It caught everybody by surprise, including some of the highest office holders of the government and Fidesz, that today “around noon” Viktor Orbán planned to give another speech on “the state of the nation” only three months after his last one. Even one of Orbán’s deputies, Lajos Kósa, learned about it only when he received his invitation a couple of days ago. The prime minister’s closest advisers must have convinced him that he has to deliver a major address to revive his and his party’s sagging popularity. They came up with a date that could serve the purpose well: it was five years ago, on May 29, that the second Orbán government was formed. The speech was supposed to call attention to the fantastic achievements of these five years and to point the way forward.
Back in February, Orbán’s “state of the nation speech” was nothing like what was expected. One would have thought that after the political setbacks suffered by Fidesz, the prime minister would have realized that a change in tactics was in order. But at no point in his speech did he admit that any of his policies had been unsuccessful. The problem was, he claimed, that the activists didn’t work hard enough. The party and the government just have to work harder and all will be well. Also, despite Jobbik’s steady growth, Orbán said nothing about the dangers it posed for Fidesz and the country. Instead, he frightened his audience with the spectre of a “return of the socialists,” which would threaten the well-being of the country.
In comparison to that message in February, today’s speech seemed to be aimed, at least in part, at silencing his critics, both foreign and domestic. Of course, given the prime minister’s ideological meanderings and his total unreliability when it comes to translating words into action, the significance of this speech might be minimal. It is a bit naive of Szabolcs Dull of Index to take Viktor Orbán at his word and believe that from here on the Fidesz members of government and parliament will “consult” with the opposition parties or that they will prepare pieces of legislation early and submit them for discussion in ample time. Dull also found Orbán’s self-criticism refreshing, but the only mistake he admitted to was the internet tax, which was just one of the many decisions that prompted widespread dissatisfaction with the government. The man has real difficulty admitting to any missteps. All in all, it is difficult to imagine that, in place of their relentless war-like behavior, from now on Viktor Orbán and his government will pay the greatest attention to the everyday problems of ordinary Hungarians, as he promised today.
Orbán promised zero tolerance toward corruption and spoke out against “slanderers” who out of “sheer jealousy” attack brave and hardworking Hungarian businessmen. I guess these words need no translation. Everything will remain the same. Corruption will flourish and the “slanderers” might end up in jail.
Orbán used the occasion to make his first public attack on Jobbik and its euroskepticism. In this connection he talked about the European Union and NATO as “our family.” But how seriously can one take all this when in the same speech he said the following: “A lot can happen in twenty-five years, but the fact that we are for a free and independent Hungary must remain constant. For us the sovereignty of Hungary cannot be a bargaining chip.”
The bulk of the speech focused on the fantastic accomplishments of his five years in power. The message was, in essence, that when he came into power Hungary was in ruins. Thanks to his government’s efforts the country has been saved. Few people remember, especially after five years of brainwashing, that the worst fallout of the 2008 crisis in Hungary was in 2009 and that by 2010, thanks to the Bajnai government’s efforts, the economy was improving. In fact, the collapse of the forint, the downgrading of the Hungarian government’s bonds to junk status, and the decrease in foreign investment were not the products of the Gyurcsány-Bajnai governments. They all happened after Viktor Orbán became prime minister and his right-hand man, György Matolcsy, began his crazy experimentation with “unorthodox” economics.
Orbán set two priorities in 2010: to fight unemployment and to reduce the national debt. In March 2010 the debt was 83% of GDP. Five years later, in March 2015, it was 85% of GDP. And in the interim an incredible amount of money taken from the private pension funds of 3.5 million Hungarians went for debt reduction. As for unemployment, on paper the figures look impressive–a decrease from about 12% to 7%. But if we look at the situation a little closer, we realize that 250,000 people who were added to the workforce are employed by the public works program, which is a burden on the national economy. In addition, 300-400,000 Hungarians by now have moved to other countries of the European Union, which eased the unemployment situation. The government that promised to become smaller than ever before has grown enormously. In the last five years, out of the 120,000 net new jobs in the country, a whopping 104,000 were created in the government sector. Growth in the private sector, which is what really matters, was minuscule: less than 16,000.
Although Orbán is very proud of the 2014 GDP, which is indeed high by European standards, he certainly wouldn’t want to talk about the sad fact that between 2010 and 2014 there was no growth whatsoever. It was only in the last few months that economic growth reached a level last seen before 2008.
In 2010 60% of high school matriculants headed to college, but this figure is now 45%. In 2014 1.5 times more people moved abroad than in 2013 and six times more than in 2009. Most left for economic reasons, but 36% of them said that they were also escaping the regime introduced by the Orbán government.
And a final sign of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy.” The following media outlets were denied access to the conference organized for the occasion: Népszava, Hócipő, 444.hu, KlubRádió, and the still right-of-center but not wholly uncritical Magyar Nemzet and LánchídRádió. Népszabadság, the leading Hungarian daily, was not barred, but out of sympathy for those excluded, the paper published only MTI’s report on the speeches delivered at the conference.