Optimistic Viktor Orbán amid a worsening political and economic situation

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." 

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Odin's lost eye
Peter The cats and the dogs are fine, as are the jerboas, the injured pigeon and whatever else others bring in. As the U.S. Ambassador wrote of Orban “He likes playing with fire”. The measure of the man is that he MUST be No1 at all times in everything! Mr Orban is behaving just like Mr Mugabe and all would be ‘Mighty Ones’. But to be a real first class ‘Mighty One’ you need ‘military victories’, ‘processional routes’ for your magnificent victorious Armies to march down and to hurl the standards of your defeated enemies at your feet. You need to make sure that you and the people are of one mind. The people will think as you do! The only thoughts that you can get into people’s heads is ‘HATE’. Fidesz is very good at ‘Hate Propaganda’ as we have seen in their campaign leading up to the last election. His ideas of ‘liberating’ the Hungarian speakers in other lands and achieving territorial aggrandizement are his aims. That is why I asked the question about Hungarian speakers in other nations. Orban has fallen into the trap that the Southern Irish fell into. They looked at the land not the… Read more »
Odin's lost eye

Sorry the above was posted in the wrong place!

Johnny Boy

Probably this blog is the only place on Earth that thinks the economic situation in Hungary is worsening.
It might be true that when everybody is coming your way, you are in the wrong lane.


Johnny Boy: Oh no Johnny, We ALL think that the Hungarian economic situation is getting better for Orban and for those who he serves, mainly people who benefit from the 16% flat tax, the capitalists, China and so forth. We are not concern about those people who you and Orban are concerned about, we are concerned about those who cannot make ends meet. I do not think that all who are protesting about the wages, pensions, retirement age, extended work week are there because they are so happy with the economical situation (teachers, doctors, police man, and the list goes on.) So, who are you serving? You cannot be True Hungarian if you do not see that the masses are not benefiting. You are driving on the autostrada not on the autopalya. Big surprise there!


Off topic, but important! The Klub Radio needs help:
The Klubradio is independent talk radio. The Madia Council, lead by a porn magazine editor, Annamaria Szalai, changed the application process for the frequency in a way that will kill the radio station.


Mutt: Why am I not surprised?

peter litvanyi

Dear Mutt,
I signed it. Most of us here should as well. Thanks.