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

In the first two installments of my summary of Gordon Bajnai’s critique of the current state of affairs in Hungary and his vision for the country after Viktor Orbán, I finished with two important topics: the state of Hungarian democracy and the country’s economy. Rounding out his essay, Bajnai writes about two other topics: social stability and international relations.

Social stability. Because of the economic shock caused by the change from state capitalism to a free market economy a large segment of Hungarian society, about one million people, found themselves without jobs and, because of their meager educational attainment, without prospects. Great hopes turned into bitter disappointment. In Bajnai’s opinion by the time of the 2002 election campaign it became clear that elections were being decided by those whose “interest lies in redistribution,” that is, in social services and payments portioned out by the government to the inactive or very poor segments of society. This group naturally includes a very large group of people who already receive relatively high government pensions. Thus both left and right began courting these groups, offering them more and more social benefits. This “short-sighted” strategy gradually hurt the country’s competitive position in the global economy. At the same time the governments–in this case the socialist-liberal ones–paid no attention to the problems of labor inactivity, an aging population, the low birth rate, the Roma issue, and the hopeless economic situation that existed in certain regions of the country.

It is true that beginning in 2006 the tax system was changed so that the gap between rich and poor was reduced somewhat, but the very high level of redistribution remained unchanged. And then came the 2008 world economic crisis which threatened the financial stability of even the working middle class in Hungary. And to the woes one must add the country-specific problem of indebtedness in foreign currencies.

After the 2010 elections Fidesz’s “campaign mask,” given the very limited financial possibilities, had to be removed. One could then discover “the real social philosophy of Fidesz,” which was that the greatest assistance be given to the better-off segment of society even “at the price of the complete division of society between rich and poor.” Bajnai gives a few examples of this policy, among them the new tax system and the severely limited opportunity for higher education for the poorer strata of society. Fidesz is doing exactly the opposite of what it should if it wanted to narrow the gap between rich and poor and create a more uniformly prosperous society.

International Relations. By virtue of the fact that in the last ten years or so Hungary’s economic and societal achievements diminished, the country’s importance on the international scene also decreased. However, “what happened in the last eighteen months has ruined Hungary’s reputation.” Hungary’s allies watched the activities of the Orbán government, first with incomprehension and later with growing alarm and criticism. “There is no country of importance that would look on Hungary as an important and valuable partner. One shudders to think what would happen if a situation similar to the 2009 Hungarian-Slovak dispute occurred” because Hungary no longer has any friends who would come to her aid.

Conclusion. “Democracy in tatters, an economy that is heading toward bankruptcy, deeply divided society, and a Hungary that is marching out of Europe. This is the terrible result of the last year and a half.” A radical change is needed “and without delay.” The best solution would be the current government’s “self-correction.” One cannot completely discard this possibility, but “the current leadership of Fidesz and its policies up until now” don’t make it a probable outcome.

Therefore it will be the next elections in 2014 that will decide Hungary’s fate. Bajnai quotes Edmund Burke’s well known saying that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” A change of government is possible only if “there is an electable alternative on the political spectrum.” But even if the opposition can offer an alternative, the new electoral law, to use Bajnai’s words, was written in such a way that Fidesz has a handicap of 30 meters in a 100 meter dash.

Electability today is in part “a management question.” The opponents need a nationwide organization, competitive local and nationally known candidates, and enough financial backing which must be transparent. They must be able to access the local and nationwide media, and finally they need “an attractive political package.” All this means an incredible amount of work, time, and organizational ability.

The likelihood that one dominant party will be able to achieve a change of government is unlikely and therefore “the cooperation of many democratic organizations and parties will be unavoidable.” When talking about “cooperation,” Bajnai seems to be advocating “joint lists.”

A change of government makes sense only if “instead of the current destructive governance it is able to build a better, more successful country. That new government will not have time to experiment or learn on the job… This new government will have to be ready with an immediately applicable program.”

Bajnai warns against the “swinging of the pendulum” after a victory by the joint forces of the democratic opposition even though after the aggressive Fidesz rule the urge to “pay back” might be strong. One of the most important tasks of the new government will be to reach a wide-based national consensus concerning the goals of Hungarian society for years to come. For that the new government will need the agreement of the democratically-minded right-wing voters as well. The country simply can no longer bear the practice of the past that every four years everything was turned upside down in all spheres of public life.

Bajnai believes that after 2014 Hungary will be “basically a different country than it was before the revolution in the voting booths. A more tired, a more suspicious, a more experienced, and perhaps wiser but fundamentally different. Its middle will be somewhere else, its threshhold of acceptance, and its priorities will be elsewhere than now. Perhaps it will have learned by then that waiting for miracles and the loss of hope are the two greatest enemies of sustainable economic growth. And perhaps it will realize that democracy is like oxygen. While it is around we don’t notice it. But being without it means instant death.”

Here I would like to insert an old HVG cover from the spring of 2009 when there was the greatest uncertainty about who would follow Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who unexpectedly resigned. Eventually out of this veil emerged Gordon Bajnai.

Bajnai, HVG utodjatek

               Successor game, HVG, March 28, 2009

Bajnai’s last sentence in this essay is: “Only such a person can undertake the task of governing who understands these necessary changes.” One must conclude that Gordon Bajnai seems to understand them.

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Thanks Eva. I especially like the following word by Bajnai: “And perhaps it will realize that democracy is like oxygen. While it is around we don’t notice it. But being without it means instant death”.

A little cold reality: With the new election rules, half the number of MPs, virtually a ‘first past the post’ voting system, and the gerrymandered constituencies, it’s going to be very difficult for anybody except Fidesz to win many seats in 2014. Assuming that Fidesz survives the current crisis un-split (whether Orbán survives or not) it will win, if not a majority, certainly far more seats than any other party. The small parties will have a job to win any seats at all. Even Jobbik will struggle, as they don’t have the level of organisation and money that the new system will require. Although I would still expect them to poll more votes than in 2010, because of the fallout from Fidesz. MSzP will struggle, but should still manage to get a decent number of seats, perhaps a slightly higher percentage than currently. So, what does that leave us with? Probably a Fidesz majority and government – possibly a Fidesz led minority government – but supported by whom? What there won’t be, unless Orbán decides to go down with Hungary some time in the next few weeks, is an ‘opposition’ government, or even a large number of ‘opposition’ seats (excluding… Read more »

Sorry for being off subject, but maybe it is not so off..
Talking about he January 21st demonstration for Fidesz…
A recent news about North Korea: “authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings” to mourn the death of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, and to those “who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.” Newser reports that mourners who came off as insincere have already been sent to labor camps.”

“Therefore it will be the next elections in 2014 that will decide Hungary’s fate. Bajnai quotes Edmund Burke’s well known saying that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” A change of government is possible only if “there is an electable alternative on the political spectrum.” But even if the opposition can offer an alternative, the new electoral law, to use Bajnai’s words, was written in such a way that Fidesz has a handicap of 30 meters in a 100 meter dash.” It is very brave to keep up the spirit in adversity. 100 points to Bajnai. In April 2010 my Jewish Hungarian girlfriend was quite upset. I told her, as a historically conscious German, what would happen next, one way or another. And that it would be much worse than she imagined and would take much longer. It all happened as I said. She hated my for my pessimism. And I wasn’t happy at all that I was right. Why mention the 2014 elections if everybody knows that there either won’t be any or they will be won by Fidesz anyway? Really, why? Schizophrenia? Orbán has to be wiped away by… Read more »

Minusio – a depressing, but pretty accurate summary.

Odin's Lost Eye
Hungary has been under a single centralised control for many hundred years. This gave the democratic process only one choice. It is which centralize party to choose from. Now even that choice has been removed. The current government has played of the nationalist card. They have been kidding the Hungarians that they are something that they are not and which they never have been. That is a great, powerful and glorious nation which. Some have fallen for this myth. Earlier governments have also played the ‘personal possessions’ card. When combined with, as Bajnai comments, with a high redistribution policy this has lead to the land and its peoples being deep in personal debt. The Viktator has become very biblical in that only those who have (money) shall receive (money) and those do not have (money) then even that which they do have shall be taken away from them. If he thinks that the ‘Plutocracy’ he has created will fight for him, The Viktator is mistaken their money has long been tucked away in Swiss/lLichtenstein banks and they have houses outside Hungary. I am reading a book by Robert Gellately called “Lenin, Stalin and Hitler –The age of social catastrophe”-. From… Read more »

Hey London Calling!
Hear this!
I’ve just heard Zanab Badawi well and truly skewer Zoltan Kovacs on the BBC World Service Hard Talk – for a full half hour interview!
Evasive – mis-understanding questions (well answering a different question!) and stumbling badly!
Zanab is a well known journalist who used to be on the respected Channel Four News channel.
She well and truly skewered him!
Try this link


CharlieH : “Zoltan Kovacs on the BBC World Service Hard Talk – for a full half hour interview!” (Thank you for the link.)
If you haven’t listened to it. Try the following. Start listening to the questions, pause, and try to guess what Kovacs will say. I did this before I sent off my daughter to school, and she was laughing, asking me how did I know what the guy will say? (I did not know word by word, but I certainly got the just of it.)


London Calling (2)!
Apologies for OT
If you have trouble with the above link try this:
(This is the Hard Talk homepage – and I believe it is available overseas. You will have to find the program there. It hasn’t been listed yet)
Orban insists he is a ‘professional politician’ – He might regret giving the ball to Zoltan – who comes over as very inexperienced – not confident at all. Maybe he should have passed the ball to Matolcsy? Orban won’t be pleased!


@ Charlie, I had no problem with the original link and I am oversees.
An other important news:
“Since mid-December, the Strasbourg [European Court of Human Rights], said it has received nearly 8,000 individual applications against Hungary relating to the controversial changes to the pension system [and] the early retirement of judges and prosecutors.
Erik Fribergh, registrar of the European Court of Human Rights, said these cases raise essentially identical issues, primarily the replacement of the applicants’ retirement pensions, which were not subject to income tax, by an allowance which is taxable at 16%.”
Because of the number of complaints from Hungary about the same things, they had to “alter” the normal procedure to deal with all. THe only way they will be able to deal wit this influx is by asking “the relevant trade unions in Hungary to resubmit applications as a class action, annexing lists of the individual applicants’ names and details, in a form which will enable it to register and process them efficiently.”


One might expect a programme from the World Service to be available on the net outside the UK – there is a small clue in the name of the service…
Cracking link though – she pinned him down far better than the histrionic guy on the CNN link the other day.
She knew her stuff in detail, and he had no real answer to anything! All he could do was keep repeating the same vacuous Fidesz PR phrases.
The final ‘justicication was that “Orbán is a democrat and a devoted family man – he’s a good man”. The old Fidesz bollocks that all is OK because you can trust Orbán! (Sorry for the language, but I here this EVERY DAY!)
He won’t be getting any brownie points for this.


OT – but back on my favourite topic: the fate of the forint!
Optimists (i.e. Fidesz PR) might point to its recovery as a Good Thing, but, although it did recover a bit, it’s now stuck around the 310 to the Euro mark, indeed it’s showing signs of gradually rising again.
OK, so this isn’t as bad as the post-Christmas 323 peak, but 310 is still pretty bad – an 18% depreciation since July. And perhaps worse is the fact that, despite the current calm, the forint hasn’t recovered any further.
The message from the market is surely, OK we’ve taken our hand off the panic button, but we’re watching you, Orbán. One step out of line and off we go again!
How long can Orbán hesitate for before he has to take THE decision?
My Dad, now sadly no longer with us, used to say such situations were like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I wish Orbán would hurry up and take that second shoe off!

Odin's Lost Eye

All of this is jolly good news! Except I seem to remember that the Hungarian parliament has passed a law which allows them to raise a special tax to pay any fines/awards/damages awarded by the various European courts.
This tax would be a separate item of tax and not concealed in the general fiscal proceedings.
If this is true it is designed to raise the Hungarian peoples antipathy against the European Judicial process

London Calling again! In Bajnai’s analysis – very comprehensive – very interesting – and very penetrating, there seems to have been one thing that has been overlooked here – and everywhere. (Unless you’ve covered it in an earlier post that I haven’t read Eva! A ‘search’ facility on here would be very useful?) One of the reasons that Hungary has been made to look so foolish on the world stage is the sheer incompetence of the legal processes. In a democracy such as the UK’s, for example, even if legislation is being pushed through rapidly there is a huge and necessary legal department ensuring that all legislation and other matters are compliant with any treaties that have been signed. In addition legal interpretations will also be posited as to how the laws will be viewed on the world stage. Any laws passed therefore will have been so thoroughly scrutinised that the external agencies, such as the EU, IMF and NATO to name a few would almost rubber stamp the documents – any contentious issues would have been flagged up and negotiated in advance. In Hungary’s case it’s “here’s what we’ve passed, is it ok? – We’ll change it if you… Read more »

@ Charlie, There is a search function at the top left corner.
I am afraid that at this point the cross-referencing with International treaties “department” would be just an other layer to dismiss. Orban is not in the business to scrutinize his ad-hoc ideas government, quite the opposite, he dissembles everything that would slow down his decision making process for more then a day. When you call for lawyers… Orban is a lawyer, and so are many of his friends with the cushy jobs.


Iplayer isn’t restricted, Charlie, the content is. So some things will work abroad, but (in my experience) many don’t. It appears to be entirely down to copyright issues.
Incidently, MTV also have an iplayer these days, and that doesn’t seem to have any copyright issues. We were in the UK this Christmas, and everything we tried to watch worked OK.


@CharlieH; “One of the reasons that Hungary has been made to look so foolish on the world stage is the sheer incompetence of the legal processes.”
This is largely because new legislation is operating “Orban style”. Almost all new bills were introduced by individual members of the parliament, rather than by the government (as it is normally done), to circumvent the longish procedure of reviews and debate. So, it is not that the Hungarian Parliament does not have the proper procedures in place to make sure new laws are not flawed, it’s only that Orban decided to go around these procedures to speed up the process. The result? Hasty law-making with lots of mistakes.
As for the EU-conformity of the new laws… OV simply didn’t care. I think he wanted to push through everything the way he wanted it to be, and then, he thought, if the EU is to press him hard, he may change things here and there. I think it was actually a conscious strategy of his.


London Calling!(Sorry! Last time!)
I’ve found it!

This is a classic – apologies if you’ve already seen it. But at least you can check out my summary above.
Even so – I think I am still confused!


Commentator – Bowen posted a link for
Peace March for Hungary (Békemenet Magyarországért) on 21st Jan.
Was checking to see how many attendees, but the page on facebook doesn’t exist, has it been cancelled?


Thanks Charlie, but if you listen carefully, he does make sense as he qualifies his statement by saying someone can sometimes be BOTH a good politician and a good businessman – but each talent on its own doesn’t mean the person will be good at the other profession.
Although he took a lot longer to say it than I just did!
Is he right? We have so few ex-business people in politics in the UK that it’s impossible to say. But perhaps a business man wouldn’t have made such a mess of the economy.
I can’t find the date when this video was made,but I assume it’s recent? He’s not looking good – rather jowly, and he really should face up to receding hair, that comb-over quiff isn’t working!


Charlie, interesting link. I think what Orban is trying to say here that being a good businessman and being a good politician requires different sets of skills. So a good businessman is not necessarily a good politician, and vice versa.
This actually could be a valid point; both require leadership skills, but in a very different setting. Some skills may overlap, some may not. Coming from him, my guess is that he thinks that a politician should be a good tactician above all else, one who is able to manage public sentiment – though he totally ignores the fact that businesses have that side too (PR and marketing). I think he is just using this as a justification for his lack of business and economic knowledge.

Mutt Damon

Typical Orban. When dictators throw their arms into the air saying “I can’t do everything myself”.
If he knew what his job is he would not be explaining this in the first place. Of course you don’t have to be a businessman, your job is to pick the right people who can do the job and listen to them. Then explain your decisions to your constituents. Your not the Messaih you are just a freakin PM.

Charlie/An – re “Hasty law-making with lots of mistakes”. I posted on just this topic a few days ago, following a post from Kirsten that raised the topic. I suspect it got lost in the ‘noise’ last time, so forgive me for posting it again: “the new so-called legal system… is such a mess that even lawyers do not yet know what kind of constitutional arrangement has been introduced” Good point, Kirsten. In the UK, and I’m sure this is the case elsewhere too, bills go through seemingly endless examination and redrafting before becoming law. The initial idea is reviewed by experts before even coming before the House. It then gets passed to a committee (of all parties) for detailed consideration and amendment, before coming back to the House of Commons. If passed, it is then sent to the House of Lords for their consideration, and they often insist on further amendments – and can delay bills for months, even years, if they don’t like them. Finally, the bill returns to the Commons, where it is voted on to become (or not) law. Yet, even after this long and detailed process, new laws often have loopholes and flaws in them,… Read more »
Csoda. Kegy

Anyone smoother than Kovács just would not have any credibility 🙁 (Just think how cheesy would the silken tones of a PR pro would come across…)
Seriously though both he and the interviewer get into a mess at times and they do correct their pronunciation fauz-pas (beat / Fidesz). For anyone who wants to see the whole Hardtalk 24min interview here is the link to it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01b3d0l/HARDtalk_Zoltan_Kovacs_Government_Communication_Minister_Hungary/ (But you will need to access it from a UL IP)


Csoda – it would be difficult to have less credibility that Kovács. I’m afraid that to the average Brit he just confirms all their stereotypes of central Europe.
It’s like your poor, uneducated country bumpkin cousin wandered into the city. Much as I am pleased to see an Orbánite look silly, it pains me to have a stereotype I have been fighting against for over 10 year ‘proven’.
I was very impressed with the interviewer though, she even managed a passable attempt at ‘Sólyom László’, which, for most Brits, is a nightmare!

Eva S. Balogh

Paul: “Much as I am pleased to see an Orbánite look silly.”
He was rattled and with good reason. The questions were very hard and almost impossible to answer. He did as well a he could under the circumstances.
As for his English. The problem with some Hungarians that they think that mumbling means good English pronunciation.


Bajnai: “Fidesz is doing exactly the opposite of what it should if it wanted to narrow the gap between rich and poor and create a more uniformly prosperous society.”
Scotsman: “this gem of traditional values”
I think these two statements are related. Bajnai suggests that it is “natural” to wish to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Judging from Fidesz policies since 2010, I think this must be considered “left-wing” policies, while Fidesz is sticking to traditions, and these – indeed – are not guided by a flattening of the income distribution but by the principle that everyone should be content with the position he was “born” into (or assigned to by Fidesz = the nation).


“As for his English. The problem with some Hungarians that they think that mumbling means good English pronunciation.”
I have some sympathy for him here, as we are ‘famous’ for speaking without opening our mouths very much. (Try the Hungarian á sound when you are used to speaking without opening your mouth!)
I think we must be a nation of natural ventriloquists!