Let me start with a footnote to the “war of numbers.” The following letter came from a friend of Hungarian Spectrum. The subject of the e-mail was: Galileo: observe and measure! Here is the letter:
Well, I think that will settle the matter, at least for those people who read Hungarian Spectrum. But before I leave the subject of crowds, one of György Bolgár’s guests on today’s “Megbeszéljük” (Talking it over) was Tamás Fricz, an organizer of the Peace March. He is one of the so-called independent Hungarian political scientists whose activities do nothing to elevate the low level of Hungarian political culture. But at least he is a mild-mannered fellow.
In the course of the conversation Bolgár inquired about the size of the crowd and the estimates announced by the Ministry of Interior of 150,000 or even 400,000 people listening to Viktor Orbán’s speech in front of the parliament. First, Bolgár expressed his surprise that the Ministry of Interior made such an announcement. This was a first. Second, he expressed his doubts that 150,000 people could fit into that space. Fricz’s answer was that “we must believe the official estimates.” As you can imagine, that answer didn’t satisfy Bolgár. Fricz explained his position by saying that doubting the police estimates would lead to constant questioning from both left and right every time there was a demonstration. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Well, we can be fairly certain that the Orbán government didn’t tell the truth when it came to the size of the Peace March. One can argue about the importance of the issue: does it really matter how large the crowd was? Some people would say that it doesn’t. On the other hand, we received a couple of comments from true believers even on this blog who obviously found the “overwhelming support” of the government versus the very small number of protesters heartwarming and politically significant.
If the Orbán government lied only about how many people showed up at a demonstration it wouldn’t too bad. But the problem is that they lie about critical matters as well. Let’s take first the various estimates the Hungarian government has submitted to the European Union in order to avoid the excessive deficit procedure. Only yesterday Árpád Kovács of the three-member Budgetary Council stated that upon closer observation the 764 billion forint extra tax revenue announced on October 5 and 17 is only 453 billion. It’s no wonder that Orbán was told in Brussels a couple of days ago that the latest Hungarian numbers “are not quite enough” to keep the deficit under 3%. And Kovács, who isn’t exactly a critic of the Orbán government, didn’t even mention in his report that there is no way Hungary will have 0.9% economic growth next year, especially if Germany musters only 0.8%. More and more people think that on November 7 the European Council will suggest keeping Hungary under excessive deficit procedure. And that could mean the loss of billions in cohesion funds–and these billions are not in forints but in euros.
Another lie being concocted right now deals with the Hungarian government’s relations with the International Monetary Fund. This morning Origo came out with a story that on the surface seems well founded, according to which the IMF has had enough of Hungary’s peacock dance. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Hungarian government’s latest anti-IMF campaign. Millions were spent on full-page ads claiming that the IMF makes intolerable, inhumane demands– for example, cutting child support benefits in order to balance the budget.
This out-and-out campaign against the IMF coincided with the Annual Meeting of the IMF in Tokyo where Mihály Varga was supposed to have a discussion with the IMF officials in charge of the Hungarian negotiations. Apparently these talks didn’t go at all well, and it looks as if for the time being the negotiations–if there ever were any formal negotiations in the first place–have come to a halt.
The forint immediately began to fall after Origo’s report. Varga naturally denied the story, but Varga’s assurances didn’t put an end to the very strong suspicion that Origo’s information is correct, especially after the IMF refused to comment.
It seems that the constant lying (because I consider fudging figures lying), especially when directed against the hand that feeds, has resulted in a potentially dire situation. If the IMF negotiations have come to a halt and if the excessive deficit procedure against Hungary continues (with the possible loss of European Union subsidies) Orbán is in big trouble and so is the country.