The pitfalls of being loquacious: Viktor Orbán’s interview with Handelsblatt

Lately Viktor Orbán has been making one, sometimes even two speeches a day. First of all, there is his Friday morning interview on MR1. Second, every time a new business opens Orbán makes sure that he is there. After all, not too many new enterprises have been opening their doors of late in Hungary. The rate of investment hasn’t been so low for decades. But with Orbán’s ribbon cutting the less politically savvy portion of the population will most likely gain the impression that the economy is booming in Hungary.

Then there are the unveilings of statues that certainly wouldn’t need the presence of the prime minister, but Orbán seems to grab every opportunity to be seen and heard. Finally, his foreign trips–mind you, mostly to places like Azerbaijan or Georgia–also give him an opportunity to say something about foreign trade and foreign policy.

I just heard from a well informed journalist that arranging a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel was not exactly easy. But it gave Orbán the opportunity to grant a long interview to Handesblatt, a well respected  German newspaper dealing mostly with finance and economics. His trip to Berlin also allowed him to arrange an appearance at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation where he delivered a speech that I already touched upon. And we mustn’t forget about his joint press conference with Angela Merkel and his comments on his trip on the Hungarian public radio Friday morning.

Here I would like to write a little more about the interview with Handelsblatt. First of all, the interview is not available in its entirety online. In fact, I managed to find only a couple of paragraphs summarizing the very long interview which appeared only in the print edition of the newspaper. Fortunately, Galamus has a contributor who is able to translate from German, English, and French, and therefore the readers of this excellent Internet paper can read about news on Hungary in the western press. Something that is very much needed given MTI’s often less than adequate reporting.

Speaking of MTI’s reporting on foreign news, I have to share a funny story with you. Normally on October 9 the city of Leipzig celebrates its “Festival of Lights.” Under the heading of “Overcoming Borders,” the focus of this year’s content was the historic events that took place in Hungary in 1956 and 1989 and the effects they have had on Germany and Europe. This year commemorated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the German-Hungarian friendship treaty. The invited speaker was György Dalos, a Hungarian writer living in Berlin. But Zoltán Balog was also there representing the Hungarian government.

Boris Kálnoky of Die Welt mentioned the presence of Balog which was then translated by MTI as “The minister, who is not a member of any party, is one of the most glittering and most independent personalities of the conservative Hungarian government. ” Well, Balog as glittering is quite something, especially since the original went like this: “eine der schillerndsten und unabhängigsten Persönlichkeiten der konservativen ungarischen Regierung.”  There are all sorts of alternative translations  for ” schillern,” from “non-transparent” to “hypocritical,” but my German-English dictionary offers the English word “colorful” which sounds appropriate to me given the context. Indeed, one must be careful with MTI, and not just because of their translations.

As I said, Orbán’s interview was very long and here I will mention only those points that I found significant. According to Orbán, for Hungary’s very poor economic performance of late, especially since he took office, “the forty-five years of communism is responsible.” Let me reiterate that Hungary was always behind the West in economic development. When a journalist inquired about his proposed economic policies, he claimed that “the example for Hungary is Great Britain” where the economy is barely growing but employment is on the rise.

When the conversation moved on to energy, Viktor Orbán said that until now the natural gas that supplied 85% of Hungarian households “came only from Russia.” But he “promised that he will free Hungary from this dependence. Very soon we will be buying natural gas through Slovakia. That pipeline will be ready next year and we can already import gas from Romania.” And, I ask, where does that gas come from? From Russia, of course. The journalists also asked about Nabucco: “Are you not interested in Nabucco?” Answer: “Exactly the opposite. We want to import natural gas from Azerbaijan and there are other alternatives that interest us. For example, a factory in Georgia that makes liquefied natural gas.” Again, he didn’t answer the question head on, so I assume that he is no longer interested in Nabucco, perhaps for the same reasons that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not wholly committed to the project.

In tough times people need a strong leader

Another interesting part of the interview dealt with leadership. According to Orbán, hard times require strong leadership “and we try to be equal to the task.” At this point a journalist interjected: “Your leadership style is controversial, putting it politely.” Answer: “Only the people who don’t like me say that.” The journalist: “It seems that there are quite a few of them. Why?” Answer: “That has something to with my political views and my character.”

So, the conversation moved on to his character. According to Orbán, he  has very decided views and some people don’t like that, but “this behavior also often solicits admiration even from those who hate me.” Another embarrassing question followed that exchange: “Do you like yourself in the role of a polarizer?” Answer: “I admit that sometimes it may look that way, but this is part of my job and I cannot run away from conflicts.”

This was not the first time that Orbán expressed his doubts about the “leadership structures of  democratic regimes, especially under the present circumstances.” We should remember his admiration of the Chinese model as well as of the country’s economic growth. Here he expressed his conviction that a “presidential system of government is much more suitable for times that require the implementation of far-reaching reforms.” However, Hungary has a fairly solid foundation as far as the parliamentary system is concerned–the arrangement set up in 1848 and again in 1867–but none in presidential or half-presidential systems. But who knows. Perhaps six months before the elections Orbán will introduce a half-presidential system and make himself president for seven years!

Orbán is certain that his “political style suits Hungary’s political culture,” which I’m afraid doesn’t reflect well on Hungarian society. He sees himself as “the man of the people.” He even had the temerity to say: “My message to the Hungarian people is that I never lie to you, I will never betray you, and I will fight for you.”

Finally, Orbán was asked about his plans concerning the introduction of the euro. Hungary had pledged to switch over to the euro once the country met the eligibility requirements for admission to the eurozone. Even though not explicitly, he seems to have rejected the idea of Hungary’s joining the seventeen countries currently using the euro. He claimed that when Hungary signed the agreement the situation was very different and that today adherence to the zone cannot be automatic. “No decision was made whether Hungary will ever join the eurozone.” I would like to call attention to the fact that after his conversation with Angela Merkel Orbán was less feisty. He simply said that the time is not here yet–and indeed it isn’t–but when the circumstances are such that the introduction of the euro will be beneficial it will be done.

And finally, an important Orbán quotation from his speech given at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It concerns the constitutional court and the rule of law. According to him, Hungarians respect the institution of the constitutional court “but they are a bit ambivalent” toward it because, after all, this body can annul decisions of the representatives chosen by the people. “The Hungarian way of thinking, the Hungarian stomach finds this more difficult to swallow than the people of Germany seem to.” An incredible statement. Practically a negation of the rule of law, which is the foundation of democracy.

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petofi
Guest

Are you surprised, Eva?
What does a Felcsutian know, or care, about Law. Orban believes in the ‘golden rule’: he who controls the gold makes the rules. And after 2 years in power and a little tango with the Azeris, Orban has no shortage of lucre.

You did drop an interesting bomb about the Presidential System. If polls go against Orban, I can see him manufacturing a reason
to establish a Presidential system with voting every 12 years.

HAJ-RA VIKTOR!

HAJ-RA MUS-TA-CHIOED MAGYAROK!!!!

(Orban’s Hungary: a hall of mirrors with no
exit in sight.)

bernard de raadt
Guest

Eva is viktor only doing bad , nothing positive ………. or you look a the empty part of a glass because sombody drank it bebore you did

bernard de raadt
Guest

before

Deane
Guest

Very badly written article with lots of factual mistakes. Poos English too. No wonder Fidesz has 2/3 majority.

petofi
Guest

Deane :
Very badly written article with lots of factual mistakes. Poos English too. No wonder Fidesz has 2/3 majority.

Let’s first, for the 20th time, remember that 2/3 of 51% of the voters is only 33% of the electorate.

But more importantly, when you set up a constitution by people–whether in 1989 or 2011–that have absolutely no practice or learning in the subject–then this is what you get: total nonsense that a madman can pervert to his wishes.

Why can’t Hungarians ever admit that they don’t know something?

Couldn’t they have at least had consulted with constitutional experts from Britain and the US about writing a constitution?

No, they couldn’t. They could twirl their mustachios and be confident that no one could do it better than they themselves.

cheshire cat
Guest
I have read the interview and I thought what a vain and deeply stupid, stupid man. It is so easy to see through it. He does nothing but self-praise, always trying to prove that he is strong, ahead of his time and oh, by the way, that HE IS NOT FAT (that’s the most recent thing, apparently). And yet, every time he gets asked a question about any logical, rational explanation or basis for his claims, he wriggles out with more populist bla-bla. Unfortunately, he also said: “we must be allowed to ask the question whether the leadership structures of democracy are still suitable. (…) And in our democratic systems today there are inherent leadership weaknesses.” What he means by this, he soon explains: democratic leaders can’t do anything against the will of the people. There is no need to comment on that. By the way when “He claimed that when Hungary signed the agreement the situation was very different and that today adherence to the zone cannot be automatic. “No decision was made whether Hungary will ever join the eurozone.” – he is wrong. Nothing has changed. The EU is a supranational legal institution, which will let Orban know… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest

@Petofi

“total nonsense that a madman can pervert to his wishes”

We need to also remember that unless someone gets a 2/3 at the next election (including Orban) the country will be ungovernable. Even the flat tax is in a 2/3 law – nobody will be able to change that without the support of the opposition. As I understand it, simply voting Fidesz out of government will not be enough.

Member

bernard de raadt :
Eva is viktor only doing bad , nothing positive ………. or you look a the empty part of a glass because sombody drank it bebore you did

Bernadette, it seems your glass is empty … (wink).

Member

The remark about the constitutional court sounds like another subtle warning about a system that he calls “presidential”. A one man rule without democratic controls, because “the people want it that way”.

Orban doesn’t need 2/3 after the next elections. Everything is carved in stone. They can bumble along with a simple majority (50%+). I wonder what will he do if they will have to govern with less then 50%. That can be the pretext to the presidential system.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

sure go and ask some other country what to do and never learn with your own mistakes so you allways be looking at what others do ja ja grow up dont grow old,

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

the way I see it you will wonder for a longggggggggggggggggggggggg time young need a strong parent

petofi
Guest

Bernard De Raadt :
the way I see it you will wonder for a longggggggggggggggggggggggg time young need a strong parent

Did you take your medication today?

petofi
Guest

cheshire cat :
@Petofi
“total nonsense that a madman can pervert to his wishes”
We need to also remember that unless someone gets a 2/3 at the next election (including Orban) the country will be ungovernable. Even the flat tax is in a 2/3 law – nobody will be able to change that without the support of the opposition. As I understand it, simply voting Fidesz out of government will not be enough.

Loopholes and traps–Hungarians caught in their own nonsense.

Guest

Very interesting (and sad …) interview, I’ll try to get more of it.

Just a small correction:

The word is “schillerndsten” from schillernd aka colourful or ambivalent !

Have a nice sunday everybody! And don’t get too excited about “Bernadette”, she’s almost the nicest troll I’ve seen here lately …

PS and not too much OT:

Sometimes I’m almost glad that I’m at a late stage of my life – spending our last years after having had more than 60 years of peace in Europe and a lot of opportunities to see the world e g. On the other hand I pity Hungarians (like my wife) and other East Europeans because they didn’t have those chances that people in Western Europe and North America had … At least I try to make up for her!

Wondercat
Guest

Following Wolfi: If you elect to alter your originally posted text, Prof Balogh, the newspaper is not Handes- but Handelsblatt.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

yes my medication are your hate answers, and seeng how old people never grew up.

Guest

@Bernadette:

I see hate only in your and the other Trolls’ posts – where do you see hate ?

All the regular posters here have a connection to Hungary and love the country and its people – that is why they are sad about what’s going on and about the treatment that Hungarians get fro Orbán and his government.

If you want to see real hate (by Hungarians) go to politics.hu and read the comments by “Magyar” and “Karpatok” or other Nazis ….

petofi
Guest

Bernard De Raadt :
yes my medication are your hate answers, and seeng how old people never grew up.

I see you’re ‘titled’.
Does that mean
that, like most affectatious Hungarians, you carry you carry a lunch in your leather briefcase to your
waste disposal job?

petofi
Guest
wolfi : @Bernadette: I see hate only in your and the other Trolls’ posts – where do you see hate ? All the regular posters here have a connection to Hungary and love the country and its people – that is why they are sad about what’s going on and about the treatment that Hungarians get fro Orbán and his government. If you want to see real hate (by Hungarians) go to politics.hu and read the comments by “Magyar” and “Karpatok” or other Nazis …. Not quite, Wolfi. Let’s say I started off that way with my idealistic notions of literate, intelligent, Hungarians who, in the modern world of the 21st century, had nothing in common with the rabid fascists on the 1940’s and before. No matter that I heard countless tales of young jews who were beaten to a pulp, time and again, back in the 1930s for no other crime than being jewish. No, I was going to return to Hungary and let bygones be bygones. (My father was on one of those trains–as well as my uncle–for which Csatary now sits, at home, the protected ‘hero’…something in the mold of the Azeri axe murderer.) So here we… Read more »
spectator
Guest

There are all sorts of alternative translations for ” schillern,” from “non-transparent” to “hypocritical,” but my German-English dictionary offers the English word “colorful” which sounds appropriate to me given the context.

– Eva, what about ‘iridescent’?
If we look at the definition: ‘varying in color when seen in different ligts or from different angles’ – fit just right to the character, don’t you think?

Otherwise the interview suggest, that more and more people able to see through the orbanist smoke-screen of an European statesman and recognize the authoritarian little twit behind with an over-sized ego and a load of very dangerous ideas.

Guest
@petöfi: I can understand your feelings – or at least I’m trying to. The Hungarians I know personally (ok, there’s not too many of them outside my wife’s family) are really decent people, some are a bit on the conservative side, but most are as liberal as me and my wife. Maybe I was extremely lucky there, finding someone like this – especially at my age … I know that you have all kinds of people in every country – just look at the US tea party, those people make me shudder, and of course we Germans have our number of Nazis too. But I’m still hoping that in the long run tolerance and wisdom will prevail against fundamentalism of all kinds – although here in Hungary it might be a very long run … PS and OT: I just read in the German SPIEGEL that one of Einstein’s last letters is being auctioned off: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/albert-einstein-god-letter-ebay-auction-3-million-religion_n_1940726.html This letter from 1954 about religion is in German like all his letters. Some years ago I went to a museum in NYC where they had an exhibition on his personal life and there I learnt that until his death he wrote in German… Read more »
spectator
Guest

bernard de raadt :
Eva is viktor only doing bad , nothing positive ………. or you look a the empty part of a glass because sombody drank it bebore you did

Why don’t you just help us along and name some of the positive things? You certainly have quite a lot to refer to, otherwise you wouldn’t mentioned, would you?

Otherwise, for your information – I’ve just find the missing amount from the glass, even a very likely culprit, look:
-http://mandiner.hu/cikk/20121013_igy_bulizik_orban_viktor

petofi
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Petőfi, I think you misunderstood Wolfi. He wasn’t talking about you.

How so?
I’m a regular poster here and I have a connection to Hungary as I was born there.

petofi
Guest
wolfi : @petöfi: I can understand your feelings – or at least I’m trying to. The Hungarians I know personally (ok, there’s not too many of them outside my wife’s family) are really decent people, some are a bit on the conservative side, but most are as liberal as me and my wife. Maybe I was extremely lucky there, finding someone like this – especially at my age … I know that you have all kinds of people in every country – just look at the US tea party, those people make me shudder, and of course we Germans have our number of Nazis too. But I’m still hoping that in the long run tolerance and wisdom will prevail against fundamentalism of all kinds – although here in Hungary it might be a very long run … PS and OT: I just read in the German SPIEGEL that one of Einstein’s last letters is being auctioned off: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/albert-einstein-god-letter-ebay-auction-3-million-religion_n_1940726.html This letter from 1954 about religion is in German like all his letters. Some years ago I went to a museum in NYC where they had an exhibition on his personal life and there I learnt that until his death he wrote… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest
Bernard De Raadt : at least he is doing something others just coment from the outside wich is very easy I am not so sure if it is good or bad .but at least he tries I think it would be better if he’d of done nothing.. and this is why one should hope never to see a majority government ever again. The changes OV made should be hard to get done. They should involve gathering a consensus across all groups inside the country. In non majority conditions this would involve this being involved in an unthinkable activity called negotiations. What makes OVs constitution illegitimate IMHO is that it’s a document that has been stuffed down the throats of every Hungarian without any form of consultation or negotiation. It takes in a single POWS which means it’s no better than a document created by any other dictator on the planet. The 2/3’s argument is (to use the term Biden seems to like) malarky. I’m glad that father OV seems to know what’s best for his flock even though they don’t… but that’s not how a true democracy functions. In the meantime his government is allowing terror groups to run through… Read more »
Bernard De Raadt
Guest

please inform me of a country of true democratic gorvenements I will gladly move to it

Petofi1
Guest

Bernard De Raadt :
at least he is doing something others just coment from the outside wich is very easy I am not so sure if it is good or bad .but at least he tries

Yes, he does ‘try’ certain things, doesn’t he?
Like,
–freeing the Azeri axe-murderer (That was a great move, right, Bernadette?)

–giving his soccer academy 2.8 billion forints…No problem there, right, Bernie? Great move?

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

some people like soccer. maybe more than some undisclosed pedofil

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