Viktor Orbán’s faithful professors criticized but then quickly retreated

As I was collecting data for today’s topic–the Batthyány Circle of Professors (BCP), I was astonished to see how often I had written about this group of full professors who are blind supporters of Viktor Orbán and his regime. Over the years it has become obvious that nothing can shake these people’s devotion to the regime and its leader.

The members of BCP come almost exclusively from the natural sciences and medicine and, as a result, they have little knowledge of the social sciences, including politics. Yet they are bent on expressing their rather primitive ideas about the world. Consider, for example, the case of Gábor Náray-Szabó, secretary of BCP, professor of chemistry and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who here and there dabbles as an “amateur” political philosopher. I found an article that he wrote titled “Evolution and Conservatism.” One didn’t have to go beyond the first few sentences to assess his political prowess. He “came to the conclusion” that the essence of “the conservative point of view” cannot be summarized in one sentence, unlike Christianity or liberalism. Christianity boils down to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and liberalism can be reduced to a single tenet, “one can do anything freely as long as one does no harm to others.” There was no reason to read further. Since that time I have had the pleasure of hearing several interviews with Náray-Szabó, and he has given me no reason to change my mind: his intellectual horizons are severely limited.

I should also note that most members of BCP are not really conservatives but instead are outright right-wingers, a fact that became clear at the time of the second Orbán government’s attack on a group of liberal philosophers. Members of the group have an online discussion forum, which is closed to the public. One of the members, the provost of St. Stephen University, vented his hatred against liberals in general. Unfortunately for the professors, there was a “traitor” in the group who passed the provost’s comments on to one of the online news sites. The man talked about “the deadly enemies of the nation who leave no stone unturned” to blacken the good name of Hungary. He asked his fellow members to ostracize these enemies. “When we meet them and their ilk we should look them in the eye but we shouldn’t say hello to them. When they sit down next to us, we should get up because this is the only way to handle their hatred and this is the only way to express our silent and complete contempt.” I assume that gives you a sense of the people we are talking about.

Gábor Náray-Szabó, secretary of the Batthyány Circle of Professors

Given the BCP’s far-right political views and its hatred of liberalism, the Hungarian media was shocked a few days ago when the group published its assessment of the current state of the country. Magyar Nemzet’s article noted that “Viktor Orbán received criticism from unexpected quarters.” The paper found the criticism surprisingly harsh. It looked as if the professors had suddenly discovered that there are problems with the economy, with education, and with healthcare. One of their first claims was that recently “reality and appearance have been getting confused” and “naturally appearance dominates.” This is a polite way of saying that the government’s claims about the state of the economy and society are outright lies. The professors no longer seem to be blind and deaf; they noticed dissatisfaction with the government even among right-wing supporters.

Although the professors profusely praised the economic policies of the government, they noted that individuals haven’t reaped the benefits of these achievements, creating “dissatisfaction in many.” They pointed to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. They even had the temerity to suggest a change in economic policy: instead of lowering taxes, there is a need “for a quick improvement of the human sphere.” They complained about the government’s decision-making processes, which are often “based on a superficial assessment of facts and exclude rightful objections.” They even criticized the “quality of public information” coming from M1 of MTV. They dared to say that some of the newly passed laws “serve only a small group’s interests.” They criticized the hate campaign which, according to the professors, created repugnance. They called attention to the growing number of government officials and the influence of wealthy businessmen. And they called corruption a “systemic problem.” Finally, they spent a considerable amount of time on the woes of healthcare, education, and research and development.

The liberal press was stunned. So was Viktor Orbán, who surely didn’t expect such strong criticism from these faithful supporters. He immediately responded, thanking the professors for their assessment of the performance of the government in the last year. At the same time he decided to enlighten them by sending them a 54-page, 25-point list that included data that had served as a point of departure for some of the government decisions. In the letter he emphasized that he is ready for “a substantive discussion which is not for propaganda purposes.” The poor professors, it seems, are victims of propaganda disseminated by the opposition parties.

Orbán’s response must have put the fear of God into the not too brave professors because two days later Náray-Szabó backpedaled in an interview with György Bolgár on Klub Rádió. A blogger expressed his enjoyment in listening to Náray-Szabó’s struggle to sound like a still faithful follower of Viktor Orbán. It was a difficult task. The great political thinker came up with the following: “Yes, the report was critical, but it was about the country of which the government is only a part—a smaller part—and the greater part of the criticism was leveled at us. The problem is with the behavior of the citizens and attitudes that have been part of Hungarian society for centuries, which in many cases hinder the country’s development.”

At this point Bolgár interjected that surely it is not Hungarian society that is responsible for the current state of the country. In response, Náray-Szabó pointed to the Hungarian reluctance to begin start-up enterprises because Hungarians are reluctant to take risks. Bolgár said that the trouble is that the government assists only institutional plunderers, so the innovative, entrepreneurial people leave the country. Náray-Szabó’s brilliant answer was: “This is not a problem of the last few years. This has been a problem for centuries. Perhaps it started with Mohács.” The blogger who transcribed this radio conversation called our esteemed professor “this intellectual superiority,” a reference to BCP’s claim that “the right-wing coalition whose tenets are close to our own dominates the political playing field with its intellectual superiority.” But even a sympathetic, conservative commentator, who wrote a book about “the conservative renaissance” in the United States, criticized the professors for “not only being unable to give honest criticism, but even being incapable of drawing the most cautious conclusions” from that criticism.

To make sure that his explanation of the “real” intent of BCP’s criticism gets to a wider audience Náray-Szabó gave an interview to Magyar Hírlap. During the interview he said that he was pleasantly surprised that “despite our criticism, we received a decidedly kind letter from the prime minister, who expressed his appreciation of the work we have done in the past.” Orbán’s 54-page attachment managed to correct some of the professors’ misconceptions. For example, they had stated that 4% of the GDP was spent on healthcare, which was lower than in the neighboring countries. Orbán corrected this misconception and proved with numbers that “this is not the situation in every case.” As for corruption, they were happy to hear from him that although “we are not as good as the Swedes,” the Hungarian situation is better than that in Italy or in some of the neighboring countries, including Austria. The professors are eagerly awaiting a personal meeting, which “fills them with special delight.” I’m sure that by the end of that meeting the professors will be completely satisfied with the performance of the Orbán government. The prime minister will explain, or explain away, everything.

January 24, 2017
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aida
Guest

BCP = spineless sycophants.

ObserverM
Guest

Éva, I believe that the term “liberals” is understood differently in Hungary than in the US. There they describe liberalism in a way that is closer to the conservative/Republican ideology, hence Náray-Szabó’s description of it as “do anything…” etc., while his description of Christianity as “love thy neighbor as thyself” is more like the liberal/Democratic view of social responsibility for the poor and for people who are in need for reasons not necessarily their own. Of course such a in-the nutshell description cannot really cover all the nuances of which some overlap between the two ideologies, but perhaps in my understanding NÁray-Szabó’s remark will put him in a different light. I must add, however, that the above does not excuse him from being a member of the subservient BSP. .

webber
Guest

Those definitions of Christianity and liberalism were an insult to Christ and to intelligence.
Do you really believe Christianity can be boiled down to that one sentence???

webber
Guest

Only someone raised as a faithful communist could imagine that Christianity can be summed up in that one sentence. A single day – just one – in Bible School would have sufficed to do away with that misconception.

Guest

Google is my Bible School. I learn that Jesus was asked: What is the greatest commandment? He answered: “Love thy God.” Then he added another commandment and said that it was equally great: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” That is how Jesus boiled it down. As an atheist I can only handle the second of the two equally greatest commandments. I find it a good and authentic summary of Christianity.

webber
Guest

Several other religions have tenets on loving others. Christianity is not unique in that. But simply by mentioning Jesus, you have already displayed a more thorough understanding than the Professor.

Guest

“Several other religions have tenets on loving others.”

If people of all those religions would consider loving others their greatest obligation – and act accordingly- there would be peace in the World.

webber
Guest

If I’m going to be honest, so-called Christians have been among the worst about hating others.

wrfree
Guest

Something by CS Lewis..

‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less’

Seems to be a shortage of it in Magyarorszag nowadays considering the state of the country in its various manifestations. The question leaders should be asking desperately among themselves
is to who and what it is that I am serving? And to what ends?

Member

This interview was a real shame on the interviewee – as if Náray-Szabó did not want to see the very forms of corruption:the serious bias in public procurements, as the only way of new oligarchs emerging. It did hurt to listen to it.

Ferenc
Guest

Looking forward to the proposed discussion, and as it seems so important to both parties it has to be broadcasted live (e.g.on M1).
It would be very good if the mentioned 54-pages document is openly available to all interested before that discussion (e.g. like a direct download from kormany.hu).

Side note: anybody knows where reliable data about number of Hungarians leaving the country can be found?

Guest

the mentioned 54-pages document
In the words of Trump’s people: Alternative facts …

It’s getting more ridiculous every day, don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

Ferenc
Guest

The point is that they (OV and vasals) mention a document, as their answer to a publically available document, and as far as I understand it’s not available to everybody (aka.kept secret ‘alternative facts’).

petofi
Guest

@ wolfi7777

“laugh or cry” ?

If you were a KGB basement-dweller, you’d be laughing until tears came to your eyes…

Guest

Re the number of Hungarians leaving/working abroad:

That’s difficult (and probably not in the interest of the government either)!
just here in the village we have quite a few people who work in Austria but are nominally resident here – they come home every (second or fourth) weekend because it’s only 150 km to Graz e g

Also there are many people who work in DACH during the main season – or even just in winter having a job at the Balaton in summer.

And there also are builders etc who go abroad regularly for a few weeks to implement a project like a renovation, working around the clock.

One of our neighbours just was away for a week – working in a spa every night with his group in order not to interrupt the daily routine – that brought him some nice money , which he sorely needed!
And for R&R they could use the hotel’s facilities during the day …

Ferenc
Guest

“difficult (and probably not in the interest of the government either)”
I know, that’s why I’m interested in it! Curious about the yearly number of Hungarians leaving the country for let’s say the last 10 years.

Ferenc
Guest

OT, but related
Transparency Int. published “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016”, http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016
index: http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016
Updated the infogram: https://infogr.am/41c7709f-1204-47be-884b-3b9579f3dd40
Summary about corruption:
-the three other V4 countries hardly any change
-Hungary 4th place and CPI steady going down aka.more corruption
-interestingly Romania steady catching up (now equal with Hungary)

Listened to the Klubradio interview mentioned in the post (http://www.klubradio.hu/cikk.php?id=16&cid=205493), most smashing quotes:
klubradio: “Simicska first won many tenders, and later on not a single one”
professor (trying to close the corruption item): “but he’s still living, he’s not dying from hunger”

Guest

Shouldn’t this have been:
He’s not dying from Polonium poisoning … ?
And he still lives in Hungary!

Now we know why Transparency International is one of Fidesz’ favourite enemies!

Gabor Toka
Guest
Minor caveats before anyone gets too vitriolic about all BCP members. It is a global trend in modern times that scholars in the sciences are far more right-wing than their peers in humanities and social sciences. It is also quite normal that primitive political views and excessive, rigid partisanship are not the privilege of uneducated people (I am sure I am not devoid of them myself). Since most BCP members are quite old, I imagine only a small fraction are really active in the BCP. The rest may just find it difficult to quit because they do not want to seem disloyal to old friends or a cause that is dear to me; or because they like sticking to old titles and clubcards, or are not even aware of BCP activities. For example, the one sociologist (http://vargakarolyszociologus.hu/Kezdolap ) – not counting the legal scholars, the two or three alleged economists and the predictable lineup of historians (mostly of literature), he is indeed the only social scientist left in the club – has been quite well known and in some ways respected as someone who could have become a great social scientist if born at a better place by colleagues much… Read more »
webber
Guest

I disagree.
The SOBs have used all their free energy to support a wannabe dictator.
They can take all the criticism anyone wants to fire at them.
Don’t like it? Leave the club. All those who have not left it deserve to be called s tfaces.
Decent person, but a little weird? That is enough to get a pass from you?
I find that weird.
Hitler liked children and dogs, they say. Stalin had a nice smile.

webber
Guest

P.S. Hungary is full of people who think they “could have become a great” whatever “if born in a better place.”
Repeat nationalist bs if you will, but I’m calling you on it. That is complete nonsense. I’ve looked at the man’s publications now. Second rate.

pappp
Guest
I disagree too. These people are wholeheartedly supporting a deeply amoral, corrupt autocratic political system. There’s no way around it, Hungary is a corrupt autocracy, it is not a democracy. It’s time to stop pretending. Though I guess BCP members would probably say they were never democrats to begin with. They would say they always liked autocracy (or to use a more controversial word: fascism). The main reason why people in natural sciences and engineering are more right wing is because they have a world view in which there are formulas and clear natural laws. Everything is black and white. There is always a clear answer, a yes or no. Natural sciences cannot handle the complexity of the social world, the complexity of moral values, feelings, humanity and concepts which cannot be reduced to formulas and numbers. For them there are no grey or murky areas like there are in social sciences (which may not be sciences at all in the traditional sense). I remember Janos Martony, Zoltan Pokornii, Jozsef Szajer, Tibor Navracsics and the rest of the “liberal wing of Fidesz” (one of the greatest lies ever perpetrated on naive observers) were so open-minded, kind, cultured, professional and so… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

“people in natural sciences and engineering are more right wing”
I consider this complete nonsense. Do you have any proof your statement?

Regarding the BCP, I have roughly checked the list of members, and to me most seemed to be doctors and health related professions. Furtheron this whole BCP seems to come out of the ‘polgary korok’, which OV/Fidesz started after they lost 2002/06 elections. But of course on their website they state they claim they are independent of political parties.

Guest

My experience – as a mathematician and scientist. Most of my colleagues were liberal/left atheists – if you explore and teach evolution e g it’s kind of difficult to take all that religious nonsense seriously!

pappp
Guest

This has been my clear experience. Youngsters at Műegyetem were especially right-wing. For them everything is clear and logical. It takes some time to realize that people are more complex and many refuse (like economists who simply can’t give up rational choice theory).

Guest

pappp: “There is always a clear answer, a yes or no.”

You couldn’t illustrate your misconception about natural sciences better. Natural scientists are highly trained handlers of complexities.

pappp
Guest
Complexity is one thing, but the bottom line is that in natural sciences (engineering) even the most complex issues can be reduced to clear natural laws. That’s the basis of hard sciences. Numbers, formulas which work without fail. You prove them, discover them and than it’s over. The rules is the rule. Now how much of that you have in social sciences? By the way this clear “ability to get to know or predict how the world is” is why social sciences tend to use more maths these days: to look like real sciences. In fact these days one couldn’t get a political science Phd without heavy maths as if people would behave like light in a vaccum or heat in an internal combustion engine. No surprise though that economics have failed mankind in 2008, it’s not a science in the sense physics or maths or biology are and never will be no matter how much maths economists or pols sci people will use. In social sciences even the most important terms have been debated for ages (often for millennia) to begin with. Obviously I didn’t make any representative polls about the political leanings of engineers and nat. science people… Read more »
webber
Guest

You could add (many) Hungarian historians, because of the maintenance of the old school of history in Hungary, and the pretensions in that school that history is a “science” (it is not). For such historians, the idea that there could be various views of events in the past is anathema. One should just find the Hungarian view, and no further thinking is required.
A lot of Hungarian historians teach this. They expect their students to repeat what the greats said, and that is all. You just quote Szakály, or whomever, with no reflection They want THE correct interpretation, and once that has been provided it is like a mantra.

Guest

” The rules is the rule.”

The progress in natural science is produced by scientists who challenge rules. A rule is a rule until a tricky observation shows that it isn’t.

webber
Guest

Sure, but there aren’t many rules at all in social sciences. The variables are too amorphous (Examples: culture, individuals, societies, tradition, political atmosphere, laws and their interpretations, behavior, public mood).
In natural sciences you have more hard constants (which can be challenged, but are still there). If a large group of people are exposed to the influenza virus, certain outcomes can be expected and observed (some will get sick).
If a large group of people are exposed to a sociopath – say a wealthy narcissist who wants to become President -, there is no telling what the outcome will be.
So, very few social scientists predicted Trump would win. That we would be hit by new strains of influenza this year, however, was surely considered a given by pathologists (otherwise, why would anyone bother with developing a vaccine every year?)

webber
Guest

and that x number of people would become ill, and y number of people would likely die of influenza is also considered a given, I believe.

NWO
Guest

Not to make any effort to defend Náray-Szabó’s general points, I do have some sympathy to the idea that a lack of entrepreneurs and the notion that Hungarians are (in business) risk averse. As early as the mid 1990s many of us who did business across the CEE had a sense that Hungarians were both “too comfortable” in their lives and generally unwilling to take risk (at least as compared to Poles and Romanians, and to a slightly less extent Czechs). The lack of business start-ups in Hungary is not a new problem, and is certainly not due to lack of venture capital or at least, originally, a screwed up legal and regulatory system. Other factors have also been at work (lack of language skills making it hard to export or grow outside of Hungary for one), and for this one cannot blame Orban. The negative long term impact this has had on the shape of the Hungarian economy (large formerly state-owned enterprises, FDI and micro local businesses) has been profound.

bimbi
Guest

“The professors. What a bunch; but at least they tried (but not very hard) even though the evidence is all around them.

According to Transparency International (Oops! They are an NGO, aren’t they so they must be wrong):

“This year’s results highlight the connection between corruption and inequality, which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth.”

Hungary is seen as the most corrupt country in the Visegrad 4 (Score 57, #48 out of 176 countries) – that puts them about at the bottom of League Divn. 2 in the International Football League of Corruption.
Magyarország Erősödik!

wrfree
Guest

Speaking of the wonderful world of Magyar football, I wonder how that bit of glitzy biz is going. All I’d suggest is that hopefully reason will give way to emotion and the grand idea. As if just ‘building’ it and they all will come to partake in the fruits of victory. Looking for that pot’o’gold is a dead end. Monies would be better spent attempting to eradicate and ameliorate the apparent attitudes of depression, repressed anger and soul-killing angst which has been filtering through the country and has continued through the centuries.

Member

For the sake of accuracy the rank is 57/176 and score is 48. Does not matter too much, but even worse…

wrfree
Guest

Re: the intellectual life in modern day Magyarorszag

We’ll there we have it. It’s nice and quaint to observe that at one time way back in those stygian ‘dark ages’ life appeared to be governed and explained by the ‘four humors’ namely black bile, phlegm, yellow bile and good old red blood. As Galen said, ‘The mind’s inclination follows the body’s temperature’. Looks as if some BCP leaders of the ‘mind’s eye’ still have a debilitating yen for those ‘olden’ days. Appears as if their avoidance of free inquiry into processes scientific or medical and let’s add political is stifling their courage. Methinks BCP runs from fire and has a backup of phlegm.

Istvan
Guest
Magyar Nemzet has a story today that is sort of a follow up on the post Eva did on Romanian/ Hungarian competition for the attention of President Trump. See http://mno.hu/kulfold/romania-szintet-lepne-trumppal-1382804 The article I think presents, even though written by a Hungarian, a reasonable understanding of how many Central Europeans don’t get President Trump’s position on NATO. The Romanians are debating rapidly increasing defense expenditures to 2% of GDP and want desperately to keep up defense relations with the USA. But what the Romanias don’t understand, nor do other Central European NATO members, that 2% is just the start of costs Trump wants to pass on for NATO. He will want close to the full costs of Central European troops involved in the war on terror to be paid for by those nations. Up to now the USA in return for providing troops largely covered the logistical costs for Central European troops, there is considerable evidence that the expectation will be for those costs to be born by Romania, Hungary, Poland, etc. Moreover, I expect the USA to reduce its monetary support for UN peace keeping projects around the world because this has been a demand of the right wing here… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: Nikki Haley

Will be interesting to see how this ‘newbie’ to international politics will navigate the deep deep waters of the UN. She is now going to a ‘dangerous place’ as the late Daniel Oatrick Moynihan described the institution. And as a South Carolinian it will be fascinating to see how she manages her relationship with ‘our leader’. She appears to have her own mind when it comes to interacting with her boss. Would be nice if she has a chat with VO! 😎 Will let her know what she’s up against me in Mitteleuropa. .

Ferenc
Guest

OT
Just watched an interesting interview with actors in that interesting film “Az állampolgár”comment image
http://hirtv.hu/alinda/arghavan-shekari-es-cake-baly-marcelo-1381965

At about 40min the current situation in Hungary is touched (immigrants, referendum, etc.). Unfortunately the interview doesn’t ask then: “Do they (the Hungarian) actors feel that the Hungarian society is changed, and if so why? Has the government followed the Hungarian people, or the other way around, i.e.are the Hungarian people manipulated by their government?” This is what I surely would have asked!!
Hopefully it a good film, and will win a lot of awards at the Hungarian film festival!!

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