Tag Archives: Germany

Viktor Orbán’s vision of a new world order is fading

I was all set to ignore Viktor Orbán’s nineteenth yearly “assessment,” to skip the whole rigmarole. After all, there is absolutely nothing new to be found in his ramblings sprinkled with archaic and pious phrases mixed with affected folksiness. We have heard him speak countless times about his clairvoyant powers, predicting the coming of a new illiberal world which is partly his own creation. And this latest speech is no different from any of the others he has delivered lately. But as I was going through my early morning perusal of news in the United States and Europe, I decided that in light of the latest developments in world affairs it might be useful to spend a little time on Orbán’s latest pronouncements.

Although critics complain that the speech, which was supposed to be about the government’s achievements in the past year, was mostly about foreign affairs, I found a fair amount of bragging about the great accomplishments, economic and otherwise, of the third Orbán government. Nonetheless, I was much more interested in his “vision” of the present and the future, not of Hungary but of the world.

According to Viktor Orbán, 2017 “promises to be an exhilarating year.” There will be “surprises, scratching of heads, raising of eyebrows, rubbing of eyes.” People will ask each other: “Is everything that is coming undone and taking shape in front of our eyes really possible?” The existing world order is coming to an end. History beckons the prophets of liberal politics, the beneficiaries and defenders of the present international order, the globalists, the liberals, the influential talking heads in their ivory towers and television studios. A new world is coming, a world where populists like Viktor Orbán , Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Marine Le Pen, and other right-wing populists elsewhere in Europe will decide the fate of the western world.

Perhaps I have been inattentive, but this is the first time that I noticed a recurring adjective in an Orbán speech: “open world, “open world order,” “open society.” Orbán is “paying homage” to his nemesis, George Soros. He very much hopes that with the “exhilarating” 2017 the “open world order” will come to an end. As far as he is concerned, the beginning of his new world looks promising: Brexit, the American presidential election, “booting out” the Italian government, the “successful” Hungarian referendum on the migrants, all of these take us closer to the promising new world.

Orbán’s next sentence can be fully understood only if I provide its poetic backdrop. Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) was a political radical who, in December 1848, wrote a poem titled “Hang the Kings!” The poem begins “Knife in Lamberg’s heart and rope around the neck of Latour and after them perhaps others will follow. At last, you people are becoming great!” Lamberg and Latour were high government officials who were killed in Pest and Vienna by angry mobs. So, Orbán, of course without mentioning the two murdered gentlemen, sums up the happy events of late in Great Britain, Italy, the United States, and Hungary: “after them perhaps more will follow. At last, you people are becoming great.” So, Orbán is in a revolutionary mood, no doubt about it. And he is also full of hope, although given the fate of the 1848 revolutions in the Habsburg Empire, I wouldn’t be so sanguine in his place.

As I look around the world, however, Orbán’s dream world may not come into being as fast, if at all, as he thinks. Let’s start with Austria’s presidential election last year. Orbán and the government media kept fingers crossed for Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, yet Alexander Van der Bellen, a member of the Austrian Greens, won the election by a fairly large margin. The first effort of a self-described far-right party in Europe to win high office failed.

Orbán’s next hope is for a huge victory by Marine Le Pen in France. But the centrist Emmanuel Macron’s chances of beating Le Pen look good. At least the Elabe poll shows Le Pen losing the run-off 37% to 63%. Another poll, Ifop Fiducial, predicts 36% to 64%. Two different polls, very similar results.

Then there is Germany. Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a social democrat, was elected Germany’s president. He won 931 of the 1,239 valid votes cast by members of the Bundestag and representatives of the 14 federal states. When the result was announced by Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag, there was a standing ovation. Even more importantly, Angela Merkel’s solid lead a few months ago is beginning to fade. The reason is the socialist Martin Schulz’s appearance on the German political scene. According to the latest polls, the two candidates are neck to neck. One also should mention the latest developments in the nationalist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), which would certainly be Orbán’s choice. According to the German media, since Schulz announced his candidacy for the chancellorship, “the number of people who did not vote in 2013 and are now planning to vote for the SPD has risen by roughly 70 percent in the last 14 days.” And what is more important from Orbán’s point of view, “AfD—which brought the most non-voters to the polls in several state elections last year—also lost support dramatically. Forty percent fewer former non-voters expressed their support for the party.”

One ought to keep in mind that the Hungarian government propaganda has succeeded in making Angela Merkel generally despised by the Hungarian public. Vladimir Putin is more popular in Hungary than Merkel. But given the choice between Merkel and Schulz, Orbán should actually campaign for Merkel’s reelection because Schulz, who until now was the president of the European Parliament, is one of the loudest critics of Orbán and his illiberal populism.

Finally, let’s talk about the situation in the United States. What has been going in Washington since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States has surpassed people’s worst fears. Total chaos, a non-functioning government, and very strong suspicions about the Trump team’s questionable relations with Russian intelligence. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice to be his national security adviser, was forced to resign because of his direct contact with the Russian ambassador to Washington. A few minutes ago, we learned that Andy Puzder withdrew as labor secretary nominee in order to avoid a pretty hopeless confirmation hearing.

Donald Trump on the phone with Vladimir Putin / Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The list of incredible happenings in Washington is so long that one could spend days trying to cover them. What I would like to stress here is that I’m almost certain that Trump’s original friendly overtures to Putin’s Russia have been derailed. The Russians did their best to bolster Trump’s chances, but by now Putin must realize that the new American president cannot deliver.

Now let’s return to Viktor Orbán, who was an early admirer of Donald Trump. His admiration of Trump was based on the presidential hopeful’s anti-migration policies, his disregard of political correctness, and his anti-establishment rhetoric. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, Orbán found Trump’s pro-Russian views and his promise to “make a deal” with Russia and lift the sanctions against Moscow especially appealing. In such an event, Orbán believed he would play a more important role than he as the prime minister of a small country could otherwise have expected.

Now these hopes are vanishing with the tough stand both Democrats and Republicans have taken on Russia’s military occupation of Crimea and its efforts to stoke a civil war in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, given the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and the ties of members of the Trump team to Russian intelligence, Trump is not in a position to hand out favors to Russia. So Putin won’t be best friends with the American president. And Europe seems disinclined to follow the U.S. into political chaos. Orbán, if he has any sense, should tone down his rhetoric about a new, exhilarating future where the old establishment sinks into oblivion.

February 15, 2017

Viktor Orbán, the “great supporter” of European common action

A couple of days ago we pondered the true meaning of the Kohl-Orbán joint communiqué, which emphasized a coordinated European response to the refugee crisis. What could have transpired during the hour Viktor Orbán spent with the ailing Helmut Kohl? What did the former chancellor tell the Hungarian prime minister to entice him to sign a document that emphasizes common action in the face of one of the greatest challenges the European Union has confronted in its existence? We now have the answer.

Today Viktor Orbán gave his customary, carefully choreographed Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió. About three-quarters of the conversation was devoted to Orbán’s views on the migration issue. His message was unequivocal. It matters not what he signed after his meeting with Kohl, he hasn’t budged an inch. He totally rejects a common European solution to the refugee problem–unless, of course, the rest of Europe accepts his solution. One could ask why he signed a document that goes against his deeply held beliefs. Because such a gesture at the moment was to his political advantage. For him it was only a scrap of paper without legal consequences.

Today’s interview began with a “little white lie.” Orbán claimed that “every time I visit the southern regions of Germany I visit Chancellor Kohl.” Sure thing, he just calls the Kohl residence announcing that he is somewhere nearby and the next thing we know he is sitting in Kohl’s living room.

He continued the interview by systematically misrepresenting the current German position on the refugee question. He claimed that although it is true that in the past there was “a significant difference between Germany and Hungary on the handling of the migrant crisis,” by now “the Germans have changed their position.” They recognized that Viktor Orbán was right all along, although “Europe doesn’t want to admit that.”

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

It was inevitable that the issue of compulsory quotas would surface in this particular Friday session. After all, the Orbán government is already hard at work preparing the ground for a referendum on the question of quotas. The Hungarian people are supposed to refuse, through a democratic process, to allow any refugees to be settled in Hungary. Orbán is adamant on the issue. His view is that if Angela Merkel “made a decision to accept migrants without any control, then she should take full responsibility for that decision.” Since other member countries, including Hungary, were not consulted, they are not obliged to take responsibility for the consequences of this action.

The reporter, who is of course carefully trained and never asks embarrassing questions, did venture to inquire whether Orbán doesn’t see a contradiction between the Kohl-Orbán communiqué’s reference to common action and Orbán’s emphasis on national sovereignty. The answer is worth translating verbatim.

No, because stronger cooperation means Schengen. My suggestion is that if a country is a member of the Schengen system and therefore enjoys its benefits, which means that its citizens can move freely within the borders, it must also accept the concomitant commitments, which include the defense of the Schengen borders. If a country refuses this obligation, the European Union should take away this country’s right to defend the borders. Well, actually, since we are talking about sovereign states, one cannot force them, but the EU should ask them to hand over the right of defense. If that country refuses to oblige, it should be expelled or its membership in the Schengen zone should be suspended.

I find it interesting that Orbán’s first thought was to use force against a truant state and that it was only a second later that he caught himself offering a solution that disregards the sanctity of sovereignty he so fiercely defends.

Relatively little time was spent on his Schengen 2.0 action plan, but the little there was is interesting. He gave the impression of such staunch German support for his plans that the interviewer summarized her understanding, saying that “there is then strong German support for your ten points.” Well, at that point Orbán had correct her and admit that “not quite, because Brussels in the meantime published its own proposals … [which are] absurd.” According to this “ridiculous idea,” Europe’s demographic situation is so grave that only immigration can solve the problem. This is a totally unacceptable idea according to Orbán, who finds it “unchristian and objectionable from the national point of view.”

The government has already prepared the ground for a forceful campaign for the totally superfluous referendum against compulsory refugee quotas. They dug up an old study the Gyurcsány government commissioned back in 2007 on the demographic problems facing Hungary. Magyar Idők, the government paper, dutifully printed a long article about the evil intentions of the socialist-liberal government. Even the headline is telling: “The left has been waiting for the migrants for the last ten years.”

Magyar Idők’s summary of the document shows it to be a well-reasoned analysis. The study maintains that, with globalization, migration is inevitable and Hungarians, especially highly qualified professionals such as doctors, will leave the country to accept better paid positions elsewhere. This exodus might be lessened by certain government policies, but selective immigration will undoubtedly be necessary to maintain the healthy demographic balance essential for a thriving economy. Natural reproduction cannot solve the demographic problems of the country, and therefore a selective immigration policy should be implemented. It is possible that by 2050 10% of the population might be of foreign origin, the study predicted.

Orbán is now using this study commissioned by the socialist-liberal government as a weapon against the opposition. The highly xenophobic population now can blame not only Brussels for its egregious refugee policies but also the Hungarian socialist and liberal politicians who wanted and most likely still want to flood the country with foreigners. “We must prevent this at all costs. We must stop not only Brussels but also the Hungarian allies of Brussels. We must stop the left because by now anybody can read what kinds of plans they were entertaining.”

This from the mouth of Viktor Orbán, who told us only a couple of days ago that he wants to have a common European solution to the refugee question.

April 22, 2016

The Helmut Kohl – Viktor Orbán meeting

I think the best description of the joint statement of Helmut Kohl and Viktor Orbán after their meeting at Kohl’s residence in Ludwigshafen is “baffling.” In Hungary at least, neither the right nor the left can decide what to make of it. The pro-government papers use the very first sentence of the communiqué “Europe cannot be the new home of suffering millions” as their headline while Népszabadság found another sentence from the text more to its liking: Kohl and Orbán “are in complete agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel as far as her goals are concerned.” On balance, Viktor Orbán signed a document that goes against everything he previously stood for.

Until now, humanitarian considerations did not enter Viktor Orbán’s mind. Currently hundreds if not thousands of refugees camp outside the barbed-wire fence on the Serb-Hungarian border without food or drink for days on end. Last year the government made almost no effort to give food and temporary shelter to the refugees. Now, however, Viktor Orbán signed a document that emphasizes “the humanitarian aspects” of the question. What’s going on is about “the future of Europe and the peace of the world…. Angela Merkel’s efforts are toward these goals.”

The statement also talks at some length about the irresponsibility of politicians who try “to create political conflicts.” These conflicts certainly don’t help the handling of the refugee issue, which after all involves the fate of millions. Let me note in passing that, earlier, Viktor Orbán judiciously avoided describing the new arrivals in Europe as refugees.

There was an interview today on Deutschland Radio with Michael Rutz, a well-known journalist. In his opinion Kohl does not share Orbán’s policies, and therefore Rutz thought that Helmut Kohl would “send a signal of his concern at the meeting with Orbán.” From MTI’s summary of the statement it looks as if he did. My impression is that most of the conversation between the two men was about Europe today and tomorrow. Orbán seemed to agree with Kohl that “the fate of European people depends on the political union of Europe.” Also, Europe must urgently revive the idea of solidarity because the “unification of Europe” can be done together or not at all. The member states must work together. Kohl added that “solidarity is the most important prerequisite for solving the refugee crisis, terrorism, the stability of the euro and the Eurozone.

Kohl and Orban

Orbán’s answer to this lecture by Kohl was, at least in my reading, ambivalent because I don’t know what to make of the following: “Viktor Orbán again assured the former chancellor that Hungary naturally wants to contribute toward solidarity (szolidáris hozzájárulás).” This sounds to me as if the only solidarity Orbán has in mind is the amount of money he has already promised toward the 6 billion euros the EU member states will pay Turkey in exchange for giving shelter to additional refugees. As for his own thoughts, he offered his Schengen 2.0 plan as a constructive first step toward common action.

A few words about Schengen 2.0. First of all, trying to depict his ten-point plan as tangible assistance to a common policy borders on the bizarre. He himself said in Lisbon, where he presented his plan at a meeting of the Centrist Democratic International, that his proposals are necessary because the European Commission’s solutions are “wrong-headed.” The action plan is in no way a departure from Orbán’s earlier position. It is in no way based on common action. “We think that there are countries that want to solve their problems one way and there are others who think in different terms.” No solidarity here. Each nation according to its own selfish interests.

Yet after the meeting Orbán made some gestures, indicating that he might have been urged by Kohl to show a more positive attitude toward Angela Merkel’s efforts at solving the crisis. He gave an interview to Bild after the meeting in which he said, “I would like to wish all the best to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hungary and I as the country’s prime minister stand by Berlin, and we will support Angela Merkel with further suggestions as our action plan shows.” I’m afraid his action plan is a non-starter, although Merkel graciously called Orbán’s meeting with Kohl “useful and sensible.” She found the topics covered indispensable.

Viktor Orbán has been a constant critic of Angela Merkel for years and rarely spared words when it came to the German chancellor’s refugee policies. The latest attack against Merkel came from Zsolt Bayer of Magyar Hírlap, one of the co-founders of Fidesz and a friend of Orbán. Bayer is well known for his unspeakable verbal attacks on practically anyone whose ideas or actions don’t appeal to him. It was only a few days ago that Bayer wrote a piece in which he called Merkel “a vile, lying, rotten wench … who dared to show her pharisaical mug” in the first row in the demonstration after the Charlie Hebdo attack. If Orbán wanted Bayer to stop his disgusting outbursts it would take only a telephone call. But obviously he thinks that Bayer can say certain things that he himself cannot. His old friend serves a useful political purpose: to keep the far-right of his party in line. But the somewhat more moderate pro-government paper, Magyar Idők, is not much kinder to Merkel. In one of its opinion pieces the author talks about the mediocre politicians who cannot be compared to Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and others. In this article Angela Merkel is sarcastically called “the chosen representative of the Brussels aristocracy.” The author of another opinion piece in the same newspaper is outraged that Merkel didn’t apologize to Viktor Orbán for all those attacks on Hungary in the German press.

According to a long opinion piece that appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today titled “The Teacher and His Student,” Thomas Gutschker claims that while in Germany Orbán wanted to have meetings with Winfried Kretschmann (Green), minister president of Baden Württemberg, and Hannelore Kraft (Social Democrat), minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, but apparently he was rebuffed by both. So, for the time being he will have to be satisfied with a meeting of the prime ministers of the Visegrád 4. Unfortunately, his staunchest ally, Robert Fico, will not be able to attend since he is recuperating in a Bratislava hospital from a heart attack. Next week Orbán is apparently planning a whirlwind trip to several capitals to promote his Schengen 2.0 plan. I’m curious who will be ready to meet him. Maybe his hearty greetings via Bild to Merkel was an opening bid for a talk. We will see whether he succeeded.

April 19, 2016

Angela Merkel, the refugee crisis, and Christianity

Today’s big news is that a joint survey for RTL and Stern magazine by Forsa shows that Angela Merkel seems to have weathered the refugee crisis. Her popularity, which suffered between August 2015 and February 2016, has been restored to levels that existed prior to the refugee crisis. Fifty-two percent of Germans now say that they prefer having Merkel as chancellor over anybody else. In the last few months her approval rating had slipped to as low as 44%, and it was Merkel’s open-door policies that were blamed for electoral losses for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and for the rise of a right-wing populist party called Alternative Germany (AfD). But according to this last Forsa survey, AfD now has only 10% support (down from 13%) while Merkel’s conservative bloc would capture 36% of the votes if elections were held now. Her socialist rival, Sigmar Gabriel, who would be her challenger for the post of chancellor, would receive only 13% of the votes.

This boost in Merkel’s popularity is attributed by commentators to her successful negotiations, which led to an agreement between the European Union and Turkey resulting in a considerable decrease in the number of new arrivals in Greece. In fact, there are days when not a single refugee lands on any of the Greek islands. Despite all the criticism of the deal, Europe, or to be precise Germany, now has some breathing space, which will allow the German government to work out the details of the settlement and integration of about one million refugees.

This is not good news for Viktor Orbán. The scary internet site, kvota.kormany.hu, will surely not update its information any time soon and will keep repeating, as it did today, that every 12 seconds a new “migrant” arrives in Europe, with a frightening-looking timer counting down the seconds. The site, as its address indicates, is against “compulsory quotas,” which according to government propaganda would mean the forcible settlement of 160,000 migrants. Such a compulsory settlement would increase the danger of terrorist acts, it would threaten Hungarian culture, and, on top of everything else, it would cost a lot of money. According to their estimate, the upkeep of one single refugee would cost taxpayers 130,000 forints a month. The Hungarian minimum wage is only 105,000 per month.

While the government engages in such primitive propaganda, government financed newspapers are full of horror stories about the situation in Germany, Sweden, and Finland. Merkel’s policies, they argue, lead to a dead end. Here are a few op/ed articles from Magyar Idők. On March 27 a certain “retired lawyer,” who has become Magyar Idők’s favorite guest contributor, wrote a piece on Europe where people “vote here and there, keeping traitorous politicians in power who have already sold them to the forces of international financial oligarchs.” In this undemocratic Europe “Angela Merkel is a fanatical believer in immigration and the migrants’ dispersion in the member states.” The author actually calls on the German people to dispose of her because “there isn’t much time and delay is deadly.” Citizens of Europe should “take their future into their own hands and turn these traitorous politicians out.”

Merkel2

On March 18 another opinion piece was published on Angela Merkel. The author, László J. Kiss, gleefully noted that “Angela Merkel is already paying a political price” for her policies. He was, of course, referring to the elections in three German states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, and Baden-Württemberg. The author was ecstatic about the success of AfD, which “rejects Merkel’s refugee policies.” According to the author, the appearance of AfD may have far-reaching consequences. In fact, it may foreshadow “the possibility of the road to a new Third German Republic.” The transformation of the Bonn republic to the Berlin republic was not as spectacular as the change from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich. In fact, it was “an uninteresting process.” A simple extension of West Germany to the East. But perhaps here is the opportunity. Although, according to Kiss, AfD is not an extremist party, its political leaders are talking about “a real revolution” which may lead to the end of the rule of the old 1968 generation. It is also possible that AfD will put an end to the left-liberal ideology that currently permeates Germany. Clearly, Magyar Idők would be delighted to see a “real revolution,” I guess the kind Viktor Orbán brought about in Hungary. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” one is inclined to say. Anyone who’s grounded in reality must recognize the total absurdity of an Orbán-like revolution in today’s Germany.

A few days later György Nógrádi, a national security expert with a checkered career, claimed that the German people “want a strategic about-face from their chancellor.” At the beginning of March the editors of Magyar Idők were certain that an agreement with Turkey was unlikely. The pro-government propaganda paper was keeping fingers crossed for Angela Merkel to fail and be removed from power. Such a stance is not at all surprising because, after all, Angela Merkel is the polar opposite of everything Viktor Orbán represents.

In this connection I would like call attention to an article by Professor Jan-Werner Mueller of Princeton University, who has written several articles and studies about Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. The German-born Mueller has family ties to Hungary. The article, “Angela Merkel’s Misunderstood Christian Mission,” appeared in Foreign Policy (March 18, 2016).

Mueller looks at Merkel’s negotiations with Turkey “in the context of the broader moral campaign that she has been waging.” He thinks that “Merkel is effectively forcing believers in Europe to choose between her own brand of ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the ‘Christian, national’ vision of a Fortress Europe propounded by leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński.” After summarizing in a couple of paragraphs the history of Christian Democracy in Germany, he describes Merkel’s “politics of small, carefully calculated steps [which] became her trademark, even globally.” But “everything changed [w]hen Merkel opened the borders for the refugees who were being mistreated in Hungary, she took a clear stance—and has stuck with it even in the face of ever more personal criticisms from within her own party.”

Observers have been debating her motives, and it seems that Mueller thinks that Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, is someone who would like to put the ‘C’ back into CDU. Merkel sees “both Islam and Christianity as having a place in Germany … as springs of moral conduct.” Sixty-one percent of Germans identify themselves as Christians, and “she has thrown down a moral challenge to her people … actually to live their faith.” The churches in Germany do support the chancellor, unlike some politicians in her own party who “declared that an ‘uncontrolled influx of refugees’ was ‘not Christian.’”

Merkel’s critics at home find supporters farther east. Viktor Orbán “was the first to shut the border to refugees in the name of defending a ‘Christian’ Europe. For him, Christianity designates a national culture closed in on itself, as opposed to a set of universal precepts. In [his] rhetoric, ‘openness’ means unfettered capitalism and unlimited individual choices…. For Orbán, Christianity serves as a convenient instrument to conduct identity politics; for Merkel, it is a way to talk about Europe’s moral integrity.”

At the end of his essay, Mueller quotes Rainer Bucher, a Catholic theologian according to whom Merkel “is presenting European Christians with a stark choice: Orbán or Francis?” It seems to me that Francis and Merkel are coming out on top.

March 30, 2016

Seehofer in Hungary: A disappointment for Orbán

Horst Seehofer, minister president of Bavaria and the leader of Christian Social Union, has been pursuing an independent foreign policy of sorts lately. In December he paid a visit to Moscow where he met Vladimir Putin, a trip he is planning to repeat in the near future. His visit to Hungary yesterday was interpreted as a sign of Seehofer’s attempt to gain allies in his fight against Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. Politicians in his own party were uneasy about this trip. They were especially puzzled why the minister president decided to pay a visit to Budapest only three days before an important European summit dealing with the refugee crisis. One might add that not all Seehofer’s colleagues are happy with what has been an expensive Bavarian-Hungarian friendship. Some time back Seehofer championed establishing a subsidiary of the state-owned Bayerische Landesbank in Hungary. It flopped and was eventually purchased by the Hungarian state at a loss of two billion euros to Bavaria.

Der Spiegel was especially critical of Seehofer’s trip to Budapest, which it called “a mini-summit” against the European solution to the crisis. But almost all the German papers criticized his overly friendly relationship with Orbán, who was described by Die Zeit as “the chief ideologist of national closure.” Liberal papers especially considered the trip an outright provocation of Angela Merkel. They described Seehofer as two-faced. He keeps repeating that he and Merkel are in constant touch, but when it comes to supporting Merkel’s refugee strategy he refuses to answer questions concerning the issue.

It seems, however, that the assumption that Seehofer and Orbán are co-conspirators was misplaced. In fact, Seehofer went to Hungary to have a heart to heart with Orbán. Or at least this is what we learned from an interview with Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The message he carried to Orbán was that “the essence of Europe is compromise” and that “if we want a European solution [he] must also move away from [his] current position.” That may mean that the EPP is no longer ready to shield Viktor Orbán from well-deserved criticism.

The press conference that followed the conversation between Seehofer and Orbán confirmed that Seehofer delivered Berlin’s message. Both men, as  Index put it, “ swore allegiance to Angela Merkel.” Orbán said practically nothing about the meeting itself except for some of his ill-phrased comments that are inappropriate and embarrassing. For example: “When two men get together, everybody is curious what their opinion is of the lady who is not present. But we know that this is man’s fate.” Otherwise, Orbán in his remarks didn’t show much inclination to follow the policies of Angela Merkel vis-à-vis Turkey, except to say that Hungary is willing to give money for the upkeep of the refugees. However, when it comes to moving Syrians out of Turkey and granting visa exemption to Turkish citizens, Orbán’s solidarity with Turkey, which he considers a strategic ally, seems to be totally absent. I wonder what President Erdoğan will think of his friend’s unyielding posture toward his country.

Seehofer was equally tight-mouthed, but he wished “with all his heart” that Merkel will succeed at the summit on Monday where she is planning to convince the prime ministers of the member states to accept as many refugees as possible.  Hungarian observers noticed disappointment in Orbán’s demeanor because it seems that he lost his most influential ally in the Bavarian minister president. Orbán’s only remaining ally is Robert Fico, who is in the middle of a national election campaign.

Seehofer and Orban2

Although Seehofer said little at the press conference, what he said in a speech delivered at the Andrássy Universität, a German-language university in Budapest, was, in my opinion, very important. He talked about the rule of law as a prerequisite of European solidarity. He called on everybody to stop “the erosion of law” in Europe. One cannot help thinking that he was referring to Hungary itself or perhaps Poland because I cannot think of any other European country that has serious problems as far as the rule of law is concerned.

 

After these introductory remarks he returned to the question of solidarity, the absolute necessity of European integration, and the continent’s low birthrate which, since 1946, reduced its population to only 7% of the world’s. The countries of Europe, he maintained, can achieve their individual interests only through a common policy. When it comes to important issues the European Union actually needs more integration, not less.

Seehofer went against Orbán not only on the question of integration but also on the treatment of the refugees. Bavaria’s immigration policy is built on three pillars, he said: humanity, integration of those who are deemed to be true refugees, and limits on immigration. In the past 25 years Bavaria has taken in two million immigrants. The integration of these people has been a great success.

He concluded by saying a few nice words about Hungary’s economic recovery and its generosity in 1989 when the country opened its border with Austria to the East German refugees.

Seehofer’s speech was followed by László Kövér’s harangue against the refugees, against immigrants in general, and against integration. According to him, “today the national, religious, family, and sexual identity of the European people is under attack.” If artificial European identity devoid of national consciousness materializes, it would be as unrealistic as the artificial Soviet or Yugoslav identity. It could be maintained only through force, relative well-being, and geopolitical interest which can collapse once force no longer can be sustained, the welfare state ceases to exist, or global interests change.” He went on and on in this vein. His tirade was dutifully reported at length in the far-right Magyar Hírlap, which found his message much more palatable than Seehofer’s. I wonder what Seehofer, who is a very conservative man, must have thought of Kövér’s speech, since it went against everything that European politicians west of Hungary think about the world.

All in all, I don’t think Orbán is a happy man today, especially since his fence, which he is planning to extend along the Romanian-Hungarian border soon, has turned out to be porous. Daily at least fifty people break through the “impenetrable” fence, which was supposed to save Hungary from the bandits who want to rape Hungarian women, from the migrants who can no longer be shipped off to the Croatian or the Austrian border. One temporary shelter after the next is being built and Orbán, I think, will soon enough have to ask for help from his enemies in Brussels.

March 5, 2016

László Kövér, the voice of Fidesz’s inner thoughts

It was shortly after Fidesz’s loss in the elections of 2002 that the American-Hungarian Coalition invited some members of the Hungarian parliament for a two-week visit to Washington. The idea was for these MPs to gain exposure to American democracy in action. The American-Hungarian Coalition, which at this point was the only organization allegedly representing Hungarians living in the United States, was a decidedly conservative body and therefore in Hungarian politics usually sided with the right: the Antall government between 1990-1994 and Fidesz between 1998 and 2002.

The Coalition’s bias became patently obvious when it turned out that only Fidesz MPs were selected to visit the U.S. The others obviously didn’t deserve such a trip. László Kövér, who by the way doesn’t know any English, was one of the Fidesz MPs who was chosen. I’m afraid that the money spent on him was a total waste. He doesn’t understand anything about democracy, and today he has a burning hatred of the United States.

I said earlier that Kövér is one of those people who doesn’t know when to shut up. After his unfortunate remarks at the Fidesz Congress, he made his rounds of radio stations and tried to explain what he actually meant. So, when Pesti Srácok approached him for an interview, he couldn’t resist. In response to this interview, a friend of mine said that he hasn’t seen “such concentrated stupidity, lack of information, and simple ignorance put together based on visceral anti-Americanism and the misconceptions of the far right.”

Of course, one of the topics that was covered was the refugee issue. Kövér sees two villains here: Germany and the United States. In his view, the German government wants to satisfy the needs of German business, but its real aim is to enlarge the voting base of the left. Don’t ask me why Angela Merkel would want to add voters to her Christian Democratic Party’s strongest opposition, the social democrats. Logic obviously is not Kövér’s strong suit. As for his knowledge of the employment of earlier immigrants to Germany, he talks about the prospect of having only 10% of the newcomers gainfully employed while the other 90% will be living on welfare payments. And after this piece of nonsense, Kövér embarks on another one. In his opinion, the “essence of the left’s ideology is permanent liberation.” The left suggests to one group after the other that they are oppressed and therefore need protection. Kövér “doesn’t want to offend the Muslim migrants, but in the eyes of the European left there is really no difference between them and transsexuals.”

uncle sam2

Well, we could say that Kövér cannot be taken seriously and therefore it is not worth spending time on his ridiculous statements. But the situation is not that simple. These thoughts have been cropping up in Viktor Orbán’s speeches as well. He talked several times about the advantage the German socialists see in admitting refugees who then will vote for them as soon as they become citizens.

In Kövér’s view, which I’m sure Viktor Orbán shares, politicians in responsible positions have lost their minds, except naturally for Fidesz politicians. “One’s stomach turns, and one has difficulty breathing. One chokes on the stupidities of European politics, from the mediocrity and the dishonesty of its representatives. One feels that there is no hope because we are sitting in a boat where everybody around us is an idiot or at least they pretend to be.”

Taking his cue from the far right, Kövér considers the United States to be the greatest villain in the refugee drama. Apparently, the real problem with the U.S. is that “it needs ever newer enemies, conflicts, phony rows in order to keep its military machinery in motion.” In a way, the situation during the Cold War was less dangerous, according to Kövér. Then “at least we knew who was on whose side.” But today “do we know the goals of each side in the war against the Islamic State?”

The countries of Central Europe are only pawns in this game, but luckily they are beginning to define and defend their own interests. “Everything started with the history of Cain and Abel, and the role of Cain is filled by those who possess the greatest power.” Kövér was slow to discover that the real enemy is the United States. It surprised him, but by now he knows that with the collapse of the Soviet Union America remained without an enemy and therefore looked for new ones: the Russian mafia and Osama Bin Laden, the chief evil (főgonosz). Eventually, after some confusion, they managed to take aim at Russia and to provoke a conflict with Ukraine, which by the way divided Europe. And then came faceless corruption as a target.

I find it shocking that Kövér equates Osama bin Laden with the Russian mafia or corruption. Moreover, the word “főgonosz” carries the connotation that this man’s wickedness was exaggerated by the United States for political reasons. As for the division of Europe as the result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Kövér here seems to be admitting that Hungary is secretly on Russia’s side because on the surface there seems to be unity among the European countries.

Kövér doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Ambassador Colleen Bell urges the Hungarian government to follow the Romanian example and investigate and bring to justice corrupt politicians when she got her cushy job only because she collected money for Obama’s presidential campaign. “So, let’s forget about the fairy tales.” I guess this means that Colleen Bell is as corrupt as any of those whom the U.S. government would like to bring to justice in Romania or Hungary.

In Kövér’s opinion, the standards of political discourse have sunk so low that “one has no appetite to react to the statements of even the American ambassador.” Obviously, Kövér is not very sensitive to what Péter Szijjártó, János Lázár, Lajos Kósa, Antal Rogán, or, for that matter, Viktor Orbán talk about. It’s enough to read, for example, Viktor Orbán’s accusations against West European politicians who purposely want to ruin European civilization.

Kövér’s speeches and interviews are useful for anyone looking for insight into the true nature of the Orbán regime and Fidesz. He is not the odd man out but one who speaks most openly about matters others try to either hide or tone down. We can learn from him more than some people think. Indeed, this far-right drivel is part and parcel of Fidesz’s worldview.

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.