The Financial Times in the crosshairs of the Orbán government

On January 15 a lengthy, detailed article appeared in The Financial Times written by Neil Buckley, the paper’s Eastern European editor, and Andrew Byrne, its correspondent for Hungary, Romania, and the Western Balkans.

The article, titled “The rise and rise of Viktor Orbán,” spans the life of the Hungarian prime minister, from his childhood and his anti-communism as a university student to his long political career at the head of the party he and his fellow students founded in 1988. The article reflects a solid familiarity with its subject and, as one can learn from Zoltán Kovács, who as undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations was also interviewed, it has been in the making for months, during which time the authors interviewed dozens of people with an intimate knowledge of Viktor Orbán. The authors naturally wanted to have an interview with Orbán himself, but he declined. The Financial Times isn’t a favorite in Hungarian government circles.

For anyone with a less than thorough knowledge of recent Hungarian politics, the article is a gold mine because it provides the kind of concise background information that enables English-speaking readers to begin to understand the rogue country with its illiberal politics that gives the European Union so many headaches. Who is Viktor Orbán? What makes him tick? For those of us who know Viktor Orbán well, there are no great surprises here. But I liked the quotation from a former senior official who said that “the problem is he has no scruples. He has no moral limits.” I also liked László Kéri’s recollection of Orbán describing Fidesz as a collection of “kind of spare parts” of diverse political tools. Otherwise, Orbán is described as a man with “an overwhelming will to power,” and the article correctly describes his regime as an incredibly centralized political system where all power is in his hands.

In brief, there was nothing more in this article, except in greater detail and perhaps with more  insights, than what other German, British, American, and French newspapers have published about Viktor Orbán and his illiberal political system. Yet the reaction to the article in government circles was vehement. Big guns came out to counter what Buckley and Byrne had to say about Viktor Orbán.

The opening salvo came from Zoltán Kovács, who was sorry that the article didn’t offer something “new and insightful” about the reasons for Orbán’s success. In his article titled “Here’s how the Financial Times missed the story—again,” Kovács complained that the final product of Buckley and Byrne was just “another installment of the standard Financial Times narrative about Viktor Orbán.” The same old story about a once liberal democrat and radical activist who became a  “nationalist-populist” and “turned Hungary into a semi-authoritarian regime.” Kovács was especially offended by the intimation that Orbán’s religious conversion was just a cynical, tactical maneuver.

So, what should Buckley and Byrne have written instead, according to Kovács? They should have explained the real reasons for Orbán’s success: the country’s “robust economic recovery,” for example. They could have written about the government’s “workfare policies” that brought tens of thousands of people back into the labor force. They ignored the fact that Hungary’s credit rating, which earlier was classified as junk, is once again investment grade. They should have talked about “an upswing in investment” and the “lowest corporate tax in the EU.”

Unfortunately, the truthfulness of these claims is questionable. Yes, in the last year Hungary’s credit rating was upgraded from junk status, but Kovács neglected to mention that it had been rated as investment grade in 2010 when Orbán took over the reins of the government. Because of his government’s economic mismanagement, it was subsequently downgraded. I have no idea where Kovács got the idea that there is an upswing in investment; I hear exactly the opposite. It is true that the economy is doing well, but that is true of the European Union as a whole. In addition, there is the incredible amount of money coming from the European Union, which the Orbán government is spending in a great hurry, preferably before the election. And despite the recent good economic numbers, Hungary is still doing poorly in comparison to other countries in the region. In brief, it wouldn’t have been good journalism to follow Kovács’s advice.

It wasn’t only Kovács who came to Viktor Orbán’s rescue. That is more or less expected of a government spokesman. Mária Schmidt also appeared with an article titled “How Fantastic.” It is difficult to figure out what is so fantastic, but perhaps it is supposed to be a sarcastic remark about the article’s emphasis on Orbán’s unusually strong “will to power” and his lack of scruples to achieve that power. Subsequently, Schmidt sets out to teach us something about power. “In order to grab power, in fact, one needs to make horrible sacrifices. Keeping power, on the other hand, is a value in itself, which requires excellent performance, indefatigable work, self-limitation and self-sacrifice” — and naturally that is what Orbán has done.

Unlike Kovács’s measured demands for a different kind of information that would give a more accurate picture of the state of the country, Schmidt’s piece is full of expressions of a bruised nationalist ego when she sarcastically calls people in the West “the advanced ones” who feel superior to the people of the less advanced nations of Eastern Europe. She talks about The Financial Times in disparaging terms, describing it as “this newspaper, apparently the authoritative daily of the business world.” Western academics are also in her crosshairs. For example, “It’s great to know that Timothy Garton Ash has also offered his opinion from Oxford. It was with great relief that I learned that expertise has been heard at last. He says Hungary is ‘not in the strict sense a dictatorship’ [and] that Orbán ‘has turned Hungary into a semi-authoritarian regime.’” Timothy Garton Ash is wrong, she insists. Hungary is a true democracy and, “as for Orbán, he started out as a freedom fighter and that is what he has remained.” According to Schmidt, “the problem the ‘advanced’ countries of the Union have with Orbán is that he has remained a freedom fighter and a democrat.” As for the complaints that Hungary is not a liberal democracy, Schmidt offers the following comparison. When Hungarians lived under a “people’s democracy,” everybody knew that that the adjective “people’s” meant dictatorship. “The adjective ‘liberal’ plays the same role that ‘people’s’ played in those years.”

Fighting Evil

That’s Mária Schmidt’s interpretation of Viktor Orbán’s place in the European Union. Viktor Orbán, the solitary freedom fighter who is struggling against the liberal dictatorship of the western leaders who think that they are superior to East Europeans.

A recent interview with Mária Schmidt warrants a mention here. Yesterday an excellent article appeared in The Guardian which included an interview with the “court historian” of Viktor Orbán. In the middle of a history lesson Schmidt said: “There is a debate about the future of Europe: whether it can remain an alliance of nation states, or whether it should become an empire. I don’t believe in empires. Where is the Soviet Union now? Where is the Third Reich? Where is the Ottoman empire? Where is the British Empire? Meanwhile, Hungary is still here. This is a state which is 1,100 years old. Germany, by comparison, is a young country,” Schmidt added, raising her voice. “I don’t like being lectured by people who couldn’t even set up a nation state before 1871.” Schmidt’s office later emailed to clarify that she had intended this as a joke. We can be sure of one thing: she wasn’t joking.

February 4, 2018
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It’s not clear why Orban is so bent out of shape about the FT article. It’s extremely mild and thin, missing most of Orban’s worst. Orban seems to be getting more paranoid (and he may well have reasons…).
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wrfree
Guest
Re: Orban in a tizzy over the FT I’d suggest it makes sepnse in the sense that the FT to him is the focus of his ire because it harbors and project ideas that symbolize everything wrong with the capitalistic West which in his perception was greatly implicated in the loss of wealth in the country back in ’08. This of course is only one of a couple lynchpins driving his ant-Western attitudes as he continually excoriates that nemesis Soros. Re: Orban having no ‘moral limits’ Interestingly if one peruses his famous ‘illiberalist’ Baile Tusnad speech we can get an idea of his ‘moral’ understanding…. Perhaps with input from and written by the illiberal law firm of ‘Orban, Schmidt and Kovacs’. ‘ ‘I understand that there us a strong suspicion that after all there is a moral balance in politics. We have good reason to doubt it. However sometimes this belief is affirmed. For example, what happened now is that the votes of those Hungarians who live abroad were needed to gain the two-thirds majority of the national forces in the Hungarian Parliament. Thank you everybody, providence, the voters, the Hungarian lawmakers and finally those as well who turned against… Read more »
exTor
Guest

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https://www.ft.com/content/dda50a3e-0095-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5
[Viktor Orbán: The Rise of Europe’s Troublemaker | Financial Times]

I was lifting weights in the gym the other day in the premidnight hour, having an ongoing chat with the only other person there. I could tell that he’s soft on Fidesz when I mentioned that it’s robbing the country blind.

My interlocutor replied that it [widespread corruption] was not a proven thing, after which I mentioned people like Lőrinc Mészáros. I also said that Fidesz will probably win, though without a two-thirds majority.

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I finished by saying that this will be the last time that Fidesz forms the government, implying that a solid opposition will coalesce for 2022.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Michael Kaplan
Guest

As usual, the “un-history “professor Schmidt simply invents facts. The 1,000 year plus history of Hungary that she cites is not the same as the “Hungarian nation”, which did not emerge until the 19th century, just as the German nation” did.

I trust the other observations on your blog professor Balogh regarding Orban etc.

bimbi
Guest
exTor
Guest

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Financial Times tricked up its URL links, bimbi. Just as you did, I provided (as did Éva) a supposed link to the FT article on VO, however it does not work. By googling ‘financial times orban troublemaker’ (or a similar set of parameters) a Google list will result, the top result of which will be the required Financial Times article. Clicking that top result will usually allow reader-to-be access. Sometimes ‘workarounds’ dont work, however.

MAGYARKOZÓ

exTor
Guest

Your Google-search parameters [Viktor Orban: the rise of Europe’s troublemaker] and my Google-search parameters [financial times orban troublemaker] (per the above) result in the same #1 pick, bimbi.

The New York Times also has a wall (after a monthly ten-free articles) that I can usually get around, as I do with other online sites, such as Foreign Policy. One of the ways to circumvent paywalls is to block access to your browser’s cookies, which is easier to do in Safari [Macintosh] than Firefox.

Cookie access has to be restored/blocked regularly. Do NOT clear cookies, however, as they are necessary for certain online activities, eg: financial.

MAGYARKOZÓ

exTor
Guest

I’m not averse to dropping coins into the Internet, JP. I have donated to Wikipedia and to Hungarian Spectrum. As for paying for online articles, probably not, since most websites offer a certain number of freebies as hooks to get potentials to commit longterm. I generally dont read enough to make subscriptions worth my while.

If I were to commit to a news org, I’d probably go for The Guardian, which is more left than most mainstream papers, as opposed to something like The New York Times. There are certain YouTube-content purveyors whom I like and whom I would support. That is a greater possibility.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Jean P
Guest

How about paying for services?

bimbi
Guest

@exTor, 5:12 a.m.

OK to get the article directly, Google: “Viktor Orban: the rise of Europe’s troublemaker” and it comes straight up. Otherwise, I never look at the FT because of its wall.

bimbi
Guest

The article in the FT “Viktor Orban: the rise of Europe’s troublemaker” is lengthy but superficial. It skates over several matters including the wide-spread industrial scale government-led corruption and theft of tax and EU funds directed to Hungary, the corruption of the judiciary which lies in the palm of Viktor’s hand (aided by the professionally corrupt Peter Polt), the willingness of Orban to slander and lie in print, throughout the country and all at tax-payer’s expense, his brazen nepotism, his corrupt drive to control Hungarian society from top to bottom, the selling of “residencies” for personal (massive) gain, the stripping of workers’ rights, the dogma wound up in his education policies and bolstered by his “Faux-Christianity” and so on and so on – most of us can compile the list.

The problem with this for British readers (of the FT) is that they tend to respond by saying, “He was elected democratically wasn’t he, so what is the trouble?” and then they start to talk about Brexit. Orban and Hungary are simply too small to be visible over the myopic British horizon, a problem from which Czechoslovakia suffered immediately prior to WW2.

tappanch
Guest

To the April 8 “election”.

Fidesz is on its way to create 2 “ethnic” MPs.
In addition, they will likely to receive as many as 6 party list mail-in mandates from Transylvania and Serbia.

So Fidesz will start the voting with a 8 mandate advantage. Domestic voters can only decide on the fate of the remaining 85 party list mandates.

Details of the “ethnic” votes:
Those registered for the ethnic ballot cannot vote for a party list.

(registered for April 8, 2018 by February 4)/”on the list”
vs [2014 votes]

Gypsy: 20183/151708 vs [ 4048]
German: 18191/ 41308 vs [11415]
Slovak: 1617/ 11615 vs [ 995]
Croat: 2057/ 10163 vs [ 1212]

http://www.valasztas.hu/nemzetisegi-nevjegyzeki-nyilvantartas

In 2014, 22022 vote would have been enough to create ethnic MPs
(who represent organizations beholden to Fidesz)

tappanch
Guest

Reminder. This is how the Fidesz electoral law counts the votes.

2014 results:
[electoral district votes for the winner] + [fractional district votes + domestic party list votes + mail-in votes]

Fidesz: [1224461 = 96 MPs] + [ 940881 + 2142142 + 122638 = 37 MPs]
Left: [ 176193 = 10 MPs] + [1141686 + 1289311 + 1495 = 28 MPs]
Jobbik: [ 0 = 0 MPs] + [1000637 + 1017550 + 2926 = 23 MPs]
LMP: [ 0 = 0 MPs] + [ 244191 + 268840 + 574 = 5 MPs]

MPs* (votes / MPs), district + list

Fidesz: 96* 12755 + 37* 86639
Left: 10* 17619 + 28* 86875
Jobbik: 0 + 23* 87874
LMP: 0 + 5* 102721

So 86K+ people elected a party list MP, but 12755 Fidesz (votes /district) created 96 Fidesz MPs , and 17619 leftist votes needed for a leftist district MP.

exTor
Guest

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https://www.zsurpubi.hu

Another online website has recently materialized, just in time for the April 2018 election. Zsúrpubi! exclaims its distinct antiOrbánism. I wish it luck.

(My spellcheck tried to correct my ‘antiOrbánism’ with ‘antiabortionist’ !!!)

MAGYARKOZÓ

Istvan
Guest

There is a great quote by Géza Jeszenszky, Foreign Minister under the Antall government, in today’s Magyar Nemzet. It’s a quote that the greater Hungary adherents among the Jobbik, Fidesz, and neo-fascist elements will find maddening, because it bites to the core of their nationalist rethoric.

He was quoted as saying: “Ezt sem a romániai, sem a szlovákiai nacionalisták nem akarják elhinni, ezért megpróbálják meggyőzni a közönségüket a magyarveszély létezéséről. Ez ostobaság. Nem csak azért, mert a magyarok békeszeretőek, de egyetlen magyar sem lenne kész meghalni, nem csupán Erdélyért, de mondjuk egy ukrajnai faluért sem. Kiabálhatnak, petíciózhatnak, de az életünket adni valamiért már nem divatos Európában, hogy így fogalmazzak.”

To put it simple Jeszenszky said Hungarians are not willing to give their lives to take back Transylvania or even one village now in the Ukraine. Hungarians are willing to shout and petition over Hungarian speaking minorities, but not willing to fight and die, nor should they in Jeszenszky’s opinion.

On the FT biological sketch of Orban, it’s not worth much compared to Paul Lendvai’s new biography of Orban that Eva reviewed for us all.

Ferenc
Guest

OT
“Baggage handlers at Liszt Ferenc airport accused of removing valuables from luggage”
https://budapestbeacon.com/baggage-handlers-at-budapests-franz-liszt-accused-of-removing-valuables-from-luggage/
Anybody here any recent (bad) experiences with this?

bimbi
Guest

I was invited to check in my carry-on bag – to save me the bother of looking after it – and when I got it back at the end of the flight, it had been gone through very thoroughly. Nothing was stolen because there was nothing of value in it. When I complained in writing to the airline they told me to read the fine print which said that ALL baggage was subject to search, so that was that. My advice is keep your carry-on with you and there is less chance that it will be rifled. Flying these days is grim.

wrfree
Guest

Courtesy of Ibusz online. Perhaps they might include a caution on your experience. ‘Stealing’ (lopas) from luggage isn’t seen below. For me ‘consumption girl’ takes the cake in the flexibility of the English language. I mean in both cases you have to be careful in what you wind up with. One will take your money. The other well maybe others would rather opt to meet up with someone who has influenza. Could be a tossup too.

‘Safety

By Western standards, Hungary is a relatively safe place and the risk of violent crime remains low. Visitors should take precautions against car theft and pickpocketing.

Cautions

In restaurants and bars menu and drink prices are advised to be checked before ordering especially when in the downtown of Budapest attractive young women (literally “consumption girl”) want to join your companionship.

Be careful with private cabs to avoid overcharged bills!
If you park your car somewhere in the street do not leave any value or document that will catch one’s sight.
At exchange counters when they post seemingly good rates, ask how many forints you’ll get for US$ 1 or EUR 1 or GBP 1!
Don’t change money in the street!

Observer
Guest

Every time the Orban Mafia wins the remaining 8.5 millions lose, often big time, after all they sweat out those billions hoarded by Mèszàros, Garancsi and Co.
This week’s issue: the 12 billion Ft. corrupt deals of Tiborcz, the first son in law.

katalin
Guest

Lots of love Victor Orban! I want a payback for my father`s
murder.Get rid of the NGOs the commies the Illiberals from our country!
They are poison!!!!!
We will win again and again and again!!!!!!!

Guest

Are you a relative of Melanie Zuben, little “vicc”?

Guest

Btw, your hero Vicc calls himself an Illiberal and wants Hungary to be an Illiberal democracy – don’t you get it?

Gretchen
Guest

Sounds as if this problem may be airline-specific. I frequently visit and have had no problems. If it’s air-line specific, would be nice to know which ones!

katalin
Guest

Well done Schmidt Maria!!
I am just wondering how a wonderful woman can raise such warpt young man!

Observer
Guest

Well done Schmidt, as good as any agit prop hack, the old communist ones included.
It’s very unfortunate that a “historian” mentioning “excellent performance” as the way of keeping power forgets about or is unaware of the “performance” of such long time power holders like Salazar, Franco, Mobutu, Xoxhia, Khadafi, Sadam, the Alievs, the Assads, Nazarbaev, Mugabe, etc.

Great performance indeed. Hajra Magyarok, forward to the great future the great leaders ensure…

Ferenc
Guest
wrfree
Guest

Zuckerberg twit over the transom Nov 12 2016:

‘I want to share some thoughts on Facebook and the election.
Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people. Assuming that people understand what is important in their lives and that they can express those views has driven not only our community, but democracy overall. Sometimes when people use their voice though, they say things that seem wrong and they support people you disagree with’.

Facebook, that primarily ubiquitous advertising medium which is committed to selling eyeballs sure gives a ‘voice’ with a particular Magyar lilt. Mr. Z might want to check his algorithms though as the clamoring ‘voices’ coming through absolutely do not have the slightest intention of ‘driving’ democracy anywhere.

His ‘service’ is in bad need of a reassessment as it gives succor to those who would prefer to see its demise.