Possible successors to Viktor Orbán: János Martonyi?

Friday night Christine Lagarde gave an interview on CNN. The segment on Hungary was fairly short but to the point. The IFM and EU refuse any compromise with Hungary. So, if Viktor Orbán thinks that Tamás Fellegi will be able to "negotiate" with the IMF, I'm afraid he is wrong. There will be not only financial oversight but also a political price to pay for the handout. Here is a link to the video.

Well, one can say that this is far too inflexible a position. Surely, both sides must give a little. However, it seems that the IMF doesn't see it that way. The EU and the IMF have certain demands: Hungarian laws that conform to EU standards. If the Hungarian government wants to have a loan it must change the whole political thrust of the Orbán government. As it stands now, Orbán refuses to give in. Just today he granted an interview to MTI in which he reiterated that he sees no reason whatsoever to change any of the laws, for example, the much criticized law on the status of the central bank but otherwise "he places no precondition to negotiations." So, this is where we stand.

More and more commentators are predicting that Viktor Orbán's days are numbered as prime minister of Hungary. Orbán squandered his credibility. No one believes him any longer and therefore any promises he would make would be worthless. Moreover, by now leading politicians in the European Union and in the United States are convinced that Orbán's democratic convictions are highly questionable. But who could follow him?

János Martonyi might be a candidate. János Martonyi, the foreign minister, is a man who is highly regarded abroad. He is considered to be devoted to the idea of close ties with the European Union and good relations with the United States. This is all well and good, but if he is truly committed to these ideals how it is possible that he serves under a man whose ideas about Hungary's foreign policy orientation are diametrically opposed to his own? A man who is true to his convictions should have resigned by now. In fact, he should have done the same between 1998 and 2002 when the situation was very similar to the current one. Martonyi talked a lot about euro-atlantic cooperation and good neighborly relations, but everything Viktor Orbán did during the same period worked against what Martonyi was talking about.

HVG, famous for the excellence of its covers, published the following picture of the relationship between the two men in the first Orbán government in May 2002.

Martonyi-Orban-Globe, 2000 May The situation today is very similar. Trying to catch, or return, a soccer ball with a tennis racket is a difficult proposition.

Between 1998 and 2002 I actually felt sorry for Martonyi but by the end I had to ask myself: why did he stay? Today, I no longer even ask the question because when the chips are down Martonyi seems to be a staunch supporter of Viktor Orbán. I mentioned that the message of the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, concerning the lawfulness of the new Hungarian constitution was "categorically rejected" by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry the very next day. The answer was anything but diplomatic. However, Martonyi didn't stop there. A couple of days later he repeated his displeasure in an interview with Le Figaro. The paper entitled the interview "Viktor Orban n'est pas un dictateur!" The interviewer, Stéphane Kovacs, asked Martonyi about Alain Juppé's letter to him, and Martonyi announced that they are always ready for "friendly consultations" but he "refused to accept any questioning of the Hungarian government's commitment to European values." He found Juppé's attitude "unacceptable"  and asked for "understanding and respect for the country and the people."

Martonyi in the same interview defended the law on the national bank and sided with Viktor Orbán in his belief that the law in no way threatened the independence of the central bank. He even denied that Orbán had compared Brussels to the Moscow of the Soviet period and kept insisting that Orbán is wholly committed to European integration. He added: "If I were not convinced of that I wouldn't be his foreign minister." Too bad that he didn't tell the truth to the reporter of Le Figaro. Orbán several times compared Brussels to Moscow and he opposes closer integration within the Union. 

In any case, Martonyi was obviously offended that anyone dared to question their "commitment to democracy" because he repeated his outrage at a meeting in Esztergom where he gave a speech at some function relating to Saint Thomas à Becket's memory.

Here he expanded on the favorite themes of Viktor Orbán: No one understands the Hungarians. Outsiders don't understand "our sorrows and psychological wounds." He added that "we are asking the world for more understanding."

The rest of the speech was spent justifying the inclusion of Hungary's Christian roots in the constitution. Without Christianity there would be no Hungary, said Martonyi. As for European values, he borrowed a phrase from Viktor Orbán. Hungary wants to belong to that common European world "even if Europe doesn't always recognize its identity and its soul." And as long as Europe "doesn't find its soul, it will not find the common direction without which no really successful community can be built."

I think here we can see a different János Martonyi from the one who is usually a gung-ho enthusiast for the European Union. Martonyi is telling us that something is wrong with Europe. This is the same as the Orbán criticism about the values, almost exclusively Christian ones, that Europe lost but that are so important to Hungarians and Hungary. The European Union's current problems, according to this view, have nothing to do with the lack of tight cohesion but rather with some unidentified lost soul that should be found (and perhaps saved).

All in all, I wouldn't consider János Martonyi's vision of the world to be fundamentally different from that of Viktor Orbán. If János Martonyi had any political sense he would try to distance himself from Viktor Orbán. But we mustn't forget that Martonyi's assessment of political situations is rather poor. How else could he have joined the communist party (MSZMP) in 1989, only a few months before the whole regime crumbled?

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Lutra lutra

I can’t understand why Martonyi (amongst others) is so loyal to Orbán and I can’t understand why Orbán is so loyal to them either. I would have thought that part of OV’s revisionist game would be to fire and shuffle ministers around at will (much as Thatcher did in Britain). Only time will tell, I guess

Eva, you answered your rhetorical question yourself, and you could have gone on further: Nobody in Fidesz will succeed Orbán. He built this party around himself, made sure that there are no rivals or intellectually superior (preferably: also not taller) people around him. This system was specifically designed to run until it crashes without a successor to Orbán. I think Martonyi’s reason to stay on is that as a clever, but not exactly brilliant foreign minister he will never have such a cushy job with so many perks again. And actually he doesn’t have to do much, as everything is decided by Orbán, and he only has to be his master’s voice. He is useful because he knows how to put blunt spite reactions into diplomatic language – so it takes the addressees longer to decipher them. Like on many other things I have observed on autocratic organisations long ago, it is one of their characteristics to exhibit low personnel fluctuation. I remember that lots of people were speculating about who would have to take his hat as early as in the summer and autumn of 2010. I said that nothing will happen, because in a dictatorship those people are… Read more »

If there is a possible alternative to Orban from within Fidesz, it could come from among the people who were sidelined, possibly because Orban thought they were too smart or independent, and thus he saw them as threats. Or from those who actually had the guts to express disagreement with him, e.g Pokorni, who openly contested Hoffman’s (OV’s) educational concept. I’m not saying Pokorni would be a good candidate, as I know very little about him, just trying to give an idea of the type of person that could be a possibility.
And no, definitely not someone as loyal as Martonyi.


I really hate this “No one understands the ” exclamations. You always hear it from the same type of people – the very special ones – and you always understood them perfectly. There is even a category of jokes for this, like the drunk Serbian immigrants in the bar. “I’m gonna shit into the piano” “Oh, don’t. They would not understand it …”.
I’m afraid if Orban the 5th goes it will only be “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!”. The real question is what happens to the FIDESZ droids in the parliament. The voting machine was working perfectly so far. These guys will freak out without the puppet master. Plus the frightening possibility of actually working. Also there are so many zealots among the MPs. Some of them was actually held back by Orban. People like Rozsa Hoffman.
First we probably will see the good old “minister shuffling”, then the typical “dear leader resigns” circus act. “I step down!” – “No! Master stay with us!”. A nightmare scenario would be Orban resigning then things go worse and his popularity will grow again. Some kind of “I told you so” rhetoric.

I have an alternative to offer. Martonyi is a faceless opportunist and an oily lawyer, who always says what is expected of him. In his law practice he was immensely successful, became quite wealthy and he is simply coasting as a minioster without effort and without embracing any political profile for the foreign service. Orban, on the other hand, worked up a profile much to big for his size, he will hold on until the last, even if that is not too far now. My fear is that he will engineer a bogus resignation when the moment comes, will be replaced by a drone and he will dictate from the back room. Thus the fidesz’ face will be saved, the replacement will make minimal concessions to the EU and Orban will have his way from the shadows. All this I anticipate to come, if the transition is stretched out and the population doesn’t wake up first. Because if they do, this government doesn’t have the capacity to deal with massive unrest. Unfortunately, the causes of unrest are gethering at an alarming speed. The public transportation system of Budapest is on the verge and that will have an unbelievable effect on… Read more »

Here’s something else to frighten you.
Let’s say that OV is replaced some time this year and Fidesz limp on with Other A N in charge until the 2014 elections.
In the meantime, factions rapidly develop within Fidesz. Some members switch to a new centre-right party (MDF2), some give up altogether,many switch to Jobbik. As the elections approach, one or more factions break away and declare themselves as separate parties.
While all this is going on, the left/liberals gain some new members, but fail to make up much ground.
There is no clear winner at the election, but far more right votes than left, so a right wing coalition is formed. The biggest parties are the new Christian Democrats, the new MDF, Fidesz, and largest of all Jobbik.
As the party with the most seats, Jobbik gets to nominate its leader as PM and to lead the coalition negotiations. Hungary ends up with a Jobbik PM and a Jobbik-Fidesz-KD coalition government.

To my mind the most urgent question is not when Orban will go and who will replace him. I suppose it’s possible that he will be ousted in a few weeks, but with some luck (i.e. very bad luck for us) he might also pull of the feat of clinging to his seat for another few years. But let’s entertain now a fairly probable scenario in which eventually someone more level-headed from the ranks of Fidesz (Pokorni, Mihaly Varga, Antal Rogan, heaven forbid Janos Lazar) takes over: wouldn’t that actually have the undesirable effect of improving the long-term viability of the regime enshrined in the new Basic Law and the cardinal laws? For the really tough question concerns the current constitutional crisis: How to get rid of the misbegotten Basic Law and the whole monstrous system of cardinal laws, and how to replace this perverted system with a constitutional democracy in which the rule of law is safeguarded? These questions are to my mind more difficult, and possibly more important, than the problem of Orban. And I don’t think the two questions can be collapsed one into one the other. It’s a simplification to say that Fidesz is just an… Read more »
I love Hungary

In the Preamble to the New Constitution, it states clearly that (I am paraphrasing) it does not respect the validity of the Old Constitution, as its basis was a tynrannical government form.
Paradoxically, it was from the Old Constitution that FIDESZ drew its mandate to “ammend” or write a new constitution.
Essentially, they invalidated their own mandate!
Yes it is a circular argument- but it is valid. And what it means is that Hungary is essentially “sans constitution”- and requires, based on normal international practice the convening of a “Constitutional Congress”. One that is fully representative of the various political parties and other societal stakeholders, to draft a Constitution.
Also, based on international best practice any draft that this Congress generates should be approved by referendum in order to be enshrined as the New Constitution.
An Orbanless FIDESZ care-taker government could manage the day to day workings of the country while such a Constitutional Congress did its work.
The EU could serve a very real purpose by playing “honest broker” and over-seeing and monitoring the process.
I think this would be a legally legitimate way to get rid of both Orban and his rag of a basic law.

Robert Johnson

Interesting article with lots of charts from Edward Hugh about Hungary’s economics in Ecomonitor.com, about “Short Term Crisis, But Long Term Deep-Seated Issues That Won’t Simply Go Away”


I think people are missing something important from overseas, maybe more important than reaction in Brussels. From comments in Germany and Austria, reflected in Die Welt, the growing consensus is that Hungary should be cut loose from further funding, either via the EU or via the banks, or the EU somehow propping up the forint. As people understand more of the nature of the regime, they realise its essentially dependent nature, that it exists to suck up money and property, as well as power. If the consensus in Germany is that Hungary shouldn’t get funding, to limit political contagion, and with a new EU budget to negotiate in a year or two, things look pretty bleak unless Orban can be dispatched quickly (unlikely, and little prospect of realistic improvement in any case). The choice for policymakers may be to either cut Hungary off, with a risk of intensifying the crisis locally, or compromising, which is being seen as a form of appeasement and ‘feeding the monster.’ Public opinion now backs the former – which, if it leads to Hungary being cut off from funds, may result in the de facto exclusion from the EU.

Csoda. Kegy

An: “come from among the people who were sidelined”. Agreed. Kósa too.
But all this speculation and analysis seems a little premature…..
VO: “if arguments raised by international organisations are worth considering, the cabinet is ready to make them their own, as upholding or changing our earlier position is not a question of prestige to us”
So it seems like VO is buckling. Slow motion. And the Fidesz rally to show support for him is all part of the charade to demonstrate that the people do not blame him – so it must be someone else who is to blame.
Not the direction I expected when I commented on January 04, 2012 at 06:24 AM (I thought he’d tough it out for longer).
Pragmatic though.

Dirk Diggler

I think whoever is on to something…this is the feeling I get in speaking with my Austrian and German business contacts. It also allows for Hungary to be made out an example to the other “poor pupils” in the EU. If you do not play ball, look what can happen to you sort of thing

I’m afraid I’ve leapt to the conclusion that Martonyi is talking about Trianon when he mentions psychological wounds. Apologies if I’m wrong. I’ve often come across this sentiment, about the Magyar “sorrows” and “wounds” from my Hungarian friends and intimates. Especially with regard to Trianon. I’ve made the mistake on a few occasions of proferring a ‘well, perhaps there’s another side to the story’ only to be told in no uncertain terms that I can’t possibly understand because I’m British, not Hungarian, and that my views are not welcome, despite my living in Hungary for a very long time and having a family here. Interestingly, my wife, who grew up in the 70s and 80s in Ceaucescu’s Transylvania does not understand, let alone share, sentiments such as Martonyi’s. Neither do her contemporaries, who I’m sure must have lived through much suffering – not least the migration after 1989 to Hungary, where they felt not quite understood or accepted, and sometimes even termed ‘szorvány magyar’. I understand that events after 1918 must have been traumatic for those who were there at the time, and for those who lived in an unwelcoming, newly monolingual environment. Yet, top-down policies such as Martonyi’s comments,… Read more »
Gyorgy Gereby
A minor comment: you seem to have passed over in silence Eniko Gyori’s astonishing interview http://index.hu/belfold/2011/12/27/gyori_gyengek_az_eu_vezetoi/ where she squarely states that the leaders of the European Union are _weak_ (sic!). Presumably as compared to the staunch leadership of his boss, Orban. I feel inclined to believe that this assumption may be at the heart of FIDESZ’ daring chicken game with the IMF/EU tandem. In the light of the recent developments she seems to have been quite fundamentally mistaken in downplaying the faults found with the Hungarian legislation. Is she really such a misdirected mind? – As to Martonyi. Let me share with you the impression of my single personal experience with him. I happened to have heared Martonyi back in 1998 at the British Embassy to speak at great length about Gyula Horn’s foul tennis playing habits in the circle of the _creme_ of the corps diplomatic. Now at that time he was already the foreign minister-in-waiting. To me it seemed that his indulgence in a passé case was an all too easy prey as compared to the opportunity to speak about the future plans, or at least the principles of his goverment. Either he just didn’t want to say… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
There are and can be no successors to Orban Viktor. My reasons are these:- • As Minusio points out Fidesz is the creation of Orban Viktor. Minusio wrote ** “Nobody in Fidesz will succeed Orbán. He built this party around himself, made sure that there are no rivals or intellectually superior (preferably: also not taller) people around him. This system was specifically designed to run until it crashes without a successor to Orbán.” **. This is true Orban holds all the levers of power within Fidesz. Even the lowest of the low within the party knows this. • So long as the plutocrats see that ‘Gravy train’ is still rolling and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, they will stay on it. Once the train stops they will leave Hungary. • That Fidesz has been in power for some eighteen months in which time they should have been able to finance the party from ‘Government Funds’ and no longer need money from the plutocrats. • The Fidesz ‘Lobby Fodder’ know that they will continue to benefit financially so long as they stay in line. • When the IMF/EU talks fail, which is what Orban Viktor wants he… Read more »

Forint almost back up to its pre-Christmas rate.
Genuine recovery, or the calm before the next storm?

late night

Hungary, is simply not going to get credit, because nobody in Europe will get credit, until they appear to be creditworthy. The choice is Jobbik or perhaps the communists.


@ Gyorgy Gereby: According to some articles (as I recall I have read it at origo or nol.hu) the assumption that the leaders of the EU are week, incapable to carry out necessary reforms (i.e. dismantling of the rule of law in order to gain competitiveness vis-a-vis China) is at the core of Orbán’s self-perception. Győri was probably only echoing this view. But otherwise your point is right, I fear.


We should not forget China.
China will prey on a wounded Hungary and take full advantage of Orban’s financial weakness and ostracism.

Eva S. Balogh

I Love Hungary: “what it means is that Hungary is essentially “sans constitution”- and requires, based on normal international practice the convening of a “Constitutional Congress”.”
That is an interesting thought.

Eva S. Balogh

Csoda: “VO: “if arguments raised by international organisations are worth considering, the cabinet is ready to make them their own”
Yeah, but a few seconds later he says he isn’t changing anything and none of the criticism is valid. They are all politically motivated. So, you don’t really know where you stand with him.


Everyone is too busy hoping Orban will be deposed or maybe run over by a bus. Better to discus how the opposition should be organised.
Frankly I do not think the opposition is organised enough to win in 2014. It is the job of the opposition to offer an organised party and coherent ideas, not to sit back and hope.
It is better to organize than fantasize.

Eva S. Balogh

andrasb: “It is better to organize than fantasize.”
Sure, but I can’t organize the opposition.

Eva S. Balogh

Andrew: “I’m afraid I’ve leapt to the conclusion that Martonyi is talking about Trianon when he mentions psychological wounds.”
If you made a mistake, so did I. I also thought that he was talking about Trianon, although he might be also thinking of a couple of other Hungarian calamities as well.

whoever: “I think people are missing something important from overseas, ” Who are the people from oversees who are missing this? If you refer to the press, I would say that simply they do not cover as much from the Hungarian politics as countries in the EU, simply because they are not so much affected. I do not think in any EU country you read to much about Canadian politics and how the Senate is stuffed by the conservatives…. If you refer to those who post comments here, the “cut off of Hungary” was suggested a lot for months. I love Hungary: “In the Preamble to the New Constitution, it states clearly that (I am paraphrasing) it does not respect the validity of the Old Constitution, ” THat is certainly one more technicality why the this unlawful document should be thrown out by the Constitutional Court or whatever remained from it, as it was already suggested on December 30th, when the photograph of the MPs sleeping while the parliamentary voting is going on was published on HS. “Signing any contract under undue pressure, unreasonable time frame, under the influence (sleep deprivation) and contrary to existing laws are just a handful… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh

Gyorgy Gereby: “A minor comment: you seem to have passed over in silence Eniko Gyori’s astonishing interview”
Yes, I missed it. Thanks. You’re most likely right that Orbán thinks that he can win against these weak leaders.


Sorry OT: Andor Jacob’s blog regarding salaries (gross-net calculation) and percentage tax and social security due to the government(s).
Once he makes a reference regarding Deloitte’s statistics. What Deloitte fails to mention is that the average salary in Hungary is very low compare to other countries.
Social Security is 28% over the gross salary without a limitation or cap.

Mutt Damon

The BP police renewed the streets closings until February around the house of ….. “we do not speak his name” (no, it’s not Voldemort). The streets in the proximity of the Cinege u. 5 in the XII. district is closed for another months. Originally it was only the Christmas week.
What is afraid of ??


Can’t say I warmed to him, Ron. Had I read that in a non–Hungarian context I would have written him off as a right-wing nutter within three paras. And even in a Hungarian context, I only read on because you had posted the link.
As well as complaining about everyone else, this guy should take a good look at himself – he is also what is wrong with Hungary.


THanks for the link to “Eniko Gyori’s astonishing interview” Gyorgy Gereby. Whoaa Beside all the BS that an other Fidesz representative throws to our way, my favourite part from the interview is how MS. Gyori tries to explain how unfair is to have such long meetings in the EU that everyone is tired and falls a sleep. She feels that making decisions in an environment like that and publishing the results is unfair (“unsportsmanlike) because what Orban said actually is not what he said.
Interesting point of view from Fidesz, especially after their “tour de France” style voting in the Hungarian Parliament about governing laws that will affect every single Hungarians.