Viktor Orbán’s speech: Ignoring the gathering clouds

Since last night I must have seen at least twenty articles in French, German, and English about Viktor Orbán’s eighteenth speech on the “state of the nation.” They all emphasize his forceful attacks on the European Union, but for those of us who have heard or read his earlier speeches there was nothing new in his latest harangue, except that he was much less belligerent in criticizing his domestic opponents. He went so far as to admit that calling members of the democratic opposition “communists” is pretty senseless when almost half of the population were either born after 1990 or were too young to have been politically aware in the last years of the Kádár regime. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Fidesz politicians will stop calling their political adversaries “commies.” I can’t imagine that László Kövér will be able restrain himself and stop insisting that “communism” is still flowering in Hungary, it is just called something else.

The milder, kinder tone toward the opposition is necessitated, in my opinion, by the uneasy domestic situation, which may be more serious than some of the recent opinion polls would indicate. The chief reason for the unreliability of the polls is the inordinately high number of undecided voters. In one of the recent polls it was measured to be 47% of the electorate. Another poll found that only 39% of eligible voters would bother to go to the polls if the election were held today.

There is no denying that the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people support Orbán’s refugee policy and that 85% of the adult population reject the mandatory resettlement quotas (according to Századvég, Fidesz’s favorite polling company). Naturally, Fidesz supporters are most adamantly opposed to admitting any refugees (97%), but voters from the opposition parties are not exactly enthusiastic about them either: MSZP (56%), LMP (51%), and DK (49%). So, as long as Orbán can play the migrant card he can feel pretty safe.

It’s not clear, however, how long Orbán can capitalize on this issue. At the moment no refugees can be seen anywhere in the country. Of course, one could argue on the basis of recent incidents at the border, where in the last few days hundreds of refugees broke through the fence, that the issue will be kept alive as long as refugees gather south of the Hungarian border. But if the pressure intensifies, the fence is demolished, and thousands again show up in Hungary, Orbán will not be able to tell his people: “You see, I defended Hungary from the onslaught. My policy was correct. We spent 260 million euros on the fence but it was worth it.”

gathering clouds

But one doesn’t have to wait for the possible collapse of Orbán’s refugee policy. There are other storms on the horizon which, at least in public, Orbán refuses to recognize. He did utter a couple of sentences about the problems in education and healthcare, but he made light of them. And yet the opposition to the kind of education the government has forced on the teachers and students is widespread, and there is no sign that the two sides will find common ground any time soon. What the government has offered thus far doesn’t satisfy the teachers and those educational experts who want radical change, an entirely different educational philosophy that is antithetical to the very essence of this regime.

On healthcare issues one cannot expect the kind of unified action from the doctors as one sees among the teachers. The doctors are sharply divided on both the state of healthcare and their pay scale. Some doctors are doing exceedingly well under the present system; they more or less run their practices in state facilities at the state’s expense. The public, however, is dissatisfied with the poor healthcare the state is currently providing and may put pressure on the government to improve it.

And finally there is the huge victory for the democratic opposition in Salgótarján, county seat of Nógrád county, where Zsolt Fekete, the joint candidate of MSZP and DK, won the mayoralty. First, a few words about the town itself. The city limit lies on the border between Slovakia and Hungary, and the area was once known for its productive coal mines. Fidesz politicians talk about Salgótarján as a “socialist city.” But the last time there was a socialist mayor of Salgótarján was between 2002 and 2006. Since then the same two people battled for the post: Mrs. Széky, neé Melinda Sztrémi (Fidesz) and Ottó Dóra (MSZP). Both in 2006 and in 2010 Mrs. Széky won, even if narrowly. In 2006, when 48.69% of the electorate participated and about 12,000 people cast their votes, the difference between the Fidesz and the MSZP candidates was only 210 votes. In 2010, when practically the whole country turned orange, Mrs. Széky received the majority of the votes (51.39%). Mind you, participation was low, only 36.95%. Then came 2014 when Dóra at last succeeded, but just barely. He received only 50 more votes than Mrs. Széky. Again, participation was low (39.32%). A year later Ottó Dóra died suddenly at the age of 53. Hence the by-election that was held yesterday.

For a by-election, participation was extraordinarily high, almost 50%. And the difference between the two candidates, in favor of Zsolt Fekete (MSZP-DK), was 1,802 votes. It was a huge victory for the democratic forces. Fidesz apparatchiks can try to explain away their loss in public, but apparently in private they admit their disappointment. As one of them said to the reporter of vs.hu, commenting on the high turnout, “it’s obvious that they went out in order to vote against us.” Some Fidesz politicians bemoaned the fact that László Kövér, while campaigning in Salgótarján, practically threatened the voters of the city: if they want to have a better future for their children and grandchildren they should vote for Fidesz. They must choose a mayor who can develop a good relationship with the government. Others felt that it was a mistake to send leading Fidesz politicians to Salgótarján to campaign on behalf of the candidate because this way Fidesz’s nationwide problems were imported into the city. Moreover, the Fidesz candidate’s chances were not enhanced by the fact that he was originally the local director of KLIK and lately was named one of the department heads at the central office of that much hated institution in Budapest.

It is almost certain that Salgótarján will be punished. Already after 2014 when the socialist candidate won, the government stopped financial support for the city. Here are some statistics. In 2011 Salgótarján received 608 million forints, in 2012 1.2 billion, in 2013 1.1 billion, and in 2014 60 million. The future might be even bleaker. Zsolt Becsó, Fidesz MP from Salgótarján, finished his congratulatory speech after the lost election with “God save Salgótarján.” What I find amazing is that the inhabitants of Salgótarján must have known what is waiting for them and yet they still voted overwhelmingly against Fidesz. That says a lot of the mood of the people, feelings that might not show up in the polls.

February 29, 2016
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webber
Guest

I don’t think Salgotarjan will do so much worse. Under Fidesz getting “lots of funding” means siphoning money to Fidesz-companies, and often what work is done is very shoddy. For example, a town that had its street lighting renovated is now darker than it was before the work was done. The Fidesz-company that did the job botched it that badly – and of course it cost a huge amount of money, and that will all show up on the books as “support” for the town. Everywhere I go these days I see more and more potholes in the streets. Money is “spent” and what do you get?

I thought it was interesting that Orban admitted in the speech that the economy isn’t doing as well as he would like, and that it will be slowing down even more. It was just one sentence – but what a sentence!

webber
Guest

“Investment” Fidesz-style – the sort Salgótarján will not get: During the campaign in 2014 in Nógrád co., Fidesz promised local people that the government would build gyms for the local schools if they voted for the party. They did. Not a single gym has been built. Fidesz doesn’t keep its promises.
Story here:
http://index.hu/belfold/2016/03/01/nograd_tornaterem_uszoda_balla_mihaly/

Why should the people of Salgótarján worry? They are better off – they expect to get nothing now, and they will get what they expected. By contrast, the poor saps who voted for Fidesz are still waiting in vain.

nwo
Guest

It seems to me the potentially even bigger story is that the farcical situation around the referendum is seemingly coming back to hurt the Government, and that they may finally have to accede to having a vote on”Sunday closings.” This would be a real loss of face and has the potential for a HUGE electoral set back (far bigger than a local mayoral vote) .

Observer
Guest

@nwo
My bet is they won’t. At best they will join it with the illegal migration question to get draw the 50% participation required for a valid referendum.

Istvan
Guest

According to the organizers of the primary and secondary school boycott their expectations were far exceeded by the number of absentees in school today. During the day, according to the incoming data, at least 50 thousand but possibly as many as 200 thousand students may have stayed home nationally. This article provides additional information http://nepszava.hu/cikk/1087147-tizezrek-hianyozhattak-az-iskolakbol

According to the data I have seen in the 2014-15 school year from the Hungarian Central Statistical Officer there were 321,489 students in kindergarten, 751,034 in primary school, 109,978 in vocational and special schools, and 216,368 full and part time in general secondary schools nationally. So approximately 1.4 million in total, so if the high estimate on the boycott is near correct of 200 thousand then about 14.3% of students were out of school today.

webber
Guest

Istvan
Some people might be overestimating the significance of these protests in education, but I think you are underestimating them.
They are not, as you rightly noticed, aimed at overthrowing the government.
They are, however, a sign of massive and growing dissatisfaction with Fidesz. That is their significance – it is not small. It seems enormous to those of us fed a diet of “the majority supports Fidesz” (always a lie) and “Hungary is doing better” ( I wish it were true – it’s obviously not).

Istvan
Guest

Webber I was not the one that viewed the movement to reform Hungarian primary and secondary education as the harbinger of a movement that threatens Fidesz authoritianism, it was Eva in her initial posts on this issue. There are indeed teachers and administrators deeply concerned about pedogical problems, but the thrust of the 25 demands are driven by work rules and the government’s failure to fully honor deals made in 2013.

My experience is public sector unions in order to continue to collect dues have to deliver some results to their members and it makes them easily subject to compromise. Given the Hungarian oppressive strike law the idea of a national strike is used more as a bargaining chip than a transformational process as in syndicalism. But authoritian governments internationally have a bad habit of arrogantly refusing to make concessions that could easily be made and avoiding problems. Up to now Orban has been skilled in co-optation, but egomania has a way of eroding a leader’s political vision.

webber
Guest

Istvan, again you missed the significance. How is it possible? I don’t believe you are that thick. You have been eloquent on many other issues. Why do you not understand what your eyes are telling you?
Think to yourself – this is a government which uses thugs and illegal methods (illegal according to its own laws) to prevent a referendum on Sunday closing of shops. How does a referendum on that actually threaten the government? IN no way, right?
Then why is the government doing this?
The demands of the teachers (and parents of students) is that the government withdraw not one single law, but a raft of laws and practices in education.
Do you think Fidesz will back down? I agree, they could without damaging themselves – but they are not doing it. Why?
Teachers are threatened with firing for taking part in these protests. Principals of schools who take part are threatened behind the scenes. Why?

How the govt. has reacted to all these things are undeniable facts. The questions I have posed to you is why the governments reaction has been like this.
When you find the answer to those whys, you will understand.
If you can’t figure it out, keep thinking.

Istvan
Guest

As opposed to thick I would chacterize my self as pragmatic. My vision of public sector unions as it relates to authoritian governments is not based on American trade unionism, but rather on the experience of Spain and several other countries. One can look at Mexico, where teachers are overwhelmingly leftist, so much so that they have been murdered in mass for those views. There have been national teachers strikes in Mexico over the years that have resulted in only minor changes to that nation’s weak educational system.

The educational sectors of society do not have the leverage to create dramatic transformation in politics by themselves. If they did then the result of May-June 1969 in France would have been dramatically different because teachers and student alike were in total revolt, but society as a whole was not transformed. The key failure in France was the inherent conservatism of trade unions. Being conservative I see the failure of May-June in France as a positive good by the way.

webber
Guest

All fine. All irrelevant to Hungary.
I’ll try one last time:
The government sees these protests as threatening.
Hence the ham-handed response to what should be an easy fix. It should be very, very easy to give in to what even the majority of Fidesz supporters (according to polls) say are reasonable demands.
But what do they do? They double down on the “no.”
Apparently they think it’s a sign of weakness to change their own policy, even though the policy is so obviously a failure.
They have now appointed President Ader’s sister to head Klik. She is known to be a hardcore Fidesz supporter with a “difficult” uncompromising personality.
The government sees these protests as threatening. The government thinks its position will be weakened if it is magnanimous.
You don’t. Do you think you know better than the Hungarian government? (I think you do, but they don’t).

webber
Guest

P.S. Schools are an issue for a LOT of people. There are more than 1 m. school-age kids in Hungary. Those kids have parents who can vote.

Guest

Istvan, I beg to disagree re 1968 – being a 68er myself 🙂

What started in summer in France and continued in Germany (and other countries in Europe) led to a small revolution:

In 1969 the left won the parliamentary election in Germany for the first time after WW2 and a lot of laws (many leftovers from Nazi times …) were changed, like the laws about abortion, homosexuality and many more.

Germany became a totally different country under chancellor Willy Brandt!

It really was a kind of revolution for us …

Jani
Guest

I agree.
I heard Willy Brandt in Tuebingen.
It was heavenly.

Member

If the people of Salgotarján are able to back their mayor with action, they should buy advertising in the major newspapers around the country, telling everyone about getting much less money BACK FROM THEIR TAXES from the central government and state, that they will not forward the collected taxes to the NAV until they get all the money they need and retroactive. They should state, that ALL of the moneys they demand, should be taken out from the stadium building fund, so no other community can be shortchanged for them. Then urge the other communities to do the same.
The viktor’s fascist Mafia hoodlums could be stopped in just two months, by withholding all the taxes (because it is being misappropriated and stolen) and employing unannounced, rolling strikes every day, around the country. Mercedes, Audi, Suzuki, etc. would not be enthusiastic, if their production lines would be hampered day in and day out, I am sure the Germans would also go into action to protect their interests. The viktor is there only as long as the EU keeps him there.

Guest

@Gyula Bognar Jr
February 29, 2016 6:12 pm

Excellent point, one which however would require enormous courage and determination on the part of the people of Tarján, and especially on the part of both the MSZP and DK leadership there, because not only would they get instantly hounded by all kinds of frivolous legal attacks by the government, but some might well be found with their throats cut in one of the nearby forests. After all, we are talking about Hungary and not Denmark or Holland.

Guest

Which made me suddenly realize something that ought to be of considerable concern for supporters of the democratic opposition.

If by some miracle the democratic opposition did gain a parliamentary majority in 2018, then Fidesz, with Jobbik in tow, would be sure to immediately launch into a rolling campaign of civil disobedience that would make governing virtually impossible even in a physical sense (actually, this is exactly what a [united?] democratic opposition should actually be doing right now to the Fiddik hegemony).

After all, as Orbán had made abundantly clear after his loss in 2002, “how can the ‘nation’ be in opposition?”

A [united?] democratic opposition would therefore need to plan extremely carefully and thoroughly for any such eventuality, namely for the measures and tactics they would want to and need to employ so as to cope with and eventually neutralize the likely massive sabotage and disruption by the Fiddik support base, in the unlikely event that the democratic opposition came out on top in the 2018 general elections.

And the democratic opposition would have to be able to do this with its hands tied behind its back, without the luxury of resorting to violent rent-a-crowds of skinheads and other hoods.

Guest

Correction: “should actually be doing right now IN OPPOSITION to the Fiddik hegemony).” at the end of para 2.

Member

Well said. So many things opposition could do much better, so many missed opportunities… All these, however would assume concerted efforts of opposition which is unlikely to happen for the time being.

webber
Guest

Good idea, only most tax deductions are automatic and go straight to the central budget, so your idea won’t work for a lot of people.
As to those who pay taxes at the end of the year instead of via automatic deduction, I can tell you precisely what would happen if the people of Salgótarján took your advice:
1. Fidesz voters would, of course, keep paying taxes.
2. Many people who voted against Fidesz would be afraid of consequences and would pay taxes.
3. NAV would have constant checks on the taxpayers of Salgótarján, and the results are predictable (massive fines, even prison sentences).

Member

“feelings that might not show up in the polls”
As it actually happened. Opinion polls could not measure this anger. A slow revolt is diffusing all over. Another sign is that around 50000 youngsters stayed at home today displaying passive and massive protest. Hopefully opposition finally picks up on this new symbol called kockárda, a worthy alternative to our national miniature tricolor of kokárda expropriated by Fidesz too long ago. Combination of the two could convey an unequivocal message for all.

Member
The most amazing reply in fact came from Fidesz itself. It’s not a joke. They are serious about this: “Just like in 2014, Salgotarjan elected a socialist mayor. We would like to congratulate Zsolt Fekete on his victory. After he takes his position, we expect him to immediately investigate how much Salgotarjan’s financial situation have disintegrated as the result of its socialist government, investigate how much money disappeared in the last year and a half, how much is the true deficit of the city, who participated in the disappearance of the funds, and how? In the new budget he should clarify how will he ensure the city’s operation and development. Fidesz Press Office Publisher: Fidesz” Never mind that under Lazar Hodmezovasarhely became bankrupt. Never mind that Fidesz is bailing out all the Fidesz cities from banckruptcy, that they just doubled Matolcsy’s wage, that they try to classify all financial information of the National Bank, that Fidesz cut back Salgotarjan’s funding by 90% from 2013 to 2014 (when the socialist mayor took office).. They do not ask the previous Fidesz mayor where did 1.1 billion go, they want to know what happened to 60 million. A Fidesz közleménye Budapest, 2016. február… Read more »
Guest
–“The chief reason for the unreliability of the polls is the inordinately high number of undecided voters. In one of the recent polls it was measured to be 47% of the electorate. Another poll found that only 39% of eligible voters would bother to go to the polls if the election were held today.”– If true, then to my mind at least, this is a very serious issue for concern for two reasons: (1) those who do not bother to vote in effect give implied consent to the current political regime of dictatorship by an overwhelming parliamentary majority, and (2) although it is by definition not known what undecideds would vote for, but should they decide in the end to “go with the force” when push comes to shove and the rubber hits the road on the day of the general election, that would most likely mean big trouble for the democratic opposition. What these polling figures also appear to show that is that only 14% of the electorate that is actually decided and intends to show up at a polling booth, unless of course some or most of the undecideds were also counted into the figure of those who… Read more »
webber
Guest

ambalint
The figures are just what people are telling pollsters. People are afraid to tell the truth if they will vote against Fidesz – in part because they (correctly!) assume that some people posing as pollsters are actually Fidesz activists.

Member

Once again an all important task for opposition: get to know how the silent masses think of the present system, why they are passive and what can make them more involved on the side of democracy. Salgotarjan could make it clear for opposition that not doing extra efforts only works at the mercy of Fidesz’ self-destructive politics.

Guest

In Oz, we have compulsory voting in all elections, whether they be municipal, state or federal.

Doesn’t seem to have the slightest impact on the rights of the individual or on the quality of Australian democracy, and if anything, the opposite is the case, so “election” is not the pathetic misnomer that is in Hungary. or even in the States, but really the voice of everyone, in which everybody has got to participate, like it or not, otherwise they get hit with a big fine.

And surprisingly, the donkey votes and the spoiled votes are only a very tiny fraction of the total. There is a broad and deep public consensus here in Oz that this is the right way to do elections and this is what is in the best interests of the public as a whole.

Member

Hm, the liberal in me do not like obligatory elections, my pragmatic self does…

Guest

London Calling!

I think this by-election success was achieved because teachers, doctors and the community motivated everyone to get out the protest vote.

By-elections are notorious for electorates voting against the government in the hope of sending them a message. They are very often the source of false hope because, if the voting margin is extrapolated, then “blimey DK would win!”.

In addition they can be focused on with concentrated resources because they are not thinned out due to having to spread the butter thinly in a general election.

It is also a reinforcement reminder for other electorates – with brazen illegal threats – that if you vote in a non-Fidesz MP, with a non-Fidesz mayor then your financial lifeline will be stranglehold.

Threats issued by Kövér straight out of the communist control manual – accepted in a commocracy, of course.

But not in a democracy. If these practices were followed in England, and other democracies, the government would be taken to court.

But in Hungary the government IS the court.

Guest

@charliecharlieh
Today 4:03 am

Too true. Spot on, charliecharlieh.

petofi
Guest

@CharlieCharlieh

“….success was achieved because teachers, doctors and the community motivated everyone to get out the protest vote.”

–Ahh, CC, you’re still too civilized by half for these parts. Try this scenario: Viktor the Magnificent engineers the loss so that he can once again drive home his favorite lesson–‘oppose me and you’ll get squashed like a bug’. So too for Sajto..Now Orban gets to send his message and make the Hungaricoes across the land shake in their boots, as well as learn the lesson of cold and want. He loves meting
out punishment. (En passant, he gives hapless opposition hope that he can be beat, which, of course, is impossible. Once again, for the innocent, he presents the verisimilitude of a functioning democracy.
The Great Conjuror of Felcsut!)

The Great O as a 6-year old torturing the hapless ants with fire.

Hajra Magyarok!

Take up your chains, and water the good earth with your tears shed to the strains of Sad Sunday.

Ok! Who’s winning now?!!

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Is the pot calling the kettle black? The majority of current Hungarian politicians, including Orban and Gyurcsany were budding Communists as members of the Communist Youth Organization (KISz). Laszlo Kover actually worked for the organization’s head office. While I don’t think anyone in Hungary today is a Communist, as in a fan of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, the current leadership cut its teeth on KISz politics, Kadar values and MSzMP power struggles. Ideologies mean nothing to them, having power does.

Guest

@Sackhoes Contributor
Today 9:47 am

Exactly.

Guest

Re refugees (I wrote up this story already on pol.hu):

My wife just came back from a visit to one of our neighbours. That poor widow is all worked up because Hungarian State TV (you know the North Korean style …) gave her the impression that soon she would have to give up one room in her house to a family of “emaigrants” and she said that she’d leave her house then and move in with her daughter …

My wife left very quickly …

We’re still wondering what goes on in the minds of these poor people – she is not the only one, we’ve given up discussing anything with them …

And they all claim to be good Christians …

webber
Guest

Ha!
But why avoid these people? This is a perfect opportunity to inform her that Orbán signed the agreement to allow refugees to settle in Hungary (no need to say how many), and ask her where she thinks the government will be putting them? If she gets too upset, you tell her you are sure that Orbán wouldn’t let them put “migrants” into her place… but where he will put them, you just don’t know…

Guest

If there’s one thing my wife can’t stand from her country’s people it’s got to be stupidity …
And there’s enough of it everywhere.
Sometimes I count myself lucky that I don’t understand everything – especially when people here in the village get worked up and start to sputter nonsense like this – it’s enough for me to look at my wife and know that she won’t translate those idiocies for me …

carrot
Guest

People wonder whether Simicska’s billboard company let this picture published at a few locations, without much comment.

It seems to me that the younger generation is a bit restless than usual.

http://lobeltunkvan.tumblr.com/post/140272618175/k%C3%A9ne-egy-p%C3%A1r-%C3%B3ri%C3%A1splak%C3%A1tot-kirakni

carrot
Guest

This is a nice sounding sentence in Hungarian, actually a translation from a letter written during the Kiyiv revolution.

“A lopás mértéke felülmúl mindent, amit ép ésszel az emberi kapzsiságról el lehet képzelni.”

More or less: “The magnitude of stealing exceeded everything which one may imagine with a sound mind about rapacity.”

Make no mistake Hungary is at that level now.

Guest

Thanks, you’re right!
here’s some more:
http://kepeslajoska.tumblr.com/
And as I see it there are many more young people showing their frustration this way.

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