Back in 2008 I wrote a post titled “A foreign investment victim of Hungarian political strife.” It was about a large factory the Indian company Apollo Tyres was planning to build in the city of Gyöngyös, which would have employed more than 900 people by 2010. Moreover, in the following five years the company was planning to expand the facility and hire another 600 workers. Viktor Orbán, then in opposition, made sure that the project, which would have been a feather in the cap of the Gyurcsány government, would not become reality.
Another large project of the Gyurcsány government, the Mercedes factory in Kecskemét, was saved from the wrath of Orbán only because Kecsekemét was a Fidesz city. Gyöngyös, on the other hand, was led by an MSZP mayor with a socialist majority on the city council.
At first, green activists demonstrated against the establishment of the factory, believing that it would be harmful to the environment. They were then joined and egged on by Fidesz politicians. Viktor Orbán eventually managed to receive permission from the court to hold a referendum on the issue. At that point Apollo decided that it had had enough and pulled out of the deal.
At that time I wrote:
The country is stunned. Or at least the government is and about half of the population. They simply can’t understand how it is possible that a political party for its own narrow political gain is capable of going against the interest of the country. A thousand families would have benefited directly from employment at the factory while the whole city of Gyöngyös would have reaped the benefit of a higher tax base. They keep repeating that if the foreign investment happens to be in Fidesz-held cities (like Tatabánya and the Japanese tire factory) there are no environmental concerns. Also no one complained when Mercedes Benz decided to establish a factory in Kecskemét. The Fidesz mayor cooperated wholeheartedly with the central government to push the deal through. I heard an interview with the undersecretary of the ministry who was in charge of negotiations with the Indian firm, and he was near tears. I don’t blame him.
Yesterday Viktor Orbán laid the cornerstone for the Apollo Tyres factory. Apparently, it will open its doors in 2017. Seven years were lost for those more than 900 men and women who could have had good jobs. This time, just as was most likely the case in 2008, the Hungarian government gave a subsidy totaling €97.7 million (approximately 29 billion forints) for the construction of the tire plant. The subsidy was approved by the European Commission in September 2014. The only difference is that the plant will be in Gyöngyöshalász, a village not far from the city of Gyöngyös.
Viktor Orbán made a speech to mark the occasion. He started in English: “I have to apologize but because we are in Hungary and we have many Hungarians all around us, it is better to speak English.” Huh? The rest of the English part of the speech wasn’t much better. Addressing his “dear Hungarian Fellows and our Host,” he suggested that in four or five years things will be completely different. “Changings are not just deep but abrupt at the same time.” As we learn later from the Hungarian part of the text, Orbán believes that middle-aged people will have no serious role to play in these “changings.” Time has passed them by. His generation, “those around fifty, will not be more clever, more educated, and more competitive. It will not be this generation that will advance this country.” Not a surprising observation from the prime minister of a country where the concept of continuing education is practically unknown.
Orbán didn’t dwell on the past difficulties Apollo Tyres encountered in Hungary. Instead, he turned to his favorite topics. One is the family. Apollo Tyres is a family business owned by Onkar Kanwar and his sons, which came in handy. In fact, he addressed his whole speech to the “Kanwar family.” He also emphasized the importance of friendship and respect. He even managed to squeeze a bit of Christianity into his speech, which struck me as most inappropriate. It is hard to know why “after Easter” we are especially aware of the fact that “not all depends on investment, square meters, machines, profit, and money.”
Of the two virtues, friendship and respect, the latter is more important to Viktor Orbán. Although he talked about mutual respect, his focus was on respect for Hungarians. “I was delighted to hear those who spoke before me and who spoke of Hungary with great respect. Perhaps they don’t know that we are a stubborn and proud people. Of course, we must make a living and therefore we accept all kinds of jobs in order to survive, but not all jobs give satisfaction. We don’t like to work in a place where we are not respected; we don’t like to be an employee in a factory where we feel that the employer sees us only as a source of labor.” So, Indians, your work is cut out for you.
The rest was the usual fluff, but there was one thing that caught my eye that has nothing to do with the current project. Naturally, Viktor Orbán avoided talking about 2008, when he and his party prevented Apollo Tyres from building a factory. But he did talk about the more recent past. About 2010. He said: “Who would have believed in 2010 when Hungary was in a state similar to Greece today that it would be possible to create such a collaboration, as a result of which even investors from a far-away country notice Hungary and think that it is worth giving a vote of confidence in its future?” Why did this short passage catch my eye? Because you may recall that during the summer of 2010, when the European Commission refused to accept the 7% deficit Orbán tried to sell in Brussels, first Lajos Kósa and later Péter Szijjártó announced that Hungary was close to insolvency and compared her economic situation to that of Greece. Their “Chicken Little” pronouncements precipitated a worldwide panic for a few days. At the time we all thought that Kósa and Szijjártó were acting on their own and that they were irresponsible bumpkins. But after the sentence in this speech, I suspect that Viktor Orbán, then in Brussels, told them to overstate the Hungarian situation (and thereby create a mini-panic) to strengthen his hand with José Manuel Barroso.