Orbán in Great Britain: Spreading the gospel

By now, I’m sure, you are fully aware of my disdain for politicians whose speeches display a woeful lack of knowledge. Viktor Orbán certainly had ample opportunity to be properly educated, but he was more interested in football than in learning. He himself admitted that in high school he wasn’t good enough in either the arts or the sciences to get admitted to university. So he decided to go to law school. In law school, according to his college friend Gábor Fodor, Orbán’s passions were football and politics.

Unfortunately, his lack of a broad liberal education is painfully obvious. He picks up bits and pieces of information from assorted sources but doesn’t know how to integrate them into a coherent whole. Moreover, he uncritically accepts questionable theories and spurious facts that support his views on, say, religion, economics, or history.

One could go and on about the embarrassing mistakes he made in the past, but here I would like to concentrate on his latest speech at Chatham House in London. The speech itself was surprisingly brief because he wanted to have time for a debate of his ideas afterward. But even this short speech was crawling with factual errors and conceptual confusion.

A day before the trip Adam LeBor, a British journalist living in Budapest, wrote an amusing piece in The Economist. It was “a confidential briefing note from Mr Cameron’s staff to prepare him for Mr Orbán’s visit … as imagined by our correspondent.”

Orbán offered up his own briefing note as he tried to describe his worldview to the audience at Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. I can only imagine what the learned foreign policy experts thought of Viktor Orbán’s “theses.”

Orbán likes to call Hungarian a “unique language,” even though this is essentially a meaningless expression; every language is unique in its own way. Orbán, however, in this speech glided easily from linguistic uniqueness to Hungarian “exceptionalism” (in all fairness, a word that he did not use). He illustrated his point by claiming that Hungarians are great inventors. Hungarians invented the espresso machine, the ball point pen, and the computer. I suspect that there were not too many people in his audience who rushed home to check on the accuracy of these claims. Or at least I hope not too many did because in no time they would have discovered that neither the espresso machine nor the computer are Hungarian inventions. The modern espresso machine is the result of more than 100 years of improvements of the original 1888 patent by Angelo Morondo. It is true that among the many who improved it there was a certain Francesco Illy who was originally from Temesvár but who left Hungary after World War I and settled in Trieste.

As for the computer, once again many inventors contributed to its development. János von Neumann and others wrote (and he edited) the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC in 1945; the IAS machine later built at Princeton was based on the computer architecture described in this report. But it’s a major stretch to say that von Neumann invented the computer. Orbán was right about the ballpoint pen. It was the invention of László Biró who with his brother escaped from Hungary in 1943 and settled in Argentina.

Orbán’s view of the world, which he outlined to his audience, is not worth repeating. We know it only too well. Europe is in decline, the Europeans are lost and have no answers to their economic ills, close integration in Europe is inadvisable, nations are important, the death of the welfare state is near, and European leaders lack leadership and vision.

He did, however, elaborate on what he called the “red and green attack against traditional values: against the church, against family, against the nation. ” Moreover, he wanted his audience to believe that “democracy in Europe is democracy based on Christianity. The anthropological root of our political institutions is imago Dei, which requires an absolute respect of the human being.”

Democracy Index 2013. Hungary is labelled as flawed democracy

Democracy Index 2013. Hungary is labelled as a flawed democracy

Naturally, Orbán never learned any Latin, but lately he has been dropping Latin expressions right and left. Especially when it comes to church affairs. Just the other day he portrayed Hungary as a “church-building country” and dropped a few Latin words, Soli Deo gloria, for good measure. Perhaps he wants to sound learned, perhaps he wants to identify with Catholicism. In any event, in English we talk about “the image of God” and not “imago Dei.” Wrong words in the wrong country with the wrong church. Moreover, just as Endre Aczél rightly pointed out, Orbán delivered this message in a country which is perhaps the least concerned in Europe with religious matters and where only 4.4% of the population attend church at all.

As for democracy in Europe being based on Christianity, that’s total nonsense. We all know about the ancient Athenian roots of democracy when it was led by Cleisthenes in the fifth century BCE. The earliest Christians, Greek educated, knew about Athenian democracy, but early Christian teaching was not influenced by these ideas. The origins of modern democracy go back to Great Britain’s parliamentary system; from there it spread to the North American continent where a strict division between church and state was introduced. Perhaps (if I were to be charitable) Orbán was thinking of the Christian socialist movement sometimes called Christian democracy, but I doubt it. I think he’s simply hung up on this “church, family, nation” idea and tries to construct a history to support his image of a nonexistent world.

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Mutt
Guest

Orban said:

” [he’s not talking about] decreasing state debt, about the budget
deficit which has been well below three per cent for the last three years, I am
not mentioning that amount of foreign direct investments has tripled in a year
and I am not going into details regarding our record low inflation rate”

What was he smoking? Lies, lies, lies as Johnny Boy would say.

The debt increased, the budget was hovering below 3% (except 2011 when the stealing of the pension funds kicked in). Consumer price index is low today – that is true. But where the hell he got the numbers for the foreign direct investments? Is this just me or this tripling is absolute bollocks?

Ron
Guest

Mutt: But where the hell he got the numbers for the foreign direct investments? Is this just me or this tripling is absolute bollocks?

I believe he is talking about the Cohesion Funding from the EU, Mercedes.

He is not mentioning the investments they lost due to his policies, such as EUR 2 Billion from Mercedes into Mexico, which suppose to be for Hungary.

Paul
Guest

The idea that Christianity is in any way related to democracy is bizarre.

Christ may have been a proto-socialist in many ways, but he was no democrat – the will of God, not the will of man, was his creed. And Paul certainly wasn’t a democrat – and nor were all the Popes (very far from it in many cases!). In fact the whole basis of Christianity, until very recently, was don’t think for yourself, do as you’re told, or you’ll burn in hell.

Paul
Guest

As for the basis of modern democracy being the British Parliamentary system – I’m not at all sure this is true. It might be the basis of the US ‘democratic’ system, but neither the US nor the UK have what I would call genuine democracies (i.e. where the will of the people is represented as accurately as possible). The western European model of democracy is much closer to the ideal. You’ll note on the map that neither the US or the UK are at the top of the scale.

Ron
Guest

OT It seems that the new airline Solyom Airways is unable to pay salaries, and the Directors are either in hospital or left the Company.

http://www.politics.hu/20131011/solyom-airways-unable-to-pay-salaries-for-september/

Paul
Guest

Wikipedia describes Chatham House as “the second most influential think tank in the world… and the world’s most influential non-US think tank”. So one has to wonder what on earth they made of our Viktor and his ramblings.

Does anyone know why he was invited there, or what happened at the discussion afterwards?

eskild2013
Guest

Fin analyse. Orban klædt af. Orban forveksler ønsketænkning og virkelighed. Hvis ikke han lige havde magtmonopolet er han morsom.

eskild2013e
Guest

POSTDEMOKRATI: Lovene bliver til på demokratisk vis; men de stærkeste er hævet over loven. (
Kilde: Britisk sociolog: Colin Crouch)

anglawbp
Guest
I think Orbán judged his audience well (and, please note, that is not intended to mark approval of what he said) and the criticism of his remarks about Christianity miss the point. Aczél’s criticism is ill-founded: he says the majority of Britons don’t believe but in a recent survey 68.5 per cent identified as Christian (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/nelson-jones/2011/09/christian-religion-age) and he describes the UK as a protestant country, which it isn’t, and displays a lack of understanding of the relationship between the Church of England and the Catholic Church. Your own figure of 4.4 per cent of the population attending church is also wrong: the website you link to gives 15 per cent, and that is born out by the link I referred to above. As a matter of fact the UK is a Christian country. The Church of England is the established church, the Queen being both head of state and head of the church, and bishops being members of the legislature. Whether the claim that the UK is a Christian country washes with the electorate at large is also not clear cut. When David Cameron said it a couple of years ago he was presumably making a political judgement (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16224394). In… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest
I think Orban’s knowledge, on the one hand is more superficial than what Eva describes. In his mind, he was invited to Britain, where there is a conservative government, and he thinks conservative government equals “church, family, nation” in every country. He has been totally isolated within the EU in the last few years, and in Hungary he thinks he knows everything best, so there is no need for him to find out that in Britain the Tories are about anything but that b…sh.t. I doubt it matters very much what the thinktank will think, he is not the first idiot that people elect as prime minister, and in his case it is not much of news. What I’m worried about is, that on the other hand, HE believes in his revolutionary plan of tackling the EU financial crisis by turning to traditional values. Especially when he comes up with this “work first, then economic growth” nonsense. As if Hungary’s problem was the people’s lack of will to work, as if there were jobs galore. What work are people supposed to do to if there are no investments, no bank credits flowing into the economy etc? How do you create… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest

(I meant “entrepreneurship” – what a word to spell!)

James Atkins
Guest

It is important to distinguish between Orban’s expressed views and his practice. Otherwise you unnecessarily alienate right wing people who abhorr his kleptocracy.

I thought that there was some good stuff in his speech. For example, the point he made about it being important for the individual to recognise there is something more important than he or she is very profound and valuable. Even though as a quasi dictator he demonstrably ignores his own advice.

You can defend, reasonably, a social conservative viewpoint.

That’s not the problem. The problem is the rank hypocrisy: how can you preach Christianity when you are party to an almighty splurge of thieving and corruption?

Wondercat
Guest

I look forward to a summary of British responses — first-hand from the British press, or refracted through Hungarian-press newsgatherers — to OV’s talk. The inaccuracies and non-idiomatic usages (no one would be taken aback by the use of “imago Dei”, good God, the chap is a foreigner, of course he’ll get it wrong) perhaps to Prof Balogh’s audience make OV’s wider claims implausible. But what will the wider public of businessmen and policymakers make of those claims?

Wondercat
Guest

Esprit de l’escalier here — can it be found out through whom OV was invited to speak at this “think-tank”? That might shed some light on how he and his policies are seen in Britain’s ruling circles.

grantbg
Guest

Well put, James. I had never heard him before, and whilst I bemoan his ideas and political direction, his self confidence was astonishing. He knows that he will cruise the election, and even admitted his success was and will be due in no small part to the ineffective opposition. I now understand his popularity, which, based purely on his ideas, had been the cause of my dismay about the future here. He has charmed non-critical Hungarians, and does not fear being unseated. One point which surprised me was that the outcome of the last election, in case Hungary had a first past the post electoral system, would have been a 98% majority. Let’s hope he doesn’t resort to emulating the British form of democracy!!! One last thought: what sort of a think tank can it be that fields such benign questions?

Guest

Doing a quick search for the reception of Orbán’s speech in the British press I found – nothing at all ???

Only the usual Blah, blah by Kumin Ferenc on his blog – does this guy really believe what he produces ?

Btw what do you think ? Did Orbán write the speech himself ? Probably not – gems like this:

“But I think what is going on in Europe now, is an absolutely open red and green attack against traditional values: against the church, against family, against the nation.”

Ain’t that funny ? The writer must have been high on some potent stuff – I heard that some of the Fidesz spin doctors use coke …

Ron
Guest

Wondercat :
Esprit de l’escalier here — can it be found out through whom OV was invited to speak at this “think-tank”? That might shed some light on how he and his policies are seen in Britain’s ruling circles.

There is one rule in Chatham House, and that is not to be transparent. So you will not find this out, unless you were there.

http://www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/chathamhouserule

So much for transparency.

Wondercat
Guest

Perhaps the FINANCIAL TIMES will on Monday give a column inch or two to the “event”.

Bart
Guest

This is diplomacy in action. Let the village idiot get something (see how happy Orban and the ambassador are?), a meeting with at least one European politician (and Orban may return this gesture at one point), since we anyway don’t care.

This meeting had no relevance whatsoever. Cameron has more business with Malawi and Lesotho than with Hungary. The local trash delivery problems in Dundee, Scotland has much bigger relevance.

Nobody listened to Orban’s speech at Chatam’s house, nobody reads it, it is similarly meaningless. In any case, whatever Orban talks about anywhere is always intended solely for domestic consumption. Orban and his media policy are extremely focused and he knows that only Hungarians will keep him in power and only the Hungarian voters matter. Thus there is nothing to analyze in his speech, his Hungarian fans got what they expected and this is what matters.

LwiiH
Guest
“Hungarians invented the espresso machine, the ball point pen, and the computer.” Hey Viktor, way to pander to your audience. Just one or two small points, isn’t Babbage considered the inventor of the programmable computer? And wasn’t von Neumann designing a Universal Turing Machine designed by Alonzo Church and Alan Turing? You know, Turing, the guy who helped build the BOMB, a computer that was instrumental in breaking important German and Japanese ciphers that saved Horthy’s a**e.. oh, sorry, Horthy played for the other team didn’t he so he got his a**e kicked. But then there is this other chap Conrad Zuse who built a UTM in 1941, years before von Neumann came up with the design that send data and instructions down the same bus and became the basis for the von Neumann architecture (something that today is known affectionately as the von Neumann bottleneck) but that is strictly for CPUs, not computers. Lest lets not forget that it was Turing’s work, including the groundbreaking work at Bletchley Park, that was so influential that the most prestigious award in the computing industry today is the Turing Award presented yearly by the ACM. But then, these are just one or… Read more »
Bowen
Guest
LwiiH : “Hungarians invented the espresso machine, the ball point pen, and the computer.” Hey Viktor, way to pander to your audience. Just one or two small points, isn’t Babbage considered the inventor of the programmable computer? And wasn’t von Neumann designing a Universal Turing Machine designed by Alonzo Church and Alan Turing? You know, Turing, the guy who helped build the BOMB, a computer that was instrumental in breaking important German and Japanese ciphers that saved Horthy’s a**e.. oh, sorry, Horthy played for the other team didn’t he so he got his a**e kicked. But then there is this other chap Conrad Zuse who built a UTM in 1941, years before von Neumann came up with the design that send data and instructions down the same bus and became the basis for the von Neumann architecture (something that today is known affectionately as the von Neumann bottleneck) but that is strictly for CPUs, not computers. Lest lets not forget that it was Turing’s work, including the groundbreaking work at Bletchley Park, that was so influential that the most prestigious award in the computing industry today is the Turing Award presented yearly by the ACM. But then, these are just… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

wolfi :
Doing a quick search for the reception of Orbán’s speech in the British press I found – nothing at all ???
Only the usual Blah, blah by Kumin Ferenc on his blog – does this guy really believe what he produces ?

I’d be very surprised if Kumin even writes what is on his own blog – let alone believes it.

Yannick
Guest

Bowen: Kumin believes in what he says. That is your mistake, you think they just say it but there is something behind it, they think otherwise. Not. They do think it so, they are that crazy. All of them. It is a religion. But since you are probably not religious yourself, you cannot imagine how it is to be one, I am afraid.

That said, the untold billions of Friends of Hungary and other projects must end up somewhere (well, that is after filling Fidesz’ party coffers). And the DC PR firms happily work for anybody, so it is a good suggestion that the Fidesz government probably makes good use of the American know-how.

Bowen
Guest

As a point of direct comparison, Hillary Clinton has just given a speech at Chatham House, and it’s currently on the front page of the Guardian website. Probably many many other news sources, too.

Paul
Guest
Wondercat : I look forward to a summary of British responses — first-hand from the British press, or refracted through Hungarian-press newsgatherers — to OV’s talk. The inaccuracies and non-idiomatic usages (no one would be taken aback by the use of “imago Dei”, good God, the chap is a foreigner, of course he’ll get it wrong) perhaps to Prof Balogh’s audience make OV’s wider claims implausible. But what will the wider public of businessmen and policymakers make of those claims? You might be disappointed. When I last checked the BBC and Guardian websites there was nothing about it on either of them. Orbán visiting Britain may be big news in Hungary, but not here. As a Brit married to a Hungarian, I can tell you that hardly anyone has heard of Orbán or has the slightest knowledge of Hungarian politics, and most people have no real idea of where Hungary is. Even to those who have been there, ‘Hungary’ is just Budapest. And I’m not just talking about the average ‘man on the street’ – even for most educated and informed people, Hungary is a vague place somewhere in Eastern Europe. No one knows what Hungarians look like or how… Read more »
James Atkins
Guest

Paul: Absolutely true. But it is also true for most other countries in the world. For that matter, both ways. Most people seem to know hardly anything about other countries.

James Atkins
Guest

Actually, most people know little about their own country, too.

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