Tag Archives: Gábor Fodor

Domestic reactions to Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”

In the wake of Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 26 politicians on the left have been united in their condemnation while journalists on the right have been scrambling to make the speech more palatable.

The reactions of MSZP, DK, and Együtt-PM to the horrendous political message about establishing an “illiberal democracy” were fairly similar. They all deplored the fact that the Hungarian prime minister seems to be following the example of Putin’s Russia.

József Tóbiás, the newly elected chairman of MSZP, was perhaps the least forceful  in his condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s political philosophy. Tóbiás pointed out that Orbán with this speech demonstrated that he has turned against all those who don’t share his vision: the socialists, the liberals, and even the conservatives. Because all of these ideologies try to find political solutions within the framework of liberal democracy.

Együtt-PM found the speech appalling: “The former vice-president of Liberal International today buried the liberal state. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not only lay to rest liberal democracy but democracy itself.” Subsequently, the party decided to turn to Brussels, asking the European Commission to protect the independent NGOs.

Gábor Fodor in the name of the Hungarian Liberal Party recalled Viktor Orbán’s liberal past and declared that “democracy is dead in our country.” The prime minister “made it expressly clear that it’s either him or us, freedom loving people.”

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy in the name of the Democratic Coalition (DK) was the most explicit. He said what many people have been hinting at for a while: that “a fascist state” is in the making in Hungary. “Unfortunately,” he added, Orbán “is either insane or a traitor, or both.”

LMP’s András Schiffer, as usual, had a different take on the speech. According to him, Orbán’s critique of liberal democracy is on target. Only his conclusions are wrong. LMP, which likes to describe itself as a green party, is an enemy of capitalism and also, it seems, of liberal democracy.

Magyar Nemzet published an interesting editorial by Csaba Lukács. He fairly faithfully summarized the main points of  the speech with one notable omission. There was no mention of “illiberal democracy.” And no mention of “democracy” either. Instead, he went on for almost two paragraphs about the notion of a work-based state and expressed his astonishment that liberals are so much against work. “Perhaps they don’t like to work and that’s why they panic.” Lukács clumsily tried to lead the discussion astray. Surely, he himself must know that the liberals are not worried about work but about the “illiberal democracy” he refused to mention in his article.

Journalists who normally support the government and defend all its actions seem to be at a loss in dealing with Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy.” Deep down most likely they also know that this so-called “illiberal democracy” will not be democracy at all. So, they simply skirt the issue.

Válasz‘s editorial avoided the term as well, but at least István Dévényi wanted to know more about Viktor Orbán’s plans. After discussing the reactions of the opposition parties which talk about the end of democracy, he added: “I don’t think that for the time being there is reason to worry, but it would be good to know what exactly the prime minister has in mind when he talks about a nation-state, a work-based state that will follow the welfare state.”

A new English-language paper entitled Hungary Today managed to summarize the speech that lasted for 30 minutes in 212 words. Not surprisingly this Hungarian propaganda organ also kept the news of “illiberal democracy” a secret. Instead, the reader learns that “copying the west is provincialism, and we must leave it behind, as it could ‘kill us.'”

As for DK’s reference to Italian fascism, it is not a new claim. For a number of years here and there one could find references to the similarities between the ideas of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös (1932-1936) and those of Benito Mussolini. As prime  minister of Hungary, Gömbös made great strides toward establishing a fascist state in Hungary. József Debreczeni, an astute critic of Viktor Orbán who uncannily predicted what will happen if and when Viktor Orbán becomes prime minister again, quipped at one point that comparing Orbán to Horthy is a mistake; the comparison with Gömbös is much more apt.

Népszava's headline: "He already speaks as a dictator / Getty Images

Népszava’s headline: “He already speaks like a dictator / Getty Images

Péter Új, editor-in-chief of 444.hu, rushed to the library to find a Hungarian-language collection of the Duce’s memorable speeches. I might add that the book was published in 1928 and that István Bethlen, who happened to be prime minister at the time, wrote the preface to Benito Mussolini gondolatai (The thoughts of Benito Mussolini). In this book Új found some real gems: “The century of democracy over.” Or, “Unlimited freedom … does not exist.” “Freedom is not a right but a duty.” “It would be suicidal to follow the ideology of liberalism … I declare myself to be anti-liberal.” “The nation of tomorrow will be the nation of workers.”

Others searched for additional sources of Orbán’s assorted thoughts and claims in the speech. I already mentioned Fareed Zakaria’s article on illiberal democracies. Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progressive Institute concentrated on Orbán’s assertion that a well-known American political scientist had described American liberalism as hotbed of corruption, sex, drugs, and crime. Filippov found an article by Joseph S. Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in the June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “The Decline of America’s Soft Power.” (You may recall that Zakaria’s article also appeared in that periodical. It seems that one of Orbán’s speechwriters has a set of Foreign Affairs on hand!) But whoever wrote the speech badly misunderstood the text. The original English is as follows:

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have eradicated their liberal opposition, and radical Islamists are in most cases the only dissenters left. They feed on anger toward corrupt regimes, opposition to U.S. policies, and popular fears of modernization. Liberal democracy, as they portray it, is full of corruption, sex, and violence—an impression reinforced by American movies and television and often exacerbated by the extreme statements of some especially virulent Christian preachers in the United States.

Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks. Putin, Mussolini, radical Islamists–these are Orbán’s ideological friends. And he has unfettered power to transform this frightening ideology into government policy.

Banks versus the Hungarian government

Today was the last day for the legislators to get together before the summer recess. They marked the occasion by voting for a piece of legislation that is supposed to ease the hardship of those who took out loans in foreign currencies. Nobody seems to be satisfied with the result, with the exception of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who announced that “this was a historic day that may be the start of a new era…. The era of fair banks may follow.” The debtors find the assistance insufficient. The banks consider it unfair and unconstitutional. And the Hungarian currency, the forint, has been ailing as more and more details of the proposed legislation have become known.

The loss the banks in Hungary face is at least $4 billion according to the estimates of Hungary’s central bank. Today OTP, Hungary’s largest lender, said it may have to refund borrowers $644 million, most of that sum due to the charge that banks were not transparent about unilateral changes to loan terms such as interest rate hikes and a smaller amount linked to exchange-rate margins. And this may not be the end of the banks’ troubles. Antal Rogán, whip of the Fidesz caucus, indicated that later in the year the government plans to force the banks to convert their forex loans to loans denominated in forints at a below-market exchange rate. That could cost the lending institutions an additional $16 billion.

The stock price of  OTP dropped as much as 4% during the course of the day, closing down 1.7% on the day and 4.1% on the week. The share price of Austrian Erste Group Bank AG, the second biggest lender in the country, plunged 16% after it was revealed that its loss in 2014 might be as large as 1.6 billion euros ($2.2 billion) because of its poor performance in Hungary and Romania.

London-based analysts see trouble ahead.  Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura International, thinks the market “is underestimating the disruptive impact the proposed path will have on the banks in the short to medium run.”

The forex loan legislation passed with an overwhelming majority. There was only one dissenting vote and two abstentions. The former came from Gábor Fodor, the sole MP of the Hungarian Liberal Party, and the two abstentions from DK members. Fodor argues that the legislation “will cause serious economic troubles.” He is also convinced that the Supreme Court’s (Kúria) decision regarding the currency bid/ask spread and the practice of unilateral changes in contracts is unconstitutional. In addition, there is the problem of the statute of limitations, which the bill retroactively changed in a bizarre way. The clock will start counting down only after the loan has been paid in full.

Naturally, the Banking Association (Bankszövetség) is up in arms. Taking advantage of the currency spread is an internationally accepted practice which covers the real cost to the banks. Like Fodor, the secretary of the association, Levente Kovács, considers the change in the statute of limitations unacceptable. He also objects to other retroactive changes incorporated into the legislation as “they violate the rule of law and cause uncertainty among investors.” He pointed out that the banking sector is one of the largest taxpayers in the country. The banks pay 220 billion forints yearly in taxes, and that does not include the extra tax levies they had to suffer in the last three years. The extra levies themselves amount to 1 trillion forints, which translates into 2 million forints per forex debtor. He predicted serious losses and, as a result, forced consolidation in the sector.

Everybody suspects that the banks will go to court over the issue of unilateral contract changes. It is also almost certain that there will be court battles over the legality of converting foreign currency loans into forint loans at below-market rates.

Swiss franc2

All this made no impression on Fidesz legislators. Antal Rogán claimed after the vote that parliament had at last meted out justice for the debtors and promised that within a few months all unfairly collected charges would be refunded. According to Rogán, the average debt holder may receive a refund of between 600,000 and 1 million forints before the end of the year.

This promised windfall did not satisfy those foreign exchange debt holders who had earlier organized several groups to battle for their “rights.” One of these groups, Otthonvédelmi Tanács (Council of Home Defense), demonstrated in front of the parliament building this afternoon. Figuring that an average loan is 7 million forints, they now demand 5.9 million back because in their estimation that 7 million forint debt has since doubled. They claim that the bill just passed will decrease their debt by only 1.2 million, which is not enough. They charged the banks with fraud, and some of the signs demanded jail sentences for bank managers.

Those who predicted court battles did not need to wait long. OTP shortly after the passing of the bill announced its decision to sue the government. And this is just the beginning.

The political bickering has begun

The disappointment among sympathizers of the democratic opposition forces is indescribable. But reasonable barometers of the mood in this circle are the call-in shows on Klubrádió and ATV, which by now are the only opposition electronic media in Hungary. Of course, among the callers there are always those who believe that, if they had been in a position to decide, they would have done much better than the Bajnai-Mesterházy-Gyurcsány trio and who offer their pearls of political wisdom. But a lot of the callers simply describe their utter shock when they heard that Fidesz would most likely win again with a two-thirds majority.

Not that these people ever thought that the Unity Alliance would win the election, but the size of the Fidesz victory made them despair. Many students are ready to leave the country at the earliest opportunity because they don’t want to live in Orbán’s Hungary. Even before the election every third person in the younger generation was planning to leave the country. I suspect that the emigration will only accelerate in the future because I very much doubt that the Hungarian economy will improve any time soon, especially if Orbán and Matolcsy continue their unorthodox economic policies. It is also unlikely that the Orbán regime will change political course. No, they will continue their aggressive war against all the foreign and domestic “enemies” of their regime. It’s enough to note that immediately after the election Orbán gave the go ahead to erect the controversial monument to the German invasion of March 19, 1944.

Yet the democratic opposition must continue to fight the good fight because its electoral results were not as bad as they appeared at first sight. As Árpád W. Tóta said in his last opinion piece, if 1,200,000 voters stuck it out with this two-left-handed Unity Alliance, not everything is lost. The opposition simply has to do a little better, which shouldn’t be that difficult.

The Unity Alliance before the election

The Unity Alliance before the election

The disheartened sympathizers will bounce back. Soon enough, especially if the democratic opposition finds someone who can actually lead the anti-Orbán forces effectively, they will once again gather around the liberals and socialists. I am not worried about them. I am, however, very concerned about the politicians and the so-called political scientists who are now engaged in a blame game.

The finger pointing has already started. Attila Mesterházy blames everybody except himself. He doesn’t think he should resign from the chairmanship of his party. Too bad he doesn’t listen to the callers on Klubrádió. I don’t know what his colleagues in MSZP think (perhaps we will see in May), but László Botka, mayor of Szeged, announced that “continuing in the same way and with the same set-up is not worth doing.”

Or there is Gordon Bajnai, who once it became clear that he would not be the candidate for prime minister succumbed to Weltschmerz. After a fleeting appearance in politics he has already had enough. He is throwing in the towel. He just announced that he will not take his parliamentary seat. And the PM people will all resign after the European parliamentary election. That would be fine if there were a second tier of politicians behind them. But there isn’t.

According to the politicians of Együtt2014-PM and MSZP, the whole Unity Alliance was a mistake. Mesterházy apparently announced right after the election that “we could have done that well alone.” Bajnai declared on Sunday night that they will “never again agree to any unprincipled political compromise.” These politicians are reinforced by the talking heads who also suddenly discovered that the whole alliance was a huge mistake. It was a forced and unnatural political amalgam of diverse political groups. Yes it was, but it was Viktor Orbán’s devilishly clever electoral law that forced that straight jacket on them. The great minds who ex post facto condemn the joint action don’t ask what would have happened if three or four opposition politicians ran against a single Fidesz candidate. In that case, surely, not one district would have been won by the democratic opposition.

Given the mood of  the Bajnai and the Mesterházy groups, it seems there won’t be a united parliamentary delegation either. Both Együtt2014-PM and DK have only four parliamentary representatives, not enough to form a caucus. Only parties with a minimum of five members can have a caucus. That doesn’t seem to bother Együtt2014, whose politicians already announced that no meaningful political activity can be conducted in a parliament in which one party holds a two-thirds majority. They will conduct most of their activities on the streets. Unfortunately, the last two years showed how difficult it is to convince sympathizers of the democratic opposition to take an active part in street demonstrations. MSZP has its own caucus and therefore could care less what the Bajnai group does.

DK politicians haven’t said much, but from the little I heard from Ferenc Gyurcsány it looks as if he is in favor of joint action and a joint caucus.  This solution now seems close to impossible. Gyurcsány did mention that DK might approach Gábor Fodor, the lone “representative” of the Hungarian Liberal party, to join them. After all, it was Gyurcsány who convinced Együtt2014-PM and MSZP to put Fodor high enough up on the party list to assure him of a seat in parliament. Yesterday Fodor said on ATV that no such request had come from DK. Today, however, in the early afternoon Fodor announced that DK did approach him and that “the leadership” of his party had decided against it. DK’s spokesman denies that they approached Fodor with such an offer.

Otherwise, DK has already begun its campaign for the forthcoming European parliamentary election. They are collecting signatures. It was decided some time ago that the three parties would try their luck individually at the EP election. Of the three parties, only MSZP has a chance of actually sending representatives to Brussels. But since people can vote only for a party list in the EP election, Együtt2014-PM and DK can use this election to get a rough sense of their relative strength among the electorate.

So, this is where we stand. Not a happy picture.

American-Hungarian relations and John McCain’s visit to Budapest

It was a week ago that Gergely Gulyás, the young rising star of Fidesz, attacked the American ambassador designate, Colleen Bell, accusing her of bias against the current Hungarian government. At that time I pointed out that without Viktor Orbán’s approval or perhaps even instructions the open letter Gulyás published could never have appeared. Now, in light of the recent visit of Senator John McCain to the Hungarian capital, a fuller picture emerges about the circumstances of that letter.

The public learned only on January 30 that Senator McCain will be spending a day in Budapest. He came not alone but as part of a nine-member bipartisan delegation consisting of three senators and six congressmen.

Surely, the Hungarian government must have known for some time about the impending visit of the American delegation. I venture to say that they knew about it before January 22 when Gulyás published his outrageous letter accusing Colleen Bell of partiality toward the opposition. Those Fidesz politicians who watched the video of the Senate hearing realized that the Republican McCain had a rather low opinion of the ambassadors Barack Obama proposed and may therefore have thought that an attack on Bell would yield brownie points with McCain. If that was the case, it was based on a total misunderstanding of American politics. Sure, at home McCain will show his dissatisfaction with Obama’s choices, but in Budapest he will not cozy up to Viktor Orbán just because he thinks that Bell knows nothing about Hungary or diplomacy. He will follow American foreign policy toward Hungary, which is currently very critical.

A day before the visit of the American delegation János Lázár continued the attacks on the United States in connection with the electronic listening devices that were most likely used on Hungarian citizens as well. Here they found themselves in a strong position. All of Europe is up in arms over the facts disclosed by Edward Snowden, and the decision was most likely made at the highest level that this topic could be used effectively against McCain during the talks. Another miscalculation. McCain didn’t apologize but instead emphasized that surveillance is necessary in the face of terrorism. They will be more selective in the application of these devices in the future. Period.

Meanwhile the parliamentary committee investigating American surveillance held its first meeting on January 30.  In addition to the official members, János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and János Martonyi, foreign minister, were also present. By the way, the so-called “moderate” János Martonyi, the favorite of former American ambassadors, also condemned Colleen Bell’s testimony as if he were not aware that Bell didn’t express her own opinions but simply presented the official position of the United States government. Pintér promptly made the proceedings secret while Martonyi announced that the topic of surveillance will “remain on the agenda,” adding that “it will take a long time to repair the trust that is so important between allies and friends.” János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.” All in all, the Orbán government was ready to receive John McCain in full armor. Lázár also said at the press conference after the meeting that the new ambassador “will have to appear before the parliamentary committee,” something that will surely not happen. Máté Kocsis, the youthful chairman of the committee, went even further. He wants to see Edward Snowden himself in Budapest to answer the committee’s questions.

It was only on Thursday that McCain’s impending visit leaked out. The Hungarian media was convinced that the chief topic of the conversations would be Ukraine. The newspapers recalled that McCain had visited that country in December, but they really couldn’t give any reasonable explanation why Hungary would be that important in connection with the crisis in Ukraine other than having about 200,000 co-nationals living in its subcarpathian region who at the moment don’t seem to be threatened. What we learned afterwards was that Viktor Orbán “informed the American delegation of the V4 [Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary] discussion on the situation in Kiev.” So, Ukraine was not at the center of the discussions.

McCain

So, let’s see what McCain himself had to say about his time in Budapest. Besides the usual round of praise for the faithful ally, he stated that “we understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious…. The United States and the rest of the free world have an abiding interest in Hungary’s continued development as a strong, inclusive, and tolerant democracy, with a free market economy, an independent judiciary, and a free media.” During the conversations “we also expressed our hope that Hungary will address its energy security needs in ways that further diversify Europe’s supply of energy.” To translate all that into plain English, McCain criticized the state of democracy in Orbán’s Hungary and also must have shared his concerns over Hungary’s sole reliance on Russian energy sources, especially now that Orbán seems to have committed Hungary to Russia in building two new reactors on borrowed money.

From other Hungarian sources it became clear that the forthcoming election was also discussed. McCain must have expressed his worries about the fairness of the election because apparently Orbán readily agreed to have international observers. McCain was also worried about the lack of transparency in the negotiations with the Russians concerning Paks. And at this point I’m not at all sure that McCain knew that all the financial details of the Paks negotiations have already been made secret for years to come.

McCain and the others present were familiar with the memorial to be erected on Szabadság tér. They even talked about anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Democratic congressman from Florida, Ted Deutch, told Orbán that he must be sure that the monument will not be used “to whitewash history.” Apparently, Viktor Orbán gave his word, but unfortunately we know how much his word is worth.

The American delegation met Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Benedek Jávor, and Gábor Fodor. I assume that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not present because in 2007-2008 he was accused by the Americans, with help from Viktor Orbán who was then in his anti-Russian mode, of being a great friend of Vladimir Putin.

Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap, the government’s mouthpieces, have for some time been publishing articles with a sharp anti-American edge, but since the Orbán government decided to take on the American government through an attack on Colleen Bell the articles and opinion pieces written in these two organs have become outright vicious.

Magyar Nemzet after the official meeting  made a flippant remark about “the former presidential candidate who suddenly had an attack of worry for Hungarian democracy.” István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Magyar Nemzet entitled “At last,” in which he expressed his delight that at last Hungary is hitting back: “Goodbye servitude, goodbye hopelessness.” Magyar Hírlap just today published four articles on American-Hungarian relations where they talk about John McCain as “a somebody called McCain, … a loud American” who lectures Hungarians about democracy and who “worries himself sick” over undemocratic Hungary. Hungarians are bored with all that talk about checks and balances they keep repeating. A few weeks ago an article in Magyar Hírlap described the oft repeated phrase “checks and balances” as American whining (nyivákolás).

I’m pretty sure that this fierce anti-American rhetoric is popular in certain circles in Hungary, but I have to believe that it will have very adverse effects on both the diplomatic and the economic relations between Hungary and the United States.

MSZP’s campaign kickoff: Mesterházy in the limelight

As promised, I am returning to the large socialist gathering in the László Papp Sport Arena where, according to those who were present, all seats were filled. What you have to keep in mind is that most of the attendees are the core of the MSZP activists. Their job is to organize the campaign on the local level. My friends who attended the gathering were duly impressed by MSZP’s ability to mobilize so many people. They were struck by the enthusiasm and determination that seemed to have gripped these activists.

The people who reported to me about their impressions are not MSZP activists. They are members of a small group of outsiders who were invited because of their political roles in earlier times. Therefore, their  enthusiasm reflects a genuine satisfaction with Attila Mesterházy’s performance and MSZP’s organizational ability. They considered the event “professional.” From what I saw of it on video, I detected a lot of American influence. Although some reporters made fun of the “log cabin” video introducing Attila Mesterházy, I thought that it was well done and most likely effective. After all, people know relatively little about him.

According to one of my eyewitnesses, the introductory speeches covered practically all the topics. He was worried that Mesterházy would not be able to add much to them. He didn’t have to fear. Although Mesterházy’s speech was a little too long, it was well structured. First, he gave a succinct assessment of the last four years in which he covered all the major topics dealing with the workings of the mafia state. Second, he outlined his ideas about the future after the election. It was practically an outline of a government program which first and foremost will concentrate on strengthening the trust of foreign politicians and investors in the new Hungarian government. He promised to stop the kind of legislative practice that was introduced by the Orbán government. He pledged a more just social policy, a better quality of life, strengthening the middle classes, and greater mobility. The basis on which all of that can be achieved is a sound educational policy. Last but not least he talked about the need for the restoration of the rule of law. He added that some people don’t seem to realize the importance of a democratic state, but without a strong democratic structure there cannot be real freedom and real prosperity.

Source: news.yahoo.com

Source: news.yahoo.com

Mesterházy promised to take strong action against extremists and extremism, and he insisted that all the illegal and shady affairs of the Orbán government will be investigated and persons found guilty will be punished.

At the end of the speech Mesterházy walked over to Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor and shook hands with them. At this point came a standing ovation which showed, in my opinion, that it wasn’t only DK supporters who demanded joint action on October 23 but MSZP followers as well. Another sign of satisfaction with the new unity was the enthusiastic reception Gábor Kuncze received. All in all, it seems that supporters have no problem with the new coalition.

But now let’s look at how some reporters saw the event. András Pethő of Origo noted that until now only Fidesz called the MSZP politicians communists, but now MSZP leaders are returning the favor. For example, Mesterházy referred to Viktor Orbán as Bolseviktor. Actually, the communist label fits Fidesz better than it does the socialists. Hungarian socialists are not the ones who nationalize everything in sight. He also noticed that in Mesterházy’s MSZP there are entirely new faces and the great old ones were no longer sitting in the front row. On the other hand, Origo’s reporter found Mesterházy’s speech old-fashioned and far too long. Index‘s reporter was still preoccupied with Gyurcsány’s role in the campaign. He kept asking the participants to guess how many votes he will bring and how many people he will deter. Otherwise, the reporter for some strange reason decided that “Mesterházy’s weapon against Orbán will be Paks.”

The relatively new Internet site, 444.hu, was its usual flippant self. It started its coverage with: “Someone should think twice before voting for Attila Mesterházy because if he becomes the prime minister, his ‘state of the country’ speeches will be very long. This is the most important message of MSZP’s meeting Saturday.” And what follows was no better. The whole article is depressing with its supercilious and, let’s face it, stupid remarks. And then some people are surprised that the Hungarian public is full of cynical characters for whom nothing is important or sacred.

The assessment I enjoyed most was that of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of Nézőpont Institute, which is an indirectly Fidesz financed think tank and polling company. He tried to be “scientific” and talked about Mesterházy’s “tactical mistakes.” One of them was that he invited Zoran Milanović, the social democratic prime minister of Croatia, to attend and to speak at the meeting. After all, Croatia has its differences with Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, who is being sought by Croatian prosecutors on bribery charges. According to Mráz, Hungarian public opinion is solidly behind Hernádi and therefore inviting Milanović was a mistake.

According to Mráz, Mesterházy should be more cautious and shouldn’t talk so openly about himself as the next prime minister of Hungary. He should be more modest because, if he loses the election, he will be responsible for the defeat. Mráz finds Mesterházy’s claim that the socialist government’s economic affairs were in order in the spring of 2010 “incomprehensible.” With this statement Mesterházy “included himself among the failed left-wing politicians.”

While one of my sources specifically mentioned all the friendly gestures Mesterházy made toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gábor Fodor, Mráz, following some of the reporters’ mistaken information, claims that Mesterházy never mentioned Gyurcsány’s name and “looked through him.” Clearly, these media servants of Fidesz are trying to sow dissent in the newly unified opposition, but I don’t think that they will succeed. Only yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány advised his fellow politicians not to react to every accusation Fidesz comes up with. The best thing is ignore them. Mráz closed his analysis with these words: “Mesterházy with the campaign opening that was designed for him risked a lot. His predecessors, who may well be his successors, acknowledged all that with visibly mixed feelings.”

A friend of mine told me that he thinks most people underestimate Mesterházy’s political acumen. Let’s hope he is right.

The Russian view of Paks; the right-wing rant on the united opposition

I’m staying with yesterday’s topics: Russian-Hungarian relations and the most important domestic development, the new united opposition. But with a difference. In the case of the Russian-Hungarian understanding, I will take a look at Russian reactions. How does the Russian media view these developments? As far as the gathering of the opposition forces is concerned, I will share some excerpts from the right-wing press, especially Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap.

I was initially skeptical that whatever Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán signed the other day would be more advantageous to Hungary than to Russia, or even equally advantageous. And not just in economic terms. But I became truly concerned this morning when I saw a Hungarian translation of a Russian article that appeared in the well-known Russian daily, Kommersant. The author of the article, Andrei Kolesnikov, called attention to Viktor Orbán’s eagerness to please his Russian partners. The reporter pointed out that the Hungarian prime minister volunteered the information right after the ceremonies were over that Hungary will fulfill all its obligations as far as the Southern Stream project is concerned. There is no formal connection between the agreement signed on the Paks nuclear power plant and the Southern Stream project, and therefore mentioning the controversial arrangement was not at all necessary. Orbán’s reference to the pipeline could serve only one purpose: to make it clear that regardless of EU objections Hungary will go through with the project. He is ready to engage in another fight with the bureaucrats in Brussels, this time over the Russian pipeline.

I became curious about other Russian media reactions and found an incredible number of articles. In addition, I was lucky enough to catch a radio interview with Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a historian of present-day Russia, whom I consider one of the most reliable and knowledgeable students of Putin’s Russia. According to him, Viktor Orbán’s visit was the leading news item on the Russian state television station. Hungary was hailed as “the most independent country in the European Union.” Long opinion pieces appeared about Orbán, who was described as “the ally of Putin within the European Union.” One article’s headline hailed the agreement as a great victory for Russia because, after all, now “Eurasia is at the Danube.” According to another analysis, this Russian-Hungarian agreement is more than an economic act; it is a kind of political alliance. Another reporter described the event thus: “We already bought Ukraine, and now we are buying Hungary.” The goal of Russia, according to Sz. Bíró, is to have an ally inside of the Union, to whom under certain circumstances Russia can turn. To have a country that can be the spokesman for Russia in Brussels.

Of course, there are also critical voices concerning the Russian-Hungarian deal, mostly in the relatively small independent media. Critics don’t understand why Russia has to spend billions and billions when the Russian economy has slowed considerably in the last few years. It was not too many years ago that the Russian GDP grew 6-7% a year. Today, if all goes well, that figure will be 1.4%.

Although we have no idea what interest rate Hungary will have to pay on the loan, apparently the Russian finance minister already indicated that it has to be high enough to equal the interest rate at which Russia would be able to borrow in the market. This would indicate that the interest rate will not be as low as János Lázár would like us to believe.

Today’s Russia is a politically much more oppressive country than it was before the 2011-2012 elections. The election was rigged, the urban middle classes are increasingly dissatisfied with the regime, and in turn the government is clamping down more and more. To have such a close relationship with Putin’s Russia is anything but wise. Andrei Kolesnikov in his article in Kommersant called attention to the similarities between Putin and Orbán: “the Soviet gene is alive in both of them, whether they like it or not,” which makes them kindred souls.

And as long as we’re on the theme of “the Soviet gene,” perhaps it might interest you to know that Ágnes Seszták, who is a regular contributor of opinion pieces to Magyar Nemzet, began her article about the new five-party alliance this way: “The chartered train arrived which brought Comrade Rákosi, Comrade Gerő, and Mihály Farkas to the podium. Comrade Révai is ill-disposed but he will join the group. Oh, what am I talking about? This is not that age. This is the team of today.” The reference was to the joint appearance of Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor on ATV. Gordon Bajnai was invited but couldn’t attend. This is how the right-wing propagandists assist the Orbán government’s efforts to equate the present-day socialists and liberals with the the worst figures of the Rákosi regime.

As the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and the liberals

The way the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and liberals

Another regular, Miklós Ugró, called the left-center gathering “the little nincompoops” (kis idétlen). I guess that is better than comparing it to the Rákosi-Gerő-Farkas-Révai quartet, but Ugró couldn’t resist calling these politicians comrades who “loathe each other”(rühellik egymást). And the style doesn’t get any more acceptable as he goes on. He mentions “the few political traveling salesmen [vigéc] who betrayed LMP.” Solidarity is “a collection of rowdies [tahók].” And his final word is that this team is nothing but the “reconvening of the old MSZP” that naturally ruined the country and would again if given the opportunity.

Zsolt Bayer in Magyar Hírlap also accuses the socialists of all sorts of sins.  They still consider György Lukács and Oszkár Jászi their intellectual heritage–a murderer and a traitor. They dare to adore Béla Kun and the other commissars, although only in secret.  But their real idol is Kádár. As for Gyurcsány, he is “the greatest, the vilest, the most disgusting crook of the regime change.” Yet, the pro-government forces and voters shouldn’t think that Gyurcsány’s presence will take votes away from the present left-of-center alliance. No, he will bring votes “because they are like that.” Thus, the right has to fight doubly hard to win this election because if “the socialists lose in April, they are really finished. For ever and for good.”

Bayer could have given Attila Mesterházy sound advice. If he had decided not to get together with the others and MSZP had run alone at the next election, he would have had a chance to be prime minister in 2018. “But this way he will disappear with the rest of the crooks. Forever!”

Political accord at home and Russian-Hungarian understanding abroad

How wrong journalists can be when they start second guessing the details of delicate negotiations that politicians managed to keep under wraps. Commentators were certain that the most important difficulty facing the negotiators was the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The stories revolved around him: will he or won’t he be on the list? And if yes, in which position? There were stories about the negotiators wanting to “hide” him in the number six slot because in this case his name would not appear on the official list the voters see. I must say that I decided early in the game that I would pay not attention to all the chatter. I was certain that the necessity for immediate action had such force that the negotiations would not be sidetracked by such petty squabbles.

This media concentration on the person on Ferenc Gyurcsány was most likely encouraged by Fidesz, whose politicians immediately announced that his presence on the ticket will boost their own chances of winning the election. I didn’t expect them to say anything else, but it is telling that Századvég, Fidesz’s favorite political think tank, released this morning, only a few hours before the joint press conference of the chief negotiators, their latest poll according to which 72% of the voters wouldn’t vote for a common list because of the presence of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The timing of the release of this rather dubious poll suggests what the real feelings are in Fidesz circles about the new agreement. It doesn’t matter what Antal Rogán, Lajos Kósa, or Gabriella Selmeczi says about the fantastic advantage this new formation offers to Fidesz and the Orbán government, the fact is that it is not a welcome piece of news for the right.

The desired common ticket and a single candidate for the post of prime minister has been achieved. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) will head the ticket, followed by Gordon Bajnai (Együtt-2014), Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), Gábor Fodor (Magyar Liberális Part/MLP), and Tímea Szabó (PM). As for the individual candidates, each district will have only one common candidate. MSZP will field candidates in 71 districts, Együtt-2014 in 22, DK in 13. One of DK’s candidates will be Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ. Gábor Fodor’s liberal party received 3 positions on the common list.

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor / www.parameter.sk

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor www.parameter.sk

All in all, I think the present setup is the best one could have achieved under the circumstances. The cooperation among the parties and their leaders seems to be close, and they are trying to reassure their voters that there will be no dissension and rivalry because they want to win. I was surprised to hear Gyurcsány profusely praise Attila Mesterházy’s skills as a politician; according to him, it was Mesterházy who was largely responsible for the success of the negotiations. He also indicated that he will follow the lead of Mesterházy. I”m less certain about full cooperation from the PM politicians, who still don’t seem to be entirely reconciled to the idea of sitting in the same boat with Gyurcsány, whom they consider to be the embodiment of all that was wrong with Hungary prior to 2010.

The other important event of the day was the signing of a bilateral agreement between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán that put an end to speculation about the future enlargement of the Paks nuclear power plant. We don’t know too much about the details, but we do know that it will be the biggest investment Hungary has ever made. It will cost at least 10 billion euros; usually by the time these power plants actually get built the cost overruns are enormous. The work will begin soon on two new reactors, the first of which will be able to produce energy by 2023. Russia will provide the money necessary to build the reactors, apparently at a relatively low interest rate, to be paid back over the next thirty years. According to Fidesz sources, the interest rate is “way below 5%.” Fidesz sources also claim that the arrangement has the blessing of the European Union, which apparently allowed Hungary to chose Rosatom, a Russian state company, without a competitive bid. In any case, this Paks job will be the first for Rosatom in an EU country. I have the feeling that we will hear more about this particular aspect of the deal.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin apparently get along very well, about which I’m not surprised. Politicians, if circumstances dictate, can forget quickly, and therefore I assume that Putin no longer remembers (or cares) what Viktor Orbán had to say about him and his country in the past. Perhaps one day I will collect a few choice adjectives that will show that Viktor Orbán is capable of a complete turnaround and can say something and its exact opposite with the same conviction.

This was an important day indeed. The agreement among the parties will set the course of political events for the next three months or so. Whether they will be able to win over former Fidesz voters is of paramount importance for Hungarian democracy. Commentators are certain that if Fidesz stays in power for another four years the country’s democratic structure will be even more shaken than it is now and the damage will be incalculable. As for the Russian-Hungarian agreement, it may determine Hungary’s geopolitical position for some time to come. Unfortunately, the two events are interconnected. Will Hungary chose the European Union and democracy or will it increasingly resemble Putin’s Russia, which Viktor Orbán considers to be a strategic economic partner?