Judging from the number of speeches Viktor Orbán delivers day in and day out, he can’t have much time for such bothersome tasks as governing. So the opposition might be right when they claim that whatever the prime minister does, it is not governing. Yet there is a seeming contradiction here because it is an open secret that practically all political initiatives and all decisions, down to the most minute details, come from Viktor Orbán himself. As his critics charge, he wakes up in the morning, has an idea, a few minutes later gives instructions to his staff, and a few days later there is a proposal ready to be submitted to parliament. But is this governing? Hardly.
All power is in his hands. His subordinates don’t dare to take any individual responsibility, so it’s no wonder that the government comes up with one bad decision after another. This kind of decision-making has been the modus operandi of the Orbán government ever since 2010, but now that the government’s and Fidesz’s popularity is sinking, more and more “mistakes” are made. Every day the public is confronted with puzzling announcements, often hurled at them in an ad hoc fashion in the course of the speeches the prime minister delivers far too often. The situation reminds analysts of the last year of the Gyurcsány administration when every day the prime minister came up with a new idea that was supposed to reverse his declining popularity.
Here I would like to offer a taste of what the Hungarian public calls Orbán’s “brainwave tsunami.” On May 6 he delivered a speech at a conference organized by the Veritas Research Institute to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the opening session of the first democratically elected parliament. How the important opposition figures of the regime change were ignored and how Orbán managed to make Ferenc Gyurcsány responsible for the failure of democracy in Hungary is ably summarized in Christopher Adam’s article on the subject in the Hungarian Free Press. Here I would like to call attention to his semi-official announcement that in the next three years his government will complete the creation of a “polgári” Hungary, which he and the founders of Fidesz always dreamed of. Of course, this is a big fat lie, but Orbán seems to think that if he keeps talking about a prosperous middle-class country with happy and satisfied citizens, which the word “polgári” implies, his former voters will flock back to him. Unfortuntaely for the prime minister, words will not be enough. Not too many people believe in that “polgári” nonsense.
A day later, at a meeting of the German-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce, Orbán announced, again out of the blue, a number of government decisions. He laid out a 10-point list, most of which was not new. There were, however, some items that caused considerable surprise. For example, he triumphantly announced that the government will not raise the lowest tax rate of 10% on businesses. What? commentators asked. Only a few months ago Mihály Varga announced the government’s plan to lower all higher business tax brackets to a uniform 10%. The other surprise was his announcement that the extra levies on retail chains will remain in place despite the government’s earlier promises. The German businessmen Orbán was addressing have been complaining about the unpredictable environment the Hungarian government creates with its erratic legislative decisions. The German ambassador even talked about this problem in her speech at the same meeting. Yet Orbán a few minutes later surprised them with two government decisions that will adversely affect them.
Finally, here are some interesting items from Orbán’s usual Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió’s program “180 minutes.” It seems that the Europe-wide outcry after Viktor Orbán’s announcement that it was necessary to have a nationwide “discussion” about the death penalty did not deter him from continuing his outrageous campaign. In spite of Claude-Jean Juncker’s promise of a fight if Orbán tries to reintroduce the death penalty in Hungary and the mention of Article 7 of the European constitution by the European Commission’s spokeswoman, he went ahead this morning and announced, albeit with important qualifiers, that his government will make a decision about whether to introduce the death penalty in Hungary. He made this statement in spite of his promise to Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, that he has no intention of defying the European prohibition on this matter. This denial was repeated by Zoltán Kovács, the government’s spokesman, in a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Guardian: “The government of Hungary respects the laws that are currently in force, our own constitutional prohibition on capital punishment and our commitments under EU laws.”
Yet a few hours later Viktor Orbán said in this morning’s interview: “We would like to shape European public opinion in a direction that would lead to an eventual outcome that would return the right of decision on the death penalty to the member states.” Once that is done, “we will be able to decide whether we should introduce it or not.” As to the question of whether he is for capital punishment, Orbán answered that he was “pro-life.” It is assumed in Hungary that Orbán personally believes in the deterrent function of capital punishment and would like to see it reintroduced. This assumption seems correct, especially in light of a grammatically odd sentence uttered during this interview. “People believe, many believe, there are many of us who believe that we are in greater safety if there is the death penalty….” In the original: “az emberek azt hiszik, nagyon sokan vannak, akik azt hisszük, hogy ha van halálbüntetés … akkor nagyobb biztonságban vagyunk.”
Presumably his campaign to shape European public opinion will start in Hungary where all those citizens who are afraid of being murdered will rally to the cause.