The Hungarian prime minister in Strasbourg: A day later

It is one thing to read written reports of an event and something else to see it on video. It also helps to read other people's reactions a day after. I did both this morning and I must say that today I consider Viktor Orbán's performance in the European Parliament a disaster. He managed to show himself in a light that until now he reserved for home consumption.

While in opposition Orbán became a different man as soon as he hit foreign soil. He sounded like a reasonable and responsible politician who could be entrusted with the burden of governing. Foreign politicians who didn't know any better most likely thought that once his party wins the elections Hungary will be in good hands and that he will be a trustworthy ally in the political community of the European Union. Of course, those who saw him in action at home had an entirely different opinion. They saw in him an unyielding obstructionist incapable of compromise.

When it comes to knowledge of Viktor Orbán abroad one must make a distinction between the opinions of the foreign ministries and the general public's information about the Hungarian opposition leader. The foreign ministries most likely were accurately informed. It's enough to mention the couple of documents released by Wikileaks and published by the German magazine, Der Spiegel. The English-language documents from Budapest have a fairly accurate description of Orbán, and thus to the U.S. State Department the Orbán government's last eight or nine months didn't come as a surprise. We have some idea that the government of the United States is less than enthusiastic about Viktor Orbán and his government. It looks as if Hilary Clinton, who was supposed to attend a European Union function held in Budapest in April, may not be present. I came to that conclusion after reading the speech of Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, delivered on January 13, 2011, in Budapest. He wrapped up his speech with these words: "I have no announcements to make about Secretary Clinton's travel plans but just as soon as I do those announcements will be made." Moreover, I have the feeling that Viktor Orbán himself knows that he is practically persona non grata in Washington. I know from a reliable source that Orbán announced to a close circle of political allies that although he is planning to visit the United States during the EU presidency, he has no intention of visiting the White House. Instead he will meet with Hungarian émigré communities who are his steadfast supporters. Translation: he will not be invited by the American president and he knows it.

I assume that the reporting from other Budapest embassies to their respective foreign ministers was equally accurate and therefore the German, French, British, and Luxembourg government's reactions to the media law were based on first-hand knowledge and not, as Orbán tried to make out, on antagonistic interpretations of an otherwise perfect piece of legislation. The Russian government cannot raise its voice on media freedom, but the Russians for other reasons find Orbán unacceptable. Just to give an idea of Russian-Hungarian relations, there are 99 foreign embassies in Budapest and only three countries were not represented at President Pál Schmitt's New Year's reception: Oman, Panama, and Russia! Mind you, the United States was not represented by the ambassador but by someone else, perhaps the deputy chief of the mission.

When it comes to the general public abroad, Hungary is not in the news too often and therefore most people have no idea which party is in power in Hungary and who the prime minister of Hungary is. Well, since January 1 that situation has changed and one is not entirely sure whether it wouldn't have been better if the reading public were just as ignorant about Hungary as before.

At the beginning of this blog I talked about the two Viktor Orbáns. The one that tries to impress the world outside of Hungary and the other not-so-nice domestic Viktor Orbán. A Jekyll and Hyde story that could be played by Orbán while in opposition. The question was how long he could play the same game when in power. The answer is: the game is over. He showed his true self when he answered his critics in Strasbourg. He talked very loudly and his voice by that time had become hoarse. He tried occasionally to be light-hearted but his levities fell flat. For example, when he claimed that he feels quite at home because he receives criticism in similar tones in Hungary. He paused for a second, hoping for an applause that didn't come.

His attempt to make a distinction between himself as prime minister of Hungary on the one hand and, on the other, as one of the leaders of the European Union was severely criticized with good reason. As the prime minister of a country that is carrying on with the duties of the rotating presidency, he simply can't "have his Hungarian prime minister's hat on" one moment and his "European cap on" the next. As he was corrected immediately: "we are all only Europeans here." When he tried to shift the criticism away from himself to the Hungarian nation as a whole, he was immediately rebuked.

All in all, he made new enemies in Strasbourg and therefore it will be even more difficult to have a successful rotating presidency in the next six months. I also suspect that the Orbán government's domestic policies will be watched with increasing scrutiny. As it stands now, the new constitution that is supposed to be discussed and voted in with record speed will be a "Fidesz constitution," perhaps with some Jobbik help. The MSZP will certainly boycott the proceedings and I have the feeling that LMP will as well. If there is such an outcry over the media law, just wait until the details of the new constitution become known. 

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Kirsten
Guest

I also could not find many positive reports on that session. But I generally do not have the impression that other politicians in the EU would be very attached to OV. Fidesz belongs to the EPP and therefore it got some support (in Germany Christian democrats said they see no reason for criticising OV in public since the social democrats did nothing when Robert Fico was prime minister of Slovakia, it is such reasoning that governs their actions). Others may be outright sceptical of OV. But the problem is (a problem that politicians of other countries cannot solve) the understaffed Hungarian opposition that on top of it lacks a common direction. The EU can try to make the media law more acceptable but then still there have to be enough people in Hungary who will preserve this more open society. For me the viable alternative to Fidesz is the linchpin. (I am afraid I repeat that permanently but I really hope that it will emerge soon.)

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

Kirsten, at least the demonstration last week Friday, the piknik today in front of the offices in Fiumei út, the next big demonstration on 27th finally show publicly that there is some kind of opposition. But it’s explicitely not related to any party, so I don’t know if from this there will grow any alternative. Maybe in the long run.
[sarcasm] Judging by the period of office of Lukashenko for example, Hungary has several years time to form an opposition… [/sarcasm]

kincs
Guest

“He managed to show himself in a light that until now he reserved for home consumption.”
Indeed he did, not least by threatening the EU unless it ignored his controversial policies. His words were “If you mix up the two, obviously I am ready to fight . . . It won’t just be detrimental or damaging to Hungary alone but . . . to the EU as a whole”.
As one Guardian columnist writes: “It was an extraordinary statement: in effect, the EU’s standard-bearer was threatening the EU.”
Hungarians already know that Orban routinely places his own interests ahead of those of the wider community. Now the rest of Europe knows it too.

Kirsten
Guest

Rigo, I liked the pictures of last week’s demonstration very much, it was such a civilised protest that it could not but impress. And that it is not related to any existing party appears to be a big advantage, but it should (eventually) trigger the foundation of a new political movement (call it party).

John G
Guest

I would venture to say that after yesterday’s events Fidesz support will have increased considerably, or at least firmed up support amongst those who were starting to vacillate.
“Ït felt good to be a Hungarian yesterday!” is how I would generalize the reception in Hungary for Orban’s performance. I am not so sure those of us living outside of Hungary could feel the same. Thank goodness The Chinese President’s visit to the White House grabbed most of the world’s attention yesterday.
One thing is certain: Orban will regret for the rest of his life introducing the media law days before the European Presidency. As a result he will be forced to alter plans, modify programs and water down legislation, none of which he would have had to do if only he didn’t rush all laws and constitutional modifications before. It may(!)also force him to become a democratic Prime Minister, his pugilistic stance in Strasbourg notwithstanding.

Thomas
Guest

How lucky that things are different than what Mr. Viktor declares from the pulpit. Nobody in the EU criticized Hungary, or the Hungarian people as a whole, so I don’t have to be ashamed. They only criticized the Hungarian MP and his party! And they have all the reason to do it! But I agree, it is only so much that the other countries can do, Hungarians must do the work themselves. And as of yet, I see no credible, heavy weight politicians who can come close of being able to lead. The civilian demonstrations may be good, and feel the hearts of the liberals with happiness but they are amateurish. As much as I loved them and as much as they moved me, they are not enough.

Member
It was very interesting to hear the feedback directly from my Hungarian friends and family. Some feedback came from the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Many people were truly embarrassed by OV’s performance. Older ladies were denying to ever voted for Orban while discussing their lab results. University students seem to be puzzled. It is unfortunate that he is the one who represents Hungary, as many people will think this is what Hungarians are all about. Everything is about “Me, Me, Me”. I am happy that he got what he deserved there, although you would not know about it if you only read some of the likes of Magyar Hirlap, etc. A friend of mine, who is very much involved in federal politics in Canada asked me, why does Hungary want to be in the European Union anyway when they just want to play by their own rules. So, yes, on a certain extent Orban represents Hungary (because he was elected), and it is truly unfortunate that he shows Hungary not as a partner in building a stronger and united Hungary and Europe but as an offended child who wants to win a game by altering the rules as… Read more »
Öcsi
Guest

someone wrote: “Orban represents Hungary (because he was elected), and it is truly unfortunate that he shows Hungary not as a partner in building a stronger and united Hungary and Europe but as an offended child who wants to win a game by altering the rules as he goes.”
Very well put, someone.
I imagine there will be negative consequences for Hungary down the road.
For example, investors who were thinking of investing in Hungary may look elsewhere. Capital doesn’t like wackos in power. And what about Hungary’s 2020 Summer Olympic bid? Do you think the IOC will want to see a tasteless display of nationalism during the opening ceremony? They may be leery of that happening. So, no, Hungary will not get the Olympics. May as well withdraw the bid and save some money.
I’m afraid Hungary will miss out on other opportunities while Orbán is at the helm.

John G
Guest

Ocsi: “For example, investors who were thinking of investing in Hungary may look elsewhere. Capital doesn’t like wackos in power.” Sounds absolutely logical,BUT look at the over-all financial indexes since Fidesz took power, in particular these last 3 weeks. I admit the Strasbourg performance could be a game changer vis-a-vis Europe. All will be revealed once the “restructuring” program goes into effect. I am old enough to remember the ” New Economic Machinery”, or the “5 year plan” I wonder if this one will suffer the same fate whatever name it has, but without foreign military backing.
I just read an interesting statistic the other day: 2 commercial Chinese banks have lent more money to developing nations than the IMF. The Chinese like strong men in office; come to think of it so do the Americans. Just saying.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Orbán can still make a contribution in the EU. (Nyugtával dicséred a napot).The major contention is still the meadia law. Lets consider the failure of the American media laws. Howard Stern has already been fined 2.5 million dollars. Yet this loud-mouth, foul-mouthed joker is still hurling obscenities and racial slurs into the air waves. In most countries this showman would be in a zoo, preferably in a cage, or at best in a circus. He is still riding high. He has enough money to take on the American government. And I have not commenetd on the vulgar, ghoulish programs on TV celebrating violence and gun culture. Maybe the EU should look at the American media laws as well. Just how ineffective they are.

Member

John G: “financial indexes since Fidesz took power, in particular these last 3 weeks.” This is only a reflection for the short time plans Orban makes.
Joseph Simon: “Howard Stern has already been fined 2.5 million dollars. Yet this loud-mouth, foul-mouthed joker” You said it. He is a joker, a clown and nobody takes him seriously, let alone give him a National prizes. He is certainly not on first name bases with Obama or with Bush. On the other hand we have Bayer, who is serious, get, chummy with Orban, and if it would be up to him… do not let me start,

GDF
Guest
Joseph Simon: ” Lets consider the failure of the American media laws. Howard Stern has already been fined 2.5 million dollars. Yet this loud-mouth, foul-mouthed joker is still hurling obscenities and racial slurs into the air waves. In most countries this showman would be in a zoo, preferably in a cage, or at best in a circus. He is still riding high. He has enough money to take on the American government. And I have not commenetd on the vulgar, ghoulish programs on TV celebrating violence and gun culture. Maybe the EU should look at the American media laws as well. Just how ineffective they are.” This guy’s remarks remind me the old Hungarian saying: Mindenrol az jut eszebe (everything reminds him the same thing, but it does not refer to America….). Hey Joseph Simon, Howard Stern has been broadcasting for years on a subscription based satellite radio network. Would you like to prohibit Americans to subscribe to whatever they want to? Where would you stop with this idea? Should the Howard Stern liking Americans be sent to concentration camps? Or to Goulags? What does the EU have to do with the American media? By the way, I have to… Read more »
Nwo
Guest

Orban came off poorly in my view, but as a political matter I do not think he has hurt himself. The MEPs were playing for their own domestic audiences, and the fact that the EPP members did not join in just made this look like a left/right battle. Organ must relish be hectored by old radical leftists and liberals. I also agree that if anything it will help him short term at home. He is also going to benefit near term by better economic numbers. On the whole, I would like to see Orban self destruct. But it did not happen here, and the EP did not help the cause.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

I believe that the new constitution will not have such an echo as the new media law.
Orbán has touched with this a raw nerve in the EU and the USA.
Of course he’ll not admit to have made a mistake. Sometimes it looks as if Orban and his ilk would like to fight with everybody outside their ethnic community. Some Hungarians wake up and a lot more will be awakened, if the economic situation will not improve.

Joseph Simon
Guest

GDF: There is the Federal Communications Commission. They tried to muzzle him with no avail. More than one hundred thousand gun-related murders in the USA. Some sociologists say the media have something to do with this, promoting guns and violence.

Minusio
Guest

@ John G: “One thing is certain: Orban will regret for the rest of his life introducing the media law days before the European Presidency. As a result he will be forced to alter plans, modify programs and water down legislation, none of which he would have had to do if only he didn’t rush all laws and constitutional modifications before. It may(!) also force him to become a democratic Prime Minister, his pugilistic stance in Strasbourg notwithstanding.”
Are you being sarcastic, or whom are you kidding?
For a psychogramme, I recommend Jenő Ranschburg.

Kevin Moore
Guest

@Karl Pfeifer: it is clear from the voices threatening the government (including the hint in this blog) that:
1. the respective people are working hard in the USA to make the President NOT invite Orbán (they already did it in 2002);
2. they are going to do everything in their power to slander Hungary all over the world under cover of the new constitution, which is exclusively a domestic issue by the way – it’s not too far in the future that we will be seeing lies spread over the whole EU and calls for sanctions against Hungary because of the new constitution.
The losers of last year’s elections were domestically unable to prevent Fidesz from asserting their will, they now do everything they can abroad. I can only hope the government is prepared for this, and not act like what we saw in the case of the media law (when the state secretary responsible for communication said “it caught us as a surprise.” Can a person in such a position ever utter these words? Why hasn’t he been fired the next day?)

An
Guest

@Joseph Simon: The FFC only regulates broadcast television in the US (as the government proved the airwaves for the broadcasters). The Hungarian madness of regulating ALL electronic and PRINT media by the Media Council is outrageous and unprecedented.
“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates “indecent” free-to-air broadcasting (both television and radio). Satellite, cable television, and Internet outlets are not subject to content-based FCC regulation. It can issue fines if, for example, the broadcaster employs certain profane words.” From Wikipedia.

An
Guest

I meant “provides”, not “proved”, so correctly:
as the government provides the airwaves for the broadcasters

GDF
Guest

An:'”The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates “indecent” free-to-air broadcasting (both television and radio). Satellite, cable television, and Internet outlets are not subject to content-based FCC regulation. It can issue fines if, for example, the broadcaster employs certain profane words.” From Wikipedia.’
That is what I told him, that Howard Stern is available by satellite radio to those who specifically subscribe to his program. But I guess there are some who equal the FCC with the Orban-media law and then every logical argument is completely ignored by them. Next time we are going to debate whether the Earth rotates around the Sun or viceversa.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin Moore: “1. the respective people are working hard in the USA to make the President NOT invite Orbán (they already did it in 2002)”
You couldn’t be more wrong. The American-Hungarian organizations are enthusiastic supporters of the Fidesz government as they have been in the last eight years while their favorite party was in opposition. No, I think that the American administration itself came to the conclusion that Orbán is not the kind of politician American diplomacy wants to be too friendly with.

Guest

@GDF:
Sure, just look here if you want something unbelievably funny:
http://www.catholicintl.com/galileowaswrong/index.html
“Scientific evidence available to us within the last 100 years that was not available during Galileo’s confrontation shows that the Church’s position on the immobility of the Earth is not only scientifically supportable, but it is the most stable model of the universe and the one which best answers all the evidence we see in the cosmos.”
Ain’t that sweet ?

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Simon Jozsi Here is a “factoid” for ya. Gun related murders per capita: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_wit_fir_percap-crime-murders-firearms-per-capita
What’s gotten into the Slovaks? They are almost the same as the US. Do you think this includes Hungarian citizens?
About Stern. The failure of the American laws would be if he was muzzled. It’s called “FREEDOM”.

John G
Guest

@minusio: “I recommend Jenő Ranschburg”. Are you suggesting Orban is behaving childishly ?:-) Yes, I had hoped to provoke a response from one particular contributor, but he didn’t bite. Something else caught his fancy. Maybe he agreed with me.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Kevin Why is is so important to meet the American president? You sound like a 3 year old how never had a chance to sit on Santa’s lap. Without freedom of speech I’m afraid Vic will be on his naughty list.

Mutt Damon
Guest

Hmmm, that “factoid” is fishy. My bad. Here is a Wikipedia link instead. The number of firearm related homicides in the US is definitely higher than the average. Well anyway my point is, that it is more likely related to gun laws and culture the violence in the media.
On this list actually Estonia seems to wild not the Slovaks. Where is Russia.

GDF
Guest

Mutt Damon: “The number of firearm related homicides in the US is definitely higher than the average.”
This is to be expected, since this is probably the only country where the right to bear firearms is in the constitution. Thus the per capita number of firearms is probably the highest among all developped countries.
I remember, when I grew up in Transylvania during the communist era, there was a serial killer in town who was killing people on dark streets by hitting them in the head with a hammer. There were lots of hammers available. Interestingly enough, I never heard of people murdered with sickles…

Mutt Damon
Guest

That was probably because the media showed too much hammer violence. Szalai should ban all MC Hammer videos.
Well, it’s getting off topic, but what’s important is, that our problem with media law is not that it wants to crack down on indecency in daytime G rated television.
Good try, Simon Jozsi, but no.

Paul
Guest

Éva on ‘Kevin’: “You couldn’t be more wrong”
I’m sure he can – and will be.

Sophist
Guest

Mutt,
“Gun related murders per capita”
I couldn’t understand why peaceful Hungary has a higher murder rate than the violent UK, until I read that the murder rate is significantly influenced by the effectiveness of the emergency and medical services in a country. If you are shot and survive it’s not murder.
In the figures you link, you are four times more likely to die from a firearm in Hungary than in the UK. But if you try http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_ass_percap-crime-assaults-per-capita
you are still 7 times more likely to be assualted in the UK than in Hungary.
I couldn’t find comparable stats about the availability of guns.

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