Orbán and the European Parliament

Here are a few headlines from European papers. “Icy reception for Hungary’s Prime Minister in Strasbourg,” wrote Die Zeit. “Media Law: ‘Chavez’ Orbán ‘ready to fight,'” says the Austrian Die Presse. Der Standard, another Austrian paper, introduced the story thus: “Orbán clenches his fists. He is ready to fight.” The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a conservative paper, called the scene “a scandal.” According to The Financial Times, Orbán had to endure “an avalanche of criticism,” including the charge that he is leading his nation “on a path to totalitarianism.”

It was an uncommon scene by EU parliamentary standards and it “appeared to validate fears that Hungary’s first presidency of the European Union would be a rocky one.” Orbán’s speech about the next six months and his plans concerning the future of Europe was quite well received. The trouble came later during the debate. Most of the remarks weren’t about Hungary’s rotating presidency but about the controversial media law. Before the debate started Orbán asked his audience “not to mix Hungarian internal affairs with the presidency,” but he added that if the members of parliament don’t oblige “he is ready for a fight.” Mixing up the two will do more harm to Europe than to Hungary.Thus even before the debate began Orbán took an antagonistic stance. No wonder that what came afterward was, according to the journalist of euobserver.com, “a barrage” of criticism.

I read in several papers that Orbán’s encounter in Strassbourg “was an unprecedentedly hostile welcome for an incoming EU presidency in the European Parliament.” That was confirmed by Csaba Tabajdi, Hungarian socialist MP who has spent the last six years in Brussels. Some of the journalists found Orbán belligerent and antagonistic. Yet at the same time he expressed his willingness to change the media law if the European Commission finds shortcomings in it. Orbán had to oblige because José Manuel Barroso called for amendments to the law. Later this week the Commission will demand “clarifications” and Barroso pointed out that “some points of the law were problematic.” Joseph Daul, parliamentary leader of the conservative European People’s Party, said it was enough for the premier to vow to change the law if necessary.

The Hungarian government’s stance on the issue is confused at best. Only yesterday Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of communication, defended every point of the law after a long discussion with Dunja Mijatovic of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. Not a word will be changed, says Kovács in Budapest while the prime minister is ready to change the law if the Commission so demands. One is really curious what will happen when the chips are down.


The brunt of the criticism came from the social democrats, the liberals, and the greens. Martin Schulz, the leader of the socialists and democrats, urged Orbán  “to withdraw the act and come back with a better one.” Guy Verhofstadt, head of the liberal democratic group, said a change was needed as soon as possible. But the strongest criticism came from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, head of the green parties, who compared Orbán to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez. He claimed that Orbán had forsaken his former pro-democracy, anti-communist past and was “becoming a European Chavez, a populist who does not understand the structure of democracy.” Orbán in answer made no secret of the extent of the changes he has introduced in Hungary. “The rule of law in Hungary is currently being reconstructed,” he said in response to concerns about the systematic attacks on the checks and balances that are part and parcel of democracy.

Orbán lost his cool when the German liberal Alexander Graf Lambsdorff suggested that Hungary’s democracy was endangered under his rule. Speaking to journalists after the debate, Orbán said that he could tolerate unsubstantiated criticisms from the press but not from other European politicians. “I cannot accept that any politically legitimate actor of European politics says and questions that Hungarian democracy is endangered, because it is an offense to the Hungarian nation,” he said. But his political foes were not impressed. Schulz protested: “We are not criticizing the Hungarian people by criticizing an act of parliament.” Cohn-Bendit pointed out that Orbán by “pretending here that we have said something against the Hungarian people is manifesting sheer nationalist populism.”

His critics also wanted to enlighten him on the role of the media in a democracy. “The aim of media governance is not to guarantee ‘proper’ and ‘adequate’ information,” said liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt. “The aim is to uphold pluralism and to guarantee that any initiative in media can be developed.” Cohn-Bendit asked Orbán: “Do you think Mr. Nixon got balanced information? Or Mr. Bush on Abu Ghraib? Do you think Mr. Berlusconi thinks research done on his life amounts to balanced information? No, information is to be a gadfly to politicians. That’s why your law does not correspond to the values of the European Union.”

I believe that Cohn-Bendit is right: Orbán really doesn’t understand the workings of democracy. It’s an alien concept to him.




  1. “…it is an offense to the Hungarian nation.”
    That’s rich. L’etat, c’est moi? That might be red meat to the faithful back home but is far from encouraging in the international setting.
    Also, the use of the term “reconstructed”–makes me think of the lovely Russian word “remont.”

  2. Eva: “One is really curious what will happen when the chips are down.”
    I think nothing will happen with the media law. The EU Commission is slow, the Hungarian government is even slower. Orbán has put enough provisos into his “readiness” to change the law, that the real question is: “When will the chips be down – if someone keeps juggling with them?” That will be an endless battle of words until the Hungarian EU presidency is over.
    But a real clash is in the cards at some time in the future. I guess the forint will take another dip after February 15 (presentation of “structural reforms”). In April when the new constitution is adopted without plebiscite, people will have another opportunity to drop their jaws. But legal procedures in the EU can take years.
    What surprises me, though, is how undiplomatic and arrogant Orbán is behaving on the European scene. That won’t go down well.
    The nazis lost the apolitical bourgeois class when it noticed that most nazis couldn’t handle knife and fork… (Not that it mattered much.)

  3. @Julie: You didn’t get this one right, OV is not just the state; he is the whole nation. Remember when he lost the elections in 2002, he said, “A haza nem lehet ellenzekben” (“The nation cannot be in opposition”). He really is not changing, he is (d)evolving.. 🙂

  4. From ATV which is not Orban fan:
    Co-President of the European Greens (Daniel Cohn-Bendit was screaming and he violently gestured while calling the Hungarian prime minister, the European Chavez.
    From me the fervent nationalist:
    It was not Orban who was pretending, it was this f…..d-up Cohn-Bendit who pretended to be an European Democrat.

  5. …and yes, like it or not, the Prime Minister of Hungary represents the Country.
    Finally, he is not pussyfooting around and calls the spade a spade.

  6. @Kormos: Criticism of a country’s government is not criticism of the people of a country. If it was so, no opposition party would be allowed to criticize the government. (Unfortunately, Fidesz uses this argument, labeling critics of the OV government unpatriotic).
    As for criticism abroad, Hungary is part of the EU, so if the EU or parts of the EU is critical of certain acts of the Hungarian government, the government has to pay attention. The criticism may or may not be warranted, but Hungary has to play by EU rules.

  7. In a way I think that this debate was not that bad. Orban took the EU parliament seriously and vice versa also (from what Daniel Cohn-Bendit said I understood that he and OV have known each other for some time, any criticism then really should not be related to “Hungary”). For me OV appears to have made bigger concessions than in Hungary, the debate was closed by Jerzy Buzek not by the participants of the debate (and an exchange of views about what democracy is about in the EU is beneficial for its own sake due to the various problems in the construction of the EU). But I wonder why Hungary chose the EU Roma strategy as a core theme of its presidency.

  8. After watching that speech instead of reading some extracts I would like to take back what I wrote before. I am afraid that the only effect that such a speech can have on OV is that he expands the number of his deadly enemies.

  9. @Kormos. Have you a link? I put yours in google but could not find it.
    Sorry, I do not have a link for political purposes. This is an interesting blog, I learn from it, even if I disagree with the statements from time to time.

  10. For me it is particularly embarrassing that he knows of such a long list of countries where he thinks the EU should fight for democracy although we currently observe that the EU does not know how to establish freedom of the press in one of its member states.

  11. @ Ann
    ..and Hungary will play by the rules of EU. She cannot and do not want to do anything else.
    @Ms. Balogh
    Just as I said before.ATV was right (it may not be the first time) This Cohn-Bendit knows only one thing; his and only his Liberty.
    @ Kirsten
    …because the Roma integration is one of the burning issues of Europe. It will be very hard to do anything, specifically without proper monetary resources.However I cross my finger for some progress.

  12. Just a reminder that January 25th (Robbie Burn’s Day for any of you with a touch of the Scot in you)
    To a Mouse (on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough) – by Robbie Burns
    Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
    O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty
    Wi bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
    Wi’ murdering pattle.
    I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    An’ justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes thee startle
    At me, thy poor, earth born companion
    An’ fellow mortal!
    I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
    What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
    A daimen icker in a thrave
    ‘S a sma’ request;
    I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
    An’ never miss’t.
    Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
    It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
    An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O’ foggage green!
    An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
    Baith snell an’ keen!
    Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
    An’ weary winter comin fast,
    An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
    Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro’ thy cell.
    That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
    Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
    Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
    But house or hald,
    To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
    An’ cranreuch cauld.
    But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft agley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!
    Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But och! I backward cast my e’e,
    On prospects drear!
    An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
    I guess an’ fear!
    Just thought you might enjoy it. Haggis anyone? 🙂

  13. @ kormos: .”and yes, like it or not, the Prime Minister of Hungary represents the Country.”
    Sorry!…. the Prime Minister represents the GOVERNMENT. The President represents the country.

  14. @ kormos: Thank you for the Rabbie Burns post.
    How appropriate:
    “Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But och! I backward cast my e’e,
    On prospects drear!
    An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
    I guess an’ fear!”
    So let me quote something else from Burns :
    “Ye see (yonder) birkie, called a lord,
    Who struts, and stares, and all that;
    Though hundreds worship at his word,
    He’s but a coof (fool ) for all that:
    For all that, and all that,
    His ribband, star, and all that:
    The man of independent mind
    He looks and laughs at all that.”

  15. @John G:
    I will not repost to your next quote, but I could not help to copy this.
    By the way, what is your favorite drink, I wish to toast you in my thoughts on Rabbie Burns’ night.
    Such a parcel of rogues
    Farewell to(all)our Scottish fame,
    Farewell our ancient glory;
    Farewell even to the Scottish name,
    So famed in martial story.
    Now Sark flows over Solway sands,
    And Tweed flows to the ocean,
    To mark where England’s province stands-
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
    What force or guile could not subdue,
    Through many warlike ages,
    Is wrought now by a coward few,
    For hireling traitor’s wages.
    The English ( still) we could disdain,
    Secure in valour’s station;
    But English gold has been our bane-
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
    O would, (before) I had seen the day
    That Treason thus could sell us,
    My old grey head had lain in clay,
    with Bruce and loyal Wallace!
    But without pith and power, till my last hour,
    I’ll (make) this declaration;
    We’re bought and sold for English gold-
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

  16. I just do not understand why would someone say that “they have criticized Hungary”. They were are clearly calling Orban by his name, and brought up his past at some point. THey never brought up Hungary’s past (only as a reference for Orban). Maybe he missed that they are talking to him as he hardly ever looked up from his papers or looked into the eyes of those who spoke to him.

  17. @kormos: a wee dram of single malt would be nice…and I’ll do the same for you.
    Your quote is quite funny since I was thinking of posting exactly that 🙂

  18. I hope that we will not descend to McGonnagle. The jewish poet Rabi Burns is bad enough.
    John G. you write “Sorry!…. the Prime Minister represents the GOVERNMENT. The President represents the country”.
    No you are wrong OV. is the country and the government

  19. OMG Cohn-Bendit, thanks for posting his speech. I haven’t seen such a neurotic madman since Dr. Torgyán. I’m surprised this guy haven’t had a stroke or a heart attack yet. This whole speech reminded me to when Hruscsov started to hit his desk with his shoe in a UN meeting. Compared to him Orbán was like Clint Eastwood in the Good&Bad&Ugly.
    Anyone just read the corresponding wikipedia page:
    The whole life of this man is a serious joke. I’d like to call your precious attention to the paedophilia and the helping of terrorism part.
    Orbán might be terribly wrong about the media law, but watch yourself who you align yourself with.

  20. @Eva, love to read your blog – wish hungarian papers would be comparable to your writing.
    I just wondered, if you could push your articles onto public facebook page (something to like) as that would make it much easier to share and get more readers.

  21. And when the EU presidency is over, the hard measures will follow.
    V.O. is not only the leader of a polling-booth revolution but also of a national liberation movement.
    His follower Imre Pozsgay and 33 other Hungarians called in his spirit for a boycott of those foreign firms, who wrote to the EU because of the method of the special taxes, and they blame those firms “defend their financial interest”. So now we know how it functions, on one hand the bad foreign companies only defending their financial interests and the altruist Hungarian companies and firms (Like those of Orbáns family) who look only to serve the nation. Or as the Nazis put it, on one side the bad “raffendes Kapital” and on the other side the good “schaffendes Kapital”
    And as not to leave any doubts about Fidesz, County Nógrád Fidesz gives Zsolt Bayer the Madách Price tomorrow.
    Some Hungarians will conclude:
    Extra Hungariam est vita.

  22. The social-democrats and greens may make noise in the EP, but the Christian-Democrats (EPP) are the majority. And they are primarily administration oriented, with little room for matters of principle. On the other hand they do not want to be embarrassed.
    So for the EPP this is all about damage control, they will not move unless they have to. Last year they blocked an initiative to ostracize Berlusconi, not because they necessarily like him, but they don´t want trouble. These Christian politicians have their own way to deal with the devil.
    The same is probably true for the European Commission, and they certainly have a lot of other things to worry about besides Orbán´s policy of Gleichschaltung. They would probably prefer to wait for the Hungarian nationalist to destroy themselves, as it happened earlier in Poland and Slovakia.

  23. Leo I think that neither the Polish nor the Slovak Nationalists got themselves into the crass stupidities that OV and Fidesz have done vis-à-vis the rules and laws of the EU.
    At the moment at least one Commissioner is on Hungary’s tail over the new Media law. Once that process has been started it must proceed to the bitter end where ever that may be, but it takes time.
    Another one will soon be looking at the new taxation rules once those who feel aggrieved by them have officially informed the requisite commissioner.

  24. Odin, I do hope they will act. I have some trust in Smit-Kroes, she´s not the tremblin´kind and was quite tough on Microsoft.
    I saw some indications that a compromise is in the making, on both the press and taxation issues. I keep my fingers crossed.

  25. The Eu will investigate and review the media laws in other member states. Perhaps it should review the American media laws as well. Just as a matter on interest, how can a foul-mouthed ignorant nonentity like Howard Stern continue to hurl obscenities and racist comments into the air waves. Some radio stations have been fined up to 2.5 million dollars but he is still riding high. Maybe American media laws should be made more effective too.

  26. Petr Koroly: “Fidesz gives Zsolt Bayer the Madách Price tomorrow.”
    I thought you are being sarcastic, just a little joke. Goodness, you are right. Here is the article: http://hvg.hu/itthon/20110120_madach_bayer_zsolt
    From here it just gets even more bizarre as we learn that Fidesz also picked up the cost of Bayer’s legal bills.
    (Bayer is an “in your face anti-semite journalist”, Orban’s good buddy, who hates westerners, leftists, communists, Jews, gypsies, anyone who does not agree with him, who is allowed to publish hate propaganda without to much recourse.)

  27. Jano: “I haven’t seen such a neurotic madman since Dr. Torgyán.”
    Actually the content is quite sane.

  28. Dani: “I just wondered, if you could push your articles onto public facebook page”
    I will see what I can do. Thanks for the compliment.

  29. Eva: You may want to set up a Facebook account, and then you can just link your articles via the Facebook button from above the comment box. You can set up your Facebook on a way that people cannot put their comments there so it would not cannibalize your blog.

  30. Someone: “You can set up your Facebook on a way that people cannot put their comments there so it would not cannibalize your blog.”
    I have been doing that religiously for months.

  31. Joseph simon: “The Eu will investigate and review the media laws in other member states. Perhaps it should review the American media laws as well. Just as a matter on interest, how can a foul-mouthed ignorant nonentity like Howard Stern continue to hurl obscenities and racist comments into the air waves. Some radio stations have been fined up to 2.5 million dollars but he is still riding high. Maybe American media laws should be made more effective too.”
    Aboslutely! This blog should also be banned! All English language media should be banned! As a matter of fact all media should banned that is not in Hungarian and does not praise Orban at least once a day!

  32. Some: “I tried again and there you are. Thanks.”
    Every day a lot of people come from Facebook. There were days when over one hundred.

  33. “BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Hungary’s president has defended his country’s controversial media law that has come under international criticism for seeking to stifle the opposition and press freedom.
    Pal Schmitt says he approved the law because it does not violate Hungary’s constitution and is in line with similar laws in other European countries.”
    Do you think Schmitt reads the documents from the EU and watches the EU proceedings?

  34. someone: “Do you think Schmitt reads the documents from the EU and watches the EU proceedings?”
    He is a real embarrassment.

  35. @Odin’s Lost Eye: you’re a funny guy:-) As we on this forum seem to be trudging in the muck and mire of Hungarian politics even McGonnagle would be a welcome break from all the seriousness. As for Rabi Burns 🙂 let me say you would really enjoy the annual combined celebration of Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Night I attend regularly called: Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns .

  36. I always thought that ‘Kevin’ was the maddest, but ‘Joseph’, with his repeated multiple postings and seeming unawareness that this is a blog about Hungary and not the USA, is rapidly closing the gap.
    Box of frogs, anyone?

  37. OK, this is one meeting in the European Parliament. As long as the Christian Democrats stay in charge across the EU – and they probably will – there is no threat to Viktor. I prefer to see this all in cultural terms.
    The Media Authority will find many justifiable excesses on commercial TV, to ensure that public opinion remains on their side. That is, commercial, tasteless, tacky, naff, non-artistic Hungarian commercial television which is based on the lowest common denominator and which has virtually no redeeming aspects. It is aimed at the under-16s, and at a surprisingly attentive public. Hungarians love their TV, no matter how bad.
    However, this is no ‘re-birth’ of Hungarian culture, it is a retrenchment of the mediocre, itself it’s a retreat from attempting to engage with modernity. It signals ‘anti-culture’ as much as ‘Hungarian’ culture, reflecting the nihilist – can I say ‘punk’ – crossover which is lurking somewhere at the back of the Fidesz mentality.
    I’m pleased to hear talk of the opposition here. For if Hungarian democracy is threatened by ‘monocracy’ – then it is the fault of those Socialists and Liberals who relied on a (part-private) security apparatus to preserve their privilege. Those who had friends and knew of corruption, and did nothing, and didn’t disown them, and make these people who stole public money feel ashamed.
    I’m not into the idea of some ‘opposition coalition’ because it will include so many of the tarnished and unscrupulous. For sure no country is free of corruption, but the government from 2006-2010 turned this into an artform. Bridges where no bridges needed. Motorways to nowhere. Cultural events aimed at milking foreign money. Oh and property theft. Major property theft. The MSZP is a disgrace. It should be wound up – and give those who care, a chance to start again.
    The last government bred xenophobia and I believe a government such as that would breed it anywhere. Not just in Hungary. Increasingly I believe that the opposition cannot move on until the MSZP takes the decision to dissolve.

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