Gordon Bajnai : “Republic, reconciliation, and recovery” Part I

Gordon Bajnai’s short premiership at the time of severe economic and political crisis has been hailed as a heroic and successful achievement. By the end of his term his personal popularity began to climb and his fellow politicians abroad considered him to be an outstanding prime minister. Although he has not been in the limelight since he left office, he has maintained his popularity. He is up there with the admittedly low-scoring top Hungarian politicians. All that tells me that people remember him, especially as a consequence of what happened in Hungary since his departure, with growing nostalgia. Hungary wasn’t close to bankruptcy then as it is now and even financially the vast majority of Hungarians lived better. And those were not easy times either.

 

Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, April 14, 2009-May28, 2010

About a year ago Bajnai and some of his close associates established a foundation called “Haza és haladás” (Homeland and Progress), a phrase coined by the poet Ferenc Kölcsey (1790-1838). The “homeland and progress” movement encouraged “active patriotism.” When Bajnai picked the name for his foundation he was also thinking in terms of promoting good governance. Let’s not just talk but try to translate our ideas into action.

Today he wrote a thoughtful piece entitled “Republic, reconciliation, and recovery.” The original Hungarian text can be found on the website of Bajnai’s foundation.

What does Bajnai mean by “good governance”? How can we measure “good governance”? Every society has goals and a government’s success can be measured by its furtherance of these goals, how far a government can fulfill the expectations of the society it governs.

At the time of the regime change Hungarian society had three goals.

(1) The people wanted to live in a democracy governed by a constitution that provides checks and balances that safeguard the individual and minorities. They wanted to live in a society where the media has an important role to play and where the judiciary is independent. And finally they wanted to have a political system where a bad government can be peacefully deposed.

(2) The people wanted gradual but perceptible economic progress based on the sanctity of private property and a regulated free market economy that ensures catching up with the western half of the continent.

(3) And finally there was a desire for a regime where a greater and greater portion of society would eventually share the blessings of the country’s economic growth.

The first ten years after the regime change were a real success story, but from about 2000 on these three goals seemed increasingly distant. Somewhere Hungarian politics lost its way. According to Bajnai at the root of the problem was a political struggle that subordinates all other considerations. Bajnai also mentions the “irresponsible opposition” and the mistakes of the socialist-liberal governments as causes. When it comes to the mistakes Bajnai cites too many changes in direction and well-meaning but not well-managed reform attempts. All these together led to the 53% Fidesz victory in 2010.

This overwhelming majority was indeed a “historic opportunity” that could have led back to the original societal goals and the restoration of the ideas and practice of good governance. There was reason to be optimistic. However, after a year and a half of Fidesz rule it is clear that “the government didn’t use this opportunity but misused it.” Instead of returning to the original ideas of Hungarian society in 1989-1990, Orbán led the country in exactly the opposite direction. Bajnai mentions three characteristics of Viktor Orbán’s regime: an aggressive desire for power, economic dilettantism, and a cynical social policy. As a result a government structure came into being that led Hungary away from western ideals.

Bajnai covers four important aspects of the Orbán regime: democracy, economy, social stability, and international relations. In this first part I will deal with only the first one.

Democracy. According to Bajnai by now it is clear that the top leadership of Fidesz way before 2010 came up with well thought out plans for the elimination of the Third Republic. It seems that the conclusion Viktor Orbán drew from his 2002 defeat was that the necessary precondition for holding on to power is not good governance and substantive accomplishments but the building of a structure in which the media, the judiciary, and the electoral system are subordinated to the government and the governing party. And at the end of the four-year term there must be an electoral system in place that ensures the continuation of power. If by any chance Fidesz loses the elections, there would be people in place in all of the important positions through whom Fidesz, by that time in opposition, could practically paralyze governance. The way Bajnai sees it, the last year and half was spent on “the methodical breaking, one vertebra at the time, of the backbone of Hungarian democracy.”

Bajnai draws two conclusions from what has happened in the last year and a half in Hungary.

(1) Democracy, looked at from a practical point of view, is no more than “the possibility of the quick and peaceful correction of bad governance.” Bad governance can be the consequence of wrong decisions and/or the result of the willful exercise of power against the common interest. In Hungary’s case we can talk about both. Hungary at present has a bad government, and because the checks and balances have been eliminated this government is very difficult to unseat. “The young Hungarian democracy cannot possibly be facing a worse combination.”

(2) Even the so-called “directed democracies” need a mass base. In order to maintain such regimes the country needs some kind of “extra” economic resources that allow the government to provide well for its followers. If there is no such economic resource, as in Hungary, mass support dwindles fast enough. The following will remain loyal only so long “as the existential anxiety is greater than the fear that there will be a regime change.” When the position of the government becomes shaky, more and more people will ask themselves: “Will I have some problems later if I follow the instructions of the current government now?” If this feeling becomes widespread, the government will be paralyzed because there will be fewer and fewer people who would openly support the government. The longer this situation lasts the more permanent is the damage to the country.

To be continued

 

 

 

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Paul
Guest

Interesting stuff, Éva, thanks. Bajnai’s first paragraph under the ‘Democracy’ heading is an excellent and astute summary of what OV has done and how it was planned and achieved.
But I’m afraid the final para (2) is as clear as mud to me – I’m not at all sure what he’s getting at here. Am I the only one? If so, can someone please attempt to explain it to me in much simpler terms? Ta.

Minusio
Guest

“There was reason to be optimistic.”
I am absolutely flabbergasted (as much as I agree with the other statements and however much I feel that Bajnai’s merits have always been underrated). Who on earth who remembers the first Orbán government and his destructive “illoyal” opposition could have been optimistic about the prospects of another under his leadership? The first government ended in shame, corruption – and empty coffers.
Everybody could and should have been warned.

Mutt Damon
Guest

I’m afraid this will be a bonanza for the Translation Police.
The “directed democracy” is “pseudo-democracy”. Like in Hungary it is directed by the FIDESZ. So to keep it floating you need something to pay off the faithful followers (not “following”), but these resources don’t exist in Hungary. Basically it says the 2/3 euphoria has worn off and the faithful followers started to think about what happens to them when the current regime is gone. “Will I get into trouble after a regime change”?
He says if this will be widespread and it reaches the leadership in the public service the country will be paralyzed.
Hmmm … I may have made it more murky. Vandorlo! Please help …

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “If so, can someone please attempt to explain it to me in much simpler terms?”
Not so complicated. Chavez is able to keep up his regime for a long time because the country has oil. So, he can pay off his followers. Hungary doesn’t have extra money to give away for millions of followers who were all waiting for something when they voted for Fidesz.
As long as things go relatively smoothly the supporters follow the lead but then come harder times. The support is dwindling and it looks as if this (any given) regime will not last much longer. In this case, the loyal follower might start worrying what will happen to him if the regime falls.
Right now he is loyal because he is afraid of the government. But after a while that same person will worry more what will happen to him when this government falls and as a result he will not be a willing accomplice. Thus the regime will not be able to function properly.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Paul
Guest

His wife has him locked up, Éva!
He posted something on the BBC the other day that was entirely critical of OV – and well written! (I posted it on here, asking people to guess who wrote it, but no one did.)
After that he found himself confined to quarters.
(Smiley, winky thing, of course – just in case!)

Paul
Guest

By the way, there’s a better link for that article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16446682 (this is the full version, not the mobile one).

Ron
Guest

Eva/Paul: The article was written by a business journalist Laurence Knight. I believe that for the next few weeks the BBC thought they need a heavy weight on Hungary. I saw some of his articles, and believe he is a good guy to report on the issues of the IMF and EU.

Paul
Guest
And thanks for the ‘translation’. This is actually what I thought it was trying to say at the beginning, but from “existential anxiety” onwards I lost the plot completely. Your version makes a lot more sense. Slightly off on a tangent from this – one of Hungary’s basic problems (if not THE basic problem) is this lack of resources. Very few governments (even Norway borrows money) can raise enough money to run their countries on tax and borrowing alone, so an extra source of income – like oil, gas, etc – is vital. True, some countries lack such resources, but manage – Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, etc. But these either have a long history of trading, colonisation, etc whose aftereffects maintain their economy still, or they have nurtured niche ‘markets’ (e.g. off-shore banking or tourism) which give them that additional income. A small, relatively ‘new’ country like Hungary, with no natural resources is always going to struggle to provide anything approaching a modern Western standard of living to its citizens. This problem could (and should) have been seen right at the start in 1990, and by now areas such as tourism, thermal energy and agriculture could have been developed to… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Ron – over the last few months I’ve actually found that the articles written for the business sections (of e.g. BBC and the Guardian) are generally much better – more in-depth and informative – than the stuff written for general consumption.
Ditto with the Hungarian sites I check daily – my first ports of call nowadays tend to be the business and financial sites. They are often ahead of the game and have more information and better analysis.

Wondercat
Guest

@Paul — Well, of course. One can drift about hither and thither, unanchored in evidence, in a journal’s feuilleton. (And too many do.) But when money is at risk, competent reporting and incisive interpretation are required. FINANCIAL TIMES ahead of GUARDIAN, ECONOMIST ahead of TIME / NEWSWEEK, any day.

peter litvanyi
Guest
Dear Eva, “The first ten years after the regime change were a real success story”, probably Bajnai’s words thus I can’t hold you accountable for them. Turns my stomach up. The first ten years were the most crucial beginning of a disaster that led to Mr. Orban’s present frolic of his own. Mr. Orban /and whoever he is/ is just a well oiled cog in a chain of events. I am in a precarious position. I do not side with your enthusiastic views about entities you seem to admire/ quote. -The IMF is a documented semi criminal organization that is partly responsible for the present state of Hungary /and the world/. -Credit rating agencies…let me not comment on that based on the past two years. Sapienti sat.. -The EU is a nascent and very important fledgling entity that deserves to live / prosper. Yet at this point it is neither a democracy nor a union. Currently EU policies/laws are not necessarily in the best interest of the member states or even the member states’ all in all majority. It is just a more a covert way to enforce monopoly and the interest of the very few over the many. This… Read more »
GDF
Guest

peter litvanyi: “The IMF is a documented semi criminal organization that is partly responsible for the present state of Hungary /and the world/.”
“What you perhaps haven’t realized is that the present form of capitalism goes against the very idea of democracy.”
What do you suggest we should occupy?

peter litvanyi
Guest
Dear GDF, Denver was a mixed experience for me. At one point they arrested everyone but they were nice about it /and partly they had a point about city rights/. Anyways,as /even perhaps Eva/ knows IMF’s clientele somewhat shrunk. Like it really shrunk quite a bit. Try big chunks like Latin America. “What should we occupy?” Ourselves first. I am a buddhist. There is a lot to do. Say we make friends with JosephSimon. And talk with your neighbour across the fence.Not only talk but listen.After all that it is easy to vote them bastards out next time. It’s just we have to have a better idea based on a consensus.Well, “they” don’t really have an idea just the same bullshit. On the other hand:do WE have an idea? Let’s work on it, my point. Sending this to you / by Charles Bukowski/: Dinosauria, we born like this into this as the chalk faces smile as Mrs. Death laughs as the elevators break as political landscapes dissolve as the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree as the oily fish spit out their oily prey as the sun is masked we are born like this into this into these carefully… Read more »
Dubious
Guest

irányított demokrácia: I think “managed democracy” sounds better but wikipedia uses “guided democracy”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guided_democracy

fdfs
Guest

name

Ron
Guest

MTV misrepresent the situation in the interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit. And apparently, that is okay with the Media Council, and therefore, the complain from PusztaRanger was not honored.
http://index.hu/kultur/media/2012/01/10/nem_vizsgalja_az_nmhh_a_cohn-bendit_riportot/

Paul
Guest

Ron – related story: The US Embassy are asking ATV to correct a “mistranslation” in their interview with the ambassador – http://www.politics.hu/20120110/us-embassy-asks-television-station-for-correction-over-interview-with-ambassador/
PS – can anyone give me the mistranslation (in English)? Ta.

Paul
Guest

Much as I find peter litvanyi’s posts confusing and abhor his rudeness towards Éva, he does make an important point – the danger of “siding with Hitler to get rid of Stalin”.
I am a very long way from being a supporter of the IMF, and yet I find myself ‘on their side’ because of my concern over what OV is doing to Hungary.
Similarly, as much as I am concerned about Orbán, I fully support such things as long-term maternity leave (although not exclusively for the mother) and public transport subsidy. I see these as essential aspects of a civilised society and would not support their abolition or reduction, even if this was done in the name of getting rid of Orbán.
In short, not everything Orbán does/supports is wrong and we must be careful to oppose just those things which are wrong, and not assume blanket opposition, just because it’s easier.
Hungary will pay a heavy price for Orbán’s time in power, but we must be careful that the price isn’t even higher because we adopted the simplistic outlook of ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ – a position, incidentally, taken by the man himself.

enuff
Guest

@Paul
Agree that without natural resources, HU should have concentrate on human capital ;
instead the gov. decided recently that students need not sit for foreign language(s) exam to qualify for uni. entrance. I don’t know how this backward thinking could assist in bettering the future of HU?

Member

Pete Litvanyi and Paul, it is unfortunate but Hungary at this point run out of options on how to keep the machine going. It is like when someone goes bankrupt and wants to get a mortgage or a loan for a new car. The risk that you may fail to repay runs parallel to how high your interest rate will be. THe cost of your car insurance also runs parallel to the risk the insurance company takes. WHen you have three speeding tickets, and maybe even some drunk record, you will not going to get cheap insurance. Hungary is no position to to tell the IMF or for that matter to any lending agency (after it burned it bans with levies, and with a set exchange rate) how we want to borrow money. I have a perfect credit rating and when I was arranging my mortgage it was a breeze to shop around, I know people who cannot get a mortgage. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Paul
Guest

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”
A comfortable position to take if you’re not a beggar.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Probably primeminister V. Orbán, who predicted the downfall of the west, could ask Russia, China, Saudi-Arabia or even Iran to lend Hungary the requested money at a lower interest rate IMF would?

GW
Guest

Karl Pfeifer:
Yes, and especially if he’s willing to offer some more 75-year leases on airports as collateral.

I love Hungary
Guest

@ Karl, this is exactly where the USA could be VERY helpful.
Rather than lecturing Hungary on democracy, which is actually the EU’s problem, we should be focussed on our NATO comittments.
The USA has very legitimate grounds for ensuring external countries do not spread tyranny within NATO nations.
We could also do this quite efficiently.
Or should I say, doing so would be much more effective than wasting breath and ink on Orban.

Guest

Here is a link to the editorial in today’s Washington Post concerning Hungary’s situation: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hungarys-rush-toward-autocracy/2012/01/09/gIQA38ebmP_story.html (via shareaholic)

Mutt Damon
Guest
Mutt Damon
Guest
@Peter: “The IMF is a documented semi criminal organization” Right. They are the ones who can and want to hold back the current government. The perps basically want independent judiciary and central bank. And they do this to give us a loan with interest less than the half of current bond yields. I say bring it on Mr Soprano! Come on we are no Jamaica (Just a bit. Same work moral without the weed). All the IMF and EU are saying is work more and spend less. Of course be careful what you wish for. When these negotiations will be over, Orban kicked in the butt, credit line opened, it will only be a pyrrhic victory. The money will go down the drain right in front of hour eyes. Every benjamin magically will turn into a JOBBIK vote. At least we may not go bankrupt for now. Oh, by the way according to the Magyar Nemzet (right wing newspaper) the EU wants two things in the negotiations: legalization of gay marriage and stopping the investigation on Gyurcsany (previous socialist PM). They are quoting mysterious sources from Brussels. It sounds like the “gays take your guns” rhetoric in the US. If… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest
No mention here so far of this event from Monday(“Hungary’s deficit 10% higher than admitted”), so I venture to cite today’s KURIER. In Ungarn vergeht kein Tag ohne Hiobsbotschaft: Am Montag mussten die Ungarn zugeben, dass das Budgetdefizit im Jahr 2011 mit 1,73 Billionen Forint (etwa 5,5 Mrd. Euro) rund zehn Prozent höher ausgefallen ist als zuletzt geplant. Laut Regierung beträgt das Haushaltsdefizit 6,2 Prozent des Bruttoinlandsprodukts (BIP). Das Ziel von 2,9 Prozent des BIP für 2011 sei allerdings nicht in Gefahr. Denn die im Vorjahr verstaatlichten privaten Rentenkassen seien noch nicht in die Rechnung einbezogen. Experten in Brüssel rechnen damit, dass die EU-Kommission in ihrer Sitzung am Mittwoch Vertragsverletzungsverfahren gegen die Regierung von Viktor Orbán beschließt. Das könnte die Verhandlungen zwischen Budapest und dem Währungsfonds, die Mitte der Woche beginnen sollen, zusätzlich negativ beeinflussen. „Die nächsten Wochen sind für Ungarn entscheidend“, sagt Sándor Richter vom Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche. Der Ökonom ist sich nicht sicher, ob die ungarische Regierung die Bedingungen wie Änderung des Notenbankgesetzes, Rücknahme der Sondersteuern für Banken und ausländische Unternehmen sowie eine vernünftige Wirtschaftspolitik akzeptieren werde. Bekommt Ungarn kein Geld (das Land braucht heuer bis zu zehn Milliarden Euro), steht das Land vor der Pleite.… Read more »
Member
Paul:” “Beggars can’t be choosers.” A comfortable position to take if you’re not a beggar.” It has nothing to do with comfort. I yet to see a poor man in the soup kitchen I help out complain about the food we serve. I never had one person who did not take the slice of bread we give out because it is white bread versus whole wheat. People in position of real need are actually grateful. Nobody forces Hungary to turn to the IMF. THey do not have to go there if they do not want to, simple is that. It is not the IMFs fault that HUngary is where it is today. THey are the ones who will take the risk and if they lend Orban the money, they want to make sure they will get it back. Orban’s “screw you” policies unfortunately undermined not only his spoken words but Hungary’s written contracts. Now the IMF will make sure that Orban cannot do the same to the IMF what he did to the private pensions, what he done to the banks and telecoms. Let’s just put the blame where it is, and not on the IMF. Orban is the one… Read more »
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