Hungary at a crossroads? Viktor Orbán will have to choose

Since Viktor Orbán returned home after last week’s summit, more and more people have noticed a change in his communication tactics. Right after the summit I wrote about the difference in his attitude toward the European Union. As opposed to his customary fiery anti-EU rhetoric, he indicated that perhaps, after all, there might be room for cooperation instead of constant opposition to everything Brussels stands for.

Viktor Orbán’s position within the European Union has been considerably weakened by Brexit and the EU politicians’ firm and steadfast insistence on a “hard Brexit.” His hope for some kind of special relationship with Donald Trump has come to naught. Moreover, there are visible cracks in the regional “alliance” of the Visegrád 4 countries. Also, we shouldn’t forget about the disappointment Orbán must have felt when the far-right parties in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, and France didn’t achieve the kind of electoral victories he was hoping for when he declared 2017 the year of revolt. Instead, as Attila Ara-Kovács put it, 2017 turned out to be “the year of sobering.” Slovakia and the Czech Republic are reluctant to follow in the footsteps of Poland and Hungary because they are convinced that their anti-EU policies and undemocratic regimes will lead them to isolation and to the economic periphery of the European Union. While Emmanuel Macron indicated that he had no intention of visiting Poland any time soon, he already had a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Brussels and accepted an invitation from the president to visit Romania in the near future. Foreign policy analysts, Ara-Kovács for example, believe that the kind of foreign policy Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński have been experimenting with cannot be conducted in this new Europe.

So, soon enough Hungary, and perhaps Poland as well, must choose. Either their current leaders must accept the inevitable and embark on a road that will lead to more limited national sovereignty or they will be left behind. With the exception of the government media, foreign policy analysts predict that Orbán will have no choice and, however reluctantly, will have to accept the lead of Germany and France. The media Viktor Orbán created in the last couple of years, however, still follows the old Orbán doctrine about the declining West and the successful East. Among the many such articles I was especially struck by one that appeared in the Saturday issue of Magyar Idők written by Károly Kiss, an economist who teaches at Corvinus University. The title is: “Is the West still the model?” I guess no one will be surprised to learn that the answer is a definite “no.” The East Asian and Southeast Asian “limited democracies” have been spectacularly successful, and Hungary should follow their lead.

Kiss complains that even conservative Hungarian economists, sociologists, and political scientists still declare their adherence to the century-old “mistaken” belief that Hungary’s future lies with the West. A good example is a collection of essays that appeared only a few days ago, Ascend: Social and Political Challenges in Hungary. Its authors find “all of our problems … in the fact that we are not following the path of European development.” Although Károly Kiss may not like it, those liberal and conservative thinkers whose ideal is still the west are right. The destiny of Hungary as well as that of Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria lies in the wholehearted acceptance of western values, institutions, and economic and political norms.

A difficult path ahead

Some of the conservative thinkers whose articles appear in this volume were once advisers to Viktor Orbán, but his policies of the last seven years have turned them against him. Orbán’s rebuff of the west is only one of the reasons for their disenchantment. The other is his undemocratic, autocratic system and his totally mistaken economic and social policies. The appearance of this book is a milestone. As the publisher of the volume said at the book launch, “The Bibó memorial volume was the intellectual end, the tombstone of the Kádár regime, this volume … I will not finish this sentence.” (The Bibó memorial volume was the most important document of the Hungarian samizdat literature, which contained articles by 76 writers, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. Work on it was completed in October 1980.)

As far as western orientation and European integration are concerned, optimists believe that “during the fall Orbán and Co. will receive an offer they cannot refuse” from the European Union. Attila Weinhardt, writing in Portfolió, is certain that the German-French duo will figure out a way to entice still reluctant members to join the Eurozone, where integration will begin. The package, according to the article, would be so advantageous that it would be impossible to say no to it. Moreover, Weinhardt points out that countries in the region which do not yet use the euro will opt for it, and therefore it would be difficult for Hungary to remain outside. He specifically mentions the Czech Republic. I assume Romania would also be an eager participant. The Hungarian people are enthusiastic supporters of the currency change, according to Eurobarometer. I was surprised to read that 64% of them believe that countries that adopted the euro benefited from the change, while 57% would welcome the introduction of the euro in Hungary. The author is obviously a great supporter of Hungary making the jump and joining further integration efforts, even if that means limited sovereignty in certain areas, like finance and perhaps even the judiciary.

So, liberal and conservative economists, financial experts, sociologists, and political scientists all think that Hungary’s further integration into a German-French-led European Union would be the only way of catching up with the west. I find it difficult to believe that the Viktor Orbán we know would gratefully accept the irresistible package Brussels might offer during the autumn months, although I must admit that, as he exhibited in the past, Orbán is perfectly capable of completely reversing himself if time or his own interests so dictate. So, perhaps he will shock us. Of course, the authors of Ascend, who are all avid supporters of a western orientation, would rather first see the fall of Viktor Orbán. This would be an event that would allow Hungary to make another attempt at the “westernization” of the country under a liberal-conservative political leadership.

June 26, 2017
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exTor
Guest
HUNGARIAN SPECTRUM #1 http://hungarianspectrum.org/2007/06/27/farms-and-farme I wish to draw the attention of this forum’s numerous readers to the fact that (as of midnight New England time) Hungarian Spectrum is celebrating its 10th birthday. No doubt after much cogitation, Éva Balogh put pen to paper, producing her première piece, linked above. The rest is history. If the inaugural Hungarian Spectrum piece followed a slight URL mistake [farme], so too did the ninth article follow a slight URL mistake [19]. Éva’s ninth was the first to have a comment attached to it. http://hungarianspectrum.org/2007/07/05/remembrances-19/#comment-000001 That comment, however, did not show up until 2012 February 26. The first actual contemporaneous comment did not arrive until 2007 August 9. http://hungarianspectrum.org/2007/08/08/convergence-pro/#comment-000002 Eighteen years earlier, also on this day: “The Hungarian outer fence became the first part of the Iron Curtain to be dismantled. After the border fortifications were dismantled, a section was rebuilt for a formal ceremony. On 27 June 1989, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary, Alois Mock and Gyula Horn, ceremonially cut through the border defences separating their countries.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Curtain#As_a_physical_entity I am pleased to have happenstanced a couple of years ago onto Hungarian Spectrum, which intersected my political proclivities. Through HS, I was able… Read more »
Jon Van Til
Guest

Congratulations to Eva on this anniversary of her extraordinary and invaluable intellectual and political accomplishment.

Observer
Guest

Congratulations to Eva on this anniversary of her extraordinary and invaluable intellectual and political accomplishment.

Margot
Guest

Congratulations Eva,
and a heartfelt THANK YOU!

wrfree
Guest

Prof’s essays… such a goldmine of insights on Magyarorszag throughout its history past and present. The keen ‘eye’ on events and people is always spot on. I have learned and keep learning in this ‘classroom’ of ‘foreign’ affairs. Koszonom szepen.

Member

Professor Balogh’s remarkable blog has become one of the most visible, credible and influential sources of information on the depredations of the Orban regime. Once Orban is ousted, I have no doubt that historians will attest to the outsize role played by this relentless “retired” historian in seeing to it that truth came out and justice was done. (I may be wrong, but I believe there is no historic precedent for something quite like this.)

This saga is also a hopeful sign of the potential power of the internet in the hands of a dedicated scholar.

wrfree
Guest

Well said. Even our wonderful labrador concurs…;-)

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience’… Woodrow Wilson

Point to ponder perhaps in the Magyar political doghouse.

Wondercat
Guest

A link to Ascend: Social and Political Challenges in Hungary, or its publisher, please?

Ferenc
Guest

Hegymenet. Társadalmi és politikai kihívások Magyarországon – Jakab András, Urbán László (szerk.) (2017.Jun, Osiris Kiadó és Szolgáltató Kft.)

The publishers website is under construction: http://www.osiriskiado.hu/, they refer to https://www.lira.hu/, so here’s info about the book:
https://www.lira.hu/hu/konyv/ismeretterjeszto-1/tarsadalomtudomany/hegymenet-tarsadalmi-es-politikai-kihivasok-magyarorszagon#bovebb_ismerteto

Here’s a report about the presentation of the book: http://index.hu/belfold/2017/06/01/hegymenet_konyvbemutato_mta_fidesz/

Wondercat
Guest

Thank you!

Guest

Thank you, Eva, for the invaluable insights you have given us – not only a foreigner like me who came to Hungary first only to have “cheapo holidays” and found a wonderful Hungarian woman to fall in love with (both of us being already over 60 years old …).
That also was around 10 years ago – what a lovely coincidence!
Your articles and the comments from your “followers” have taught me a lot about reality in Hungary!

aida
Guest

I could not agree with you more about you your thoughts on Eva’s ten years of contributions on this excellent blog. My grateful thanks also, to Eva

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Orban doctrine…the declining West and rising East’

Yet he loves the EU gelt. Another treasure chest might be
the billions Google is expected to pay as a result of an EU suit noting that they played ‘favorites’ in search results.

Stands to reason his xenophobia gets an uplift lift as a US economic giant looks to possibly get taken down a peg. And who knows his government could get some spoils if the EU wins. The declining West? Perhaps more the overflowing ‘moneybags’.

winemaker
Guest
Let’s face it: the euro was not a successful project. It still exists but it makes life extremely difficult if not untenable for some member states such as Italy (among others). It’s idiotic to force new members to adopt the euro. If Sweden and Denmark are happy without the euro, it’s clear the euro itself is not a necessity. The CEE countries must first of all catch up with the West and their economies are in a different state than more mature ones in the Western part of the EU. In may view Hungary’s economy still needs the option to devalue the HUF even if – as Laszlo Urban pointed out in a recent Magyar Nemzet interview – Orban/Matolcsy did not exercise that option in recent years (btw Laszlo Urban prefers adopting the euro). I don’t think Orban cares too much about the euro. He does prefer the forint, but this is not an existential issue for him. His issue is control. He – just like any dictator – wants total, unfettered power and any issue always automatically leads to the question: does that issue limit my power or not? Am I more likely to be held accountable? Can I… Read more »
Observer
Guest
I don’t believe that Hungary will really be at a crossroads, i.e. that Orban will take the road to integration and “acceptance of western values, institutions, and economic and political norms”, let alone “wholeheartedly”. Such a direction will be against all the key elements of the mafia state he’s running: the wholesale corruption, the fascist state, the phony nationalism, the eastern opening etc. Bearing in mind the loads of corruption crimes committed by his gang this would be also suicidal. My bet is that the rhetoric will change, but the essence will remain, in the short term at least. Orban is pretty confident (and with some justification) that he can play “the clueless bureaucrats in Brussels” and he will try again the same tricks: the peacock dance”, the two steps forward one step back, minor concessions, falsification, lying and deceit, etc. The enticing “offers they cannot refuse” are based on the assumptions of reasonable government and offer economics benefits for the countries/population, but such regimes are not concerned with either of these (e.g. Nicaragua 70s, Communist Albania, Zimbabwe, N.Korea, etc. etc.). The top priorities for the Orban mafia are to continue the plunder and to stay in power (and by… Read more »
Pole
Guest

Most people on this blog thinks that Orban is opportunist. In Poland he’s perceived also as realist that will do whatever is good for his main goal which is to stay in power indefinitely. So everything is possible regarding Orban. Kaczynski is different kind. He’s authoritarian ideologist transferred directly from interwar period to XXI century. He’s Carl Schmitt’s admirer the same as his intellectual master professor Stanisław Ehrlich. He believes in unlimited sovereignty of the nation-state ruled by sovereign leader who is not limited by constitution, laws and treaties. Leader that can single-handedly control the the executive, the courts, the media and the state companies. He will never agree on further deepening and strengthening of European integration that means less power for nation-states and their rulers.

Member

Pole, I agree.
I wrote it once already: The Kaczynski gang stick to their ideology whereas the Orban maffia are criminals, who only use the best suiting ideology just to stay in power.

The Euro zone is used as a vehicle for more integration. I wonder what the preconditions will be for those, who want to join.

New Euro countries should be checked again thoroughly against article 2 of the EU treaty.

Happy birthday Hungarian Spectrum!

Pole
Guest

And one more interesting personal difference between Kaczynski and Orban. Kaczyński himself (not his associates) is complately uninterested in personal wealth. He’s lives like some kind of secular monk similar to Portuguese dictator Salazar.

Femke
Guest

Orban is similarly power-hungry. Whether he is an admirer of Carl Schmitt is a question though some of his runderlings are. But most dictators just love power and ideology comes later. Orban is probably more pragmatist that Kaczinski. If Orban thinks further integration does not really affect his likelihood to stay in power he won’t be against further integration – although his default preference would be not to be part of further integration, I think.

Winston
Guest

Paul Lendvai wrote or said about Orbán:
Three things, that count for him:
1. Power
2. Wealth
3. Football
In that order (I hope I didn’t change the right order)

Observer
Guest

The day after the shameless gypsy horse trader came from the V4 meeting with Macron he started spewing poison again in all directions : the future of Europe is the Europe of national states, not of Brussels, liberal BS, philanthropic bla-bla, the NGOs being part of a mafia network run by Soros abeiting terrorism and so endangering the security of Europe and Hungary and that this network (i.e. the NGOs) will be fought with the full power of the law and the state, etc.
Pretty clear fascist narrative.
http://24.hu/kozelet/2017/06/27/meguzentek-orban-semjen-kosa-es-varga-zarja-a-nemzeti-konzultaciot/

Istvan
Guest

To write with the intensity that Eva does, day after day for ten years is an intellectual achievement.

aida
Guest

I have just seen a speech by OV in his language which is very funny. He is clearly on the way to the nut house. Poor fellow

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