Another “mad” speech by Viktor Orbán

Just this morning Péter Róna, an economist who spent most of his life in the United States and Great Britain, said in an interview that he had given up trying to make sense of the Orbán government’s so-called economic policy. A few days earlier Ádám Gere, an American-trained economist and a follower of Friedrich Hayek’s economic philosophy, refused even to consider “whatever this gang is doing in economic policy.” When the reporter inquired whether Gere meant the government when he was talking about this bunch [társaság], Gere answered that it doesn’t deserve to be called a government and expressed his opinion that the “whole bunch” is actually a collection of communists. What he meant was that the leading Fidesz party members in their thinking are still followers of the state socialism in which they grew up.

Gere is not a diplomatic man. He doesn’t pussyfoot around. He calls it as he sees it. And twenty-four hours after this interview Viktor Orbán offered a perfect demonstration of what Gere had in mind.

The prime minister, claiming that his batteries needed recharging, spent two weeks relaxing. There was a faint hope that perhaps he would return a little wiser. Well, that’s not the case. He made another speech lasting an hour and a half containing announcements that were described by Privátbankár, an Internet financial paper, as “shocking.”

The speech was delivered in the inner courtyard of the Jurisics fortress in Kőszeg, very close to the Austrian border. The occasion was a festival called Tranzit–Festival on the Border. According to reports, an audience of 1,000 filled the whole courtyard. Among the shocking announcements let me mention first that Orbán finds “the direction of current economic policy the only possible one.” Moreover, this policy is so successful that “its revision is unnecessary.” What is needed is “more perseverance.” The policy will also include a further reduction of the income and corporate taxes.

The heat is not the only problem

When asked about the “economic war of independence,” Orbán explained that this strategy became necessary because of the high sovereign debt load and that “this war must continue.” Victory, as far as Orbán is concerned, is guaranteed against the European Union because Fidesz-KDNP has a two-thirds majority in parliament and “that two-thirds stands steady [áll mint a cövek], and even if there were some kind of problem the fifty percent is guaranteed.”

The two-thirds majority was also used to repurchase important companies. “We bought MOL shares from the Russians, some of the water companies from the French, Rába from the Malaysians, Ferencváros [football club] from the English, and momentarily we will buy E.ON from the Germans.” He quickly added that naturally Hungary doesn’t have only conflicts but also has allies.

As for higher education, Viktor Orbán seems to be convinced that his reforms will make Hungarian higher education the most competitive in Europe. He repeated the incredible idea that the entire cost of the country’s higher education must be borne solely by the students. They would be able to receive student loans that could be paid back over a period as long as thirty years at an interest rate of 1 or 2%.

He repeated his resolve to introduce pre-registration before actual voting. “The system must be changed … There are counterarguments and there will be an uproar [balhé], we will be attacked … We must stand and defend our point of view.”

I don’t think I have to spend much time on the claim that the government’s economic policy needs no revision. This time it was András Schiffer (LMP) who announced that the extreme heat must have affected the prime minister’s senses. While most analysts view the Orbán government’s introduction of the flat tax as its original economic sin, Orbán plans to compound that sin, further lowering taxes for both individuals and business. It sounds crazy.

One also wonders what Orbán had in mind when he announced that victory against the European Union is assured by his government’s two-thirds majority in parliament. On the face of it, the two have nothing to do with each other.

As for the government purchase of the MOL shares from the Russians, if I were in his place I would keep my mouth shut on the subject. If I recall properly, the Hungarian government bought the stock at 23,500 forints; it is currently trading at 16,15o. For a 21.2% stake the Hungarian government paid 1.88 billion euros or about 500 billion forints; if they were to try to unload their stake today, they would have lost about a third of their investment. The Russians, by contrast, who bought the stake in 2009, had a 40% return on their investment.

As for the repurchase of the E.ON gas and electricity company, the Financial Times Deutschland called the idea “madness” and added that it seems that “gulyás communism” is returning to Hungary. The high price of energy will not be solved by nationalizing the utility companies. They can offer cheaper prices only by receiving state aid paid by the same taxpayers who are getting cheaper gas and electricity. That is economic madness, said the paper. Moreover, with yet another nationalization Orbán is playing a dangerous game because foreign investors are already leery about Orbán’s Hungary. Just lately, the Coca Cola Company decided in the last minute not to open a new factory in Hungary. Instead they will be investing in Romania.

And boasting about buying Ferencváros, a football club, is truly ridiculous. It has been a losing proposition for years. Never mind, the government just decided to spend 20 billion forints building the club a new stadium.

What Orbán practically single-handedly is doing to Hungarian higher education is a crime. The brightest and most enterprising students are leaving the country to study in western European countries where they will most likely pay less for a better education than they could receive at home. Some talented students will never even get to college because of the extremely high tuition fees. Orbán, who received a free education and most likely even got a stipend, suddenly thinks that scholarships are unnecessary.

As for voter registration, we will hear endlessly that after all this is how it is in the United States. But in the United States there is no ready-made election list as there is in Hungary. Registration in Hungary’s case serves only one purpose: to limit the number of voters and filter out those who are not likely to vote for Fidesz.

And finally a few more gems from the speech. When talking about voter registration he announced that Hungary had become a “world nation” (világnemzet). “The socialists [szocik] are behind. They are still in Hungary squeezed between borders. Hungary has expanded like tripe beyond the pot.”  The reaction to this kind of nonsense was predictable. Nándor Gúr (MSZP) said that Hungary hasn’t expanded anywhere, especially not from a pot. Hungary is not a dynamic country, but rather is lagging behind. András Schiffer (LMP) couldn’t make heads nor tails of some of the prime minister’s announcements. He couldn’t figure out what the pot and the tripe had to do with voter registration. Neither can I, but then I doubt that even Viktor Orbán knows anymore what he is talking about.

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72 comments

  1. Ordinary Hungarians are so upset with the negative anti-Orban comments from inside or outside that they sink to level of other sensitive classes. Jews and Gipsies.
    This is the squaring of the circle.
    The pain is there. The pain is the direct result of the Orban clique’s sins.

  2. “Orbán plans to compound that sin, further lowering taxes for both individuals and business.

    let me just summarise the success story :-
    – gain from cancellation of education subsidies (+)
    – provision of student loan (liability (-))
    – potential non-payments from above (liability (-))
    – gain via interest earned from student loan 1%-2% (+)
    – reduce taxation in personal & business tax (-)
    – spent on football club * i,e, money pit (-)
    – building of stadium (-)

    That’s all I could think of at this moment, am sure there are many more I missed.

    I’m dreading the announcement of VAT increment.

  3. London Calling!

    O/T – The National Death Service in Hungary (Motto “If you must be ill – die quick” – yes I know it’s bad English but it’s that Google translation again.) will run out of drugs in September.

    Matolcsy’s ploy of reducing the drug budget to squeeze into the 3% deficit of GDP EU rule has backfired – making the drugs even more difficult to obtain.

    It is just shear callousness to cut the bill without having a proper medical strategy and knowing the drug budget will run out – only the ill and weak will suffer – he must have known that?

    Already drugs are rationed simply by the pharmacists not stocking them – so now they will become even harder to get.

    As the motto suggests – don’t ever be ill in Hungary – but if you are die quick!

    http://www.realdeal.hu/20120827/hungary-public-health-fund-faces-huf-70-billion-drug-budget-hole/

    Regards

    Charlie

  4. “As the motto suggests – don’t ever be ill in Hungary – but if you are die quick!”

    Another solution: If you’re intend to avoid all the trouble being ill and miserable, die while you’re young and healthy!

  5. Paul: “he comes across as very at ease and self-assured. He is, after all, not only doing very well indeed personally in Orbánisztán, but he is very happy to be on the winning side and see his hero in charge of the country and his enemies crushed.”

    Currently this behaviour means a stabilisation of Orbanisztan but from what you write he will be happy to change sides when necessary (as many other people, too). We could ask here on the blog how many people who have experienced communism before 1989 know how opportunism looks like. You may not like it, and it does stabilise whatever type of system the ruling people install. But you need not worry either that these people would not know when and how to change their minds and actions. I assume that many people who now “support” or tolerate Orban do not believe in everything he does or says beyond the instantaneous gain that this may have (at work, in social life etc.). For those people who do suffer in Orbanisztan and who are insulted and stigmatised, this is a poor consolation, no doubt.

  6. Kirsten: “But you need not worry either that these people would not know when and how to change their minds and actions.”

    But what if these people are totally apathetic, ignorant, disorganised, gullible?

  7. Minusio, if they are apathetic, they also do not emphatically support Orban currently. I referred specifically to what Paul wrote and he did not describe a person that is apathetic. He spoke of a person that is quite successful currently and who repeats whatever is currently in fashion. Perhaps he should be reminded that currently Germany would make a poor ally for Hungary in the quest for “revisions” (at least this is what I hope :-) ), so what the gain is in learning German instead of English is open to me.

  8. And another point: with people who are “totally apathetic, ignorant, disorganised, gullible” it would be difficult in any country to establish a stable democracy. People must want participation.

  9. Having a closer look at the photograph, the interviewer does not appear to be too convinced of Viktor Orban either…

  10. Looking at that picture of Orbán reminds me of that old joke that my wife told me (for those new here, she’s Hungarian):

    How do you recognise a “Tiszta Magyar” (i e real Hungarian) :

    Answer:

    It’s easier to jump over him than to walk around him …

  11. Kristen, the problem is not whether or not the people believes to Mr.Orban, the real question is to whom to believe to.
    At the moment there is no convincing alternative, whatsoever, and this is the real problem in Hungary.
    Everyone in their right mind knows, that this isn’t what they wanted – but what other possibilities are there, if I may ask?

  12. Kirsten: You are quite right, support for Orbán is dropping rapidly. Still, he won’t lose any election as long as he so chooses.

    Paul’s brother-in-law seems to me to be just another case in point: newly-rich (or at least well to do) people with no humanistic education and no civic conscience or culture make up the present Hungarian middle class.

    Germany will not support any revisionism, I’m sure. To learn German instead of English may have the advantage of getting a job more easily, as the German economy seems to be in much better shape than that of the UK. But as a general idea, I’d still advise to learn Latin and ancient Greek first. And then go to the UK, the US or Germany or China to learn a modern language.

  13. spectator, I understand that there is no convincing alternative at the moment. But politicians in democracies are not born as such but are “recruted” from the public. The “other possibility” then consists in that people who want change make up their minds about their interests and possible programmes, do not shy away from public office and the many conflicts that it necessarily brings about (in particular as resistance from the beneficiaries of the current situation will be generally strong and hidden in some cases) and become politicians. Not at all simple or straightforward. But on a positive note, you may not find the current state of the opposition convincing, but I appreciate that a number of new organisations have been established in the past two years, so that there are people out there who do what I consider to be the way out of this misery. But it needs dedication and endurance.

  14. Kirsten :

    Having a closer look at the photograph, the interviewer does not appear to be too convinced of Viktor Orban either…

    I think you are right. And keep in mind that he is a reporter from Heti Válasz.

  15. wolfi :

    Looking at that picture of Orbán reminds me of that old joke that my wife told me (for those new here, she’s Hungarian):

    How do you recognise a “Tiszta Magyar” (i e real Hungarian) :

    Answer:

    It’s easier to jump over him than to walk around him …

    I remember so well all the jokes about fat Americans. Hungarians are “converging” with great gusto.

  16. Orbánra nagyon ráférne egy elmeszakorvosi segítség. Nagyon zavarodott amit mond és ahogyan mondja !!!!!

  17. spectator :
    Kristen, the problem is not whether or not the people believes to Mr.Orban, the real question is to whom to believe to.
    At the moment there is no convincing alternative, whatsoever, and this is the real problem in Hungary.
    Everyone in their right mind knows, that this isn’t what they wanted – but what other possibilities are there, if I may ask?

    Don’t be silly. One of the most eligible, proven, political commodity in Europe is BAJNAI.
    And forget all the silly goose stuff: everyone made his ‘bones’ back in the heyday
    of regime change. Bajnai is celebrated and decorated, all over Europe. It’s only in Hungary
    that Orban and Fidesz have managed somehow to blacken his name.

  18. Kirsten :
    And another point: with people who are “totally apathetic, ignorant, disorganised, gullible” it would be difficult in any country to establish a stable democracy. People must want participation.

    The kind of participation that the run of the mill Hungarian wants is to listen, wide-eyed,
    to the rousing nonsense of his nationalistic leader. They want to yell and cheer. Rebecca West writing in the 1930s (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon) talked of the intelligent table-talk of the Croats as opposed to the flighty-headed nonsense talked about in Budapest. Nothing
    has changed. Hungary–a prepubescent society forever stuck in wailing childhood-

  19. Petofi: “They want to yell and cheer.”

    Really? Certainly there are some who yell and cheer but I think the majority is watching the madman at work in either increasing despair or unchanged vague hope.

    I read with interest that you expect “intelligent table talk” in Croatia, while I had the impression that the topics so relevant currently to Fidesz and its followers are quite similar to those high on the agenda of Tudjman and his followers a decade or so ago, and certainly not forgotten by now.

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