Another speech: Viktor Orbán’s state of mind

Normally sometime in the second half of August the 104 Hungarian ambassadors from all over the world gather in Budapest where they attend a series of instructional speeches by the prime minister and the foreign minister. Last year György Matolcsy was also present, but I guess this year it would have been too embarrassing to hear from him how fantastically well Hungary is doing economically. InsteadViktor Orbán did the honors.

Apparently this event is supposed to offer a kind of road map that informs the ambassadors about the general direction of Hungarian foreign policy. However, although I read several descriptions of Viktor Orbán’s speech, I found only one sentence that referred to foreign policy per se. It went something like this: good Hungarian foreign policy doesn’t depend on an imitation of the western model but on whether it serves the national interest or not. Therefore the ambassadors must be much more creative. I don’t think that one can get any vaguer than that. But, indeed, if someone wants to defend the Hungarian government’s activities one does need an unusual amount of creativity.

Last year on the same occasion Orbán announced his intention to wage a war against the European Union in defense of the country’s sovereignty and urged the ambassadors to steadfastly defend all of the government’s unorthodox moves, from bank levies to taxation. He made optimistic references to Hungary’s economic progress in the near future. This year somehow he had to pretend that the great economic strides that he’d promised last year have been fulfilled. So it’s no wonder that Sándor Burány (MSZP) declared after the text of the speech became known that the heat wave had had an adverse effect on Orbán’s thought processes. Or as Péter Balázs, former foreign minister, said, Orbán was looking at the road map upside down.

Because how can anyone claim with a straight face that Hungary is handling the crisis better than other countries when the Hungarian economy is in recession and its inflation is the highest in Europe? Real wages decreased by 3.2%  and 21,400 fewer people work than a year ago.  And that latter number includes the many thousands of people who are currently employed in public works projects. Orbán always put the blame for the crisis on the European Union, but other countries in the region, with the exception of the Czech Republic, are doing much better than Hungary. The Slovak numbers are especially impressive where for the last two or three years economic growth is between 3 and 4%. So it is simply not true that Hungary is a success story in this respect. But Orbán promised that shortly Hungary will again be the leader in the region. Promises, promises, as usual.

Viktor Orbán indicated, however, that there will be no change in economic policy. They will not change the tax system and will not lift the heavy levies on selected businesses and banks. He is still planning to take over utility companies and make them non-profit which according to economists is a disastrous idea; moreover, he himself knows that the European Union will not approve it. Given the current economic policies pursued by the Hungarian government, it is almost predictable that Hungary will sink lower and lower toward a perhaps very serious economic crisis. This will especially be the case if, as predicted by many, there is no agreement with the IMF.

An image of a human brain / scienceblogs.com

Although the speech was not that different from the run-of-the-mill speeches he normally delivers, there were a few remarks I personally found interesting. I think they tell a lot about the state of mind of the Hungarian prime minister. One was that “an Italian type government of experts is not a solution for Hungary because the citizens will only accept the necessary measures taken if the government that introduces these measures is legitimate.” I may add here that Orbán considered both the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments illegitimate in the sense that they didn’t have the support of the majority. At the moment the government enjoys the support of 17% of the adult population. Why did Orbán feel compelled even to mention the possibility of a government of experts? I leave that to the imagination of the readers.

Orbán’s other odd remark touched on the economic crisis and democracy. It was about a month ago that Orbán, talking to a group of businessmen, expressed his hope that the current crisis will not require a political system different from the current democratic setup. Commentators were aghast.  They considered the very fact that the Hungarian prime minister was contemplating such a possibility an outrage.

I guess Orbán himself thought that he had gone too far and wanted to take the edge off of this remark. This is how he handled it. According to him, the solution to the protracted economic crisis is “not made any easier” by the existence of the democratic model. “Europe chose the democratic model after World War II,” so that’s that. This is not a criticism on his part, he added.

Well, I think with this explanation Orbán made things much worse. He is certain that a non-democratic regime could handle the crisis much more effectively, and he regrets that he has to abide by the rules of democracy. Mind you, in my opinion he is working pretty hard on changing this situation in Hungary.

Another interesting passage was his reference to the loss of confidence in the leaders of the European Union which he described as a new stage in the crisis of Europe. The politicians of the nation states cannot afford this kind of loss of trust. Why mention something like this? Surely, he must know that people’s confidence in him is shaken. For years he tried to block every attempt at economic reform while promising pie in the sky to the Hungarians who expect the state to take care of them. And, not surprisingly, this tactic that may lead to electoral victory also generates great disappointment and a loss of confidence. In fact, it may result in a hatred of all politicians. This is pretty much what’s going on in Hungary at the moment. I sense a shift away from Fidesz from comments in mainstream newspapers. While a year ago, even half a year ago, the majority of the comments came from Fidesz true believers, today one can hardly find one or two among the hundreds.

So, to my mind, this speech said perhaps more about the mental state of Viktor Orbán than the newspapers reported and the commentators noticed. He is a man who, while boasting about the success of his government, is afraid that one day he may have to leave and his government may be replaced by a cabinet of experts. He knows that his popularity is very low. Here and there I think he is seriously thinking about a new kind of political system that might solve all his problems. Not the country’s but his! No, Sándor Burány is wrong: it is not the heat wave. It is fear and insecurity.

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21 comments

  1. Julie :
    Sounds as though Orban would like to be Hungary’s Lee Kuan Yew.

    or Hungary’s Putin, Mussolini, new Horthy or Al Capone at large & in power.

  2. Questions before the Fall session of Parliament:

    1. Will Fidesz restrict the voting rights of citizens inside Hungary and/or facilitate massive fraud in the voting arrangements from abroad? [My guess: yes]

    2. Will they continue and not reverse the firing of judges despite the ruling of the Constitutional Court? [My guess: yes]

    3. Will they reach an agreement with IMF? [Probably yes, since IMF does not demand democratic steps any longer as condition for an agreement]

    4. Will there be massive protests against the Fidesz party & government?

  3. tappanch :
    Questions before the Fall session of Parliament:
    1. Will Fidesz restrict the voting rights of citizens inside Hungary and/or facilitate massive fraud in the voting arrangements from abroad? [My guess: yes]
    2. Will they continue and not reverse the firing of judges despite the ruling of the Constitutional Court? [My guess: yes]
    3. Will they reach an agreement with IMF? [Probably yes, since IMF does not demand democratic steps any longer as condition for an agreement]
    4. Will there be massive protests against the Fidesz party & government?

    You’re wrong on the IMF loan. He doesn’t want it.
    The IMF does not want to give it but they have to be
    extremely careful in not refusing Orban but being as agreeable as possible so that they can’t be blamed
    for the crash that’s coming.

  4. Viktor Orbán knows in contradiction to SZSZ the Hungarian people. Therefore he can rely on the incapability of the different opposition parties and groups to unite against him.
    So he will be the primeminister at least until 2026.
    Therefore he does not care about the “bloody foreigners”. Orbán can also rely on the European conservative parties. They will protect his regime in UE.
    according to my view
    1. Fidesz will restrict the voting rights of citizens inside Hungary and/or facilitate massive fraud in the voting arrangements from abroad My guess is also yes
    2. they will continue and not reverse the firing of judges despite the ruling of the Constitutional Court yes
    3. The will not reach an agreement with IMF. This way it will be even easier to blame the “colonial powers” (implying New-York,Brussels and Tel Aviv)
    4. There will be no massive protests against the Fidesz party & government
    Probably the opposition parties will mobilize again 100.000 persons but not 250.000 like Bayer & Co did on January 21, 2012 against “colonialism”.

    I guess with the unorthodox economy soon Hungary could become a failed country.

  5. Karl Pfeifer :
    Viktor Orbán knows in contradiction to SZSZ the Hungarian people. Therefore he can rely on the incapability of the different opposition parties and groups to unite against him.
    So he will be the primeminister at least until 2026.
    Therefore he does not care about the “bloody foreigners”. Orbán can also rely on the European conservative parties. They will protect his regime in UE.
    according to my view
    1. Fidesz will restrict the voting rights of citizens inside Hungary and/or facilitate massive fraud in the voting arrangements from abroad My guess is also yes
    2. they will continue and not reverse the firing of judges despite the ruling of the Constitutional Court yes
    3. The will not reach an agreement with IMF. This way it will be even easier to blame the “colonial powers” (implying New-York,Brussels and Tel Aviv)
    4. There will be no massive protests against the Fidesz party & government
    Probably the opposition parties will mobilize again 100.000 persons but not 250.000 like Bayer & Co did on January 21, 2012 against “colonialism”.
    I guess with the unorthodox economy soon Hungary could become a failed country.

    You guess right about “failed country”. But you’re wrong about Orban staying until 2026.
    He may not even run in 2013. His mental makeup is very fragile–he won’t last. I wouldn’t
    be surprised if he retires before the next election ‘for health reasons’. Somewhere in
    Orban’s fractured mental state, the weight of causing so much harm to his country may
    be breaking through.

  6. Well, the Hungarian economy now has 1 million Ft less available to it, as we have just withdrawn our ‘savings’* and converted them into Pounds. I wonder how many others are quietly moving their money out of the country?

    *our so-called ‘savings’ have actually LOST just over £500 since we deposited them a year ago.

    It reminds me of when I worked for Lloyd’s of London many years ago when they were going through one of their (then) periodic crises. The joke of the time was “how do you make a million?” – “invest 2 million in Lloyd’s”.

    How do you make £2,800? Invest £3,300 in Hungary…

  7. Julie :
    Sounds as though Orban would like to be Hungary’s Lee Kuan Yew.

    to Julie: Certainly. Lee Kuan Yu was able to create what I called, during my six-year diplomatic posting in Singapore, Welfare Dictatorship. Orban is halfway. Dictatorship, we’ve already got.

  8. Maybe OT or maybe not.
    Is there something we should know?

    Mr. János Lázár proposed on August 10, 2012, a bill concerning pension allowances to be received by the next of kin of the president and of the prime minister in case of death while in office. The proposed bill would apply to all prime ministers who passed away while in office from May 23, 1990.

    It is explained that this new type of allowance would ensure sustainable quality of life and participation in public life to the beneficiaries.

    The bill is available on the website of the Hungarian parliament:
    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/08137/08137.pdf

    To follow the status of the bill:
    http://www.mkogy.hu/internet/plsql/ogy_irom.irom_adat?p_ckl=39&p_izon=8137

  9. Lance Armstrong And The Lesson For Hungary

    Lance Armstrong will be stripped of all his wins and awards.
    This is being done by an American association not by the French Tour de France officials.

    And yet, Americans took a great deal of pride when Lance beat
    the Europeans in 1999. And the pride and chest-beating grew
    successively as Lance won the next six Tours.

    But America is a country grounded in the Law. The Law rules
    above all. The fact that Lance is “one of ours” never enters
    into question. Lance broke the Law–there are no mitigating
    circumstances…there are no reasons to hide this fact for the country to ‘save face’. The Law and the dignity of the society is
    way more important.

    Now, let’s look at Hungary. The courts and the government–their
    masters–conspire to protect Csapary, a proven war criminal in two different countries simply because “he’s one of ours”.
    Now I ask: where is the simple, common, decency of every Hungarian (regardless of the length of his mustache) in defense
    of the reputation of his country? Where are those hundreds of thousands who marched for Fidesz and Orban? Is decency and
    the rule of law such common coin to them that they can do away
    with them simply for the puerile pleasure of snubbing their noses
    at the civilized community?

    Can Hungarians now understand why to be Hungarian in the estimation of the civilized community at large, is to be lower
    than a frog’s arse?

  10. It’s a Felcsút state of mind, certainly.
    As we’ve learned by the man himself, Stephen the First offered up the country to the Holy Virgin right on the spot, today I’ve read that a railway going to be resurrected in order to reach Felcsút and the center of his pet project, the Soccer Academy!

    Ohmigod…

    As I see it, the problem isn’t really is that Mr.Orban lost it big time, but the others around him too! Of course, they try to keep their well paid posts as long as it goes, but the further they go, the bigger the crash will be.

    Otherwise I’m pretty sure, that he has no intention to reach an agreement with IMF, no way that he accept any other kind of rules, but his own. Even then has he difficulties to keep them.
    The game more likely goes to stall as long as the 2014, coercing his way to win the elections, default the state and then declare the state of emergency, – or anything else for that effect – circumventing all the rules for the total power, and….

    No, I don’t even dare to think further. The problem really is, that he fully capable to achieve all this and some.

    Have a pleasant dream..!

  11. Petrovics: “Can Hungarians now understand why to be Hungarian in the estimation of the civilized community at large, is to be lower
    than a frog’s arse?”

    If you hate them so much, why are you drooling for their liking, rather than the obvious rejection you get????

  12. Eva: “it is not the heat wave. It is fear and insecurity.”

    Did you see some of this speech on TV? I think it was a part of this speech that I saw in hirado. I do not watch Viktor Orban speaking very often, so perhaps this is his personal style, but I was very surprised to see a man looking rather disoriented. At his wits’ end (or a nervous wreck). So I think “fear and insecurity” is very much to the point.

  13. Kirsten :

    Eva: “it is not the heat wave. It is fear and insecurity.”

    Did you see some of this speech on TV? I think it was a part of this speech that I saw in hirado. I do not watch Viktor Orban speaking very often, so perhaps this is his personal style, but I was very surprised to see a man looking rather disoriented. At his wits’ end (or a nervous wreck). So I think “fear and insecurity” is very much to the point.

    No, I didn’t see it but I heard someone who phoned Bolgar’s program and said the same thing about him during the ceremony of handing out decorations on August 20th. He said practically the same thing: a nervous wreck.

  14. Louis Kovach :
    Petrovics: “Can Hungarians now understand why to be Hungarian in the estimation of the civilized community at large, is to be lower
    than a frog’s arse?”
    If you hate them so much, why are you drooling for their liking, rather than the obvious rejection you get????

    Louis Kovach :
    Petrovics: “Can Hungarians now understand why to be Hungarian in the estimation of the civilized community at large, is to be lower
    than a frog’s arse?”
    If you hate them so much, why are you drooling for their liking, rather than the obvious rejection you get????

    Louis Kovach :
    Petrovics: “Can Hungarians now understand why to be Hungarian in the estimation of the civilized community at large, is to be lower
    than a frog’s arse?”
    If you hate them so much, why are you drooling for their liking, rather than the obvious rejection you get????

    Ah Louis: “Drooling for their liking..” –Nice English. Not really befitting a “Harvard Lecturer”
    but more like a laboratory-cleaning-products-guy who once gave a talk of same at
    Harvard.

    Louis, you gave a ‘talk’ at Harvard but that doesn’t make you a “Harvard Lecturer”….quite
    Hungarian of you, I do say. Reminds me of the fellow electricians my father worked with
    in Ottawa–they all carried their lunch to work in expensive, leather briefcases.

    Anyway, Loulou, look up Diogenes and you’ll see what I’m after: not ‘love’ but to drum
    a little self-respect into the twisted Hungarian psyche.

  15. Petrovics: “Anyway, Loulou, look up Diogenes and you’ll see what I’m after: not ‘love’ but to drum
    a little self-respect into the twisted Hungarian psyche.”

    Based on your “searches” regarding Harvard, I would not want anything drummed into anyone from you, mayhap the obvious lobotomy affected you.

    I, and relevant folks know who I am, and your distortions only show your absolute frustration.

  16. Spectator: “Have a pleasant dream..!”
    Some day Gergely Samsa may wake up and realize that he has been metamorphosed into a citizen of Kafkania.

  17. tappanch :
    Questions before the Fall session of Parliament:
    1. Will Fidesz restrict the voting rights of citizens inside Hungary and/or facilitate massive fraud in the voting arrangements from abroad? [My guess: yes]
    2. Will they continue and not reverse the firing of judges despite the ruling of the Constitutional Court? [My guess: yes]
    3. Will they reach an agreement with IMF? [Probably yes, since IMF does not demand democratic steps any longer as condition for an agreement]
    4. Will there be massive protests against the Fidesz party & government?

    1. they might try
    2. yes (the EU court will also soon come out with their verdict on that)
    3. no, Orban doesn’t want an agreement
    4. yes

    – where can I see bits of this “nervous wreck” speech, has anyone got a link?

  18. CC – what’s the basis for your answer to 4.? I see no signs whatsoever, especially outside Bp, that any protest on any scale is likely to happen.

  19. Paul, I share your assessment. But even after a stay in Budapest of one week, I just cannot decide which future is more likely: a sudden breakdown of Orbanistan when the more sane people in Fidesz change course or a continuation of this steady economic and social decline shored up by nationalist dulling of the minds of a critical mass. Watching the news and reading the newspapers, the latter seems more likely, but being in the streets, I thought the sudden change of course (at least to stop the most ridiculous measures) is just as likely. People that I spoke to had opinions that also make both possibilities equally likely to me. Only the outlook of massive protests of the broad public in the streets appears very unlikely to me, too.

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