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A slight change in Fidesz’s popularity?

October 31, 2010 8 comments

I know that all the national polls show that the government party is holding onto its enormous lead and Tárki, for example, even showed a slight increase in Fidesz's popularity. However, we must keep in mind that the two most recent opinions polls (Tárki and Nézőpont) were taken before the bombshell about the "nationalization" of funds that had been accumulating over the last twelve years in private social security accounts. Also, they were taken before the government's attack on the constitutional court. This morning I noticed what might be a slight, very slight change.

In a surprising number of villages and towns the elections had to be repeated. Most likely because in certain places where Fidesz didn't win or lost by only a small number of votes the election committees allowed a do-over. These elections took place yesterday. In some places the results are not at all revealing because one independent candidate won against another independent candidate. But there are a few places where the results are very interesting.

Let me start with the town of Heves (pop. 11,000). Here the former mayor, Zsigmond Csáki, won. Csáki had been a member of Fidesz but in 2008 he made the mistake of privatizing the local walk-in clinic. Fidesz at that point was dead against any health facility being in private hands and expelled him. Csáki must have been a loyal party member because he even appealed the decision, to no avail. On October 3, Csáki, by now an independent candidate, won the election by only 46 votes over the Fidesz-KDNP candidate Dóra Demeter (Mrs. Korsós). According to the elections committee there might have been illegal influencing of the voters in voting district #9. Surely on behalf of Csáki. It was not a good idea for Fidesz to contest the results because out of 352 votes Csáki won 297, while Mrs. Korsós only 28! That's quite a slap in the face. Thus instead of the original margin of 46 votes Csáki now won by 211 in the town of Heves!

The other contested voting district (number 5) was in district XIX in Budapest. Here on October 3 the MSZP candidate, Krisztián Kránitz, won by only four votes (732 to 728) for a seat on the district council. That's called a tight race, and I am not at all surprised that it had to be repeated. So, it was! The final result: Kránitz received 783 votes against the Fidesz candidate, Gabriella Dódity, who got 566 votes. While only four weeks ago the difference between the two was 4 votes, now it is 217! Perhaps it is indicative of a change of mood in the capital.

The third place where Fidesz lost against an independent candidate at the repeated elections is Ópályi, a larger village of 3,000 people. Out of the 2,231 eligible voters 1,198 voted the second time around and the independent Miklós Erdélyi won by 596 votes against Mrs. Csaba Tárkányi (Fidesz) with 544 votes.

And finally there is a fourth place where an independent won against the Fidesz candidate: Gégény (pop. 2,000). The candidates this year were all newcomers. At the last local election the mayor as well as the members of the town council were all registered as independent, but the independent mayor was fiercely attacked by kuruc.info, a far-right internet site, as a "wholly committed communist." I assume that was one reason Fidesz decided to have its own man run, but the party was somewhat careless because they put up a man who had been a member of the police force during the course of the last three years. According to a new law introduced by Fidesz that was cause to deprive a person from running for public office. Thus, when this mistake was discovered new elections had to be held.

The independent newcomer, Ildikó Zakor, won over Csaba Menyhért representing Fidesz-KDNP. And her lead was substantial. Out of the 840 votes she received 548 while Menyhért got only 292. Compare that to the members of the town council elected on the basis of the results from October 3: four people from Fidesz-KDNP and only two independent members.

The Budapest results seem especially dramatic to me. It will be interesting to see what next month's opinion polls will tell us about possible shifting party preferences.

 

Here is the long-awaited Hungarian budget

October 30, 2010 31 comments

The 2011 budget is being described by György Matolcsy as "ambitious but realistic" and by Christoph Rosenberg, head of the visiting IMF delegation, as "bold and risky." This "bold and risky" resonated all over the Hungarian media without people really knowing what is actually meant by it. The first meaning of "bold" is "courageous, confident, and fearless; ready to take risks." Here, I have the feeling, Rosenberg probably intended both "fearless" and "ready to take risks," while adding to to this adjective a reference to the risks that are real. The Hungarian translation of "bold" as "bátor" is somewhat misleading because it simply means "courageous" and thus sounds almost positive. Oh, yes, the intricacies of translating from one language to another.

The budget satisfies the European Union's requirements. If all goes well, the deficit will be 2.94% of the gross domestic product, down from 3.8% this year. The budget envisages a 3% economic growth and and an inflation rate of 3.5%. At this point it is worth pausing because analysts of late, both in Hungary and abroad, keep lowering their estimates for economic growth for next year. First from 3% to 2.5% and lately even to 2%. The same kind of pessimism surrounds the estimated growth for the rest of 2010. Of course, economic forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, so it's impossible to choose sides.

Matolcsy claims that this budget will ensure economic growth, create new jobs, and assist families' willingness to have more children. It actively supports the Hungarian business community. There is no sign of any structural changes that might upset some segments of Hungarian society, but it freezes the state's nominal expense for wages and will cut 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in the close to 700,000 public-sector jobs.

It seems to me that in the 2011 budget the "nationalization" of private pension funds plays a crucial role. Not only that the state will not pass on 14 months' worth of social security payments of about 3 million wage earners to their private plans; it is also hoping that by cajoling most of the people into quitting the private funds and moving over with their hitherto accumulated savings the government will have a gift from heaven of about 2.7 trillion forints. That is, assuming that 90% of the people decide in favor of the state-run social security system. There are serious drawbacks to transferring one's accumulated savings to the government plan. First, individual savings will be thrown into a common pot and in the future these savings will not grow as in the private pension funds. Second, the accumulated savings in the private funds are inheritable upon the death of the investor. Not so once funds are transferred to the government system. All in all, it doesn't strike me as a good deal, and in fact MSZP is urging people not to give up their private funds. However, my feeling is that such intense pressure will be put on the funds and such stories will circulate about the speculators who handle these people's money (shades of Lehman have already been invoked) that it is possible that the private funds will simply die a quiet or not so quiet death.

What is the government planning to do with this incredible amount of money? Apparently 540 billion will go to the state retirement fund which is in the red at the moment. The rest of the portfolios will be used to lower Hungary's debt level which as we know is the highest in the region. The IMF is not crazy about this rather unorthodox way of raising money. After all, it is stealing. There is no other word for it. On October 25, the IMF released a statement on the subject: "This measure would constitute a significant step back in the pension reform process initiated in the late 1990s, which has contributed to making Hungary's pension system one of the most sustainable in Europe."

The IMF has other criticisms of the Orbán government's economic plans for the future. According to the IMF Hungary is overestimating the effect of income tax cuts on growth because their impact is "highly uncertain." Rosenberg also made it clear that while the budget does address a long-standing issue, that is the deficit, the problem is that while it may work for 2011 no one knows what will happen in the years following. Because these extra taxes on the financial sector and the multinationals and the windfall in the form of the savings of little guys will take care of things this year, but what will happen once these sources of income dry up? This is what Ferenc Gyurcsány was talking about in his blog a few days ago.

Magdalena Polan of Goldman Sachs in London is in line with the IMF's assesssment: "fiscal adjustment based on one-off taxes is ultimately unsustainable and potentially negative for growth." In any case we will see in the next few weeks what the markets, not the analysts, will say after familiarizing themselves with Mr. Matolcsy's budget.

The budget is very lopsided. It is heavy on the income side and shows almost no reduction on the expense side. The structure of the budget is almost identical to that of last year. Sixty-one percent of the budget goes to social services. More money will be given to education and to health care but without any structural changes. The same bad structure remains, although there are some signs that the government may tackle the reform of education, including a serious reorganization of higher education, next year, but that will have no effect on next year's budget. Although there has been a lot of talk in the past about the amount of money which is spent on running the state, it seems that even with the firing of 25,000-30,000 people, running the bureaucracy will be even more expensive this year than last: slightly more than 2 trillion forints (14.7% of the budget) as opposed to 1.88 trillion last year.

And finally, let's return briefly to the constitutional court. I noted two days ago that it is unlikely that Viktor Orbán would risk such a confrontation with the constitutional court for the sake of getting a few billion forints from people who received outsized severance packages. I mentioned that I heard a fellow thinking aloud that perhaps the cost of firing thousands and thousands of civil servants is the real cause for this frontal attack on the court. By now there seems to be a consensus among constitutional lawyers and political analysts that the stake is actually much higher than that. If the constitutional court unanimously considered this piece of legislation unconstitutional, then most likely it would rule the same way about depriving people of fourteen months of their savings as well. Moreover, it is also possible that they would rule the same way about the extra taxes, which are also retroactive and unexpected. In this case, the whole financial edifice of the Orbán government would be down the drain. That's why there came the message from Orbán, who happened to be in Brussels yesterday, that the bill proposed by János Lázár depriving the constitutional court of its jurisdiction over matters on which no referendum can be held will not be withdrawn. Since then Mihály Varga suggested a further reduction of the powers of the court: they shouldn't be able to rule on pieces of legislation that require a two-thirds majority.

Yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány wrote an open letter to László Sólyom saying that if he was such a zealous guardian of the constitution when he [Gyurcsány] was prime minister, why doesn't he raise his voice now? Sólyom did. He asked for a meeting with his successor. They talked. And a few hours later Pál Schmitt gave a brief speech on MTV: the "defender of the constitution" stood by his party.

Birthing at home in Hungary

October 29, 2010 19 comments

Already in the first half of the twentieth century women who lived in cities gave birth in hospitals, although I assume most country folk still had their children at home with the help of a midwife. Today I would say almost every child is born in a hospital. No longer can one find some tiny little village noted as the birthplace on birth certificates. Not long ago a relatively small town was about to lose its hospital, and the most serious concern of the locals was that the children of the town would have a different birthplace recorded on their birth certificates. In any case, if the statistics that appear nowadays in the papers about home birthing are correct, their number is minuscule: 500-600 a year.

The apostle of home birthing is Ágnes Geréb, a gynecologist with seventeen years of experience. I understand that she was also the one who introduced the practice of husbands being present at the moment of their children's birth. Then Geréb started a movement that advocated the thesis that giving birth is not an illness with which one must go to a hospital but a natural part of life. And if there is monitoring of the pregnancy and there is expert help after a normal pregnancy, birth could be easily accomplished at home.

Apparently, the Hungarian hospitals' inhospitable surroundings gave the impetus to Geréb's movement. The care given in many cases is inadequate. The doctor who is supposed to be present at birth doesn't want to get up in the middle of the night or over the weekend and therefore he simply induces birth at a time that's convenient for him. In addition, it is a well known fact that obstetricians are perhaps the richest segment of the medical profession. Although gynecological services, including the birth of the child, are covered by medical insurance, there is a "fee" that is expected by the doctors. I'm not sure what the going rate is, but not long ago I heard about 150,000 Ft., that is, about $750.00. And, naturally, the doctors don't pay taxes on money earned this way. If a gynecologist has no more than 20 births a month he will receive 3 million forints tax free. Not bad. Thus the mostly male gynecologists are dead set against letting women give birth at home with the help of a well trained midwife. I'm not familiar with the education of Hungarian midwives, but in the United States it is a two-year program after a four-year-long bachelor's program.

A veritable witchhunt began against Ágnes Geréb that reached its pinnacle in 2007 when she was briefly arrested and charged with negligence resulting in the death of one of the babies. In the usual way of the Hungarian courts it is only now, three years later, that the case reached the court. By that time Geréb was in jail in connection with another case. On October 6 the police arrested her because a baby had to be revived after a difficult birth outside of the hospital. I quite intentionally didn't describe this incident as a home birthing because the birth didn't take place in the young couple's home but in a house owned by Ágnes Geréb where she normally gives lectures. The house also has facilities for giving birth in a family type of setting.

The birth occurred unexpectedly during a lecture. As we know, such things can happen. Who hasn't heard of babies born in a taxi on the way to the hospital? Or, one of my favorite stories about star doctors is the following. During the war the Dutch royal couple received shelter in Ottawa, Canada, where the queen's last child was born. The attending physician, after being chosen by the queen, became a much sought after gynecologist in town. An acquaintance of mine who had already had two children was his patient and after two children she had a pretty good idea of when the baby was coming. So she phoned the famous doctor who announced that it wasn't time yet and that was that. Eventually the baby was delivered with the help of the next door neighbor in the living room on the sofa! She still had to pay the doctor, though!

Well, something like that happened in this case too. The baby came too early–the details are not known–but the baby was in bad shape. They called an ambulance and they managed to revive the child. The next morning Geréb and three other people who were assisting were arrested. As far as I know, she is still in jail.

Meanwhile she had to appear in court because of her case from 2007. She was in handcuffs at the end of which dangled a chain at least a four-five feet long. A policeman held the end of the chain while the poor accused was led into the courtroom as if she were a dog. On the other hand, one can hear of real criminals who were allowed to leave the courtroom and who simply walked out of the building.They didn't stop until they reached Spain!

At the trial all the experts blamed her for the death of the newborn in 2007. I read the allegations about the administration of oxytocin and of course I don't understand all the details. In fact, I'm rather proud of myself for even knowing about oxytocin and what it is used for. One of the experts admitted that giving birth at home is legal but "the profession doesn't recommend it." Another expert claimed that birth at home is okay but only if a gynecologist is present. So the experts themselves cannot agree on the recommended action. Now the new government is promising definitive legislation on the question. Knowing Hungarian lawmakers' way of thinking, the legislation most likely will be quite complicated and thus will make giving birth outside of a hospital very difficult.

As for the accidents that occurred in Ágnes Geréb's practice, her defenders recall that she has delivered more than 3,500 babies and there were only a couple of problems. People on her side rightly point out that problems occur in hospitals as well and there are also babies born dead or mothers who die in childbirth. Their doctors are naturally not led in chains to jail. Recently there was a rather suspicious case. A young woman, six and a half months pregnant, complained of severe abdominal pain. The doctor gave her a painkiller and sent her home. She was dead within twenty-four hours. She had a severe abdominal infection.

I don't know what will happen to Ágnes Geréb but I'm not too optimistic. The doctor lobby is very powerful, and I assume that the judge is baffled by the differing expert opinions. We know that the association of gynecologists will fight very hard to keep birthing within the walls of the hospitals. It certainly is in their interest. 

 

Some background and the Constitutional Court’s statement

October 28, 2010 73 comments

The day after the news broke that János Lázár decided to disregard the thumbs-down decision of the constitutional court re the whopping 92% tax levied on amounts over two million forints received as either severence pay or as a retirement package Zsófia Mihancsik, a liberal journalist and editor-in-chief of Galamus, was taken aback that the constitutional court was silent. Most of the time I agree with Zsófia Mihancsik whom I consider one of the most democratically minded, talented and brave journalists in Hungary, but this time I thought that the constitutional court made the right decision. It is better to wait and see what the reaction is. Moreover, although I can't peer into the heads of the judges, somehow I don't think that they expected such a reaction from the government. So, they had to sit down and calmly assess the situation and only then come out with a dignified and well thought out statement. I think they managed to do that.

Before I translate part of the court's statement, let me say a few things about what we are learning about the background of the government's decision. According to some analysts the idea of the 92% surtax was hatched sometime during the summer. At roughly the same time Lajos Kósa–who by the way talks too much although not always in a coherent fashion–said something about temporary constitutional restraints concerning the economy. Some people consider that a sign that there were talks about coming up with such a tax and that the legally trained Fidesz leaders already knew that it would not float in the constitutional court. Hence the Kósa's reference to constitutional restraints on economic issues.

Yesterday Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman Péter Szijjártó tried to make a big deal out of this issue even though there were relatively few people who received substantial benefit packages. Why risk a confrontation with the constitutional court over a rather small amount of money which could easily be handled through the courts on an individual basis? This morning I heard an explanation that sounded logical to me. The Orbán government is planning to fire about 5% of the civil servants. Here the amount of money the government would have to pay by way of compensation would be considerable. They already took one step to reduce the rights of workers. Earlier a civil servant couldn't be let go without reason, but in the first days of the Orbán administration a law was passed that now allows the firing of civil servants without any justification and with only two months' notice. However, these people may be entitled to fairly large severance packages, and when we are talking about thousands and thousands of people the amount the government would have to dole out would be significant. Most likely that's why the government is so desperate to have this legislation passed that it is even willing to have a huge fight with the constitutional court.

As for who knew and who didn't know about the decision. Origo, the Internet paper, has very good connections with high-level Fidesz politicians who are ready to talk. Its journalists seem to know that the Fidesz answer to the constitutional court was Orbán's decision and most likely it was not discussed with too many people. We already know from Péter Harrach (KDNP) that he as head of the Christian Democratic caucus was not consulted. The Christian Democratic chief and deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjén, also knew nothing about it. Since then in fact Harrach expressed his hope that the bill that was deemed unconstitutional can be modified.

But it seems that even Tibor Navracsics, the more important deputy prime minister of the two, wasn't privy to the decision. According to Origo's informant, Navracsics doesn't like "solutions that can be assailed on constitutional grounds." According to another informant who is a member of the party's top decision-making body, the presidium, there is the likelihood that they will change the bill in such a way that it may pass muster with the constitutional court the second time around.

Meanwhile the opposition is organizing but in typical fashion they cannot put aside their differences. András Schiffer, the leader of the parliamentary delegation of LMP, in an interview with Olga Kálmán that is already available in transcription verbally abused Ferenc Gyurcsány. I understand that László Sólyom had an aversion to Gyurcsány and that András Schiffer has a very close relationship with the former president, but sometimes it's prudent to follow the proverb that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, the upshot of it is that LMP refuses to march together with the Hungarian Democratic Charta and Gyurcsány's new Democratic Coalition. They will march alone. I don't want to be a Cassandra but the last time LMP refused to cooperate with MSZP at the Budapest local elections LMP did very poorly. They lost about half of their voters. As it stands now the Democratic Charta will demonstrate on November 2 at 5 p.m. in front of the statue of Imre Nagy. As far as I know Gyurcsány will be one of the speakers. MSZP leaders will also attend, but the party has more grandiose goals and is planning a nationwide demonstration for November 27.

And now, at last, is the constitutional court's statement. András Sereg, the head of the press department of the court, stated that "the preservation of the unaltered legal competence of the Constitutional Court is the guarantee of the Hungarian constitutional order. The Hungarian court's practice of constitutional control of legislation agrees fully with that of other European constitutional courts. There are two requirements the court must keep in mind. The control must be applied to all pieces of legislation equally and those it deems unconstitutional are declared null and void."

As for changing the competence of the court, the institution "would like to call the attention of the government to the fact that the legislative body must consider the possibility of control emanating from the Court of the European Union and the Court of Human Rights on issues that it now wants to take away from the Constitutional Court." This is a court where the great majority of the judges is not antagonistic to Fidesz. To the contrary. Therefore I wouldn't advise Viktor Orbán to antagonize them. It would be bad strategy.

Who is surprised and who is not?

October 27, 2010 26 comments

I watch with great interest the reactions of the readers of this blog. Most of you claim that you were not at all surprised by Fidesz's answer to the constitutional court yesterday. Most of you say that this is exactly what you expected from Viktor Orbán and his team all along.

Anyone who read József Debreczeni's volume (Arcmás, 2009) cannot really be surprised. In 450 pages Debreczeni meticulously collected all of Viktor Orbán's specific references that lead in this direction. Debreczeni's conclusion was that if Orbán manages to receive a two-thirds majority in parliament, Hungarians can say goodbye to democracy. Because, says Debreczeni, Orbán's plan is to introduce an authoritarian regime with the mere veneer of democracy.

In one of his articles Debreczeni actually claims that Orbán's ideas closely resemble those propagated by Gyula Gömbös, prime minister of Hungary between 1932 and 1936, who if he hadn't died suddenly and if the governor, Miklós Horthy, didn't have as much power as he had to stop him, would have introduced a fascist regime. Or, considering that he was also an anti-semite, perhaps his regime eventually would have resembled that of Adolf Hitler.

In a way I wasn't surprised about the systematic weakening of the democratic institutions, but I didn't anticipate that the changes would be introduced so fast. As for Orbán's answer yesterday to the constitutional court, I was surprised only at the crudity of the action. And as for Debreczeni's book, most people even in liberal circles thought that he was exaggerating. I wasn't among them because I took Orbán's words at face value and in his speeches of the last eight years there was plenty to indicate what his plans for the future were.

Where the real surprise lies, I think, is in the reaction in right-wing circles. Even among leading politicians of Fidesz and I assume among the right-wing intellectuals who have been faithful supporters of the party. And it seems among some right-wing journalists. I must say that I was surprised at Matild Torkos who wrote today's editorial in Magyar Nemzet. Torkos somewhat naively supposes that the Fidesz legislators didn't realize the unconstitutionality of the bill they voted for. Torkos adds that there are enough Fidesz politicians with law degrees who should have warned their colleagues. Of course, Torkos is either naive or pretends naivete. It is fairly clear to me that the Fidesz leadership knew all along that this piece of legislation was unconstitutional and prepared their answer to the court's reaction way ahead of time. In any case, Torkos considers the Orbán-Lázár reaction an attack on democracy. She finishes her article by saying that "democracy is a cumbersome thing" which we have to get used to.

The other newspaperman on the right, András Stumpf of Heti Válasz, uses stronger words. His editorial is entitled "Unconstitutional Republic." Stumpf recalls in the article that yesterday afternoon at 3:00 he received a request from his editor to write a short piece on the decision of the constitutional court. He wrote it, ending on the optimistic note that there is no need to worry since even with the Fidesz appointees Mihály Bihari and István Stumpf, the court came to the right conclusion. So there is no problem here with checks and balances.

A few minutes after Stumpf finished the piece his editor phoned him again, saying that the article is excellent but it is out of date. János Lázár had made the announcement that they will change the constitution and that they will vote again on the bill in its unaltered form. Stumpf was infuriated. Suddenly he realized that with the two-thirds majority Orbán and his friends can do anything they feel like. Suddenly it dawned on him that after all there are no checks and balances anymore. If Orbán has the sorcerer's stone there is no need even for elections. But then, he tried to reassure himself: "Of course there will be elections. But what if Fidesz doesn't win them and let's say Gyurcsány comes back. Then there will be no control over him and retroactively he can do whatever he wants. That would be great, wouldn't it?" Otherwise, Stumpf  hails the government's decisions made until now and adds only that it would be unfortunate to ruin the government's excellent record with this and similar moves.

But even Fidesz and Christian Democratic politicians' reactions were interesting. Yesterday Péter Harrach, leader of the Christian Democratic caucus, was the guest of Egyenes beszéd and his face spoke a thousand words. He is not the kind of man who is at a loss for words, but he was very visibly uncomfortable. First, it turned out that the decision to fly in the face of the court's decision was not discussed with the Christian Democrats. Harrach tried to cover up his disappointment or perhaps even ire and pointed out that the head of the party, Zsolt Semjén, was abroad. One had the feeling that the move surprised him too and that deep down he disapproves of it.

Then this morning Gergely Gulyás, the new young star of Fidesz, was the guest on ATV's Jam. This is a fellow who came out of nowhere and was immediately thrown into very important positions. Chairman of the committee that is investigating the disturbances and Gyurcsány's "guilt" as well as vice-chairman of the committee whose job it is to come up with the text of a new constitution. As soon as I saw Gulyás I predicted a great career for him in Fidesz. He is the quintessential young Fidesz man. A smooth guy with a law degree who sounds very convincing and who can twist the truth like nobody's business. Well, even he was in a difficult position because he knows enough law to realize that what Fidesz did yesterday is unacceptable in a constitutional state. This was the first time I saw Gulyás somewhat rattled.

Yes, these are the ones who are really surprised, and I wonder what will happen within the party as a result of this very unfortunate move. Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and András Schiff of LMP gave a joint press conference. Both parties decided to quit the parliamentary committee charged with drafting the new constitution. It is also almost certain that the opposition's attitude will be a great deal less cooperative after János Lázár's announcement. I think Orbán made a big mistake with consequences that we can't even imagine in full. Unless of course they will change their minds and alter the bill somewhat so that it might be accepted by the judges.

On the road to dictatorship

October 26, 2010 30 comments

Although I promised Open Dog that I would give some details about Ferenc Gyurcsány's student days in Pécs, life intervened. Today Hungary witnessed perhaps the greatest attack on a democratic country's constitutional order. Democratically minded people are in total shock. They still can't quite believe what happened during the course of the day.

This morning at 11:30 a.m. MTI reported the unanimous decision of the constitutional court: the 98% retroactive extra tax on any income over two million forints received either as a retirement package or as severence pay was deemed unconstitutional. This newly adopted law was of course applicable only at publicly financed institutions. Trade unions rightly pointed out that this new law might affect people who after forty years as lowly paid teachers would be deprived of their retirement package. Therefore several individuals and institutions asked the constitutional court to review this new law. Most likely the government also had its doubts concerning the constitutionality of this piece of legislation because it waited until László Sólyom was out of the way. Pál Schmitt, the handpicked patsy, signed it on his very first day in office.

My first reaction after hearing the decision of the court was total astonishment and joy. I was very worried that even the constitutional court would be nothing more than an instrument of a government with few democratic impulses. Yet here it was, a unanimous decision. Even Orbán's old friend István Stumpf considered this law unconstitutional. So, I reasoned, there is hope. The courts will stop Orbán's dictatorial steps and will put an end to this madness.

My relief was short-lived. At 2.30 p.m. came the news that János Lázár, the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, announced that he is seeking a change in the constitution so that the constitutional court would be barred from rendering decisions on any subject on which a plebiscite cannot be held. Since no referendum can be held on topics that in any way have an effect on the budget, it is clear that the constitutional court, after the proposed constitutional change, will not have the right to make decisions such as they just made concerning the 98% extra tax. And, he added, at the same time they will pass the "unconstitutional" law in an unaltered form. The constitutional court can hang itself. Who are they to say no to the two-thirds revolution of Fidesz? Their decision only meant to Orbán and his friends "that the old constitution is unable to give proper answers to the problems of the people."

It seems that the constitutional court itself was in a revolutionary mood because two hours after Lázár's threat to narrow its competence it handed down another decision which was a direct assault against one of the pieces of legislation enacted by the Fidesz parliament. To give a brief background. There is an institution called Gazdasági Versenyhivatal that is the watchdog over fair economic competition in the world of business. It has a chairman and two vice chairmen who are appointed for six-year terms at different times. Orbán, who likes to have his own men in every post, was relieved to learn that the chairman's six-year term would be up within a few months. But, how annoying, the two vice-chairmen still had years to go. Ah, but only a minor annoyance. Parliament passed a piece of legislation to change the law so that with the expiration of the chairman's term the terms of the two vice-chairmen would also come to an end. That law was suspect to László Sólyom, who sent it on to the constitutional court for constitutional "control." And the court today agreed with Sólyom.

Meanwhile the opposition was stunned. It was LMP that first reacted rather forcefully. A couple of hours after Lázár's announcement that they would change the constitution to narrow the competence of the constitutional court András Schiffer, the head of LMP's parliamentary delegation, announced that "Fidesz today declared war on constitutional democracy" and the government party "crossed the Rubicon." According to him Fidesz's methods "must be the envy even of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan." Therefore, LMP will no longer be represented on the parliamentary committee that was established to work out the new constitution.

Let's stop here and backtrack a bit. I haven't had time to report on Ferenc Gyurcsány's political activities of late. He decided that it was time to get involved in politics again. It seems that he would like to reorganize MSZP not just structurally but also ideologically. He thinks that MSZP must open itself toward the center and that it should collect either as party members or sympathizers people who have not been MSZP voters in the past.

MSZP is made up of different "platforms." These platforms, there are six or seven of them, seem to be conglomerations of like-minded people. Gyurcsány decided to set up a new platform called Demokratikus Koalíció which is different from the others in the sense that one doesn't need to be a party member to join. He was recruiting only on the Internet and within two weeks or so the new platform gained more than 3,000 members. Just to give an idea of what that means: all the other platforms have no more than 100-200 members each. Last week the platform had its first meeting: close to 1,000 people showed up in a tent set up in Szent István Park.

Gyurcsány at this meeting to enthusiastic cheers suggested that MSZP shouldn't take part in the constitutional committee's work because by being there it associates itself with the future constitution which in no way will reflect any of the ideas held dear by the party.

Last night on the Újságíró Klub, a weekly political program of four journalists discussing the events of the past week, the question of MSZP's participation came up. Led by János Avar, the consensus was that MSZP shouldn't boycott the work of the constitutional committee. Avar, who is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány, pretty well accused him of trying to sow dissension within the party which at present would be a suicidal move. There should be no criticism levelled against the leadership from within.

Well, what do you think happened after LMP announced its withdrawal from the committee? Naturally, MSZP followed suit. But what else could they have done? It would have been better if they had made this decision on their own, but now they really couldn't do anything else. They would have been better off listening to Gyurcsány.

And finally, Gyurcsány called for a joint demonstration of all democrats in defense of the constitutional court. LMP's answer? They won't demonstrate together with Gyurcsány and MSZP. They will hold a separate demonstration. I understand their reasoning, but there is strength in numbers. This is a case in which the future of Hungarian democracy might trump party politics.

 

The Origo readers’ comments on Viktor Orbán’s speech

October 25, 2010 41 comments

Our Fidesz friends complained that I don't show the happy side of life in Hungary. My first reaction was that in the Rákosi and Kádár periods it was a pleasure to open Szabad Nép or Népszabadság. We saw happy collective farm workers harvesting the wheat or the corn that was naturally bounteous. More abundant than last year, more than ever. Workers were proudly showing their factories and the fabulous items they produced. The papers were full of good news.

I'm sorry that I cannot provide similar heartwarming stories for you, but I will try to cheer you up with some good Hungarian political humor that in the last twenty years had faded. It was necessary for Viktor Orbán to return for Hungarian political jokes to reappear.

As I mentioned yesterday, I collected a number of comments that were written in connection with a summary of Viktor Orbán's speech on October 23, 2010. There were very few positive comments, which surprised me because normally right-wing comments are more numerous because it seems that Fidesz and Jobbik supporters are more active on the Internet. However, here are a few I particularly liked.

********

 

(1) Hmmm….. among the blind a half-witted caesar.

(2) Thanks, but I don't want this new century led by Orbán! What does this mini-dictator think?

(3) We have a huge problem on our hands. The socialists' running amuck gave birth to a very sick-minded evil little twerp. Anyone who now thinks that this is a good way to go is wrong. The truth when it comes out will hurt. And the saddest thing is that there is no one who could take his place and do something for us Hungarians.

(4) I used to think that Orbán is a serious politician but watching this speech I am totally disillusioned. It's true that I live in Transylvania and I learn about Hungary only through television and the radio, but I'm not so stupid that I would believe that there had been a revolution since 56 and it came to an end now that two-thirds of the country voted for them. That is a pitiful story. A politician shouldn't utter such a stupidity.

(5) His style of speaking reminds me of someone … I believe his first name was Adolf. He also had a sick mind, and unfortunately this one also.

(6) It is disgusting as "Mr." Viktor Orbán speaks of 56 while he is working very hard for the restoration of the Kádár regime.

(7) Orbán was still wearing diapers when we fought in 56 [sic. He was born in 1963.] The candles were burning on graves on public squares. He lived 12, 15, 17 years. How does he dare to compare himelf to these people? Or his "revolution" to 56. Who and what is he imaging himself to be? That offspring of a party secretary.

(8) Thanks for the extra 1,000 forints that the new tax cuts leave in my pocket. I have three children. My takehome pay is 105,000 a month. Thank you for your drastic tax cut. But I was naive in expecting anything from these people. During his first reign they did the same thing.

(9) He should drop dead along with his many followers. They are no better than the former government. If someone ever saw a pre-war newsreel on which a man whose name starts with H was talking, that person certainly can see the similarities.

(10) Well, thinking it through there has been no communism yet in this century but we are on the right track.

(11) Dear Viktor Orbán, you shouldn't be building the new century of Fidesz but that of Hungary. Half of what you have done until now is propaganda, the other half has caused more harm than good.

(12) Why is Viktor Orbán is screaming his head off???? [mint egy fába szorult féreg]

(13) Why did Hitler scream? Why did Mussolini scream? Why did Rákosi scream? Why did they? Now Orbán is SCREAMING! Why? Why?

(14) Because he is a REVOLUTIONARY, brave FIGHTER, NATIONAL HERO?!

(15) I feel nauseated. Phooye!!!!!!!!!

(16) He should calm down even if with the help of doctors.

(17) I have never seen seen a more conceited, puffed up man in my life although I'm not exactly young anymore. Many of my misled compatriots, why were you so blind? This scoundrel continues where he left off in 2002. In 1999 his mouth was watering for the money in the private pension funds but then he didn't have a two-thirds majority. Now he has which means that what he couldn't steal then he will steal now. I hope by now it is clear to everybody that the disturbances, demonstrators of the last eight years were not spontaneous "initiatives of the people." The whole thing was organized by Fidesz and KDNP.

(18) Men! We are in big trouble. This ranting of a demagogue, this posturing is on the one hand pitiful while on the other frightening.

(19) Viktor Orbán would like to be a towering figure in history. He will be but the most arrogant, most presumptuous figure who was able to lead a whole country by its nose. The personal cult he created can be compared only to the worst years of communism. Isn't it interesting that no one disturbed his speech? Why not? Because there were no paid people who were supposed to incite the crowd.

(20) AWAKE!!!!!! While it is not too late….

——–

I have more, but I think that will be enough to give an idea of how some people feel in Hungary.

Viktor Orbán’s speech on October 23: Selections

October 24, 2010 7 comments

Today as I was looking for articles about yesterday's celebrations I spent some time reading the comments on a piece that appeared in www.origo.hu. There were about 100 comments at the time I looked and the overwhelming majority of them had a very low opinion of Viktor Orbán's speech. Perhaps one day I will translate some of them for the amusement of many.

Among the comments I found the following: "In your opinion what would the world think of us if someone translates this Orbán oration verbatim because this is terribly embarrassing." Actually he used a slang word for embarrassing, "ciki." Well, I took note and decided to translate selections from the speech which, according to the commentators, he delivered on the top of his lungs. Half way through he lost his voice.

——–

"It happened here, on this square, at 9 o'clock in the evening. Imre Nagy in one of the second-floor rooms of the northern wing stepped on a table in front of a window and looked down on this square…. When he saw the tumultuous crowd, he became dizzy for a moment. It was perhaps the sight that must have been shocking, but he said: Comrades! A protesting murmur ran through the crowd: we are not comrades, the nation came here–yelled somebody. In 1956 the Hungarian nation was reborn.

"It seemed that only inhabitants, workers, collapsing staves without a hoop lived in a place where once a grand nation ready for great things had flourished…. Imre Nagy who stepped in front of that window understood that… On this square Hungary stood. A nation that is united by the voices of the heart, the words of blood, a thousand common years, gloriously raised and lowered flags, identical goals, ideas and mission…. Later Imre Nagy became one of our greatest national heroes when in a show trial he defended the purity of the revolution and the honor of his fellow martyrs. We are grateful for it. [Applause]

"The Hungarians' sigh of freedom (szabadságsóhaj) knocked out the first brick from the wall of communism and through that opening decades later the whole socialist regime was carried away by the draught." [Laughter and applause]

"We who stood in line in 1990 in order to drive our own nails into the coffin of communism, we who took part in the two-thirds revolution of the election this April [ovation, applause] know the feeling when someone stands behind us who encourages us, who tells us to thrust out our jaws and straighten ourselves and step forward without hesitation. We know what it is like when somebody leads us through events that are chaotic, inscrutable and entangled and who directs us toward the fulfillment of our mission … and who unites the life of the masses with a thousand faces in a common fate. And this is what happened in 1956 with arms in hand, in 1990 with a constitutional revolution, and in 2010 with the two-thirds revolution. This is how history is being born, this is how a nation is reborn. [Applause]

"We are the ones who considered it our mission to continue the struggle [of our parents and grandparents], we are the ones who thought that it is we who must build an independent and free Hungarian homeland. For twenty years we got together yearly on this day that commemorates the event and we made a quiet oath…. That we will finish the struggle they began. In spite of the 1990 change of regime and free elections we have felt in the last twenty years that something holds down our hands, shackles, ensnares us, and therefore we cannot really begin the work that would make Hungary free, just, and successful. In brief, happy. A country of a happy nation. In vain was there a change of regime because in the last twenty years–as fog in autumn mornings–a feeling was spreading over us that the history of 1956 was unfinished. For twenty years we have been asking ourselves, from each other, from history, from Almighty God whether those who sacrificed their lives, who risked their freedom during the fall of 1956, and those hundreds of thousands who pennilessly were searching for a new fatherland, did all these people rebel only so that half a century after the world of the comrades had collapsed unscrupulous adventurers would squander the wealth of the nation? That they would speculate on the future of ten million people? No, they imagined a different future. They were ready to give their lives for a different future.

"1956 was the unfinished history of Hungarians until this year. The two-thirds revolution freed us, the inheritors of 1956, from feeling on the day of the revolution that after all we have to fight again. [At this point the orator lost his voice, the audience applauds.] The fight for the free formation of Hungarian life possibilities (életlehetőség) came to a close. This fight ended with our victory, the victory of the fifty-sixers, the victory of free Hungarians in April 2010. In 1956 Hungarians defeated the lies on the streets. Today we decided and delivered the coup de grâce to the regime of lies. [Applause] And with this came–because we brought it and because we opened it–the age of national unity…. No one can take away our freedom that we achieved according to the democratic norms of the world. No outside force can take it away from us. [Applause] There are times when for justice one can only die …. but we don't want to die for justice but live in a just world. … We received the opportunity to open the new just century of the Hungarians. Let's give thanks for it.

"Let's be honest. We are prone to skepticism… There is the choir of tempting doubters: they are bigger than you, stronger than you, you don't have enough strength. If the 56ers had listened to temptation, the brick wall of communism would still stand today. If in 1989 we didn't demand the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, today Central Europe would still be full of them. If we had allowed doubt to enter our minds we wouldn't stand here today and people would regret until the moment of their death that they had let the opportunity slip from their hands. And we know that at the time of the regime change Hungary let itself be talked out of certain things. We know that this was a big mistake…. That was a good lesson that is worth keeping in mind. When there is opportunity, when the door opens, one mustn't hesitate. It doesn't matter how hard that wood seems, one must cut into it. We must keep in mind the new century of the Hungarians and the doubts must be discarded. We didn't win in the spring to leave everything as of old. The 56ers didn't sacrifice their lives, our parents didn't guard the truth during the dictatorship, we didn't go through with the regime change, we didn't manage to survive the last eight years so that when the door to the future opened we should balk, we should hesitate. Such an opportunity comes only once. This opportunity is ours. We fought for it and we mustn't allow anyone to take it away from us. They didn't allow it, we don't either.

"The nation said yes to complete change: the constitution, the laws, public morality, the taboos, the commands, the goals, the circumstances, the values, the media, the protection of the environment, the schools, and the procurement. Everything which is against man and against the nation. Everything that is irrational, immoral, everything which is against life. We must change the way we pay taxes and the way we treat our " brothers in nation" [nemzettestvér, a favorite word of the Hungarian Nazis in the 1930s and 40s and today of Jobbik, Applause]. If we raise our eyes and look through the ruins of the last eight years we can see the new century of the Hungarians. There will be a country before us where things happen according to our reckoning, according to our standards. Where a strong state will defend the public good and will cut the hydra's arms, tear the nets of masks and traps[?]. We will see a country where meaningless and stupid rules don't hinder those who work and who start a business. A country where foreigners pay the same taxes as Hungarians [applause], where the state guarantees the security of the pensioners and the value of their pensions, and where the state doesn't allow people to risk their pensions in the stock market. A country where those succeed who do an honest day's work, not those who earn their living by trickery and speculation. A country where it is worth bringing up a child, where people pay their taxes because the system is simple and transparent. We will have a century where we will take everybody along, even the vanquished of the earlier age … we are not leaving anyone under the ruins of the ancient regime. [Applause] We will have a century in which the world will respect the Hungarians again.

"But we are still at the beginning of the journey…. If Hungarians allow doubts to creep in, then they will lose tomorrow. I'm telling you, we have have only one year to swing into action, to finish the important changes, to remake the country. We have only one year to create the foundations of a successful Hungarian life… to turn around the age of decline and debasement and set the country on a rising path. Not hastily, but with circumspection and with quick steps.

"We mustn't listen to those who lament and croak and who are always unsure of themselves. Those who doubt our strength and talent, because these people wittingly or unwittingly become the defenders of the past. But we, Hungarians, don't want to be the defenders of the past but want to be the men of the future. We are those Hungarians who declared war on the Soviet Union. Those who fought against them with arms in hand. Those who eventually sent home their soldiers. And finally, without loss of life we saved our fatherland from the falling beams of communism. [Applause]

"So, we really know what difficult times mean. We know how the axe trembles in our hands when we hit hard wood. There were hard times after 1956, but we, Hungarians, are still here. There were hard times in the last eight years also. Four years ago on this very day the storm troopers beat peaceful demonstrators [indignant hooting] but we Hungarians are here, and they will soon be where they belong." [Cheers, applause and screaming]

"Hard times still may come but they will end and then we Hungarians will be here because hard times are never as persistent as tough men. Forward Hungary, forward Hungarians!"

Viktor Orbán’s October 23

October 23, 2010 61 comments

The other day I was thinking about the history of national holidays. Prior to the birth of modern nationalism naturally there were no national holidays, only religious ones, and even in the last two hundred years or so some of the national holidays were slow to appear. For example, Bastille Day was not a national holiday until a century after the event. The fourth of July was made an official, paid holiday only in 1870. In Hungary, March 15th didn't become an official holiday until after the First World War. The newest Hungarian national holiday–October 23, commemorating the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution in 1956–for obvious reasons was not celebrated until 1989.

I hate what politicians do to national holidays, but when they talk all sorts of nonsense about March 15 only my historical sensibilities are bruised. However, when it comes to 1956 I feel personally violated. My own memories, my own part in the events are being trampled on.

Orbán's speeches often make my blood boil but his "oration" today, which was apparently applauded by the throngs, was really too much. As politicians are apt to do, Orbán is rewriting history. This is not the first time that he reinterprets the history of 1956. A few years ago he decided that it was a "bourgeois [polgári] revolution." After all, a "polgári" government deserves a "polgári" revolution. This time he went even further. He claimed that his government, his revolution in the voting booth is the fulfillment of our wishes in 1956. Mr. Orbán is wrong. In our worst dreams we didn't think of a future with Viktor Orbán, who is making mockery of democracy.

Well, let's get back to the current interpretation of 1956. In Orbán's mind, in the fall of 1956 it looked as if the nation didn't exist anymore. But then it became clear even to Imre Nagy that the demonstrators were not simply students, workers, intellectuals. The nation stood in front of him. In Orbán's version Imre Nagy first addressed the crowd as "comrades" but someone shouted: "We are not comrades. The nation is here." Well, the first sentence is true, except it wasn't someone but about 100,000 strong. The second is not true. No one talked about the nation being there. I was present, and I remember the whole evening vividly.

Viktor Orbán has a fertile imagination when he tries to interpret what we, those who stood there, thought. According to him we suddenly felt that the nation was "reborn." Because the nation was battered by two lost wars, by the loss of territories as a result of Trianon, by the bloodletting of the nation by those who escaped in 1945 and those who were exiled. I can assure Mr. Orbán that we didn't think about any of those things. We were not thinking of the two lost wars, Trianon, or those who together with the German troops left Hungary in 1944 and 1945. We were thinking of Stalinism, of Rákosi, the AVH, the political prisoners, the fear, the peasants' miseries, the lack of essential staples in the stores, and the lack of freedom.

I'm also baffled by the following: "The heroes of 1956 were those who didn't allow themselves to be talked out of making Hungary great." What does that mean? Sure, a lot of people were worried about the consequences of an armed uprising. They regretted the loss of life, feared crushing defeat and even worse oppression than before, but that cannot be interpreted as cowardly people who wanted to deprive Hungary of its greatness. Whom does Orbán have in mind? Those intellectuals who were fearful, rightfully so, of the consequences? Or is he trying to set participant against participant? On the one hand those who were the intellectual leaders and on the other hand those young workers and students who fought in the streets? Most likely.

Orbán's verbal flourishes are occasionally laughable. What about this sentence? "The Hungarians' sigh of freedom (szabadságsóhaj) knocked out the first brick from the wall of communism and through that opening decades later the whole socialist regime was carried away by the draught." Oh my! Can anyone imagine a sigh that knocks out a whole brick and a draught that carries away a regime?

In any case, those great Hungarians of 1956 started a struggle which "now [they] carry to its fruition." In spite of the change of regime in 1990 and the free elections, they have felt that "something holds down [their] hands…. 1956 was an unfinished story until 2010. [Orbán and Fidesz] delivered the coup de grâce to the regime of lies. The age of national unity arrived."

Orbán continues, comparing his revolution and the revolution of 1956. "We didn't win in the spring to leave everything as it had been before. The heroes of 1956 didn't sacrifice their lives, we didn't go through with the regime change, we didn't suffer through the past eight years to stop, lose our self-confidence when there is the chance…. The nation said that everything must change in Hungary." Let's not get stuck on the question of what the results of the elections empowered Orbán to do. Those who voted for Fidesz, for example, knew nothing of a new constitution or the nationalization of their private savings.

Perhaps the most egregious part of the speech is the one about the heroes of 1956 sacrificing their lives for Viktor Orbán's "revolution." That really boggles the mind. Or what can one say when he compares the last eight years to the times that followed the revolution of 1956! How can anyone in his right mind compare the two? A dictatorship imposed on Hungary by a foreign power and its lackeys and a period in which a democratically elected coalition government was in power. The period between 1957 and 1963 was a terrible time in Hungary. A time of retribution when hundreds were executed and thousands imprisoned.

And while he is turning 1956 into his own revolution he also distorts his own role in 1989. Even those who dislike the Viktor Orbán of today talk about him in glowing terms when at the reburial of Imre Nagy he dared to openly demand the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. So, he made sure today that people didn't forget the very important role he played when he said that "if in 1989 we didn't demand the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, today Central Europe would still be full of them." In brief, without the young Viktor Orbán the Soviet Union would still be intact, the Soviet Empire would still be flourishing, and the Cold War would still be with us. Surely, he himself cannot believe that. But perhaps his admirers do. One never knows. He is a persuasive fellow, especially when his audience is ignorant.

Tight budget but there is money for buying shares in MOL?

October 22, 2010 Comments off

It was three days ago that Tibor Szanyi, a maverick socialist politician, came out with a surprising piece of news. He claimed that the Hungarian government wants to buy a 21% stake in MOL, the Hungarian oil company. That 21% was originally owned by an Austrian oil company, which subsequently sold it to Surgutnetfegaz, a Russian concern a year and a half ago. I wrote about the whole controversy earlier. You might want to take a quick look at it for a better understanding of the present situation.

Szanyi wanted to find out what Viktor Orbán and Viktor Zubkov, first deputy prime minister of Russia, talked about at the beginning of October. The subject of the conversation is not public, but subsequent government moves indicate that the Hungarian government wants to purchase Surgutnetfegaz's 21.2% stake in MOL. According to Szanyi the purchase would be costly: 420 billion forints. He wanted to know whether there is any connection between the "nationalization" of private pension funds and the proposed purchase of Surgut's stock.

When I first heard Szanyi talking about this rumor I paid no attention to it. I thought that, as usual, Szanyi was exaggerating. Surely, the Hungarian government in its present situation is not planning to purchase costly shares in MOL. However, it seems that Szanyi was well informed. MTI reported in the early afternoon of October 21 that Tamás Fellegi, minister for economic development, told the Budapest correspondents of Bloomberg that "Hungary is planning to purchase Surgutnetfegaz's 21.2% share in MOL before the end of the year." MTI quoted Fellegi as saying that "in our opinion it would be useful from the point of view of the state to become a shareholder of MOL through the purchase of Surgetneftegaz's shares."

I think this is quite clear and hard to misunderstand, but it seems that Fellegi made a mistake and a retraction came within hours. The ministry's press department denied that Fellegi said anything of the sort and in fact they asked Bloomberg to correct their report on Hungary's planned purchase of the Russian company's shares. Here is the explanation of what Fellegi allegedly said. "Tamás Fellegi, minister of national development, announced at the negotiating table between representatives of the Russian Federation and of Hungary that the negotiating partners must handle the questions of the energy sector in a complex way. They wish to work out the framework of the whole sector during the meeting of the two prime ministers before the end of the year." So, Hungary is not buying the shares before the end of the year. They want to finish the negotiations before that date. The spokesman also denied that there are any negotiations going on between the Hungarian state and the Russian company.

It seems that the reporters for Bloomberg were pretty sure that they heard Fellegi right, and I assume they thought that the explanation they received made not the slightest sense. Thus this is what they came out with at the end: "The Hungarian government would find it  'beneficial' to become a shareholder in central Europe's largest refiner MOL Nyrt. and may use market financing for a potential purchase of OAO Surgutneftegaz's stake in the company, National Development Minister Tamas Fellegi said." Not much of a change in wording.

Fellegi was quite explicit about the Hungarian government's plans. He told correspondents Edith Balazs and Zoltan Simon of Bloomberg that Hungary may be able to finance a potential transaction from the market "based on the preliminary feedback we've received." And he added: "I''m not worried about raising the necesssary funds, should the government wish to."

Apparently there have been rumors about the possible purchase since the summer. Index, a well-informed online paper, is sure that there will be an agreement, only the timing is in question. Index also asked an expert who didn't want his name to be revealed who claims that the deal would be good only for the seller. Surgut purchased the shares at $87 which today are worth $108. So, it would realize a 24% profit in a year and a half. According to the same analyst, it wouldn't be a good deal for Hungary because the government would have to borrow money in order to conclude the transaction. At present Hungary is capable of borrowing at 5.6-6%. At this rate it would cost Hungary 28 billion forints a year just to service the interest on the loan. If the transaction were funded by selling ten-year bonds, the financial loss due to paying dividends and paying back the loan would be close to 50 billion forints.

What I don't understand is why Hungary is contemplating adding to the national debt at a time when the country's financial situation is such that it can borrow money only at relatively high interest rates. After all, Hungary is one of the most indebted countries in Europe, around 80% of its GDP, and Fidesz in the past often brought up the sins of the socialist governments that increased the national debt by close to 30%. Moreover, lately there have been statements by different Fidesz politicians to the effect that the national debt will be gradually reduced starting next year. All in all, I'm puzzled.

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