On paper Zoltán Balog, head of the ministry of human resources and an ordained Calvinist minister, should be relatively sophisticated about the world. He spent years studying in Berlin, Halle, Tübingen, and Bonn. He had many foreign friends already in the early 1980s when he was a student at the Debrecen Theological University. In fact, his first wife, whom he married at the age of 20, was an East German exchange student. Yet, when one listens to him today, he gives the impression of being comfortable only inside the borders of Hungary, geographically, culturally, and ideologically.
He got involved with Fidesz early, mostly as an adviser on matters of religion, about which Orbán and his friends knew next to nothing. His advice was especially badly needed around 1993 when Fidesz was supposed to be transformed into a Christian democratic party. This was apparently the time when both László Kövér and Viktor Orbán “found God,” a revelation in which Balog had a role to play.
For a short while Balog worked in the office of the president during Ferenc Mádl’s tenure, but otherwise his relation to Fidesz was informal. He first got extensive media coverage when, in 2006, joined by Krisztina Morvai of Jobbik, he established the Civil Jogász Bizottság (Civic Legal Committee). This group rewrote the history of the 2006 September-October disturbances. It will be a difficult task for future historians to come up with a more balanced view of those events.
By 2006 Balog was a full-fledged member of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, and after 2010 he became part of the government. He began his government career as undersecretary in the ministry of administration and justice in charge of Roma affairs. Less than two years later he was named minister of the ministry of human resources, a mega ministry in charge of education, healthcare, sports, and culture.
A few days ago, Balog agreed to give an interview to 888.hu, a gutter internet paper published by Árpád Habony’s new media center. Despite the years spent outside of Hungary, in this interview he shows himself to be a provincial fellow.
In his view Hungary is under bombardment by antagonistic forces from the outside. The attacks are not just political but cultural as well. For example, he wants to save the country from foreign food and foreign music. What a threat it is to have all those foreign restaurants on Hungarian soil. And how sad that the recipes on Hungarian internet sites are practically indistinguishable from what appears on similar sites in Germany, France, or, for that matter, the United States. Even a strong Orbán government cannot defend Hungarians from food globalization.
Of course, the real threats are the “concealed powers,” like Soros’s Open Society Foundation. On the surface it looks as if Hungary is a free country, but “there are people who want to make us the plaything of world powers.” When Balog suspects foreigners of giving advice, his “blood boils.” He gets mighty upset when “big international organizations keep explaining to us what we should do with the Gypsies, women, the media, the economy.” Hungarians don’t fabricate “conspiracy theories” because “it is a fact that … financial and economic powers try to influence the internal affairs of Hungary and other countries.” When the Orbán government goes against these forces, it is justified because it acts “in the defense of democracy.”
In Balog’s eyes all criticisms of the Orbán government come from selfish economic interests. But since complaining about diminished profits wouldn’t impress anyone, “they talk about the dangers threatening Hungarian democracy, Hungarians killing Gypsies, virulent anti-Semitism.” Of course, none of this is true, but in Germany “they make films in which they try to explain to children that Viktor Orbán is a dictator.”
Balog’s view of the former Soviet bloc is more than strange. Westerners, and here I assume Balog thinks of West Germans whom he knows best, often talk about “the former east,” which irritates him to no end. Every time he hears someone refer to “central Europeans” in such a way, he answers that as long as Europeans don’t also talk about the west as “the former western bloc” there will be no “common Europe.”
Balog finds the situation of the peoples of the two blocs analogous in many ways. As I understand him, Balog claims that none of the nations of Europe has been free. In the East, the Soviets foisted their political system on the countries that were “liberated” by the Soviet army in 1945. The same thing happened in the West, which the American army occupied. Westerners had to endure the Americanization of the West, just as Easterners suffered Sovietization.
I don’t know whether this is Balog’s own theory or whether he is just mouthing the ideas of Viktor Orbán. From the other topics he covers in this interview, I’m inclined to believe that this incredible idea is not his own.
And this is not the only strange idea that Balog sets out in this interview. He was always a fierce anti-communist, even in his high school years. Add to this a very strong dislike of the political elite of the Kádár regime and the Fidesz propaganda about the liberals being the communists of today, and Balog sees communists everywhere.
According to him, “people in the West are inclined to look upon the history of the last seventy years as a small episode in the area east of the Elbe,” after which we can return to the “agenda.” But the former Soviet bloc countries cannot return to something westerners may call normalcy “because the experience of dictatorship is shared” by West and East alike. Western countries have also been poisoned by communism.
Balog contends that because communism made inroads even in the United States, Bill Clinton’s claim about the United States’ gift of freedom to Poland and Hungary is false. Does this mean that democracy in the western countries is basically a sham? That they are no more democratic than the people of the former Soviet bloc? I guess this is exactly what Balog has in mind. Because by the end, he claims primacy for Poland and Hungary over the United States when it comes to the introduction of democratic principles. As he put it: “While in America they were flogging the blacks and the slaves, in Poland there was quite a democracy already. And in Hungary too.”
As for Polish democracy, I assume Balog is thinking of the infamous “liberum veto,” a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which allowed any member of the Sejm (parliament) to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed. It seems that Balog’s teachers didn’t explain to him that only nobles of the realm could be members of parliament and that therefore the Polish case is not a valid counterexample. As for Hungarian democracy, I have no idea what Balog has in mind. I’m afraid he doesn’t either.