Viktor Orbán’s “State of the Country” speech

The American tradition of a State of the Union address every January appealed to Viktor Orbán who adopted (and adapted) the idea in 1999, shortly before Fidesz lost the national election. Unlike the American president, the Hungarian prime minister had no intention of taking stock of the previous year of his administration in parliament; he opted to address a select audience of his supporters.

For Orbán losing the election was a terrible and unexpected blow, but by the following February he bounced back and decided that he would continue with his annual speech. In office or in opposition, it didn’t matter. So, this is his fourteenth such speech and, let’s face it, after so many years they are becoming a tad boring and the audience is a great deal less enthusiastic. Especially if the affairs of state are not in the best shape. Already last year it was noticeable that the applauses were fewer and briefer. This year the trend was even more obvious to those listening to the speech on radio or watching it on TV.

I was somewhat amused to read today in The Wall Street Journal‘s “Morning Briefing” that “Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to preview his plans for central Europe’s most volatile market this year in a nationwide address.” Well, he didn’t preview anything; in fact, I very much doubt that he has any viable plan to address the economic problems he himself largely created.

 

This time around there were no optimistic announcements about the future, only some vague reference to the Hungarian people’s resilience and talents that will ensure success. Eventually. Some time in the future. By contrast, last year he was very specific. He claimed that 2010 was the year of collaboration, 2011 was going to be the year of renewal, 2012 the year of take-off, and 2013 the year of growth. Well, this optimistic scenario doesn’t seem to be materializing. Zoltán Balog, the undersecretary in charge of Roma affairs and Orbán’s spiritual advisor, expressed his hope in his opening remarks that “this year would not be worse than the last.” A modest enough goal.

Just as Viktor Orbán avoided outlining any future plans, he was also silent about the failure of his economic policies. There was no mention of either the European Union or the International Monetary Fund. Naturally, he said nothing about the European Commission’s very serious reservations about the new constitution and the cardinal laws. But he also ignored what he must have deemed an ignominious defeat: that his administration in a complete turn-around had to crawl back to the IMF for a few billion euros without which the whole Hungarian economy will collapse. And there is still no assurance that Hungary will receive this sorely needed line of credit. It all depends on whether Viktor Orbán is ready to capitulate and satisfy the political and constitutional demands of the European Union and the economic requirements of the IMF.

For the time being it is difficult to predict what will happen. A few days ago Magyar Nemzet reported that the Hungarian government’s answer to the demands of the European Commission was almost ready and that Viktor Orbán had made very few concessions. As for the economic demands of the IMF, rumor has it that one of the requirements will be the restoration of progressive taxation. After all, the introduction of the flat tax–the “original sin” as some economists called it–is largely responsible for the budgetary hole that had to be filled with all sorts of extra levies on the banking sector and certain foreign companies. And when even that wasn’t enough, along came the nationalization of private pension funds.

If the rumor is true, Orbán and the IMF will be at loggerheads. In his speech Orbán insisted on retaining his disastrous tax system. According to him a flat tax is the only just tax system. In his rather muddled mind progressive taxation was responsible for the high unemployment rate. Moreover, he contended, his is a just system because if someone works twice as hard he will receive twice as much money. It doesn’t matter how far I try to stretch my imagination I cannot figure out how a wage earner working twice as hard at the office or in the factory will bring home twice the salary because of the flat tax.

Orbán in his speech paid very little attention to the growing segment of Hungary’s poor except to claim that eventually they will be able to catch up to the middle class. Orbán designed his whole regime around the middle class, which in his scheme is the “leading force” of society. If Orbán had made that claim in a Western European or North American context, he would sound like most mainstream politicians. But in Hungary? The middle class in Hungary is not the bulk of society but the upper crust. And the flat tax, as Orbán’s team crafted it, is in effect a reverse Robin Hood tax. It takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

There was an especially telling clue in this speech to Viktor Orbán’s mindset and his plans for Hungarian society. His audience was told not to begrudge the help the government gives to pensioners, which is mighty little in the first place. Because older folks’ votes are necessary to keep the Orbán government in power, which in turn will benefit them.

Otherwise, he blamed the former governments for all the economic and financial troubles of today. He made a spate of inaccurate statements about the previous eight years, including the claim that if Orbán hadn’t lost the election in 2002 today Hungary would be in such excellent financial shape that it would lend money to the IMF. As we know, the real problem facing the Hungarian economy is not the relatively high sovereign debt which, by the way, has grown another 5% in the last few months, but sluggish economic growth and lack of investor confidence.

The government was obviously deadly afraid of violent demonstrations erupting. Whole blocks were closed off around the building where the meeting was held. Members of the police force and the special “terrorist unit” were hard at work to ensure the safety of the prime minister.

After the event concluded and the well-dressed crowd was leaving the premises, journalists stood by to interview those who were ready to talk. The interviewees expressed their total satisfaction with the economic and political situation in Hungary. Women in very expensive furs gushed about the happy state of affairs. Well, yes, I’m certain that 2011 was a very good year for them because they are the real beneficiaries of the flat tax. But they are in the minority, a very small minority.

On the other hand, there seems to be increasing dissatisfaction among those who are the losers in Orbán’s “income redistribution” tax system. I noticed in the last few days that the profile of people who phone in to talk to Klubrádió’s György Bolgár is changing. In the past, the callers were older, better off, and well educated. Lately working class guys are phoning in complaining that they work very hard and still take home only 120,000 forints (about $550) a month. They can barely make ends meet.

Orbán’s promises were empty. No, worse. They were carefully crafted lies. Hungarians may have thought they were going to benefit from a trickle-down economic program. Instead, they learned only too late that in Orbán’s model water flows up hill.

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An
Guest

I think one of the gems of the speech was when Orban likened Europe to alcohol (in rough translation: it aspires you to reach for high goals but then itself becomes the obstacle to achieving them (“Európa lassan olyan lesz, mint az alkohol, nagy célok elérésére ösztönöz de megakadályozza, hogy elérjük azokat.)
Nice words, just shortly after Orban was trying to convince Barroso in Brussels about Hungary’s commitment to the EU.

Ron
Guest

An: Európa lassan olyan lesz, mint az alkohol, nagy célok elérésére ösztönöz de megakadályozza, hogy elérjük azokat.
Perhaps he should practicing more how to brew a good palinka.

Paul
Guest

“good palinka”????
No such thing – it is the piss of the Devil!
No wonder the county’s in a mess with half the population drinking that stuff – and calling it ‘Brandy’!

Paul
Guest

TWENTY flags behind Orbán!
Are there more each time he speaks, or does it just seem that way?
And what do they tell us? Most middle-aged men get a ‘trophy girlfriend’ or a fast car or Harley Davidson when they start to feel inadequate. Perhaps with Orbán it’s flags?

tigerente
Guest

Besides flags, he also seems to be keen on propaganda in the form of artworks. “Rumour has it that if Orbán does not figure amongst these heroes of national history it is only because his wife was opposed to the idea.”
http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/1487771-orban-makes-exhibition-himself

Petofi
Guest

@Inadequacy of Orban:
Apparently, in Brussels, someone saw Orban, in a pissoir, extract a mini flag from his pecker…he even sighed before he peed!

Member
It seems we are all struggling to say something about this speech. Probably because we heard nothing. Orban had the tradition, it would have been embarrassing not to give the speech. He can’t just go to Belgium again, like when he escaped the October 23rd speech last time. So the speech writers crafted this lukewarm bull shit galore for him to survive. 35 minutes. Short speech, short PM. The “cojones grandes” were definitely gone. Nothing like the “decline of the west” or “great freedom fight”. No “kokis” or “sallers”. Couple of jabs to opponents. Nothing serious. Too bad he still cannot give a speech while looking his audience in they eye. He was reading the whole thing, very fast, like he wants to get the hell out quick. Awkward sentences, lame jokes. He looked tired. I saw no emotion on the faces of the audience. Matolcsy was shaking his had once, like an overbearing parent, silently chanting the song with a performing 4 year old in the kindergarten. 2012 will be the “take off” or “gathering momentum” year. What the hell does this mean? Nothing visible will happen, but you can always say we are “gathering momentum”. It’s like the… Read more »
GDF
Guest

Mutt Damon:”2012 will be the “take off” or “gathering momentum” year. What the hell does this mean? Nothing visible will happen, but you can always say we are “gathering momentum”. It’s like the “dynamic stagnation” was in the Kadar era. ”
It reminds me (again) of the Ceausescu era in Romania: they kept inventing new names for each next year, each one describing how “socialism” reaches new, higher milestones.

Vilmos
Guest

Paul:” “good palinka”???? No such thing – it is the piss of the Devil!”
Oh, Paul, now THAT is “anti-Hungarian” propaganda. I’ve had an exquisite variety of palinkas over the years, most often home-made by somebody’s grandfather. For a good commercial product, try something from Zsindelyes (http://www.zsindelyes.hu/)

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Vilmos you wrote ** “Paul:” “good palinka”???? No such thing – it is the piss of the Devil!” Oh, Paul, now THAT is “anti-Hungarian” propaganda.” **.
It is not ‘propaganda’ to people like Paul and I it is our ‘truth’.
Some of the hookem’ I have got ‘hooks on’ was weird!
But to give its due,it has its uses, one of which is cleaning old bicycle inner tubes before you patch them.
I have also used it for removing vitreous enamel from old utensils prior to welding up the holes in them. It is very good for that!. I used it to remove damaged oil seals from a washing machine. It did that a treat.
One lot ate its way out of a small stainless steel flask in a couple of days.
Ok it is a might ‘parky’ (-10 today) over here at the moment so perhaps Hungarians need anti-freeze, so why not Ethylene Glycol, it is just as poisonous as that palinka tackle and much cheaper.

Paul
Guest

The test for pálinka is can you drink it? The fact that it is ‘drunk’ by tossing it straight down your throat – i.e. no chance that it will meet any taste buds on the way – tells you all you need to know!
A whisky or brandy can be inhaled, then sipped and savoured, rolled round the mouth to find all its complexities, the long and complex aftertaste and ‘finish’ enjoyed for seconds, sometimes minutes.
Just try that with pálinka! You’ll probably never smell or taste anything again. Pálinka is just cheap, max strength alcohol, ‘drunk’ for the sole purpose of the alcoholic ‘hit’. You might as well ‘drink’ medicinal alcohol, anti-freeze, or mouthwash.
Compare and contrast with Unicum – now there is a spirit worth being proud of.

Paul
Guest

OT – but worth reading – http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/fukuyama/2012/02/03/hungary-responds/
Yet another innocent blogger/reporter discovers what happens when you prod the Hungarian wasps nest.
The comments are worth reading, unless you’ve just eaten. It amazes me that the idiots who write these posts think they are doing anything at all to help Hungary. Do they not realise that the rest of the world reads these moronic rantings?
Still, ‘our’ Mutt is in there sorting them out. Apparently he is a “leftie” and “clearly a troll”!

An
Guest

@Paul: “Just try that with pálinka! You’ll probably never smell or taste anything again. Pálinka is just cheap, max strength alcohol, ‘drunk’ for the sole purpose of the alcoholic ‘hit’. ”
Cheap palinka, that is. There is better quality out there, you’d be surprised.
Even I was surprised, as a Hungarian, because most of my encounters with palinka had been with the cheap, home-made varieties. My opinion was that I’d take a Scotch over a palinka anytime. But then somebody gave me some quality palinka from some fancy award winning producer… good stuff! You can actually enjoy the taste and smell!

NAL
Guest

@Paul
“Most middle-aged men get a ‘trophy girlfriend’ or a fast car or Harley Davidson when they start to feel inadequate.”
I could not resist putting my 2c on that.
Middle-aged men do not get all this because they start to feel inadequate; they get it all because they can afford it.
As the saying goes, you know you reached middle-age when you can afford all that you were dreaming of as a kid!

GW
Guest

NAL wrote:
“Middle-aged men do not get all this because they start to feel inadequate; they get it all because they can afford it.”
They may think that they can afford it, but many men in their mid-life crises suddenly start to live well beyond their means. And there are plenty of examples of this to be found in Hungary, not least among the governing class.

GJ
Guest

http://www.opendemocracy.net/george-sch%C3%B6pflin/how-to-understand-hungary
Here’s an article by George Schöpflin MEP, whose task it is to use high-falutin’ terms about ontological divides in a vain attempt to impart some intellectual credibility to the Fidesz project.

Guest

Paul, what you were offered was probably not real pálinka – just “szeszes ital” …
The pálinka I buy from my neighbours conforms to the rule: only fruit, no added sugar or whatever is distilled.
I had to give this info to many friends visiting Hungary – usually it’s in the small print on bottles in the supermarkets, especially with those nice pictures of fruit on the label where the small print says “szeszes ital” …
Back to Orbàn: Did he really utter those condescending words on Europe/the EU ? Does he expect that his partners/opponents in the EU governments won’t get this ?
Those Fidesz guys are really strange, to say the least …

An
Guest

@Wolfi: “Back to Orbàn: Did he really utter those condescending words on Europe/the EU ?”
Yes, he did. At 5:03 in this video



or in Magyar Hirlap:
http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/belfold/miniszterelnoki_evertekelo.html

Paul
Guest

“you know you reached middle-age when you can afford all that you were dreaming of as a kid!”
Or rather, you know you’re a man when you reach middle age and discover you’re just a kid with money.

Paul
Guest

As for pálinka – I have tried more home-made ones than I can remember and quite a few ‘decent’ ones. Only one of these was just passable (a commercially made körtepálika), but still nothing like even a cheap whisky.
Let’s be honest – the vast majority of pálinka drinkers drink it for one reason – it’s the quickest way to get drunk.

An
Guest

@Paul: I hate to use this blog for a meaningless discussion on the quality of palinka, but apparently I just can’t let this one go.
I didn’t claim that commercial palinka equals good palinka. I was only trying to point out that despite your blanket statement along the lines “all palinka is bad”, you should be aware that there is good quality palinka out there… and yes, most stuff out there (commercial, home-made) are cheaply made and only serves the one purpose to get drunk.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Paul “Still, ‘our’ Mutt is in there sorting them out”
I could have done something more useful and fulfilling with my time, like bungee jumping …

Bowen
Guest

@ GW: http://www.opendemocracy.net/george-sch%C3%B6pflin/how-to-understand-hungary
Here’s an article by George Schöpflin MEP, whose task it is to use high-falutin’ terms about ontological divides in a vain attempt to impart some intellectual credibility to the Fidesz project.
Interestingly, this article makes the point that non-Hungarians cannot possibly understand the deeply misunderstood Hungarian government, and all the international ‘attacks’ simply stem from non-Hungarians’ ignorance. Because Hungarians are special. And unique. They have a different language, you see.
Yet on the other hand, Fidesz’s opponents are masters of international communication! Spreading lies and misinformation throughout the world!
How they got these amazing powers, I have no idea.

Member

I truly think that the EU owes one thing to all of its members, to ask a straight question from Orban and act accordingly:
Do you think the majority of HUngarians would like to remain members of the EU and the terms of the EU?
If the answer is not, then are you willing to go against the majority?
If the answer is yes, then why are you saying that you are representing Hungarians and we are twisting your arms?
BAsed on those answers it is maybe time to kick out HUngary from the EU, so HUngarians can take the necessary steps to challenge their own government, if they feel they should remain in the EU. If they can survive without the EU, than why go through all this aggravation from this bipolar person? Let them go.

GW
Guest

Some1:
You’re absolutely right, and if the opposition had its act together, they would have someone asking publicly, at every opportunity, how the government can expect net contributor EU countries to continue to send billions to a country that apparently doesn’t want to belong to the EU. If they want to make political hay in Hungary with their opposition to the EU, then the very least they can do, is leave the EU. Otherwise, some cooperation and the least bit of gratitude to the EU for the generosity of its members is in order.

Wondercat
Guest

@Paul: SPAR-palinka, I agree. But there is WONDERFUL palinka out there. I’ve had some. And I am ready to drink my way through the bad stuff to reach the good.

Mutt Damon
Guest

I stick to Laphroaig. The smokiest …
Meanwhile on Planet Hungary
There is a Fidesz-KDNP gathering in Eger. Outside, the demonstrators are holding English language signs, like “Hands off Orban Viktor!”.
This international conspiracy is getting physical …

Paul
Guest

Wondercat, you may be right, but I suspect it’s like “the village where everyone speaks Gaelic” in Ireland – it’s always “just over the hill”.
But I’m never likely to find out. After 10 years of ‘drinking’ paint stripper and distilled brake fluid, I’ve developed an irreversible reflex to automatically refuse ANY offers of pálinka. I’ve even resorted to pretending to be teetotal or on medication!

Member

Mutt Damon: “There is a Fidesz-KDNP gathering in Eger. Outside, the demonstrators are holding English language signs, like “Hands off Orban Viktor!”.
Can someone ask the demonstrators, who have their hands on OV? Again, ask the demonstrators, if they want Hungary to leave the EU? If they want Hungary to stay, ask them if they want to follow the rules of the EU? If they want Hungary to leave, then ask OV to tell the demonstrators to to take their hands of the EU or tell the EU that Hungary will quit. End of game. THis getting totally silly by the press and by the EU. Ask the demonstrators and Orban straight close ended questions. No if and but answers, but yes or no.

Member

Eva: Would it be possible that updates on your previously made articles be made by some other colour than black? Every time it pops up in my RSS reader that your articles are revised, it makes me wonder what those changes are. I am just way to lazy to re-read the whole articles.