Although the big story of the day is that György Matolcsy had to announce another austerity program, I can’t go into the details of the package because we know only the skeleton of the program that is supposed to save about 400 billion forints. The program had to be announced in a hurry to avoid the continuation of the excessive deficit procedure that could result in Hungary’s losing the very substantial amount of money it currently receives from Brussels. The forint responded well to the news, but I think I should give economists a little time to go over Matolcsy’s figures to determine whether this particular adjustment to the current and next year’s budget is any more realistic than his earlier ones were. I’m almost certain that in a day or so all the numbers will be carefully analyzed. But for the final word from the European Union we most likely will have to wait for a while. As for the IMF, a couple of days ago the Budapest representative announced that the IMF doesn’t expect any more austerity measures. Instead they would like to see a well balanced economic policy based on realistic figures. Whether this latest package will satisfy them is impossible for me to judge.
Aside from lowering economic expectations and raising the deficit goal from 2.2 to 2.7% Matolcsy announced higher transaction taxes on bank withdrawals and better VAT collection. But what will cause the greatest consternation is the postponement of the salary hikes for Hungarian teachers promised for the fall of 2013. Even Heti Válasz ran an article with the subtitle: “There will be trouble.” Hungarian teachers are very poorly paid and since 2008 their salaries have remained constant. Keep in mind that the inflation rate in Hungary is high–on average 6-6.5%.
I suspect that the majority of teachers voted for Fidesz in 2010 because they fell for all the empty promises. Soon enough, however, it became obvious that the government in fact was hoping to reduce the number of teachers. The nationalization of schools that will take place on January 1, 2013 facilitates such plans.
Rózsa Hoffmann (KDNP), undersecretary in charge of education, promised that there would be no layoffs and that there would be a very substantial raise for teachers: 200% for the university-educated who teach in high schools and 180% for the college-educated who teach in the lower grades. Only last Tuesday Ms. Hoffmann announced that she couldn’t imagine the postponement of these raises. Well, Matolcsy forgot to tell her something.
This afternoon Zoltán Balog, the minister who among his many other duties is also responsible for education, announced that the decision to postpone the raises is not final. He expressed his hope that “in light of possible good economic figures” the decision will be reversed. I am afraid Balog is far too optimistic.
Meanwhile there are two teachers unions in Hungary: the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ) and the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete (PDSZ). The former is much larger, and in the past its leadership leaned toward the left. The latter in the pre-2010 period was clearly siding with Fidesz, and as soon as Fidesz won the elections the head of PDSZ received a lucrative government job. His replacement, however, is anything but a friend of the current government. Since 2010 both unions have been fighting for the rights of the teachers they represent. Both leaders, László Mendrey (PDSZ) and Mrs. István Galló (PSZ), announced shortly after the announcement of the latest austerity measures that “our patience has run out” and if necessary they will go on strike.
While Hungarian teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in Europe and while fewer and fewer Hungarian university students are getting tuition-free education Viktor Orbán is quite generous with the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. In 1999 it was the first Orbán government that approved a financial assistance package of 2 billion forints a year to the university that has three campuses–in Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), Miercurea-Ciuc (Csíkszereda), and Târgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely). The university opened its doors in 2001, and this is the first year that it can function as a fully accredited institution of higher learning.
Although there were some vague promises from Bucharest that the Romanian government would also take part in the financing of Sapientia, up to now the entire funding of the university with approximately 2,000 students is being undertaken by Budapest. Viktor Orbán visited the university a couple of days ago where he was received with such adulation that those present could only compare the servile attitude of the university staff to the behavior of the people during the Ceauşescu era toward the genius of the Carpathians. The university staff should indeed be grateful because Viktor Orbán arrived with a gift of 4 billion forints. The chairman of the board in his speech announced that with this gift “Viktor Orbán has joined the ranks of the great Transylvanian princes who were known for their patronage of learning.” What the chairman of the board forgot to mention was that this new “Transylvanian prince” was generous not with his own money but with the Hungarian taxpayers’ hard-earned money, of which Hungary at the moment has mighty little.
If I were Viktor Orbán I would be careful with all this largesse because I have the feeling that people’s patience is indeed running out. They are sick and tired of billions spent on items they consider unnecessary frills. They are tired of passing an incredible amount of money and land to the oligarchs. They are also angry about the games Fidesz is playing with the new elections laws. Seventy-five percent of the people are against the proposed registration procedure, but Viktor Orbán is bound and determined to go ahead with his plans.
And now the Christian Democrats are working hard to alienate those who live together and have children but didn’t feel the need to marry formally. Forty-three percent of all children are born to couples in this situation. During the discussion of the new Civic Code the Christian Democratic MPs insisted that these families are not “true families” and therefore don’t have the same rights as those who live in wedlock.
The Fidesz-KDNP tent is getting smaller and smaller.