However tempting it is to continue with my story of 1956, I have to return to the present for the time being. Parliament is in session and for eight days in a row the MPs will work furiously on all sorts of badly constructed new laws which slightly more than half of adult Hungarians reject. Normally, parliament is in session two days a week. The only exception to this custom was between 1998 and 2002 when the Orbán government decided that, although the Constitution specified weekly sessions, "weekly" could be interpreted to mean every three weeks. That illegal action gave the opposition less opportunity to voice its concerns. And at the time Viktor Orbán's party didn't even have a two-thirds majority.
There are two topics I would like to cover today. The first disappointing day in parliament for Ferenc Gyurcsány's new caucus and Viktor Orbán's speech before the House.
I don't think that the members of the new party that will be called Demokratikus Koalíció (Democratic Coalition) were terribly surprised when they found out that they were unable to sit together as a parliamentary caucus. Over the weekend both Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is the chairman of the new party, and Csaba Molnár, who was designated as the leader of the DK caucus, expressed their opinion that the members of the new political formation will not have to stay six months in quarantine as independents. They called attention to the precedent of a similar split when fifteen members of MDF left the party as a distinct group and formed a new party called Hungarian Democratic People's Party (MDP). This new party was allowed to form a caucus immediately.
Csaba Molnár wrote to László Kövér, the speaker of the house, but he is abroad and will not return from South America until Sunday. One of the several deputy speakers couldn't make a decision in his absence. When the members of DK arrived in parliament they were identified as MSZP members. Therefore they walked out. I have the feeling that the establishment of a separate DK caucus will not be such an easy affair as Csaba Molnár at least pretends to think.
As for Viktor Orbán's speech, he had to make it sound fairly dramatic. After all, he was in Brussels on Saturday to attend the summit dealing with the Greek crisis and in his absence the Fidesz mass rally, designed to minimize the impact of an anti-government demonstration, was scrapped. The demonstration, by the way, turned out to be impressive. According to people who attended, there were at least 100,000 people who filled all 700 meters of a four-lane street from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Astoria Hotel. It almost seems that the leading Fidesz politicians purposely left the country, or at least the capital, for the national holiday. Zsolt Semjén, one of the deputy prime ministers, went as far as Australia while the other, Tibor Navracsics, spoke in front of an audience in Balatonberény (population 1200). Csaba Hende, minister of defense, attended a Liszt concert in Paris. László Kövér visited several South American countries to celebrate with Hungarians living there. Very suspicious.
Orbán naturally wants to make sure that the Hungarian people believe that all the economic trouble Hungary is experiencing is due solely to the crisis in the European Union. According to Orbán "something is very wrong" with the whole concept. It was established at a time of plenty and now that the economic situation is bad "it simply can't function." He came up with a creative explanation for the weak Hungarian forint. It is due to the weakness of the euro! (Well, it is of course weak against the euro, and the Swiss franc and the euro are now trading pretty well in sync.) Hungary's "dependence on the Eurozone today," he continued, "is a disadvantage." In order to avoid the fate of Greece Hungary must reduce the country's sovereign debt, but this is not enough by itself. The Hungarian government must "save Hungarian families from collapsing under the weight of their indebtedness in foreign currencies."
Viktor Orbán is certain (and here leading economists concur) that there will be no rapid economic growth in the European Union. Therefore, "Hungary must follow its own path. … Hungarians must use their own common sense, must insist on their own answers, must come up with new recipes." One mustn't be afraid of new solutions, and one shouldn't worry about what people, "especially the ones who made the Union insolvent," think.
Orbán further showed his ignorance of basic economic principles when he announced that in order to create one million new jobs "one must raise the minimum wage." This would be too funny if it weren't so sad that the prime minister comes up with such nonsense.
The eurozone is a crisis region from which Hungary must "push off." Naturally, he didn't even try to explain what this could possibly mean. If it indicates some kind of economic independence from the West it is an almost impossible proposition. Hungary's greatest export market is the European Union.
The proper answer to all that nonsensical talk came from László Kovács, former foreign minister, chairman of MSZP, and European tax commissioner. According to Kovács, in a time of economic stagnation the answer lies "not in less but in more European Union," meaning deeper and more effective integration. Kovács suggested that instead of "pushing off" Hungary should join the "Europe plus" countries which would open the door to greater foreign investment in the Hungarian economy.
I'm certain that Kovács's words fell on deaf ears not just because Orbán is a Hungarian nationalist who is mighty annoyed that the European Union is putting all sorts of obstacles in his way but because the Hungarian extreme right's position is outright antagonism toward the European Union. Gábor Vona of Jobbik, for example, claimed that Hungary lost money in the last seven years of being a member of the Union. Of course, this is utter nonsense, but I'm sure that most right wingers in Hungary are convinced that the best thing for Hungary would be to pack up and leave. And we know that Orbán doesn't want to alienate the extreme right. Of course, he knows that what Vona says is idiotic (at least I hope he does), but at the same time he will not stop verbally abusing the European Union, especially at home. As if people living abroad didn't know every word he utters even without knowing a word of Hungarian. The world has become very, very small, only Orbán doesn't want to notice the fact. Or, perhaps he does recognize it but doesn't care that by now no one believes a word he utters.