Orbán’s vision of the future: His speech at the Chinese-East European Economic and Business Forum

For a prime minister the lack of even a rudimentary knowledge of economics is a real handicap. Unfortunately, Viktor Orbán is totally unfamiliar with the world of economics and business. Most of his speeches on economic matters are full of misconceptions and wrong facts. I don't quite understand why he doesn't ask somebody to take a look at his texts before he delivers a speech. Perhaps because by now thinks of himself as the fountainhead of all knowledge.

His speech at the Chinese-East European Economic and Business Forum in Budapest (June 25) began with some unbecoming groveling before the Chinese prime minister and his entourage. The normal "esteemed Mr. Prime Minister" (tisztelt Miniszterelnök Úr) wasn't enough. It had to be "deeply honored (mélyen tisztelt) Mr. Prime Minister." The people present were greeted not with simple "respect" but with "great respect" (nagy tisztelettel). Sure, Hungary is a small country and China is big, but I have never heard a Hungarian prime minister speak in this manner with, let's say, the president of the United States.

Since Orbán was talking at an economic forum, he obviously felt compelled to say something about economic matters. It has become quite obvious in the last few years that Orbán is convinced that real economic value can be produced only through physical work. And as we found out from this speech, without "industrial production" there is no possibility of economic growth. Doesn't that hark back to the time of Mátyás Rákosi who wanted to make Hungary a country of iron and steel? 

He began with a brief history of the current world economic situation. He claims that "a new world came into being as a result of the western financial-economic crisis and the subsequent recession and stagnation. The strong became weak, the weak became strong." So, let's pause right here. If Orbán is referring to China and/or India, their economic growth is certainly not the result of the recent economic crisis. And to describe the crisis as a purely western phenomenon is also inaccurate. The crisis reached China as well, where many workers lost their jobs.

According to Orbán we will find out "in a very short time" who will be the winners and who will be the losers in this economic reshuffle. "The number one champion" certainly is China, and why? Not just because it is a big country with a large population but because "China remained true to some principles on which we in the West turned our backs." Among these principles is that one cannot consume more than one can produce. Globally, of course, Orbán is right. It is not true, however, that Hungarians cannot consume more than they produce; trade imbalances help to measure the disparity.

But Orbán goes much further: he indicates that debt is outright sinful. According to him, in the Lord's Prayer the word for debt and sin was the same in the original Greek. All was well so long as the West, the cradle of civilization, stuck to this equation. Let's stop right here. I did a little research on the Lord's Prayer and unfortunately Orbán got mixed up about "debt" and "sin." The Lord's Prayer appears in two versions, one in Matthew (6:9-13) and the other in Luke (11:2-4). In the Matthew version one can read about debts while in Luke about sins. But let's not quibble over word usage. As for the cradle of civilization, the Chinese visitors might have been offended. After all, Chinese civilization preceded that of the West by centuries.

But more important is a total misunderstanding of the engine of economic growth. In the good old days when in Europe capital accumulation was practically nonexistent and when credit was unknown, the economy progressed at a snail's pace. The Christian ban on charging interest surely didn't help matters. Although according to Orbán's retrograde quasi-Marxist view, no value comes from any activity other than labor, in fact the real economic take-off occurred when banking and financial markets began to appear, stimulating business investment and hence economic growth.

But Orbán seems to want to return to those "good old days" because according to him the troubles started when "we abandoned that sober thinking [about work] and the birth of new teachings and utopias caused the world to stumble from crisis to crisis in the last few decades." It is time, he argues, to re-embrace the idea of hard work and to abandon the sinful ways of debt. (In brief, to add to his economic pastiche the good old Protestant ethic.) There is a new world that requires adherence to new rules that reflect old values. The people in Central Europe, he contends, are flexible and understand the new rules.

I might be wrong, but flexibility is not exactly a trademark of the people in the region. I also doubt that "people know full well that well being will not come to them as a gift. They know that they have work very, very hard." This is doubtful, especially since the members of Orbán's government claim left and right that Hungarians are lazy, don't want to work, cheat in order to get disability payments and assistance in all forms. The government at the moment is in hot pursuit of those who allegedly cheat the state. Yet Orbán mentioned at least twice in his speech that "the Hungarian people understand the rules of this new world."

At this point Orbán said, talking about Central Europe as a whole: "It is an open secret today that the most substantial reserves can be found here, in Central Europe between the Baltic and the Adriatic." Is he talking about the exploration for shale gas, most notably in Poland?  He kept that "open secret" to himself.

And finally he indirectly praised the Chinese system by placing emphasis on the necessity of a strong state. According to Orbán, "the Hungarian people realize that after the 2008 economic crisis only those countries will be successful that build strong states." And he repeated that "one cannot build a robust economy and security by relying solely on the service economy and the financial sector. One needs a massive industrial sector." In the information age.

There were many other accolades about the greatness of China and about the sixty-two-year-old Chinese-Hungarian friendship. Well, the great Chinese-Hungarian friendship had a few bumps along the road. Mao Zedong was one of the most zealous communist leaders who insisted that the Soviets quell the Hungarian revolution. The long-standing Sino-Soviet dispute also left its mark on that great Chinese-Hungarian friendship.

Well, history is not Orbán's strong suit either.



  1. “It is time, he argues, to re-embrace the idea of hard work and to abandon the sinful ways of debt.”
    Coming at the same time the Chinese have agreed to buy so much Hungarian debt, this is painfully funny.

  2. In some respects I’m almost embarrassed to admit I agree with Orban on this. Although debt has been an enabler for fast growth the resulting system is far from stable.
    It has enabled structural problems in some business and many states to go on for years without being addressed (just let the banks lend money into existence and buy governments bonds with it). It is also rather fixed on the assumption that growth can and will happen for ever. If it stops the whole house of cards comes down as without lending it will become apparent that quite a few companies and nations aren’t actually solvent. If growth stops due to increasing energy costs, or just lack of faith that it can continue for ever then I think we will have quite a pretty mess.
    However for Orban this is all just noise. If he has a strong relationship with China and becomes the customer service center for China in Europe then probably the Germans will focus a little less on what he gets up to inside his borders.
    For me he misses one rather critical point, he has no container port. Maybe his next actions will be to try and fix that.

  3. Hmmm. If Orban’s views on real work are firmly held then he should resign, don a boiler suit and go and do some useful toil. One can but hope….

  4. This quote from Eva’s post strikes right to heart of the matter :
    “In the good old days when in Europe capital accumulation was practically nonexistent and when credit was unknown, the economy progressed at a snail’s pace…. in fact the real economic take-off occurred when banking and financial markets began to appear, stimulating business investment and hence economic growth.”
    Orban is, in some sense, amazing. If he does believe/understands what he says it means that he wants a “national-socialist” Hungary. The “marriage” between the marxist view of a centralized (strong) state which controls the economic decisions and the ideology of (ethnic)nationalism was exactly Hitler’s party (NSDAP) political program.
    Orban goes on with “There is a new world that requires adherence to new rules that reflect old values. The people in Central Europe, he contends, are flexible and understand the new rules.”
    That’s wrong. For instance, Romania’s long term economic program is moving toward less and less state owned economy.
    Few days ago Orban’s ,would be, great friend Basescu spoke at “London School of Economics and Political Science” about Friedrich Hayek, minimal state intervention, and that “democracy is not the regime of the State, but that of the Citizen”
    “A notable professor of the LSE, Friedrich Hayek, declared that the system of private property is the most important guarantee for freedom, not only for those who own property, but even moreso for those who do not. Recently, the tendency has been to blame the capitalist system for everything that went wrong during the crisis. No doubt, capitalism can be improved. But I cannot help but wonder what would have come of the countries of Eastern Europe and perhaps of the continent as a whole, had the current economic crisis hit inflexible and centralized command economies.”

  5. I don’t think about Orban because I don’t believe he really thinks too much. Nevertheless part of the job of a leader is to actually lead and challenge the people to change for the better. I cannot fault him for wanting his populous to be productive as 3 million workers for 10 million persons does not have a prosperous long-term future. There needs to be changes as there are a lot people out there who do cheat the system as there is not a lot of proper oversight.
    I was going to publish this on an earlier day during the Chinese premier’s visit but its still worth highlighting China’s growing influence around the globe. National Public Radio has been doing a series on this and some of them provide some good context. Afterall, Hungary is not the only place where they have invested:
    I just wonder how Orban will try to spread his version of “political correctness” to the Hungarian population instead of just the Tibetan community. I can remember a couple times at music venues with a local artist who each had a song that wasn’t too complimentary to the Chinese people in Hungary.

  6. This must be a sad,sad time for the Spectrum. Eva must be sinking into a well deserved clinical depression. By all accounts, Orbán Viktor has done well at the EU as its president. His Roma strategy and Danubian strategy were well received. Croatia is in the EU. He has shown vision and competence in raising these issues and bringing them fruition. He is receiving now Hillary Clinton. She will be impressed by him, no doubt.

  7. Nagy Imre was executed on June 16, 1958. It would have been appropriate to see some reference to this tragic event in this Spectrum. There was none. It says a great deal about this blog and its editor.
    Also, as a belated comment on Gati’s piece on Tom Lantos: the US did not save Europe, not once and certainly not three times. It intervened for its own strategic reasons. Hungary’s 1956 did more to undermine Soviet power than anything the US, including Ronald Reagan, did.

  8. Joe Simon as important as 1956 was, do you really think it prevented Soviet tanks from rolling over western Europe? It was the threat of US retaliation and the NATO alliance, that the US was the strongest member of, that was responsible for defense of Europe.
    In addition, this blog deals primarily with contemporary Hungarian politics. If Eva commemorated each and every Hungarian hero, on each anniversary year of their birth/death (not just the 10, 20, 50 year etc.), this would be a Hungarian hero’s commemoration blog. You are welcome to start one. And why haven’t you? It makes me seriously question your commitment to the memory of Nagy and others.
    Clinton will not be in Hungary to honor OV, if it weren’t for Lantos she would be no where near OV.

  9. Joe Simon, you should read previous comments, and you should read the answers for the same questions you reposting. Hillary is NOT visiting Orban by the way! He is coming for the opening of the Tom Lantos institute. She is paying her respect for the later one.

  10. ‘Joe Simon’ is just another troll, ignore him.
    They only post to waste our time.
    Although at least ‘Johnny Boy’ is funny.

  11. The text from Mutt’s link, for those too busy (smiley face) to click:
    BUDAPEST, June 30 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern on Thursday about democratic freedoms in Hungary and said essential checks and balances should be strengthened.
    Opponents of the center-right government say it has undermined press freedoms, curbed the powers of the country’s top constitutional court and passed a constitution that may entrench its influence after its term ends in 2014.
    “We… talked very openly about preserving the democratic institutions of Hungary and making sure that they continue to grow and strengthen, including providing essential checks and balances,” Clinton said at a news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban standing at her side.
    “As friends of Hungary we expressed our concerns and particularly call for a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press and governmental transparency,” she added as she began a three-day trip to Budapest, Vilnius and Madrid.
    Clinton said she discussed with the Hungarian prime minister a wide range of issues including the constitutional court, the media law and also Hungary’s new constitution.
    “I think throughout the process of implementing the constitution and the accompanying cardinal laws it is important – and certainly the Prime Minister made that very clear to me – that he is committed to ensuring that Hungary is very true to its democratic traditions to protect individual liberties, maintain freedom of the press and the judiciary and ensure checks and balances,” she added.
    Hungary’s government — which took power in May 2010 — passed a new media law late last year which came under sharp criticism within the EU, and Hungary had to modify some aspects of the legislation.
    In April the government also passed a new constitution which critics said would cement its powers further, and tie the hands of future governments in key areas of policy.
    Speaking earlier in the day, Clinton also raised the treatment of the Roma, a minority group that activists say has suffered a sharp rise in violent attacks in Hungary in recent years.
    Clinton praised Hungary for using its presidency of the European Union to push for reforms “that would guarantee Roma people the same rights and opportunities their fellow citizens enjoy” but she suggested that more needs to be done, describing the group as “Europe’s largest disenfranchised minority”.
    The U.S. Secretary of State made the remarks as she took part in a ceremony to inaugurate the Tom Lantos Institute, a a pro-democracy group named for the late Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born human rights advocate and former congressman.

  12. Clinton: “the Prime Minister made that very clear to me – that he is committed to ensuring that Hungary is very true to its democratic traditions to protect individual liberties, maintain freedom of the press and the judiciary and ensure checks and balances”
    Could be interesting to know what kind of “traditions” he may have had in mind…

  13. Paul, I think Joe is also funny: “He has shown vision and competence”, “His Roma strategy and Danubian strategy”, “She will be impressed by him, no doubt.” No doubt.

  14. Kirsten I had the same questions in mind, what is the democratic tradition Orban os referring to? He despises anything between 1989-2010 with the exception of the years he was in power. Anything prior to that is was either under the communist dictatorship, nazism, White Terror, Red Terror, Monarchy, etc. Any comment from the Fidesz camp?

  15. Kirsten: “”She will be impressed by him, no doubt.” No doubt.”
    She wasn’t.

  16. ‘Roma strategy’ – turn a blind eye to Yobbik thugs terrorising village gypsies.
    The EU will have learned a lot from that.
    Hungarian ‘democratic traditions’ – none.
    As Some1 points out, if you claim that the period 1990-2010 was non-democratic because the constitution was invalid, then Hungary has never had any democratic traditions.
    Which is precisely why we are where we are.
    Kirsten – I suspect ‘Joe’ is some sort of bot. He often posts the same thing twice, and never seems to respond to (or read) anyone else’s posts. Fidesz have some sort of blog monitoring software running which reacts to certain key phrases by posting from a library of replies.
    (I’m not entirely joking.)

  17. @Paul, I think Joe somehow changed recently. He was a lot less aggressive before. The propaganda ministry probably fired the person behind the Joe Simon alias and they gave it out to a new guy, a grumpy old 56’er with failing memory (he forgot that he already posted the same thing).

  18. I was thinking whether the “democratic traditions” could not refer to the right to “freely elect (their king)” and the “liberties (of the noblemen)” but I could not yet make out an equivalent for the freedom of the press and checks and balances in the “Hungarian legal tradition”. I am also only partly joking, I suspect that when asked Fidesz would present the demands of 1848 as the “tradition”.

  19. Kirsten, the demands of 1848 would serve as great examples for the current opposition of the Orban regime, but it certainly cannot be the tradition that Orban referred to. THe tradition is that there is a core group of thinking individuals who are fighting against the oppressive regimes that actually suppress democracy, equality, freedom of the press and so forth. As for the tradition of operating democracy, Hungary has none! THere were attempts. If there would be operating democracy, there would not be any need by the current government to censor the poem, March 15, 1848 from Petofi, coincidentally on March 15 this year.
    “Szabad sajtó!… már ezentul / Nem féltelek, nemzetem, / Szívedben a vér megindul, / S éled a félholt tetem.”
    “Tettre, ifjak, tettre végre, / Verjük le a lakatot, / Mit sajtónkra, e szentségre, / Istentelen kéz rakott.”

  20. Hillary was not impressed by Orbán? She should have been. I am not a Gyurcsány-hater, I am sure he is an intelligent guy. I am not surprised he was not invited. He looks shy when he talks, or rather tries to talk, like a school boy who forgot his lesson. He is not coming through at all. And now he wants to form yet an other party. He has no judgement. So he is no comparison to Orbán, notwithstanding Eva’s love for him.

  21. Granted, Orbán is a fair orator, and, as long as you’re not looking for minor things like logic, historical accuracy, or sence, in his speeches, I’m sure he is wonderful to listen to. My wife goes weak at the knees when he speaks.
    But when you hear them both in English, Gy comes over as a thinking, intelligent, reasonable man, whereas OV sounds like he’s just out of an institution.

  22. Joe Simon; You are so wring on so many levels, that it is not even a laughing matter any more. Orban could not even arrange to get invited to the White House does not matter how hardly he tried. THe best he could do is steal Gyurcsany’ idea (what he is opposed for years), so kind of force the USA to finally somehow acknowledge him. YOu are so short sighted that you can nit even out together the cause and consequence. ALso, who would Gyurcsany needed to be invited? He is not a leader of any party. (Do you follow the news in Hungary at all lately?) Hillary did not meet with Orban to congratulate him, but to tell him off. The USA has no interest in Orban, but in his actions.

Comments are closed.