Viktor Orbán’s “freedom fight” might end in total defeat

I have to interrupt my summary of Gordon Bajnai’s assessment of and remedies for the current state of the Hungarian economy and political system because too many things happened today. However, I will return to his lengthy analysis as soon as there is a lull in the current onslaught of events.

Let’s start with the most important piece of news coming from Brussels. Although a lot of commentators were skeptical about the effectiveness of the European Commission as a serious factor when it comes to a “rogue” nation like Orbán’s Hungary, it seems that the executive branch of the European Union is taking the Hungarian case quite seriously.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of reasons to doubt that the “punishment” for noncompliance will be substantial. One is the bad experience the European Union had with Austria’s coalition government of Wolfgang Schüssel in 2000 which included Jörg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party. The European Union’s other member states, fourteen in number in those days, decided to cease cooperation with the Austrian government. However, their measures were counterproductive: the Austrian coalition remained in power and the EU had to retreat.

Many today are worried that if the European Union is too tough on the Orbán government the Hungarian population will blame not Viktor Orbán but the European Union for unfairly punishing the country and the Hungarian people. Apparently, Angela Merkel is especially worried about such an outcome while Nicolas Sarkozy would like to take a tougher position.

On the other hand, the structure of the European Union has changed a lot since 2000. By now the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Central Bank have much greater powers to demand compliance from member states. One also must keep in mind that Austria in 2000 wasn’t in a precarious economic position as Hungary is today; it didn’t need money from the IMF and EU. You may recall the Hungarian president’s rather uncouth remark about “the dog barks while the caravan proceeds” in connection with the American criticism of the Orbán government. Well, there is another saying in Hungarian: “Dog barks, money talks.”

In any case the European Union stepped up the pressure today by threatening legal action over the constitution that according to the EU legal experts is not compatible with European Union laws. The European Commission announced today that the new constitution doesn’t guarantee the independence of judges, the central bank, and the data protection agency. Moreover, the media law is being scrutinized again and it is likely that it will be found wanting. In connection with the constitution, the judiciary and the media, the spokeswoman for the Commission announced that “a legally stable environment, based on the rule of law, including respect for media freedom, democratic principles and fundamental rights, is also the best guarantee for citizens’ trust and confidence of partners and investors.”

In addition, Olli Rehn, European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, had some harsh words for Hungary’s fiscal policies, which he considers unsustainable. Moreover, although the Hungarian deficit in 2011 was under 3% it was achieved only by the “nationalization” of private pension funds and therefore cannot be considered to be a “sustainable correction.” In fact, according to calculations, without this injection of ill-gotten money the Hungarian deficit would be over 6%. “Therefore the European Commission proposes to move to the next stage of the Excessive Deficit Procedure and recommends that the Council of Ministers decides that no effective action has been taken to bring the deficit below 3% of the GDP in a sustainable manner” as Reuters reported. Moreover, as Olli Rehn said, Hungary “could … face a suspension of commitments from the cohesion funds from next year, from January 2013 onwards.” That would mean 1.7% of the Hungarian GDP, or 480 billion forints yearly.

Here is a funny clip from a video called “Total defeat”:Lagarde-Orban, Eu

This is just today’s news, but anybody who has been following foreign comments on Hungary knows that the criticism of the Orbán government has been incessant and exceedingly harsh. So, the Hungarian government decided to counterattack.

Naturally, they didn’t put out János Lázár or Lajos Kósa, two of the hard liners, to defend Hungary’s honor but those who have somewhat better reputations abroad. First, János Martonyi, who seems to be willing to defend the indefensible. He gave an interview to Le Figaro and later to The Guardian. In both interviews he staunchly defended Hungary’s democratic commitments. In the latter interview he confidently announced that “we can put to the streets 10 times more people than they [the opposition] can.” Up to now Viktor Orbán hasn’t tried to organize a pro-government demonstration because apparently the administration fears that the crowd might not be as big as they would like. Martonyi also wrote a fairly long letter to his fellow foreign ministers of all European Union countries in which he tried to explain the “real” situation in Hungary. So, it is clear that Viktor Orbán is counting on Martonyi’s good reputation abroad.

Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of communication, was dispatched to Paris to have “background conversations” with French newspapermen at the Hungarian Embassy. During the conversation he naturally denied all criticism as unfounded and tried to convince the French newsmen that Hungary under the Orbán government is a thoroughly democratic country. I have the feeling that he wasn’t terribly successful.

Tibor Navracsics wrote an article for the Conservative Home where he defended both the constitution and the cardinal laws.

President Pál Schmitt was also instructed to defend the the Orbán government. During the usual New Year’s reception for foreign diplomats he gave a speech and complained about “the international attacks and criticisms.” According to him the new constitution conforms “to European norms.” Any attempt to force Hungary to change any of the cardinal laws means “questioning the sovereignty of the country.”

Unfortunately for the Orbán government it’s a bit late for damage control.

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Wondercat
Guest

Prof Balogh, you must have academic contacts at the Semmelweiss. What response is brewing with respect to Schmitt Pal’s alleged plagiarism? Guttenberg in Germany was forced to hand back his doctoral degree…
Worse, really, than the peculation in which Germany’s president is alleged to have indulged. This story should run and run.

Petofi
Guest

I’m amazed that noone yet, as far as I know, has suggested that
Orban is achieving exactly what he wants! The logic of his actions
suggest that his aims are: a) the eviction of Hungary from the EU;
b) the destruction of Hungary.
If this isn’t so, why would he insult all those influential people on whose good opinion the hopeless Felegi will rely?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wandercat: “What response is brewing with respect to Schmitt Pal’s alleged plagiarism? Guttenberg in Germany was forced to hand back his doctoral degree…”
What I know so far is that Schmitt’s office denies the accusation. He and the Bulgarian historian know each other and worked together a lot in the past. The head of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, on the other hand, said that they will most likely have to investigate.
To me it seems like blatant plagiarism. It also seems to me that the requirements of this so-called university must be very low. There are no footnotes in the dissertation at all and yet he got summa cum laude.
Moreover, something is very suspicious here. He mentioned the two sources he plagiarized from in the bibliography, but he made sure that it would be difficult to find them. He gave the titles in Hungarian instead of French and the place of publication was also altered to Bulgaria instead of Switzerland. That tells me that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Kingfisher
Guest

This scandal was broken by HVG which is one of the last bastions of journalistic quality in Hungary, so it seems extremely likely to be true.
There are many conspiracy theories flying around to the effect that Orbán is responsible for the leak and is planning to somehow assume Schmitt’s seat himself. But I find this unlikely.

Member

I would love to know how did this got out and why. Maybe there are a lot of people out there in Hungary who do research work on the program of the new age Olympics Games, especially looking into analysis in French and in Hungarian. I assume that Schmitt’s work never been translated either. Who is the mole? Do you think Orban is trying to pull a Putin-Medvedev?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “Do you think Orban is trying to pull a Putin-Medvedev?”
It ocurred to some people, including Gyurcsány. See his facebook page. Even György Bolgár mentioned it as a possibility and he is not the type who falls for conspiration theories.

Member

Well, here is an other interesting morsel:
“A Magyar Akkreditációs Bizottság (MAB) honlapján elérhető, 1994 óta vezetett országos doktori és habilitációs nyilvántartásban nem találtuk Schmitt Pál nevét, ami arra utal, hogy 1994 után nem kérvényezte kisdoktorija átminősítését. (Az Európai Parlament honlapján található angol nyelvű életrajzában Schmitt doktori fokozata Ph.D.-ként van feltüntetve.) Rácz hangsúlyozta, az átminősítés feltételekhez volt kötve, az eljárás nem automatikus.”
Schmitt in 1992 did not earn a Ph.D. as defined by national standards. The Ph.D. certification in Hungary came to standard in 1993. Scmitt actually only holds a small doctorate. In order to be credited with a Ph.D. he would of need to apply for a reclassification.
So here is the translation:
“On the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (HAC) website that contains the records of the Hungarian doctoral and habilitation since 1994, we could not find Pal Schmitt’s name, which suggests that after 1994 he did not requested the reclassification of his “small doctorate”. (Schmitt Pal’s English-language biography contains his doctoral degree as a Ph.D. on the European Parliament’s website.) Racz, stressed the reclassification was subject to conditions, the procedure is not automatic. “

Member

Sorry, the later quote was from HVG.

nwo
Guest

It is about time for Parlament to burn down.

Paul
Guest

What is a “small doctorate”? Is there an equivalent in the UK or US systems?
This adds to my suspicions of Hungarian ‘doctorates’. There are far too many people with ‘Dr’ in front of their name (far more than you see in the UK, for instance) – and many of them don’t seem to have the sort of educational background (or ability) I would expect.
I have a friend who is a ‘doctor’ after qualifying as a notary. In the UK that would give you letters after you name (like someone qualified as an accountant or solicitor, say), but no way would you be a doctor.

Member

Small doctorate is “Dr. univ. is an abbreviation for “doctor universitatis” (doctor of university in English). It was a doctoral rank in Hungary classified between Master of Arts and CSc (Candidatus Scientiarum = old-style PhD). It was abolished in the 1990s; i.e., no more dr.univ. degrees were given. Many of those already having dr. univ. degree had it converted into PhD.” wikipedia
It is below the requirements of PhD.

An
Guest

@Paul: My grandma used to use her husband’s title…I am not sure whether this is still customary, but it definitely was in her generation. I always found that funny because my grandma had only an 8th grade education.
For example, Dr.Kovacs Jenone may not even have a doctorate; maybe it’s the husband who has the title, Dr Kovacs Jeno. Of course,it is also possible that Kovacs Jenone earned a doctorate, but from the name you won’t necessary know.
Kisdoktori and nagydoktori used to be the names of the doctoral degrees before the PhD was introduced in the 1990s. Nagydoktori was the more prestigious one, but I really don’t know the details.

Paul
Guest

An – it is still very common. And very confusing!
We bought our flat from a woman with the title ‘Dr’, but this really puzzled me because she was so stupid and ignorant. I kept trying to make allowances for her, assuming that there must be more to her than I understood.
Then I mentioned it to my wife one day and she explained the situation!
The Hungarian side of our family is full of doctors (medical ones), and one of them is married to another doctor and uses the full married woman’s name – i.e. his and her names combined, and with ‘doctor’ in it TWICE!
I thought this was a joke when I first saw it and laughed! One of my many cross-cultural faux-pas…

Paul
Guest
Slightly OT – we had one of our ‘Orbán’ conversations tonight. I try to avoid them these days as they don’t do much promote a happy marriage, but my wife was fresh off the phone from a long conversation with her mother, who had “explained everything”. She started to ‘explain’ to me how I had misunderstood what Orbán was doing (etc, etc…), but she had the misfortunes to start with his idea for cutting down university places. This is one of my pet topics – the insanity of being the only country in the world deliberately reducing the number of graduates it produces – so I was reluctantly drawn into the ‘discussion’. However, it didn’t last too long, as it rapidly degenerated into inarticulate noises of amazement from me – coupled with much, equally inarticulate, waving of hands. The reason? My wife calmly assured me that Orbán knew that there were too many graduates in Hungary and was taking steps to reduce their number. After all, she said, what does a small country like Hungary need so many graduates for? And this is from a woman who holds a degree level qualification, and whose family have nearly all got degrees,… Read more »
An
Guest
@Paul: “And this is from a woman who holds a degree level qualification, and whose family have nearly all got degrees, and who would move heaven and earth to get our kids into university.” This is actually not as contradictory as it seems. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t endorse your wife’s view of education, but I think I know where she is coming from. This is an elitist view of education that has its roots in the old aristocratic society which was still very much characteristic of Hungary in the early 20th century (an era Fidesz has such nostalgic feelings for). In this view, education is PRIMARILY seen as a privilege and degrees as status symbols, and higher degrees are only accessible to the “higher” members of society. Education is important not for knowledge or expertise, or even getting a better job,but for providing certain status or rank… If you think that way, then you really don’t need many graduates; it’s only the higher classes whose children need to get the appropriate degree to reaffirm their status. Your wife’s family seems to be one of those families that give the core support to Fidesz’s “let’s recreate the aristocratic milieu… Read more »
enuff
Guest

@Paul,
your family stories fascinate me! May I know where your MIL got her source of knowledge? (not joking, serious)
@An,
your theory is exactly what I told my Hungarian hubby ; which he thinks that I’m being too imaginative :p

Wondercat
Guest

@Prof Balogh: Thank you. Different faculties at the Semmelweiss must use different standards; I think that the biological-sciences work there with which I am familiar is of good quality.
@Some1: Since the Guttenberg scandal another German politician has been accused of similarly cut-and-pasting her doctoral work. My impression is that text-comparison programmes are being applied to publications issued over the names of many politically prominent persons. To check Schmitt’s work against publications on similar themes would be a doddle — there can’t be that many such theses.
@An: Interesting. In France as well this elaborate system of condescensions and precedences informs social relations within market towns; “petite noblesse”. Cf. PERSUASION: “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one… Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.”

Gábor
Guest
I fear the low quality of Schmitt’s works has nothing to do with lower standards of the university which issued it. Remember, Schmitt started a four year a four year tenure as ambassador to Madrid in 1993 and that time everyone assumed it is the first step in a long campaign to follow Samaranch as President of the IOC. He was presented in Hungary as an intimate of Samaranch, a possible heir to him, a situation and a relationship strenghtened by Schmitt’s presence in Spain. I can easily imagine Schmitt’s doctorate was taken as a higher interest, a means to make his bid stronger. In the hierarchical structure of a Hungarian university (especially in case of a peripheric one) it was very easy to pressure his reviewers to give him good evaluation. (Especially as one if the reviewers was a lecturer of Marxism-Leninism, a species in danger that time.) The other one a historian, whose specific field is the Greek Antiquity, and he still detected that the dissertation is problematic. From the above follows that the information was not necessarily leaked deliberately from political circles. I’m sure a relatively large number of people knew it in 1992 and someone simply… Read more »
Robert Johnson
Guest

It seems that for a Hungarian President, Schmitt knows very little about the Hungarian language >
http://riowang.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-defense.html
“Schmitt’s speech produced a general surprise – not with its content which was just as banal and awkward as it was to be expected – but rather with its orthography.
The short text, as it was published on the president’s personal site, contained no less than seventeen grave errors, including two striking ones in the very first line of the Hungarian national anthem quoted at the end of the speech.”
Image: comment image

Hank
Guest

Off topic, or not?
It seems the government is now also mobilizing Hungarians abroad to defend Orbán c.s. They have send out a letter asking them to correct the criticism appearing in foreign media publications and paint a realistic picture of the situation. (see below). Attached are also summaries of the main laws that are being critisized (I haven’t read these summaries and can’t judge how accurate they are or are not).
A Magyar Diaszpóra Tanács tagjai
részére
Kedves Barátaink!
A Magyar Diaszpóra Tanács alakulásakor Magyarország és a diaszpórában élő magyarság kölcsönös
egymás iránti felelősség vállalására, elkötelezettségére és egymás segítésére építettünk.
Most amikor a világ minden részén össztűz zúdul Magyarországra és a magyar Kormányra, sokan
jelezték, hogy a rendelkezésükre álló lehetőségeket felhasználva tenni kívánnak. Fontosnak tartjuk mi
is, hogy válaszoljanak a médiában olvasható írásokra, kommentárokra, amelyek számos esetben
szá ndékosa n torzító és félremagyarázó szándékka l jelen nek meg.
Ehhez kívánunk segítő, tájékoztató anyagokat küldeni, amelyek felhasználásával országukban
reálisabb képet alakíthatnak ki Magyarországről és a kormány tevékenységéről.
Őszintén remélem, hogy együttműködésünknek ez a formája is tovább erősíti magyar közösségeink
összetartozását és egymásért törődését.
Az Új esztendő kezdetén a Diaszpóra Tanács tagjainak, egyházaiknak, szervezeteiknek és
egyesületeiknek áldásokat, eredményes munkát és bölcsességet kíván
Budapest, 201,2. január 1,I.
üdvözlettel:
Répás Zsuzsanna
helyettes államtitkár
a Magyar Diaszpóra Tanács titkára

list your property for Olympics
Guest

What a lovely preview of information. Thanks for the info. Keep up the good work.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “Nagydoktori was the more prestigious one, but I really don’t know the details.”
The nagydoktori was given out by the Academy and that really meant something. The kisdoktori never meant anything. Not even between the two world wars. My father told me that for he wrote many for others.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wondercat: “Different faculties at the Semmelweiss must use different standards”
It was only a few years ago that the former Testnevelési Főiskola (College of Sports) was attached to Semmelweis. They don’t have much to do with each other otherwise.

Kingfisher
Guest

It is rather odd to get up this morning to find that almost none of the internet news sites are giving much prominence to the Schmitt scandal. Given that if true, one of the highest dignitaries in the land would be forced into a humiliating resignation, it surely ought to be headline news. But at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be.
Hungarian news priorities have long been odd and continue to be so!

Paul
Guest

The BBC is really stepping up its coverage. They’ve sent their top economics man, Paul Mason, to Budapest and made an 8 minute video of the situation.
It’s typical BBC – tries a little too hard to be ‘balanced’ in places – but it’s not bad and quite comprehensive (covers Klubrádió, the hunger strike, right-wing theatre takeover, Jobbik, etc). For people coming to the Hungarian situation for the first time it will be quite a shock.
Not sure if it’s available outside the UK (I’d like to know if it isn’t).
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16522848
PS – please forgive the British pronunciation in places!

Paul
Guest

Robert – sorry, but this is from last year. This year’s New Year speech was apparently a lot better.

Kingfisher
Guest

Anything that keeps Nick Thorpe away from reporting gets my vote! I don’t know how well known this is, but his wife was (and possibly still is) a member of Fidesz which explains his extraordinary lack of objectivity expressed over the last decade. How on earth a BBC man can write a piece in HVG giving encouragement to “barátaim” (Fidesz following the 2006 election) and still retain his job is beyond me.

Member

Regarding the not-so-bold Nick, the authoriship of the 9th comment on this pro-Orban piece by Vik’s Brit poodle, Tibor Fischer is intriguing.
Of course, it may not be *that* Nick T and it “may” even be someone impersonating *that* Nick T. But what a coincidence, eh?

save Hungary
Guest

@Paul,
The link is working, thanks!

Member