An unusual debate on the new Hungarian nuclear plant: János Lázár and Benedek Jávor

The news from Russsia and Ukraine  is frightening. The major question now is whether Russia will be satisfied with the annexation of the Crimea or whether the Russian army will march in and occupy further territories at the “request” of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Ukraine’s eastern provinces. I wonder what the Hungarian public will think if Russia manages to cut Ukraine in half and the Russian bear ends up quite a few kilometers closer to the Hungarian border. In addition, there are threatening Russian talks about Ukraine and its supply of natural gas, which naturally would affect the Hungarian energy supply. All this is happening in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s top-secret negotiations with Vladimir Putin about the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, which will increase Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia.

Viktor Orbán was in a great hurry to close this deal, most likely because he wanted ensure that it was voted on while he has a guaranteed two-thirds parliamentary majority. But then came Vladimir Putin’s gambit, which casts the Paks deal in a different light. As it is, the majority of the population doesn’t want to build another power plant and a whopping 75% of them are against the Russians building it. The couple of months spent by the Orbán government trying to influence public opinion in favor of Putin’s Russia didn’t manage to erase the negative feelings Hungarians have when they think of the country’s almost fifty-year occupation by the Russians. With the events in Ukraine these fears have received a new impetus, which makes Viktor Orbán’s situation concerning Paks even more difficult. According to some observers whose opinions I trust, “Paks is dead in the water.” But for the time being the government is sticking to its guns and Viktor Orbán is acting as if nothing has changed. They even agreed to a debate on the expansion of Hungary’s nuclear capacity built by Rosatom on money lent to Hungary from the Russian state. It is about this debate that I would like to say a few words.

As we know, there was no debate whatsoever on Paks prior to the signing of the agreement although there is a great deal of interest in the issue. So a student organization of law students at ELTE called Joghallgatók Önképző Szervezete (JÖSZ) organized a post-signing debate. The law students active in the association invited János Lázár, representing the government, and Benedek Jávor of Együtt2014/PM, who is a staunchly anti-nuclear Green, to have an open debate. How did the students manage to convince such an important man as Lázár to participate? Gáspár Orbán, the prime minister’s son, is one of the leaders of JÖSZ. He was among the students who were busily arranging the podium just before the actual debate.

atomvita

The interest was great. The large lecture hall was completely filled half an hour before the debate began. What was strange, and it says a lot about Hungarians’ attitude toward transparency, is that the debate was closed to the media as the result of a last-minute decision by the dean. Of course, reporters from several Internet news sites in addition to a journalist from Népszabadság managed to sneak in with fake IDs. Moreover, the whole debate, lasting longer than an hour, was recorded and is available online. But for those who don’t speak Hungarian here is a brief description of what transpired.

While Fidesz leaders might look very confident and can overwhelm their audience when delivering speeches, when they are supposed to engage in real debates they run out of steam. This is what happened to János Lázár.

Let’s start with the structure of the debate. There were three distinct parts. In the first part the topic was the circumstances of the agreement; in the second, questions concerning Russian-Hungarian relations were addressed to the participants; finally, in the third, the economic aspects of building a new power plant were discussed.

The debate began with Lázár, whose position was that nuclear capacity must be expanded because the old power plant will not be able to function beyond a certain date. This is true, but that date is far in the future. It would be quite enough to start to build the two new reactors in 2020. While he claimed that there will be no added capacity he did announce that in the government’s estimate in the next few years the need for electricity will grow by 1,000 megawatts. So, is there or isn’t there a need to produce more electricity? To give you an idea of the simplistic view Lázár and his friends entertain concerning this issue, for him the choice is “either a power plant or no Hungarian electricity.” No other options are available.

Jávor insisted that Paks II, the two new reactors, are additions to the present capacity. In addition, he listed the following objections: (1) the majority of Hungarians reject building the new reactors especially if it is done by the Russians; (2) the details of the agreement are not transparent; (3) the new investment will increase the price of electricity and will not add to the growth of the Hungarian GDP; (4) there will be too much energy when all four reactors are operational; (5) the building of Paks is too much of a geopolitical commitment to Russia; (6) the reactors will create fewer than the 10,000 jobs the government is talking about; (7) there are environmental concerns; (8) with interest the debt will be more than the government’s figure of 4.6 billion dollars. Jávor compared the deal to an especially deadly version of Russian roulette in which only one chamber in the revolver’s cylinder is not loaded.

When the moderator asked Lázár whether the government acted in such a way as to ensure the “democratic minimum,” he completely lost his cool. He interrupted the moderator and brought up a procedural question in order to avoid answering the question. He reduced the argument to: “either a power plant or no electricity.” From here on he talked about the fallacy of his opponent’s arguments but couldn’t come up with any arguments of his own. When he exceeded the allotted time he ignored the moderator and kept going. When the moderator inquired from him about the government’s refusal to make the details of the negotiations public, he told him and Jávor that they “should turn to the Russians with their requests.”

When it came to the price of electricity produced by Paks II, Lázár kept saying “atomic energy produces the cheapest electricity prices.” Yes, answered Jávor, the electricity Paks currently produces is inexpensive because the original initial investment has already been paid down. But the energy produced by Paks II will have to reflect the price of the new investment, which will be very costly. Lázár called this argument nonsense.

They moved on to national security issues. Jávor maintained that Hungarian dependence on Russian energy will increase after building Paks II while Lázár argued the opposite. In his opinion there is nothing to worry about because “the Russians have been here for sixty years and they are here today because they were the ones who built Paks.” So, nothing will really change. For Lázár nuclear energy means “independence.” Having only natural gas imposes energy dependence. To the question of why the Hungarian government asked for a Russian loan and why they didn’t turn, for example, to the IMF, Lázár’s answer was simple: “No one else would give a loan to Hungary except Russia.”

The debate naturally led nowhere. But there is also a good possibility that the grandiose Orbán plan for a Russian-built nuclear plant in an EU country will also lead nowhere. The Czech minister of defense already made it clear that Rosatom will never be in the running to build the Czech nuclear reactor. I can’t believe that the European Union could possibly let Putin’s Russia get close to an atomic power plant in Hungary.

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Paul
Guest

What is Orbán’s son doing organising a debate which is almost certainly going to make his father’s government look silly?

An
Guest

Paul :
What is Orbán’s son doing organising a debate which is almost certainly going to make his father’s government look silly?

Probably he is one of the few who’d be allowed to organize a debate at all. You see, Javor misunderstood this… it wasn’t supposed to be a real debate 🙂

Bablevesh
Guest
Gaspar is known on his facebook page to be a die-hard fan of his dad and being socially very conservative. His posts have been ridiculed several times on various lesser known blogs. Do not underestimate Orban’s dynastic efforts. Kadar did not have a child, but Horthy definitely tried to establish a dynasty. Orban very often brings Rachel (his oldest child) or Gaspar (only son) to various political events so that they can learn and fideszniks can get to know them. Fidesz’s leadership is based on a cult of personality, thus Orban’s kids have a better chance of succeeding him than any other fidesznik. (And political dynasties are known exist even outside dictatorships). Orban was not much older than Rachel or Gaspar are now when he first became the leader of Fidesz. Foreign readers may not know that but the Orban’s family (with five kids) is an orientation point among the better Buda-based families. Where the Orban kids go the language camp, in which school do they study and whatnot. It is also an open secret that such families (their kids) do not really like the Orban kids who seem to be a bit, well, arrogant. But they do not really… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I think Éva might be right when she said yesterday that Orbán might just have run out of his usual good luck on this one – tying himself to Putin just before Ukraine exploded.

As Harold Macmillan (UK PM 57-63), is supposed to have said, when asked what he most feared in politics, “events, dear boy, events”.

But I fear, although ‘events’ may have hopefully scuppered Paks 2, with Orbán’s tight control over the media, the political fallout from this will be very limited.

Kalman
Guest

About JÖSZ, the organization which set up the debate at ELTE.

It is basically a quite active Fidesz party offshoot at ELTE, the big secular university of Budapest. It is also an ‘exclusive’ organization so that freshmen have to apply to get admitted and pass a test. It also seems that other well-connected fideszniks are also active in it, besides Gaspar, though if he is in it, then he surely is the ‘decider’.

http://atlatszooktatas.blog.hu/2013/10/18/morvai_krisztina_az_elte-ajk-n

Mr. Paul
Guest

” According to some observers whose opinions I trust, “Paks is dead in the water.” ”

This was György Bolgár who said this, correct? Perhaps Mészáros agrees as well.

By the way one of the latest news :Russia and China are in “agreement” regarding Ukraine.

http://news.sky.com/story/1219922/russia-and-china-in-agreement-over-ukraine

And Germany sent envoys to Russia and as a result Putin agreed to start negotiations with the Kiev government. The situation is changeing by the minute almost.

Paul
Guest

OT – the forint closed at just under 258 against the Swiss frank yesterday (Monday), the highest it’s been since the bad times in 2011 – and even then it was only higher than this twice. Furthermore, whilst the two peaks above this level in 2011 were spikes (i.e. they went up quickly, but came down quickly as well), the current poor value seems to be a fairly solid trend, with the Ft steadily declining in value since early January, and showing no signs of recovering.

Most of the Hungarians with CHF mortgages couldn’t afford to take advantage of the government scheme to convert them, so are still stuck with this burden. I wonder if this is going to become an election issue?

Malvin
Guest
Funnily enough, that there was even a debate was because of Orban’s kid. If it were not for him no way Janos Lazar would have entered any debate, however small. He could not say no to Gaspar, however. Fidesz does not do debates. They do not need to. Only the challenger is interested in debates, but an “eagle will not address a mouse”. They have the media so if they want to say something, they just announce it, or use other trickier means. I am not so sure about Paks 2. It is an extremely important project for Simicska, his ambition to do this cannot be overestimated and he is the most influential person in Hungary behind Orban. Simicska is building his coalition made up of other Hungarian entrepreneurs (ie. oligarchs) to lobby with Orban that they need this project by any means or cost. In addition, the entire atomic science base, people from from the Technical University and other research facilities and MVM are extremely eager to start working. For them, hundreds of ‘influential’ people, if not more, this is about the dreams and purposes of their whole lives. Also, this project has been in the works for five… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Mr. Paul :
” According to some observers whose opinions I trust, “Paks is dead in the water.” ”
This was György Bolgár who said this, correct? Perhaps Mészáros agrees as well.
By the way one of the latest news :Russia and China are in “agreement” regarding Ukraine.
http://news.sky.com/story/1219922/russia-and-china-in-agreement-over-ukraine
And Germany sent envoys to Russia and as a result Putin agreed to start negotiations with the Kiev government. The situation is changeing by the minute almost.

What the Sky story actually says is “Russia has said China is largely “in agreement” over Ukraine”, and it just mentions this once at the top of the story and doesn’t enlarge on it.

Hardly “Russia and China are in “agreement” regarding Ukraine”.

Member

Mr. Paul :
By the way one of the latest news :Russia and China are in “agreement” regarding Ukraine.
http://news.sky.com/story/1219922/russia-and-china-in-agreement-over-ukraine

I am shocked! What does Tibet thinks?

And Germany sent envoys to Russia and as a result Putin agreed to start negotiations with the Kiev government. The situation is changeing by the minute almost.

If we are lucky they will start negotiating with Orban too while they are at it.

Istvan
Guest
I assume Eva watched the evening news here in the states and noticed Obama’s surrogates going on and on about the economic consequences to Russia of this invasion. McCain is going on about the lack of respect for US power in the world, when he would be better off talking about Russia’s lack of fear of NATO and the EU. Specifically, McCain could serve a useful purpose by exposing the Germans, whereas Obama has to shut up and take his beating like a man. If Germany refuses to accept even a cut off of gas and oil from Russia why should Orban cancel the Paks deal? Specifically in Reuters today we can read this: “For weeks, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her three-month old coalition government have gone out of their way to avoid antagonizing Vladimir Putin, remaining measured even as Washington and other capitals ratcheted up the rhetoric.The hope in Berlin was that an even-handed public stance and a bit of old-fashioned shuttle diplomacy could reduce the risks of all-out conflict with the Russian president. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a protege of former chancellor and Putin friend Gerhard Schroeder, has travelled to Moscow and Washington to urge restraint. Merkel… Read more »
Otto
Guest

Orban, belatedly, goes to Sándor-Palace as everybody suspected all along.

János Áder will probably go the big Budavári Palace (he will get a couple of rooms) which currently holds the National Galery, but which will in turn move to the Városliget, in a project that is now estimated to cost HUF 150bn. This “Museum-project” started as a 60bn project financed by the EU, not it stands at 150bn financed by Hungarian taxpayers.

There is enormous pressure to build, to build, to build, the bigger the project the better because more money can be stolen from it. Paks will also be built, the pressure is just enormous. No lobby is more powerful than the construction lobby.

Plus Orban will never give up his dreams. If he decided to move to the Sandor Palace (which he reconstructed but due to his loss in 2002 he could not move in the the office of the president moved in instead) then he will.

http://index.hu/belfold/budapest/2014/03/03/kiderult_150_milliardbol_ujul_meg_a_varosliget/

The Donkey
Guest
OK, so it is pretty clear that the West does not care (see link below). This does not look good at all. And this has got nothing to do with Snowden, what a misunderstanding from a supposedly professional Hungarian diplomat. The economically fragile West simply depends on Russia too much (the City of London, German industries using Russian natural gas and so on). At least that is how they reckon, I am sure it is not actually true. But no Western politician thinks he/she has the political capital to enter in complex conflicts which could potentially later hurt them (perhaps except for Merkel, who will not do it as we talked about it in a previous post). More importantly, however, they give a damn about those sucker Ukrainians. Who are they anyway? And why were they born so close to Russia? They should also take some responsibility, for chrissakes, toughen up a bit. Orban understand the equation well and he will never give up on Paks 2. If anything, he thinks, his arguments are even sounder now. You can never count on the West, because they are always preoccupied with their own petty issues. The Dutch were munching on their… Read more »
Mr. Paul
Guest

I remember someone talking about that Russian army excercise that involved 150 000 troops, near the Ukraine border. They were all ordered back to their bases. Depending on where those bases are, there will be few hundred to a few thousand KM between them and the border.

See reuters article:

Putin ends army exercise, Russian markets rally

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/04/uk-ukraine-idUKBREA1H0EM20140304

Grisa
Guest

Mr. Paul, before we all cheer, what is your update on the naval drill in the Baltics currently underway?

http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/721751

Mr. Paul
Guest

Before we look into that issue can you explain why are you bringing it up in the first place? Because as you know, Ukraine is not bordering the Baltic see, in fact it is a bit far from it (750km? 1000km? you tell me). So why bring it here?

Mr. Paul
Guest

Baltic Sea… this site really needs a way to edit for spelling.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Otto :
János Áder will probably go the big Budavári Palace (he will get a couple of rooms) which currently holds the National Galery, but which will in turn move to the Városliget, in a project that is now estimated to cost HUF 150bn. This “Museum-project” started as a 60bn project financed by the EU, not it stands at 150bn financed by Hungarian taxpayers.
http://index.hu/belfold/budapest/2014/03/03/kiderult_150_milliardbol_ujul_meg_a_varosliget/

As much as I think some of the ideas for individual institutions could have a great outcome (not before 5 to 10 years though), the LigetBudapest project is yet another example of the Orbán method: decisions with long lasting consequences are made without any meaningful public debate.

As if all that mattered was the “boldness” of the gesture – I’m using quotation marks, because using the concept of a theme park for culture in a city is, as a matter of fact, terribly outdated.

Gftrs
Guest

Mr. Paul, the connection, as you know is that people living in countries on the Baltic Sea which used to be soviet republics are scared that they are next.

http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/arvamus/mart-helme-moskvale-loeb-vaid-joud-ja-valmisolek-vereohvreid-kanda.d?id=68134367

Mr. Paul
Guest

Journalist in Crimea reports that Ukranian soldiers are at Belbek airport. They are trying to act out a “Berkut attack” on one of the buildings of the airport and using journalists there to document the “attack”.
https://twitter.com/AnshelPfeffer/status/440784182189760512

Ovidiu
Guest

Paks-2 is dead.No matter how the crisis ends there will be afterwards a tense stand off (a small cold-war) for at least as long as Putin stays in power.Orban’s toying with “both sides” won’t be tolerated any longer.

Polkadot
Guest

ovidiu, I am afraid, in your dreams. You have no idea just how strong the push for this project is and has been. Do you have any connections in the construction industry? Or within the energy lobby? Within the community which by default sympathizes with Russia (went to school there etc.)? There are literally thousands of people who see this project as their way to earning hundreds of millions (per kopf). They will not let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away, just because Putin’s European PR is at the moment a bit shaky. The tide will turn as it always does and people will forget about this. The international community has a very short memory and then they will push for it (but really everything is on schedule).

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Mr. Paul :
Journalist in Crimea reports that Ukranian soldiers are at Belbek airport. They are trying to act out a “Berkut attack” on one of the buildings of the airport and using journalists there to document the “attack”.

You can’t spin this I’m atraid. It was a Ghandi-style move: their country, their base, unarmed against armed. Any act of violence on the part of either Russian troops or pro-Russian militias, in front of the cameras, would have played against its perpetrators.

The Haaretz correspondent tweet doesn’t say the Ukrainians were acting out anything. Just that they were eager to direct media attention on any violence that may have occurred.

Mr. Paul
Guest
I agree it is very typical type of “wishful thinking”. I have since learned that it was György Bolgár who said that the Paks deal is “dead in the water”. He is an excellent example of this type of thinking. In the past for years he predicted at least 10 times that the Hungarian economy “will collapse within a few months” “there is no way to survive with this type of economic policy”, “Matolycsy’s policies will lead to ruin within months”. He always finds something to support his arguments and then always makes the bombastic predictions. For example Matolcsy says something stupid -> he usually immediately predicts the economy will collapse and points to the stupid saying of Matolcsy as evidence. I can’t recall a single one of his predictions that came true (altough I’m sure there were tons because he makes so many) but they are quickly forgotten since he makes a new one every day. This is the same case here. He wishes strongly that the Paks deal were dead because this would be a major embarassment: Here lies an international treaty, lived 2 months. Unfortunately he knows there is 0% chance of this to happen until the… Read more »
Mr. Paul
Guest

“The Haaretz correspondent tweet doesn’t say the Ukrainians were acting out anything. Just that they were eager to direct media attention on any violence that may have occurred.”

What are you talking about? Your phrasing does not make much sense to me. “eager to direct media attention on any violence that MAY HAVE occured”. Either there was violence or there wasn’t, how is it possible to film “possible violence”? He clearly says that they are “being used”. What possible explanation do you have that supports that the journalists are “being used”? Why do journalist need “eager direction” when that is simply a journalist doing his job, they are supposed to report if there is real violence.

I’m eager to hear your spin on this tweet. Why did the journalist say they are being used if everything was just normal fine and dandy. What was really going on then?

Krisztofor Bonifácevics
Guest
Krisztofor Bonifácevics

Mr. Paul,

Facts:

1. Russia occupied the Crimea, which under international law is a part of the territory of Ukraine, a sovereign state.

2. Russia explicitly reserved to right to use further force within the borders of Ukraine.

3. The stopping of the Russian military maneuvers within the borders of Ukraine was not even mentioned by Putin.

Point:

Russia is not the good guy here, regardless of any tweets of any journalists about side-issues.

I don’t think there is a great demand for your distracting comments which only serve to confuse readers. (I wonder what your grades might have been at the Dzerzhinsky Academy?)

Istvan
Guest

There is an interview with Putin on RT.com this morning. There is very little in it that does not appear to be a factual distortion or an outright lie. He is totally unconcerned about the G8 being canceled. The only thing he was right about was how the US will invade a sovereign nation without hesitation when it is in the US’s national interests regardless of its legality. While we, the US, may have ultimately destroyed Iraq in the process of supposedly saving it we did not discuss annexing it in Congress.

How Orban can look up to this very disturbed man is truly frightening. Possibly Orban believes in the long run Russia and Putin will dominate Central Europe again and he better hedge his bets.

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