Before I begin this post on the Brussels summit and Viktor Orbán’s role in the proceedings, I would like to call attention to a story I read in HVG about a little girl and her ethics teacher. It encapsulates what’s wrong with the present system of education in Hungary.
Beginning in September 2013 every child was required to take either a religion or an ethics class one hour a week. Originally about half of the parents opted for religion, although only about 12% of Hungarians consider themselves religious or attend church. The original enthusiasm for religious education undoubtedly stemmed from parents’ belief that taking religion instead of ethics would be a plus in the eyes of the Fidesz loyalist school officials. I understand that since then religion classes have become less popular. Mind you, as you will see from this story, ethics classes have their own problems.
The girl, along with her classmates, had to write a short essay on her attitude toward March 15th, Hungary’s national holiday. She was honest and wrote: “For me it is a day like any other; it doesn’t really touch me.” The teacher gave her an F.
If that had happened in history class, I would understand the failing grade because presumably the class had already covered the 1848 revolution and its significance in Hungarian history. But in ethics class? What was expected of the pupil? Surely, wild patriotic enthusiasm. Since this particular child didn’t deliver the expected answer, she got punished.
This story illustrates what’s wrong not only with the Hungarian education system but with the whole Orbán regime. First of all, what does this question have to do with ethics, which is “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person”? One commonly recognized moral principle is truthfulness, which in this case wasn’t appreciated by the “ethics teacher.” In fact, by giving her class an assignment about their personal feelings toward a state holiday she was practically inviting them to lie. The students knew full well what was expected of them. The teacher in this case was encouraging conformity and punishing those whose opinions differed from the expected values of the state.
This story reminded me a personal experience at a Catholic parochial school in grade five. Christmas was approaching and our homeroom teacher, a nun, made us cut out from a folded piece of paper “little Jesus’s shirt.” Every time we did a good deed we were supposed to draw a little cross in red. If we were bad the cross was drawn in black. For emphasis, we were told that every time there is a black cross on that shirt, little Jesus cries. At the beginning we all tried to be honest, but when the black crosses started to far outnumber the red ones, each of us cheated madly. The only thing these pious creatures managed to achieve was to make liars out of us.
And let’s move on to other kinds of lies, the ones Viktor Orbán concocts before and after every European Council summit. This time was no different. I already touched on Orbán’s attempts before his departure to give the impression that at the summit he will have to fight against the compulsory quotas like St. George against the dragon. In fact, János Lázár’s regular press conference was largely spent on this topic, so the official government site appropriately gave the title to the announcement of the press conference: “Viktor Orbán enters the battle against compulsory quotas in Brussels.” As I pointed out, compulsory quotas weren’t even on the agenda.
Upon their arrival each prime minister said a few words to reporters in English. Orbán, however, decided to speak in Hungarian This was in sharp contrast to the press conference he gave a few weeks ago when he was the toast of the town, surrounded by a large crowd of reporters from all over the world. The Hungarian reporter on the spot noted that Orbán’s choice of Hungarian disappointed the foreign reporters. Here Orbán repeated that for days he has been working hard to safeguard Hungarian interests, and perhaps today he will be able to convince the European Commission to discard this proposal for mandatory quotas. No wonder that he didn’t want to say that in a language that non-Hungarians could understand. Otherwise, only the state television station was allowed to ask Orbán a question.
On March 18 the head of the press department of the prime minister’s office told MTI that the prime minister and the members of the Hungarian delegation had assessed the results of the summit and admitted that “the European Commission for the time being hasn’t put forth its proposal for the compulsory settlement quotas. That plan will be discussed later, in April or May.” Whether this statement is true or not is hard to say. In general, Orbán expressed his satisfaction with the results of the summit, which he first described as “a success from the Hungarian point of view” but later corrected to “promising.” “The decisive battle” must still be fought in May, he added.
Orbán’s own story became more and more elaborate. In a Hungarian-language press conference in Brussels at the end of the summit he told the reporters that the Hungarian delegation went to the summit “to make sure that a modern-day mass migration doesn’t break the course of Hungary’s development.” He elaborated on another goal he wanted to achieve in Brussels: Hungary’s financial obligations in connection with the crisis mustn’t be “unbearably high.” He was happy to report that Hungary’s share of the six billion euros going to Turkey is manageable, especially since it serves the security of the Hungarian people. He also indicated that Hungary is not ready to take any refugees, even on a voluntary basis. In brief, Hungary is off the hook. Finally, he repeated that “as of Monday we must already prepare for another battle in full armament.”
The problem with liars that, time and again, they misspeak. After all the talk about battles that brought great success to him and, through him, to Hungary, he also uttered a sentence that contradicted the official story. He admitted that “we were lucky to be able to avoid (kibekkeltük) the compulsory quotas for the time being.” Well, one either fights or avoids the fight and hopes for the best.
And finally one more slip of the tongue. According to people who live nearby the Budapest home of the Orbán family, members of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), often described as Orbán’s Praetorian guard, have not been seen lately. No one is guarding the house, and Anikó Lévai, wife of the prime minister, using a small white car, goes in and out with the smaller children without any protection. These neighbors are convinced that Orbán himself no longer lives there.
And that brings us to the Habsburg estate in Alcsút where the by now internationally famous kuvasz Nárcisz (Daffodil) guards the property. Not surprisingly, Orbán tried to make sure that no one knew anything about his newly acquired spacious manor house in the middle of a 13 hectare park that once belonged to the Hungarian branch of the Habsburg family. Officially, we still don’t know that this is the case. Recently, however, he indicated while in Fejér County that he lives “only 12 km from here,” which from the location could only be Alcsút. So, we can be pretty sure that Viktor Orbán, most likely without wife and the smaller children, actually lives on the old Habsburg estate.
Meanwhile Lőrinc Mészáros continues to acquire land around the estate, undoubtedly acting as a front man for Orbán. Orbán’s son-in-law also managed to get hundreds of hectares of land in the last few days, all nearby. Orbán’s political opponents are convinced that he is enormously wealthy. They swear that one day he will stand trial on corruption charges. I fear that will not be an easy job. He is an exceedingly cunning man who has most likely taken care of even the most minute detail. It will be difficult to catch him.