Heroes, kings, saints, and the second founder of the Hungarian state

If you think that I’m joking, no, I’m  not. First, let me explain the title, “Heroes, kings, and saints.” The Orbán government ordered a special exhibition at the National Gallery. The employees of the gallery collected about 100 items, art works, books, and documents relevant to Hungarian history. According to Magyar Nemzet, “we are holding up our ancestors as a shield against cynicism.”

That last sentence might sound mysterious to non-Hungarians. The cynics are the non-patriotic left as opposed to the real representatives of Hungary who appreciate the historical greatness of the nation. Anyone who complains that too much attention is being paid to the past at the expense of the present and the future is non-patriotic (nemzetietlen).

I’m sure that most of you have been struck by the constant references to Hungarian historical figures when it comes to the economic and administrative plans of the government. The latest is a card that entitles the holder to free lunches or dinners. It is called “Erzsébet kártya.” I assume the reference here is to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) or, as she is known in Germany where she was sent to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, Heilige Elisabeth von Thüringen. An absolutely obvious choice for such a card.big grin After all, the best-known legend about Elizabeth is that while she was taking bread to the poor in secret, her husband asked her what was in the pouch; Elizabeth opened it and the bread turned into roses.

The exhibition of Hungariana will be open until August 20, St. Stephen’s Day, and the celebrations of the new constitution will last until April 18, the anniversary of its birth.

It seems to me that the government is tone deaf when it comes to domestic and foreign reactions to its policies. Despite the approximately 100,000 people out on the streets demonstrating against the new constitution and sending Prime Minister Viktor Orbán straight to hell, the government is still planning a whole slew of celebratory events over the course of the next three months. Almost as if they were asking for punishment. Meanwhile anti-Orbán cartoons are appearing in the foreign press. Here’s one from Le Monde.

Orban karikatura, Le Monde, 12-01-03

Plantu in Le Monde

Despite the negative reactions to the new constitution, Orbán is parading as the second founder of the Hungarian state At the opening of the art exhibition in the National Gallery he said that the introduction of the new constitution is “the moment of the reestablishment” of the Hungarian state. This constitution, according to Orbán, “will renew the community we call the Hungarian nation.” Nothing like becoming a second St. Stephen! The new constitution will provide “a foundation with the strength of granite” to this new second national birth. Mind you, most people are certain that this constitution will not survive the fall of Viktor Orbán.

Orbán offered up other pearls of wisdom. For example, he said that Europe has given up on the spiritual depths of our civilization, among them “the spiritual energy of national cultures.” In the speech, he emphasized Hungary’s century-old striving for national sovereignty. Thus, it seems that Orbán is convinced that Europe’s problems stem from insufficient national sovereignty. Most people would claim exactly the opposite. In order for the European Union to function properly the rules of the game must be changed and member nations must relinquish some of their national sovereignty.

For the occasion a Fidesz faithful historian had to be found. The choice fell to Tamás Katona, once upon a time an MDF member of parliament. His speech centered around two themes. First, that Hungary ever since St. Stephen has been a constitutional state and, second, that with the introduction of the new constitution “the country has reconquered its own history.” The first claim is naturally wrong and the second simply frightening. I don’t want anyone to reconquer the past!

Later that day, while the celebration of the new constitution was taking place inside the Opera House, crowds gathered outside to stage a protest against the very document that is being heralded as the sign of the second foundation of the state.

Large crowd at the Opera House (Preciz)

It was peaceful with two minor incidents. Both involved members of the handful of far-right groups that showed up. Some of them discovered a few socialist politicians in the crowd and decided to spit on them. Here is a member of the Hungarian Guard who was in attendance. I found the picture very funny. I guess the photographer felt the same way.

The picture was taken by Ákos Stiller, Origo

To give you an idea of the massive precautionary measures, here is the police lineup in front of the Opera House.

Policemen in front of the Opera House (Origo)

Orbán, by the way, left the building through a back door. Celebrating under these circumstances couldn’t have been a great experience. According to a reporter of Index even “the hangers-on” lacked enthusiasm. See “Már Orbán sleppje sem ünnepel.” Gone are the days when as soon as Viktor Orbán appeared his faithful audience broke into extended applause accompanied by the chant “Viktor! Viktor!” Apparently, this time even the party faithful hardly clapped when Orbán stepped up to the microphone.

It is hard to celebrate under these circumstances but Orbán is trying to put a good face on the whole thing. Here he is celebrating the second founding of his state with President Pál Schmitt.

Orban pezsgozik, Nepszava, 12-01-02

The prime minister and his faithful president understand each other well. For instance, Orbán banished the flag of European Union from his office. A year ago Schmitt made the mistake of still having the EU flag in sight when he delivered his New Year’s speech. But he got the message this year and followed the prime minister’s lead. So, it’s no wonder that the demonstrators sang the anthem of the European Union with great gusto outside the Opera House. They surely wanted to convey their desire to remain within the EU. We know that Orbán would be happier without those pesky EU politicians in Brussels, but the question is whether he is mad enough to step out on his own.

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Guest

“Orban banished the flag of European Union from his office.” This I can understand. But why then, are the new “Magyarorszag” signs printed on what seems to be the EU flag?
My thought when I saw pictures of these signs was ‘what an expense it will be when Hungary is no longer in the Union.’

Spottswoode
Guest

I see the Viktator is breaking out the Hungarian equivalent of Arminius’s Legion Standards.

Kirsten
Guest

I was thinking why OV does not make use of the possibility to withdraw quite legally from the EU. Apparently he still sees some advantages in staying within the EU.
But checking the preconditions for withdrawal, I saw here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withdrawal_from_the_European_Union
that suspension of some rights is possible if all other member states agree, and sanctions with a qualified majority:
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Consolidated_version_of_the_Treaty_on_European_Union/Title_I:_Common_Provisions
Very much then would depend on how much ‘unity’ is currently needed among the EU member states in the other pressing issues. Hungary may end up being ‘negotiable’. And even if sanctions were agreed on, the result would be more of an isolation of Hungary than pressures to reinstall democracy.

An
Guest

@Kirsten: “I was thinking why OV does not make use of the possibility to withdraw quite legally from the EU.”
Because of the EU money coming to Hungary. Of course, if that stops coming because of sanctions, that will be a different story.

Robert Johnson
Guest

Excellent article on current affairs – as always!

Öcsi
Guest

ESB wrote: “I’m sure that most of you have been struck by the constant references to Hungarian historical figures when it comes to the economic and administrative plans of the government.”
Yes, but why? Do they feel insecure being European? Or, perhaps, they don’t feel European? It seems to me that this constant reference to historical figures is an unconscious attempt to make magyars more indigenous than indigenous Europeans.
Re: pic of the Hungarian Guard guy. Sad. The guy looks pathetic. I’m sure he thinks he’s standing up for Hungary. (And I wish he’d just sit down!)
Regardless, I don’t think this kind of politics can go on for much longer before something snaps.

GDF
Guest

Eva:”In the speech, he emphasized Hungary’s century-old striving for national sovereignty. Thus, it seems that Orbán is convinced that Europe’s problems stem from insufficient national sovereignty. Most people would claim exactly the opposite. In order for the European Union to function properly the rules of the game must be changed and member nations must relinquish some of their national sovereignty.”
Another frightening similarity to former Romanian dictator Ceausescu. He always invoked the national sovereignty and the non-interference in internal affairs.

GDF
Guest

Eva translates nemzetietlen to non-patriotic.
I keep thinking about this because it seems to me that non-patriotic does not include every nuance of nemzetietlen. Nemzet means nation, nemzeti means national, nemzetietlen would be translated by a computer as being without a nation. But I think what it means in Hungary is that those who are nemzetietlen, those do not belong to the Hungarian nation, they belong to a foreign element in the body of this nation, they are againts the nation.
The next level of this characterization (based on history) would be a call to either deport them into some concentration camps or kill them.
This is much more serious than non-patriotic.

I love Hungary
Guest

It’s quite simple. Orban will not tolerate a check on his power.
The EU would be willing to finance Hungary, but will also provide a major power-check.
China would probably be willing finance Hungary and let Orban do what he wants in exchange for having a Chinese satellite in Europe.
There are two ways out of this mess, the most appealing option is that the Hungarian people actually decide they don’t want to be a Communist satellite again, and get rid of Orban, themselves.
The less appealing option is that the USA explains to China that NATO nations are off limits to their charitable donations- at least in Hungary’s case.
In which case Orban’s Hungary goes bankrupt and Orban goes down.
The third option is that the USA allows Hungary to become a dictatorship again- this time, funded by China.
North Korea West.

SB
Guest
Dear Eva, Just a few points, I don’t have time to react to everything: 1. You’re mentioning “approximately 100,000 people out on the streets” demonstrating against the new Hungarian constitution. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote “Zehntausende Menschen” (tens of thousands). BBC and The New York Times mention the same data. The live coverage of the rather left-sided Index.hu wrote “approximately 1,000 people around the Opera house” at 6:27 PM. At 9:14 PM they were writing about 1,500 protesters. Then one hour later they also mentioned tens of thousands. And then Népszabadság Online (the former official, government-backed newspaper in the communist era and also loyal to MSZP and SZDSZ later) wrote 100,000. I think this is the classic case of those lies from the press and opinion leaders (nomen est omen: opinion vs. facts) which make the picture look quite different from reality. 2. You attached a picture of a member of the Hungarian Guard and wrote you had found it “very funny”. I agree it is but this is again a very rude way to influence your readers. A man looking mentally retarded, suggesting this what all right-sided Hungarians are. It’s not explicit of course but really humiliating. Just one… Read more »
Thomas
Guest

You will be happy to know that the “Orban Revolution” is dearly welcomed by extreme rights (and often extreme left)sympathiser. It’s quite impressive to reads comments under french and belgian articles dealing with the hungarian issue. Orban is really popular among the “anti-EU” crowd, a real Saint-George fighting the Dragon.
Among other jewels of wisdom : the EU has no lesson to give, the french “NO” to the EU constitution was not respected, hence attacks against democracy in Hungary are not so serious. The EU is only fighting Orban because he is a danger to the system and to the “Banksters”. Oh and the “Brussels = Moscow” comparison is obvioulsy very popular with these people…
If Orban fails, it will be the fault of an imperialist sovieto-Eu plot, not his own.

Thomas
Guest

@SB : your point 2. reminds me a of a very good joke by the late french humorist Pierre Desproges : “You won’t try to convince me that during WWII, Jews did not have a terribly hostile attitude towards the nazis” 🙂

Spottswoode
Guest
The next fascinating thing for HungaryLand (not to be confused with DisneyLand) is how the Fidesz government will be determining which companies will get how much “capitalization” from the forex reserves. We have been hearing about the capitalization from the government and the rumors that they want to tap the cbank reserves for this. Something tells me they will be going direct to businesses and not using the banks as is the “orthodox” manner. So who will be reviewing business plans and qualifying loans? Will there be loans or grants? Everyone who has lived in Hungary knows about the great deals people got for buying government property through connections. That’s one thing. But now we are looking at the Fidesz government planning to give away the central bank reserves with little if any conditions or transparency to what we can assume to be their friends as they have done the same for all public and government jobs to this point. This would be pure and simple theft from the Hungarian people that would kill the economy and impoverish the country for the future. The nationalization of the pensions was bad enough to fund OVs “unorthodox” government. The best case scenario… Read more »
Leo
Guest

@Kirsten: “I was thinking why OV does not make use of the possibility to withdraw quite legally from the EU.”
Money indeed. Leaving the EU would be an economic disaster for Hungary. And even if Orbán might be prepared to accept a sell out to Russia or China, it would certainly destroy his support from the middle. And that in turn would mean a complete capitulation to Jobbik. So from his point of view it is much better if the initiative comes from the EU.
Now I understand from the WP lemma that a formal suspension of the rights of a member state within the EU is only possible with unanimity in the European Council. That will never happen, but I suppose a majority in the Council is enough to make live difficult for Hungary. And maybe that is what Orbán is hoping for?
Will sanctions from the EU reunite the nation behind the Victator? I was discussing this possibility with my (Hungarian) wife. She thought it might well be the case, given the more than average capacity of Hungarians to act irrationally. My point of view was that the Hungarians love their plazas above anything, but I could be wrong.

Member

The forint has just hit an all-time low againt the Euro:
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/fx/hungary_forint_hits_new_all-time_low_vs_eur.23560.html
The regime are also clearly panicking- Szijjarto has a piece in the FT, there’s another functionary in the WST trying to stop the deluge.
Re the crowds at the demonstration. At 6.20pm there were more than a 1,000 people around the two entrances to the metro stn at the Oktagon. The overall size of the crowd is impossible to estimate- closer to 30,000 than a 100,000 in my own opinion.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GDF:”Eva translates nemzetietlen to non-patriotic.”
You may have noticed that when I know that the translation doesn’t cover the true meaning of the word in Hungarian I give the original as well. That’s what I did here. As you amply demonstrated “nemzetietlen” is not a word that can be covered with only one word.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Wither Hungary? Every one mentions China. The Chinese are nothing if not pragmatic, whilst charity is not unknown amongst them it is not based in on philanthropy, altruism or conscience. Generally it is only done for some profit or gain. If China decided to make Hungary a ‘fore post’ in Europe what would China gain? If you look at the maps you will see that Hungary is an isolated landlocked country. How would China support it? What resources does Hungary have that China wants? In the matter of North Korea, China tolerates it for strategic reasons.. There are two strategic points which out flank China’s main strategic defence line. These are the Korean peninsula in the North and Vietnam in the South. Vietnam had to be slapped down some years ago by China, and North Korea is a useful counterpoise to South Korea and it keeps the USA focused on the Chinese peripheries. I am now going to look at Hungary its self. My first question is that apart from the Megalomaniac Viktator, what are its assets, its skills? And how big are they? I would also like to ask what the Glories of Hungarian past? How are they portrayed… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

The forint is falling rather rapidly. I just looked at the forint-euro exchange rate: 319.75! I think that is a record for the last twelve months.

Csoda. Kegy
Guest
@Eva: “The forint is falling rather rapidly. I just looked at the forint-euro exchange rate: 319.75! I think that is a record for the last twelve months.” Not totally surprising I think. As I understand Orban’s stooges are losing confidence (panicking is the word used colloquially) that their dear leader knows what to do to address the economic issues and the two gaping wounds to national pride: the collapsing currency and the negative foreign press. In the past year these have been substantively ignored and now the options seem to be more limited. In my view they are: 1) Buckle to external pressure, so that external finance is forthcoming. VO has preserved his stooges until now so that he can pass the blame on to them by firing them when the time comes. But either some very clever work-arounds would need to be found to the new legislation by the stooges who as we know are inherently not up to the job (inherently because, as someone astutely commented in this blog, VO is intimidated by those who are cleverer than himself); or the legislation would need to be amended. 2) Hunker down, find an excuse to sideline the obstructive central… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

@Kirsten: “I was thinking why OV does not make use of the possibility to withdraw quite legally from the EU.”
There is another, very interesting issue here: Orbán’s policy towards Hungarian minorities. Withdrawal from the EU would immediately devalue the Hungarian citizenship and above all the passport. For a decade one of the main themes in the Hungarian politics and media in of these countries was the different pace of European integartion, how easily Hungary would achieve it and how the respective countries are lagging behind. Some even played with the idea of integration through Hungary without the respective ciuntries (via dual citizenship). Even now Hungarian passport means unburocratic entry and free stay in the EU for Hungarians in Serbia and Ukraine and serves as a sign of superiority (Schengen passport) for the ones in Romania.
Imagine Hungary leaving the EU, Hungarians in Ukraine and Serbia immediately losing their right toenter the community, Hungarians from Romania losing their superiority (and in case the US would kick out Hungary from the visa waiver program the chnace of easy entry to the States too). I’m not convinced they would just swallow it easily, just for Orbán’s charming speaches.

Paul
Guest

The forint passed 320 to the Euro at 12:30 Hungarian time. This is worst the forint has EVER done against the Euro.
It’s also the point where the writer of an article I posted the other day predicted a million Hungarian households going bankrupt.
It’s recovered a little since, as currencies always do when they drop suddenly, but the trend is still resolutely down – not the slightest sign of any sort of real recovery.
There will presumably come a point when the value of the forint gets so low and recovery looks so unlikely that everyone still holding forint dumps it. The currency will then collapse completely (i.e. be worth nothing). I have no idea at what point that happens, but surely we can’t be that far away from it.

Wondercat
Guest

Through clenched teeth, the KURIER today (http://kurier.at/wirtschaft/4479922-ungarns-gemeinden-mit-frankenkredit-wollen-schuldenerlass.php) describes the implications for banks (including more favourable tax treatment) of various municipalities’ demands that foreign-currency loans be restructured; Austrian banks have approximately 20% of the Hungarian market.

Vándorló
Guest

@Kirsten: “Apparently he still sees some advantages in staying within the EU.” That would be the 800 billion Forints worth of ‘advantage’: http://www.vg.hu/gazdasag/gazdasagpolitika/iden-800-milliard-forintot-kaptunk-az-eu-tol-365273

Anna
Guest

I really enjoyed in the said event and I’m amazed to see different kinds of artwork gathered in different towns in Hungary which reflects our history.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Sad, these write-ups from Eva’s vitriolic pen. ‘Nemzetietlen’, the word says it all. Orbán is trying to restore some confidence, to breathe new life into a tortured, humiliated nation. National pride, national feelings were all banished under communism. When in Hungary, one is struck by the historical pessimism of people. So let Orbán err on the side of optimism.

Minusio
Guest

@Kirsten: “I was thinking why OV does not make use of the possibility to withdraw quite legally from the EU.”
Apart from what Gábor has already pointed out there would be another desastrous consequence: Hungary has a dual economy, a domestic one that is stagnating or shrinking and a foreign-direct-investment-driven one. This FDI economy is responsible for almost all exports and imports you see in the statistics. It employs roughly 700 000 people at above-average salaries. This is about 25% of the workforce, in terms of income their share is mucch, much higher. (In addition they get on the job qualifications and all sorts of fringe benefits. And then, there is not a trace of a shadow or black economy in FDI.) These people pay taxes, while their foreign-owned employers are still enjoying tax breaks (though some will end soon).
The reason these companies settled in Hungary is, among others, that Hungary is a member of the EU. The day Hungary leaves the EU or its membership is suspended (the EU will – for the sake of the opposition – not exclude Hungary completely), these companies will pack up and leave.

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

@Joseph Simon: “let Orbán err on the side of optimism. ”
My sentiment too …. in 2009. No time for erring now, though.

Kirsten
Guest

Joseph: “Orbán is trying to restore some confidence, to breathe new life into a tortured, humiliated nation.”
Just in case you have not yet noticed, there appear to be some (or even substantial) tensions between
A) the aspiration to “breathe new life into a tortured and humiliated nation”, to remain true to Hungarian traditions and to remain sovereign
and
B) the actual possibilities that arise from the debt in foreign currency of both the government and households/firms, from the fact that Hungary is a member of the EU and apparently desperately clinges to the benefits from membership through higher valued citizenship, EU funds and EU protection (‘democracy’, ‘governance’ equal to EU standards).
It would be honest to withdraw from the EU if sovereignty, traditions including that of aggressziv kismalac and the “artwork that reflects our history” is of such importance. Perhaps the news of being ‘sovereign’ again would also make it into the hirado of MTV, if there is no other possibility left to get the information into the heads of people that the overlap between ‘sovereignty’ of OV and the ‘benefits’ from being a member of the EU is an ’empty set’.

GW
Guest

Joseph Simon wrote:
“Orbán is trying to restore some confidence, to breathe new life into a tortured, humiliated nation.”
And this is best done through actual accomplishments: innovation, productivity, and competitiveness on the world stage, requiring hard work and immediate sacrifice for long-term gains, not through the ritualization of old, tarnished and ambiguous symbols and the evocation of a fictional past through well-paid PR companies and a compliant press, and certainly not through spending the last remaining bits of a nation’s savings nor through gambling pension funds on MOL shares.

An
Guest

@Joseph Simon: “Orbán is trying to restore some confidence”… Listening to a false prophet and bearing the disastrous consequences is not exactly confidence boosting in the long run.
@GW: Well said.

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