Fact-checking Christopher Caldwell’s article on Viktor Orbán

Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative magazine, wrote a laudatory article about Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Caldwell’s conclusion is that Viktor Orbán’s un0rthodox economic policies might be worth watching. The economic crisis revealed that the Western countries have been “fiscally irresponsible, intellectually exhausted, and out of economic-policy tricks.” So, the West should let “nations follow any peaceful inclination that would allow them to serve as laboratories of policy.” But, Caldwell adds, it seems that Western leaders are not willing to countenance any such thing.

The pro-government Magyar Nemzet gave a fairly detailed summary of “To Viktor Go the Spoils: Is Europe right to distrust Hungary’s prime minister?” It must be heartwarming to pro-Fidesz forces that at last there is one American article that speaks of Orbán and his regime sympathetically. Normally Fidesz politicians and media workers hear only criticisms, with journalists pointing out the dangers of Orbán’s policies to Hungarian democracy. Every time such an article appears–and they appear quite often in American, British, French, and German publications–these people are madly looking for factual mistakes in the foreign articles. By finding small mistakes they try to discredit the content of the whole piece.

Interestingly, Magyar Nemzet doesn’t mention any factual errors in Christopher Caldwell’s article although it is crawling with misstatements. Without trying to argue with him on his analyses and conclusions, I would simply like to straighten out his misconceptions about Hungarian politics and history.

Confusion

Caldwell briefly outlines the political developments between 2006 and 2010 and mentions that after the leaked speech of Balatonőszöd “Gyurcsány rejected calls for his resignation.” In reality, Gyurcsány asked for a vote of confidence, which the MPs of the coalition parties could have denied. But they decided to support him. The opposition, headed by Viktor Orbán, did call for his resignation.

In describing the violent demonstrations right after Gyurcsány’s speech became public Caldwell is hopelessly mixed up about the dates and locations. According to him it was on October 23, 2006 that “one group tried to burn down the radio station.” Well, it wasn’t on October 23 but on September 18 and it wasn’t the radio station but the headquarters of MTV, the Hungarian public television station. According to him the policemen were the ones who wore masks, not the attackers. An interesting concept. He meekly mentions that the “demonstrations were not wholly peaceful.” Maybe Caldwell should take a look at some of the footage taken of the events.

He is also misinformed about Gordon Bajnai, whom he describes as an “MSZP businessman.” Well, he is a businessman all right but he has never been a member of the Hungarian Socialist party.

Caldwell also believes the erroneous story that “unlike other Central and Eastern European countries, Hungary did not start from constitutional scratch after the end of communism in 1989. Until this year, society was guided in large part by a constitution written in 1949.” In 1989 the old constitution was rewritten almost completely and it functioned quite well as the constitution of a democratic country, although it is true that the date on the constitution wasn’t changed.

The author manages to squeeze in yet another wrong fact about the official name of Hungary. He claims that “the new constitution changes the country’s name from the old Soviet-era ‘Republic of Hungary’ to just ‘Hungary.'” Wrong. During the Soviet period the country’s name was Hungarian People’s Republic (Magyar Népköztársaság) and it was changed to Republic of Hungary (Magyar Köztársaság) in 1989. Taking out the word “republic” is unfortunately quite significant.

When it comes to the media Caldwell claims that it is “wrong to impute widespread journalistic layoffs to political meddling rather than the worldwide collapse of the journalism industry.” Unfortunately there is more to the current Hungarian situation than the general malaise of the written media. Interestingly, pro-government publications thrive while opposition papers linger. The former are being sponsored indirectly by government advertisement and generous subscriptions. Practically no government ads go to papers critical of the government. Moreover, Caldwell seems to forget completely about the case of Klubrádió where the government’s intention to shut it down is clear and only brave judges keep it alive for two months at a time. On public television and radio stations the news comes from a government agency, and therefore the news that reaches the public is filtered by government-appointed officials.

Hungarian history is not Caldwell’s strength. He claims that Hungary “in 1920, at the Treaty of Trianon, lost two-thirds of its territory and 3 million of its citizens.” Wrong again. Not counting Croatia-Slavonia, Hungary lost 67.4% of its territories and 41.6% of its population. Considering that the total population of Hungary proper was 18,264,533 in 1910 Hungary lost not 3 million people but approximately 7.5 million. What Caldwell is talking about is the Hungarian-speaking population of the lost territories.

I was surprised to see that Christopher Caldwell thinks that there is a “Hungarian-speaking enclave” in the Czech Republic. The Czechs don’t seem to be aware of its existence.

It is hard for the author to decide what to call Jobbik, which according to him “has nationalism, and even fascism, at its heart.” He mentions that in his half-hour conversation with Ferenc Gyurcsány while he was on a hunger strike protesting the proposed voter registration the former prime minister told him:”I want to be clear–it is a neo-Nazi party.” However, it seems that Gyurcsány didn’t manage to convince him. In fact, he describes the reaction to Jobbik as “hair-trigger sensitivity.” This is understandable “given the gory efficiency with which Hungary’s Arrow Cross government eliminated the entire rural Jewish population of the country in World War II.” Oh, my! This is really bad. It was only after October 15, 1944 that Ferenc Szálasi’s government was sworn in. By then the rural Jewish population had been shipped to Auschwitz with the active assistance of the Hungarian government. At that point Miklós Horthy was still the regent of the country; he didn’t interfere until July, when he stopped the transports.

Jobbik’s anti-Roma and anti-Semite activities are described thus: “Jobbik devotes a great deal of its mental energy to Hungary’s roughly 700,000 gypsies (or roma, as they are also called), who account for much of the country’s poverty and crime, and to Israel.” Delicately put: “mental energy.” Moreover, the author can’t back up his claim about Gypsy crime (even though it may be true) because no official distinction exists between Roma and non-Roma.

I guess that’s enough for the time being. So, echoing the standard criticism of foreign journalists we hear from the Fidesz camp, with so many factual errors and outright sloppiness how much credence can we give to the author’s substantive message?

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Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Thank you very much Eva for this important article.

Guest

London Calling!

Goodness – This journalist writes for the Financial Times too.

And you have to subscribe through FT’s pay wall to read his stuff.

The article is quite long – I think he must have been paid for by the word count! – Quantity not quality.

I think he must have had an all expenses-paid trip too – which he doesn’t declare (as is usual in English journalism for conflict-of-interest purposes).

American journalism at its worst – ‘Can’t-be-bothered-to-do-the-research copy’ masquerading as a serious article giving succour to the desperate Fidesz publicists.

He would be very unwise to defend himself here – he’ll be torn to shreds.

Regards

Charlie

David
Guest

Very typical of the Weekly Standard – conveniently ignoring the facts to make a case for its breed of rabid economic Darwinism.

Turkmenbasi
Guest

I can not decide whether this lousy article is brainwash, whitewash or hogwash? Probably all three in one piece.

My favourite bit is this one: ‘If you ask Orbán where he gets his economic ideas, he points to Ludwig Erhard and the “social market economy” that Germany’s Christian Democrats introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. He wants common people to have money to spend.’

Truely incredible that the author accepts this nonsense without any form of comment or criticism. He should have enquired about facts on the ground, including unorthodox economic methods, state capture and the subsequent series of downgrades to junk status.

Member

The “Weekly Substandard”.

Gábor
Guest

Éva, instead of bashing poor Caldwell just write an enthusiastic letter to the editor in which you express your delight that at last Weekly Standard realized that pension savings should be nationalized and the pension system run by the state in the from of a single pay-as-you-go system; that health care should not be based on individual insurance and private institutions offering treatement rather managed in the form of a centralized, state-run service based on obligatory, proprotional contributions; calculated with a single proportanial rate; that waste managment should be nationalized and set up as a single state-run system, that energy companies must be forced to abandon earning profit on their services provided and later they should be nationalized and managed as state-run enterprises and as a conclusion you must obviously mention how you, I suppose you are a Democrat, expect the moment when Weekly Standard endorses at last the Socialist Obama.

Member

Correction to Eva.

Pre-ww1 :

Hungary proper= 282,849 km^2
Fiume= 21 km^2
Croatia-Slavonia= 42,541 km^2
Total = 325,411 km^2

Hungary after 1921= 93,073 km^2

Therefore lost territories from Hungary proper= 66.1%.

Member

tappanch :
Correction to Eva.
Pre-ww1 :
Hungary proper= 282,849 km^2
Fiume= 21 km^2
Croatia-Slavonia= 42,541 km^2
Total = 325,411 km^2
Hungary after 1921= 93,073 km^2
Therefore lost territories from Hungary proper= 66.1%.

So Mr Caldwell was fed genuine data this time

Leto
Guest

tappanch :

tappanch :
Correction to Eva.

Therefore lost territories from Hungary proper= 66.1%.

Hungarian history is not Balogh’s strength.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

tappanch, and the arrow cross are responsible for deporting 440.000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau from May 15 until July 8, 1944?

Member

Karl Pfeifer :
tappanch, and the arrow cross are responsible for deporting 440.000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau from May 15 until July 8, 1944?

No, deportations were carried out while Horthy was still the head of state of Hungary.

I just found one mistake, about the lost territory in Prof Balogh’s letter.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Tappanch, the territories don’t include Crotia-slavonia + Fiume. Normally we don’t calculate those territories because no Hungarian government contested the Croats’ righr to secede. See the exact quote: ” Not counting Croatia-Slavonia, Hungary lost 32.6% of its territories but 41.6% of its population.”

No, I would like to disagree with you.

Hungary after 1921 / Hungary proper, without [Croatia-Slavonia & Fiume] =

93,073 / 282,849 = 32.9%

Hungary after 1921 / “Hungarian Crown” including [Croatia-Slavonia & Fiume] =

93,073 / 325,411 = 28.6%

petofi
Guest

No journalist who is published by The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others could, in his right mind, produce such utter garbage.

This is a PR job under another name, bought and paid for (but not declared). In Caldwell’s defense, he took the money but then peppered the article with errors to signal that it’s not his true intent. I suspect he was paid quite a bit because the article carries the risk of him having to defend himself to the editors of the above papers. But I’m sure he got a chunk…to fly in for a day, and to write nonsense that he didn’t really believe in.
Man, but Leto and the Troll brigade, as well as the Fidesz mindless are eating up this slop.

Szabó Dezső
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Tappanch, the territories don’t include Crotia-slavonia + Fiume. Normally we don’t calculate those territories because no Hungarian government contested the Croats’ righr to secede. See the exact quote: ” Not counting Croatia-Slavonia, Hungary lost 32.6% of its territories but 41.6% of its population.”

Just look at a map, Erdély itself is bigger than Csonka-Magyarország.

Member

Szabó Dezső :
Just look at a map, Erdély itself is bigger than Csonka-Magyarország.

With only the Partium and the Bansag. Pathetic playing with colorful country legos. Wake up!

gardista
Guest

Mutt :

Szabó Dezső :
Just look at a map, Erdély itself is bigger than Csonka-Magyarország.

With only the Partium and the Bansag. Pathetic playing with colorful country legos. Wake up!

You forgot Máramaros.

oneill
Guest

‘If you ask Orbán where he gets his economic ideas, he points to Ludwig Erhard and the “social market economy” that Germany’s Christian Democrats introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. He wants common people to have money to spend.’

Is this an influence the Orban has “pointed to” before? Or just something his PR lackies would give the Fuhrer a cloak of centre-right intellectual respectability in front of a non-fascist audience? Or did Caldwell find the influence for him?

I ran a very small-blog many moons ago and I would have been ashamed to have posted a piece containing so many easily checkable objective mistakes. For a full-time professional journalist to have delivered such garbage is beyond belief.

Gárdista
Guest

You forgot máramaros.

Member

I do not understand Hungarian nationalists. Prof Balogh made one inadvertent numerical mistake. So what? It does not erase the validity of her other remarks!

Mr Caldwell’s piece, on the other hand, was full of misleading statements elsewhere.

oneill
Guest

From his wiki page-

“Erhard believed the major world problems were soluble through free trade and the economic unity of Europe (as a prerequisite for political unification);”

Just like the Viktator then.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :

tappanch :
I do not understand Hungarian nationalists. Prof Balogh made one inadvertent numerical mistake. So what? It does not erase the validity of her other remarks!
Mr Caldwell’s piece, on the other hand, was full of misleading statements elsewhere.

Suddenly I realized what happened, it was reduced to 32.6% of its former size and I wrote “lost” instead of “reduced.” Thanks.

reduced to 32.9 % or lost 66.1%

Member

tappanch :

Eva S. Balogh :

tappanch :
I do not understand Hungarian nationalists. Prof Balogh made one inadvertent numerical mistake. So what? It does not erase the validity of her other remarks!
Mr Caldwell’s piece, on the other hand, was full of misleading statements elsewhere.

Suddenly I realized what happened, it was reduced to 32.6% of its former size and I wrote “lost” instead of “reduced.” Thanks.

reduced to 32.9 % or lost 66.1%

It is crazy ! I also made a mistake.
So the correct sentence: reduced to 32.9%, i.e. lost 67.1%

Veszely101
Guest

Poor Magyar Nemzet and its delusional followers, applauded the PR article with lots of gratitude, Orban’s name was mentioned as an intellectual creature. It worked.

We need lots of loving care to wake up these blind masses.

The ladies and gentlemen of old Christian Hungary prefer to live in dangerous ignorance.

petofi
Guest

Veszely101 :
Poor Magyar Nemzet and its delusional followers, applauded the PR article with lots of gratitude, Orban’s name was mentioned as an intellectual creature. It worked.
We need lots of loving care to wake up these blind masses.
The ladies and gentlemen of old Christian Hungary prefer to live in dangerous ignorance.

Between the Catholic church and Orban, the populace has been dizzied into raving compliance, groveling to be abused for the sake of mother church and the holy Roman Hungarian Empire, ahem. And they are…

Jano
Guest
Little off topic. Kuruc.info’s house historian, Lipusz Zsolt showed a little again of his mastery on misinterpreting a bunch of otherwise true historical facts and tie them together in such a way that it supports the theory about the invisible rule of the global background power (in this piece, the freemasons). It’s about the Great French Revolution. Yes those people had a plan to take over the world spanning over 3 centuries!! Mind you, amongst the first few comments, someone claims to have seen evidence that the Rotschild family traces back into antiquity so Lipusz’s claim is pretty modest in comparison. I strongly recommend anybody with somewhat firm historical knowledge on the French Revolution to take a look at it first of all for a good laugh, secondly, to gain some insight into how this people think (if you have the stomach, look into the comments). It’s a masterfully crafted circle of thoughts that looks very solid and coherent at first sight, especially that it uses correct historical data 70% of the time (of course completely out of context). You really have to have some firm background knowledge to see how nonsensical it is. If I wasn’t a mathematician, I… Read more »
petofi
Guest

The ‘truth’ of the Protocols are, again, in vogue among the Fidesz literati, except that they now refer to it in its updated mode–the Toronto protocols. As a former Torontonian, I particularly object to this designation…trading off on the good name of that
city. And, wouldn’t you know it, it was a Quebecois, anti-semite who has put it out.

Remeny101
Guest

Forget the minor problem of anti-semitism, and let us show empathy for our tiny Hungarian nation, which includes millions of good citizens, too.
The last 22 years have produced a psychological start, which was characterized by the national independence. The Emergency Room departments are filled with desperate patients.

The doctors are helpless.

People pass out from madness. (Good that one of our friends called himself Vanek Ur, from P. Howard’s 13 Carat Roadster)

The conclusion can be that this is a nation of great potential as always, but still in the kindergarden or elementary school and far from graduating into the future Hungarian Enlightenment.
Many Hungarians will have to repeat a few elementary classes in history, philosophy, sociology to graduate.

With Orbans manipulations, a new class must be introduced: “We will never not lie again. It is better to stick to the truth.”