Zoltán Balog, Viktor Orbán’s minister of human resources, is in the news again. Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum know by now that Balog normally makes headlines when he says or does something that the public finds objectionable. Over the last seven years he has acquired the reputation of being a less than caring man which, given his pre-political life as an ordained Hungarian Reformed minister, is jarring to say the least.
After his last interview, with his ill-chosen words about the lack of CT and MRI machines in the National Cardiology Institute, several articles about the head of the Emberi Erőforrások Minisztériuma or, as he is often called, the “emberminiszter” (human minister) appeared. But lately one can hear people talking about the “embertelen miniszter” (inhuman minister).
The most interesting of these articles appeared in 168 Óra. The piece is based on several interviews with Balog’s old friends and acquaintances. The picture of the man that emerges is pretty devastating. An old friend, László Donáth, a Lutheran minister, told the reporter that Balog owes him only a bottle beer after they bet on who is going to win the 2002 election, but there will be a day of reckoning when he will have to stand before the Lord. It will not be easy, Donáth added. Apparently, Balog lost most of his friends in 2006 when, after some hesitation, he chose politics instead of the church. Balog’s father, also a minister, told him, “My son, you became a politician because you were not good enough as a minister.”
His former subordinates describe him as a man who craves praise and constantly brags about his awards and accomplishments. He doesn’t tolerate criticism. He is often harsh toward his subordinates and tries to make them scapegoats in order to cover up his own mistakes. As an unnamed former employee said, “I am truly sorry that I cannot say much good about such an intelligent and talented man.”
Apparently, Balog’s devotion to Viktor Orbán and what he represents is genuine. According to a former parishioner, “Zoltán truly believes that Viktor Orbán is doing a job given to him by God and as prime minister he will make Hungary prosper again.” Balog apparently needed someone he could follow while Orbán needed someone who would assist him in reducing the amount of money spent on social welfare, education, and health. That’s why all these disparate fields were put under one ministry.
According to people in the know, only once did Balog try to say no to Orbán. It was at the time when the Orbán government decided to submit a new law on the churches. Balog told Orbán that he can’t support the bill without some amendments. Otherwise he will resign. Apparently, Orbán responded: “OK, write your resignation and tomorrow morning put it on my desk. I will sign it.” Balog quickly changed his mind. Apparently, after this minor incident their friendship became very strong and, it seems, enduring despite the fact that Orbán knows as well as anyone that Balog’s administrative talents don’t match the enormous tasks of his mega-ministry. Thus, in 2014, Orbán installed one of the Christian Democratic hardliners, Bence Rétvári, to actually run the ministry. Balog was reduced to the role of “drum major.”
Balog’s ill-chosen words on the state of Hungarian healthcare were barely uttered when a week later he managed to call attention to himself again. He was one of the participants in the three-day Fidesz extravaganza in Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad. According to the official program, Balog was the keynote speaker at a lecture and discussion on the “Idea of the Reformation and the Future of Europe.” After his lecture he joined a discussion group on the state of Hungarian youth both in Hungary and in the neighboring countries. Among the many topics, the quality of Hungarian schools in Romania and Slovakia came up. Balog told the audience that in Slovakia many Hungarian families don’t send their children to Hungarian schools because too many Gypsies attend them. He added that “neither the Hungarian communities nor the government has decided yet whether the Hungarian-speaking Gypsies are a burden or a resource. We must decide what we consider to be a Hungarian school.”
The government media, although it reported on the panel discussion, neglected to include Balog’s comments on the Orbán government’s ambivalent feelings toward Hungarian-speaking Gypsies in Slovakia and Romania. I did a quick check to find out how many people we are talking about. In Slovakia, of the half a million Hungarian speakers, researchers estimate that 60,000 are Gypsies, that is, a little more than 10%. The Roma population of Romania is very large. We are talking about perhaps as many as three million people. About 80,000-90,000 of them are Hungarian speaking.
The Orbán government is in a quandary: should they embrace the Roma on the basis of the common language or simply take away the opportunity for Hungarian language instruction, forcing them to attend Romanian or Slovak schools instead? I gather from Balog’s remarks on the Slovak situation, where non-Roma families would rather send their children to Slovak schools because of the presence of too many Gypsies in the Hungarian ones, that the Orbán government is inclined to get rid of “the burden” Hungarian-speaking Gypsies impose on the government in Budapest. We can safely say that they are approaching the question along racial lines. I might also add that Balog is a firm believer in segregated education for Roma children in Hungary. It doesn’t matter how many experts tell him that segregation leads to sure failure, Balog remains unconvinced. I might add that the segregation Balog advocates is unconstitutional and forbidden by many international agreements which Hungary signed.
Today an article appeared in 24.hu reminding Zoltán Balog and his Fidesz friends of the events of March 20, 1990 in Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș where Hungarian demonstrators were attacked by members of the nationalist Vatra Românească but Hungarian-speaking Gypsies came to the rescue. First, the Hungarians didn’t know who they were, but then one of them yelled: “Ne féljetek magyarok, mert itt vannak a cigányok!” (Don’t be afraid, Hungarians, because the Gypsies are here). If the Orbán government closes Hungarian schools to Hungarian-speaking Roma students in Slovakia and Romania, soon enough there won’t be any Gypsies to ride to the rescue. They’ll speak Slovak and Romanian and feel no ties to Hungary.