Every year there is a Fidesz picnic in Kötcse, a picturesque village near Lake Balaton. It was in 2008 that Orbán outlined his long-range plans for a political scenario that would closely resemble the interwar period in Hungary. Then there was one dominant party that remained in power for practically the whole period.
Interestingly enough, the media didn't pay much attention to the news at the time. After all, the proceedings of these picnics are not publicly available, and thus only bits and pieces of the speeches can be learned through attendees who are willing to talk to newspapermen. I happened to catch the important sentence about the "central power" and even wrote about it on this blog, but the Hungarian media didn't recognize the import of Orbán's words. It was only two years later when Viktor Orbán released the text of the speech that members of the media woke up. They suddenly realized that József Debreczeni, the Hungarian Cassandra, was right. Orbán is planning to introduce a system that would parallel the structure István Bethlen and his successors created after World War I.
A year after the elections it is clear that Orbán is systematically and successfully building up a quasi-democratic political system that cannot be called a true democracy. But, unlike István Bethlen and his successors in the 1930s, he is trying to introduce an autocratic system in a country that is very different from what it was between the two world wars. People are better educated, more familiar with democratic practices, and Hungary is part of the European Union. The EU sets limits to Orbán's powers, at least in economic matters.
According to people present at this year's picnic Orbán boasted about the surprises he and his government will hand the European Union when the cardinal laws are enacted during the summer. I'm afraid this is not an idle threat. There is, however, a possibility that the European Union might do more than simply be astonished.
One of the many complaints about the legislative work done by parliament and the government is the speed with which complicated laws are thrown together and voted on within days. Yet Orbán promised in the next months a time of even greater "spin" (pörgés). Ferenc Gyurcsány is not alone when he sighed, "that's all we need."
Orbán also complained that he has to spend his time on all sorts of petty matters and can't devote himself to the really serious affairs of state. As for the petty matters, what he called "csip-csup ügyek," I'm afraid that Orbán can't escape them even after Hungary's European Union presidency is over. The members of the government are pretty well powerless. Everything must be approved by Viktor Orbán. Sándor Pintér, the Minister of Interior, is sent to negotiate with the trade unions without any authorization. The head of the Ministry of National Resources (health, education, culture) appoints a new director of the Opera House but a few hours later is told that the appointment doesn't meet the prime minister's approval. The brand new director is forced to resign, and people are convinced that the minister who made this dreadful mistake will be following him soon enough.
Thus how can a prime minister on whose decision everything depends not to be tied down with petty matters? I also suspect that no prime minister can be successful who surrounds himself with people void of any authority and who thinks along with Louis XIV that "l'état, c'est moi." Modern democracies don't work that way.
József Debreczeni, in an article that appeared in Népszabadság today, compares the past year to the period between 1945 and 1949. A rapid regime change took place then. Who would have thought in 1946, for example, that a year later the prime minister of Hungary would be forced out of the country or that a year and a half later a communist one-party regime would be established? The only hope today is that "Orbán is not a subcontractor of a large company," meaning that there is no Soviet Union behind Orbán as it was behind Mátyás Rákosi. "Present day experiences and history teach us that similar autocratic regimes can be maintained only with the ownership of material resources (Chávez, Putin) or with the long-lasting assistance of a foreign dictatorial power. Thank God, we are unaware of their existence in our case."
So, even the Hungarian Cassandra suspects that Orbán's autocratic rule will most likely be short-lived. Orbán, on the other hand, is still sure of himself despite the growing problems at home and abroad. At Kötcse he talked about a continuous Fidesz government for fifteen years. So, he didn't change his earlier prediction of twenty years of a series of Orbán governments. He is sticking with this figure in spite of the very rocky first year and the dwindling popularity of his party since January.
The worst is still ahead of him. We can expect demonstrations and strikes in the next few months. Moreover, Hungary just received the European Union's report card after first "European Semester." Since the member states can't be trusted to run their economies wisely–witness Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal–the European Union's financial experts are handing out periodic reports on how the member states are doing. Hungary received several "recommendations."
The first one will be very painful for the Orbán government. The report card points out that the nationalization of private pension funds solved the deficit problem for only one year, and therefore in order to keep the deficit in check further austerity measures must be introduced. The European Union will not allow the newly acquired money received from the pension funds to be used to lower the deficit and expand government spending beyond one year.
The European Union is also very unhappy about the abolishment of the independent watchdog of the budget, the Budgetary Council. One of the prerequisites for granting IMF and EU financial assistance in 2008 was setting up such a council. And one of the first moves of the Orbán government was to abolish it. Although a few months later the government set up an "imitation" budgetary council comprised of three men without a staff, the Commission is not satisfied with this solution. It wants to beef it up.
The Commission also mentioned the tax reform that favors the rich at the expense of the poor. That situation must be remedied, preferably in a way that doesn't negatively influence the budget. The Commission is most likely worried about the social unrest that is bound to come with the growing poverty in Hungary.
The Commission urges the government to pay attention to adult education and public works, and to support programs that would help unskilled workers find jobs. The Orbán government let the earlier programs lapse, and people who were able to make a modest living by working full time on public work projects after the Orbán government's "reforms" can work only four hours a day for wages insufficient for even a half-way decent standard of living.
Finally, the Commission emphasized that the "ambitious plans" of the Kálmán Széll Plan must materialize. I wonder why they mentioned that. Suspicion must be lingering in Brussels that the Kálmán Széll Plan is airy. Szél in Hungarian means "wind."