Tag Archives: Ákos Kovács

The homeland needs more babies

I just learned that there is a group of economists who are convinced that opening borders all over the world and thus allowing the free flow of people would have immense benefit to mankind. For instance, Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, claims that such an open-border policy would double the world’s GDP. The website Open Borders offers evidence that immigration for highly developed countries is beneficial, especially if the given country’s birthrate is low. This is certainly the case in Germany where, according to the Statistisches Bundesamt, in order to sustain the present industrial capacity and living standards the country would need about 6 million immigrants between now and 2060. The situation is somewhat similar in the United States where the birthrate has been falling year after year, although it is not as bad as in Germany or for that matter in Hungary. In the United States the current fertility rate is 1.87 per woman and in Canada 1.61. In Germany it is 1.38 and in Hungary 1.34.

Of these four countries it is only Hungary that steadfastly refuses to even consider the possibility of accepting any newcomers. Germany, which at the moment is taking care of almost one million refugees, in the past few years has quietly settled millions of foreigners, among them close to 200,000 Hungarians, more than 500,000 Poles, over 100,000 Syrians, close to 100,000 Iraqis, and 75,000 Afghans. The United States opens its doors to close to a million immigrants every year. As for Canada, papers reported today that Canada is prepared to settle 50,000 Syrians by the end of next year. Germany will take most of the asylum-seekers but wants signs of solidarity from the other member states of the European Union and therefore asks them to accept a relatively small number of refugees. The four Visegrád countries are balking at this request.

In the last few days Hungarian papers were full of stories about László Kövér’s speech at the Fidesz Congress on the duty of women to produce grandchildren for him and others of his generation. Soon enough came the outrageous remarks of the pop singer Ákos, who is a faithful promoter of Viktor Orbán’s regime. Ákos in an interview pretty well repeated what Kövér had to say about women. Their primary role is to produce babies. For good measure he added that it is not “their task to make as much money as men do.”

Kövér’s speech and Ákos’s interview were ill-conceived first stabs at introducing the Hungarian government’s new nationwide propaganda campaign that hopes to boost the country’s miserably low fertility rate. The underlying message is: “We’ve saved you from these Muslim hordes but you, for your part, must have many more children.” According to Katalin Novák, undersecretary in charge of family affairs in the ministry of human resources, the demographic problems of Hungary could be solved if every Hungarian family would produce just one additional child.

The government realizes that, given the low wages, the general housing shortage, the high price of apartments and the small sizes of the existing units, few families will embark on having two or three children. In the last few days all sorts of vague promises were made about lowering the VAT on housing construction from 27% to 5%, but details are missing. No one knows what part of the construction would benefit from the drastic lowering of the tax. In addition, the government promised to give 10 million forints gratis to families who commit to having three children within ten years. These people would also receive a loan of up to 10 million forints with a low interest rate to buy an apartment in a newly constructed building. Although we know few details, critics point out that 10 million for a brand new apartment is peanuts and thus only the better-off families would benefit from the government largess, most likely the ones who don’t really need it.

An ideal Hungarian family

An ideal Hungarian family

Sometime in May we learned that Hungary’s population was continuing to shrink. The equivalent of a smaller town had disappeared within one year. In today’s papers one can find new data on the subject. It is true that 0.5% more children were born between January and October, but the number of deaths rose by 5.5% during the same period. Thus, another middle-sized town disappeared. To be precise, 33,291 people.

How effective the new government measures will be only time will tell, but I’m not optimistic. In fact, I have the feeling that even if there are some small demographic improvements, they will not be nearly enough to replenish the population, which has been decreasing steadily ever since the 1970s. I also predict that emigration will accelerate for at least two reasons: David Cameron’s threats of discriminatory measures against immigrants from other EU countries and the Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan immigration to Germany. Would-be emigrants heading to the United Kingdom may think that they should go now since no one knows what kinds of new restrictions Cameron’s government will come out with in the next few months. As for Germany, at the moment job opportunities, especially for blue collar workers and unskilled labor, are plentiful, but who knows what will happen once the newcomers are ready to join the workforce. Mind you, it is possible that the Syrian refugees are better educated than the East Europeans working in Western Europe. According to one poll, 86% of Syrian refugees attended high school or university. Of these people 16% are students and 4-5% of them are doctors or pharmacists.

Tit for tat: The Orbán government retaliates against Magyar Telekom

László Kövér’s “unenlightened” remarks at the Fidesz congress the other day caused quite an uproar, as I reported earlier. Here, to refresh everyone’s memory, is what the president of the Hungarian parliament had to say:

We don’t want to make Hungary a futureless society full of man-hating women and feminine men terrified of women who see in children and in families only obstacles to self-fulfillment. We would like it if our sons not only learn but also understand Petőfi’s poem “If you are a man, be a man” and if our daughters would consider it the culmination of self-fulfillment to bear grandchildren for us.

This is not the first time that a member of the Hungarian legislation contends that the defining role of a woman is to give birth, in large part because it is her duty to keep the nation alive. In 2012 István Varga (Fidesz) said the following:

The most important calling for women and ladies, especially for young ladies, is to give birth. It is obvious that if everybody gave birth to two, three or four children, a gift to the fatherland, everybody would be happy. After that task is over, every woman can fulfill herself and may work at different jobs.

Kövér was still making his rounds to explain away his remarks when an aging rock star, Ákos Kovács, known simply as Ákos, in an interview on the far-right Echo TV said:

A: It is not the task of women to make as much as men do. That’s how I feel.

Q: Not their task?

A: No, not their task.

Q: What is their task?

A: Well, let’s say, it is the fulfilment of their primary function, no? Let’s say to belong to someone. To give a child to someone.

These are the most often quoted sentences from a fairly long exchange, but it is worth taking a look at the video of at least the first part of the interview.

During the interview Ákos alluded to the fact that he comes from upper-middle class families who were “ruined” by the communists. He made sure that the audience learned about his ancestors’ distinguished legal careers, going back to 1785. He talked about his father’s Biedermeier desk and his grandfather’s silver cigarette case. His parents were poor, he said, although later we learned that both his parents worked in the Central Statistical Office. It is possible that his problem with women’s salaries stems, at least in part, from the fact that his mother achieved a higher rank in the office hierarchy than his father and consequently made more money. He himself had no difficulty getting into Karl Marx University (today Corvinus) where he specialized in foreign trade. He speaks English and Italian.

In any case, Ákos no longer has to worry about poverty. In 2014 444.hu reported that Ákos’s company, the Fehér Sólyom (White Falcon), which is involved in music publishing, had made 107 million forints the previous year. This is over and above what he earns as an entertainer.

Ákos is on very good terms with the present government. He is an ardent supporter of Fidesz, and in turn he is a favorite of the Orbán government. His services to the government have been greatly appreciated over the years, and in 2012 he was awarded the much-coveted Kossuth Prize for his alleged artistic accomplishments.

He is married with four children, but he and his wife got married only after the third child was born. His wife doesn’t have a career of her own although “all through university she had straight A’s and everybody in and outside the family thought that she would have a very successful career” as an economist. From an interview that took place in 2011 we learned that she plays an active role in the financial side of Fehér Sólyom. As for their personal relationship, Ákos told Echo TV that in 2012 the Hungarian left called him a Nazi and for five days he seriously contemplated leaving Hungary. The reporter at that point interrupted: “So you and your wife decided ….” Ákos made it crystal clear that it was up to him to decide. What was his wife’s reaction? “Don’t be hysterical.”

After two days of silence following his Echo TV interview, Magyar Telekom, which was paying Ákos to be a face of the company, decided to break its contract with him. The press release read:

Today the Magyar Telekom Group broke its contract with Ákos, about which we informed him in writing this morning. We think highly of Ákos’s musical accomplishments, his successes as a performer, and we think of our years of cooperation and common work with appreciation. At the same time our firm does not think that the attitude the performer exhibited during a television interview is compatible with the beliefs and values of our Group.

At this point all hell broke loose. If I wanted to summarize it in the most succinct way, I would have to say that the Hungarian government lost its mind. Or, perhaps more accurately, Viktor Orbán lost his mind. The Hungarian government called on ministries and other government institutions to cancel their telephone subscriptions with Magyar Telekom.

The first sign of Viktor Orbán’s ire was János Lázár’s reaction to the case yesterday. “I find what Telekom did shocking,” he said, adding that “a German firm should know only too well what dictatorship is.” He asked if, for example, the government didn’t like the opinion of Telekom, could it then break its contract with the company? Obviously, by the next day the government decided that yes, it could.

Ákos Kovács as spokesman of Magyar Telekom

Ákos Kovács as a spokesman of Magyar Telekom

The volume was turned up even higher when Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, held a press conference this morning right after the cabinet meeting to announce the government’s breach of contract with Magyar Telekom. According to him, the government was shocked when it heard the news of Telekom’s decision, which in their opinion is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Hungarian constitution. “Perhaps such a move is acceptable in Germany, but we find it unacceptable that someone can be discriminated against on the basis of his opinion and point of view.”

I don’t think one has to be a legal expert to realize that the Hungarian government’s argument is nonsensical. There was a private agreement between Magyar Telekom and Ákos, according to which the performer would spread the good name of the company. Surely, there must be a clause in that contract specifying that if Ákos’s behavior is in any way damaging to the image of the company, the agreement is null and void. Talking about discrimination is ridiculous. Voiding a private contract has nothing to do with discrimination.

The government also invoked the freedom of expression. But this argument is specious as well. Magyar Telekom in no way bans Ákos from expounding his sexist beliefs, it simply doesn’t want its name associated with someone who espouses such ideas.

This decision to retaliate against Magyar Telekom shows the Orbán government in the worst possible light. I simply don’t understand why the government keeps tempting fate. As if they wanted to show that they can do anything they want. Punish anyone who stands in their way. They no longer care what the world thinks of them. And they are ready to go against one of the most important companies in Europe (since Magyar Telekom is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom) because Magyar Telekom dared to break a contract with a man who espoused the same ideas as László Kövér and some of the other Fidesz bigwigs. To their minds such impertinence cannot be tolerated, even if an international scandal ensues.

I firmly believe that as Orbán displays how petty and vindictive he can be and as he expands his targets from local political adversaries to international opponents, he moves ever closer to his downfall. I know that right now no one can imagine such an event, but fortune can turn on a dime, especially when a politician believes that he is invincible. And it won’t be his international opponents who bring him down, but “the nation.”