Tag Archives: United States

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 is back: his views on migrants, NGOs, and the Trump administration

In the last two days Viktor Orbán gave a short speech and a longer interview. He delivered his speech at the swearing-in ceremony of the newly recruited “border hunters.” It was exclusively about the dangers migrants pose to Hungary and Hungarians. The interview was conducted by one the “approved” state radio reporters and ranged over many topics. I decided to focus on two: the Orbán government’s current attitude toward non-governmental organizations and the prime minister’s thoughts on the coming Trump administration.

The migrant question

A few days ago we had quite a discussion about the Hungarian penchant for viewing Hungary as the defender of the West, the protector of Christianity during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. In the last few decades Hungarian historians have done a tremendous amount of work on Hungarian-Ottoman relations, and today we have a very different view of this whole period than we had even fifty years ago. First of all, scholars no longer believe the traditional story of Hungary as a bulwark of European civilization against the Porte. Yet the traditional interpretation of Hungary’s role prevails, and since the beginning of the refugee crisis it has been recounted repeatedly, largely because the Orbán government can use the historical parallel to its advantage.

It was therefore no surprise that Viktor Orbán’s address to the border hunters began with this theme: “you today swore to defend the borders of Hungary, the security of Hungarian homes. With this act you also defend Europe, just as has been customary around here in the last 500 years. To protect ourselves and also Europe: this has been the fate of the Hungarian nation for centuries,” he told his audience.

Although this is certainly not the first time that Viktor Orbán has announced that, as far as he is concerned, all those millions who in the last two years or even before arrived on the territory of the European Union are “illegal immigrants” who “cannot be allowed to settle in Europe,” this is perhaps the clearest indication that for him there is no such thing as a refugee crisis or, for that matter, refugees. No one can force any nation “for the sake of human rights to commit national suicide.” Among the new arrivals are terrorists, and “innocent people have lost their lives because of the weakness of their countries.” In brief, he blames western governments for terrorist acts committed on their soil. “They would have been better off if they had followed the Hungarian solution, which is workable and useful.” In brief, if it depended on Viktor Orbán, all foreigners would be sent back to where they came from.

The rest of the speech was nothing more than pious lies, so I’ll move on to the interview.

Transparency and non-governmental organizations

Let me start by reminding readers that, in the 2016 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, among 138 countries Hungary ranked ahead of only Madagascar and Venezuela in the category of government transparency. Yet Orbán in his interview this morning gave a lengthy lecture on “the right of every Hungarian citizen to know exactly of every public figure who he is, and who pays him.”

But first, let’s backtrack a bit. The initial brutal attack by Szilárd Németh against the NGO’s, in which he threatened to expel them from Hungary, was somewhat blunted a day later (yesterday) when János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, assured the Hungarian public that Németh had gotten a bit carried away. The government is only contemplating making these organizations’ finances more transparent, although he added that “the national side” must feel sympathy for Németh’s outburst because it is very annoying that these NGOs, with the help of foreigners, attack the Hungarian government. Németh was told to retract his statement, and for a few hours those who had worried about the very existence of these watchdogs over the activities of the Orbán government could be relieved.

This morning, however, Zoltán Kovács, one of the prime minister’s many communication directors, made an appearance on ATV’s “Start.” He attacked these organizations from another angle. He claimed that they have been assisting migrants and thereby helping terrorists to pour into Europe. If possible, that sounds like an even greater threat to me than Németh’s unconstitutional suggestions regarding the expulsion of NGOs.

So, let’s see what Orbán is planning to do. The reporter asked about “the work of civic organizations that promote globalization.”  Orbán indicated that he finds these NGOs to be stooges of the United States. During the Obama administration, he said, the United States actively tried to influence Hungarian domestic affairs. “Some of the methods used were most primitive,” he remarked.

He is hoping very much that in the future nothing like that will happen. His duty as a prime minister is “to defend the country” against these attempts, but all Hungarian citizens have the right to know everything about NGO’s, especially the ones that receive money from abroad. The people ought to know whether these organizations receive money as a gift with no strings attached or whether there are certain “expectations.” “And if not, why not?” So, what Orbán wants is “transparency.” This demand from Viktor Orbán, whose government is one of the most secretive in the whole world, is steeped in irony.

Viktor Orbán on the future Trump administration

Although initially Orbán tried to be cautious, repeating that it is still too early to say anything meaningful, he is hoping for “a change of culture” after the inauguration. This “change of culture” for Orbán means first and foremost that the Trump administration will not raise its voice in defense of democratic values. Earlier, Orbán didn’t dare to attack the NGOs across the board, and most likely he would have thought twice about doing so if Hillary Clinton had succeeded Obama. With Trump, he feels liberated. Whether he is right or not we will see.

What kind of an American administration does he expect? A much better one than its predecessor. The Obama administration was “globalist,” while Trump’s will have a national focus. It will be a “vagány” government. “Vagány” is one of those words that are hard to translate, but here are a few approximations: tough, brave, maverick, determined, and fearless. Trump’s men “will not beat around the bush, they will not complicate things.”

Orbán also has a very high opinion of the members of Trump’s cabinet because “they got to where they are not because of their connections. They are self-made men.” These people don’t ever talk about whom they know but only about what they did before entering politics. “They all have achieved something in their lives; especially, they made quite a few billions. This is what gives them self-confidence.” These people don’t need any political training. “They are not timid beginners. They have ideas.”

Most of us who are a bit more familiar with the past accomplishments of Trump’s cabinet members have a different assessment of their readiness, at least in most cases, to take over the running of the government. Orbán, just like Trump, is wrong in thinking that because someone was a successful businessman he will be, for example, an outstanding secretary of state. Put it this way, Rex Tillerson’s performance at his confirmation hearing yesterday only reinforced my doubts about his ability to run the State Department.

Orbán might also be disappointed with the incoming administration’s “new culture,” which he now believes to be a great asset in future U.S.-Hungarian relations. What if all those virtues of the tough, plain-talking, down-to-earth businessmen Orbán listed turn out to hinder better U.S.-Hungarian relations instead of promoting them? What if those resolute guys in the State Department decide that Viktor Orbán is an annoying fellow who has become too big for his britches? What if the strong anti-Russian sentiment of Secretary of Defense James Mattis prevails and the U.S. government gets suspicious of Vladimir Putin’s emissary in the European Union? Any of these things could easily happen.

January 13, 2017

Two letters of Central European leaders to Washington: 2009 and 2017

Yesterday Josh Rogin of The Washington Post reported that 17 current and former officials of several East and Central European countries had written a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump with the following message: ”As your treaty-bound allies, we appeal to Americans in the new U.S. Administration and Congress to stand firm in the defense of our common goals and interests: peace, Atlantic strength, and freedom.”

This is not the first such letter sent to the White House by well-known politicians from the region, which has had less than pleasant experiences with Russian territorial ambitions. During the Obama administration, after the announcement of a “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, a group of politicians sent a letter to the president warning him of the dangers of American neglect of the region and the possibility of “wrong concessions to Russia.” Among the signatories to both letters was Mátyás Eörsi, who was kind enough to call my attention to them.

The Washington Post article quotes Peter Doran, executive vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, who claims that the politicians in 2009 were right and “now with the prospect of a new grand bargain with Russia, Central Europeans are warning the new American president not to make the same mistakes of his predecessors.”

You will notice that in 2009 it took about four months for the Central European leaders to realize the dangers of a new policy toward Russia. This time around, Trump hasn’t even been sworn in and these politicians, diplomats, and national security experts are already alarmed. I’m afraid their worries are justified.

♦ ♦ ♦


Letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump
from America’s Allies

January 9, 2017

President-elect Donald J. Trump
Trump-Pence Transition Team
1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear President-elect Trump:

We—decision-makers and public figures from across Europe—welcome your election as America’s 45th president. We are eager to work with your administration to sustain our powerful transatlantic Alliance, jointly defending our way of life at a time of great peril.

Russia’s continuing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and its illegal annexation of Crimea, threaten the peace, predictability and security that Americans and Europeans created together through our victory in the Cold War. We are concerned that the prospect of a new grand bargain with Russia will endanger this historic achievement.

It would be a grave mistake to end the current sanctions on Russia or accept the division and subjugation of Ukraine. Doing so would demoralize those seeking a Euro-Atlantic orientation for that country. It would also destabilize our Eastern neighborhood economically and give heart to extremist, oligarchic and anti-Western elements there.

The wider damage would be grave too. The aftershocks of such a deal would shake American credibility with allies in Europe and elsewhere. The rules-based international order on which Western security has depended for decades would be weakened. The alliances that are the true source of American greatness would erode: countries that have expended blood, treasure and political capital in support of transatlantic security will wonder if America is now no longer a dependable friend.

Have no doubt: Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. Both of the presidents who preceded you tried in their own ways to deal with Russia’s leadership in the spirit of trust and friendship. Big mistake: Putin treated their good intentions as opportunities.

Under Putin, Russia’s record of militarism, wars, threats, broken treaties and false promises have made Europe a more dangerous place. Putin does not seek American greatness. As your allies, we  do.  When  America  called  on  us  in the past, we came. We were with you in Iraq. We were with you in Afghanistan. We took risks together; sacrificed sons and daughters together. We defend our shared transatlantic security as a united front. This is what makes our Alliance powerful. When the United States stands strong, we are all stronger—together.

A deal with Putin will not bring peace. On the contrary, it makes war more likely. Putin views concessions as a sign of weakness. He will be inclined to test American credibility in frontline NATO allies, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. He may use not only military intimidation, but also cyber-attacks, energy and economic pressure, espionage, psychological warfare, disinformation and the targeted use of bribery. As Russia’s neighbors, we are familiar with these techniques. Countering them requires greater strength, solidarity and resolve from the West—not more accommodation.

As your treaty-bound allies, we appeal to Americans in the new U.S. Administration and Congress to stand firm in the defense of our common goals and interests: peace,  Atlantic strength, and freedom. United, we are more than a match for Russia’s ailing kleptocracy. Divided, as we have seen all too clearly in recent years, we are all at risk. For decades, our unified Alliance has been the bulwark of European security. We appeal to our American friends to strengthen, not weaken our transatlantic ties. Ukraine needs support; the frontline states need your constancy and resolve. And most of all, Russia must see that when we are attacked, we grow stronger, not weaker.

Sincerely,

Traian Băsescu, Carl Bildt, Mikuláš Dzurinda, Mátyás Eörsi, Iulian Fota, István Gyarmati, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Rasa Juknevičienė, Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš, Paweł Kowal, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Rosen Plevneliev, Karel Schwarzenberg, Radosław Sikorski, Petras Vaitiekūnas, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Alexandr Vondra


An Open Letter to the Obama Administration

from Central and Eastern Europe

July 16, 2009

The following open letter to the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in the Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” on July 16:

We have written this letter because, as Central and Eastern European (CEE) intellectuals and former policymakers, we care deeply about the future of the transatlantic relationship as well as the future quality of relations between the United States and the countries of our region. We write in our personal capacity as individuals who are friends and allies of the United States as well as committed Europeans.

Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States. Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years. U.S. engagement and support was essential for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago. Without Washington’s vision and leadership, it is doubtful that we would be in NATO and even the EU today.

We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street. We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been engaged alongside the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan. While our contribution may at times seem modest compared to your own, it is significant when measured as a percentage of our population and GDP. Having benefited from your support for liberal democracy and liberal values in the past, we have been among your strongest supporters when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities, our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about. Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could “check the box” and move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the region’s transatlantic orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever.

That view is premature. All is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region. The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere, runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon. Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission’s investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders.

Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant – and we feel it. Although we are full members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama’s remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay fears about the Alliance´s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States

We must also recognize that America’s popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the German Marshall Fund’s own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost.

In many ways the EU has become the major factor and institution in our lives. To many people it seems more relevant and important today than the link to the United States. To some degree it is a logical outcome of the integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU. Our leaders and officials spend much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with Washington, where they often struggle to attract attention or make our voices heard. The region’s deeper integration in the EU is of course welcome and should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship. The hope was that integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between Europe and America.

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the same extent as they do in Western Europe.

Leadership change is also coming in Central and Eastern Europe. Next to those, there are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of 1989 who experienced Washington’s key role in securing our democratic transition and anchoring our countries in NATO and EU. A new generation of leaders is emerging who do not have these memories and follow a more “realistic” policy. At the same time, the former Communist elites, whose insistence on political and economic power significantly contributed to the crises in many CEE countries, gradually disappear from the political scene. The current political and economic turmoil and the fallout from the global economic crisis provide additional opportunities for the forces of nationalism, extremism, populism, and anti-Semitism across the continent but also in some our countries.

This means that the United States is likely to lose many of its traditional interlocutors in the region. The new elites replacing them may not share the idealism – or have the same relationship to the United States – as the generation who led the democratic transition. They may be more calculating in their support of the United States as well as more parochial in their world view. And in Washington a similar transition is taking place as many of the leaders and personalities we have worked with and relied on are also leaving politics.

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the “reset” of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a “Concert of Powers” to replace the continent’s existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow’s new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

Many in the region are looking with hope to the Obama Administration to restore the Atlantic relationship as a moral compass for their domestic as well as foreign policies. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic values is essential to our countries. We know from our own historical experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to “realism” at Yalta. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a “realist” view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

We understand the heavy demands on your Administration and on U.S. foreign policy. It is not our intent to add to the list of problems you face. Rather, we want to help by being strong Atlanticist allies in a U.S.-European partnership that is a powerful force for good around the world. But we are not certain where our region will be in five or ten years time given the domestic and foreign policy uncertainties we face. We need to take the right steps now to ensure the strong relationship between the United States and Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years will endure.

We believe this is a time both the United States and Europe need to reinvest in the transatlantic relationship. We also believe this is a time when the United States and Central and Eastern Europe must reconnect around a new and forward-looking agenda. While recognizing what has been achieved in the twenty years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is time to set a new agenda for close cooperation for the next twenty years across the Atlantic.

Therefore, we propose the following steps:

First, we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the United States as much today as in the past. The United States should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. For our part we must work at home in our own countries and in Europe more generally to convince our leaders and societies to adopt a more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.

Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO’s expeditionary missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home. We must therefore correct some self-inflicted wounds from the past. It was a mistake not to commence with proper Article 5 defense planning for new members after NATO was enlarged. NATO needs to make the Alliance’s commitments credible and provide strategic reassurance to all members. This should include contingency planning, prepositioning of forces, equipment, and supplies for reinforcement in our region in case of crisis as originally envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

We should also re-think the working of the NATO-Russia Council and return to the practice where NATO member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinated position. When it comes to Russia, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well. Furthermore, the more secure we feel inside NATO, the easier it will also be for our countries to reach out to engage Moscow on issues of common interest. That is the dual track approach we need and which should be reflected in the new NATO strategic concept.

Third, the thorniest issue may well be America’s planned missile-defense installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including among our publics which are divided. Regardless of the military merits of this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has nevertheless also become — at least in some countries — a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region. How it is handled could have a significant impact on their future transatlantic orientation. The small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia’s strategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the program as allies and based on the strategic plusses and minuses of the different technical and political configurations. The Alliance should not allow the issue to be determined by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region.

Fourth, we know that NATO alone is not enough. We also want and need more Europe and a better and more strategic U.S.-EU relationship as well. Increasingly our foreign policies are carried out through the European Union – and we support that. We also want a common European foreign and defense policy that is open to close cooperation with the United States. We are the advocates of such a line in the EU. But we need the United States to rethink its attitude toward the EU and engage it much more seriously as a strategic partner. We need to bring NATO and the EU closer together and make them work in tandem. We need common NATO and EU strategies not only toward Russia but on a range of other new strategic challenges.

Fifth is energy security. The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations’ political sovereignty also as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why it must also become a transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would never have been built. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation. Central and Eastern European countries should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification of the energy mix, suppliers, and transit routes, as well as for tough legal scrutiny of Russia’s abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU. But American political support on this will play a crucial role. Similarly, the United States can play an important role in solidifying further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey, as well as the North-South interconnector of Central Europe and LNG terminals in our region.

Sixth, we must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania — arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan — have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States.

The steps we made together since 1989 are not minor in history. The common successes are the proper foundation for the transatlantic renaissance we need today. This is why we believe that we should also consider the creation of a Legacy Fellowship for young leaders. Twenty years have passed since the revolutions of 1989. That is a whole generation. We need a new generation to renew the transatlantic partnership. A new program should be launched to identify those young leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who can carry forward the transatlantic project we have spent the last two decades building in Central and Eastern Europe.

In conclusion, the onset of a new Administration in the United States has raised great hopes in our countries for a transatlantic renewal. It is an opportunity we dare not miss. We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the 1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting Central and Eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to locking in peace and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today the goal must be to keep Central and Eastern Europe right as a stable, activist, and Atlanticist part of our broader community.

That is the key to our success in bringing about the renaissance in the Alliance the Obama Administration has committed itself to work for and which we support. That will require both sides recommitting to and investing in this relationship. But if we do it right, the pay off down the road can be very real. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid footing for the future.

[Signed] by Valdas Adamkus, Martin Butora, Emil Constantinescu, Pavol Demes, Lubos Dobrovsky, Matyas Eorsi, Istvan Gyarmati, Vaclav Havel, Rastislav Kacer, Sandra Kalniete, Karel Schwarzenberg, Michal Kovac, Ivan Krastev, Alexander Kwasniewski, Mart Laar, Kadri Liik, Janos Martonyi. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Adam Rotfeld, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Alexandr Vondra, Lech Walesa.

January 11, 2017

Trump and Orbán on political correctness

Donald Trump’s adoption of the view that “political correctness” is the source of many of the ills of American political life is abundantly documented. For him and for commentators on the right, the term came to mean a tool by which “powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language.” Trump’s attack on PC resonates in American society, as Karen Tumulty and Jenna Johnson pointed out in January in The Washington Post. A year before, in January 2015, according to a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 68 percent of Americans agreed with the proposition that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct.”

Although Trump has never defined what he means by “political correctness,” one can get a fairly good sense of it by recalling some of his most notorious remarks during the long presidential campaign. Take, for instance, the exchange between Trump and Megyn Kelly at the seventh Republican presidential debate. When Kelly  reminded him that he had called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals, Trump’s answer was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people; I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time for it either.” In this case, Trump seems to assume that political correctness would constrain him from being openly gauche and boorish. At other times, he used political correctness as a sign of political bias or as the opposite of “common sense.”

In Hungary the term doesn’t have as long a history as in the United States, where debates over political correctness were taking place already in the 1980s and 1990s. Viktor Orbán was the one who popularized, and denounced, the concept.

trump-and-orban

A few days ago 444.hu put together a handy list of quotations from Orbán’s speeches over the years, to which I added a few of my own. Perhaps from the contexts in which the expression appears we will have a better understanding of what he himself means by political correctness.

The first references to political correctness can be found in Orbán’s speeches, interviews in 2012 when he announced that “in order to maintain the facade of political correctness we no longer talk about things that are essential to the very core of our civilization.” I assume he is referring here to such foundational beliefs as family values.

A year later he was more explicit. The context was the 2008 world economic crisis, which in his opinion resulted in “the long-term decline of Europe.” But because of political correctness “this question cannot be debated openly.” This is a very unusual definition of political correctness because what Orbán is saying in effect is: “I know that the long-term decline of the West is a fact. Although other people actually agree with me, political correctness prevents them from saying so.”

By 2014 Orbán equated “political correctness” with “the old political world,” which he hoped would soon be over. That old world is “a political system riddled with taboos, which deprives us of the opportunity for innovative and honest talk.” Here he goes so far as to equate political correctness with liberal democracy, which defines Europe and the Atlantic community.

In January 2015, early in the migrant crisis, he blamed “political correctness” for Europe’s inability to defend itself “against the cruel barbarism” coming from the outside. A few months later he freely admitted that he stands on the side of “political incorrectness.” In fact, he said he was speaking in the name of the whole nation. “The Hungarian people by nature are politically incorrect, i.e., they haven’t lost their sanity. They are not interested in bullshit [duma], they are interested in facts. They want results, not theories.” So, here we have an entirely new description of “political correctness.” It simply means the opposite of bullshitting, the opposite of idle chatter about ideologies and theories.

In May 2015, as the migrant crisis grew, “political correctness” became the scapegoat for the European Union’s, in his opinion, mistaken refugee policy. It is political correctness that “tries to convince people that there are no problems here, let’s open the gates wide and invite all who want to come.”

Two months later he accused western politicians of “coyly keeping under wraps police statistics, which prove that where a large number of illegal immigrants live the crime rate has risen dramatically.” In his view, “political correctness transformed the European Union into a kind of royal court where everybody must behave well. … Liberalism today no longer stands for freedom but for political correctness, which is antithetical to freedom.”

For someone who has been such ardent proponent of the fight against political correctness, it is no wonder that Donald Trump’s victory is an affirmation of the soundness of his own views. Originally Orbán’s support of Trump as a candidate rested on Trump’s vicious anti-immigration rhetoric, when within the European Union Orbán was being criticized for the fence he was building. Here is a man who thinks like him, a man of “common sense” who also wants to build a giant wall. He and many other Fidesz politicians, trying to explain away Orbán’s meddling in the presidential race, emphasized repeatedly that it was only Trump’s anti-immigrant policies that appealed to the prime minister. But after November 8 Orbán no longer had to hide his ideological affinity, over and above the migrant issue, with Donald Trump.

In his speech to the Hungarian Diaspora Council, about which I wrote yesterday, Orbán dwelt at length on political correctness, which is supposed to be “a voluntary restriction,” but which he didn’t experience as such. If he dared talk about the nation, he was labeled a nationalist; if he talked about “the dimensions of human existence and creation,” he was branded clerical, feudalistic, a man of the Middle Ages; if he talked about the family, he was typecast as a sexist and a homophobe.” He indicated that with Trump’s triumph “we can hope that we can escape from this spiritual oppression.” He expressed his belief that changes will take place in Europe similar to the transformation of American politics under President-elect Trump. What he has in mind, of course, is the coming ascendancy of parties whose worldviews are similar to his own. They would join him in his crusade against Brussels and would champion the idea of nation states. His opponents dearly hope that he is wrong and that his aspirations will remain unfulfilled.

December 2, 2016

Spies allegedly working for the United States arrested in Hungary

However bizarre and unlikely this story, I think I should report on the two men who are currently in preventive custody in Hungary. The charge is espionage for the United States, the IMF, and the Swiss-Hungarian Grant.

The right-wing internet news site Válasz came out with the bombshell: “Exclusive: Was an American spy found in the Orbán government?” According to their information, one of the men, Norbert Maxin, was a business partner of Sándor Demján, one of the richest men in Hungary who has not been on the best terms with the Orbán government of late. Maxin was at one point strategic director of Polygon Informatikai Fejlesztő és Tanácsadó Kft. with headquarters in Szeged. Polygon did a thriving business at one time, but in 2013 it got into financial trouble because two of its major clients–OTP, the largest Hungarian bank, and MOL, the Hungarian oil company–stopped doing business with the firm. Moreover, a criminal investigation was launched against Nobert Maxin, who simply disappeared. The Szeged delmagyar.hu reported at the time that the FBI was investigating the case. Some people thought that Maxin was dead, but it turned out that he was only hiding in an apartment in Budapest, allegedly because he was afraid of being murdered.

Source: Mandiner.hu

Source: Mandiner.hu

We know very little about Norbert Maxin. For example, I was unable even to ascertain whether he is a Hungarian or an American. He uses the Hungarian form of his name, and his surname is occasionally spelled as Makszin.

We know a great deal more about his alleged accomplice, Béla Szabolcs Bukta, who was expansive on LinkedIn. After receiving a diploma in history and geography at the University of Debrecen in 1997, he worked as area development manager in the prime minister’s office during the first Orbán administration. After Orbán lost the election in 2002, Butka moved to the United States where he worked for a couple of firms in Buffalo and attended D’Youville College, receiving an M.S. degree in international business, specializing in trade relations, in 2005. He then relocated to Washington, where he became a project consultant for the World Bank Group-IFC. In 2006 he moved back to Hungary and worked for Arcade Research & Development Ltd. It was during his time at Arcade that he came to know Norbert Maxin, who was by then managing director of the firm. As soon as Viktor Orbán won the election in 2010 Bukta was back in government service. He got a job as deputy head of the IT development department of the National Development Ministry. In 2014 he moved to the National Tradehouse Corporation, which was supposed to develop brisk trade relations with mostly Far and Middle East countries but turned out to be a flop.

Átlátszó, an NGO that specializes in investigative journalism, also covered the story and unearthed more details of this bizarre case. According to the lawyer of Nobert Maxin, Gusztáv Kertész, although the criminal proceedings against the two men were launched last December, the story goes back to 2008 when the alleged crime was committed. Kertész is puzzled by the fact that this “spy” case is being handled by a department of the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (NNI / Office of National Criminal Investigation) that deals with criminal activities connected to art treasures. Although it is true that Norbert Maxin is an art and book collector, the investigation has nothing to do with his hobby.

According to Kertész, one count of the espionage charge is that Maxin, through another person, passed on documents concerning Hungary’s defense plans to a NATO officer in the service of the U.S. Embassy. The lawyer points out that NATO should already have legally been in possession of these documents since Hungary is a member of the organization. Another charge is that Maxin in 2010, in a conversation with a member of the visiting IMF delegation, warned him about structuring the organization’s loan in such a way that no government could appropriate money given to the country as a whole. Another charge is that Maxin established a secret organization called “Birodalom” (Empire) which was to be used in some mysterious way in the spying operation. According to the lawyer, it was just a group of people who liked each other’s company and met often. The charges are allegedly based on witness accounts and evidence seized during a house search, but Kertész couldn’t find anything concrete that would prove his client’s guilt. The court decided on preventive custody because apparently Maxin while handcuffed tried to escape. That was at the beginning of December.

Otherwise, from what I could learn about Maxin, I got the distinct impression that he was on good terms with Fidesz politicians for many years. In 2005 he turned to Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt for an investigation into the privatization of Budapest Airport Rt. We can’t go into the complicated details of the case here, but at that time the government handed over the running of the Ferihegy Airport to a private company. Viktor Orbán, who at that point was pretty certain that he would win the election in 2006, delivered a speech in which he announced that “we must buy back what [the present government] illegally privatized.” And if the privatization turned out to be legal, then his government would simply “ask the owners: be kind enough to give it back.” I suspect that Maxin’s curiosity about the exact status of Budapest Airport Rt. was connected to Orbán’s preoccupation with the ownership of the company.

In addition to this early link with Fidesz, Átlátszó has documents in its possession that prove a connection between Maxin and several important leaders of Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth organization, through a foundation called “Fiatalok a Demokráciáért” (Youth for Democracy). Among the members of the foundation were Bence Rétvári, today undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, and the young Péter Szijjártó, today foreign minister.

444.hu turned to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, wanting to know more about the case. The answer came in the form of a short note signed by Elizabeth Webster, spokeswoman of the embassy: “As is known the US government doesn’t comment on cases still under legal scrutiny. We don’t comment on conjectures concerning intelligence work.” I wonder what Viktor Orbán has in mind because surely the NNI, the police, and the prosecutors couldn’t possibly start criminal proceedings against two individuals, charging them with espionage for the United States, without the approval of Viktor Orbán himself.

If Maxin’s lawyer is correct and the alleged crime was committed in 2008, why did the Orbán government wait until December 2015 to begin criminal proceedings against these two men? If they knew that Butka, Maxin’s alleged accomplice, was involved in espionage work, why did he occupy a high-level position in the prime minister’s office? These are just a few of the many questions that nobody can answer at the moment, but I suspect that this case is in some way payback for the United States’ annoying habit of inquiring about corruption cases that the Hungarian government either ignores or whitewashes.

March 1, 2016

A new year: roll back the clock

László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, has a unique ability. Even if he utters only a couple of sentences he manages to squeeze several outrageous comments into them. Can you imagine when he has a whole hour to share his complaints about the modern world, which is rotten to the core and will be even more awful with each passing day? Unfortunately, on January 1, he did just that on Echo TV, a far right channel. Kövér’s interlocutor was the like-thinking Zsolt Bayer, who sighed at frequent intervals whenever he thought that the weight of the issues was close to unbearable.

During this hour an awful lot of nonsense was uttered by these two men, but the overwhelming impression they left us with is that they are very unhappy because Hungary is no longer what it was when they were growing up. Kövér was born in 1959 and was 31 years old at the time of the regime change. Bayer was born in 1963 and so was 27 years old in 1990. Their formative years were spent in the consolidated Kádár regime. It was, they recall, a time of simple pleasures, close family ties, often two generations sharing the same apartment or house because of the lack of available housing. Interestingly, the ideal woman in this conversation was not the mother who most likely worked in some office or factory by then but the grandmother who looked after her grandchildren. This grandmother worked all day long without complaint. She wasn’t frustrated; she wasn’t bitter; she wasn’t depressed. She gladly sacrificed her life for her brood. Or at least this is how Zsolt Bayer envisaged the life of his grandmother. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this idyllic time could come back.

As for the future, it is bleak indeed. “Homo sapiens,” especially in the most developed parts of the world, seems to have lost its instinct for survival while in poorer regions, like Africa, more and more babies are being born. It looks as if “only the European white race is capable of committing suicide,” Kövér claimed. This downward spiral started with the introduction of old age benefits, which made children superfluous as providers in later life. This bemoaning of such intrinsic parts of the welfare state as old age benefits and perhaps even health insurance leads me to believe that these people feel utterly out of place in the 21st century. It is not a coincidence that the conversation about the past centered on Bayer’s grandmother who, judging from the time of her death, was born sometime around 1910. If it depended on these men, they would lead us back to the time of the Horthy regime, specifically into lower-middle class families in which the wife remained at home, looking after the children. These people would, if they could, simply get in a time machine and fly back a good hundred years, just as Bayer indicated, in one of his recent articles, he would gladly do.

In addition to this longing for an imagined past, they have a strong belief in Hungarian exceptionalism, which stems from the socialist era in which these two men grew up. Those fifty years, which Kövér simply calls Bolshevism, are the source of all of Hungary’s problems, which the last twenty some years of democracy couldn’t remedy. So, one would expect that he and Bayer would reject the whole period. But this is not the case. In their opinion, those years kept Hungarians as well as other countries of the Soviet bloc real Europeans. Old-fashioned Europeans who adhere to Christian, national values as opposed to the westerners who went astray: they became liberal, they are politically correct, they don’t believe in family values, they allow same-sex marriages, they don’t want to save Christianity from the Muslim migrants, and above all they are helping the United States and the multinational corporations destroy the nation states. Bayer goes so far as to claim that by now Hungary is the only truly European country. Kövér is a bit more generous: the Visegrád4 countries could be included in this small community of real Europeans.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs in Europe? The answer, in Kövér’s opinion, is simple: the multinational companies, whose interests dictate the destruction of families and nations. I would perhaps understand why multinational corporations would like to see fewer regulations that vary from state to state, but for the life of me I can’t fathom why they would want families to disappear. In any case, these multinationals want to weaken national governments because “they want to govern.” In this dirty work they receive help from “useful idiots and paid agents among the European political elite.” If you add to these two categories the “cowards,” they already hold a two-thirds majority in Brussels. These people are “the mercenaries of the United States; they are swindlers or at best unfit idiots who try to turn us out of office in the most dastardly, the most cunning, and the most boorish way.” Hungary is a besieged fortress attacked by the mercenaries of the United States. Or, less elegantly put by the boorish president of the Hungarian parliament, it is a country whose prime minister, like a pig on ice, must somehow stay on his feet while others try to trip him up.

If the Orbán regime shapes its domestic and foreign policies based on the muddled views expressed in this interview, they will be guaranteed failures. Time machines are figments of the imagination, and any attempt to turn back the wheel of time is a hopeless undertaking. The same failure is guaranteed if the Orbán regime bases its relations with the European Union on the mistaken notion that Western European political mercenaries in the service of the United States are intent on overthrowing the government in Budapest.

As for this relentless war against the multinationals, it will only result in decreasing foreign investment in the country. I know that this is no threat to Kövér, who has infinite trust in the ability of Hungarian entrepreneurs to replace the foreign companies currently in the country. But whether Kövér and Orbán like it or not, in today’s global economy they cannot be dispensed with, at least as long as Hungary is part of the European Union. To suggest otherwise is just idle talk.

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.