Hungarians and the European Union

On January 31 Századvég published a public opinion poll in which it claimed that only half of the country’s population consider Hungary’s membership in the European Union “useful [but reject further integration].” Specifically, 49% of the population find the membership “advantageous” from Hungary’s point of view while 39% consider it “disadvantageous.” The rest, 13%, are undecided. Eurobarometer came out with somewhat similar results: only 47% of those asked said that “they have trust in the European Union.”

I was somewhat surprised by these findings because a couple of days before Századvég’s results came out I read about another opinion poll, conducted by Medián, which emphatically stated that “those who are in favor of Hungary’s membership in the Union are still in a significant majority.” As of last December, according to Medián, 71% of the Hungarians expressed their satisfaction with Hungary’s membership.

So, whom we should believe? Actually, it is possible that all these polls are accurate because the answers very much depend on the way the questions are phrased. Surely, there is a difference between “useful,” “advantageous,” or “trust” in connection with Union membership.

Let’s focus on Medián’s results because this company has been conducting monthly surveys on this question ever since 2004. At the 2004 referendum 84% of the voters opted for membership, and pro-EU sentiment remained relatively stable through 2008 when it was 81%. Since then the numbers have dropped, steadily but not dramatically. In 2011 71% of Hungarian voters were still on board. Interestingly enough, Medián claims that 80% of Fidesz voters favor Hungary’s membership in the Union, while MSZP voters are somewhat less enthusiastic (74%). Even Jobbik voters are not as anti-European Union as one would think after hearing some of Gábor Vona’s speeches. Half of Jobbik sympathizers would still vote for EU membership if the referendum were held today.

In December 2011, the last time Medián checked the situation, only 25% of the population was ready to support Viktor Orbán’s “war of independence” against the IMF and the European Union. It is possible that in the last month the situation has changed as a result of the European Union’s firm stand against Viktor Orbán’s new constitutional arrangements. László Beck, director of research of Medián, said in an interview that he considers Viktor Orbán’s anti-European statements counterproductive because in his opinion they only strengthen the euroskeptic Jobbik camp. As Fidesz voters abandon the party there is a likelihood that, inspired by the anti-union rhetoric of Orbán, they will actually join Jobbik.

If Medián’s monthly survey is correct and support for Hungary’s membership in the European Union is strongest among Fidesz voters, then what on earth can we make of the huge mass demonstration dubbed “Békement” (Peace Walk) on January 21 when, according to the lowest estimates, at least 100,000 people demonstrated in support of the Orbán government? The demonstration was announced on January 11 and at that point the organizers claimed that the demonstration was supposed to express their displeasure at the “misleading and biased news in the international media that shows Hungary in an unfair light.” A week later, the organizers emphatically claimed that “they are going to demonstrate for Hungary and for Europe.” They say “yes” to Europe but “no” to what “certain political and media circles say about Hungary.” This is a far cry from the eventual message of the demonstration. The leading organizers carried this huge sign at the head of the demonstration:

 

To defend the country from unfair criticism is very different from not wanting to become a colony.

Surely, Fidesz and the government were behind this demonstration. It was most likely organized to coincide with Viktor Orbán’s impending meeting with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. It was supposed to show that Viktor Orbán’s government is still popular and, perhaps more importantly, that Hungarians are angry. In fact, they are so angry that if the European Union is too high handed with the prime minister of the country they will revolt against the colonizers.

One can be almost certain that this was the message Viktor Orbán himself conveyed to Barroso. Whether during their two-hour talk Barroso said that European politicians in Brussels are fully aware that some of this anti-European Union sentiment is actually fueled by Viktor Orbán himself we will never know. Did the trick work? Again, we don’t know.

But we do know that Orbán’s attitude during his last visit to Brussels was very different from his earlier behavior, for example, on the fast track pact talks in December. If Orbán now plays the role of the devoted supporter of the European Union, what will those people in the Peace Walk say when they realize that they demonstrated in vain against Hungary’s colonial status, that their beloved prime minister is himself selling out the country to the colonizers in Brussels?

One could say, let that be Viktor Orbán’s headache, but there is the possibility that the Hungarian prime minister’s tricky political games will backfire and that the only beneficiary of his double talk will be Jobbik, which is only too ready to receive disappointed Fidesz fans. Two weeks ago at a Jobbik demonstration people tried to burn a European Union flag and today Jobbik politicians blamed the EU for the bankruptcy of Malév. Where will it end?

Abroad Hungarian government propaganda tries to convince foreign politicians and the public that the “moderate” Fidesz government is the only party that can stop the tide of the extreme right in Hungary. But this is a thoroughly misleading depiction of the real situation. Fidesz, and particularly Viktor Orbán himself, is responsible in large measure for the shift in Hungary toward the extreme right.

 

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Bowen
Guest
This seems to be a predictable pattern though. On Malev’s website today (in Hungarian and English), the following message was placed, explaining the situation, subordinating any kind of useful factual information: “Ismert az is, hogy a tulajdonos a legjobb szándéka ellenére az EU elmarasztaló határozatát követően nem tud további anyagi forrást biztosítani a működéshez” – i.e. recent EU action has caused this. Orban said the same on Kossuth Radio this morning, implying that this whole Malev mess was a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ he had inherited from the Bajnai administration. There’s a pattern here. It’s always someone else’s fault. Someone else is always to blame. But, on the flipside, *solving* the problem is always someone else’s responsibility. Orban said today “if there was an investor who would be willing to risk also its own money and try to operate a national airline profitably or at least not making losses then there will be such a new company”. Someone else should step in and ‘save Hungary’. I fear that Hungary seems caught up its own framed view of the world. It *needs* something like the EU to blame when things go wrong (because Hungary is never culpable) But then, it needs… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Hungary is increasingly coming across to the international audience as a laughingstock and a basket case of as a country (they can’t even organise a dictatorial coup properly!).
Every single headline of the Malév debacle reports in English I’ve seen tonight has the word ‘Hungary’ in it. This is not seen as a airline story, but as (yet another) story about things going wrong in Hungary.
Will Orbán ever wake up to the reality that he is increasingly being seen as a clown outside of Hungary?

Paul
Guest

Incidentally, I’m not sure of the latest EU ‘popularity’ figures for the UK, but I suspect they are considerably worse than Hungary’s!

I love Hungary
Guest

@ Paul, silly comparison, unless you feel the UK is also under immediate threat of takeover by a single party, facist regime.
Bowen make an interesting point.
Since Facism in Hungary is a local problem- and it is in the Hungarian DNA- it is probably more important that the Hungarians come to terms with its Facism first, and then deal with Communism, which is an import.

Kingfisher
Guest

84% voted yes in 2003, but the turnout, if I remember correctly, was well under 50%. So just as Fidesz was supported by just 53% of the electorate in 2010, only 38% of the electorate voted to join the EU.
An interesting fact that I’ve never seen remarked anywhere. If you check the parliamentary vote on whether to join the EU or not, it was almost unanimous. Simicsko István voted again. And guess who was absent and did not vote? Orbán Viktor.

Paul
Guest

Kingfisher – Fidesz wasn’t supported by 53% of the electorate, it was 53% of those who voted. I can’t remember the turnout figure but this would be more like 35% of the electorate.
I love hungary – I don’t agree with many of your posts, but I would never call them “silly”.
I was merely pointing out, with a little self-depricating humour, that Hungary’s problems could be a lot worse. At least they don’t have the lunatic ultra-nationalist attitude to Europe that ‘we’ have in the UK.

Kingfisher
Guest

Paul, thanks for correcting me. I really should have double checked. It makes Orbán’s power in parliament all the more outrageous.
Are the attitudes in the UK to the EU really “lunatic ultra-nationalist”? For someone like myself who regards himself as a democrat, I am increasingly Euro-sceptic because I see power being increasingly wielded by an unelected elite over whom there is no direct accountability. That is not my idea of democracy (but then, I’d like to see power in the UK devolved regionally, with plenty of Swiss style referendums thrown in!)

Member

“84% voted yes in 2003, but the turnout, if I remember correctly, was well under 50%.”
And, if I remember correctly Fidesz played a very low key to non/existant part in the campaign.
*Deep breath*… I have more respect for the fascists’ (ie Jobbik) attitude to the EU than I do for the one being pedalled fascist-lite (ie Fidesz).
If you think Brussels is taking away your national sovereignty and that is more important to you than all the advantages it brings to you (as a minor, economically knackered country on the peripheries of Europe) then demand a referendum to leave.
That is (imo) an honourable if completely foolhardy line to take.
Instead Orban and the rest of his fascist-lite mob proclaim their hatred of EU “meddling” whilst simultaneously holding out the begging bowl to the powers that be in Brussels. That is most certainly not an honourable line to take.

Joe
Guest

This is a ridiculous biased blog with no credible contents about reality. I guess the author is an ass licker of liberal rats and EU maffia, or just simply dumb stupid. Either way, you are a worthless rat.

angry oldboy
Guest

The saddest thing is that the Hungarian public is frightfully misinformed about the EU. A large number of people think that the EU membership is financially disadvantageous, Hungary pays more than she gets back.

Paul
Guest

It’s the cutting-edge, intellectual power of the Fidesz/Jobbik supporters’ arguments that always impresses me.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
O’Neil Hello Hungary has probably broken most of the important treaties it has solemnly signed in the past 100 years. That is TWO peace treaties Triannion and Paris 1947 and the Treaty with the Council of Europe in which she adopted in full and without reservation The Charter of Human Rights. Finally there is the treaty of accession to the European Union. In various earlier postings I have catalogued these breeches. Hungary’s present rulers (like their hero – Hitler) regard treatise and international obligations as mere ‘Scraps of Paper’, and we all know what that lead to. Some 27 to 30 Millions killed. A continent which was laid waste, people evicted from the land on which they and their ancestors lived. Worst of all was idea of the ‘Killing Factories’ and the Gulags in which killed man women and children murdered or just worked/starved them to death. Hungary is in the main regarded as an ‘expletive deleted’ nuisance. Its word either written or spoken is worthless. Its rulers (the Viktator) and his bunch of monkeys regard it as their own personal ‘cash cow’ to fill their pockets. but they will receive its just deserts. Joe to put it politely “Go… Read more »
kormos
Guest

@Young Odin:
Why don’t you move to USA? You could teach “old dog” Bartus for new tricks.

John T
Guest

“This is a ridiculous biased blog with no credible contents about reality. I guess the author is an ass licker of liberal rats and EU maffia, or just simply dumb stupid. Either way, you are a worthless rat.”
Congratulations Joe – what a stunning contribution and so well thought out. So good to see you respecting debate and welcoming diverse opinions. Your comments actually say much more about you than the contributors to this blog.
If you don’t like the EU, then do us all a favour and leave as soon as possible – article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty allows you to start doing this. Somehow, I don’t think Hungary will be missed by the rest of the EU the way things are at present.

Kirsten
Guest

I love Hungary: “Since Facism in Hungary is a local problem- and it is in the Hungarian DNA-”
If it is in the DNA, there is nearly no way to deal with it and also no chance that this could be dealt with “first”. Mindsets can be changed, and institutions also, but certainly not within seconds, days or months. And most likely not through insults. As someone coming from the Central European region, I think that what you may consider “obviously” problematic behaviour from a “democratic” point of view, need not appear that clearly problematic to people raised in that region. Not because of the DNA as you suggest but because you simply call this or that behaviour “civilised”, “democratic”, “correct” without having ever thought about whether this is really the case and whether this is being done in a similar way in the “West”. The West also does a lot of things by habit, some of these habits are more congenial to democracies but it is – for most people – not a deliberate decision.

riviera1
Guest

@ a new company to run airline…
Oh yeah. Here’s what would happen: the foreign company would first have to make a payoff of 10-30 million euro to Fidesz….THAT, folks, is the standard beginning to any foreign firm wanting to do business in this ‘sovereign’ nation. What is truly ‘sovereign’ about Hungary is the politicians’ willingness to sacrifice the welfare of its citizens to their own ends–party
affiliations aside.

kormos
Guest

@You love Hungary:
“….and it is in the Hungarian DNA..”
Aren’t you just a bit RACIST?

Bowen
Guest

@ Joe: “This is a ridiculous biased blog with no credible contents about reality”
In one sense, I hope Joe’s remarks above aren’t deleted, as they raise an interesting point about what is happening within the Hungary nation.
If we see Orban and/or Jobbik’s public remarks and actions as ‘performances’ (which they are), then we have to also see any ‘performance’ as incorporating and exemplifying the common values of the society in which it occurs, reaffirming the moral stance of the community. Any ‘performance’ could not otherwise occur. It wouldn’t be accepted as ‘real’.
So, Professor’s Balogh’s viewpoints are not ‘real’ to people like Joe (who perhaps is indicative of the wider Hungarian society, I don’t know) whereas Orban’s and Jobbik’s viewpoints are. This, to me, suggests that if there is no possibility of a wide pro-EU, personally-responsible viewpoint in Hungary, then this is exemplifies what this society values, rather than what a specific bunch of politicians aims to direct.

Paul
Guest

Good points, Bowen. I’ve made much the same points several times over the last 18 months. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to make much impression on most of the discussion on here.
Understandably, I suppose, people prefer to debate possible futures, rather than deal with the much more difficult reality of the present.

Member

I have got to say that I don’t think Hungarians are inherently fascist (or communist or generally authoritarian). The ones I know (and I exclude the ultimate cynic Ms oneill here) are a bit too trusting of the crap that they’re fed from their supposed betters.
Perfect example last year was the regime’s expropriation of their citizens’ private pensions.
Viktor guaranteed their 20/30/40 year hence state pension, so… yup, that’s Ok then, here take my private one for the good of the nation.
97%, despite all the demographics proving they were idiots to do so, trusted (never mind the Dear Leader’s past form) him.
The Dalai Lamai has an interesting counter-argument to folk who whinge about their politicians or governments-
“Look in the mirror”.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Bowen Hello. I go to a Kosma (a pub to those who know) where I can drink some beer. It gives me time to think and read a magazine without being continually pestered by my Hungarian family. Those I use are near where I live in the boondocks.
The ‘Gazdas’, who get in there, sometimes ask the college lads/lassies to translate something for them. They believe everything that the Viktator and the would be ‘Gaborator’ tell them.
Malev and the EU the impounding of the two aircraft was done under either the Montreal or the Warsaw treaty which govern Civil Air transportation. The Hungarian Government broke the EU rules on subsidies and Malev was told in no uncertain terms “Give the Money back”.

John T
Guest
@ Bowen – Good points. I think that the last few months have been quite an eye opener and exposed a lot of the problems that have been simmering away under the surface for many years. And what we are now seeing is rather unpleasant. I think Orban is actually very much where he wanted to be. Sure, the EU and IMF are giving him some difficulties. But he has cemented his power pretty well. Even if he gives ground in the areas the EU / IMF are tackling him on, he is still solid. Simor has been emasculated, Parliament and Local Government are under his control, and the media and the “oligarchs” will back him as he continues to push contracts and favours there way. What has been proved is that the domestic opposition is pathetic (a few speeches, some music and bi-monthly protests – wow)and there is nobody effectively countering the government message. And of course the Government can spin the public perception so that the IMF / EU and bankers / foreign business are to blame for all the countries ills. And unfortunately, your average Hungarian laps it up. Its always so easy to blame someone else… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

@ John T “there is nobody effectively countering the government message”
This would seem to be true. Unfortunately (and dangerously), I’m not sure that any party could now step up and take a positively pro-EU stance. It wouldn’t reflect the majority values. Orban is clever enough to realise that he has to ‘play to the crowd’ and make rhetorical comparisons to standing up to Moscow and Brussels. He can then go behind closed doors and make private arrangements with the EU and the IMF that are actually in Hungary’s economic interests.
The danger is that there would then be a majority society holding the sentiment that ‘we will not be a colony’ (whatever that means), we won’t let the evil EU run our lives! And this is exactly the kind of sentiment the far-right will exploit.
I’m afraid that, whatever Fidesz *really* believes, they are trapped in a situation of feeding anti-EU sentiment as long as they want to remain popular.

Paul
Guest

“I’m afraid that, whatever Fidesz *really* believes, they are trapped in a situation of feeding anti-EU sentiment as long as they want to remain popular.”
Sounds familiar!

Member
@Bowen Joe is is just a garden variety troll and his intention was only to drop a stink bomb into a liberal blog and insult the author. He’s not here to represent a general sentiment as part of the society about anything. On the other hand he does represent something very typical in Hungary – the total lack of intellectual curiosity to dig into the details and to form an established opinion about the events around them and argue it. This superficial “patriotism” unfortunately is very common even among the educated people. Seeing only that the EU “doesn’t let us to run the country” in “our own way” without questioning the details of that “own way”. This laziness is very alarming. This political “fast food consumption” can propel the JOBBIK into power in 2014. I agree with Paul to a certain degree about dealing with the reality. In the upcoming 2 years until the the next elections (cross fingers) we have to learn how to gently wake up some of these people from the spell. The most important is to learn how to give up something from our views, from our intellectual pride. We maybe able to split this monolithic… Read more »
Swedish C
Guest

Hi everybody – I’m a frequent reader of this blog and I’m very grateful for its existance.
I’ve been living here for five years – and for the first time since I got here, I am starting to really worry about the future of Hungary. Maybe we are in the darkest of moments – but from where I am seeing things I see more and more intolerance against well… I was going to write foreginers, but I could probably say anything.
Always the same thing – it’s always someone elses fault.
That Jobbik score points by blame the EU is shocking. Should swedes blame the EU for Saab went bankrupt? Saab went bankrupt because it couldn’t make a decent business of its cars, and it would probably be more sensible blaming Wizzair/Ryanair/etc for the fall of Malev.
If the vote for Fidesz was largely a vote against MSZP – then what will keep Jobbik from gaining huge influence for the next election?
Where is this country heading to?

An
Guest
@Bowen: “The danger is that there would then be a majority society holding the sentiment that ‘we will not be a colony’ (whatever that means), we won’t let the evil EU run our lives!” You don’t get either Orban or Hungarians right. It is still only a very vocal minority that is openly anti-EU,manipulated by Fidesz and fired up by Jobbik. Even a lot of these people are simply misinformed and misguided. Also, it is not that Orban follows public sentiment, it is him actively creating and manipulating public sentiment for his own political gain. Don’t underestimate leaders’ responsibility in managing public sentiment. Orban brought the worst out of the nation, and knowingly so, capitalizing his power on drawing the worst out of people. Yes, his tactics found a fertile soil in Hungarian resentment, opportunism and passivity…. but what you see today is not what Hungarians are, but what they have become in the last 10 years or so. And why is that distinction important? Because it can happen in other places too… power hungry politicians can turn people into nationalistic, chauvinistic madmen, exploiting potential conflicts and spreading harmful propaganda…just like they did in Nazi Germany or, most recently, in… Read more »
An
Guest

worst enemies, i meant to say.

Adam
Guest

Quick opinion poll:
http://hungariandigest.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/istvan-csurka-dies/
How many readers of the blog are happy that Csurka died? Be honest.

GDF
Guest

Adam:”How many readers of the blog are happy that Csurka died? Be honest.”
I am not happy if someone dies. On the other hand I am not going to have nice memories of the guy. I hated him while he was alive and I hope he gets erased from everyone’s memory.
I also would like to hope that his ideas died with him, although I am quite sure this is not true. As I wrote in a posting that didn’t make it, I am saddened by the fact that such a large percentage of the Hungarians follow the nazi ideas and it makes me think that the magnitutede end execution of the holocaust in Hungary was not an accident.
Very unsettling thoughts…

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