Tag Archives: Pew Research Center

A Hungarian reassessment of Donald Trump

The Orbán government, as we know, was initially delighted over Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. Viktor Orbán expected a favorable change in U.S.-Hungarian relations, especially since the Hungarian prime minister was the only European leader to express a preference for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton during the election campaign. A reciprocal sign of goodwill on the part of Trump was presumed, not just by the Hungarian administration but by the public as well. The prime minister undoubtedly expected an early invitation to the White House in addition to friendlier gestures from the U.S. State Department. None of these expectations has materialized. On the contrary, Viktor Orbán’s attack on Central European University was sharply denounced by the State Department. At the same time U.S.-Russian relations, instead of getting better, have soured. By now there’s a Cold-War-like chill in the relationship between the two countries.

In the last few weeks we have seen signs that the Orbán government is in the process of reassessing its opinion of the American president, who lost his first rounds against the Washington establishment and might already have been mortally wounded under the barrage of revelations about his and his family’s questionable conduct. Thus, I assume, the journalists of the government media received permission to use stronger language against the American president which, given their pro-Russian views, comes naturally to them.

Leading the way is István Lovas, who used to be Magyar Nemzet’s Brussels correspondent at the time the paper was the main mouthpiece of Fidesz. Lovas, after 20 years of living in Canada, the United States, and Germany where he worked for Radio Free Europe, returned to Hungary. He began writing for right-wing papers, like the now defunct Pesti Hírlap, Magyar Demokrata, Magyar Hírlap, and Magyar Idők. He is also a regular participant in a political roundtable program alongside Zsolt Bayer on the far-right Echo TV, now owned by Lőrinc Mészáros. His expertise is foreign policy. In addition, he maintains a blog.

Lovas published two articles on Trump today, one in Magyar Hírlap and the other in Magyar Idők. The first deals with “The collapse of Trump” and the other with the forthcoming economic sanctions against “dishonest” China. In addition, Magyar Idők added an editorial on the “economic saber rattling” of the United States. So, the honeymoon, if there ever was one, is over.

In Lovas’s assessment, the last remnants of Trump’s “pretense of power” evaporated when he signed the sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It was a cowardly and unconstitutional act, in Lovas’s opinion. His performance as president has been disgraceful, and all those who believed his campaign promises about his plans for good relations with Russia are greatly disappointed. Trump is universally despised—at one point Lovas calls him a cockchafer’s grub—and therefore, in Lovas’s opinion, “it is not worth meeting this man.” I guess this is a message to Viktor Orbán: “Don’t be too disappointed that you haven’t been invited to Washington to meet the failed president. It’s not worth the bother.”

Lovas’s other article, on America’s possible trade war with China, is not an original piece but a summary of an article originally published in Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten. Lovas, who spent more than a week in China recently, is impressed with the super-modern world the Chinese created in the last few decades and therefore is worried about American plans that might result in a full-fledged trade war between the two countries.

The third article, “Trumps attacks on many fronts,” by Attila Mártonffy, deals with U.S. sanctions against Russia, China, and Iran which in turn hurt the economic interests of the European Union. The author calls the American moves “saber rattling.”

All in all, after relative media silence, the open criticism of Donald Trump has begun. Knowing the practices of the Hungarian government media, the articles that appear in Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap will a few days later be followed by pieces on all the lesser right-wing internet sites. We can expect article after article reassessing the role of Donald Trump as “the leader of the free world.”

Meanwhile, it might be educational to take a look at a by-now admittedly dated study (the material was collected from February 16 to May 8 and the report published in late June) by the Pew Research Center. It focuses on the opinions of people living in 37 countries about Donald Trump and the United States. We are lucky because Hungary was one of the 10 European countries included in the survey.

Overall, confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs dropped sharply (from 64% to 22%) after Trump became president. This is true in Hungary as well. Hungarian trust in the presidency in the closing years of Obama’s second term was 58%, but by the time of the survey it was only 29%. I should add that there are only two countries of the 37 included in the survey where confidence in Trump was greater than it was in Obama: Israel (from 49% to 56%) and Russia (from 11% to 56%). Disappointment among Russians must be great nowadays.

When the researchers wanted to pinpoint the effect of the change in U.S. administration on public opinion in the countries studied some interesting results surfaced. Ten European countries were included in the survey: Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden. In most of these countries there was a sizable drop in people’s favorable views of the United States after Trump moved into the White House. For example, this drop was 28 percentage points in Spain and 26 percentage points in the Netherlands. Hungary and Greece were the only two exceptions. In Hungary’s case there was a +1 move (62% to 63%) and in Greece a +5 change after Trump was elected.

Confidence in Trump as president is low everywhere in Europe. For example, 92% of Spaniards have no confidence in him, but even other European countries, including Greece and Italy, expressed very strong anti-Trump sentiments. Poland and Hungary are the last two countries on the list, each with only a 57% disapproval rate. In its opinion of the U.S.-Mexican wall, Hungary is at the bottom of the list, with a 49% disapproval rate, which may not sound like much of an endorsement until we compare it to the other European countries. The European median is 86%. Another telling figure is Hungarians’ strong approval of restrictions on entry to the United States from majority-Muslim countries. Hungary heads the list with 70% as opposed to the European median of 36%.

At the time Hungarians were also a great deal less critical of Donald Trump’s qualifications for the presidency. The European figures are devastating, but in Hungary more people believe he is qualified for the job (39%) than in any other European country. This is also true when it comes to questions about his personal traits, like his alleged arrogance and intolerance. Hungary is always at the end of the list, often together with Poland, in being the least critical. It is also telling that while overwhelming majority of Spaniards, French, Swedes, Dutch, and Germans consider Trump to be very dangerous as far as the world is concerned (76%-69%), only 42% of Hungarians do.

An intriguing situation. Within the European context Hungarians are less inclined to be harsh in their assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency. At least this was the case a few months ago. It will be fascinating to watch what happens in the coming months, especially if government media criticism of Trump’s policies becomes more widespread.

August 4, 2017

Hungary is unique after all: Pew research on terrorism and refugees

A couple of days ago the Pew Research Center published a survey taken between February 16 and May 8 in 38 countries, asking about the respondents’ sense of threats to national security. People were supposed to rank eight things they consider to be truly threatening as far as their well-being is concerned. Heading the list were “Islamic militant group known as ISIS” (62%) and “global climate change” (61%). Cyber attacks (51%), condition of the global economy (51%), large number of refugees (39%), U.S. power and influence (35%), Russia’s power and influence (31%), and China’s power and influence (31%) followed in that order.

The 38 countries surveyed are widely scattered, and naturally their concerns vary according to their particular geographic and cultural settings. For example, South American countries found “global climate change” a greater problem than ISIS. In European countries the large number of refugees was obviously a greater concern than, let’s say, in Vietnam or Chile. But in all countries, including European ones, the fear of terrorism was greater than alarm over the refugees. There was one exception, not just among European countries but on all four continents: Hungary. Hungarians dread refugees (66%) more than they worry about terrorism (64%). To compare Hungary to some of its fellow EU members, here are some figures. In France, which had its share of terrorist attacks, people rightfully consider terrorism a very serious threat (88%), but only 39% think that the large number of refugees is something one has to seriously worry about. In Germany there is even less anxiety about the refugees despite their large influx (28%), while 79% believe ISIS to be a serious menace. Even in Poland, a country whose population receives similar messages from the government as do Hungarians, the fear of terrorism is slightly higher (66%) than concern about refugees (60%).

The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is the success of the massive brainwashing by the incessant government propaganda against the “migrants” that has been going on for more than two years. The official of the Hungarian Fencing Association who, while visiting Leipzig, saw marauding refugees all over the place was most likely under the influence of this propaganda campaign. All he heard about the German situation at home programmed him to see a country under siege by invading Africans and Middle Easterners.

His case calls to mind an article I read yesterday in The Guardian about the Norwegian anti-immigrant group Fedrelandet viktigst (Fatherland First), which mistook a photograph of six empty bus seats for a group of women wearing burqas. When the group posted the photo on Facebook, racist commenters went wild. One of the more telling comments was: “I thought it would be like this in the year 2050, but it is happening NOW.”

Those frightening burqas

Of course, the Hungarian anti-refugee propaganda is promulgated not only on huge billboards but also in the government media, which by now means almost all print newspapers, especially the regional papers. I think it is enough to point out, as an illustration of the seriousness of the situation, that Lőrinc Mészáros alone owns 200 regional papers, all of which spout the same pro-government propaganda. And these regional papers are still read by large numbers of people.

The flagship of the government media is Magyar Idők, in which I found a typical article by Gábor Czakó, a writer whom the Orbán government found worthy of the Kossuth Prize, the highest prize a Hungarian writer can receive, in 2011. I must admit that I have never read anything by this man, but his name sounded familiar. After a bit of research I found the occasion on which I encountered Czakó’s name. In 2012, in a television conversation, Czakó extolled the habit of men physically punishing their wives and children. He told a family story in which a fisherman, who came home only every two weeks, found that his wife in his absence didn’t do any housework. He finally became tired of the situation and beat her. The beating did miracles. She became, at least for the next two weeks, a perfect wife. As he put it, “she practically begged for the beating.” Czakó, the father of seven, also explained that his beating of his boys was always done with due preparation “because if you lose your head you will beat him until blood flows.”

So, now that you know something about the author, let’s see what wise thoughts he has on the present refugee crisis. According to Czakó, these refugees are part of an army of conquerors who came to wage war “against us and our civilization of thousands of years.” They are colonizers whose aim is to make slaves of the inhabitants of Europe. They came to destroy the nations of the continent. The liquidation of nations is a necessary element of the Islamic conquest, which rests on religious foundations. With the destruction of nations comes “the loss of love, culture, family, and the values of the common past.” Czakó’s projected new world will be devoid of friendship, loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and bravery. Truth will also disappear. The conspirators behind this invasion are “creating a babelic world without truth.” This image of the Armageddon that will be created by the refugees is meant to be terrify Hungarians, to poison their souls and stupefy their minds.

This is the kind of vision Hungarians have been confronted with day in and day out. And with time the claims of the mortal danger to European civilization become increasingly forceful and harrowing. It’s no wonder that in the Pew Research Institute’s study Hungary stands alone, with an obviously warped sense of reality.

August 3, 2017

Hungarian public opinion on world leaders: Putin favored over Merkel

I ended yesterday’s post saying that Hungarians still favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump despite the biased reporting by Judit Járai, Washington correspondent of MTI, the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency. This is especially surprising in view of the constant attacks on Hillary and Bill Clinton in the right-wing, pro-government press. See, for example, the many articles dealing with Clinton, always in a negative light, in Magyar Idők.

Thanks to a recent public opinion poll by the Pew Research Center conducted in ten European and four Asia-Pacific countries as well as Canada and the United States, we have a fairly up-to-date assessment of opinions about the United States, the American people, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin. The following European countries were included in the survey: France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

pew2

President Obama has remained a very popular leader in most of the ten European countries studied. The Swedes (93%), the Dutch (91%), and the Germans (86%) are most enthusiastic about him. In Poland and Hungary enthusiasm for the American president is less than overwhelming (58%). As for the Greeks (41%), even the Chinese (52%) have a higher opinion of Obama. Obama’s median score in Europe is 77%.

Hillary Clinton is less popular than Obama, but she still has a 59% median approval rating in Europe. Her regional pattern of approval is similar to that of Obama. The Swedes, the Germans, and the Dutch have a very high opinion of her while only 44% of Hungarians have confidence in the Democratic candidate as opposed to 33% who do not. The rest (23%) have no opinion, which indicates that far too many Hungarians don’t have enough information to make a choice. Citizens of western European countries are, on balance, much better informed.

Opinions about Donald Trump are strongly negative in Europe. Again, the greatest lack of confidence in the Republican candidate is in western Europe: Sweden (92%), Germany (89%), the Netherlands (88%), France (85%). In Poland and Hungary only 43% and 42% of the population have a negative opinion of Trump. Again, we see that Poles and Hungarians don’t know enough about the American candidates. In the case of Hungary,  37% of those questioned didn’t have an opinion on Trump. In Poland, the situation was even worse: 42% didn’t answer or didn’t have an opinion. The percent of Trump sympathizers is highest in Italy (21%), Hungary (20%), Poland (15%), and the United Kingdom (12%). Greece is an interesting case. Greeks have no confidence in either Clinton (78%) or Trump (76%).

The Pew survey released more detailed data on Italy and the UK. They wanted to know whether the Forza Italia and UKIP voters had more confidence in Trump than voters of other parties. And indeed, 30% of Forza Italia and UKIP voters preferred Trump to Clinton. This breakdown of Trump supporters in Italy and the United Kingdom inspired Magyar Nemzet to approach the Pew Research Center for more detailed data on the Hungarian situation. On the basis of the information provided, they came to the conclusion that 26% of Fidesz and 28% of Jobbik voters have confidence in Trump as a world leader. Higher than the national average of 20%.

Even if the anti-Clinton propaganda didn’t quite succeed, the Orbán government’s anti-Merkel campaign certainly did. While a month and a half ago the Swedes (84%), the Dutch (83%), the Germans (73%), the French (71%), and the Brits (69%) believed that Merkel is a competent world leader, the majority of southern Europeans (Italians, Spaniards, Greeks) had no confidence in her. She is, not surprisingly, most unpopular in Greece (89%). But Hungary’s rejection rate is also very high, 63%, and its approval rate of Merkel, at 29%, is the second lowest in Europe.

When it comes Vladimir Putin as a responsible world leader, Hungary has the dubious distinction of being the most confident (38%) in the Russian president of any country surveyed in Europe. I may add that Poles have the lowest number of Putin fans (7%). Putin’s popularity in Hungary is boosted by Fidesz and Jobbik voters. Forty-nine percent of Fidesz voters and 48% of Jobbik sympathizers trust Putin as a world leader, a good 10% higher than the Hungarian median. As Gábor Horváth, foreign affairs journalist of Népszabadság, wryly remarked, “it is a strange turn of history that the right- or extreme-right respondents trust a former KGB colonel more” than Angela Merkel. And if we add to this result the high number of Trump admirers, an interesting picture emerges. Hungarians don’t seem to realize that Putin is a danger to their own region and that, based on what he has said about alliances, Trump would be as well. This is what happens when nine-tenths of the media is under the thumb of an autocratic ruler served by minions like Judit Járai.

August 15, 2016

 

The shadow of János Kádár’s happiest barrack

In November 2009 the Pew Research Center conducted a survey in nine former communist countries. Twenty years had passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and researchers wanted to know how public sentiment had changed in the intervening years.

The countries selected were East Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. The results can be found on the Internet. A quick look at the interactive public opinion poll on some of the more important political questions reveals a lot about the mood of the people in these countries in 2009. The most startling finding was that Hungarians were the most dissatisfied and most disappointed people in the area. I believe that if a similar survey were conducted today, the divergence between the Hungarian figures and those of the other countries would be even greater than it was five years ago. Since then the lot of most of the neighbors has improved, while the Hungarian economic and political situation has worsened.

Here are some selected data from 2009. While in 1999 80% of Hungarians were looking forward to the coming of the market economy, by 2009 only 46% had any trust in the capitalist system. The only other country with similar results was Ukraine. Hungarian’s satisfaction with democracy was the lowest (21%), compared to Poland’s 53%, the Czech Republic’s 49%, and Slovakia’s 50%. But perhaps the most interesting finding was that it was in Hungary where most people (72%) thought they were better off during the communist period than in 2009. Compare that to 35% of the Poles, 39% of the Czechs, and 48% of the Slovaks.

Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project / November 2009

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project / November 2009

Political analysts have been trying to find an explanation for this discrepancy between Hungary and her closest neighbors (the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia) in attitudes toward the regime change and what followed. Clearly, there were heightened expectations everywhere, but while, for example, in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic there was only a slight drop in the population’s positive attitude toward the market economy, in Hungary the drop was huge–from 80% to 46%.

What makes the Hungarian situation so different from that of the other countries? From repeated surveys we know that there is something in Hungarian culture that makes Hungarians consistently dissatisfied with their lot. That by itself, however, is not enough to account for the incredible disappointment reflected in these numbers. It is also unlikely that Hungarian politicians who were responsible for the introduction of democracy and a market economy in Hungary were totally unfit for their jobs. Or that they were significantly worse than their colleagues in the neighboring countries. All countries had their own political upheavals, and they also made bigger or smaller political mistakes. So, I don’t think that the key to the puzzle of Hungarians’ dissatisfaction with their political and economic situation can be found in either the national psyche or the political leadership.

There has to be some other fundamental difference between Hungary and the other countries that accounts for the huge divergence in attitudes and outlook. The answer, I believe, lies in the unique nature of the Hungarian version of the socialist system. Ironically, Hungary’s troubles today most likely stem from the fact that the Hungarian people had it too good under János Kádár. If they had had to live in the kind of dictatorship that existed in Czechoslovakia under Gustáv Husák or in Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, today they would have a much greater appreciation of democracy. If Hungarians had had to face empty shelves in the stores as the Poles did or to suffer as much economic hardship as the Romanians, they would have a much more positive view of the market economy.

But the Kádár regime, especially in its last ten years, was a benign one-party system, what Hungarians call a “soft dictatorship.” The great majority of people wouldn’t have had any reason to complain about their limited freedom since their demands were modest in the first place. Most people were satisfied with their lot because they noticed a steady growth in their living standards year after year, almost to the very end. It’s no wonder that with the exception of a very small group of “dissidents,” really a handful of people, there was no serious opposition to the regime.

The lives of Hungarians in economic terms have not changed for the better since 1990. Yes, there are people who have become very rich, but in Hungary in 2009 77% of the people believed that “the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer,” as opposed to around 50% in the neighboring countries. I’d bet that if we had a similar poll today, even more Hungarians would think that in the last five or six years the situation has deteriorated further. Today poverty is widespread. All in all, there are very good reasons for economic dissatisfaction, which cannot be counterbalanced by positive feelings about the introduction of democracy, especially since Viktor Orbán’s system is a far cry from democracy as most people understand it.

The relatively good economic situation of the population during the Kádár regime, the fact that slowly but surely people became satisfied with their lot might also be responsible for some of the failures of the new political elite. Many of the economic ills of Hungary in the last twenty-five years stemmed from a fear of moving in a direction that might lead to a severe drop in living standards, to which Hungarians, given their relative well-being under the Kádár regime, would react very negatively. Much more negatively than the populations of other post-communist countries who were accustomed to hardship and privation. Therefore, a restructuring of the economy was postponed time and again because of fear of a backlash. Over the years, governments overspent in order to satisfy economic demands only to be forced later to introduce austerity measures when the deficit spiked. No one dared to bite the bullet and make the Hungarian system a fully functioning market economy in the western sense. The irony of it all is that the economic system that more than half of Hungarians hate is not really a market economy in the classical sense. As someone rightly put it, Hungarian capitalism has all of the negative features of the market economy without any of its benefits. János Kádár’s system continues to cast a dark shadow over today’s Hungary.

Holding a mirror to the Hungarian public: The key to Viktor Orbán’s success

A few hours ago I received two suggestions for discussion. Both are fascinating. The one I decided to take up today is actually not a new survey, but the current political situation makes it relevant.

We keep asking how it could happen that in record time Viktor Orbán and his willing subordinates managed to introduce a political system that turns its back on democratic values. There is nothing surprising about this, says the blogger who returned to this older survey. “The current political structure is the product of societal attitudes, and it can flourish because Hungarian society desires the kind of political elite Fidesz provides. Viktor Orbán is popular because he is the embodiment of the value system of the majority.” That includes “corruption, a strong state, and a leader of unlimited powers.” This sounds terrifying, but a 2009 survey conducted by Tárki supports this claim.

I would like to refer back to the piece I wrote (“Value structure of Hungarian society, 2009“) on October 13, 2009, right after the results of the survey were released. It was the usual short post in which not everything can be mentioned. Moreover, our blogger Anonymus looks at the survey from the perspective of 2013, which naturally I couldn’t have done in 2009 when Viktor Orbán hadn’t yet started his “renewal of Hungary” program with a two-thirds majority behind him.

But in order to get the background you ought to read my short 2009 post. Here I will mention only those details that I did not touch on, including a Pew Research Center study, also from 2009.

Distorting mirror / flickr

Distorting mirror / flickr

We are surprised that all the cases of corruption that surface day after day do not seem to bother the majority of the people. It’s enough to mention the tobacconist shop concessions or the leasing of valuable agricultural lands to politicians’ relatives and friends or political supporters. And yet people are not up in arms. Why would they be, asks Anonymus, when Hungarians even by East European standards are very forgiving when it comes to corruption. In 2009 42% of them found it acceptable to cheat on their income taxes as opposed to 30% of the Poles and 18% of the Czechs. Two-thirds of the population think that “although they themselves are honest and law abiding, the others are not.” They assume that this is simply how things are, and they can live with it.

Then there is the Orbán government’s total lack of sympathy for the poor, the disabled, the disadvantaged. For example, members of the government defend the grotesque idea that in order for poor families who cannot afford to bury their dead to receive some financial assistance they have to help prepare the body for burial, dig the grave, and carry the coffin. In general, according to the 2009 survey, Hungary does not excel in giving assistance to the sick, the disabled, the elderly, neighbors, or immigrants. In fact, in this respect Hungary ended up last in the Union.

According to another survey by the Pew Research Center dealing with the post-communist countries, Hungarians were certain in 2009 that they were economically worse off than they had been under communism. In Hungary 72% of the people considered themselves poorer than they were before 1990, as compared to Slovakia with 48% or Poland with 35%.  And when it comes to the Hungarian attitude toward democracy it is nothing to boast about. While in the Czech Republic 80%, in Slovakia 71%, and in Poland 70% of the respondents approved of democracy, in Hungary the number was only 56%. Just for comparison: Lithuania came in at 55%, Russia 53%, Bulgaria 52%, and Ukraine 30%. Hungarians’ attitude toward capitalism is again the most antagonistic in Eastern Europe. If we compare the sentiments in 1991 and in 2009 we find that enthusiasm waned in all countries studied, but the largest drop (from 80% to 46%) occurred in Hungary.

A working group put up a video based on the Tárki study.

It’s fun to watch it even if one doesn’t understand everything. Basically, the story is that  countries such as Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria thrive because people there believe that everybody has the opportunity to succeed, they believe in themselves and in their future, they consider hard work important, they appreciate knowledge, they trust each other and their institutions. “So, if you want to change the world, change yourself.”

While Viktor Orbán wants a strong, successful Hungary, he is reinforcing the worst instincts of the majority of Hungarians. Exactly those qualities that retard the kinds of changes that could make Hungary successful. “Összezavarodott magyarok” (confused Hungarians), says the blog’s link. Indeed. The confusion is also in Viktor Orbán’s head.