 41.07% of votes and the MSZP led coalition won 198 seats with 42% of votes. Medgyessy Peter promised a lot of things, so more people voted for the promises. Unfortunately he kept his promises, emptied the piggy-bank.
FIDESZ election platform/strategy was not good in 2006, and the voters did not have a clear picture of the economy. As you remember “There are lies and there are statistics”
We may hear different versions of the “truth” today. People hate change, but this situation is a change, will be a change. Get used to it. There will be new and young political forces in Hungary, and when the present players have filled their role, they will be gone.
Till then…Hajra Magyarorszag, hajra Magyarok!

Mutt Damon
Guest

Ms Kormos, I’m just trying to provoke Kevin to explain why our compatriots missed the genius in the FIDESZ in 2006. I have the feeling it was more then just a few missteps in the campaign propaganda that made the nation to postpone the “sweeping revolution” by 4 years.
I think we should start a party called “Other Party” like the “other washing powder” in the commercials. People in Planet Hungary seem to like to vote for the other party. This is what the big 2010 revolution is. FIDESZ basically won by accident: there was nothing else. They hit the jackpot.
Your note just makes me wondering what the “present players roles” are .. So far they managed to dump in the middle of Hungarian democracy. Or .. you know maybe their role is to piss of everybody so the voters finally realize what’s at stake. Yeah, the Titanic wouldn’t be famous without the iceberg: http://bit.ly/gHXXoV

Kirsten
Guest

@Paul: If the family moved from the Ukraine to Hungary after 1990, it is easier comprehensible why they feel loyalty towards Fidesz. I guess not everyone welcomed these “immigrants” as heartily as Fidesz. And I don’t know how they were treated in the USSR as a minority. In other countries too minority rights were much more important than political rights and liberties that you as an Englishman may find more convincing (and that can also encompass minority rights). It is interesting how varied the supporters of Fidesz actually are.

An
Guest

@Paul: I think you answered Kristen’s question in the above post. I tend to agree with your conclusion though, your wife’s family was probably more receptive “OV’s black propaganda” as you so aptly put it. It is very unfortunate, but in light of the family’s history it is understandable.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Mutt Damon: Fidesz was voted out in 2002 as a result of an extremely left-biased media situation and the left’s hate campaign (23 million Romanians, Orbán beating up his wife, remember all the sophisticated left-ish ‘arguments’?)
All this despite that everybody admitted that economy was growing, and indebtedness was decreasing together with inflation, and Hungary was the ‘best player’ among the EU candidates in the region.
In 2006, people fell for the exclusively communication-based campaign of Gyurcsány who played the role of an energetic new blood. (“Majd beledöglöttem, hogy másfél éven át úgy kellett tenni, mintha kormányoztunk volna”, remmeber? I bet you don’t…)
Shortly thereafter, the truth eventually surfaced, albeit probably not intentionally – and people finally understood what has always been behind the curtains of the MSZ(M)P. From there on, there was no way back.
Too bad it took 8 years for most of the population to open their eyes, but as Ady said, “We need Mohács.”
Well it has come, and the ruins must now be cleaned up by the new government.
This is Hungary’s last 9 years in a nutshell.
I’m sure you don’t agree with one single word of these, but I couldn’t care less; people have voted and they did so decisively.

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