Viktor Orbán in Strasbourg: A day after

An article in Hírszerző depicted the reactions of the Hungarian media to yesterday’s major event: the discussion on Hungary in the European Parliament and Viktor Orbán’s appearance before that body. The author of the short note copied out some seemingly conflicting headlines describing the same event: “Viktor Orbán gave a lesson to vindictive MPs,” “Superficial accusations and emotions–According to Viktor Orbán we can be proud of our constitution,” “Viktor Orbán became broadminded,” “Orbán won,” “Dialogue among the deaf,” “Orbán’s war against Europe: Napoleon in Russia,” “Accommodating government, sharp exchanges, willing prime minister.”

These very headlines reveal a lot about the political philosophy of the paper in which they appeared. The one exception is Zsófia Mihancsik’s “Orbán won” that appeared on the liberal Galamus. She is convinced that Viktor Orbán managed to fool the whole world and that “we are again alone,” as she put it at the end of the article. According to her “the Union is helpless, the interest of the western media will die, nobody is trying to look behind the nice words.” This article seemed to have moved a lot of hearts in Hungarian liberal circles, but I find Népszabadság‘s headline on the subject more convincing: “This was only the first round.” Especially since Martin Schulz, the new speaker of the European Parliament, halfway through the debate told the newspapermen waiting for him that “it is not enough to listen to Viktor Orbán. The members of the opposition and the civic society must also be heard.” And indeed, this would be the only fair way of dealing with the Hungarian situation.

The right-wing politicians and the media complain bitterly about some of the mistakes made by the critics of Viktor Orbán, and indeed there were some who were not too well prepared. On the other hand, I was struck by the uniformity in the content of those MPs who supported the Hungarian government. It was clear to me that the Fidesz delegation to the European Parliament did a good job of preparing their sympathizers before they rose to the defense of the Hungarian government. It was equally clear to me that the MSZP delegation was not so diligent. They were supposed to send a summary of the political events that had taken place in Hungary in the last year and a half. They may have done this, but it seems that they neglected to do the necessary lobbying and prep work. Or, it is possible that the MSZP delegates consulted only with the keynote speakers of the delegations sympathetic to their cause.

So, for example, the new leader of the socialist caucus, Hannes Swoboda, was very well prepared. But then again Swoboda is an Austrian and thus he might be more familiar with Hungarian politics than the average European delegate. Swoboda pointed out that changing the legal language is not the answer to the problems Hungarian democracy faces; the problem lies with the spirit embedded in the new Hungarian laws.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals, was very specific. He talked about thirty worrisome laws that might not be in conformity with fundamental democratic values. Verhofstadt also mentioned the letter signed by the members of the Democratic Opposition which was also published on this blog. Viktor Orbán in his concluding remarks returned to this letter and claimed that Verhofstadt “forgot to mention that those who signed that letter used to be liberal politicians who in 2010 couldn’t even get into parliament.” This, as with so many other Orbán statements yesterday, is not entirely accurate. Not all of them were politicians, although admittedly they are all of the liberal persuasion. Verhofstadt shot back: “To be a liberal is not a sickness. You were a liberal once, before you became a nationalist.”

The bête noire of the Hungarian right is Daniel Cohn-Bendit who again was in great form. Reacting to Viktor Orbán’s claim that Hungary was the last country to adopt a new constitution and that it had used the 1949 constitution, Cohn-Bendit said to him: “So, all of us were raving mad because we accepted a country into the Union which had a Stalinist constitution?”

 

Daniel Cohn-Bendit in his element

Cohn-Bendit knew about the Budapest theater that was handed over to two men known for their anti-semitism. Some of the people knew about the fate of Klubrádió and the appointment of József Szájer’s wife to head the National Judicial Office, which raised the ire of József Szájer who rushed to his wife’s defense.

Although one of the Hungarian papers claimed that Viktor Orbán “sat without any facial expression,” this wasn’t exactly the case. He often expressed his displeasure or shook his head in disbelief. A few times one could see his well known sarcastic smile.

Viktor Orbán looking solemn

The question is whether Viktor Orbán won or lost yesterday. He certainly had to retreat, but on the whole he cut a better figure than he did the last time he was in Strasbourg. But whether this retreat is genuine or not only time will tell. I have the feeling that the European Union’s dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán’s behavior hasn’t come to an end. Yesterday morning he gave an interview to Bild, the German paper with the largest circulation. In it he made the following remark: “We are a country of freedom fighters. I also demand that heritage for myself.” So, the war continues. Perhaps that’s why 168 Óra talked about Napoleon in Russia and added the following caricature to the article about Orbán in Strasbourg:

Orban as Napoleon

Viktor Orbán as Napoleon in 168 Óra

So, if I were José Manuel Barroso, Olli Rehn, Vivian Reding, and Neelie Kroes I would prepare for an extended fight.

And while we are on the subject of Napoleon. Orbán occasionally reveals his true self and his dictatorial tendencies. In the same interview in Bild when the fate of Klubrádió came up, Orbán claimed that the only reason the radio station lost its frequency was that “it offered less money” than its competitor. Now the owner of the radio is trying to put political pressure on the Media Authority “but I will not allow anyone to gain financial advantage this way.” Please note the first person singular. The Media Authority is clearly not independent even by Orbán’s own admission. So much for the much touted Hungarian democracy.

I suspect that this is not the end of “dialogue” between the “meek” Viktor Orbán who “retreated” and the helpless European Union. There will be other rounds. But Zsófia Mihancsik is right in one respect. The Hungarian people are the only ones who could remove Viktor Orbán, and this is not an easy task. The prime minister is a very clever and cunning fellow.

P.S. Viktor Orbán’s press conference with English simultaneous translation can be seen here:

http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/videoplayer.cfm?ref=82316

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maternus
Guest

Only for your information:
The German newspaper you mentioned is just named “Bild” – without “Das”.
Kind regards, Maternus

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Thank you, Maternus. I’m changing it.

whoever
Guest

I had a feeling there were weaknesses in the case against the current Hungarian government, that only exhaustive research would truly prove the case. We can say, however, that the EU does have some moderating possibilities, that it may prevent some of the most extreme abuses of power.
The thing is that Orbán’s regime is cleverly assembled, but at its core it is constructed from innate apathy and designed to be maintained by inertia, rather than shock troops. When he planned this system, he really didn’t bank on a global economy which is so badly misfiring, and how this would impact on his plans.
So – though it isn’t reported in the media – we now have had a bank run in Hungary, which is intensifying in pace. Events are unfolding. Viktor may find himself king of a castle made of sand, with a worthless currency and a population angry at him.
Just a few posters by the MSZP now would have great effect, along the lines of “So this is what we voted for?” But who knows what the MSZP’s strategy is?

Petofi
Guest

@whoever: “..that the EU does have some moderating possibilities..”
Get a grip on yourself. If Orban gets money, the country is done for.
Democracy? Citizens will become vassals: feudelism will triumph
and no man will be allowed to walk the streets with less than a 5 inch mustach.
When will people realize that Orban is a mini-Putin? He will be charismatic, “modest”, engaging…when it suits but don’t trust a word he says.
If the EU and the IMF doesn’t play this situation just right, than Hungary will enjoy a few years of temporary well-being, thanks
to being the gas-delivery-hub for nabucco and the Russkies, and then, when the hook is truly sunk in and the country is hooked,
Hungary will sink into vassalhood.

Petofi
Guest

re my previous:
Oh my, I haven’t made so many errors since I was in grade 6.
I really should read my stuff over before I post!
feudalsim
mustache
EU and IMF don’t….

Paul
Guest

Very depressing.
But a weird moment for me whilst reading this – “when 168 Óra talked about Napoleon in Russia”.
In one of my recent posts I was trying to think of a word or phrase to describe Orbán’s plan for Hungary, when I happened to glance at the books next to me and came up with ‘Orbánrossa’. Barbarossa, of course, being the German code name for Hitler’s attack on Russia.
I don’t claim anything other than sheer coincidence for this, but it’s worth remembering that both Hitler and Napoleon failed ignominiously.

Paul
Guest

“But who knows what the MSZP’s strategy is?”
I suspect it’s not dissimilar to the rabbit’s strategy when faced by an oncoming car at night – sit there, quivering with indecision, staring hypnotically at the onrushing light.

Paul
Guest

Well, spelling mistake or not, the “5 inch mustache” gave me a badly needed laugh!

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

“headlines describing the same event”
They all remind me how terrible the media was even before the new media law. The number of question marks in headlines has dropped since 1991, but has always been depressingly high

Csoda. Kegy
Guest

… which all leaves a greater responsibility on everyone who contributes to this uneditted and unrestrained blog to not go down the route of contributing in hysterical, blindly partisan fashion …

Member
I think he didn’t go to Brussels to win. He knows that he doesn’t stand a chance against the EU. This trip was clearly design for the Hungarian average Joe. He was just told by the PR people to shut the f* up, sit tight, read what’s on the paper and come home. We take care of the rest. If you listen in into the right wing media chatter you can hear clearly the upbeat followers chanting that Orban was winning. The oppressed Hungarians showed the world again that we are so awesome. I believe that is what Zsófia Mihancsik says on the galamus.hu. I agree with Petofi. If he gets the money he will use it to float on until the next elections and beyond and blame the problems on the recession and the foreign enemies. Once he gets the loan guarantee game will be over for a few years. He doesn’t even need to harden the dictatorship. Anything goes without consequences, just look at the Hungarian pres. All is cemented in by now. Orban is just one of the usual trash of the never ending supply of great Hungarian statesmen. Our biggest enemy is not him now but… Read more »
I love Hungary
Guest

Hmmmm… I think Orban had better hope that Hungary is NOT the “land of freedom fighters”.
Why hasn’t anyone asked where the opposistion was given permission to rally on March 15?

sackhoes contributor
Guest

You have to give it to Orban, he is a good tactitian. He resisted the political pressures put on him to withdraw or rescind certain laws and thus earned approval from his domestic supporters. He then waited for the EU to come up with specific, technical objections (which were weak and not very well researched) and now he is yielding on most item, calling them minor concessions. He turned the EU parliamentary debate into a debate between two equal sides and the opposition, with a few exceptions made a fool of themselves.
Perhaps the most embarrasing example of poorly prepared opposition came from a French delegate, who started out by saying he wished he had a chance to read the Hungarian Constitution in his own languageso so he could cite specific objections. The reply from the Hungarian side was devastating: since the Constitution was adopted in April 2011, official translations were submitted to the EU in English, French and German, which versions were also available online, had the delagate took the time to find and read a copy.
If you are going to pick a fight with a savvy streetfighter, you better be prepared…

Member

The problem is that as with Al Capone, everyone knows that Orban does the crime. It is hard to play a fair game when only one side committed to it. THe EU’s only tool is to nail Orban’s regime in technicality grounds, and Orban knows this.
When I watched The Untouchables (Brian De Palma 1987) I was on Malone’s side all along. It cost to much lives to nail Capone on tax evasion. Orban is like that, he lives distraction behind, and everyone but him plays nice.

Magyar1
Guest

Paul: I don’t claim anything other than sheer coincidence for this, but it’s worth remembering that both Hitler and Napoleon failed ignominiously.
Yes Paul, but at what price?
I tend to agree with Mihalcsik, this is done, Orban won. I stayed up, I listened on the internet, I read all transcriptions, and I felt horribly disappointed. There was no strength of the EU against Orban, and he made them dance around him. He won…..
G.

peter litvanyi
Guest

There is very little to add to this song by Mr. Brody Janos:



Except for the fact that we can change it all. There was no inevitabily in Hitler’s or Stalin’s rule. It was us who made it happen. On the “right” or on the “left”. There is also “ahead”.
I am afraid I did not watch the EU proceedings. I suppose I should.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

whoever
Guest

Petofi, imagine if Hungary wasn’t in the EU. There would be no need to keep the pretence of observing democratic norms, but more importantly, there would be the outside chance of a White Terror. That’s what I mean by the EU having some moderating influence. And crucially for young people, they can leave Hungary, and there are places to go. Small consolations.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

Financial markets have the attention span of nats. I fear that they now believe that Orban will do what ever to get the IMF money and so, crisis over and on to the next shiny thing that gets their attention. Orban 1, Hungarian people 0.

Hank
Guest
Where does this strange “Viktor has won and all is over” attitude come from? Probably the usual Hungarian pessimist attitude to life, the universe and everything again? And a completely irrealistic view on what Europe can do and how it works. What did you expect, that in Strassbourg the EU would have said to Orbán that he had to resign or else? That they would have said he would never get a loan unless he retracted the entire constitution and all the cardinal laws? Come on. Facts are: 1. the debate was along the lines of last year with, again, the EVP keeping Orbán out of the wind. But at the same time the EVP backed the actions the European Commission has taken uptill now and they are clearly uncomfortable with what is happening. 2. Orbán kept his cool this time and was his usual self (this is an attack on the Hunharian nation, this is a left wing plot, this is an attack on our right to implement conservative policies etc., everything that goes down well with the home crows. But that only masks that he had to announce that he will give in to some of the demands… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Thanks Hank, we needed sitting down and talking to.
I just hope you are right. I can’t pretend it feels like that at the moment.

Paul
Guest

Yesterday actually seems to have had a negative effect on the forint. So maybe it isn’t all doom and gloom.
It improved to 302 initially, but since then it has started to lose value again and is back up(down?) to 305.
Minor movements, admittedly, but the trend for the last few days has been a steady recovery – that stopped yesterday at 2pm.

whoever
Guest

Hank is quite right. There’s a bit of quiet on the financial markets, but I think – I’m sure – this is the equivalent of the tide retreating before a tsunami.
Factors up and coming where Hungarian banks and many companies are hopelessly exposed:
Bankruptcy of BKV
Bankruptcy of local governments, accelerated by centralisation
Inability to pay police in Budapest
Inability to pay workers in electricity generating facilities
Bankruptcy of hospitals
Increases in unemployment, to match conditions of IMF contract
Ongoing run on banks reducing liquidity
…it’s going to be ugly, and very politically unpredictable. Orban may well be blamed for this, regardless of opposition.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Hank your whole piece is correct. This game is far from over. Orban the Viktator is has scored a few runs but only at home in Hungary. The three ‘charges’ so far raised by the EU are just the beginning. They are serious enough to be ‘holding charges’. For those who do not understand UK/US legal procedure a ‘holding charge’ is one which is serious enough with sufficiently strong evidence to let the courts remand the accused in custody or to release him on bail pending the trial, in the form of very large sums money from several sureties. The E.U. procedures once started are automatic. The Hungarian Government was given one Calendar month to reply to the charges. What happens next will depend on the Hungarian Government’s reply. The business in the European Parliament was just to let the Viktator speak. There are 4 options which are :- 1. Hungary decides to leave the E.U. – The negotiations will have to include the three charges and any others which come to light. 2. Hungary may plead ‘guilty’ and promise to ‘correct those errors in its law, in which case they will be given limited time to implement satisfactory corrections… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Whoever I am afraid our posts crossed. Your financial predictions are dire and correct.
However the Viktator has the ability to do something which the Greeks cannot do which is to ‘Print Money’.
He can pay off his internal debts using the printing presses but only for a time. After this inflation will sets in. Then will come ‘Super inflation’ and finally ‘Hyper inflation. People no longer want the ‘coin of the realm’ so it is worthless.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

Hank, sorry to give you the impression that this is over. It’s clearly far from over. That said, if the forint can make modest gains and there is a retraction in bond rates it weakens one of the weapons that can be used to turn things around. If Victor can deal with the other issues in a piecemeal manner he might not have to retreat as far as most would like. If he’s able to turn legal arguments into political ones, than…. You can’t turn an empty bank account into anything other than not being able to pay.. disorderly default or retraction to obtain funds. It looked like the forint may have settled into a trading range centered about 310 until some investment bank in the UK made a move for what reason, I don’t really know. Currently things are north of 304. Lets see which way it slides over the next few days. Unless someone keeps up the pressure, my bet is towards 300 or lower in the short term. That will ease the pressure and make it a wee bit easier to deal with the other charges.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Here is an article by your favorite Nick Thorpe:
http://euobserver.com/7/114930

Member
I agree with Hank, and also what I said, everyone knows what Orban is doing. (Maybe my post got lost?) I do not think it is lost in the EU, but they can only get him on technicality. THe game now is to try to make him change things because things to do not line up with EU treaties and so forth. WHy are everyone is everyone is concentrating on Orban’s “facial expressions”? It seems to me that most of you fail for Fidesz just like many others who you afraid will fall for it. STand up and focus on the things that are still not right. He said he will change them. Let’s see if he will. Also, by focusing on this theater performance at the EU, you forget to bring attention to Fidesz’ new gem, as they booked and reserved all downtown for the next three years for a week of each , for HUngary’s biggest National Holiday (you know the one when Orban hires extras to clap after his performance, and where they censored one of Hungary’s most famous poem about freedom of the press), March 15, so there could be no other party organize any demonstration… Read more »
Member

Eva, Thorpe saying that Orban is being abused? LOL THe last sentence should read “He is rather the target for them putting him in his place”.

Paul
Guest

“Yes Paul, but at what price? ”
That was actually my last line in the original version! Unfortunately my post was a victim of the Typepad software – I had to post it twice and lost the last line the second time.

Pete H.
Guest

Off-topic but related to Eva’s interest in education. Students protesting before speech by Peter Princzinger, chair of the Education Office.



I understood some of what they said, but it would be great to have a full translation.
Cheered me up to see Hungarian youth engaged in action and adopting some of the tactics of the occupy movement.
Also, does anyone know what’s up with Godor? I read that there is a change in management. Is this another case of installing conservative management in an artistic venue?

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