I’m convinced that “something is in the air.” There is a growing dissatisfaction in all strata of Hungarian society, which may signal the beginning of more active political participation on the part of those who find the current government’s policies injurious to the interests of the country and devastating for the majority of the Hungarian people.
I already covered the demands of teachers and physicians, which are professional in nature but may at any time morph into political opposition. After all, when students and teachers complain about outdated teaching methods and demand fewer restrictions and more time for independent thinking, they are expressing views incompatible with the undemocratic worldview of the Orbán regime. As we discussed in the comments, most likely the majority of the teachers and doctors who today are challenging the government were Fidesz voters. And if Jenő Rácz of the Veszprém hospital thinks that Hungarian healthcare is on the brink of collapse—something that the lowly nurse Mária Sándor also says but no one listens to—then, believe me, the problem is serious.
As we know very well, there are problems in other fields as well. The economy, of which Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy are so proud, is struggling if one looks beneath the surface. The spectacular 3.6% economic growth in 2014 was due solely to the unusually large size of subsidies that arrived from Brussels. The state of democracy and the rule of law are also in deep trouble.
Until now only so-called liberal economists and legal scholars criticized the Orbán government’s policies and its trajectory. But now so-called conservative economic and legal thinkers have also felt the need to sit down and exchange thoughts on the sorry state of the Hungarian economy and legal system. I want to emphasize up front that the opinions of these conservative thinkers are practically indistinguishable from those of the liberals. Looking at the situation from the outside, I simply can’t understand why these two groups cannot get together.
The idea of organizing a group of conservative economists and legal scholars came from Tamás Mellár, professor of economics at the University of Pécs, and András Jakab, director of the Institute of Jurisprudence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Mellár was the director of the Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal / KSH) between 1998 and 2003. Jakab’s curriculum vitae is most impressive. He taught at the University of Liverpool, the University of Nottingham, and the William and Mary Law School and was research fellow at the Max Planck Institute.
Their idea was to organize small gatherings to discuss topics of importance. Jakab, the moderator, normally invites two speakers who approach the given topic from different perspectives. Their last meeting took place a few days ago. Although they advertised their meetings on Facebook, this is the first time that the public learned of the József Eötvös Csoport (Group). The group was named for the minister of education between April and September 1848 and again between 1867 and 1871. Eötvös was a moderate, a centrist, and a devoted follower of Ferenc Deák. Today we would call him a liberal conservative.
The group was established in March 2015 by Péter Ákos Bod, Attila Chikán, László Csaba, András Jakab, András Jóri, Béla Kádár, Tamás Mellár, László Sólyom, Péter Tölgyessy, and László Urbán. It would take up too much space to identify each of these people, but all of them were involved in some capacity with the governments of either József Antall or Viktor Orbán. Bod was even the candidate for prime minister for a few days in 2006 when Viktor Orbán felt that without him Fidesz had a better chance of winning the election.
I’m not sure how many meetings the group has held since March 2015, but I know that they had one on “corruption and economic decline” where the two speakers were Miklós Ligeti, director of Transparency International Magyarország, and Balázs Szepesi, strategic director of the Hétfa Kutatóintézet (Hétfa Research Institute). Szepesi at one point described those responsible for the Hungarian economy today as blind people trying to fix a watch with a hammer. There was also a discussion on “national independence and European integration.”
The last meeting was about the nature of Viktor Orbán’s system. Is it populism or something else? One of the speakers was András Körösényi, about whose ideas I wrote already in a post titled “Orbán system or Orbán regime: Debate on the nature of the Hungarian government.” This time Körösényi, a political scientist, came to the conclusion that although there are certain identifiable populist elements in Orbán’s political system, his government most of the time ignores the popular will. It is better to describe Orbán’s decisions as based on “oligarchic interests.” This description of the Orbán regime is not too different from Bálint Magyar’s mafia state. Yet they come from different sides of the Hungarian political spectrum.
Although the organizers insist that this is not an opposition group, the speakers and discussants express views critical of the present regime. Sooner or later these conservative thinkers must face the fact that their discussions are more than “offering a good example of civilized discourse.” I very much doubt that any of the founders of the József Eötvös Group believe that Orbán’s political system can be “reformed.”
This became evident to me when I listened to Antónia Mészáros’s interview with Péter Ákos Bod on ATV. Bod, the former Fidesz prime minister delegate, talked about his worries over the rule of law and economic progress that has been halted. He criticized the economy, in which corruption is widespread. He described the existing economic system as a far cry from a true market economy. He criticized the ad hoc nature of economic decisions and the lack of professional expertise. The economy is slowing, he said, and the government is not prepared for the difficulties that will ensue when the flow of money from Brussels slows or even stops. Every time policy makers sense an economic slowdown they come up with some new idea that is supposed to remedy the situation. One such remedy is the idea of giving 10 million forints to families willing to have three children who want to buy a new home. The idea is fraught with hidden pitfalls which are not yet evident. Such fiddling with the economy usually has adverse consequences in the future.
How often did we hear all these criticisms not from “conservative” economists but from “radical liberals,” as Fidesz politicians like to call them? But the message is the same, regardless of whether it comes from the left or the right. The whole system is flawed, and sooner or later it will come to a sorry end. And then the country will need all these people to try to fix the problems.