The silly season, if there even was such a thing this year, is definitely over. There are so many topics that it is hard to choose.
Late yesterday afternoon MTI reported from Washington that although the IMF is keeping in touch with the Hungarian government and the European Commission, it hasn’t fixed a date for the continuation of the negotiations about a loan. Gerry Rice, director of IMF’s foreign relations, reminded his audience at a press conference that the negotiations that took place in July were “constructive,” but for an agreement certain requirements must be met by the Hungarian government.
It seems that the negotiating partners don’t see eye to eye on certain key issues. Rice specifically mentioned structural changes that must be introduced to ensure economic growth. It also looks as if the IMF is not entirely satisfied with the planned budget for the year 2013.
The well informed Internet paper Origo seems to know that the real sticking point is the transaction tax on the Hungarian National Bank. Although Viktor Orbán knows that without giving in on this issue there will be no negotiations, he is sticking to his guns. In fact, he is speeding up the process of the final reading of the budget which includes 300 billion forints to be received from the Hungarian National Bank. By the end of September the final vote on the bill will take place.
Mihály Varga obviously lost the battle with Viktor Orbán. Varga, right after the first round of negotiations with the IMF, indicated that the IMF insists on abandoning this madcap idea of György Matolcsy and Viktor Orbán because the negotiators considered it not in line with Union norms. This latest hurdle shows once again that there is only one person who has the final say in all matters, large or small. And that is Viktor Orbán.
Portfolio is even more pessimistic than Origo; they fear that the aid talks will not continue at all. András Simor mentioned on Tuesday that the negotiating IMF-EU team left a letter with the Hungarian government, and whether or not the negotiations continue will depend on the response. According to rumor the Hungarian government hasn’t responded at all, at least until now.
According to Népszabadság, the prime minister won’t budge on several issues. He is unwilling to create a larger reserve in the budget; he is sticking to the job protection action plan costing 300 billion nonexistent forints; as for the transaction tax he will wait until the European Commission passes judgment on it; and he rejects the IMF’s tax-related proposals. This last includes not imposing heavier levies on businesses, making changes in the flat tax he introduced earlier, and scrapping the family tax benefits.
Because the saga of the IMF negotiations is endless, I don’t think one ought to spend a whole post on the subject.
So, on the lighter side here is a scandal that is so typical of “that bunch,” as Ádám Gere called the current Hungarian government. I don’t have to introduce Gyula Budai, commissioner in charge of corruption cases between 2002 and 2008. I wrote about the man often enough. Budai failed miserably in his task. The cases he dug up turned out to be mostly bogus, and after almost two years of madly searching for the big fish in the pond of corruption he didn’t get anywhere. A few months ago Budai was moved over to the Ministry of Agriculture as undersecretary.
János Lázár, the new chief in the prime minister’s office, joined Budai at a press conference in which he announced that Budai had been wildly successful in ferreting out bad eggs in the socialist-liberal administrations. He delicately described Budai’s change of jobs: “Now Mr. Budai is moving from swines to swines. It is a full circle.” The word ‘disznó’ applied to human beings is especially derogatory in Hungarian. And then there is the word ‘disznóság’, which can be translated as ‘big mess’ or even “atrocity.” Swines are people who commit such atrocities.
But that labeling which, I assume, applies even to such obviously innocent academics as Agnes Heller, was small potatoes in comparison to the faux pas that Lázár committed during the same press conference. A reporter inquired what happened to the famous Gyurcsány case. Why wasn’t he prosecuted? Lázár explained that there was serious pressure coming from the United States to spare Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai. They only obliged.
It took only a couple of hours for Gyurcsány to wittily remark that Lázár had just admitted that the Hungarian judiciary is not independent. After all, if the government can influence the prosecutors to let guilty people off the hook then something is very wrong in Hungary.
The American Embassy didn’t find the story at all amusing. The U.S. Embassy immediately released a statement that “as [they] often emphasized in the past the United States does not meddle in the internal affairs of Hungary.” Foreign Minister János Martonyi tried to salvage the situation by issuing a statement in which he wrote: “We have extensive contact with the Americans and it is well known that they at times they expressed their concerns in public. They were worried about our judiciary and the new election laws.” But he added that he knows nothing about any American pressure on “what should happen to X or Y in the court of law.”
László Kovács, former foreign minister, wondered whom János Lázár wanted to discredit: the current government of the United States, MSZP, or the two former prime ministers? Whatever his goal was, Lázár managed to discredit himself and the government he represents.
Let me add to this that Péter Szijjártó led a whole delegation to the Republican National Convention held in Tampa, Florida. Four years ago Viktor Orbán himself attended the Republican Convention in the hopes of being invited by George H. Bush to his Maine retreat. Nothing came of the invitation to Kennebunkport, but Orbán loudly announced to his followers that John McCain will be the next president of the United States and how wonderful that will be for the country and personally for the next prime minister of Hungary (VO). And then it turned out differently.
It is not wise to commit oneself to one side or the other in the political life of another country. But Szijjártó didn’t seem to have learned from his boss’s faux pas of four years ago. He went on and on about how much better it will be for Hungary if the Republicans win the elections. Republican politicians are dissatisfied with the foreign policy of Barack Obama. When they are in power the American administration will pay much more attention to Central Europe and to Hungary.
But if Szijjártó thinks that a Republican administration will be more tolerant of all the anti-democratic steps the Orbán government is taking he will be sorely disappointed. And if Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, does not win in November, Orbán will be stuck once again with Barack Obama, whose State Department will have already noted how happy the Hungarian government was at the prospect of Obama’s losing the election.