Tag Archives: law and order

Orbán’s vision of the future: autocracy with the assistance of law enforcement

A few days ago Viktor Orbán delivered a speech commemorating the 145th anniversary of the establishment of Hungary’s modern prosecutorial system in 1871. In 1991, on the 120th anniversary of the occasion, at the suggestion of Kálmán Györgyi, chief prosecutor at the time, the decision was made to celebrate the event every year. As part of the observance, prosecutors whose work merits special recognition receive the Sándor Kozma Prize. Kozma was the first royal chief prosecutor of Hungary between 1871 and 1896.

Until 1990 the prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the ministry of justice, as is the case in most European countries. After the change of regime, however, in an attempt to stave off undue state power over the judiciary, the new constitution declared the prosecutorial structure independent of the government. The result, even before the arrival of Peter Polt as chief prosecutor in 2000, was problematic. “Independence” in reality meant “responsible to no one.” A state within the state. At one point, during the first Orbán administration, Minister of Justice Ibolya Dávid did attempt to end the independence of the prosecutorial system and place it under her ministry, but because of the opposition’s objections the idea was dropped.

The last time that Orbán appeared at this festive occasion and delivered a speech was in 2012. At that time his message centered on the relationship between the government and the prosecution. He argued against an artificially forced distance between the two. This year he lauded the present system of prosecutorial independence, although he had to admit, most likely because Kálmán Györgyi was in the audience, that earlier he had argued rather vehemently with the former chief prosecutor in favor of placing the prosecution under the government. Now, however, he seems to be satisfied with the current arrangement. He had to admit, he said, that Györgyi was right. Of course. The pseudo-independence the prosecutorial hierarchy suits Viktor Orbán perfectly.

After a few more or less incomprehensible sentences, the prime minister came to the defense of the prosecutors under the leadership of Péter Polt. Opposition politicians consider Péter Polt the kingpin who keeps Viktor Orbán’s corrupt government in power, and they are openly asking for his resignation. They promise him jail time once Viktor Orbán is gone. So, the prime minister wanted show his support. He blamed these attacks on the prosecutor’s office on the West, where such openly critical remarks from politicians against the courts and the prosecution are commonplace. “This is one of the less desirable results of our membership in the European Union.” Naturally, Orbán encouraged them to forge ahead and do their work to the best of their ability, listening only to their own consciences.

A strange scene: the prime minister bowing to the chief prosecutor

A strange scene: the prime minister bowing to the chief prosecutor

It was at that point that he came to his core message, which some people, like András Bruck, consider to be “the most frightening speech of [Orbán’s] life.” In his view, ever since World War II, when we talked about “competitiveness” we were thinking of economic growth. The most successful nations were the ones that could provide the most prosperity for their citizens. But now Viktor Orbán believes that in the next two decades there will be a distinct change: the most successful countries will be the ones that will be able to create “order, legality, and orderliness.” How these conditions will help Hungary in the “race against time” is not clear to me.

Although the connection between order and competitiveness may be fuzzy, Orbán’s discussion of party politics and the question of order, legality, and orderliness is unfortunately crystal clear. His argument goes something like this. In the post-war developed world the most important legitimizing factor was the state of the economy. Right-of-center and left-of-center came and went, but “they all remained within the system, within the elite, within the same cultural milieu.” They were all thinking about the world in a similar way. Parties that were thinking in a novel way couldn’t enter the political structure. It was “a stable system, which will now change.” Over the past sixty years people accepted the same basic political structure because, with only few exceptions, governments were able to provide greater prosperity. “This era, ladies and gentlemen and deeply honored chief prosecutor, is over.”

If we take these sentences at face value, as András Bruck did, one could conclude that “Orbán in essence acknowledged that Hungary is not only unable to create prosperity and social security for its citizens but doesn’t even want to.” But, as usual, Viktor Orbán is never that straightforward. He can’t possibly abandon his habit of double-talk. It is true, he continued, that the European Union will be unable to provide sustained prosperity for its citizens, but this prediction is not true for all EU countries. There will be exceptions. “Thank God, we Central Europeans are not doomed to the fate outlined above because Central Europe’s economic growth surpasses that of the European Union.” Unless the leaders of the region do something very stupid, there will be continued growth in this part of the world for the next 10-15 years. So, in Central Europe the legitimating force of economic success, unlike in the West, will remain. In addition, of course, to the new organizing principles of order, legality, and orderliness.

Hungary will be doubly blessed. One blessing is that Hungary, just like all other European countries, will be led by governments and/or parties that in no way resemble the traditional governments/parties we have been used to in democratic countries. Given the Hungarian prime minister’s political philosophy, he is almost certainly talking about those right-wing, even extremist, new formations in Western Europe whose leaders are such enthusiastic supporters of Viktor Orbán. These parties and the governments they form will then enforce law and order with the assistance of the “independent” prosecution, the police, and perhaps even the army. A frightening prospect, if he is allowed to make good on it. It is up to the Hungarian people to make sure that he doesn’t have the opportunity to make his dreams even more of a reality than they already are.

June 12, 2016

Soul searching in the Hungarian Socialist Party

On Saturday the MSZP committee of important party leaders (választmányi bizottság) gathered to evaluate the situation following the disastrous showing of the United Alliance. Apparently the at times heated debate lasted almost six hours. The gathering began with a forty-minute speech by party chairman Attila Mesterházy who, according to those present, repeated what he had already said publicly in an interview with HVG. First of all, he announced that there is no need for hasty action. It takes time to assess the situation. In any case, according to the party’s by-laws, there will be an opportunity to vote on possible personnel changes after the October municipal elections. At that time he will be a candidate for the chairmanship.

Otherwise, Mesterházy admitted that they didn’t listen to the demands of the people, that they ignored Jobbik, and that they didn’t appeal to sentiment, which is more important than rationality. In brief, at least in my interpretation, Mesterházy thinks that they should more or less have followed the path Fidesz chose in the last eight years or so. That is, let’s be as populist as Fidesz is, but let’s do it better. If Fidesz operates with highly charged nationalism, let’s be nationalistic. If the people want law and order, let’s create a law-and-order MSZP and by extension, because Mesterházy admitted that cooperation among the democratic parties is necessary, a law-and-order Unity Alliance. Mesterházy even dragged in the latest tiff between Brussels and Budapest over the distillation of pálinka. He stands with Viktor Orbán on that, he would also fight Brussels on the issue. But the European Union doesn’t want to forbid the distillation of pálinka, as Mesterházy implied. The argument is over taxes. The EU doesn’t want to allow Hungarians to brew pálinka without paying excise taxes on their product.

All in all, I believe that what Mesterházy outlined is no remedy for the ills of MSZP or the Unity Alliance.

The party leadership didn’t call for Mesterházy’s immediate resignation, a good decision considering that the EP campaign has already started. In fact, Tibor Szanyi, who will lead the MSZP delegation to Brussels, is hard at work and managed to get the necessary 20,000 endorsements in record time. Yes, now is not the time to get rid of the whole top leadership, although apparently there were voices demanding such a radical step. There was, however, plenty of criticism of Mesterházy’s leadership techniques. One of the main complaints was that he tried to imitate the leadership style of Viktor Orbán and hence created a highly centralized MSZP, which goes against socialist tradition.

In the wake of its 2010 defeat MSZP tried to reinvent itself to portray a younger, fresher image. The selection of the new leadership was based on age instead of experience and merit. In its rejuvenation campaign the old leadership was pushed into the background. Mesterházy somewhat naively thought that Fidesz politicians would no longer be able to call MSZP a bunch of commies. He should have known better. The name calling continued unabated.

Ildikó Lendvai, one of the critics of MSZP's present strategy, is arriving at the meeting Photo: Simon Móricz-Sabján/Népszabadság

Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP, is arriving at the meeting
Photo: Simon Móricz-Sabján/Népszabadság

Antal Rogán and Gergely Gulyás are now offering MSZP a (poisonous) olive branch. They are talking about the possibility of reaching an understanding with MSZP as long as the coalition gets rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Orbán is fixated with Gyurcsány; he wants the former prime minister out of politics for good. The Fidesz leadership doesn’t really care whether MSZP is full of old apparatchiks or young Turks; they’ll attach the “communist” label in either case. But  they’ll gladly work hand in hand with these so-called communists to achieve their goal of silencing Gyurcsány.

I mentioned that the EP campaign has already started. It was DK that organized the first street demonstration. While Mesterházy is ready to fight Fidesz for the same voters, Gyurcsány blissfully ignores “the psyche of Hungarian society” which, according to Mesterházy, MSZP misunderstood. He doesn’t have to make compromises in the hope of competing with Viktor Orbán for the same votes. He can ignore the nationalism of the majority and stand for a United States of Europe, which might not be a popular position in the present nationalistic atmosphere created by Fidesz. Although he made a compromise for the sake of unity, the party’s official position is that no new Hungarian citizens in the neighboring countries should be able to vote. While Együtt2014-PM was ready to bargain with Fidesz over the new constitution, Gyurcsány could simply announce that, if it depended on him, the new constitution would be thrown out as soon as he is in power. Yes, he can say all these things because at the moment he is in no position to translate his ideas into action.

As for his ideas on the European Union, besides wanting to have a stronger central power Gyurcsány also seemed to indicate that more financial help would be necessary to avoid the kind of political climate that produced the growth of the extreme right in the eastern fringes of the Union. I’m trying to interpret what Gyurcsány had to say on the subject. Surely, he cannot hope for larger EU subsidies. Perhaps he contemplates using the EU convergence monies not only for building roads and paving city squares but for eliminating poverty. He said that it is not enough to have free travel and the right of entrepreneurship; “people must feel that poverty can be eliminated in the long run and the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed.”

I don’t know how the Hungarian left will improve its standing among the Hungarian electorate. But listening to the demands of the people as they have been shaped by powerful government propaganda is not a formula for success. Steve Jobs famously said that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The left has to create its own unique product line, one so attractive that people will decide that it is something they simply have to have.