Viktor Orbán in his own words: An interview with Die Presse

The English-speaking world, mostly because of the language barrier, doesn’t normally follow the German-language media, which is a pity especially for those who are interested in Hungarian affairs. The German and Austrian press spend a great deal more time on Hungary than do the English-language publications although lately, thanks to the Orbán government’s unorthodox economic and political policies, there is plenty of space devoted to the affairs of the government in Budapest.

MTI, the Hungarian news agency, only sporadically and far too briefly reports on articles that appear in foreign papers. Moreover, their summaries are very selective. Therefore, it is always wise to go to the original source. That is what I did when I read in a ten-line report by MTI that Viktor Orbán had given an interview to Die Presse, a conservative Austrian paper, while spending a day in Vienna on June 12.

First, a few words about the trip to the Austrian capital. It was not an official visit but was organized by the Vienna Insurance Group (VIG), whose CEO received a decoration from the Hungarian government at the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna. While in Vienna Orbán laid a wreath at the memorial plaque commemorating Cardinal József Mindszenty in the Pázmáneum, a seminary established by Cardinal Péter Pázmány of Esztergom, in 1623. Orbán also gave a lecture on current economic issues in the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. And finally, Orbán briefly met with Werner Faymann, the socialist Austrian chancellor, but no one knows what they talked about.

Immediately after Orbán’s visit Die Presse  published an article that was quite sympathetic to Viktor Orbán and his struggle with the European Central Bank over the bank law. The reporter of the Austrian paper remarked that, after all, the Austrian government would also like to have a larger say on the Austrian National Bank and yet Faymann received only mild criticism while the Orbán government received harsh criticism from several quarters.

Although Die Presse initially seemed to be sympathetic to Viktor Orbán’s view of the world, a few days later, on June 16, an interview appeared in the paper in which very hard questions were posed and where the Hungarian prime minister came off quite badly.

The interview began with a question about Hungary’s attitude toward the greater integration of the European Union. Given Orbán’s attitude on the subject one should not be surprised by his rejection of greater integration. But the way he formulated his objections was far too radical and not at all diplomatic. To quote him: “There are two visions of the future of Europe. A Europe as an empire and a Europe of nations.” He added that he is “definitely for a Europe of nations.”

When it comes to his attitude to the eurozone, Orbán rightly pointed out that too early an adherence to the currency union might backfire and that Hungary shouldn’t rush into the eurozone fiscally and economically unprepared. So far so good, but then he continued his thoughts by claiming that the countries outside the eurozone, including Hungary, were more successful in handling the financial crisis than were those within the eurozone.

This boasting about Hungarian economic successes prompted the Austrian journalist to be a bit more aggressive. He asked whether Orbán considered paying nine percent interest on bonds a success. A fair question, but Orbán dodged it by saying that “when we speak of success, it depends on the goals that you set for yourself.”  Obviously at this point Orbán had to resort to his usual unfounded claims. Hungary’s situation was worse in the spring of 2010 than that of Greece today; then only 2.6 million people paid taxes while today that number is 3.9 million. This is an increase of 50 percent. He also claimed, unjustly, that the Hungarian sovereign debt today is lower than it was two years ago.

When the conversation turned to the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund Orbán became frustrated. Especially when the Austrian journalist suggested that “apparently it’s not so easy for Hungary to receive an IMF loan.” He repeated the Hungarian accusation of double standards as the cause of Hungary’s difficulties. The reason for this unfairness is that bureaucrats make decisions instead of politicians. According to Orbán “politicians need to seek fairness. If politicians do not treat their voters or economic actors fairly, they cannot be successful. For bureaucrats, this doesn’t apply. Bureaucrats want to show their power.” Orbán who had several times alluded to the bureaucrats of the European Union now also included the bureaucrats of the European Central Bank.

Thus, it is not at all surprising that Orbán refuses to take the criticism coming from these bureaucrats seriously. According to him, all the criticism on the media law and the new constitution “was useless and meaningless. But in politics there are sometimes useless and pointless discussions.'” At this point the reporter was obviously nonplussed and asked pointedly: “Were you able to understand any aspect of the criticism?” Orbán claimed that he could accept only some “technical details” of the criticism but nothing else.

The conversation at this point turned to the present political situation and Fidesz’s serious loss of popularity. The reporter reminded Orbán that the goal of Fidesz was to destroy the Hungarian left but as things stand now MSZP has recovered and today the two parties are neck and neck unlike in Poland where the socialists haven’t been able to recover. Naturally, Orbán didn’t agree with the reporter. According to Orbán he single-handedly smashed the left in Hungary. (Fidesz’s “stated aim was to smash the left in Hungary …. That’s what I did.”)

As for Orbán’s attitude toward the past that “can cause irritation,” the reporter brought up the growing Horthy cult. Given the timeliness of the topic, let’s see what Orbán’s attitude is. After all, until now we didn’t hear Orbán express any opinion on the subject. So, I will quote a few important passages from his reaction to the question of a reevaluation of the past. First of all, the Hungarian prime minister claimed that these historical debates about the past “have no relevance to the current political life in Hungary. ” Naturally, that is not true. Only today a demonstration was organized by the civic associations and the opposition parties (with the exception of LMP) to protest the government-assisted revision of the past.

Viktor Orbán takes the position that the erection of Horthy monuments are “decisions exclusively of the local communities,” an obviously untenable position as Die Presse‘s reporter pointed out. He brought up an example: “If suddenly in Austria monuments to the glory of Engelbert Dollfuss were built, it would certainly be an issue for the central government.” The same argument was put forth in an excellent French article that appeared a couple of days ago: “Imagine that in 2012 we erect a statue to Marshal Petain, we give his name to a park, or that someone hangs a plaque in his memory on the walls of a university. This is roughly what happened in Hungary in recent weeks.”

Orbán cloaks the government’s role in promoting a Horthy cult in an appeal to democracy. He claims that the majority’s wish must be honored, thus implying that these new Horthy statues or renaming streets in his honor was the desire of the majority. The truth is that no referendum was held on these issues anywhere that Miklós Horthy was so honored. Town councils comprised of people with far-right political views made a decision without asking the local inhabitants.

In the course of this interview it also became clear that if such a referendum took place in Orbán’s own town he would most likely vote with the pro-Horthy faction. Naturally, he didn’t admit this openly but it can be implied from the following reply to a question about his own position: “I would respect the decision of the voters. If they wanted to erect a statue of Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler, I would definitely be against it.” But not Horthy!

So, I think that we can safely say that the Hungarian prime minister stands on the side of those who are ready for a revision of the Hungarian past. The Hungarian right, including Viktor Orbán, seems to find its political heritage in the counter-revolutionary Horthy period. And all that comes with it. A grim prospect.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
gdfxx
Guest

Eva:”Orbán cloaks the government’s role in promoting a Horthy cult in an appeal to democracy. He claims that the majority’s wish must be honored, thus implying that these new Horthy statues or renaming streets in his honor was the desire of the majority. The truth is that no referendum was held on these issues anywhere that Miklós Horthy was so honored. Town councils comprised of people with far-right political views made a decision without asking the local inhabitants.”

Unfortunately, those people with far-right political views in the respective town councils were elected by the majority of the population of those towns. So the local inhabitants were asked implicitly, and they agreed. This is the sad state of affairs in Hungary today.

gdfxx
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :

Sure, but most of these people in smaller towns campaigned as “independents.” They sure didn’t tell the people that they are actually Jobbik sympathizers.

I am sure you are right. However, in small towns everyone knows everyone. This includes their political views, freely expressed in the local bar (kocsma) after a few drinks. In any case, the next election will show the electorate’s preferences, this point of view included. Assuming, that people will fell free enough to vote their convictions and that they care at all.

Kirsten
Guest

Éva: “I still can’t believe that the majority of Hungarians are longing for the Horthy period.”

I doubt that too. But in the absence of a solid centrist party and rather dismal centre-right and centre-left parties, the fringes are more visible. I would not take it as a sign of widespread devotion to Horthy, but of the terrible confusion in the minds. In its consequence, it does not matter why people turn to the Horthy era as it both supports autocratic Hungary. My hope is still that some cooperation in the political centre could emerge.

gdfxx
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
I still can’t believe that the majority of Hungarians are longing for the Horthy period. If they have a favorite man it is János Kádár. Around 70% of the population thinks very highly of him and wish that his days of security and slow improvement of the people’s living standards would return.

Former communist leaders seem to be popular in some countries. In Romania a survey done last year shows that 50% of the population think that Ceausescu was a good political leader and many of them (41%) would vote for him in presidential elections today, assuring his access to the second round, regardless who else ran (at that point they had two rounds of elections if no candidate obtained more than 50% of the votes, I am not sure this is still true).

Source: http://www.revista22.ro/despre-ceausescu-sau-de-ce-iubim-dictatorii-12595.html

Paul
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
I still can’t believe that the majority of Hungarians are longing for the Horthy period. If they have a favorite man it is János Kádár. Around 70% of the population thinks very highly of him and wish that his days of security and slow improvement of the people’s living standards would return.

But is this still true? I’ve rarely heard anyone express this sentiment, and, as we are now 23 years away from that era, there must be a sizeable portion of the population who have no direct knowledge of the period.

I didn’t notice MSzP getting a landslide in 2010 on a wave of pro-Kádár sympathy.

Petofi1
Guest

That herd of sheep called the Hungarian electorate know well what’s expected of them. This the government functionaries in cities and towns make quite clear: do you want to town to remain solven? Vote Fidesz! Do you want to have jobs in your town and keep them? Vote Fidesz! Do you want your children to get jobs? Do what the government expects of you!

After 20 years, the nuances of government pressure are back to invade and take control of the average person’s imagination.

God help Hungary.

Member

I think they are not longing for either of them, I mean neither for Kadar or Horthy. Ignorance and apathy rules. Even those who actually remember their studies from high school don’t seem to see further than their noses. All they see is some weirdos putting up a bust. They go like, who cares. It’s a sculpture. Or nazis in the national curriculum – they think, so what, just another writer. They are not able to connect the dots.

There was a rally on the Hero’s Square on Sunday in Budapest against the restoration of the Horthy era in Hungary. Only about thousand people showed up. Why? The weather or the bad publicity? I’m afraid neither. They just didn’t care.

I’m getting depressed.

gdfxx
Guest

OT What does “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” mean?

An
Guest

Mutt Damon :
I >
There was a rally on the Hero’s Square on Sunday in Budapest against the restoration of the Horthy era in Hungary. Only about thousand people showed up. Why? The weather or the bad publicity? I’m afraid neither. They just didn’t care.
I’m getting depressed.

Among those people who went to demonstrations in the last two years, there are feelings of demonstration-fatigue.

An
Guest
Paul : Eva S. Balogh : But is this still true? I’ve rarely heard anyone express this sentiment, and, as we are now 23 years away from that era, there must be a sizeable portion of the population who have no direct knowledge of the period. I didn’t notice MSzP getting a landslide in 2010 on a wave of pro-Kádár sympathy. I heard such sympathies a lot, though very recently not so much. I think Fidesz’s attempt to paint the whole communist period with the same darkest black is partially successful, especially among the young, and it also affects other generations in that people would be more reluctant to openly express sympathies for Kadar or for the Kadar period. Nostalgic feelings exist though, and in many cases not for Kadar, the person, but for life under Kadar, when Hungarians saw an increase in their living standards. Ironically, Fidesz itself is capitalizing on some of this nostalgia… Fidesz’s anticapitalist rants, for example, read almost exactly like the ones in the 80s, the idea that the nation’s interest comes before the individual is expressed in a strikingly similar way as the idea under Kadar that the interests of the “socialist” community was… Read more »
Guest

London Calling!

Eva – I think you have to permit the entry – you will have access to a ‘moderator’ queue somewhere to which only you (or someone) can give permission.

All entries are filtered, possibly for intemperate language or other factors which are set up in the filter, for example, you may wish to exclude someone so you can set that as a ‘parameter’ in the filter.

If you aren’t sanctioning them then maybe someone at WordPress is? One of my entries was ‘awaiting moderation’ and was later let through. But some others’ weren’t.

Regards

Charlie

Guest

…….what may not be clear in my explanation above is that those entries ‘awaiting’ moderation’ have hit something in the filter

…so the filter may be sensitive to a ‘false hit’ – and if it happens too often may need to be ‘adjusted’.

It depends on who set the filter up and who controls its parameters and who can sanction the ‘false’ and genuine hits.

Charlie

Guest

Our postings crossed!

Yes – but the filter is still ‘filtering’! – It maybe that WordPress have a problem with their filters and this is a known (or unknown) bug.

As a user of theirs you may need to raise a problem record – or just an email if it becomes a nuisance.

I’d do it for you – but I think they’ll only listen to you as a ‘client’.

Regards

Charlie

Guest

Don’t know if this very interesting article (4 parts) has been mentioned yet:
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/16/hungarys_pit_bull_prime_minister?page=0,3&wpisrc=obnetwork

“In his character there is not any sign of compromise,” says Attila Mesterházy, the current leader of the Socialist Party. “He always wants to break through; he loves the conflict.”

The conclusion:

“The most important thing to know about Orbán is that he is the best and the most effective in a conflict. He doesn’t like peace, he doesn’t like normality,” says Eörsi. “He cannot stop fighting. Like a shark, he cannot stop eating.”

Paul
Guest

wolfi :
Don’t know if this very interesting article (4 parts) has been mentioned yet:
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/16/hungarys_pit_bull_prime_minister?page=0,3&wpisrc=obnetwork
“In his character there is not any sign of compromise,” says Attila Mesterházy, the current leader of the Socialist Party. “He always wants to break through; he loves the conflict.”
The conclusion:
“The most important thing to know about Orbán is that he is the best and the most effective in a conflict. He doesn’t like peace, he doesn’t like normality,” says Eörsi. “He cannot stop fighting. Like a shark, he cannot stop eating.”

Thanks, Wolfi.

But the pedant in me has to point out that sharks can’t stop swimming, not eating! They need to swim to breath (it’s how they get water through their gills), not to eat.

Hungarian politicians, eh? Not only are they innefective and corrupt, but they don’t know their sharks!

Paul
Guest

I heard such sympathies a lot, though very recently not so much. I think Fidesz’s attempt to paint the whole communist period with the same darkest black is partially successful, especially among the young…

Good point, An. I meant to add something along these lines to my original post, but it got lost somewhere between brain and fingers.

Personally, I think the desire to go back to the ‘good old days’ was very much a post-regime change thing. It lasted maybe 15, even 20, years, but it’s faded now. That era is just too far in the past and too unlike the world the average Hungarian experiences these days. I was very aware of this sentiment 10+ years ago, but these days people are just too busy surviving or too politically despondent (or both!) things have got so bad that they no longer believe the ‘good old days’ can ever have existed.

Paul
Guest

Oops – my enthusiastic editing seems to have removed the ‘quote’ box. The first para was a quote from An’s ealier post.

petofi
Guest

re Elie Wiesel….

Orban: “So, what’s the news? Just another jew. Who needs him?”

Ferenc Gyermek
Guest

Terrible times. Orban is a certified weird student of the Kadar era. And a bad one, too. To cover his tracks, he jumped on the Horthy bandwagon.

Horthy is the student of the bad times of the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

He actually, completed the break-up. He ignored the spirit of Ferenc Deak.

Any intelligent citizens of Hungary and Austria, immediately should have go on the campaign, to restore their working peaceful dualism.

The spirit of Deak was replaced by the resurgence of the suicidal Hungarian nationalism in 1919, just like in the days of nasty destructive idiotic Orban.

S.O.S. Kill the spirit of Horthy, with Nyiro, Szabo Otto, Wass Albert. Somebody should inform Huba de Wass of his colossal errors in his views of Hungary.

wpDiscuz