Month: May 2012

The Janus-faced Viktor Orbán

More and more critics of the current Hungarian government claim that Viktor Orbán has completely lost his sense of reality. I don’t agree. No, in my opinion he is simply lying to the Hungarian people in the hope that perhaps the old political trick will work. The more you repeat certain slogans the more likely they will stick.

No, Orbán knows that he is in big trouble and that’s why he talks so much about “success,”  “victory,”  and the bright future that awaits Hungarians. One just has to wait a few more years and Hungary will be richer and happier than Denmark.

And I think that he does believe that his remedies will bring this earthly paradise to Hungary. One just has to wait a little longer and his and György Matolcsy’s “unorthodox” economic policies will produce tangible results. But in the meantime he and the Fidesz government must keep up the spirit of the population.

Orbán would be the happiest if Hungary were not part of the European Union because then there would be no one telling him what to do or not to do. However, he desperately needs the European subsidies without which Hungary by now would be bankrupt. So, he very reluctantly reduced the budget deficit to under 3%, but beyond that he doesn’t want to move an inch as he made it quite clear already on April 27 when in an interview he claimed that he had told José Manuel Barroso that ” we are not taking anything back, we are not suspending anything, we are not changing anything.”

Indeed. He was as good as his word. He refused to make the necessary changes in the bill on the central bank although he should have known that no IMF negotiations can begin without them. Although the European Commission was not satisfied with the media law, the law that parliament passed the other day didn’t address any of the objections of Brussels. So, even though the cohesion funds will be available to Hungary if next month Ecofin agrees with the recommendations of the European Commission, there is a long list of demands concerning other issues: education, taxation, public works, and monetary policy among others.

As I see it, Orbán is trying to show that Hungary is in compliance with EU rules while he is doing everything in his power to avoid compliance. This tight-rope act is a tricky business, and the jury is still out on whether Orbán can pull it off.

How well is Orbán performing? There are times when one must admire his cleverness at fooling others. There are other times, however, when one is amazed at his crudeness, his provincialism, and his lack of diplomacy. Today was one of those days.

It was two years ago that Fidesz-KDNP, led by Viktor Orbán, won the elections. To honor the half-way mark of their first term the government organized a conference which high government officials, businessmen, and foreign diplomats attended. About 300 in number. It was here that Orbán made a speech which will not be forgotten for a while in Brussels.

The speech covered a lot of ground, including laudatory words about his own performance and the economic policies of his administration. A lot of people would question his assertions, and I wonder how many people chuckled when they heard that Orbán and his team are actually a “humble”  lot!

What I found much more interesting was Viktor Orbán’s preoccupation with the insecurity of his own position. He seems to be convinced that outside forces are trying to remove him from his post.

This is not the first time that he has alluded to that possibility. Last December he mentioned a conspiracy aimed at his removal that he managed to avert. Now he again returned to this theme, twice in two days.

Last night he gave an interview on MTV’s “Az Este,” an evening program that airs interviews with leading politicians. During this interview, without any prompting, Orbán began talking about his belief in democracy. He wasn’t talking about democracy in the usual sense of the word but rather about democracy as the opposition to the alleged undemocratic ways of the European Union. Specifically, he blamed the current Greek crisis on the decision of the European Union leaders to force a government change in Athens. He posited himself as the embodiment of democracy as opposed to the evil undemocratic forces of the European Union.

Today he continued along the same theme. He managed Hungary’s stabilization in such a way that he said “no” to “the European temptation that would have pushed us toward giving up our democratic ways.”  What was this temptation? According to Orbán, the European Union encouraged the countries in economic trouble to get rid of their democratically elected leaders and to run their countries with technocrats. But the Hungarian people in their eternal wisdom “managed to throw together a two-thirds majority.”

No doubt, Orbán is preoccupied with his own survival. Whether his answer to this alleged threat is the best way of dealing with it, I doubt. In my opinion, it would be wiser to be more cooperative and then perhaps there would be less daydreaming in Brussels about the miraculous disappearance of the pesky Hungarian prime minister. However, Orbán didn’t follow that course. Just the opposite. If I understand him correctly, Orbán is planning a new confrontation with Brussels.

In his opinion Hungary must reject the European answers to the economic crisis because “the steps suggested by the bureaucrats of Brussels would be injurious to the country.”  However, Hungary cannot outright say “no” to the European Union’s demands. Hungary must follow “a series of complicated tactical operations.”  Hungary must present its rejection of the remedies of the European Union in such a way that ” it looks as we wanted to remain their friends.”  For example, if  the Union presented Hungary with seven demands, the Hungarian government would give the nod to two or three–issues that had already been adopted by the Hungarian government but Brussels didn’t notice yet–while the rest would be rejected. He added that this was a complicated game but obviously he is ready to play it.

I have no reason to doubt that this is exactly what the Hungarian prime minister is planning. It would fit well with his general political behavior, the center of which is intrigue. The only thing I don’t understand is why he is sharing his strategy with the European Union, whom he is planning to fool.

Fidesz and MSZP: neck and neck

Since the middle of the month several polls measuring party preferences have appeared. Ipsos, the first to report among the pollsters, measured a downward trend for Fidesz and an upward one for MSZP. At that point, among the adult population eligible to vote Fidesz led with 16%, MSZP followed with 13% while the undecided moved up from 51% to 54%.

Ten days later Századvég, a team close to Fidesz, found that the government party had a substantial lead. According to them 24% of the adult population would vote Fidesz and only 15% for MSZP.

Today it was time for Tárki to come out with its latest results. Tárki’s data were collected between May 17 and 22, after Ipsos had already published its results. If Tárki’s data accurately reflect the situation, Fidesz has lost 5% of its support in one month. In April Tárki measured 21% Fidesz support in the population as a whole; a month later in May it was down to 16%. Over the same period the socialists gained 3%. In April Tárki reported 13% for MSZP; that number is now 16%. Thus, an entirely novel situation has occurred in these past two months: for the first time the two parties have exactly the same level of support. But what is truly amazing is that this also holds true for those who definitely plan to vote. Thirty-two percent of the voters would vote for Fidesz and 31% for MSZP. This is significant because normally Fidesz supporters are more determined voters than the socialists. I should also mention that, according to Ipsos, Viktor Orbán received only 28 points on a scale of 100 when it came to popularity this month. This is the lowest ever measured by Ipsos. Even Attila Mesterházy of MSZP received more points (30) than the prime minister.

Tárki also published on its website a graphic summary of changes in popularity among Hungarian parties.

I was especially struck by the changes of the category (in blue) of those who either don’t have a party preference or who simply refuse to divulge it. You may notice that every time the percentage of Fidesz voters (orange) went up, the number of the undecided went down. See especially November 2010,  August 2011, and March 2012.  Now that the popularity of Fidesz is declining the number of undecided voters is going up again. Historically, among the undecided the majority usually end up with the socialist party.

As for the inordinate number of undecided voters, my feeling is that, although the numbers are high, they are perhaps not so high as the pollsters report. Concern over Fidesz’s intentions is most likely very real among people who will not vote for Fidesz. Fear is gripping those who are not behind the two-thirds majority. You have no idea how many letters I receive expressing real fear about the consequences of being openly critical of the government.

People hear about all sorts of data gathering by Fidesz and about lists that are being prepared of people who are known MSZP voters. People are convinced that the questionnaires periodically prepared and distributed to all voters on an assortment of bogus questions parading as “national consultations” are simply tools for information gathering. People are in a real quandary over what to do; the fourth such questionnaire was mailed just yesterday. After all, these questionnaires have bar codes that include all the necessary information about the recipients. If they don’t send the questionnaire back, the very fact of their refusal tells something about them to the government and the government party.

And finally here is another Tárki graph that shows party preferences in the last two months in the electorate as a whole:

While support for Jobbik, LMP, and DK has fluctuated in the last two months, Fidesz’s support is steadily declining while MSZP’s is steadily growing. That can safely be called a trend.

I might also mention here that Fidesz’s attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány in connection with his senior thesis might be responsible for DK’s decline. The standing  of Jobbik is fairly stagnant. Two years ago Ipsos registered 9% support and now the number is 10%. Tárki put their support at 11%. I find this interesting because one often hears about a fear of Jobbik’s incredible strength and that perhaps in two years time they can even win the elections. I have no such fear. What I worry about is a deal between Fidesz and Jobbik if Fidesz alone cannot form a government in 2014. I’m sure that Viktor Orbán is not finicky. He would make a deal with the devil if that would assure him the position of prime minister between 2014 and 2018.

War against the whole world?

The growing Horthy cult and the associated rehabilitation of writers of anti-Semitic and/or Nazi sympathies have raised a few eyebrows, and not just in Romania where the circus surrounding the reburial of the remains of József Nyirő led to a diplomatic flare-up between Hungary and her former good friend, Romania. It seems that the Russian government is also watching the rehabilitation of the Horthy era with growing concern.

But first let’s visit Romania where the storm created by Hungary’s clumsy attempt at organizing a reburial of József Nyirő has been growing. First, the Romanian government refused to allow entry of a special railway carriage carrying Nyirő’s remains. Then the burial itself had to be postponed because its permission was revoked. The remains are apparently still in Budapest.

The latest is that there is a good possibility that the Romanian government will investigate local permits that allowed schools or streets to be named after József Nyirő. The Romanian government spokesman announced yesterday that in Romania ” law forbids any kind of appreciation or honoration of people of anti-Semitic and fascist views.” So, this is the end result of  László Kövér’s initiative on behalf of the Magyar Polgári Párt. However, Kövér didn’t seem to learn anything from this fiasco. He triumphantly announced in Székelyudvarhely where the burial was supposed to be held that the victory of Hungary is inevitable. After all, non-Hungarians are afraid even of the remains of a Hungarian who has been buried for sixty years. And, he added, the members of the Romanian government are barbarians.

The rehabilitation of the Horthy regime caused unease in Russia as well. Over the weekend there was a conference organized by the Russian Center of ELTE where Hungarian, Russian, and American historians gave lectures on historical topics. Among the invited guests was the Russian ambassador Aleksandr Tolkach, who sharply criticized the Hungarian government’s attempts at rewriting the history of World War II. He rejected the Orbán government’s efforts to equate nazism and communism and to treat the Soviet Union and her allies, on the one hand, and the Third Reich, on the other, as equally guilty.

Tolkach specifically mentioned the preamble to the new Hungarian constitution, which views the historical events between 1944 and 1990 as nonexistent. This in Russian opinion results in the denial of the role of the Red Army as liberators. Right-wing Hungarian historians are trying to reevaluate Hungary’s role in the events while they say nothing about Hungarian crimes in the Soviet Union. These same historians are also silent on Hungary’s active role in the annihilation of Hungarian Jewry.

Considering that Viktor Orbán is allegedly a great friend of Vladimir Putin, Tolkach’s remarks are an indication that not all is well in Russian-Hungarian relations. The Hungarian government should be mindful of the forthcoming negotiations with Russia over the price of natural gas. This is what happens when the Fidesz government wants to please its extreme-right rival, Jobbik, by forcing an issue that causes serious diplomatic friction.

If creating friction between Romania and Hungary and Russia and Hungary weren’t enough, the Orbán  government moved on to an attack on the United States and the European Union.

The attack on the European Union began with Kövér lecturing Europe on its attitude toward Christianity. According to him, ” Europe lost its self-identity.”  Moreover, ” it looks at its own Christian roots with loathing.”  And to be sure that this message will get to those for whom it was intended, Kövér made these remarks to a reporter of Süddeutsche Zeitung, a liberal German paper. In the same interview Kövér labelled the European Union’s criticism of the extra levies “immoral” because EU politicians condoned the socialist governments’  economic policies that resulted in the country’s indebtedness.

And today in parliament János Lázár, in his farewell speech as head of the Fidesz caucus, indirectly attacked the United States by claiming that the Hungarian opposition is actually supported by Uncle Sam. Considering that the Orbán government initiated a charm campaign  in the United States and that Budapest hired a PR firm to influence the American attitude toward the present regime in Hungary, one can only marvel at the inconsistencies of the government’s policies.

Lázár also decided to lash out at international capital. According to him, MSZP has never been anything but a “front man” for multinational companies. This remark didn’t surprise me terribly because there has been a tendency lately to contrast the government’s pro-Hungarian policies with the opposition’s siding with foreign interests. After all, it wasn’t a long time ago that Viktor Orbán talked about his government’s “kuruc”  stance as opposed to the members of the opposition who belong to the ” labanc”  camp. These two words go back to the Rákóczi rebellion (1703-1711) when the rebels were called ” kuruc”  and those who sided with Vienna “labanc.” Thus, Orbán indicated that he represents Hungarian interests while the opposition represents the interests of foreign powers.

One against all? A losing proposition.

Far-right propaganda on Hungarian public television

A few weeks ago an incredible “documentary” was shown on MTV entitled “War against the Hungarian nation.” The production is available on YouTube. I don’t know whether anyone will have the patience to listen to the entire hour and a half of nonsense, I certainly didn’t. But I heard enough to be horrified at the message that is being sent far and wide by Hungarian “public” television. What is especially frightening is that 43,357 people have already watched this far-right view of Hungary, past and present. Two-hundred and thirty people “liked it” and only eight expressed disagreement with the message conveyed.

I might mention right at the beginning that in Hungarian “public” as an adjective before “radio” and “television” can be translated verbatim as “public service” radio or television. It is supposed to serve the public, especially in the sense of transmitting accurate and impartial information for the edification of the public.

I don’t know whether the newly appointed editor in charge of cultural programs has anything to do with the noticeable shift to the right in this area, but it is becoming evident that the Hungarian far right is having a heyday on MTV and Duna TV, both directed from a government-controlled media center. The new man in charge of cultural matters is Zoltán Rockenbauer, who is allegedly an ethnographer and art historian. He most likely received the job not because of his great achievements in his chosen fields but because he was a Fidesz member of parliament between 1990 and 2006 and minister of national heritage, a defunct position, between 2000 and 2002. So, Rockenbauer is one of the “originals” in the party.

But let’s return to the “War against the Hungarian Nation.” It begins with some fairly incomprehensible ramblings by József V. Molnár, who describes himself as a researcher of the national psyche (néplélek kutató). He looks slightly mad. We hear about his little house, his bigger house, a collection of houses and the really big house, the nation, headed by the Holy Crown.

It doesn’t get any better. Izabella Bencze, a lawyer, talks about the role of the Carpathian Basin as the center of the world. Whoever rules this area rules the world. It is the “heart center” (szívközpont) of the world. It is also the strategic center of earth, and that is the reason for the constant war that has been waged against the Hungarians.

József Ángyán, until recently undersecretary of agriculture, talks about the nation as the depository of sacred qualities. The man who has lately been hailed for his stance against the oligarchs is launching a verbal attack against foreign capitalists who stole the nation’s wealth, which “must be taken back.”

From Lajos Papp, a cardiologist who in the last ten or fifteen years discovered his inner prophet, we hear about “the history of mankind that is the history of the Hungarian people.”

A lawyer who thinks that he is a linguist goes on and on about the origin of the word “Hungaria,” which naturally he thinks has something to do with the Huns. The accepted etymology of the word is that it comes from the name of the Turkic tribe Onugor (which means “ten arrows” or “ten tribes”).

Another “expert” talks about foreigners who “want to steal our souls.” Papp shows up again a few minutes later with the idea that “our genes contain the known knowledge” or, in other words, “the divine knowledge.” Other people are jealous of this sacred knowledge. Hence, the persecution of the Hungarians by others.

According to a far-right “economist,” the Habsburgs have been the greatest enemies of Hungarians, including György Habsburg, currently living with his family in Hungary. One of their sins was that they brought a “business spirit” to the country, until then untouched by greed. Certainly a major sin in the eyes of these fanatics. According to one of the “historians,” the real reason for the revolution and war of independence of 1848-49 was the question of who “will privatize the national wealth.” A unique interpretation of the events of 1848. Surely, goes the argument, the Austrian businessmen were ready to pounce on Hungary and rob the Hungarians blind. Of course, the truth was that Hungary was seriously underdeveloped in comparison to the western parts of the Habsburg Empire.

Runic writing from the Szekler region of Transylvania

While this nonsense was being aired on MTV, Duna TV was spreading the gospel of the far right with the help of “literary historian” Mihály Takaró and “experts” on the runic script, László Sipos and Gábor Hosszú. Sipos is the head of a foundation that promotes runic writing, a favorite hobbyhorse of the extreme right. Hosszú is an electrical engineer who decided that his real calling is the analysis of runic writings. The teachings of both of these men are, according to Klára Sándor of the University of Szeged, a real expert on Szekler runic writing, utterly unscientific.

Takaró’s “speciality” is the far-right literature of the interwar period. He is most likely the force behind the introduction of Cécile Tormay, Albert Wass, and József Nyirő into the Hungarian curriculum starting this September. Very recently he was a member of the editorial board of Trianoni Szemle, known to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Thus, the above mentioned anti-Semitic writers most likely are close to his heart.

Takaró’s series is called  “Száműzött magyar irodalom” (Exiled Hungarian Literature). Videos of the program can be seen on the Duna TV website.  The program on runic writing could be seen a couple of days ago in a series called “Hagyaték” (Heritage).

According to the “experts” on runic writing, Hungarian children should be taught runic writing already in first grade instead of the Latin alphabet because it “would strengthen the children’s self-identity.” I couldn’t help but recall Bálint Ablonczy’s description of  “the fortress of the right,” a construction that has “its own myths, its own hymns, its own heroes” but which “becomes incomprehensible to the rest of the world.”

Thus the Fidesz government is propagating a worldview that has nothing to do with either science or rationality. Such notions about Hungary’s place in the world lead to political isolation and economic ruin.

Cultural isolation of the Hungarian right and Hungary’s political quarantine

It was about a year ago that Bohut Pahor, prime minister of Slovenia, made a rather undiplomatic remark to reporters that after Hungary’s presidency of the European Union is over “Hungary will be isolated” as a result of Viktor Orbán’s behavior and policies. Pahor added that Orbán was ignored even before July 1, 2011, the end of Hungary’s six-month tenure.

A few months later HVG noted that the Slovenian prime minister seemed to know what he was talking about. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received practically no invitation from other political leaders in the European Union.  By the end of September, Orbán’s only invitation came from the Bavarian premier.

A few days ago HVG returned to the subject after doing a thorough search of Orbán’s foreign trips since he took office. On the basis of information received from the Prime Minister’s Office, they concluded that the number of bilateral meetings with western European leaders became rarer and rarer as time went by. In the first six months after taking office Viktor Orbán met either the presidents or the prime ministers of western European countries ten times. One ought to add, however, that most of these meetings were arranged at the request of the Hungarian government. Orbán used the forthcoming Hungarian presidency of the European Union as an excuse to request an invitation. In comparison, now that no such rationale can be used to force an invitation, in the last year there were all told five meetings, four of which occurred during summits, which cannot be compared to a high-level state visit. In fact, according to the information received by HVG Orbán tried to arrange meetings with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel but both were busy.

As for the United States, although the Prime Minister’s Office acted as if Viktor Orbán had no interest in sitting down with Barack Obama, the fact is that an invitation was not forthcoming. A few days ago at the NATO summit in Chicago there was a brief meeting and the exchange of a few words between Orbán and Obama, but it was no more than a photo op. As far as I know, Obama shook hands with all the prime ministers of the NATO countries.

In the last few months Orbán managed to meet the prime ministers of Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And as a result of the thrust toward the East he met the Chinese prime minister, the president of Kazakhstan, and Vladimir Putin of Russia. He is planning trips to China and India.

It is not only the critics of the Orbán government who notice that Hungary is becoming increasingly isolated. Bálint Ablonczy, a reporter for Heti Válasz and one of the few moderate right-wingers, warned the government in an article that appeared in Mandiner of the growing political isolation that the Orbán government is experiencing of late. The government’s “aggressive economic policies and its attitude toward constitutional issues caused deep disappointment” abroad. Although the government parties are still riding high, mostly due to the weakness of the opposition, it is time to take stock. A substantial portion of the Hungarian right-wing camp wishes to be back in 1937 or even 837. This means total isolation from today’s world and even from the traditions of Hungarian history.

In right-wing circles the thinking is that if during the communist period a historical or literary figure was maligned or neglected that person must be reevaluated in a positive way. Such thinking “can lead to grave mistakes, meaning that it elevates such politicians and writers who are not deserving. Yes, I think of Miklós Horthy and Albert Wass.”

Ablonczy wants a balanced picture of these men. Horthy is not necessarily a mass murderer or Wass a war criminal but one mustn’t forget Horthy’s role in the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian citizens or Wass’s anti-Semitism and support of a fascist organization.

The Wass cult defies rational explanation. As of now Wass has 53 statues and plaques in Hungary which would be  excessive even if his works were all masterpieces. In any case, for the Hungarian right Wass is celebrated not as a writer but rather as the embodiment of an age. But one could learn more about Hungary in the twentieth century from the works of Miklós Bánffy, Jenő Dsida, Gyula Illyés, Áron Tamási, Mihály Babits, Zsigmond Móricz, Endre Ady, András Sűtő, and István Szilágyi. Enclosing oneself in a single segment of Hungarian intellectual history, especially since it is extremist, Ablonczy argues, can only lead to “the deformation of Hungarian self-knowledge.”

The Hungarian right looks upon the history of the interwar period as “a perfect world that the communists wanted to conceal from us.” The cult of József Nyirő can be understood only in this light. And Fidesz plays into the hand of this crowd “in the interest of vote getting.” Thus, there is an official sanction of a worldview that “further builds the fort of the right.” But such construction has a price: “its own myths, its own hymns, its own heroes become incomprehensible to the rest of the world.” People of diverse beliefs who loathe shallowness even within the country will move far away from a small sect with a narrow view of the past.

Cultural isolation will sooner or later turn into political isolation. It can happen any time.

János Kádár (May 26, 1912 – July 6, 1989)

It was one hundred years ago today that János Kádár (originally János József Csermanek) was born as the illegitimate child of Borbála Csermanek, a chambermaid in the fashionable seaside resort of Fiume, today Rijeka. He died at the age of 77 on July 6, 1989, the same day the Hungarian Supreme Court announced the rehabilitation of Imre Nagy and his closest collaborators during the 1956 revolution.  His burial was attended by tens of thousands of Hungarians, whose grief seemed genuine.

A few days later Imre Nagy, the victim of Kádár, was reburied. It is estimated that Kádár’s funeral was just as well attended as those of the martyrs of 1956.

Yes, János Kádár was popular, and his popularity has only grown since his death. By 2010 two-thirds of Hungary’s adult population considered the Kádár era the golden age of the twentieth century. The majority of Hungarians who lived under the rule of János Kádár remember those years as an era when they were left alone to build their lives (however modest), when there was relatively little difference between rich and poor, and when they didn’t have to worry about what will happen to their jobs the next day.

Of course, many of the better educated people wanted to have more than relative material well being. They yearned for democracy in which they would have unlimited possibilities for self-fulfillment, including freedom of speech and travel. But let’s face it, they were in the minority. The vast majority would have been quite happy to live in the Kádár regime as long as their standard of living kept going up.

Politicians like to rewrite history, especially recent political events, and the Orbán government’s favorite pastime is talking about the last eight years in a way that makes them barely recognizable. Only recently we heard that Hungary was in worse shape in 2010 than Greece is today.

The rewriting of the “eight years” when Fidesz was in opposition is understandable, but a wholesale rewriting of history is also under way. The history of the entire twentieth century is being rewritten and those who have more than an average knowledge of history are watching what’s going on with growing trepidation.  At the moment the Horthy regime is being rehabilitated, along with Hungary’s role in the Holocaust. The post-1945 period is viewed as one gelatinous mass.

We are talking abut 45 years of varied history yet everything is described as a communist dictatorship, pure and simple. Even within the Kádár regime it is customary to distinguish between the period of retribution for 1956 and the later period of consolidation after 1963. But according to the official Fidesz interpretation of history, the whole period between 1945 and 1989 is  “a criminal period.” Consequently, anyone who played a substantial part in the maintenance of that regime is a criminal and should be punished, including the current Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) as a successor to Kádár’s MSZMP.

János Kádár at the May 1, 1957 celebrations

The Institute of Political History organized a two-day conference on Kádár’s heritage this weekend. The speakers included Iván Szelényi (currently teaching at Yale University); György Földes, the director of the Institute; Ignác Romsics, professor of history at ELTE;  Zoltán Ripp, researcher at the Institute; M. János Rainer of the 56-Institute; and István Feitl, deputy director of the Institute. These scholars tried to place Kádár in a historical context and to come to grips with his heritage.

On the first day most of the speakers talked about Kádár’s successful period, especially the era between 1963 and the early 1970s. By the mid-1970s and especially by the 1980s János Kádár became inflexible and increasingly conservative. He fiercely resisted any attempt to loosen the economic shackles of the planned economy, so by that time only foreign loans could maintain the steady rise in living standards that was essential to keeping up the Hungarian gulash communism.

While sociologists and historians are trying to find Kádár’s place in history, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció categorically rejects the view that the relative mildness of the Kádár regime was János Kádár’s doing. According Péter Niedermüller, deputy chairman of DK, it was the result of 1956. Kádár knew how far he could go. So, the debate continues.

Meanwhile, the real communists unveiled János Kádár’s bust in the cemetery next to Kádár’s grave. The unveiling was done by the writer György Moldova, a devotee of Kádár. Moldova called the former general secretary of MSZMP “a proletarian saint.” He added that “this country is not worthy of the memory of János Kádár” because it abandoned the regime Kádár built.

One thing is sure: the Kádár era left an undeniable imprint on Hungarian society. How often we read about “the people of Kádár” (Kádár népe). It is a disparaging way of describing people who are not ready to stand up for their own rights, who follow the leaders blindly, who want to have the state care for them. In brief, they behave like sheep.

Just as Miklós Horthy’s twenty-five years left a strong imprint on the Hungarian psyche so did Kádár’s thirty-three. Fidesz’s effort to find the guilty ones who propped up the Kádár regime is a waste of time. Kádár is in the very fabric of Hungarian society even today.

Removal of another thorn in the Orbán government’s side: The Lex Éger

I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that one of the reasons, perhaps the most important one, for the demise of the Gyurcsány government was its failed attempt at health care reform. The struggle between reformers and those who opposed the changes introduced by Lajos Molnár (SZDSZ), minister of health, in the fall of 2006 was intensified by the fierce opposition to the reforms by the Hungarian Medical Association (Magyar Orvosi Kamara/MOK) led by István Éger.

István Éger, president of the Hungarian Medical Association

Fidesz and MOK worked hand in hand to prevent the introduction of reforms. And they were successful. Although the health care bill was passed in December 2007, Éger began to sound like a guerrilla warrior. His most memorable line was uttered on December 18, 2007 when he announced that “we will trip them up everywhere we can.” (In the original: “Ott fogunk betartani, ahol tudunk.”) This slang expression is close to the meaning of the word “sabotage.” And indeed, Éger tried his best to make the Gyurcsány and later the Bajnai government’s life miserable.

People assumed that with the victory of Fidesz in 2010 Éger and the medical community would be rewarded for services rendered. The Medical Association headed by Éger had several demands. Membership in MOK had been compulsory prior to 2006 when the Gyurcsány government abolished this rule. This was a blow to Éger because a large number of the reluctant members left MOK. Fewer members, less money, less prestige, and perhaps lessened infuence.

So, one of Éger’s demands was the restoration of compulsory membership in the Association. His other demand was to have the right to torpedo health care legislation not to the Association’s liking. Orbán was ready to grant the demand for compulsory membership, which was nothing off his skin, but giving real power to MOK was something else.

Some people who know Éger claim that the president of MOK was certain that he would be rewarded with a high government position after the Fidesz victory. But Orbán had no intention of being generous, perhaps sensing that Éger is hard to deal with. So, after a few months of waiting, Éger decided to attack. He announced that the doctors’ patience was running out. He complained about the lack of consultation with the Ministry of National Resources on health issues that concern the Medical Association. He also had personal gripes. His official salary set by the Ministry was 750,000 forints. He wanted 2 million. He was a prickly fellow who most likely irritated not only Miklós Szócska, the undersecretary in charge of health care, but also Viktor Orbán himself.

Miklós Szócska, Undersecretary of Human Resources

At first, the government hoped that István Éger would not be reelected at the forthcoming election of the Association. They thought that Éger had lost a lot of support because of his problems over the size of his pay check that he kept–as it turned out illegally–a secret. Moreover, he was pretty ruthless about collecting past dues from those members who were forced to rejoin the Association.

The government had to be disappointed. On December 10, 2011 Éger triumphantly announced the result of the elections. Seventy percent of the membership reelected him to head MOK for another four years. The Ministry tried its best not to accept the results of the elections due to some unfinished investigation of a territorial subdivision of MOK. The Ministry also complained about the electoral procedure that was not quite according to the rules and regulations governing MOK and similar associations.

It seems, however, that these objections of the Ministry didn’t achieve the desired results, so the Orbán government had to resort to another stratagem  to get rid of Éger. It took them a few months to figure out what to do, but yesterday a new amendment emerged that seems aimed at the removal of István Éger from his position as head of the Hungarian Medical Association. The Hungarian media immediately nicknamed it Lex Éger.

On May 22 an amendment was submitted to a bill that contained several new regulations concerning health issues. The amendment would change the agreement that had been worked out between the government and the associations. The upshot of the change is that someone who had served for two terms as president of an association couldn’t serve a third time. This new law would also apply to any of the office holders in the associations connected to the health care community. Since Éger was first elected in 2003 and again in 2007, the results of the 2011 December election results would therefore be null and void. The amendment would give the Hungarian Medical Association the opportunity to hold another election in October. Naturally, Éger cannot run. He can say goodbye to his lucrative and influential position. Most importantly, he can no longer make the Orbán government’s life miserable.

Éger, who is currently on an official trip in Germany, is taken aback. In his opinion this proposal is “a crude intervention in the functioning of a professional organization which is unacceptable in a democracy.” He blamed Miklós Szócska for the submission of this amendment. Éger hopes for international support. Apparently he talked to the secretary-general of the International Medical Association, who was apparently “stunned.” He announced that he is planning to get in touch with the president of the Association of European Doctors. As it turned out, beginning next year he would be one of the vice presidents of the organization, unless “he is kicked out” of his position.

He expressed his hope that Zoltán Balog, Szócska’s superior in the Ministry of Human Resources, will not risk an international scandal over his removal. Éger seems to have an ally on the parliamentary committee on health issues in the person of Géza Gyenes, former secretary-general of the Hungarian Medical Assocation and now a Jobbik member of parliament. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the amendment will pass.

In such cases the Orbán government usually wins but, knowing Éger, I would take his threat seriously. There will be an international scandal prior to his departure. Éger will make sure of that.